(I move from Korea to Japan to work with artists Fernando Garcia Dory on his farming and food project in Maebashi – it is kind of meant to be a holiday)
As with Seoul, Maebashi is a city of almost completely renewed buildings, both flatten by war and the drive to modernity - looking out over these places I feel a sense of tragedy, grief really, the odd tear has fallen on several occasions (quite incomprehensible really, always when I am on the 23rd floor or so) over the ‘sublime’ in the extreme urbanscape, a kind of combination of wonder and horror, a ‘what have we done’ feeling – the extraordinary human endeavour, the sense of what is underneath – not only the landscape but a former built environment, in effect the place. The character the cities have is now more of a geographical position than a visible history or culture – they could almost be any place, any person’s home. The few ‘natural’ elements are hardly there, in Maebashi the river can perhaps offer a little solace – not really sure why a river would do that but somehow it does – all that flowing on and on stuff it’s always getting up to.
I noticed that Seoul has been voted 3rd worst city in the world, that does seem somewhat upside down – it is surely one of the best cities in the world, very efficient, energising, interesting, varied, law abiding, big. I guess the downsides are the phenomenally built up quality, but even that is majestic, awe-inspiring.
5 days in a window less, equipment free, ex pizza kitchen in a mental health day centre is one experience of Japan that I might not repeat in a hurry. The last day – a holiday - was however a delight and flowed smoothly from dawn to dusk starting with a visit to an exquisite house and garden in the Maebashi suburbs. The key feature and centres piece to the stroll garden being the large open expanse of dry stream bed acting as a stone garden in the dryer months and a shallow pond in the wetter ones – really inspiring. All the usual elements of the stroll and water, rock and inner gardens including the usual buildings, tea house, viewing platform – the no nails building design certainly inspired me again - Lawson park get ready to get your freak on and this time it’s going to be sharp.
This visit was quickly followed by a work-wear shopping trip in the utterly vast agricultural store – a place where you can by a bridge large enough to drive over. Picked up a set of working clothes all pockets and padding to add to the LP work wear of the world collection. We then headed out to Airko sacred mountain but while stopping for petrol noticed an abundance of pots outside a house – turned out to be an absolute treasure trove of amazing folk art and other antiques run be a lovely old couple who made us coffee and gave us rather good deals on our somewhat paltry buys. I bought a tight collection of red lacquer wares Fernando somewhat randomly bought a child’s kimono and a paper mache fox – I think this may say something about our respective characters, and why the previous 5 days had been such a struggle. He’s a freewheeling charmer and I am an uptight delivery freak.
From there our artist friend and guide Hiro Masuda drove us to the top of the sacred mountain and as we climbed the leaves of the - incredibly diverse range of trees - changed – autumn was about half way down the mountain and blow me if it wasn’t the E word again and this time in spades, or rather maple, acer, sycamour, birch and very many others.
Next stop was a pig farm and sausage producer followed by tea with a teacher of the tea ceremony providing me with a close look at her superb collection of tea bowls and their exquisite multiple boxes, each more E than the last. The extraordinary attention to detail involved in the ceremony is kind of nuts – like a really OCD obsession, the angle of the light, the crawl of the raku glaze, the bump in the foot of the bowl, the finger marks left by the potter – all have names and are to be paid attention to. It was a fascinating insight into a disturbing obsessive world – Fernando was transfixed – so alien for him, for me, I would be there if I took off the restrainers – so more like fear in my case.
Seoul’s Hermes store is a thing of extreme and slightly sickening perfection, from the white leather upholstered stair rail to the exquisite window mastic. The function of the building is unfathomable – 5 floors of taste and quality, populated only by staff, selling saddle soap, bridles, saddle blankets and of course their incomprehensibly expensive scarves – but whatever these cost it does not add up to this kind of operation.
Again this curious notion of authenticity – that is the nebulous currency that compels people to buy directly from Hermes. I was told many years ago about a retail experiment in a Tokyo department store (I was told this in a pub so almost certainly fiction). 2 lots of exact same Vuitton bags were laid out in the store one lot were priced at half the real cost – the full-price bags sold quickly, not one half-priced bag sold.
