Writing / Grizedale Arts Blog / 2007 / 6

Park A More ready for use

Soft focus all the time

Well almost. This week The Princes Drawing School are in residence at Park-a-More. They will be the first people to use the building in it's rennovated state.
The group will be documenting thier stay and endeavours in a blog and will be showing work from the residency in London in October - check the blog on (to be added shortly)

Bryan Davis and Dan Robinson represent the space in an exhibition 'To the Left of the Rising Sun' at the Castlefield Gallery in Manchester - where I notice I am doing a discussion on the 12th July at 6pm. http://www.castlefieldgallery.co.uk/

If you are interested in using Park-a-More contact the Grizedale office - the building has no electricy, water is pumped from the well, the bath hangs on the door and the toilet is a composting loo in the garden - but it's very nice if you like a bit of 18th century living - oh forgot to mention there is no car access, you have to walk to it - 15 minutes for the hearty longer for the rest.

Posted by Adam Sutherland on 30/06/07 at 08:21

Escape artists

Has anyone got an ashtray
No I am definitely feeling a lot worse now

My life shunt has included a considerable interaction with the world of the hospital, another nuts use of resources in an apparently unplanned manner. The hospital only operated 3 days a week, the rest of the time it was fully staffed but virtually empty of patients. However the hospital environment is amazing, akin to a multicultural soap opera, there are people from every corner of the world both in the staff and patients, hosts of translators all in all a wonderful diversity of people and cultures. Visiting hours brought great communities of people into the hospital, little encampments round each bed each involved in their own food and language, social culture/hireachy etc. My own visits took the form of .
‘How are you?’,
‘Oh absolutely fine, can’t imagine what the fuss was about’
‘The roses are doing marvellously well’
Although the hospital environment would make fantastic ground for an art project (see [url=http://www.swansong.tv/archive/npkgdsl.htm/ Pope and Guthrie’s Recommended Dose – the inspiration for Green Wing) the actual artwork commissioned for the hospital was beyond pitiful or rather the curation of it was insane. The most ludicrous example was the siting of a Cornelia ‘Flatliner’ Parker ‘piece’ in the waiting room of the breast cancer waiting room – the room itself had been converted into a Costa Coffee style coloured melamine temple and the ‘artwork’ hung from the ceiling. A series of silver plate Georgian teapots reflected by the same teapots in flatten form (even out of this context this is a chronic thing). Was the plan to prepare the users of this space for their own soon to be flattened form. It made me embarrassed to be involved in the arts, extra embarrassed to be involved in this jackass curation business.

As I recall there was much excitement in the 80/90’s following a survey that proved Bert Irwin paintings made people well or was that promoted wellness, i.e. you stayed well if already well after seeing a Bert Irvin painting – (now hang on minute there, any right minded person would surely contest that assertion). But I guess an interesting articulation of a slightly desperate desire that art should be useful to society, do good - sadly delivered in a package of lies and half truths, pretention and other commonly held artshit.
I particularly enjoyed the arrival and departure from the cancer hospital with the doorway crowed by smokers of both healthy and extremely unhealthy hue crowded around the doors in wheelchairs, pyjamas, blood stained operating smocks, hospital tunics of every cut and colour. I could’nt help feeling that smoking and cancer wards did nt perhaps go together so well and that smoking so publicly - a guard of honour through the raised cigarettes - was perhaps a little tactless (I waited till I got outside the gates).

Posted by Adam Sutherland on 29/06/07 at 17:37

‘I’ve been run over so much I should have been a road’

