Sunday, March 27, 2016

Spring Break

Slow News Day

Just like the crappy local rag in Brighton, "The Argus", I am having a slow news week as I'm on holiday so this is going to be a short post. It has to be said, the 'headline' above is a new low in their generally laughable headlines - one would be disappointed if the deacon didn't urge people to go to church.

Not Again...Mutant Rats

Four Letter Pasty Rant

Monday saw the ever-creative Birmingham Opera Company performance of one of my favourite pieces of music ever, Henry Purcell's "Dido and Aeneas". I went to see their performance of "The Waiter's Revenge" last Autumn and Stockhausen's "Mittwoch Aus Licht" several years ago, before I had even thought about moving to Birmingham. Given that "Dido" is so well-known and well-loved, any contemporary production runs the risk of upsetting and offending 'traditionalists'.

Setting it in a sleazy ballroom in an underpass off The Bullring was the first surprise.

Dido & Aeneas - Birmingham Opera - 4

Dido & Aeneas - Birmingham Opera - 5

For me, the excitement began when I heard that the piece was being performed on the original instruments. Purcell has become one of my favourite composers and although I wouldn't object to hearing performances on modern instruments, the original instruments give a life and vivacity to the music which cannot be conveyed otherwise.

Dido & Aeneas - Birmingham Opera - 7

Dido & Aeneas - Birmingham Opera - 8

The performances were blistering but the biggest surprise was the enormous chorus - perhaps equal in size to the audience - who were mixed in with the audience for a good part of the performance. If I hadn't been there, it would have been hard to imagine how this could work, but it was very effective.

Dido & Aeneas - Birmingham Opera - 12

The highlight for me was the role of the Sorceress being sung by a counter-tenor - Tai Oney - instead of the more usual mezzo-soprano.

Dido & Aeneas - Birmingham Opera - 10

The performances were all superb and very physical with Chrystal E Williams' Dido climbing about the place:

Dido & Aeneas - Birmingham Opera - 9

Or being thrown about by Eric Greene's robust Aeneas. I regretted not having bought a ticket for later in the week but it sold out some time ago.

Dido & Aeneas - Birmingham Opera - 13

Dido & Aeneas - Birmingham Opera - 14

Looking forward to what comes next!

Bad Dog Designs - Nixie Clocks - 4

Also this week, I had the pleasure of meeting Paul Parry of Bad Dog Designs. I commissioned a Nixie tube clock from Paul a month or so ago and went to collect it, having a look around his wonderful workshop and getting a preview of the clocks he's building. The clock he made for me was built around a electrical testing bridge.

Bad Dog Designs - Nixie Clocks - 1

Bad Dog Designs - Nixie Clocks - 2

I've wanted a Nixie clock for years - there is something immensely appealing about the colour of the light, the mystery of the mechanism and even the sound. When I was a kid, my dad had a calculator with Nixie tubes - no idea what happened to that - and there was something magical about the way it lit up, the "pinging" of the tubes if you bumped it (which I probably did a bit too often)...

Paul's clocks are remarkable constructions, made from found objects and electronic components.

Bad Dog Designs - Nixie Clocks - 5

Bad Dog Designs - Nixie Clocks - 8

Even a helium-neon laser-tube!

Bad Dog Designs - Nixie Clocks - 9

Here is a video of one of the clocks in operation:

Sunday, March 20, 2016

Permission to Play

Everyone in jewellery and silversmithing knows the name of Georg Jensen, the legendary Danish goldsmith and silversmith. At the School of Jewellery, we have an annual programme where a small number of their apprentices come to the School to study applied design and silversmithing techniques that they might not be able to study at Jensen. This week we had a short talk from the apprentices about the work they do when they are in Denmark:

Georg Jensen Apprentices - 1

The work that the apprentices make is breathtaking and it is a real honour that they come to Birmingham to learn even more!