This trip took in the hyper rich quarter of Seoul, the Samsung art museum with its 3 – so famous you think they must be dead – architects. The auction house where the ‘experts’ verify the authenticity of objects and one of the most exquisite galleries, the Horim Museum, the result of one man’s obsession with Korean folk art. There is a curious schism in the galleries – the objects are mostly simple functional items, components of normal life – albeit a normality that is now hard to imagine in terms of aesthetic quality – this is set against the most luxurious of galleries, I suspect if I was an archivist I would be off the ground in transcendent ecstasy at the ‘conditions’. Conditions very far removed from ‘normal’ life – it seems an odd choice. However the objects are inspiring, a kind of Korean version of the Mengei museum and all the ideas behind that.
I arrived with an idea of what we could do with the project, that has inevitably shifted a fair bit – partly due to the wonders, partly the unexpected and not least the scale of Liam’s structure and the nigh on impossibility of moving it.
Toya, Toya, Toya, (pottery, pottery, pottery) sing the chipmunk choir – the soundtrack to your visit to the Incheon Ceramics biennale, a place where everything is made of pottery – some might say a dream come true but even as a devoted lover of clay it was too much for me – too expanding the form, too much art, too many people declaring pottery is art – mainly ‘here’s something that looks like contemporary art that I made in clay’. In a way the joy of pottery is it’s building block quality, it’s integration in the ordinary – not it’s desire to fly. Of course clay is possibly the most versatile of any medium, from high performance engine, cladding for a space rocket and the always sharp knife, to the coprophilic splogs and splats of self expression.
The pottery biennale along with many other things has made me think again about the perception of authenticity – a long historical and contemporary exchange between east and west, from the pottery of the 16th century to the prints of the 19th century and the commerce of the contemporary. Everywhere I see copies of contemporary design, in itself retro design – copies of things that are themselves copies of other things – but somewhere in this endless exchange someone claims authorship and copy right (usually a photographer). Perhaps the most perplexing copy is the copy of the up-cycled look, the faking of recycled materials.
There is an interesting alternative in Korean pottery, there are master potters that make pots in the traditional style, 15th century style, these pots sell for £40,000 as much if not more than the ‘originals’. They are perfect versions, they are made with the same materials the same technology and the same craft skill and by people who are part of a living link - no changes, no stepping outside of the form.
When the western potter then copies this style – slavishly reproducing all the authentic details the result is of a high value but nowhere near as high as the Korean potters, the western potter adopts their own kind of other authenticity, when that is then reproduced it again drops in value. I suppose the issue is when the production techniques change and the same items become factory produced of less individual resonance, but probably better technical quality. Differences that the majority of people will not notice, and arguably why should anyone care. The difference between a good and great bottle of wine – largely symbolic for the majority of people. The symbolic and votive significance become paramount.
You can tie yourself quickly into a tight knot thinking about this stuff.
When Bernard Leach was heavily forged by the pottery class inmates of Wormwood Scrubs prison the bottom dropped out of the Leach market – the prisoners work was terrible all they really copied was the stamp.
In the north of Seoul is a small village area of winding streets and exquisite crafts. I visited the Folk art museum guided by Jina from APAP who translated and guided me through the complexities of the travel and food and all the rest – amazing to be so well hosted, so much more productive and you get the sense that you are perhaps actually valued, that something worthwhile is actually expected of you – so many residencies give the impression they just wish you weren’t there even though you are only there because they invited you. Anyway Jina (middle name Patience – no really) answered my millions of disparate questions tirelessly including the translation of 5 moral tales illustrated in a screen at the museum – it seemed to be telling stories similar to ones my uncle used to tell of his adventures - two brothers, one went to fight in a war, he died, the other brother had a sandwich – the end – it was quite hard to work out the moral messages.
The whole area is full of craft and making at all levels – it is also full of large groups of Chinese tourists who do somewhat destroy the bucolic calm of a solo visit to the chicken museum or the knot making school – other than that - what a place to live.
