Writing / Grizedale Arts Blog

Jessica Lack - The Nuisance of Landscape

The Nuisance Of Landscape: Grizedale – The Sequel Jessica Lack

“The ecstasy of drudgery” says Adam Sutherland, quoting Eric Gill, with only a hint of the fanatic in his eyes. We are standing in the hall of the Coniston Institute in the Lake District and Sutherland, Director of Grizedale Arts, is telling me what artists can expect when they come on residency here. Over the past 15 years, Grizedale has become the most radical arts organisation in the country. “Which is odd,” says a bemused Sutherland surveying the craftmaking workshop going on around him “because what we are doing is actually very ordinary”. But then sometimes it takes an extraordinary effort to be ordinary.

Grizedale Arts, as it is known today, began in 1999 when Adam Sutherland was appointed the new director of a small arts organisation based in the forest of Grizedale. It is now a research and development agency for contemporary artists, running a curatorial programme of community events and artist residencies. Inspired by places like Dartington Hall in Totnes, which embraced the philosopher Rabindranath Tagore’s ideals of progressive education and rural reconstruction, and John Ruskin’s early workers’ education movement, Grizedale promotes art that is useful to society.

From the start Grizedale Arts caused controversy, splitting locals into two camps, those who embraced its cultural democracy and those who saw the organisation as cynically exploiting the community. Sutherland, ever the belligerent optimist, devoured all criticism, even going so far as to invite the inhabitants to decide the fate of a much-hated public art work commissioned by Grizedale. They did so with rueful pugnacity by burning it to the ground. Its impact on the art world was also immediate. Grizedale offered an alternative to the neo-liberalism dominating contemporary art at the time and became a place of refuge for a group of young, post-yBa artists who were at odds with the prevailing climate. Artists like Olivia Plender, Nathaniel Mellors, David Blandy and Bedwyr Williams.

By 2004, when Alistair Hudson joined as deputy director, Grizedale had become something of a right-ofpassage for socially engaged artists. A kind of Grizedale aesthetic began to emerge, often involving animal costumes, craft and subversion. Marcus Coates confronted rural romanticism, literally head on, by attaching dead birds to his skull in an attempt to excite the Sparrow Hawk population, Jeremy Deller and Alan Kane started their Folk Archive, Karen Guthrie and Nina Pope won the Northern Art Prize for work made as part of the Grizedale commission ‘The 7 Samurai’ in which seven artists traveled to work with a local community in Japan. Then, five years ago, Grizedale stopped encouraging artists to make art. They were still invited on residencies, but were expected to dig in the garden, print 2 tea towels for the honest shop or run activities in the local village. What happened? Did Grizedale become anti-art? “Not at all”, says Sutherland, “I think art can change people’s lives, but for me creative success is the practical application of an idea that is integrated into the everyday and then sustained by a community inspiring involvement and development”.

Grizedale’s fifteen years are currently being celebrated with an exhibition in multiple venues across the Lake District called ‘The Nuisance of Landscape’- a suitably truculent title for an organisation that’s impossible to get to without a car. The exhibition starts with a blurred photograph of Marcus Coates crawling across a field in one of his many attempts to commune with nature. I’ve always enjoyed Coates’ art, he does no harm, although he invariably puts himself in potentially hazardous situations, politically, physically and emotionally, yet everyone comes out with their honour in tact, and as Grizedale’s longest serving artist resident it is fitting he starts the show. There is also a video of Sutherland describing the public burning by the local community of the contentious piece by Roddy Thomson and Colin Lowe. A retrospective is a great way of testing the waters of contemporary art, and what becomes apparent is how much of an impact Grizedale has had on the British art world, not just for its humour and DIY punk aesthetic, but its collective subversivism - they even make a key cutting shack look political (we don’t do Chubbs).

