Monday, May 08, 2017

Starbucks and yet another Guggenheim

A very full week last week, kicking off with meetings at Craftspace about an exciting project which is coming up in July, about which I will report in due course, and an opportunity for my students to design some very prestigious sporting medals. Mostly, the students have been working on their final projects - term is over in a mere 3 weeks from now - which always leads to interesting things lying about in the workshops:

Dem Bones...

This is going to be a salt and pepper shaker set.

Colleagues, Jo Pond and Drew Markou gave me a heap of old gramophone needles with which I started to construct a brooch:

The B Of The Bang - WIP - 1



AiR Show - 2017 - 16

At the School of Jewellery, we have a large programme of Artists-in-Residence (AiR) who work with us, receiving workshop space, technical and mentoring support in exchange for teaching one day per week. There is an AiR for each course taught here and at the end of the year, they put on a show of the work they've made in the course of the year.

We all - obviously - love Katy Tromans' miniature, wearable jewellery tools:

AiR Show - 2017 - 5

Francesca Urciuouli's work is a sublime playing with layered and fused metals:

AiR Show - 2017 - 7

AiR Show - 2017 - 6

One of my own graduates, Stephanie Holt, has completed a collection of precious metal and resin pieces which are rather lovely:

AiR Show - 2017 - 9

AiR Show - 2017 - 10

All together this was an excellent show of work from an exciting programme.

Should anyone wish to apply for the Artist-in-Residence programme, details are here.



It is many years since I was in Newcastle (Upon Tyne) and my memories of it are that it was very dirty, very aggressive and violent. On arriving in the city this time, I left the station into a full-scale altercation as a man resisted arrest surrounded by dozens of police officers and a screaming, drunk woman, leaving me somewhat apprehensive: however, like everywhere, Newcastle has changed...

I last saw Einstürzende Neubauten in 2008 when they played The Forum in London. Prior to that, I hadn't seen them since 1983 or 1984 when they played the strange and impossible-to-get-to Holloway College in Surrey. Seeing them again in the Boiler Shop -  unsurprisingly, a converted boiler-shop - seemed much more like that first gig in terms of scale and energy but how things have changed! Nobody seemed drunk, stoned or on speed - the band especially so - and Blixa Bargeld is now very much the 'singer' in a way that he wasn't in the early days. Certainly, he had assumed this role at the time I saw them in The Forum but that venue precluded intimacy. It is perhaps surprising that for a band with a reputation for noise and mayhem, I comment on the importance of 'intimacy' to the experience of seeing them but this is very much a feature of what is being touted as their "Greatest Hits Tour".

Einstürzende Neubauten - 3

Rather than being the shambolic, dangerous, subversive event that characterised the early days, this was a refined affair, with Bargeld in a black, shimmering lounge-suit, almost louche, tapping into the European Chanson tradition. This was not an angry, aggressive Neubauten but a reflective one, the set focusing on the melancholic and dark songs rather than the noisy crowd-pleasers (though there were a few of those, including "Let's Do It A Dada"), allowing Bargeld to foreground his velvety baritone and impressive falsetto. The ghosts of Gainsbourg and Brel were not far away in the performances of "The Garden", "Silence is Sexy" and the deeply moving "Sabrina".

Einstürzende Neubauten - 4

Quite wonderful.




The modernisation of the city has made Newcastle a city of great character and some beauty; it reminds me a lot of my other favourite, underrated city, Dundee; but like so many cities, the danger of modernisation is homogeneity. As Bargeld puts it in 'Youme & Meyou', "'cause out there's always a construction site, a Starbucks and yet another Guggenheim".

Central Arcade

Gateshead Bridge - 2

Unfortunately there is too much evidence of the homogeneity.

I regret now that I had to leave the city so quickly and would have liked to spend more time there: the bad impression created by visiting years ago and the incident outside the train station when I arrived proved to be atypical and everyone I met was friendly, cheerful and helpful. Also, there is some fantastic brutalist architecture which I didn't get to explore fully, appropriate for the location of "Get Carter".