The evening we visit a retro music cellar, all 70’s design and music – it is founded and run by an artist/dj and is becoming increasingly popular for a mainstream audience. On a random note Jin tells me that until quite recently all album releases were legally obliged to have a health song on them, a positive educational message – that could be a great compilation series – from the west the plethora of positive songs in the James Brown catalogue spring to mind – well they would would’nt they that’s the sort of nonsense my mind is filled with. Trying to find out a bit more on K-pop and the musical heritage - although American influenced from the war period music seems to be largely Korean, albeit fusion. Korean pysch soul is well known in the esoteric circles of muso land but what did it mean? I found a film based on a group called the Devils that seems to suggested the Korean president blamed the loss of the Vietnam war on pych soul!! and the group were imprisoned and tortured before making a post-military comeback – the music seems largely to be pretty pedestrian soul cover versions – a Korean Blues Brothers albeit the blues brothers were sadly never tortured before after or during the film - although Beluchi did do himself some damage by all accounts.
Second hand Seoul (ok that will be the only soul pun) and Pottery biennale - bet you cant wait
All the usual fun of the long flight – 10 hours + the children exploring the rhythmic stylings of Stomp using the clack of the seatbelt, the crash of the table and the sickening guillotine jolt of the arm rest, while dad texts. My seat enemy seemed to have to urgently leave her seat minutes after the meal has been laid out – really extremely awkward to pick all that stuff up and move, and the most unpleasant of all flight phenomena the toe massage – from my rear seat enemy – a girl absolutely determined to explore the full potential of her seat’s capacity for alternative function and the back of my chair for some complex foot work.
The film selection was a bit of a struggle, I was delight to note the Fast and Furious has reach 6 – actually might watch that on the way back, heard it was so beyond reason it had started to get good and Vim Diesel is always a jaw dropping watch – what’s with the ‘I’ve got a blocked nose’ diction. Did watch ‘The Intern’ a rom-com with the Vaughn/Wilson jerk-a-thon formulae - those guys really have got the portrait of unutterable tossers off to perfection. The Wilson seduction scene always a must watch for shear wincing agony.
Incheon airport is a groovy super breeze, and the relaxed coach ride into Anyang a pleasant sojourn through the combination of high rise, flyovers and spectacular landscape that is a familiar style in Asia – made more comfortable by not having the burden of a suitcase – erroneously left on some tarmac somewhere.
Met by Jin and Jina from APAP - and taken on a tour of the art works of the public art programme – a series of YBa period works in the new city, Gillick, Gary Webb et al. All looking a bit down in the ears, and kind of irrelevant in what is a kind of difficult context – the other part of the programme is closer to a sculpture park in a rural setting, much like a contemporary version of old Grizedale – mostly large scale sculptures in the landscape.
Both programmes driven by slightly different visions coming from the city government – the principle ambition being to do with status and city brand – to raise the ‘cosmopolitan’ factor. Also to attract tourists – despite that seemingly absurd notion.
The programme has to make decisions about various works in need of conservation or re sighting, difficult things to agree to spend money on and big money at that – big sculpture, big money.
It would seem a good idea to try to make some of these art works, actually work, take on some kind of function other than mildly pissing off the local population. Some are conceived as ‘social spaces’ particularly the architectural ones. However most have some ‘reason’ they cannot be used, often something like power or water supply, or impractical materials – which ends up meaning that they are all in effect symbolic. We are looking at moving Liam Gillick’s sculpture, ‘a scale model for a social sructure’ it seems logical to make it function for a community in some form.
And that’s where the problems start - this is a big thing, built to stay put, although looking structural it isn’t in many ways. So using it as structure for a further components is a bit problematic. The cost of moving it and re construction really means that you are principally trying to preserve a Gillick art work - that becomes the financially dominant aspect. It kind of becomes some sort of post-apocalyptic scenario where once extremely valuable things are used as components in mundane activities, kind of like cutting up the tyres of a lorry to make cheap shoes or using a Durer drawing as a men’s room pin up or some impressionist paintings as a floor covering (all real examples). So Liam’s million pound sculpture can be a sign-post and a support for an honest shop.