Georg Jensen Apprentices - 3

My new Birmingham neighbour and colleague, Toni Mayner had a small preview show of some restrained and thoughtful work she is making in response to research she is doing at the Foundling Museum in London which is about the tokens which were given to the parents of children who had been given up to the hospital. A similar token was given to the child so that if the parents could ever afford to return and collect their child, they could prove it was the correct child. (You can read more about these upsetting tokens here.)

Small Histories - 1

"Small Histories" is the result. Toni has created modern tokens which record the lives of some of the unclaimed children from the hospital.

Small Histories - 2

Small Histories - 3

As one considers these pieces and deciphers the meanings of each, realising that these are documents of the lives of real people, the impact of the exhibition grows.

Back in London again on Tuesday for the awarding of the prizes in the British Art Medals Society annual student competition. As you all know, I've been quite obsessed with medals recently and had been encouraging the students to take part in the competition and I'm delighted to say that the first prize went to Stephanie Holt for her "Weight of the World" medal.

British Art Medal Society - Prize-Giving - 17

British Art Medal Society - Prize-Giving - 13

British Art Medal Society - Prize-Giving - 5

We travelled down by train and met up at the Greenwich Maritime Museum for a tour of the extensive collection of medals there.

British Art Medal Society - Prize-Giving - 2

British Art Medal Society - Prize-Giving - 4

I took the opportunity of squeezing in a visit to the Earl of Bedlam for a first fitting of my "Tedwardian" suit, 'Mr Fox', a wonderful hybrid which plunders the history of British tailoring, roping in the 'Hunting Pink', the 'Teddy Boy' drape, some traditional Edwardian cutting (from whence the original 'Teds' took their name), a Victorian workshop waistcoat and a large dash of Bedlam genius (just wait till you see the back).

Buttons by Agnieszka Maksymiuk.

I've been reading about the evolution of the Teddy Boy in the UK and hadn't previously realised that there were 'Teds' before there was Rock and Roll, going back as far as 1948, and also that they were a peculiarly British phenomenon.

This week also saw our polishing 'guru', Stephen Goldsmith in to speak to the HND Level 4 students and to give them a class in polishing.

Stephen M Goldsmith

More on this later...

FlockOMania2 - 1

Thursday night saw the opening of Zoe Robertson's crazy playground, FlockOMania2.

FlockOMania2 - 17

Permission to play?

The event had been preceded by a symposium on performative jewellery which I wish I had been able to attend but the evening was wonderful and I had a long chat to David Roberts, our head of faculty, caught up with some of my ACJ colleagues and spoke to some of the Flatpack Film Festival people as well as enjoying the works and the performance with the works.

FlockOMania2 - 10

Although the performance is choreographed, the audience can get involved and it was the children in the audience who not only led the way but also stole the show: permission granted!

FlockOMania2 - 24

FlockOMania2 - 20

FlockOMania2 - 21

FlockOMania2 - 23

FlockOMania2 - 19

FlockOMania2 - 14

FlockOMania2 - 13

FlockOMania2 - 25

Assessment submission week for the Level 4 students and we have some cracking submissions from them... lovely work in their "Multiple Production" module, which is about casting. Here are just a few:

HND Level 4 Casting Project - 1

HND Level 4 Casting Project - 5

HND Level 4 Casting Project - 7

Note how well-polished they all are after their class with Stephen Goldsmith!

My old friend, Scott, was down for the weekend and we went to see the new film of one of my favourite books, J.G. Ballard's "High Rise". It is a long, long time since I was so excited about a new film (I think that Aronofsky's "Requiem for a Dream" may have been the last, strangely also with a Clint Mansell soundtrack).

Do not miss this. It is NOT the film of Ballard's book. It is, however, a brilliant take on it and a damning critique of neo-Thatcherite London. There are some startling casting choices and the performances are uniformly superb. I'll say no more.

Sunday, March 06, 2016

Three Weeks

It doesn't feel like three weeks since I last posted and fortunately there has been something of a lull in activities as I move house from the temporary rental into my new permanent location.

