Charlie Gere wants to do wonderful things to the corps of John
Ruskin and, to my surprise, I don't just want to watch, I want to
Charlie, like myself, thinks that the heritage vampires have
tried their hardest to reduce Ruskin to nothing more than an
anachronistic token of neo-conservative Victorian Chic. In thier
eyes, nothing remins of Big JR and his legacy besides a sign-post
to a lost past and dreams of medieval craft-based evangelism.
In this interview, shot in the heartland of the academic
Ruskinian heritage industry - Charlie outlines his conviction that
Big JR may still be able to influence us positively from beyond the
grave of museology. Tipping a wink and a nod to Derrida's book
'Spectres of Marx' (in my hazy left-wing mind his finest work), Mr
Gere asserts that Big JR haunts us still, like a spectre of the
undead, reminding us that ethics is at the heart of any
re-assessment of what art actually is and can do.
Big Johnny Ruskin strode the Victorian art
world with balls of steel, a heart full of moral invective, keen
critical sensibilities, dubious/unconventional/repressed sexuality
(delete as appropriate) and a penchant for spotting and supporting
young talent. Oh, and don't forget those sideburns. If he were
alive today he would probably be a judge on the
Such a flippant view is, hopefully, anathema to supporters of
the heritage industry - that specialist sector of the culture,
tourism and leisure industry whose job it is to produce a dewy eyed
retro market for Past Time franchises,
Laura Ashley wallpaper and endless TV
regurgitations of period and costume dramas. You are not the
guardians of history. You are the producers of a marketable image
which is just as crass, tacky and removed from the 'reality' of
culture (whatever that might or could be) as Father
Christmas and Sonic the Hedgehog (on
second thoughts, apologies to Sonic).
This blog intends to help wrestle the memory of John Ruskin away
from those who wish to fix him as a definable historical identity -
all medieval moralism and anti-technological rant. Instead, it
intends to return John Ruskin to the land of the living - as a
complex cipher for understanding our current dilemmas with ever
changing relationships between art, artists, culture and
Lofty stuff I hear you cry!
But manageable if you are prepared to work with me (and indulge
me a little) in the production of a meandering text/video blog
whose singular intention is to uncover what Ruskin might mean to
artists, curators, producers and publics today. So here's looking
forward to an amusing and possibly informative culture clash of the
old, new, borrowed and often simply made up.
This week the exhibition Can Art Save Us? opened at the
Millennium Galleries in Sheffield. The exhibition is part of a
series of exhibitions on John Ruskin organised by the Museum, with
historic works interspersed with contemporary articulations (as
they say in art land) of Ruskin themes. We were asked to make a
contribution to the show so turned up with a box of objects from
Lawson Park and laid them on a table. (from their collections and
designated by Ruskin as the ideal display table for displaying
objects and artefacts). The idea is to show attempts of art, design
and craft that attempt to have social or political ambitions. The
list of objects is:
1. The Water Yeat tea urn and tea pot by Jeremy Deller and Alan
2. A Bernard Leach mug
3. A Lakes pottery mug from Truro
4. A Whitefriars glass jug by Geoffrey Baxter
5. A Ruskin Pottery vase
6. A Robert Welch ice bucket
7. A Keswick School of Industrial Arts platter
8. Karen Guthrie and Nina Pope's Lilliput made Titschy Kitschy
ornament of Lawson Park
9. A Blue Angel Bunny gift from the Guangzhou Triennial
10. Keith Murray Wedgewood mug
11. Dried food stuffs from Nanling China in Crochet packaging by
Kai Oi Jay Yung
12. A Roadshow mug with Mark Titchner graphic
13. A George Cook Ambleside Pottery vase
14. A Ryan Gander version of a Joseph Albers Love Cup
15. An english made Japanese tea bowl
16. A Public Works display shelf from their Egremont Folk
17. An Ikea plastic cup
18. The aforementioned table
19. Adam Chodzko's re-upholstered Eric Lyons Tecta chair with
Crass logo leather jacket seat pad
20. A Vanson Peter Hayward Chair re-upholstered with Laura
Davies' Nanling fabric
21. An engraving of Turners' 'Meeting of the Waters' (from
22. A Bunney drawing of Chamonix (from Sheffield Museums)
To explain this selection you have to view the key on a
chipboard copy of the table (beautifully made by the Museum
technicians and surely a future design classic) upon which we have
hand written a subjective commentary on the exhibits in something
approximating the blood red pen of Ruskin. Ruskinians might view
this as too irreverent or even silly as
one historic curator commented not so long ago, but I think you'll
find Big John actually had a sense of humour. I come on surely he
must have to appear in Desperate Romantics. Anyway the
Guild of St George seemed to love it.
The exhibit forms the end of the show, which, I think I
described to a visitor at the opening as a symphony spoilt at the
end by a bum note from the Tuba.
Full versions of the texts will be available online soon.
Can Art Save Us? Runs until 31 January 2010 and we will
be holding a related event in Sheffield in January, watch this site
This was the title of a conference held at Lawson Park on
October 7 by Situations Bristol and IXIA (a public art
think tank mind gym) when we tested the new building to the max,
crowbarring 40 guests and speakers into the space with the odd
stroll outside to breathe in some air in between the exhalation of
much art theory. Speakers included Paul Domela, Jeanne Van
Heeswijk, Karlheinz Kopf, Andreas Lang and our good selves, all
bundled up a packaged by Paul O'Neill.
John Byrne, head of fine art at Liverpool John Moores University
paid us a visit to Lawson Park on Friday to start work in earnest
on this very blog and to discuss the range of projects that will
evolve into the Force of Culture project, to rethink Ruskin as a
prescient force in postmodern and postpostmodern culture.
