Sunday, January 31, 2016

Memento Mori and Bedlam

It was a fairly quiet week at work as I was assessing student submissions for their mount-making module and meeting with our External Examiner for the first time, the rather excellent Tim Carson, AKA Timothy Information Ltd. In addition to genuinely useful ideas about taking the course forward, we discussed Crass (band), the violin playing talents of Felieke van der Leest, cakes and much more!

The BA Jewellery and Related Projects team were continuing with their "flash" one-week projects, this time "The Big Issue", where they had to make a piece of work about some contemporary issue. Some of the results were really impressive and they produced in one week many more thoughtful outcomes than I've seen as completed submissions for graduate shows...

The Big Issue - 1 - Lois Wiseman

The Big Issue - 2 - Lois Wiseman
Lois Wiseman

The Big Issue - 3 - Tianyu Zhao

The Big Issue - 5 - Tianyu Zhao

The Big Issue - 4 - Tianyu Zhao
Tianyu Zhao

The Big Issue - 6 - Cara Budd

The Big Issue - 7 - Cara Budd
Cara Budd

The Big Issue - 8 - Danielle Laurent

The Big Issue - 9 - Danielle Laurent
Danielle Laurent
Next week is smart materials, robotics and new technology, which should be very exciting. Expect video!


Saturday was spent in London with friend and colleague, Rachael Colley. We started off at the British Museum to see the work of our mutual friend, Heidi Hinder which is featured in the "Money" galleries and which looks at new ideas about payment.

Money No Object - 1

Money No Object - 2

After this we headed off to Kent - south London, really, to met with Anastasia Young and Paul Wells and to visit the Bethelm Museum of the Mind, a museum in what used to be known as "Bedlam" dedicated to art by people with mental health issues as well as to the history and treatment of mental health problems. I'm pleased to say that in a turnaround from the Victorian visiting policy, it is housed in a working psychiatric hospital and some of the patients work there.

Bethelm Museum of the Mind - 3

Bethelm Museum of the Mind - 1

I particularly liked the Rorschach Test wallpaper. Perhaps an inspiration for my new house?!

Bethelm Museum of the Mind - 2

There is a big retrospective of the work of Richard Dadd on at the museum at the moment, and we thought that we were going to a talk about his work but instead it turned out to be a completely unrelated talk about how popular media portrays psychiatrists and psychiatric disorders, given by Jackie Hopson. It was one of those brilliant times when something unexpected proves to be fascinating and engaging and Jackie listed with humour - and a little anger - the appalling tropes of mental illness with which most of us engage unthinkingly on a daily basis.

You will recall that in December, I posted about meeting with Anastasia and about her partner Paul Wells' collection of memento mori, which had been filmed as "The Death Collector". Rachael and I were thrilled to be able to actually view some of the collection for ourselves!

Memento Mori - 2

Memento Mori - 3

Memento Mori - 7

An absolute pleasure.

The rest of the weekend has been bunged up drains and other work on the house. The bunged up drains are unbunged now and my greenhouse has been built:

New Greenhouse - 1

It's all getting to the stage of selecting paint...

And I'm finding myself drawn to Kandinsky-inspired colour combinations.

Just because it kind of fits in with the weekend in London, I was reminded of one of my favourite animations by the Quay Brothers, In Absentia, a piece about a mentally-ill patient who wrote endless letters to her departed husband. The music is by another of my favourites, Karlheinz Stockhausen.

Saturday, January 23, 2016


Not much to report this week. I think that everything seems to quieten down for this dark period between new year and spring. I've mostly been working on the house and getting the students through their first mount-making project.

The David Poston show is still on at the school and is worth seeing if you haven't had a chance to get to it.

David Poston Retrospective - Preview - 3

The second-year BA Jewellery and Related Products students are still embarking on their one-week rapid projects - last week it was the 'alchemy' of non-traditional materials - this week it was "Transformations", works which seek to change the way the body moves or the silhouette of the body. This week we have a video!

This video is hosted on the new School of Jewellery YouTube channel, which has all of two videos on it just now but more will be posted very soon.

As ever there was a huge variety of work and approaches presented.

Transformations - 4

Transformations - 9

Transformations - 6

Back at the Birmingham Conservatoire again on Friday for a concert of music by the Wind Ensemble and the Percussion Ensemble, all conducted by Christopher Houlding. It was a particularly inspired programme of some of my own favourite music, kicking off with Strawinsky's "Ebony Concerto", the clarinet solo being taken by Luke Newby:

Ebony Concerto - Igor Strawinsky

This was followed by the only piece in the programme which I didn't know, Joseph Schwantner's "Percussion Concerto".

Concerto For Percussion And Wind Ensemble - Joseph Schwantner

This was a real surprise. It didn't really sit neatly into the programme in terms of being very obviously a more contemporary piece - there being passages flirting with minimalism as well dense blocks of sound which move across the instrumental groups - but proved a very effective foil to the jazz-infused neo-classical works in the rest of the programme.

The concerto is for wind ensemble, double-bass, piano and five percussionists, with one percussion soloist - Yu-Cheng Chen, seen here in the purple shirt to the right of the photograph - who has to not only perform an incredibly complex part but must also improvise (yes, a six-minute drum solo!) and become a sort of shaman, dancing around the orchestra. An absolutely blistering performance.

After the interval came Kurt Weill's "Kleine Dreigroschenmusik" and Bernstein's "Prelude, Fugue and Riffs".

