Category Archives: art

Seeing the fingerprint of God “of the City”

This morning I got a phone call from Karl telling me that Zest, the company with whom we’ve booked Bletchley Park as the venue for our civil partnership blessing/ wedding, (delete according to language you prefer), have gone into administration. Seeing as we had not got around to getting wedding insurance sorted and the transaction was too long ago to be recovered under the consumer credit act we appear to have lost our deposit. In terms of the venue booking we are waiting on Bletchley Park getting back to us again to let us know what’s happening – it appears they were taken as much by surprise as we were when Zest went into administration. It has to be said they were very good at responding to our initial enquiry, even if it was to tell us they didn’t have a definitive answer to give yet.

So that was the beginning of the day – and I have to admit I did find myself getting somewhat caught up in my own negativity. However, as I ventured outside for a meeting things began to change. It appeared spring had properly sprung today.

Wandering along the Redways to the town centre I was struck by the beauty and vibrancy of the colours in the nature around me. After the meeting and a quick trip to Sainsbury’s I happened to venture into the cafe in the University Centre for a quick drink. Not a coffee shop I’d actually been in before and more importantly not a gallery I’d properly explored before. I found myself accidentally encountering the most wonderful exhibition.

Of the City, (which I can’t find any links to online), is the current exhibition at UCMK Galleries. It runs until 22nd March and contains a mixed media exhibition with Painting by Andrew Brown, Printmaking by Jason Duggan and Photography by Mat Cross.

The guide to the exhibition describes it as an exhibition in which these three artists from Milton Keynes explore their responses to the urban landscape.

The paintings of Andrew Brown are described by him as ones which “usually begin with a representational approach, but evolve to take on a more poetic or expressive feel.” What was so striking about Brown’s paintings was the vibrancy and contrast of colour within them and the way in which they were able, according to the subject, able to evoke either traffic speeding around the city or slowly making its way along.

My favourite works in this part of the exhibition were Embankment Night which invited me into itself, asking me to go on a journey of urban discovery and London Night. The latter made me feel as though I was walking along one of the main streets in the capital seeing the bus before me, quite amazing.

What I think would work really well with an exhibition of just Brown’s work would be a punk and post-punk soundtrack of works by groups such as The Clash, Blondie, Ramones and The Strokes. New York Lights for example set The Strokes New York City Cops playing in my head.

The photographs of Mat Cross were able to do that thing I really admire in some modern photography of taking the modern, mundane and sometimes apparently ugly and turn it into something of beauty. Say Cheese which had one photo showing a phone box with flowers in the foreground and another with a man wandering through a puddle and Window Dressing which contained a fence with graffiti on it were two examples.

The printmaking of Jason Duggan was something which fascinated me. He used two main techniques dry point and wood relief. The results were incredibly different but equally beautiful. There was one Dry point which particularly grabbed my attention and that was Parisian Waiter. This exquisite print had eyes which followed you around the room and seemed to be wanting to grab you for an intellectual conversation where this man would expound upon art or music.

The wood relief prints which included Stolen Glance, Parisian Lamplight, Parisian Girls, Message and Moulin Rouge all had a contemporary post-punk feel to them and were incredibly vibrant. They again got a sound track playing in my mind but this one was more contemporary, it was the sounds of Razorlight, the Wombats and The Futureheads my mind responded to these pictures with.

As you can tell these pictures definitely grabbed a response for me and I really loved this exhibition. It was sheer joy and whilst the space isn’t anywhere as near as vast as the Tate Modern I found the art engaging with my spirituality on some level. Wandering home in the sunshine seeing the vibrant colours within nature and reflecting on the exhibition I had just wandered around as well as the new life bursting out of the branches and bushes around me I was struck by something wonderful. Within the beauty I’d encountered in town, in the art and nature, (and within one of those people you meet and just know is a person of peace), I had, on a bit of a shit day, been able to get a glimpse of the fingerprint of God within the soul of MK. That glimpse had been significantly strong to enable me to transcend my earlier feelings.

