Writing / Grizedale Arts Blog / 2009 / -

Li Yuan Chia in Cumbria - BBC radio doc

Just in from David Gaffney:

Dear all,

You might like to listen to this programme about Chinese artist Li Yuan-Chia who lived in Cumbria for a time and set up a gallery.

When Taiwan's first abstract artist settled in a Cumbrian farmhouse, his life changed. Deriving inspiration from landscape and local people, he encouraged new British artists and anticipated the success of contemporary Chinese visual art.

Li Yuan Chia was one of the first significant Chinese abstract artists of the 20th century. This programme, presented by Sally Lai, the director of Manchester's Chinese Arts Centre, examines his career from the place he spent the last 28 years of his life: a stone farmhouse, built next to Hadrian's Wall in Cumbria.

Listen to the programme here


Li Yuan-Chia

Born in China in 1929, Li was educated in Taiwan. He worked and exhibited in Italy before moving toLondon in 1963. Here, Li's reputation was established with monochrome paintings and scrolls marked with a tiny, isolated dot.

But Li came to dislike the fashionable metropolitan art world of the mid-1960s. In 1968 he met Cumbrian painter Winifred Nicholson, who pursuaded Li to move away from the busy capital to a far more remote location, near her own home. With his own hands Li then set about converting a farm building, the Banks, at Brampton, where he built a gallery, library, theatre, printing press, children's art room and photographic darkroom, and opened it to the public. It became a popular attraction for local people, art afficianados and tourists walking Hadrian's Wall.

Over the next ten years over 300 artists exhibited at the Banks, which was also the base from which Li's organisation, the LYC Foundation, was able to commission work by young British artists, some of whom became very successful later, including sculptors and land artists Andy Goldsworthy, David Nash and Bill Woodrow.

Li's own work moved into abstract sculpture, using magnets, gold leaf, plastic discs suspended on plastic thread and additional text. The landscape also affected him, and he began to explore photography and environmental art. Always, he wrote poetry.

But after Arts Council funding became increasingly limited, (Is this right? That can't be right, DG) the LYC Foundation had to struggle to survive. Li continued to produce art, which became increasingly contemplative. He fell ill with cancer and died in 1994. Art historians now acknowledge Li Yuan Chia as having paved the way for the current expansion of Chinese contemporary art. But his former home in Cumbria is derelict.


Posted by Karen Guthrie on 22/12/09 at 20:39

Seriously Compromised


architecturally and politically - Happy Christmas y'all

Posted by Adam Sutherland on 18/12/09 at 12:24

The Dictatorship of Art - a Jonathan Meese inspired discussion


Today we shot a lively discussion at the Lawson Park TV studio, on naughty German artist Jonathan Meese's work and idealogy...

Pictured left to right is GA's Alistair Hudson, critic and Meese-o-phile Robert Eikmeyer, academic and writer Charlie Gere and academic John Byrne.

The final film will be up and online in early 2010.

Posted by Karen Guthrie on 14/12/09 at 23:42

St Peters (Glasgow not Rome)


Angus Farquhar of NVA in Glasgow recently invited Karen & Adam to share an inspirational but very wet (just like home then) tour of the unique St Peter's seminary just outside Glasgow. abandoned now but a rare example thereabouts of an architectural icon of the 1970's and now justly listed. NVA are bravely engaging in the battle to reclaim the building and surrounding landscape from the jaws of Nature - the grounds include an immense range of historic buildings from the 15th / 16th century onwards, and a landscape to match.

A good array of images of the incredible site can be seen on Flickr here, and you can read about Historic Scotland's detailed report on the building its significance and possible future here.

Posted by Karen Guthrie on 07/12/09 at 17:56

A welter of welts

The stream of irritating press releases that run through my mail has been particularly virrulent of late, must be the season. Heading the pack is surely the School of Saatchi, unbelievable that anyone would agree to do this, X factor for art, only from the starting point that art is a totally minority interest with an audience in the thousands. So Saatchi's idea that this will be the X factor for visual arts is mental. Actually I am remembering I was asked to do this a couple of years ago, a pilot version made in the north - They asked me to be on the panel, it was 3 days in Newcastle in a studio and then a couple of interviews, I initially said no, then they said they would pay me £10,000 and I said yes - soooo that's how it happens. I mean I thought I would use the money to support good projects, and maybe something interesting could be done with the show. I was naive back then about TV, I now know that you have absolutely no control or influence and that the TV production is unbelievable ruthless in getting its simple messages across.

Other favs include A Foundation's two Euro art tramps in conversation, very drawn out men in black talking about obvious stuff and giving it the full slavic gravitas - quite funny, listen to it as an audio work. The message is 'cun ve do art vat hiz uzeful, yeh zo maybe could be, umm I dont zay hef to. more here

The rest without going into detail, Campaign for Carlise to become city of culture, Abandon Normal Devices and blow minds by using film and video presentation, and so on.

