Writing / Grizedale Arts Blog / 2010 / 10

Haunted by Ruskin

Hi All,

The long lost John Byrne here.

Sorry it been quite a while since my last blog entry but, amongst other things, I blame the recession inspired cuts to the arts - and the coalition hell released upon Higher Education.

Like most people in the arts I've had to try extra hard over the last few months to make anything like a positive move. Then again, like most people involved in the arts, that hasn't stopped my trying.

One thing that has stuck with me over the past few months, I'm more than mildly surprised say, is how badly I've been bitten by the big JR bug. So far, the conversations I've been having with people, and those that I've recorded for this blog, are really pointing towards a re-thinking of my relationship to art (and to art's relationship to me). The video I've popped up today is a case of this. As I grabbed a few JR interviews at the end of Grizedale's 're-Coefficients Club' event in sunny Sheffield last April, I couldn't help thinking of Alistair Hudson's prophetic flight of metaphoric fancy - that if big JR were to be around today he'd be wearing a hoodie and getting straight up the noses of the current art industry glitterati (and not, me thinks, in a necessarily neo-conservative way either). After all, just because much of today's off-the-shelf avant-gardism seems dull, vacuous and fascicle, doesn't mean we have to 'return' to traditional norms - unless, of course, those traditional norms are those long lost values of radicalism, activism and a will to coherently re-evaluate the present worth of our artistic and political efforts.

I guess some things just keep cropping up, re big JR, which I want to find out more about. Craft is one of them. Maybe not the usual idea of craft (as the pseudo hand whittled mass production of tourist tattle and middle class Sunday supplement escapist fodder), but the idea of Craft as a hands on approach to trying to do something different, something against the grain. After meeting up for a Jonathan Meese event at Grizedale almost a year ago, I had a really exciting conversation with about this with Charlie Gere. It's really stuck in my mind. I need to follow this up with Charlie and spend some more time reading Richard Sennett.

I've also become fascinated with Grizedale's idea of re-inventing the 'Mechanics Institute" as roving art and education intervention. It's not just that this idea appeals to me on the level of something I'd quite like to help out with (after all, tagging along with an itinerant bunch of art bedeviled educators may be my only option if cuts to Higher Education bite much harder), it's that John Ruskin's ideas seem to allow for a very contemporary re-appraisal of what education actually is and can do. Also, the Art and Design School that I currently work for at Liverpool John Moores University can, apparently, trace itself back to a nineteenth century mechanics institute… more of this when I check it out.

However, I have to admit that the biggest 'big JR' haunting has happened when I've been looking at contemporary (and historical) issues of how artists can simply find a way to do something different, worthwhile, against the grain. Alistair kindly joined us for the Autonomy Summer School at the Van Abbemuseum in Eindhoven in July and it was both surprising and exciting to find out how many Ruskinian strands of thought kept re-emerging. And, as well as this, 1848 has taken on more of a significance than I thought it would! Hmmmm…....

So, I have the big JR inspired bit firmly between my teeth now. Expect more interviews, musings, idling, rambling and surreptitious attempts at fitting square pegs into round holes as winter draws in and the long nights await. But what better way to spend nights beside the fire than with a laptop and the continuing ghost story of big JR?

Posted by John Byrne on 31/10/10 at 17:48

Local Vitamins

Paddy field discussion platform

This week we are hosting Michael Eddy and Emi Uemura from our good friends Vitamin Creative Space in China.

Michael, who runs the Vitamin operations in Beijing and artist Emi are here to develop ideas for a project between us.

During their stay they will be contributing to a number of events we are involved in. Please feel free to come along and take part.

Tuesday 26 October, 1.00 - 4.00pm

Kendal Food Fair

Market Place, Kendal

This afternoon, we will be contributing to the South Lakes Food Group stall at Kendal Food Fair in the Market Place. We will be presenting International Eating from Local Fields, or cuisine with normally high food miles made with local ingredients.

Tuesday 26 October

6.00 - 8.00pm

Mobile Radio

Coniston Institute, Yewdale Road Coniston

Mobile Radio will be making a programme at the Institute on Mosel Wines with a wine tasting thrown in. Michael, Emi and their friend Rob have made a range of cutting edge breads to soak up the booze.