The honey monster

My life has recently taken a bit of a shunt and I have found myself in London on a more or less full time basis, yearning for home, to see the plants growing and the quick pull of the early summer trout on the line. I always felt like that when I lived in London – 15 years of tugging 15 years ago. London has changed little, but the culture of London has changed a lot. The use of the mobile, smoking, shouting and screaming, all those street life activities have amplified hugley. No other capital in the world suffers from the kind of mobile use that you get in London. I struggle to find a reason for it, obviously it’s massively rude, that could be a reason for it in itself, an outward expression of the ‘f*** you’ mentality so uniquely and warmly embraced in the UK. Maybe UK dwellers feel less inhibited in the apparent confines of phone world, a bit like cars, where it’s easy to think you are in your own private world so its alright to scream moustache curling abuse at the most minor of infractions - like a micro second pause before pulling of at the lights. Anyway there seems to be an idea that using a mobile in public is really a very private act. Outside my bedroom window in superficially charming Bloomsbury a woman engaged is an extremely long and creatively abusive phone call with her – presumably soon not to be - boyfriend, ‘Yo shitf***er, am letting yo f*** wit ma booty, sheeetman yo need to tink bout feelings of udder people’ after about 10 minutes of this unrelenting and rather unfocused Westwood style phyco babble abuse I was forced to open my window and ask her if she could possibly find an alternative venue to continue her martial workout? To which she replied in the sweetest middle class voice, ‘oh I am terribly sorry, I did’nt realise anyone still lived in Bloomsbury 'a classic ‘full English’ put down (‘oh you know well it’s just a pied a Terre, I am usually in Tuscany/Gloucestershire’).
The other street related activity I can enjoy in my 1st floor bedroom is smoking, the fairly continuous stream of office refugees smoking in the street does provide a wreath of smoke that fills the street, and the bedroom, and we are talking a quiet street here. How will it be once the ban kicks in, the streets will become one big smoke filled series of channels. The London smog of yore recreated using the human lung. There does seem to be this lack of thinking things through going on in London/UK. London’s public transport system seems insanely complicated, catching a bus an absolute picnic in a dog pound, buy a ticket at a stop if there is a machine, on the bus if not, get an oyster card, a carnet and all to be achieved with absolutely no information of any kind as to what where and how - just an angry driver jerking his thumb at something and mumbleing. While I am briefly on drivers - the notion of driving a public transport vehicle for comfort of the passenger seems to have completely been lost. The drivers throw their buses into sharp turns, abrupt stops, to lurch and lean with the sole intention of knocking the passengers to the ground, buses excecute boy racer tactics, switching lanes, bunny hopping at the lights and so on. Taxi’s are as bad (for any taxi drivers out there I never tip if it’s an uncomfortable ride – make what you must of that). Anyway enough of this abuse of the wonders of London after all I did walk past David Guest which was great and where else is this going to happen (at first I thought he was Tom Jones or someone wearing comedy Tom Jones head and chest wigs), such special hairs, blinged up to the 9’s, he looked every inch the legendary R&B producer with a rather strong sense that he could be some sort of teddy bear type child’s cuddly toy, maybe it was just the fact that he is pocket sized. All in all the most exciting celebrity moment since a friend of mine sold a 10ft length of hose pipe to Sidney Devine at a car boot sale in Galashields (Sidney Devine is a Scottish MOR superstar for y’all south of the border there).

Posted by Adam Sutherland on 28/06/07 at 08:42

Rumble in the Wural

Pope and Guthrie's 'It's a Lakeland Knockout' locals versus tourists versus landowners

There has been a lot of talk about the arts in the rural/regional of late. A recent Arts Council initiative called Art 07 brought together a body of arts people from the Northern region and included a debate on the rural/regional arts in relation to the urban/London scene. The debate was embarrassingly broadcast on Radio 3’s Nightwaves programme. The gist of it was that London is where it happens and everything outside of London is of little consequence and of low quality – of no particular interest to any but a local audience. This position was countered by local arts people suggesting that in fact there was a great deal of national and international level art going on in the rural it’s just that the urban audience doesn’t know about or have access to it. Just to quickly clear this one up, there is next to nothing of interest happening in the rural/regional and it is the fault of the artists and arts organizations. The insistence on apeing urban models, looking for endorsement, failing to creatively invent themselves,– that’s no way to make something useful, influential or significant.

But why is this? Historically much of British Art and many Art movements emanated from the rural, Nicholson and St Ives, Wordsworth and Romanticism, Pastoralists, Constable in Suffolk, Gill and Ditchling, Guild of Craftsmen in Gloucestershire, Architecture and music at Dartington Hall, not to mention the plethora of material coming out of the country house, Capability Brown, Adam, the Portraitists, etc as well as the one-offs like Moore, Spencer, Lowry, Schwitters. Maxwell-Davis even Damien Hirst now, the list is long, what’s come out of London - The Euston road School!
The rural has sporadically housed weird mavericks, working individually or in tight groups but in comparative isolation forging new vision, really taking risks (rather than saying they are risk taking), being ostracized. The current regional culture is so keen to be accepted they sell out before they have even started, begging for a special dispensation to be taken seriously.