Posted by Adam Sutherland on 20/11/09 at 12:04

All aboard the Lawson Park Library launch


On Sat. 14th November, Guestroom launched their new Lawson Park Library with a Coniston Institute film screening with Oxen Park Cinema Club and a cruise on the solar powered Ruskin Launch on Coniston Water.

Sailors pictured above (left to right) Rob Little (UCLAN), Glenn Boulter (Musician / artist & GA intern), Adam Sutherland (GA director), Maria Benjamin (Guestroom), Dorian Moore (GA technologist and tall person) & musician Jack Maynard.

Thanks to everyone who attended and took part.

Posted by Karen Guthrie on 16/11/09 at 13:08

Honesty is the best policy


Wapke Feenstra was always a little critical of our honesty policy for the honest stall. She would I think prefer that we gave fixed prices for the goods, rather than a pay what you think its worth system, which I understand, given the effort in producing most of the goods, including or especially vegetables. None the less true honesty always wins through even when someone steals all the money from the jar as this picture shows. They have kindly drawn on the jar with the 'comments pen'.

Posted by Alistair Hudson on 12/11/09 at 14:45

A Lamb Baste 13th November 200 7.30pm


A Radio Animal event by Snæbjörnsdóttir/Wilson

Supported by the Storey Institute, Lancaster, The Henry Moore Foundation, Arts Council England and University of Cumbria:


Grizedale Arts is hosting a Radio Animal event - a meal at which a number of invited people, including artists, curators and arts facilitators, animal studies scholars, and local interested parties will discuss the issue of 'animal'.

We want to approach issues of identity in relation to animals. Why are we culturally so ambivalent in respect of who we are and how we should behave in the presence of either the term 'animal' or indeed animals themselves. As human animals, culturally we tend to value those animals that are not ourselves or very, very like us, chiefly in relation to their effectiveness in fulfilling some human function or need, or conversely the threat we believe they might hold to challenge our will or comfort.

Awareness of self, a faculty we (human-animals) believe separates us from other species, has unexpectedly brought us a troubled relationship with non-human animals. Because of this it could be argued, that a necessary psychological distance has been established between us and those species over which we exercise the most control.

Because so much of what we are in adulthood is inherited, our subscription to this legacy, leads us to believe without question in the apparent cultural order of things. Such belief generally, is accepting of our dominion over others and an elevated evolutionary position in relation to other species and thus fails in turn to recognize an intrinsic interdependence between species. An acknowledgement of this, might well have helped us avoid many of the more difficult consequences we face today in respect of the environment and therefore paradoxically our own as well as everyone else's survival.

The bottom line for such considerations is one concerning habitat - all species adapt well or less well, for better or for worse to different habitats and when those specialist habitats fail, an ability to move or to adapt quickly enough to survive, is tested. Uncertainty In The City (Snæbjörnsdóttir/Wilson, commissioned by Storey Gallery, Lancaster) is a speculative, artists' exploration into the relationship between humans and the animals that nudge at and breach the borders of our homes. At the heart of this enquiry is the membrane that is breached, whether this is a material 'skin' of bricks and mortar, fences and land, or a linguistic contrivance.

Radio Animal has been on the road since early summer this year asking questions of people regarding their proximity with other species, and discussing their experiences with others in the home, hidden in the fabric of their home, in the garden and otherwise as they go about their daily business.

At a time when environmental peril is discussed as a global issue and overheard in some form by us on a daily basis, leaving us often with a sense of impotence in the face of the inevitable, artists Bryndís Snæbjörnsdóttir and Mark Wilson are examining what 'environment' might mean in a more intimate and domestic sense - where consideration of this term might trigger a more meaningful and evocative recognition for individuals and where the sharing of space between species and its consequences might resonate more powerfully allowing some chance of new understanding and even new behaviour.


Illustrator Meg Falconer, farmer John Atkinson, Guest Room artist Maria Benjamin, poet Jack Maynard, writer and critic Rikke Hansen, tech fiend Dorian Moore, Grizedale Arts Director Adam Sutherland, artist Karen Guthrie, Alistair Hudson, (Radio Animal) artists Bryndís Snæbjörnsdóttir and Mark Wilson.

Posted by Alistair Hudson on 12/11/09 at 13:13

Wapke Feenstra


Wapke Feenstra has been undertaking a Grizedale Arts residency funded by the Netherlands Foundation for Visual Arts, design and Architecture. Over the three month residency Wapke has been involved in a critical dialogue with both the organisation and its context.

She is herself from a farming background in Friesland and so well suited to be the first artist in residence at the new Lawson Park headquarters and farm project.