Kleine Dreigroschenmusik - Kurt Weill

Prelude, Fugue and Riffs - Leonard Bernstein - 2

Anthony Clarke-Butler was the soloist on this piece, which deserves to be MUCH better known for its boisterous good fun. I am particularly fond of the passages for lascivious trombone, where one imagines a stripper about to emerge onto the stage!

Today was spent at the house, getting the heating serviced, having a meeting with a builder - who used to be a bronze-caster, so we got on well! - and talking to Rick about the clearance of the trees from my back garden...

Garden Carnage

Garden carnage! Still, at least it will be sunny now. 

Bearwood has some very odd places in it. I'm not quite sure what to make of "Wobble Box"...

Nailbox / Wobble Box

Or, indeed, of "FLABĂ©LOS". (Undoubtedly pronounced as the Spanish  - 'Flav-ay-yos"!)

Sunday, January 17, 2016

Posting about Poston

This week has been dominated by the arrival of David Poston at the School of Jewellery. a man of great intelligence, skill and charm who absolutely blew us all away at the Symposium held on Wednesday to look at some aspects of his practice and the legacy of that practice.

In Conversation With David Poston - 1

David is really one of the unsung heroes of Social Enterprise. While we are all just catching up to the power of community business and the importance of ethical business practices, David was exploring these ideals in the early 1970s. You might think that there was nothing unusual in this - the post-hippy idealism of 'third-world' aid washed down with a cup of nasty 'Fairtrade' instant coffee - but that would be to miss the point. Unlike the slightly patronising nature of many projects at that time, David wanted to make real change, big change, and set up programmes in Africa to give local people skills and to empower them to pass these skills on to others. He encouraged them to trade on their own terms.

The symposium took the form of a series of presentations from speakers who had either experience of David's work or who had worked in a similar way to him, starting with Elizabeth Wright of the British Library who had interviewed David for their Craft Lives oral history series:

In Conversation With David Poston - 4

This gave us a background to David's work. Unfortunately, I don't think that these interviews have been published yet, but when I find them, I'll post a link.

In Conversation With David Poston - 6

Next up was the man himself, speaking with good humour about his deeply-held beliefs, his practice, philosophy and politics and, most interestingly, how he describes himself as a "designer" or "problem-solver" and not as a jeweller. He is consulted by all manner of non-jewellers to come in as a fresh eye to solve issues in situations as diverse as education and bio-sciences, where his non-specialist approach can look at the whole issue before formulating the question which needs to be asked.

In Conversation With David Poston - 7

There followed a lively question-and-answer session in which the staff had all been primed to ask questions...

In Conversation With David Poston - 2

I'm pleased to say that this wasn't necessary!

After a break for tea, we heard from Laura Cave about her experiences of setting up social enterprises in South America and India.

In Conversation With David Poston - 9

In Conversation With David Poston - 10

Laura's talk focused on her practice and her way of working within a community to engage them with the ideas of the market they would be selling into, as well as the impact that this had on her own practice.

In Conversation With David Poston - 11

Last speaker of the day was Maria Hanson who spoke about her experiences in Zanzibar, completely wrong-footing us with this beguiling image:

In Conversation With David Poston - 12

And then gave a moving account of how she felt that her time trying to set up a project here had not been successful, outlining why she felt it had failed, an important point for people to consider when they are thinking about social enterprise projects - what happens if it doesn't work?

In Conversation With David Poston - 13

Another Q&A session followed, chaired by Zoe Robertson and David invited his colleague from Oxfam to join him.

In Conversation With David Poston - 14

This brought the symposium to an end and we all went off for the private view of the exhibition.

I'm still not clear why it took us so long to catch up with the ideals of community enterprise which David explored nearly forty years ago but I am glad that we're seeing the development of these now, both at home and overseas.

In Conversation With David Poston - 16

Gaynor Andrews, head of the School, opened the exhibition and the non-stop Mr Poston endeared himself to everyone, spending a lot of time talking to the students.

In Conversation With David Poston - 18

In Conversation With David Poston - 17

One of the things I love about these shows is that I get to meet loads of people. This time it was Steven Goldsmith, polisher extraordinaire!

The week ended with the BA Students - the same ones who brought us Lot Fifty-Eight just before Christmas - with a small show of fast, experimental works in which they had to use non-traditional materials to make work...

BA Jewellery - Experimental Show - 1

BA Jewellery - Experimental Show - 2

BA Jewellery - Experimental Show - 4

BA Jewellery - Experimental Show - 6

The week was somewhat marred by the death of one of my great heroes and influences, David Bowie. I think that everyone knows how much I loved Bowie's work and one of my pieces for the 2013 ACJ show, "ICONS" was "Future Legend", a brooch made after the "Diamond Dogs" album narrative:

Future Legend - Front

And in the death,
As the last few corpses lay rotting on the slimy thoroughfare,
The shutters lifted in inches in Temperance Building,
High on Poacher's Hill,
And red mutant eyes gaze down on Hunger City,
No more big wheels.

Fleas the size of rats sucked on rats the size of cats,
And ten thousand peoploids split into small tribes,
Coveting the highest of the sterile skyscrapers,
Like packs of dogs assaulting the glass fronts of Love-Me Avenue,
Ripping and rewrapping mink and shiny silver fox -now legwarmers,
Family badge of sapphire and cracked emerald.
Any day now ,

The Year of the Diamond Dogs.

This ain't rock'n'roll - this is genocide.

As "The Last Day" had come out of the blue and blew me away when I heard it - probably his best album since "Scary Monsters (And Super Creeps)" - I was SO excited to hear "Blackstar" and ordered it the second it came out: it arrived the morning after he died and I've not been able to bring myself to listen to it yet.