The ambition of the debate was to ask if the UK was defined by rural or urban culture. Where do you start? the question seems irrelevant. Define UK, culture, urban, rural before the question can even arise and by the way the answer is - if you could ever define either as separate - derr, both. However there is a divide/fusion and it’s an interesting body of ideas/material that many people/artists explore. For the rural - as a subject - it is perhaps not an end in itself but rather a route to defining a more pertinent way to expand the rural value. The countryside is understood by the nation as a culturally backward zone - which is true. That is perhaps the rural’s natural/real position, rooted in day to day isolated activities, in tune with the basics of growth, life and death (or more realistically the season of the tourist, there’s nothing like a good fresh run tourist covered in lice (this is a reference spring salmon that when they first come up the river system are covered in sea lice – it used to be seen as a good thing, I think now it’s seen as a sign of the degenerating environment)).

The urban migrant probably has more impact on rural culture than anyone else, moving to the country in large numbers to enjoy that vision of opt out and simple life, to play real communities (largely with each other). Consequently the country is full of people who reinforce and perpetuate a very cliched vision of the rural, in fact insist it stays that way when it is they that could radically shift it. Times have changed the rural has changed but the cliché about it hasn’t in fact it has been massively reinforced to the point where it has become the only vision of the rural swamping the delicate reality of a complex and sophisticated environment. Importantly those people who guide and mediate culture in the rural perpetuate the cliche, investing in lame culture that plays along to a tourist centred agenda.

A recent Germaine Greer Christopher Frayling debate discussed funding levels in the regions, principally an argument about comparative funding levels – in fact the regional draws more than adequate funding, the problem arises in how these funds are actually spent. Currently in Cumbria £100 million is being allocated to develop a rural arts visitor centre, promoted as a rural Tate (despite the Tate’s denials). The project has employed London consultants to show the rural how it should be done – they are using an urban model, will it do anything interesting in relation to a rural culture? Unsurprisingly it would seem unlikely, there is no acknowledgement that the conditions are different. It would be hard - at a consultant’s glance - for anyone to see anything other than this model with virtually all the rural culture brokers (galleries, museums, artists, writers etc) desperately adopting urban models. For example a local Cumbrian gallery markets itself as being the same size Joplin’s White Cube - the old one!

The debate for Art 07 brought suggestions from the floor that the rural should be given a special dispensation, positive discrimination. The rural/regional needs to change its own clichéd view of itself, it needs to develop ways of contributing to national and international cultural evolution offering material that is relevant, being amongst the leaders rather than followers and to do this the arts community needs to rethink it’s mechanisms, urban models don’t and shouldn’t work in rural space – that is so obvious. The rural’s introspective and ludicrously self congratulatory attitude, the suggestion of discrimination are all unhelpful ‘head in the sand’ positions that suppress real engagement with the complex and relevant issues as ever present in both urban and rural communities. Cultural practioners need to get with the programme – an example of this ‘off the mark’ approach was demonstrated in the most exemplary way at the afore mentioned Art 07 event. Local artists staged an Arts Council funded ‘Art Strike’ – I am almost certain that neither the commissioner ACE North West or the organization being funded to deliver this ‘idea’ had any idea of the precedents – which are of course multiple and go back to the early part of the 20th century, a quick Google would have filled in the gaps. The other main event was a 21st century barn dance with paid dancers to guide people through a series of country dances, the event was titled Loc–Glo-Bal, the music provided by a ragtaggle bunch of world music musicians wearing black t shirts. The Arts Council put £200,000 into this ‘celebration’ of rural culture. There were no interesting ideas put forward, no critical analysis, nothing added to cultural development.

The rural is full of people escaping the perceived harshness of ‘real’ life which is fine but don’t then expect to be taken seriously and to be a part of national cultural discourse. I see this all around me amongst the local art community, angry artists making outdated work for their own pleasure hugely resenting the fact that they are not taken seriously by a critical audience (many of them make good livings which is more than your ‘cutting edge’ practitioner can claim).

The Bed and Breakfast scenario in the Lake District offers an interesting analogy/lesson. People move to the country to get away from other people and then open a B&B as the easiest way to generate an income. The basis of a good B&B is an open and friendly interest in people – do you see the problem?