But mostly I like the fact that Grizedale is a respite home for art’s superannuated Trojans, those who have fallen foul of contemporary cultural Imperialism. There’s a great film of Olivia Plender earnestly attempting to rehabilitate the late Ken Russell as an auteur while he barks on about tits and ass and John Ruskin is celebrated for his progressive ideals, rather than his pathological fear of pubes. In many ways, Russell and Ruskin are good mascots for Grizedale. Both were uncompromising bastards who spent much of their lives in conflict with the prevailing orthodoxy. As Sutherland says, “Why should the shit version win? Lets reclaim a role in art; we will give back to people's lives what is missing and it will act as a catalyst to get other disconnected activities back into dialogue.” For those in the public arts sector, crippled by cuts and directed by a deluded government into approaching an utterly indifferent private sector for money, Grizedale suggests there might just be another way.

Posted on 02/04/15 at 16:14

The Nuisance of Landscape

A review of the show The Nuisance of Landscape by writer and art critic Jessica Lack:

“The ecstasy of drudgery” says Adam Sutherland, quoting Eric Gill, with only a hint of the fanatic in his eyes. We are standing in the hall of the Coniston Institutive in the Lake District and Sutherland, Director of Grizedale Arts, is telling me what artists can expect when they come on residency here. Over the past 15 years, Grizedale has become the most radical arts organisation in the country. “Which is odd,” says a bemused Sutherland surveying the craft-making workshop going on around him “because what we are doing is actually very ordinary”. But then sometimes it takes an extraordinary effort to be ordinary.

Grizedale Arts, as it is known today, began in 1999 when Adam Sutherland was appointed the new director of a small arts organisation based in the forest of Grizedale. It is now a research and development agency for contemporary artists, running a curatorial programme of community events and artist residencies. Inspired by places like Dartington Hall in Totnes, which embraced the philosopher Rabindranath Tagore’s ideals of progressive education and rural reconstruction, and John Ruskin’s early workers’ education movement, Grizedale promotes art that is useful to society.

From the start Grizedale Arts caused controversy, splitting locals into two camps, those who embraced its cultural democracy and those who saw the organisation as cynically exploiting the community. Sutherland, ever the belligerent optimist, devoured all criticism, even going so far as to invite the inhabitants to decide the fate of a much-hated public art work commissioned by Grizedale. They did so with rueful pugnacity by burning it to the ground.

Its impact on the art world was also immediate. Grizedale offered an alternative to the neo-liberalism dominating contemporary art at the time and became a place of refuge for a group of young, post-yBa artists who were at odds with the prevailing climate. Artists like Olivia Plender, Nathaniel Mellors, David Blandy and Bedwyr Williams. By 2004, when Alistair Hudson joined as deputy director, Grizedale had become something of a right-of-passage for socially engaged artists.

A kind of Grizedale aesthetic began to emerge, often involving animal costumes, craft and subversion. Marcus Coates confronted rural romanticism, literally head on, by attaching dead birds to his skull in an attempt to excite the Sparrow Hawk population, Jeremy Deller and Alan Kane started their Folk Archive*, Karen Guthrie and Nina Pope won the Northern Art Prize for work made as part of the Grizedale commission The 7 Samurai in which seven artists traveled to work with a local community in Japan.

Then, five years ago, Grizedale stopped encouraging artists to make art. They were still invited on residencies, but were expected to dig in the garden, print tea towels for the honest shop or run activities in the local village. What happened? Did Grizedale become anti-art? “Not at all”, says Sutherland, “I think art can change people’s lives, but for me creative success is the practical application of an idea that is integrated into the everyday and then sustained by a community inspiring involvement and development”.

Grizedale’s fifteen years are currently being celebrated with an exhibition in multiple venues across the Lake District called ‘The Nuisance of Landscape’- a suitably truculent title for an organisation that’s impossible to get to without a car. The exhibition starts with a blurred photograph of Marcus Coates crawling across a field in one of his many attempts to commune with nature. I’ve always enjoyed Coates’ art, he does no harm, although he invariably puts himself in potentially hazardous situations, politically, physically and emotionally, yet everyone comes out with their honour in tact, and as Grizedale’s longest serving artist resident it is fitting he starts the show. There is also a video of Sutherland describing the public burning by the local community of the contentious piece by Roddy Thomson and Colin Lowe.