Wednesday 27 October

10.00am - 12.30pm

Fair Trade Café

We will be helping out at the Fair Trade café at St Andrew's Church, Coniston Come along for some ethical catering and lecturing.

Emi is a Japanese artists who creates complex food related art works that address social and political issues surrounding food production and consumption. A recent project in Beijing saw the creation of a bespoke lunch delivery service for office workers.

Vitamin Creative Space are based in Guangzhou and Beijing and are one of the foremost Contemporary Art organisations in China working with many of the Chinese 'Art Stars' currently working internationally.


Posted by Alistair Hudson on 26/10/10 at 12:27

New Chart Entry

The press frenzy continues with us now in the Independent's list of Britain's top 50 galleries and museums.

Click here for the link

Posted by Alistair Hudson on 25/10/10 at 16:06


Note to self: must hang out with Ryan Gander more often.

Not content with an unflattering photogrpah of me in the art newspaper I now only gone and got myslef onto the hallowed turf of Artforum's Seen and Heard.

Next stop on the ladder, Grazia Style Hunter, surely.

Posted by Alistair Hudson on 22/10/10 at 12:12


You might be able to see Africa from here on a clear day
Simon Fujiwar and his unfeasably large testicles
Ryan's Puddle

I've just been to Spain on a package tour. I took a flight from Manchester to Murcia, surrounded by golf clubs and young families and the rest of my package group from the North by Northwest group of northwestern northwestern art organisations (ie those that aren't in Liverpool or Manchester).

Most people at Manchester Airport were in groups too. But they all had the same t-shirts with Malaga Muff Divers on the back. We all have the uniform of regional art administrators. As treasurer of the group I could not sanction Manifesta Muff Diver shirts, though it would make a nice change from the staple art cloth sacks favoured by the artnoscenti on these occasions. There's a Biennial project.

I'd never been to Spain before this. Being a white middle class art snob from Cheshire I always assumed the place would be full of British en mass, getting pissed and inflicting their culture on the locals. And so Manifesta proved.

Manifesta8, subtitled The European Biennial of Contemporary Art Region of Murcia (Spain) in Dialogue with Northern Africa, was constructed on a trinity of curatorial collectives who had spent too much time believing their own art theory. Manifesta in dialogue with northern Africa was therefore filled mostly with a European sensibility that manifests itself either as a) Lots of photocopied pieces of A4 paper that you don't want to read pinned to the wall or b) beautifully crafted HD projections of slow panning shots of nothing in particular happening.

If I counted right, there were only 8 artists based in Africa, out of about 100. One of the curator teams was the Alexandria Contemporary Arts Forum who laid on something close to the British Art Show in the old post office building. The consensus amongst the visiting audience, composed almost entirely from UK regional art tours like ours, was that this was the best bit. And there were good works here and there of course, but they could have been good works anywhere. Alexandre Singh brought some humour into the equation, as too Simon Fujiwara with his big cock. Ryan Gander made a puddle, which was nice. Pablo Bronstein and Common Culture were in a minority who actually addressed the context with any real sharpness. It was hard to find elsewhere with works that waded through and wore their academic credentials like a celice.

This comes across an aesthetic system built on extrinsic values, rather than any intrinsic will to have an effect on the world. Africa really didn't get a look in, not even in the catering.

You pay £3.5 million to get Manifesta. For that you get the art circus come to town and credibility branding and a few parties. I reckon that there were maybe 500 people at the opening party and this was the prime audience for the Biennial. That would work out at about £7,000 per head then.

Posted by Alistair Hudson on 22/10/10 at 11:53

Down the hatch


Just down the road from the Frieze Art Fair, Mrs Rebecca Gander-Limoncello has organised the Sunday Art Fair in a cavernous underground boiler room. A sort of art fair without walls, it feels like the old London art world used to feel, with fashionable kids and arrangements of artlike objects in an as-you-found-it warehousey place, in a venue you have to discover, rather than have shoved up you.

You access the fair through a metal gate on Marleybone Road, descend a metal staircase, follow a service road down and around, then go through a small door, into what you you'd expect to be a bunker, possibly housing a James Bond baddy.

Inside is the closest thing the art world has to a James Bond baddy, Ryan Gander (nobody understands what he does and he's taking over the world).