What about Sunday?

What about Sunday? No this isn’t the latest Churchads.net tag line, it’s the current mixed media exhibition by Swiss artists Silvia Bachli and Eric Hattan on at MK Gallery until 31st March. It’s a mixture of individual and collaborative pieces.

As you walk in underneath some foliage which apparently are discarded Christmas trees you get the feeling this is going to be different but has potential.

Moving onto the Cube Gallery is a set of Hattan’s videos which are I think one of the better features of this exhibition. They are part of an installation called Round and Round. There is a guy walking under the underpasses in town and I was struck by how reminiscent this video was of some of Suzanna Raymond’s work which I’ve discussed on here before, (and who currently has work being exhibited at the Creed Street Theatre in Wolverton in an exhibition I hope to, but am not sure I will get to before it closes in a few days time – follow this link to her film Shadows).

Two of the most striking videos which were part of Round and Round were a couple of youngsters kicking a can around and an empty, clear, plastic bag floating about. There is a paradox created between the feelings that there should be more for the kids to be doing, and that the litter shouldn’t be there and the sheer beauty of the images within the films.

This section is accompanied by a soundtrack which sounds like the can being kicked around but which was apparently recorded as Hattan was driving.

There are also some of Bachli’s Dark Drawings alongside. Couldn’t quite work out why they alongside the video installation. This feeling of is this just a random collection of modern art with no clear link between things was a recurring theme throughout this exhibition which didn’t grab me in the same way the previous one – which I reviewed – had.

The art in the Middle Gallery didn’t grab my attention at all. The Long Gallery had more art which left me feeling underwhelmed and thinking a lot of supposedly ‘amateur art’ I’ve seen has been more inspiring.

The one thing which really did get me thinking I think this is great art was the lamppost they had coming out from the bannister of the stairs.  It was a steel lamppost which was bent over as if there had been a major accident in the gallery and the car had been removed but the lamppost remained.

Also part of the exhibition is a Caravan – parked outside the gallery – which has been making me smile as I’ve found myself going past it on various occasions as have the TV screens in the window of the gallery shop.

As for the £8,000 cheque….nah, but then I suspect that it may well be in one of the spaces you don’t get to if you’re there to actually look at the art. This Guardian article suggested the possibility of the ladies toilets – that would be a no I think, (it was the one place I properly did have a good glance round just in case).

In some ways I think it’s sad the money was hidden in this exhibition not the last one. As you can tell I was abit unimpressed with this overall. Art as I’ve said before is subjective – some really grabs you and makes you go wow, some makes you go that’s s**t and then you get some which makes you say “ok….why?” – with the odd exception this didn’t really elicit any of those responses.

Going back to my point about having seen ‘amateur art’ in the past which I have been able to engage with more thoroughly I am looking forward to the Summer Exhibition. There is currently a call going out for work for the MK Calling season, which is looking for artists of all sorts. Going back to the £8,000 cheque – it is apparently some kind of protest against the fact that artists living outside the MK boundary are going to be unable to enter the competition linked to the exhibition call – see this article in the MK Citizen for details of the protest.

As for the What About Sunday? title – I leave that with you. Perhaps it could be a teaser for 29th September 2013?

Counting Down – Shorts

Towards the end of this year I have discovered short films (or in truth probably rediscovered them). The adventure began when I went to the ICMK event at the MK Gallery which is a space I’ve also grown to love over the last few months.

I’ve posted the links to a few on here previously, amongst them Suzanna Raymond’s work Shadows. Suzanna is a fine art student whose films give a different way of looking at the city. Within her films she invites you to engage with the local environment in a way which gives goes beyond a simple visual representation and on this basis I would argue what she is doing certainly intersects with psychogeography even if that term does not fully describe what she is doing. For an interesting take on psychogeography I invite you to listen to John Davies’ 2008 Greenbelt talk Walking with the Psychogeographers.