Brutalist Newcastle - 2



Saturday, back to Birmingham and off to the CBSO Centre to hear the amazing Soweto Kinch and his quartet performing some of his new work from "Nonagram", a suite inspired by numbers.

Soweto Kinch

Kinch plays Alto Saxophone and is backed up by a phenomenally talented band of Reuben James on piano, Nick Jurd on Bass and Ed Richardson on drums. Additionally, Kinch uses live sampling and loops to thicken the texture of the band leading to a music which is rooted in 1960s British Jazz without being in thrall to it, bringing in influences from other genres including Hip-Hop, Drum and Bass and the minimalism of early Michael Nyman and leading to a thrilling performance, one of the pleasures of which was watching Kinch enjoying his colleagues' solos.



Most of Sunday was spent in the garden, transplanting seedlings, clearing rubble and digging a bed for carrots.

Wednesday, May 03, 2017

Welsh Wales

It's been another long weekend with a bank holiday spent in Brighton, so this post is a little bit out-of-date!  The weekend before last, saw the British Art Medal Society annual conference, held in Carmarthen, Wales. I've not spent a lot of time in Wales and have certainly never been beyond Cardiff, so it was a pleasure to be able to explore some of the landscape and environment by heading to Carmarthen by driving straight across the country from Birmingham to the west coast of Wales:


On the way, I wanted to take in the Craig Goch dam, which is a spectacular late-Victorian structure:

Graig Goch Dam - 1

Graig Goch Dam - 12

I discovered when I was there that this dam was built to supply Birmingham with drinking water. The dam is very impressive and unusual in having been built from local stone. It is right in the middle of the country and can only be reached by some very narrow and twisting roads which climb up through beautiful, mountainous countryside.

Graig Goch Dam - 2

It was a real pity that the weather was so dull.
There was some very friendly wildlife, too, such as this chaffinch which came right up and pecked about my feet:


From here, I headed down to Aberystwyth - there are not nearly enough vowels in Welsh! - which is a pleasingly dilapidated seaside town. I do like a run-down British seaside town out of season and Aberystwyth is lovely (if you ever chance to visit, make sure to visit Treehouse for breakfast - quite the best breakfast I've eaten in a long time).

Aberystwth - 9

I see a funicular railway on that faraway hill, which means that I'm sure to return during the summer.

From here, I drove down to Dowerdd to see my friend and colleague, Mark Fenn and his wife in their new house and to marvel at their energy and enthusiasm for refurbishing their house and for making the bold move from urban Whitstable to one of the most rural places I can imagine!




British Art Medal Society - 2017 Conference - 7

So to a weekend of medals and a very exciting weekend it was too, based in the Carmarthen School of Art, one of the oldest art schools in the UK and which has an excellent sculpture programme including iron casting, led by the inimitable Andy Griffiths who not only provided a wonderful workshop in casting medals in iron but also fed us in his house with a phenomenal home-cooked "vegetarian banquet"!

British Art Medal Society - 2017 Conference - 18

Everyone had the chance to make their own medal by engraving into blocks of compacted sand:

British Art Medal Society - 2017 Conference - 15

My own pattern was based on the Welsh word for "Iron", which is "Hearn":

British Art Medal Society - 2017 Conference - 17

The sand is pretty unpleasant to work - it crumbles easily and can't really be detailed - but it is an interesting process.

British Art Medal Society - 2017 Conference - 22

British Art Medal Society - 2017 Conference - 24

These moulds were then stacked and tied and we all moved outside to the main action: the melting of the iron and pouring it.

British Art Medal Society - 2017 Conference - 32
Andy Griffiths explaining about the process.
Andy and his team of students and staff built the foundry themselves and charged it as we watched.

British Art Medal Society - 2017 Conference - 35


The medals were poured and given to us the next day...