"Ah, Mr Hudson, I have been expecting you."

Ryan is running an eponymous bar serving tea, coffee, wines and beer at astonishingly reasonable prices and cocktails at astonishingly unreasonable prices. He has asked a number of artists to design and make their own cocktails, which are £50 each. Liam will be serving spilt vodka on a tray, Bob and Roberta Smith a glass of freshly poured concrete, but the mixologist on duty when I arrive is Fiona Banner. She has devised a drink in which the consumer has to down as many glasses of champagne as they can as she counts you down from 10. It's rather undignified, but actually not bad value considering champers is £10 a glass over at the Big Tent.

So, seeing as the art world is on the brink of financial collapse I buy one.*

Three glasses is all I can manage and feel quite glad about this as I don't want to be sick over Ryan. The prize though is a pair of boxing gloves and signed certificate. And I got a receipt for Julie in accounts. Look out for these items in a Christies sale near you soon.

Proof of the indignity is laid bare as I appear the next day in the Art Newspaper.

Cheers Ryan.

*NB If as a taxpayer you are questioning the ethics of this, be reassured that this was part of a complex marketing excercise/Ganderwerk to get punters to part with their cash for real. A bit like those gangs of scallies from Kent do, who sell perfume at Oxford Street. And it worked because someone did actually buy one, for real.

Now i understand art.

Posted by Alistair Hudson on 20/10/10 at 13:17

I saw Frieze

It doesn't seem to matter what kind of ticket you have there always seems to be some Eva Logronia, fur,denim and heels Italians sailing past you to wafting some other super pass. The ostentatious wealth of the Frieze crowd was even more evident than usual, with the VIP limo service and discounted hotels that start with the budget Connuaght at £300 a night - actually a bit of a bargain I would say bearing in mind the kind of humiliating experience you can put yourself through in a run of mill London shitpit at around half the price. The Connaught does at least make you feel good - I stayed budget before anyone gets shirty.

In general and considering the 5% of the fair that I saw I think it was a slightly livelier show than usual, fewer drawing room sketches, more big statements. I did enjoy a moment with vaulting young buck Simon Fukiwara, where I was bogusly and exaggeratedly commiserating with him on the immmmmmense pressure he must have been under in completing his Cartier commission and asked him where it was, he kindly pointed out that I was standing on it.

From our perspective Frieze offers a once a year shot in the arm (inoculation) update on how all that selling stuff is getting on and a chance to see a lot of people we saw last year and talked to about 'doing something'. It was great to see Vitamin's Hou Fang and Zhang Wei - (we are actually doing something with Vitamin next week) and Bruce Haines, attempting to complete on his commercial suicide, first giving Alan Kane a solo last year and now Des Hughes - added to which he appeared to be babysitting his 2 year old at the opening, call me old fashioned but…. still Bruce's chaotic charm will have no doubt seen him through the 15k barrier needed to break even. Toby Webster breathless as ever, the Association of Ginger Regional Curators and so on.

What always amazes me is how many people there are at Frieze that I don't know - I mean 'who are these people, where do they come from, why are they here, how much did it cost them to get here and where can I buy a 12 year old sex slave, Tahiti - great' (in the words of Gauguin). (Actually… Gauguin celebrated - Gary Glitter reviled, how so? So many similarities)

Talking of shows at the Tate that sunflower seed thing is disturbing and some. I trudged across the seeds in mounting horror. I was relieved to learn that the seeds were mould made, the thought of 100 million hand made seeds was hurting me somewhere inside. I think for anyone that's ever made something repetitively it is a shocking sight, however most of the audience seemed to misunderstand it as a beach - it's a bit like skate boarders who skate anything in the public realm, the Tate audience seem to think everything is a beach opportunity.

However it is a phenomenal artwork, with all its complex meanings, contradictions and downright wrongness. I also like that it has no visual charm at all - long live the pottery revival - (oh dam I shouldn't have said that now it'll be over).