She Said Lenny which was directed by Jim Donovan and Who the Hell is Alice from the Penkat Studio are two interesting and funny shorts about dating which are both worth a look.

The most recent bunch of shorts I’ve discovered have been related to The Nativity Factor which it appears is a competition designed to get people to present the nativity in the most imaginative way possible. Within the adult section two entries compliment each other really well. They both give contemporary interpretations of Jesus’ parents discovering about the pregnancy. The Applecart entry Gabriel’s Visit looks at the event from Mary’s point of view whilst No Pressurefrom 4six3 looks at it from Joseph’s  perspective.

If you like any of the above you might also be interested in a new Advent exhibition which is travelling around MK this week with a different work each day. Whilst having looked at the site I don’t think it will be containing any shorts the website for the exhibition contains an animated one about Christmas from Dan Stevers. The exhibition is called following.the.star.

Hemmed In with Mr X Stitch and Friends

If you’re in Milton Keynes and want to escape the Christmas commercialism you could do worse than find your way to the Hemmed In: Embroidery and Needlework from MK and Beyond exhibition which started at the MK Gallery today and runs to 6th January 2013.

The exhibition contains a range of works by a wide range of artists and it’s one of those rare occasions when it really does make sense to pick up the free Exhibition Guide and let it guide you round.

Entering the Cube Gallery you find a range of selected work from the Embroiderer’s Guild National Collection. You are greeted by the most classic work on display in the exhibition within this room. The second picture Elizabeth Grace Thompson’s My Mother has an interesting feel. Stitched in 1935 it has an art deco aspect within it, with odd nods to Rennie Mackintosh. Looking at it I was struck by the way that it resembled some Vivienne Westwood work and so it seems that Westwood may have been influenced by Thompson. For a bit of history about Thompson and other embroiderers of the time this post on the History of Embroidery is worth a look.

Beryl Dean whose work is also mentioned with the History post was the artist behind the next piece Firebird which was embroidered in 1950. It is a beautiful work with a human figure of ambiguous gender being part of the Phoenix. Angel wings mix with peacock feathers in this work.

Within this room the other work which most grabbed my attention and was one of my favourite bits of the exhibition was Jan Beaney’s Landscape within a Landscape. The vibrant colours and obvious yet abstract flowers reminded me very much of looking at Monet’s work. It seemed that this machine embroidery over fabric scraps was an embroidered interpretation of the great painter’s work.

Moving on to the Middle Gallery the work within it comes from the MK Embroiderers’ Guild (MKEG) and those who have influenced them. The works within this area were all of a reasonable quality but some were more outstanding than others. This made it feel like you had entered a 6th form or college end of year display. Note here that is in no way disparaging the work, having attended a number of such exhibitions the standard of work is high.

The set of eight inch squares representing different aspects of Milton Keynes were part of this years creative challenge set by the Chair of the organisation. Within it there were, unsurprisingly, some recurring themes such as the dome of the Church of Christ the Cornerstone, Campbell Park and the Ray Smith sculpture Chain Reaction, the grid system and the juxtaposition between the glass and grass. Amongst my favourites was Suzanne Miles’ City Heartbeat which was a strikingly simple silhouette of the skyline. Joyce Fernee’s cross stitch of Christ the Cornerstone was one of the most traditional pieces of the whole exhibition. It also highlighted that within the city the building is iconic and was very much designed as a modern cathedral. Bonnie White and Jackie Siggers both captured the curves which exist in the city which is so much more than the grid system. White’s The Real Milton Keynes was my favourite of all these 8 inch squares. It captured exactly how within the grid system lie lakes, streets and open spaces that don’t follow lines but rather curve and slope and do all the other things that urban environments are supposed to do.

Bonnie White was also the artist behind the most fun square Iconic Cows. She had two coming out almost 3D. On one side was the cows in their “natural state” and on the other were the cows after their recent make over which I have previously blogged about.