British Art Medal Society - 2017 Conference - 66

British Art Medal Society - 2017 Conference - 66

After this, we were whisked off to the Carmarthenshire Museum to look at their small collection of medals, explore the collection and listen to some decidedly angry poetry in Welsh (which, amusingly, none of the Welsh-speakers could explain: annoyingly, the declaimer of said poetry refused to explain).

British Art Medal Society - 2017 Conference - 43

I especially love the Elizabeth Frink medal:

British Art Medal Society - 2017 Conference - 46

Elsewhere in the museum was inspiration, including this remarkable device to stop calves suckling:

British Art Medal Society - 2017 Conference - 45

And some excellent miners' tokens:

British Art Medal Society - 2017 Conference - 44

Next day, we headed out of town to visit a forge run by father-and-son team, David Petersen and his son, Toby for a demonstration of blacksmithing and medal-making in a forge.

British Art Medal Society - 2017 Conference - 52

British Art Medal Society - 2017 Conference - 54

David is very charming and very funny and the morning flew past. The idea of forging medals is an interesting one. It seems very primitive and I do like the effect.

British Art Medal Society - 2017 Conference - 55

British Art Medal Society - 2017 Conference - 56

After this we went for lunch and then on to Laugharne, home of Dylan Thomas, a very beautiful town. Irene read us some of his poetry on the way there and on the way back again. Way preferable to the angry man the night before!

British Art Medal Society - 2017 Conference - 64

British Art Medal Society - 2017 Conference - 65
Dylan Thomas at Laugharne
Thomas wrote of Laugharne, "This timeless, beautiful, barmy (both spellings) town…….a legendary lazy little black magical bedlam by the sea". It has to be said that none of the magical bedlam was in evidence on the day we visited. Unless the BAMS contingent contributed that.



In Brighton last weekend.

Plastic Fantastic 2

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Fade Out Again

Mosque Skyline


I had a wonderful time in Istanbul when I visited in 2013. Now, four years later, it seems that I may never be able to return again. The liberal, secular country created by Atatürk is succumbing to the power-plays of the fascist Erdoğan, already praised and congratulated by fellow fascist Trump and courted by our own vile authoritarian dullard, May in her desperate attempt to find anyone who will trade with the UK after it foolishly leaves the EU (and that includes murderous tyrants such as Duterte in the Philippines). Erdoğan was in power when I was there - two weeks later came the uprising against him in Taksim Square (the Gezi Park protests), rapidly crushed, his rise to power completed yesterday when a referendum gave slim support to convert the Turkish democracy into - effectively - a dictatorship which supports the death penalty, the creation of a theocracy (Islamic, such is the hypocrisy of Trump) and the effective dissolution of parliamentary democracy.



Today, it seems that our own - unelected - Prime Minister, May is so out of her depth that she seeks to squander precious time on having a general election when she should be negotiating with the EU - the very thing she spoke against doing. More hypocrisy. This is not a political move but a time-wasting one from a government which has no idea at all about how to proceed with the political, economic and cultural suicide that is "Brexit". There is absolutely no need for an election now - she has a fairly secure majority in the House of Commons, an utterly hapless Labour opposition and the only real opposition coming from the Liberal Democrats, the Scottish Nationalists and the others (95 seats in total, less than half the alleged official opposition). This is yet another distraction, right up there with her unfounded complaints that Cadbury had dropped the word "Easter" from their chocolate eggs. (They hadn't, but they had promised not to move production from the UK, which they then did: not a word from Ms. May.) The difference is that complaining about a made-up story costs nothing. In 2014, the cost of elections came to £150 million.