A retrospective is a great way of testing the waters of contemporary art, and what becomes apparent is how much of an impact Grizedale has had on the British art world, not just for its humour and DIY punk aesthetic, but its collective subversivism - they even make a key cutting shack look political (we don’t do Chubbs). But mostly I like the fact that Grizedale is a respite home for art’s superannuated Trojans, those who have fallen foul of contemporary cultural Imperialism. There’s a great film of Olivia Plender earnestly attempting to rehabilitate the late Ken Russell as an auteur while he barks on about tits and ass and John Ruskin is celebrated for his progressive ideals, rather than his pathological fear of pubes. In many ways, Russell and Ruskin are good mascots for Grizedale. Both were uncompromising bastards who spent much of their lives in conflict with the prevailing orthodoxy.

As Sutherland says, “Why should the shit version win? Lets reclaim a role in art; we will give back to people's lives what is missing and it will act as a catalyst to get other disconnected activities back into dialogue.” For those in the public arts sector, crippled by cuts and directed by a deluded government into approaching an utterly indifferent private sector for money, Grizedale suggests there might just be another way.

* Jeremy and Alan's Folk Archive definitely didn't start at Grizedale although they did come to stay during the collecting phase and decided that any local folk art was tainted by the proximity of so many artists so consequently inadmissible.

Posted on 12/12/14 at 14:59

Now I Gotta Reason

Are they working?

The show at the Jerwood Space opened for business yesterday. Co-curated with Marcus Coates, the premise of the show is looking at ways in which art, artists and culture can play a more useful role in society. The main discussion so far seems to be about money and in particular the artist and their unpaid or unvalued labour. As we will be making the budget spend transparent and encouraging the artists to think about generating income through their activity, money talk is no surprise so we will see where these discussions take us in the coming weeks.

Posted on 08/11/12 at 10:02

Santa's Helpers

Not really, he doesn't exist. However, we could really do with some help bringing special seasonal art cheer to our local village. From making Christmas decorations, serving mulled wine at the Christmas Lights Switch On to offering a gift wrapping service at the Farmer's Market and Art Fair, you can use your creative skills in lots of useful ways. For more information, email Maria.

Posted on 01/11/12 at 15:14

Beware The Stare

The Coniston Youth Club, which we started just over a month ago, is arranging its first public event - a film night in Coniston Institute on Tuesday 24th July. They decided to screen the 1960's sci-fi film, Village of The Damned, a film about a group of children in a village who have telepathic powers and are able to force people to do things against their will! We will be joined by a group of young people on a residential visit from Tate Liverpool. Do read the Coniston Youth Club weekly blog here.

Posted on 18/07/12 at 21:22

From Purcell to The Beach Boys

Mill Hill County High School were in Coniston last week for a spot of canoeing, hill walking and general school holiday fun (with a few trips to the hospital). All music students, on holiday with their music teachers (with a penchant for both classical and easy listening), much to our delight, they agreed to to do a performance for the village on their last night. Held in Coniston Institute, our Youth Group made homemade ice cream and temperance drinks and served these during the interval and raised money for both Mill Hill school and our youth group. 

Posted on 08/06/12 at 16:09

Talk by Dr. Derek Lynch

Transforming Agriculture: Growing better communities

Monday 28th May 6pm

Coniston Institute


Dr. Derek Lynch is an expert in organic agriculture and professor at Dalhousie University in Canada. He is in Consiton to give a talk on his research into organic and sustainable agricultural systems from around the world. This talk is free and not to be missed so please come along! Refreshments will be served.

Dr. Derek Lynch is Canada Research Chair in Organic Agriculture at Dalhousie University in Halifax, Canada. His teaching and research interests include organic and sustainable agricultural systems, environmental/ecological impact of farming system, and soil quality and fertility management.

Posted on 07/05/12 at 12:24

Michael Marriott Talk

Coniston cricket pavilion
One of the most beautiful recreation grounds

A talk and workshop with renowned Interior Designer Michael Marriott, as part of the development of the Coniston cricket pavilion and grounds.

Friday 25th May

6 - 9pm

The event is free and a buffet dinner is included. All are welcome.

This is the second event in a series of talks focusing on contemporary, sustainable building and design for a community build project.

Posted on 07/05/12 at 11:27

Holidaying at Home

Holidaying at home is the new going away so here's a link to our neighbour and friend John Atkinson's holiday blog. His 2 week annual leave from his National Trust job is spent lambing on his farm.