I probably need to begin with an apology… maybe two? First of all, this is the first JR memorial blog entry from me for well over a year – I don’t know where the time has gone, other than saying that the world has gone quite mad and, like everybody else, I’ve been busy trying to stave off the forces of terminal instrumentalization. Second, and far worse, this blog entry isn’t about DeLorean cars, flying skate boards, sleeveless bubble jackets or the consequences of calling McFly ‘chicken’ (though it has to be said, big JR would have made a good stand in for mad professor type person Dr. Emmett L. Brown). But this is about time machines – or, more accurately, Mechanics Institutes as they were once called. Yes folks, the good folk up at Grizedale have done it again. Just as we thought we didn’t have an appropriate metaphor to think through the process of ‘thinking ourselves otherwise’, up pop Adam, Alistair and Co with a reminder to look in front of our own eyes. And in my case into the history of the very institution I work in/for.
As you probably all know by now, Grizedale took the ‘Colosseum of the Consumed’ to Frieze Art Fair last October. During this multi-media, multi-project, multi-faith fandango, Alistair found time to communicate to us (at The Autonomy School in Liverpool) via the new fangled technology of Skype (something McFly and co could only have dreamed of in their Back to the Future II world of 1989). During this conversation, Alistair began to elaborate on various developments in Grizedale Art’s ongoing project. Most importantly, he invited us to imagine a bell curve of Social and Industrial assent and decline – beginning with the late Enlightenment/First Industrial Revolution and ending in our present economic chaos. If we were to draw an imaginary line back across this bell curve, from our present point in time, Hudson argued that we would find ourselves somewhere around the beginning of the 19th Century – a time in which Europe was beginning to re-define itself along the lines of democracy, emancipation and extended social inclusion. This period probably reached its ideological apogee in the revolutionary year of 1848 and laid the foundations for the ideas of citizenship and cultural value that we are currently clinging on to (and re-defiling) today. Amongst this hubbub of this activity was, of course, the growth of the Mechanics Institute – those utopian expressions of social progressivism funded by self-elected (and usually liberal minded) pillars of society. Amongst this list of alumni was, of course, our own big JR who kindly funded developments in the rural/industrial village of Coniston.
What is important here for Hudson and the crew of the good ship Grizedale was JR’s insistence on teaching art as part of an extensive and integrated education – making it part of a syllabus that would also include literature, the sciences and the acquisition of everyday practical skills. Not only did this kind of syllabus lead to the Mechanics Institutes becoming crucibles of self-organisation and social change (centres of early union activity as well as the foundations for many of our current UK Universities), it also remind us of a time when art was also ascribed a socially integrated use value. For Hudson, ‘the current state of art galleries and museums is still determined by the framework marked out by economic and truth values; where value is ascribed to works of art based upon their operation within a market system and their perceived ability to reveal or lead us to seeing the world as it really is. In this scheme (from around 1848 onwards) the third value of art, based upon its utility or usage, has been largely suppressed, or diverted into the arena of craft, activism, politics and so on’. Re-inventing use value as the crucial third term (against the accepted mode ‘dual mode of advocacy of and advocacy’ – displaying works of art according to a consensus of what constitutes a work of value [as commodities in both monetary and aesthetic terms] and then advocating this value to the museum or gallery’s constituency) then becomes crucial. It becomes the cornerstone for beginning to re-imagine a more permeable and open form of arts institution – one not bound by its physical and geographical manifestation or legislation.
In its humble way, the time machine of big JR’s Mechanics Institute at Coniston begins to open up this possibility, the possibility for re-imagining a socially re-integrated art production which forms part of our productive identity and collaborative notions of citizenship, individual civil rights and access to what we have left of community. Such a time machine also gives us the opportunity to look back to the future, to re-assess the roots of our culture, to sift through what was kept in and what was thrown away in the processes of epistemological construct that were (and still are) our inherited Modernity.
So! In our next issue of the Big JR Blog more on Time Machines - and a big thank you here to discussions with Francesco Manacorda, Director or Liverpool Tate, whose own (and far more elegant) use of the ‘Time Machine’ as curatorial device put me in mind of McFly and Co (and also, if I’m honest, made me begin to re-think the Machines and Machinic illogics/counterlogics of Guattari’s ‘Chaosmosis’). Maybe also something more on permeable institutions? Oh, and we probably need to start a reconsideration of craft at some point I would have thought? Until then may all of your Ruskin beards be trim, may all of your bushy sideburns stay hearty (in a non-gender specific metaphorical way of course), and may your Workers Soup remain forever on low simmer.