Underlying her multi strand approach here has been a slight incredulousness around the British rural culture and also the British rural art scene. That any one bothers to farm this land of the Lake District, with no soil and no market for its product other than tourist entertainment, underlined much of her work here.

Her membership of the myvillages group made a good starting point, in that she was able to address the immediate issue of the Lawson Park honesty stall. This stall, which had originally been designed and built by a group of art students from Oxford, was created as part of a chain of stalls in a network of shops that aim to promote products and ideas from peripheral zones (ie rural backwaters) through the sale of local goods combined with a socio-political message. The ambition being to engage with the tourist/visitor at a deeper level and encourage a truer understanding of the context.

The Lawson Park stall, however, had grown weather weary and tired, so Wapke offered to undertake the redesign and reconstruction of the stall, to make it effective and functional.

Working with intern Sophie Perry, the stall was adapted and extended with shelving systems, boxes, signage, a picnic table for eating and viewing leaden with homespun phraseology to stimulate the user into considering the value of the produce on sale (in this case a pay what you want honesty jar policy) and subsequently the value of rural life in general.

The stall was launched at the opening of Lawson Park and was soon turning over a good few hundred pounds a week, clearly making an impact on its passing punters, including a beaming Nick Serota who cleaned us out of Chantrelles. She also built a market around the stall of local crafts and food for both openings and offered her own imported myvillages delicacies of cheese, brot and and pate.

Wapke contributed in other ways during her stay too, including the commission of the Lawson Park dining room table made by the artist for the main and central (physical, social, theoretical) space in the building. Wapke used her familiar technique of overpainted plywood grain combined with supporting structure produced by Process Pipework Services of Ulverston.

She made research visits to three local farms: Bracelet Hall, Yew Tree and Nibthwaite Grange, the latter being the most successful as farmer John Atkinson was able to dedicate a considerable amount of time to explaining the reality of farming this land and his campaigning as treasurer of the Cumbrian Commoners Association. Wapke took a soil sample from John's best meadow by the river which reinforced Wapke's aforementioned incredulousness as only 15cm of soil was the best she could manage without hitting bare rock.

Wapke also took part in the Rhizome and MyVillages Symposium from October 23 to 29. She is currently developing two projects with us: the International Village Shop with myvillages.org and a European toruing project on primary industries with German curator Robert Eikmeyer.







Posted by Alistair Hudson on 10/11/09 at 15:02

Rhyzom seminar eat lunch


Kathrin Boehm leads the Rhyzom field trip with Public Works, myvillages, AAA Paris, PS2 Belfast, Agency Sheffield. Another kind of conference/seminar use and they even did some weeding.

Posted by Adam Sutherland on 09/11/09 at 16:09

Shed loads


This is what two small ponies do on a daily basis

Posted by Adam Sutherland on 09/11/09 at 16:02

Radio Animal - Friday 13th November 7:30pm


Mark Wilson and Bryndis Snaebjornsdottir present a radio broadcast over dinner at Lawson Park. To Discuss our attitude to animals while eating some of them.

Guests include
Rikke Hansen (writer and critic)
Meg Falconer (Illustrator)
John Atkinson (farmer)
Dorian Moore (web designer)
and a range of the Grizedale staff

Tune in on via www.radioanimal.org

Radio Animal is supported by The Storey Institute, the Henry Moore Foundation, University of Cumbria and Arts Council England

Posted by Adam Sutherland on 09/11/09 at 13:12

Zombie Ruskin Takes On The Heritage Vampires.

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 join in!

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.

Posted by John Byrne on 09/11/09 at 06:25

John Ruskin is Big Leggy

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 X-Factor.

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 society.

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.

Posted by John Byrne on 01/11/09 at 18:22

Can Art Save Us?


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 Kane

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 Float

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 Sheffield Museums)

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 for details.

Posted by Alistair Hudson on 23/10/09 at 11:37

Does Public Art Need Outsiders?


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.

Someone even said Lawson Park was 'the best seminar venue I have ever been too'.

If you are interested in the findings of the conference the answer was "sometimes, sometimes not, maybe".

Posted by Alistair Hudson on 19/10/09 at 16:30

Agrifashionista Triple Loop


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 http://www.chanel.com/fashion/7#7-ready-to-wear-spring-summer-2010-show-chanel-fashion-show-14,7 - 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

Posted by Alistair Hudson on 12/10/09 at 10:27

Return of The Greasy Pole


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.

Posted by Alistair Hudson on 12/10/09 at 10:11

Eastside Gallery


Here's an image of the skeletal house/garden/kitchen advertising for rules that work fro communal living, any suggestions send them to gavin@eastside.org.uk or to Grizedale info@grizedale.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 adam@grizedale.org 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 conditions.

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.

Posted by Adam Sutherland on 03/10/09 at 12:43