Posted on 21/04/12 at 21:39

A village self-build

Dominic Stevens at Coniston Institute. Photo by Hydar Dewachi

We have now had a couple of meetings with the local cricket, tennis and bowling clubs with a plan to work with them to re-develop their buildings (in particular the cricket pavilion). Set in one of the most stunning views in Coniston at the base of a mountain, the opportunity to create a contemporary build (or series of buildings) couldn't be missed. As a community project, this will involve quite a lengthy process of discussions, talks and workshops to re-think the whole area and how it might be possible to generate income streams from these new buildings. The first talk we organised was with Irish architect Dominic Stevens. With his sensitivity to the landscape and to environmental issues, use of local materials and labour and to being cost efficient, his talk went down very well. We then had a discussion about the needs of Coniston, the community and the three clubs and decided that what we don't need is another pub (there are 6 already in the village) but what would be beneficial was if the pavilion could double as accommodation during the winter, generating income for the clubs. There was a bit of opposition to this, mainly from fear that a precedent would be set which would allow the site to become a housing estate in the future, but generally everyone was all for a multi-use contemporary build.  

Posted on 10/04/12 at 11:49

From 1 to 9

Our lonely pig Octavia has found herself suddenly kicked out of her palatial home and grounds, and into a smaller field with makeshift arc, to make way for a herd of 8 new pigs. They're a very rowdy bunch and full of lice and worms (and God knows what else) and are very malnourished. The renegade 8 were found abandoned in a nearby car park last week by our neighbour farmer John,but with no ear tags, it was impossible to trace where they came from. John had no room on his farm so we decided to home them. Judging by the state of them (I've never seen protruding spines, ribs and hip bones on pigs) I guess whoever had them didn't know what was involved in keeping them or just didn't care. I think they are actually mico-pigs. Not the cute ones everyone imagines mico-pigs to be, but the things they grow into. They are smaller than most pigs but still above knee high and pretty ugly! They are 'micro-pigs' because they breed runts with runts, ie. the unhealthiest in the litter of any breed. You can see in these ones bits of Tamworth, Saddleback and maybe a bit of Berkshire or Large Black. It could be that someone stole a couple, thinking they could breed them and make a ton of money. A rare breed pig like our British Lop, bought as a weaner, costs about £60. Mico-pigs cost about £600! However, unless you have registered the pigs and have them ear tagged, you can't sell them on or take them to slaughter. You can't even legally move them without the right paper work. The animal welfare people at DEFRA have let us register these pigs with our own herd mark so we can legally move them and take them to slaughter when the time comes (if I can get them healthy enough).

In the mean time, the BBC are coming up to Lawson Park with their cameras, so who knows, maybe someone watching will identify the rogue owner!

Posted on 24/01/12 at 22:06

New Green Woodwork

This project is about bringing coppice workers and contemporary designers together to develop a series of new products for local production and distribution.

The workshop programme offers coppice workers the opportunity to works with contemporary designers to develop affordable and locally produced furniture.

If you are a coppice worker or designer, please get in touch for more information on taking part in the 5 day design workshops. They run from Friday 17th – Tuesday 21st February 2012.

SATURDAY 18th February

Join us for a full day of  demonstrations, discussions and a conference on craft, design and the Utility Scheme.

10am – 2.30pm

A morning of demonstrations and talks at Witherslack Studios, led by Charlie Whinney.  You will meet the coppice workers and designers working collaboratively on New Green Wood Work designs.

3pm – 7pm

Conference at Blackwell, Arts and Crafts house in Windermere.

With talks from:

Dr Kathy Haslam (Blackwell’s Curator) - The philosophy and politics of the Arts & Crafts Movement and its contemporary relevance.

Ray Leigh (chairman of the Gordon Russell Trust, and former Design Director and Managing Director of Gordon Russell Ltd) – Gordon Russell and the Utility Scheme.

Keynote speech by product designer, Michael Marriott.

Questions and panel led open forum

 

Saturday 25th – Sunday 26th February

Green Wood Working Weekend - follow up production workshops

10am – 5pm

Weekend workshop in collaboration with Brantwood Estate where we will be making from scratch, items designed in the Witherslack workshops.