Amongst the work of artists who had influenced them was  Sally Hutson’s Pockets of Constraint which was a set of embroidered bibs depicting the reality of childhood and where it leads. Linda Miller’s An Eight Inch Square looked like it was a page from a child’s reading book with the mum holding a little Scotty dog with her scarf flying away from her body. This was next to Madeleine Millington’s The Owl and The Pussycat which was in beautiful reds and blues and had a beautiful nursery feel being applique with dyed, recycled blanket.

Cheryl Montgomery is Chair of the MKEG and was co-curator of this exhibition. She had a couple of works on display. Within the eight inch squares was a clever depiction of the city with the grid system, foliage and plastic elements displayed. As you walked towards the Long Gallery through the foyer was a larger work by her. It was called Spirals are Free: Essays on Hundertwasser. Confession time, I’ve never heard of Hundertwasser (wonderful name) but having looked him up and found this site the work which was interesting enough on its own makes even more sense. Montgomery’s work is a tree with a black netting frill as the roots. A white trunk then extends upwards towards the sky. Embroidered upon this trunk are words of wisdom from both secular and religious sources. Finally the branches are spirals which look like vivid, oversized lolly pops. You expect to find umpa lumpa’s jumping out from behind them and then spinning down the tree in the manner of Moonface and co (if you were bought up on Roald Dhal and Enid Blyton this will make sense).

Also within this foyer area is a Alter Frontage by Beryl Dean which is on loan from the Chaplaincy Department at Chelsea and Westminster Hospital NHS Foundation, in association with Hospital Arts. The shiny symbols from a variety of faiths were gorgeous. Another fun piece in this area was Hummingbirds by Zoe Williams. These were a set of cuddly birds which were mounted onto the wall on wood and reminded me of Hilda Ogden’s ducks.

Then it was on into the Long Gallery. As I entered this gallery I gasped this was not what I thought of when I thought of cross stitch. The work in this gallery was all selected by Mr X Stitch Jamie Chalmers. It was absolutely brilliant. Kirsty Whitlock’s Losses was based upon the Financial Times and the impact of the recession. There was a digital print of a business man holding the paper which was embroidered (and a version of which was displayed next to the print).

Bridgeen Gillespie’s Rock n Roll Outlaws was the most effective and yet simple depiction of the differences between New York and UK punk. A  7inch Blondie record sleeve has been embroidered with an industrial image whilst a Siouxsie and the Banshees single cover had been embroidered by fluffy bits of wool thread which resembled the jumpers which were popular amongst the 70’s punks.

The most unusual bit of cross stitching was Severija Incirauskaite-Kriauneviciene ‘s Way of Roses which was flowers cross stitched upon a green metal car door with rust coming through.

One of the features of this contemporary cross stitch is the mix of pop culture, cheek, politics and fun. The fun bit was mixed with politics in Penny Nickels’ Women Rise Up. It was in black and white and had a Victorian or Edwardian feel to it but the embroidery was a set of various hand gestures. It embodied the spirit of first wave suffragettes.

Within this set of textile work there was only one piece which resembled Tracey Emin’s and that was dutch artist Tilleke Schwarz’s Playground and Welcome to the Real World. The former was bright yellow and the latter dark blue and both had text and image embroidered in the style of graffiti wall of messages.

Sarah Greave’s Blue Door was exactly what the name suggests. It was a 1970’s blue door with grubby net curtain and names engraved on it as well as some embroidered slogans.

In addition to the Punk sleeves there were two other works directly inspired by music. The first was  Hellfire by Karen Grenfell. This had the Progidy line “I am the God of Hellfire” embroidered in stark black stitching but then being consumed by beautifully stitched yellow and orange flames. Above them is a picture of what looks like a hamster. The largest work in this gallery is  Night Knife by Ben Venom and is heavy metal image made up of quilted fabric and found t-shirts. With the Anthrax, Motorhead, Slayer, Iron Maiden, Motley Crew era shirts it looked like Donnington embodied in art. Amazing.