Posted by Adam Sutherland on 18/10/10 at 11:43

A Heavenly Kitchen


Grizedale Arts collaborated with the local church (St. Andrews) on the Coniston and Torver Harvest Festival. There was a lot of donations of locally produced vegetables and well as some shop-bought stuff (though hardly any cans, and no tinned mandarin segments in sight). There were some fantastic volunteers and together we made about 150 meals that day. Mostly packaged up to go out on a local meals-on-wheels round and the rest was enjoyed that evening at a sumptuous supper. It was a real collaboration with George McClure on design, including a great logo for the plates, Glenn Boulter playing some lovely music during the supper as well as taking the photos and waitering duties, Matthew and Hermione for making realistic marzipan vegetables and lots of people who turned up to help in the kitchen. DJ Sons of Birds gave the night some edge with his gospel vinyl. Sample playlist -Violinaires - Grooving with Jesus, Tommy Ellison - Let that be a Lesson to you (Drunk Driver), Gospel Keynotes - That's my Son Hanging on the Cross, 5 Singing Sons - Are you Lonely for me Jesus, Ziontones - Use me Jesus. We got sent a nice thank you card.

Posted by Maria Benjamin on 13/10/10 at 14:17

Mat Do Stronger than Ever


New resident artist and chipper Whitechapel geezer at large Mat Do currently has an exhibition at (AND/OR) at 171 Mare Street. The Ties That Bind Us are Stronger Than Ever features work based on his residency in Egremont. Mat is due back up in early November to develop a project with the goodly people of this vale.

'Go see' as they say in the print media listings these days.

Posted by Alistair Hudson on 05/10/10 at 15:42

International Village Shop Website Launch

The International Village Shop is a growing network of cultural producers who set up permanent and temporary trading places for goods that are rooted locally. The products range from horsemilksoap to porcelain Frogbutterspoons, Peter's Pots and Titschy Kitschy houses, single-village rice, music CD's, handmade arrows, etc.

Grizedale Arts, myvillages.org, public works and Somewhere have worked with shop formats, trade and collaborative production since 2003. During a myvillages.org residency at Grizedale Arts in 2007 the idea was born to join ventures and the International Village Shop began.

Since then the partners in the network extended and reworked their trading places which include amongst others the ongoing Honesty Stall at Lawson Park, an annual shop for the village fete in Höfen, a two day shop at the Royal Academy in London, a one hour shop at the Studio of Urban Projects in San Francisco and an afternoon shop in a supermarket in the Swiss village of Fanas.

During the harvest month of October 2010 the International Village Shop website will go online. The site brings the geographically dispersed temporary and permanent "counters" of this one shop together, and gives insight to products that are developed for and contributed to this shop.

Throughout October 2010 a series of live shop activities will take place across both urban and rural places in the UK and Germany.

03 October, a "Höfer Waren" 2010 Swap Shop as part of the village fete activities, from 14.00 - 17.00 in the village of Höfen in Southern Germany, to make and swap clay fruit

06 to 17 October , myvillages.org presents thee International Village Shop at the offices of Lower Saxony in Berlin, with the shop open on Thursday 7th October from 19.00 - 22.00.

08 October at 19.00, a Friday Session on Shops at the public works studio in London.

10 October, "Heaven's Kitchen" as part of the Coniston Harvest Festival, with Grizedale Arts making frozen meals and a harvest supper from donated local produce.

New products that will enter the International Village Shop during October 2010 include:

Potato Sleepers, a bag to store potatos in the kitchen, developed with residents from the potato growing village of Neuenkirchen and myvillages.org, designed by FUCHS + FUNKE & Michael Lehner and made from leftover material from the local felt factory.

Paramentenmeterware, a new fabric devoloped with professional embroiders from the Paramentenwerkstatt at the Monastery of St. Marienberg, Helmstedt, in the far East of Lower Saxony, Germany.

Clay Fruit, a new dish applying "Hausfrauentechnik" to local clay to process the fruit that grows on it in the village of Höfen, Southern Germany.

Art and Agriculture porcelain sets , a printed second hand dinner set used during the Art en Agriculture wedding reception at Kultivator in Dyested, Sweden

New partners and products to enter the International Village Shop network are welcome.

For more information:

Contact mail@internationalvillageshop.net

International Village Shop Partners:

Website design and build: Dorian Fraser Moore (the useful arts organisation), and Kathrin Böhm (public works/myvillages.org)

The International Village Shop website is financially supported by Mondriaan Foundation, Rhyzom and FondsBKVB.

Posted by Dorian Fraser-Moore on 02/10/10 at 19:44