For more information of to book a place, please email maria@grizedale.org or call 015394 41050

 

Posted on 12/01/12 at 15:58

Farmer's Market and Art Fair

A great weekend in Coniston Institute highlighting much of the art, craft and local produce from the village and surrounding area. Overall, the weekend made £4,000 and raised over £400 for the Conistion Institute redevelopment fund. The Grizedale Arts handmade ceramic Christmas decorations sold very well this year, though we got a slapped wrist for the hand grenade. Weirdly, no one complained about the Marcus Coates animal turd decorations! The best sellers were the things that looked most homemade and it seemed there was a preference for the handwritten sticker as opposed to the properly printed and designed label. Bringing so much local production together highlighted just how much is missing from the shops in this area. It's crazy to see shops selling honey from China when there is some amazingly tasty honey produced locally which flew off the shelves at the Fair. 

Posted on 13/12/11 at 18:40

Wish I could be like David Watt

David Watt who ran one of the few useful shops in the village, just recently passed away. He ran the hardware shop and though he seemed to specialise in dog leads, he always had some magical item that you never knew you needed until you entered his shop. One of the last thing we bought from him was a cable peanut! Everyone seemed to warm to him and even just catching a glimpse of him walking his dog would put you in a nicer mood. He will be greatly missed by the village and by all of us.

Posted on 23/11/11 at 12:28

...And there was light.

The Christmas lights are all up an on in Coniston now and look fantastic (if a little creepy!) A surprising number of people came along to the switch on, nearly 200, which was well above my pessimistic guesstimate of 20.   Richard Ryan, Manager of the Blackpool Illuminations was due to switch on the lights but as he was stuck in traffic, and with people getting bored of mulled wine very quickly, we had one of our favourite local ladies, Margaret Proctor, switch on the lights for us and pose for press photos. We were handed the job of organising the Christmas Lights from a committee of local women who have done this for 11 years. We have been quite anxious about their response to all the changes we have made but fortunately for us, they are very happy with them! Richard arrived just before everyone disappeared into the pub or to dominos night (one of the biggest club nights in Coniston!) so he was able to give his talk on Christmas Lights and the Blackpool Illuminations. We had bought a couple of lights from him and the big Peace on Earth sign, he told us, was originally made for a Robson Green Christmas pop video! 

Posted on 21/11/11 at 16:05

An Update of the Kitchen Update

Seventeen volunteers showed up on Tuesday to get stuck into more revamping of Coniston Institute. The kitchen was the priority. Since the new units were put in a few weeks ago, we hadn't had a chance to add the finishing touches like putting up shelves and deciding which cupboard for cups and which for plates and where we should keep the tea towels. It's all looking great and working so we're looking forward to cooking a big thank you dinner for all the volunteers, committee members and funders.

We also had a massive clear-out of a general hoard found squatting in the basement. The mouse-nibbled shuttlecocks, broken Christmas decorations, rotting curtains and paint brushes gone hard, filled a trailer and three cars. 

Then came the rubble.... a wall has come down to make a once overflowing storage room and dark corridor into a beautiful new library.... update to follow.

Posted on 12/11/11 at 23:26

Feeding Of The 180 Or So

Some of the donations for the Coniston Harvest Festival
Linda, Joan and Margaret preparing food
Kathrin Bohm making sauerkraut at Wysing

We celebrated Harvest Festival twice this year. The first was in collaboration with St. Andrew's church in Coniston where we received huge donations of locally grown produce. About ten or twelve volunteers came throughout the day to help with the preparation and cooking of a celebration dinner and ready meals. Thirty people came to the dinner and we made more than 120 packaged meals which were delivered to some of the elderly residents in the village. The second Harvest Festival was at Wysing Arts the following week. Wysing's base is a converted farm in Cambridgeshire and although the land is used for sculpture now and not food production, they still have some very productive fruit trees. However, we decided not to do an entirely fruit-based dinner and so managed to get a few things grown locally (onions and cabbage) before hitting the supermarket (where there was an excellent deal on squid). The Harvest Festival at Wysing consisted of a day of talks and films followed by a supper for the artists, staff, volunteers and visitors. The talks were mainly food related, including Erik Sjodin's research into the fast growing Azolla pond plant as a nutritious food source and Will Clifford's talk on the Miracle Tree (Moringa Oleifera) and it's nutritional and medical properties. Kathrin Bohm presented a project in Berlin with myvillages.org about approaches to sustainable food production and also made us a huge batch of sauerkraut (which we had to take back to Lawson Park and is still fermenting in buckets in the cold store). 