The Long Gallery was by far my favourite and I have no hesitation in saying it is by far the best work I have seen yet at the MK gallery. It is modern and edgy but also highly accessible. Loved it.

Louise Petit @ Acorn House

Haunting bluegrass and pop/folk filling the reception of a MK office block on an icy Wednesday lunchtime. Louise Petit (a 3 person band with Louise as vocalist and ukulele/ guitarist) took a majority of their set from their Fear and My Other Friends EP. To be fair it wasn’t a standard office reception they were playing, the venue Acorn House is the local voluntary sector hub and they do have within their foyer a small gallery space as well as their reception desk.  The trio had some interesting and attractive modern art from  Calibre Graphics as their back drop.

The waif like vocalist had an attractive vulnerability about her during the performance, coming in part as she revealed during the banter from the completely unplugged nature of the event and the lack of a mic.

The first track Ghosts had a gentle jazz feel and was soft to the ear. The next Demons had a much more definite bluegrass feel to it with the drum and double bass giving a sound which was a little reminiscent of Old Crow Medicine Show. It had a really catchy chorus.

Damn This Part of Me had an enchanting and extremely haunting melody. It was an example of that sound which comes out of the way gospel and bluegrass have come together in the past. Listening to the soft sounds caressing me I could feel the music gently washing over me and nourishing my soul. It was an extremely beautiful song, which to me was the highlight of the set.

Then it was on to a cheesy but fun rendition of White Christmas. Louise, the singer, seemed to relax during this song which was being sung as patches of snow lay with the ice on the pavement outside. The audience were given shakers and bells to jingle at this point. At the end of it the drummer’s mum shouted out a request – which was played later. It was lovely watching the enthusiasm this woman had for the music as well as the pride she had for her son, (as well as seeing said son slump down behind his drums with that look embarrassed children of any age have).

You Love Me First was an easy listening love song with that timeless feel which means you would be hard pressed to identify exactly which era since the 1950’s it came from. It sounded like it should have been plucked out of a romcom sound track.

Christmas Time With You was what the drummer’s mum had requested and is also the new single and the link I’ve put in to the title will take you to the You Tube video. It is a good simple Christmas song which has the chorus “I like Christmas time, more than that I like Christmas time with you.” It’s a tune which wouldn’t have been out of place on Tracey Thorn’s Tinsel and Lights Christmas album which is currently out. Both Thorn’s new material from this album and the Petit tune reflect the more chilled out approach to Christmas music which appears to have come back into vogue. Appreciated the free download code for Christmas Time With You which was given out at the end of the gig.

The last track they played was Love is Pure which was another bluegrassy number and which was one of those taken from the EP.

Overall a really good lunchtime gig which generally worked well, although at one point the noise of those at the reception desk was a little distracting. Apparently it was the first gig of this type they’ve put on at Acorn House, but I certainly hope it won’t be the last. Really enjoyed this treat of discovering a new act on a cold and miserable day when I’d only popped out to go to Sainsbury’s. The couple of pictures from Ambrose Hudson Arts which were also on display in the gallery area were also interesting to look at although I personally preferred the Calibre Graphics ones.

Community sees People

The Guardian had this article on the changing nature of festivals and the way that the head of Live Nation John Probyn has said that the biggest challenge to the industry is that festival goers are becoming too fussy.

I read the article with interest, particularly the part where he talks of it being a good thing festivals getting bigger and control more centralised because it allows the costs including the artists fees to be lowered. He is talking of a particular type of festival and punter. The events he is talking about are the huge big name ones.

However, as David Binder reminds us in this recent TED talk about the changing nature of festivals it is just one model. There is a diversity within the festival market and different festivals attract different people for different reasons. Within his talk Binder describes, primarily, the type of festival which Milton Keynes had over the summer with its Summer of Culture and theInternational Festival which took place within it and which is coming back in 2014 with a large scale dance performance being planned by the new artist in residence Rosemary Lee according to the website. I reflected on the role that artists themselves had in this model, (MKIF for example has heavy involvement from The Stables ).