Posted by Adam Sutherland on 28/06/07 at 08:00

Architecture Week where you didn't expect it

Lodore House - John Gill 1968
C F A Voysey - Little holme 1900
Troutbeck Youth Hostel - home-made early modernism
Proposed building - AKA The Love Shack Designed by Sutherland Hussey Architects

Not really a Grizedale project but relevant to the world of the rural and contemporary culture within it.

This weekend Karen and I took part in Architecture Week, opening the site of our ongoing attempt to build a contemporary house in the Lake District. The idea was to engage in a public debate on contemporary architecture in the rural, called ‘Building in the Rural’ strangely enough. Before I get onto the event/discussions themselves it is interesting to consider how the audience found out about the event.
Not a single person attended as a result of seeing it on the Architecture week website and few knew what architecture week was or had ever heard of it.
The biggest audience attractor was a small poster in the local supermarket (both branches of Booths).
Putting leaflets through peoples doors accounted for the second largest group and the mention in the local paper listings brought up the rear.
In total approximately 40 people attended – pretty remarkable for a non building (we are still after 4 years trying to get planning permission) in an area where there is apparently no interest in contemporary architecture.
The message re audiences is - as we have always found in Cumbria - that national advertising does not work at all, word of mouth and ‘folk’ marketing works by far the best (ie hand-made posters in unlikely spots). What this says about rural perspective and cultural isolation is interesting!

The audience was made up of architects, eco build enthusiasts and neighbours. There was a universally positive response to the proposed design and a great deal of discussion about the issues raised by our long battle with the planners and indeed the common experience shared by many of the attendees.
I wont go into the detail on our planning battles as it is too boring and petty for words, suffice to say the concensus of opinion at the event was that the planning authority were a dishonest and corrupt government department that worked through punative measures to achieve their personal objectives – principally to stop any contemporary design. Many people thought that the government at a strategic level was trying to move forward and that many people at ground level were keen to engage with contemporary ideas both architectural and environmental but that the government officers were incredibly and subjectively resistant to any change.
Generally it was felt that the planners chief weapon was money, if they could delay applications through fair means or foul the applicants would eventually give up – on average the planners seemed to be able to delay planning applications for 5 years (we are currently in our 4th year). This issue of money was further discussed in light of the contemporary obsession with property ownership and money making. People felt that no one wanted to take a risk with a contemporary build for fear of salability, that no one built houses that worked for themselves to live in but rather built with a priority to sell on.
The architects all complained that there was no opportunity for them to design as clients that wanted to build in a contemporary style in the Lake District did not exist.
There was also talk regarding historical precedent, if there had ever been a time when radical buildings had been built (there are a few examples of modernism, like 3 (see list of Lake District architectural highlights below)

In our gentle attempt to make an almost invisible contemporary building we have suffered a great deal of abuse from the locals, both neighbours and Parish Council, local tradesmen have refused to do work for us for fear of local opinion and outrageous stories have been circulated. Ironically the 2 biggest complainers in the village/hamlet are from holiday home owners concerned that we would live in the building! (80% of the village houses are holiday homes). We will hear the result of our current planning application in a couple of weeks time – watch this space for news!

Architecture in the Lakes – additions welcomed
Lodore Falls – John Gill 1968 The sole example of great design, now utterly ruined by the appalling conversion, however original plans exist if it ever finds a champion to restore it. Currently used as a lodge for the Lodore Hotel so you can stay in this tragedy of abused design – what a missed opportunity by the hotel – how special this could be on an international level if the original interiors had been maintained.
Motor Boat Club, Broadleas – CAF Voysey
Kendal House – Little Holme - CAF Voysey
Blackwell – Baille-Scott
Troutbeck Youth Hostel – an amateur enthusiasts home built stab at modernism circa 1920 and the first concrete shuttering build in the north of England complete with Arts and Crafts interior and battlements (A personal favorite fusion building).
Wordsworth Trust – Benson Forsyth – slate clad at the insistence of the planners who fought the scheme for 5 years and then attended the funeral of the man they had thwarted for so long (he died a year after the building opened)
Ambleside - Hutchinson Lymath Architects, a contemporary build in progress

Posted by Adam Sutherland on 17/06/07 at 12:13