Posted on 14/10/11 at 09:33

Goodbye English Rose

Work begins dismantling the old kitchen
Lifting the lino reveals very nice floorboards
The English Rose kitchen awaits collection

For the past year the volunteer group (The Boon Day Group as we have been named) has worked hard to get Coniston Institute back into shape. Having raised more than £10,000 (with grants from Coniston 14 and the Rawdon Smith Trust), work began today stripping out the old kitchen. It was a vintage English Rose kitchen but fits of territorial behaviour resulted in padlocks being bolted to the fronts of many of the lovely aluminium cupboards, not realising that they were a British design classic! The company that made them, Constant Speed Airscrews originally made nose cones for Spitfires and parts for Lancaster bombers throughout WW2, but after the war, being left with a large workforce and a stockpile of aircraft grade aluminium, the company went on to design the English Rose Kitchen. This was quite possibly the first ‘modular’ kitchen range in Europe. We did managed to sell the units on ebay but only for about 5% of what a reconditioned one would cost. Never mind! 

Posted on 26/09/11 at 16:31

Feeding Back

One of our volunteers Michael Davies who was with us for 3 months left us with a very interesting and well written blog entry for our website about his time at Lawson Park. 

 

When I came to Grizedale, being a working class boy from suburban Glasgow, I couldn't have been farther from home, in these rural Lake District surroundings of the staggeringly beautiful and impeccable Lawson Park. Thankfully I was met with a genuine acceptance and quiet assistance by the residents, the degree of which has surprised me somewhat.

 

I came here without particular proclivity for, well, anything useful. Fresh from art school, your eyes can still be a little dewy - because art schools aren't really schools are they? And what you learn in them can so easily, and often, amount to nothing at all. In fact it seems an absurd misuse of the word art, or artist, if one thinks it can be proscribed or created through a meagre three - four years in a non-school. What they do achieve though, in general, through provision of their nurturing time, space, framework, is capacity for critical outlook and thought, which is a powerful, vastly under valued skill, and quite ominously rare. But this capacity must be applied with rigour and insight to far more than just insular gallery exhibits.

 

Anyway, when I read the great modernists talking about the merging of art and life, as they do, it always seemed to me to veer tragically and slightly solipsistically back toward art. At Lawson Park, life really is an art, with even it's own type of autonomy in the form of six hundred feet of altitude and an exceedingly long driveway (much to the fury of certain members of the village people.) Indeed, if I could belligerently key a phrase: There is no art but life. That is to say, art here is an integral part of life, not that it doesn’t happen - it just isn’t as precious. In terms of use value though, besides growing much of it’s own foodstuffs, Lawson Park as a site has as strong a cathartic and revelatory spiritual affect as any of the conventional art-forms can claim. At the same time, as locus or matrix, it is able to export these values to make real social head way, creating interesting connections between disparate cultural nerve-endings - even if this is entirely lost on it’s most frequent visitor; the lesser Lake District Mountain-Biker.

 

I see Lawson Park as a yardstick, a benchmark, a tan line, err... it's like white bed linen that shows up all the dirt, hair and nasty bits that we all leave behind and makes them so obvious that we really can't ignore them any longer, in fact they become to clear that we can examine them in comfort and wonder at how they came to be, and perhaps devise ways of not getting so dirty in the future. The shit streaks and sweat patches that as a society we've grown so used to hiding under dark colours and deodorant that only once you see them you realise how easily they can be washed away. Perhaps I’m being a little think with simile, but simply put, they have a good life here, and eminently worth striving for. There are so many things that are lost to habituation of city life and work - most significantly the manual work of making or growing - which has dislocated so many lives with the reality of our existence.  This disjunction grows greater by the day, observable through the sense of suspicion and uncertainty on the part of the ‘offcomer’ people from cities, at anything that is not qualified by the framing mechanics of consumer packaging, sell-by-dates and GDAs - an odd reversal of the stereotypical country folk’s distrust of everything technological.