As I said a few posts back, the Earl of Bedlam is making me a new suit and the theme this time is "Mr Fox". I get real pleasure out of seeing the urban foxes which have appeared everywhere in the UK over the last 15 years or so (along with urban badgers and even deer) and I commissioned talented wax-carver Agnieszka Maksymiuk, one of the Artists In Residence at the School of Jewellery, to make me buttons for the jacket and waistcoat. Here are the master-patterns:

Little Foxes

We took the HND students to London this week for a visit to the Goldsmiths' Hall Craft and Design Awards which featured work by some of them, some of the DFI students and also Agnes, mentioned above! Unfortunately, I couldn't photograph the work, but here are some of the digital presentations by students on the DFI:

Goldsmiths' Hall Craft & Design Awards 2016 - 2

Goldsmiths' Hall Craft & Design Awards 2016 - 1

We also went to the V&A (again, no photographs!) and had a quick trip around Hatton Garden.

The following day, the HND Level 5 students set up their selling show, part of a module which encourages them to make commercial product and to investigate pricing and promotion. The show tours round various venues inside and outside the university:

HND Selling Show - 2

HND Selling Show - 3

HND Selling Show - 4

HND Selling Show - 6

Metamorphoses - 1

All week there has been the "Metamorphoses" show in the Atrium. This is the last show by the final year students on the BA Jewellery And Related Products before their graduate show in June and it looks as if the graduate show is going to be a cracker! There is some really powerful work in this interim show. Unfortunately, the labelling was either non-existent or confused, so I haven't got all the maker's names.

Metamorphoses - 2 - Transgender

Metamorphoses - 3 - Transgender

Metamorphoses - 4 - Harry Sparkes

Metamorphoses - 7

Metamorphoses - 10

Spent yesterday in the company of my colleagues, Rachael Colley, Sally Collins, Jivan Astfalk and some students and ex-students of the School of Jewellery at "Je Suis Le Reve: Dreams and Creativity" at the Freud Museum in London.

Je Suis Le Reve - 1

We all decided to go as Jivan was speaking at it and when, on Thursday, it was announced that over half the papers would be delivered in French, my heart sank a little: in the end, it didn't matter... the event was brilliant and even rekindled my interest in a subject I've explored briefly in the past, the Nkisi Nkondi of West Africa. David Henderson presented a paper looking at the meaning and cultural psychology of these wonderful "nail fetisches":

Je Suis Le Reve - 4

Jivan spoke last about her own work and was, as always, engaging and amusing:

Je Suis Le Reve - 5

Je Suis Le Reve - 6

Rachael and I had a bit of a laugh about the "Freud bin" -

Je Suis Le Reve - 2

And also about the passive-aggressive woman who worked at the Anna Freud centre and who could plainly have done with some psychotherapy herself... rather than say, "Please don't take your tea into the conference room", we were treated to huffy sighs and "Oh well, you've poured it now and everyone else has taken their tea in there and left it on the floor... you aren't supposed to take it in... "
It kind of pleased me that Freud had given me the language to know what was going on in the very place he had lived.

It did make me reflect on the increasing tendency for passive-agressive behaviours in general in the UK.

The first plant went into my new garden after much digging and clearing - a medlar tree in the front garden...

I've also discovered that one of my colleagues - and a contemporary jeweller I've followed since I first spotted his work just after graduation - Drew Markou is another of those rare beasts who used to be a gardener but is now a jeweller (shame on Monty Don for going the other way!).
Drew strongly advised me to get a rambling rose by the name of "Himalayan Musk" as it is edible and strongly-scented - this became the first plant in the back garden:

Covering an ugly bank and fencing to neighbours' gardens.

And finally, my attention was drawn to this video by Steve of The Dual Works who is making the library, workshop and wardrobe elements in the new house. It shows work of my colleague Zoe Robertson alongside others in a remarkable show called "Not Too Precious" and is utterly charming... I challenge anyone not to smile while watching this. Unfortunately, I can't embed it here, so you have to go to the Vimeo site.