Then there are the embedded independent festivals like Greenbelt which have a niche market and a loyal following. The way in which most people just got on with the mud was indicative of the way in which this type of festival goer differs from the punter at the big event. There is a sense of community which exists amongst many who attend these festivals which, whilst there at some of the bigger more commercial events, is lost amongst most. I can’t imagine V asking for festival goers to contribute to this type of crowd sourced documentary project for their 40th birthday.

There has to be an acknowledgement that over recent years the festival market has become over saturated and this has put pressure upon many festivals and events of all kinds. However, there has also been as Binder indicates a shift and organic growth of community art which has taken place at the same time. This ties in with the point which one of the contributors at ADVENTurous, (which Jonny Baker has some brilliant photos of within a slide show which can be accessed via his blog), made. That is there is a link being made between the local or hyper local and the global. (See this post for more my take on that event).

It has always been there but in recent times it has emerged more obviously again, almost like a phoenix from the ashes. In part it appears to be a response to the recession and the economic situation people now find themselves in, in part it is because we have the tools of social media and the digital age and in part it is because of something which has been happening on the ground amongst artists and others.

Roger Kitchen gave a talk at a TEDx Milton Keynes event in September where he described the community he lived in. Within it he explained that Wolverton has a strong sense of community and it is a creative place which as old institutions and customs have died has put new events in place. It has benefited from grassroots involvement, including from artists who have often chosen to live in the area simply because of its affordability. There is that hyper local element of community engagement happening.

Reading the initial Guardian article I referred to I was struck by the way that the Live Nation guy just saw artists as another commodity to be obtained as cheaply as possible just like beer. The economic models he is using are those which refer to ‘labour’ rather than people and whose main purpose is to allow the entrepreneurs and owners to make as much profit as possible. In that scenario where art and artists are seen as little more than another supply and demand model variable the consumer will become more picky.

However, using other models where artists are valued as people with skills and something exciting to bring then something truly exciting can happen. Communities can be rebuilt and change can occur.

Within his talk Roger Kitchen What Makes A Community? made reference to the MK Christian Foundation and their social enterprises. This is one example of where the Christian community is working with the wider community and working on qualitative rather than quantitative growth.

The work En Gedi is doing with ADVENTurous, which is described by Gavin Mart 10 mins into this Fresh Expressions clip from the conference the other week, is another example of qualitative rather than quantitative engagement and of how secular artists are working with the those from faith communities. One interesting thing is the way that Mart (and others at the Following the Missionary Spirit conference) talked of permission giving taking place, whilst those doing stuff on the ground at ADVENTurous were making the point what is happening with alot of the new festivals and artistic NVDA projects is people are learning to just do it without seeking permission.

In looking at the arts world and thinking about these things, reflecting in part on my thesis conclusions, I see that what is happening in the festival culture is also happening within Christian culture.

The large churches focused on quantitative growth using market based strategies are still there. They are facing challenges specific to their context, including I would argue from some of the anecdotal evidence you find around the web, a greater pickiness amongst  those worshippers who attend them. If these consumers aren’t happy in one church they are quite happy to travel to another which meets their requirements.

However, at the same time there are several other things happening and a variety of models emerging. There are established churches and congregations changing the way they do things, taking a more relationally based approach which seeks qualitative as much as quantitative growth. These are the churches who are getting out into their local communities again and often coming together as the driving forces behind social enterprise movements. Food banks, (despite their problem of being organisations which meet need rather than challenging the causes of need), are another part of this whole move which is taking place..

Then there are the small micro-groups and communities who are coming together. The people who Studebaker and Lee, in their paper on Emerging Churches in Post Christian Canada describe as the pilgrims.

Different models are emerging in different contexts in both the arts/festival world and the Christian world, and surprise surprise – as they both inhabit the same physical world – crossovers are occurring as communities are being (re)formed.

That’s my take I’d welcome your thoughts and comments.