The next day, with my head full of Ruskin related thoughts, I
saw an image in the paper from the Chanel ready-to-wear
Spring-Summer show in Paris, in which Karl Largerfeld (crafted I'm
sure by his own leather gloved hands) presented his collection in a
copy of a barn from Marie Antoinette's ferme ornee at Versailles.
Including Lily Allen performing a hoe down, whilst the models got
down in the hay. I showed the video - see for yourself at
- to our resident Dutch artist/agriculturalist Wapke Feenstra, who
commented that a true farmer should surely not view such underfed
cattle as attractive.
I have to say I found the image quite spectacular and surely the
apogee of all current and accumulated complexities around
demodernisation, pastoralism and suburban organic fetishism. This
must be what Ruskin intended.
Karl had this to say
"I'm from the country, darling. I hear all this talk about
organic farming and the environment, and I'm all for it. But there
must be a certain sophistication, so it's not used as an excuse to
let things go to seed. We had little pigs that we were going to
bring onto the catwalk, but they were so smelly we didn't dare to
let them out"
Only a farm boy could try so hard to get away from the mud
Saturday 19 September 2009 1120hrs: Adam Kane becomes the first
winner of The Greasy Pole competition since its re-introduction to
Egremont's annual Crab Fair as permanent work of art/heritage
artifact/sporting apparatus by artists Jeremy Deller and Alan Kane.
Adam actually conquered the Pole twice, being the first up to
retrieve one of the six ribbons from 30ft above and then some 10
minutes later to snatch the shortest ribbon to claim the coveted
prize of £2 and a leg of lamb from Wilson's butchers. That's
Wilson's butchers. The ease at which the young urchinesque
Egremonthian shot up the new Carbon Fibre Nike Greasy Pole Pro
suggested we should baste more WD40 on next year, although most
barely managed to lift their feet from the floor.
Here's an image of the skeletal house/garden/kitchen advertising
for rules that work fro communal living, any suggestions send them
to email@example.com or to Grizedale firstname.lastname@example.org
On the evening of 8th October Grizedale will take part in a
comedy night at Eastside - alongside juneau/projects and Bedwyr
Williams (who they) and will be accepting applications for
residencies, these will be read out and lampooned, all in the name
of cheap laughs. Send your proposals to email@example.com or to
Gavin at the above. We really are looking for residencies and this
is as likely a way as any to find the right people for the special
Eastside will I believe be showing the comedy classic 'Starry
Starry Night' featuring Van Gogh back to life entirly
unreconstructed and hanging out in LA - if you havent seen it it's
a must see before you make another art work.
One area of considerable satisfaction from the past year are the terraced fields orginally laid out by the Japanese farmers in 2006. Over the past 3 years we have been developing what was totally impossible soil that would sustain nothing more than bracken and grass. Through a process of mulching and green nmanure we have now got two fields working successfully as vegetable plots - the only challenge now is getting people to eat the vegetables we have produced - it is difficult to restrict a 21st century diet to 4 or 5 vegetables, people are just not used to it. The honesty stall has comments on it's notice board asking for more fruit, like so much in the world 'they just don't get it'.
Matt (currently at Lawson Park) and Ross are doing a show at Elephant and Castle, it's called 'Together at the Junction', well that's the name the curators jottaCONTEMPORARY have given it. it brings together a group of artists to do stuff about the old shopping precinct in the run up to it's demolition, the once cool modernist building having fallen into 'varied' use and had the indignity of being painted pink may want to be put out of it's misery but there's a few years more to go and I suspect some further indignities to suffer.
Matt and Ross have run with the idea of the journey and the transformations that we go through in making them. They have taken the various versions of the Penguin Donkey - originally design in 1936 subsequently reworked in the 60's and further transformed more recently for Lawson Park. The artists have added further additions layering the original yet further and presented the beasts as a parade. They've also made a vast amount of Kendal Mint Cake.
Go and see/taste it at Unit 316 Lower Ground Floor, Elephant and Castle Shopping Centre 30th July to 2nd August, 12 - 6pm the opening is on Wednesday night 6 - 9pm for a more party feel
A big thanks to all who braved the rain to work at or visit the charity open garden held yesterday for the National Garden Scheme - especially Julie, Meg, Matt, Sophie, Alison & Joe & family, David and Chris.
Sadly the weather had a big impact on visitor numbers compared to last year's 200-odd, but as the third launch we've done here this summer the odds were against us for three sunny days on demand.....
One of the garden's star performers was a very simple but stunning carpet of annuals flowering just 8 weeks after sowing, right outside the hostel. By popular demand, here's a link to the Pictorial Meadows online shop, where the 'Candy' flower seed mix we used (see pic) can be bought.
The gardens are again open under the NGS scheme, Karen's sister Alison has arrived to make her unbelievably good cakes and the masses of children are weeding the garden to death. We are also happy to have Chris Cavalier from Somewhere's What Will the Harvest Be? project at Abbey Gardens in London working with us over the weekend.
What a day - many hands made light work! Great food c/o
Alistair's mother-in-law, great flowers c/o Meg and a very good
speech from Mr Robson, bringing together Ruskin, Grizedale and land
use very neatly indeed.
The scene at Lawson Park as we ready it for its local launch
today, many thanks to volunteer Meg
Falconer who really put in the hours, as did web guru
Dorian Moore and interns Sophie Perry and Matt Do...
Len is the grandfather of artist Matt Do (of Matt & Ross fame), he recently visited Lawson Park along with a goodly sector of the Matt clan - Matt is currently working (very hard) with us in the lead up to the opening on the 25th. Len who is 86, still works as a gardener not too mention maintaining his other interests, including wood turning. He brought a group of his turned bowls and other items as a gift for the collection. He also took a chunk of wood away with him to make into Lawson Park pens for us - now thats what I call a grandfather.