Open Pamphlet Call for Radical Aesthetics event organised by Loughborough University at The People's History Museum:
Art, Politics and the Pamphleteer
A RadicalAesthetics/RadicalArt (RaRa) event
People’s History Museum, Manchester,
FRIDAY June 14th 2013
Call for Participation
The RadicalAesthetics-RadicalArt(RaRa) project invites artists and scholars to prepare and submit a pamphlet for presentation at a one-day event, Art, Politics and the Pamphleteer. Instead of the traditional ‘paper’, submissions must essentially be for or against something – in essence a protest. The form that the protest takes is open to interpretation, for example print, paper, images, video, performance, public intervention. We invite you to address the idea and format of your provocation/declaration as imaginatively and radically as you wish.
How have artists used the trope of the radical pamphlet? How might it be utilized as a format?
Art, Politics and the Pamphleteer will explore the history and relevance of the pamphlet for contemporary art practice through presentations by speakers and performers. The one-day event will coincide with a small display of selected pamphlets from the PHM collection (curated by the RaRa organisers) together with a selection from our ‘call for pamphlets’. See below for more information.
Context: Radical Pamphlets, the People’s History Museum and RaRa
It is written because there is something that one wants to say now, and one believes there is no other way of getting a hearing. Pamphlets may turn on points of ethics or theology but they always have a clear political implication. A pamphlet may be written either for or against somebody or something, but in essence it is always a protest.
George Orwell (1948) in British Pamphleteers Volume 1, from the sixteenth century to the French Revolution
For Orwell, the pamphlet is a polemical provocation. Through the 20thc and beyond, artists have worked and acted provocatively and polemically with text, images and performance, publishing writings and producing pamphlets and manifestoes, including the Futurists (1909), Surrealists (1924), Fluxus (George Maciunas, 1963), First Things First (Ken Garland 1964), Mierle Laderman Ukeles (Manifesto for Maintenance Art 1969) and Stewart Home’s Neoist Manifestos (1987). More recently, in 2009, Monica Ross and fifteen others co-recited the Universal Declaration ofHuman Rights on the Anniversary of The Peterloo Massacre at John Rylands Library Manchester and the Freee Art Collective have performed their manifestoes in a range of public settings. The edited book (2011) by Danchev 100 Artists' Manifestos: From the Futurists to the Stuckists (Penguin Modern Classics) demonstrates it as subject of current interest.
The last decade has seen art’s increasing engagement with political and social issues, whereby in some instances artists’ activities have become indistinguishable from social activism (e.g. Wochenklauser) or other disciplinary functions (e.g. artist as ‘anthropologist’ as in Jeremy Deller’s Folk Archive).The art community’s current preoccupation with revolutionary movements and global politics is being addressed from different perspectives. The format and traditions of the ‘radical pamphlet’ may provide an alternative platform for artistic intervention and provocation.
People’s History Museum (PHM)
The People’s History Museum is a national research facility, archive and accredited public museum, which contains unique collections of documents and artefacts. The collection includes the British Labour Party and Communist Party of Great Britain papers, extensive amateur and documentary film holdings and the largest trade union and protest banner collection in the world. The Museum suits our particular brief of radicality in its focus on histories of radical collective action.
The project will extend invitation to a range of social groups in Manchester, for example: Manchester Social Centre, All FM Community Radio,Manchester Radical History Collective, Radical Routes network of co-operatives, Working Class Movement Library, Manchester, Centre for Research in Socio-Cultural Change, University of Manchester.
The RadicalAesthetics-RadicalArt(RaRa) project was initiated in 2009 at Loughborough University (LU) under the auspices of the Politicized Practice Research Group (PPRG). The RaRa project and its associated book series (with I.B. Tauris) explores the meeting of contemporary art practice and interpretations of radicality to promote debate, confront convention and formulate alternative ways of thinking about art practice. Previous RaRa events have included ‘DIY cultures’ and Radical Footage: Film and Dissent at Nottingham Contemporary.