Easter Egg

If there were going to be a general election - and let us not forget that May herself said no fewer than five times since she seized power that she wouldn't call a general election - it should have been held immediately after the result of the idiotic referendum (which, as you will recall, I believe should never have been called in the first place). This general election is effectively the same as Erdoğan achieved with his idiotic referendum yesterday: she will win with a majority in the House of Commons (and probably a minority of the vote, rather as happened in the 2015 election where the tories "won" on 37% of the vote or 24% of the electorate - the Electoral Reform Society have a rather good PDF about this here). This will give her the power to do exactly as she pleases in the next five years, including crashing out of the EU with no deal, ditching the Human Rights act, scrapping employee rights, creating a low-tax economy for the super-rich and dismantling the welfare state, including the NHS. Oh, and probably war with Spain.

Still, we may not make it to June 4th if the pissing contest between the swaggering cocks in power in North Korea and the USA have their way.

Atomic  - 10



I've been on holiday for the last 10 days, hence no post. Before I went on holiday, it was a pleasure to hear Simon Bliss speaking at one of our "Talking Practice" lectures on the subject of how jewellery is represented in photography and film.

Talking Practice with Simon Bliss

A very interesting talk in advance of his forthcoming book on the same subject.

Flatpack 2017 - Segundo de Chomon - 7

Also on the subject of film, I was privileged to be able to go to the opening of the "Flatpack" film festival which was a celebration of the work of Segundo de Chomón,  a film maker from the end of the 1800s through to the 1920s who not only pioneered early cinema but also was highly influential in his use of special effects, creating little surrealist masterpieces of great charm and wit. It is hard to imagine how audiences would have 'read' these films, but from from the point of view of a sophisticated cinema-goer, they are quite amazing and their influence can be felt in the works of many of my favourite film-makers, most notably Jan Švankmajer and the Quay brothers.

As can be seen from the image above, the event was held in a very odd setting: the semi-derelict "Grand Hotel" on Colmore Row in Birmingham, so it was an evening of urban exploration as well as one of cinema. It was also very, very cold!

Flatpack 2017 - Segundo de Chomon - 10


Flatpack 2017 - Segundo de Chomon - 6


Flatpack 2017 - Segundo de Chomon - 11



There was yet another "Made in the Middle" event too, another "Meet the Maker" evening with some different makers and some the same, myself included. I bought a brooch by Melanie Tomlinson, illustrator-turned-jeweller:


It reminds me of the robin that sits in the garden, quite unconcerned, while I weed and dig, waiting for me to uncover a worm or something. Strangely tame.
Melanie's drawings are really beautiful, reminding me very much of old-school scientific illustrations.

Made in the Middle, Meet the Maker 2 - 4

It was also great to hear Zoe Robertson talking about her new works:

Made in the Middle, Meet the Maker 2 - 2



Anna Lorenz - Altar-Piece - 3

There is something very appropriate about this shot of my colleague, Drew Markou, kneeling in supplication at the base of a fantastic work by my other colleague, Anna Lorenz as it is an altarpiece which she had made for a German church.

Anna Lorenz - Altar-Piece - 2


Anna Lorenz - Altar-Piece - 1

Quite wonderful. I could have done it more justice with a better photograph, but it has been whisked off to it's new home.



Off to Brighton for the break, only to discover that my favourite bookshop in the town has shut down. The notice in the window needs no comment from me:

Brexshit Blues

Brighton continues to frustrate and delight in equal measure. Where else could you find Dante in a bad wig?

Dante in Disguise

And I'm very pleased to see the sheer volume of queer graffiti:

Queer Graffiti

Queer Love

How well I remember the "beeb man" sitting on a lesbian! It is all a bit like the early 1980s again. While I enjoy the thrilling activism of it all, I despair at the need for it again, just when I thought I was post-queer...



Spent a lot of time in the garden as well and it is now shaping up a bit more to be the productive vegetable plot I planned last year. Unfortunately, it had been neglected for so long - not terribly, but it had been left in a state of being semi-wild - that it has needed a heap of work to get it even remotely workable for production. More pleasure and frustration when the asparagus plot produced this:


Which, of course, I can't cut. In the hackneyed words which almost every gardener knows (but for which I can find no source), "If you want an asparagus bed, you should have planted it five years ago".