 

I've spent my three months here a bit like a sponge, quietly absorbing and reticently retaining as much as I could. I've even washed Andy Warhol’s collection of cups, and wiped down surfaces used by some great minds. But alas, my summer not-a-holiday at Grizedale is at an end and now I must go off into the night and squeeze myself of all this juice.

 

So long, and thanks for all those Sophistocakes (copyright Benjamin, M. Z. 2011)

Posted on 01/09/11 at 09:56

Let there be Light

Spent a bit of time up at Low Parkamoor this week getting it ready for the summer bookings. It's looking really rather lovely but we still need to find a good, inexpensive and eco lighting system, bearing in mind there is no electricity up there. Paraffin lamps get broken very easily (on average one glass chimney gets smashed per booking), candles are a bit of a fire risk and wind-up lamps don't last very long or give off much light. Any suggestions would be much appreciated!

Posted on 09/06/11 at 18:05

Let There Be Light

We had a great day out in Blackpool last week. Or more of a day in really, as we spent a good few hours looking round the Blackpool Illuminations warehouse.

Posted on 01/06/11 at 14:16

Ruskin Cheese

Fernando Garcia Dory, an artist, director of a Shepherds School in Spain and currently doing a residency with us, will be coming to Coniston in a few weeks time to run cheese making workshops. Like John Ruskin's mobile dairy school, developed more than 100 years ago the workshops aim to be a real and practical option for farmers and smallholders as a way for farmers to diversify their productivity. Yesterday we visited our neighbours, the Brantwood Estate, to look at Ruskin's Ice House.

Posted on 31/03/11 at 15:06

The Coniston Institute Revamp Begins

Coniston Institute, the village hall and library has been pretty run down for years and funding for a complete surgical make-over is yet to happen. In the meantime, to avoid further decay and general disillusionment with the place, we thought we'd organise a series of volunteer weekends to get on with it ourselves. We bought some paint, a floor sander was hired and about 15 of us spent two days kick starting the revamp. It was hard work but a real pleasure to see some immediate improvements. Grubby walls were painted, old broken pots in the kitchen were finally chucked, out-of date leaflets are no longer cluttering up tables and notice boards and the broken clock has been binned. The stage had been used as a general storage area for chairs and tables but after clearing it and sanding the floor, you can really imagine it being used again as it was intended. A big thank you to everyone who helped, especially Margaret who just turned 85 and spend the weekend with paint stripper and a scraper.

Posted on 17/03/11 at 08:32

Schools Out For Winter

We have just had a group of 22 'A' level students from Gravesend in Kent up for a three day art trip. We had a packed itinerary from making horsehair paint brushes to night photography in the forest. There was some infringement from the weather; a one hour ferry trip around Lake Coniston through a thick fog and trying to draw at night in the forest in the pouring rain. We invited photographer Rut Blees Luxemburg to work with the photography students, Alistair Hudson led the drawing workshops and Glenn Boulter made a light and sound installation in the forest. You're always a bit unsure of what gets absorbed when it's like an assault course of workshops, screenings, talks, trudging about en mass in the drizzle with sketchbooks and cameras with no time for reflection. However, the students presented some very impressive work at the end of the trip (see below). Were just waiting for the feedback forms to come back. From the last school group the only complaint was the lack of TV's in the bedrooms.

Posted on 16/02/11 at 17:47

The Re-Coefficients Dining Club films

Adam Sutherland serving one of the five courses of soup

The Coefficients Dining Club was established in 1902 as a forum for the meeting of social reformers. On the 23rd April 2010, at the Millennium Galleries in Sheffield, we used this format to bring together six new and divergent voices to give speeches on cultural and social reform.

Over a five course meal of five different soups over 100 hundred diners listened to speeches by John Atkinson (farmer), Inderjit Bohjal (minister), John Byrne (academic), Cristina Cerulli (architect), John Ruskin (educator) and Alexandre Singh (artist). Click here for more.

Posted on 02/12/10 at 23:36