A Thought On Some Artistic Fresh Expressions

Art’s Central have posted this picture on their Facebook page. It is of an actual poster used during the era of McCathyism in the US when there was a witch hunt against the entertainment industry amongst others.

It spurred me on to a bit of theological reflection on the last couple of posts I’d written about the arts and about the Fresh Expressions conference. They were completely unconnected but in many ways they are totally connected. The post on arts described the truth which is within that poster to some extent about the ability of artists to mix with all classes, with it’s reference to the South London Black Music Project exhibition at the Tate (for example). The Fresh Expressions conference was embodying the message that the Church wants to be in that position of mixing with all classes too, and that one way in which they are seeking to make it happen are through engaging with the arts in places like Colwyn Bay where one of the Venture FX speakers was from. The project in North Wales is called Engedi Arts and they are involved in an mixed media exhibition during December, which appears to be multi-venued in Leeds and Islington as well as Colwyn Bay and is called ADVENTurous.

Other examples of where there is a specific type of spirituality growing out of engagement with the arts include Holy Biscuit in Newcastle and in Sheffield with pioneer minister Ric Stott who explained in this short video put on the Venture FX blog in April how he got involved in pioneer mission.

The relationship between the arts and the church is not new. Over the centuries artists have engaged with religious themes and religious institutions have worked with artists of all sorts. Art in various forms is woven into religion, (however hard some Puritans and their descendents have tried to make it otherwise). This is because for many art does provide a special and specific way of engaging with Christ and with spirituality.

Some such as Ann Morisy in her book Journeying Out have talked about the way “high symbols” have been lost and “[i]n contrast, the current dominant expressive mode, that of low, earthbound symbols, indicates the predominance of a very different world view: our day-to-day expriences are a series of sensations that belong to us and they are part of a world that can be taken for granted.” She goes on within the same paragraph of page 145 after negatively talking about Tracy Emin’s bed and earthbound poetry and gangsta rap to say, “[t]he result is that the sacred or the holy evaporates from our consciousness. This means that it is not just our awareness of God that gets snuffed out, so too do our routes to God.”

When I originally read this passage and the argument Morisy gives I was horrified. For me the Tate Modern is probably the place where I can most get in touch with God. This is partly the space but often because I am able to see beauty and creativity within the most ordinary things, like unmade beds with the degridation and reality of human life around them. However, I now acknowledge part of what she is saying because the obvious God element is often missing from the narratives we see and hear within contemporary “low culture” although religiously imagry is still often creatively and wonderfully used in works such as Banksy’s 2003 Bermondsey Street “pissed angel”. The thing with art of all forms is it can be read in different ways and it will depend upon the background and attitudes of the viewer/ listener how they interpret it. Personally I think this process of interpretation and reading is a very special one which gives room for the Holy Spirit to come and work in a mysterious and wonderful way.

I think what many of the FX style arts projects are doing, together with specific artists who are working with modern art and street art in its various forms, is finding a new expression for what Morisy is talking about ‘high symbols’ doing within the ‘low art’ forms she slates. They are also finding ways to engage with those who find their cultural and artistic tastes excluded within mainstream church culture.

Going back to the poster the irony is that the church is also meant to be something which reaches out to every class and that is one of the wonders about the gospel and what it teaches us. It should have that equally dangerous reputation, because that mixing with all classes is a key part of what got Jesus crucified. If our modern faith and expression of it doesn’t have that same danger attached to it we need to think about why.

I would finish then by arguing artists and artistic fresh expressions/ pioneer ministers have a powerful role in teaching us, if we are ready to listen.

*PS – have just worked out looking at the site that the Engedi Arts site again that the ADVENTurous event next Saturday and at which Ann Morisy is one of the speakers, which I’d in my head just linked with Greenbelt, is part of this.

Music, Skating, Laughter and Art

Been a bit of an arty weekend. On Friday we discovered Independent Cinema MK and the Milton Keynes Film Network and on Saturday I discovered a new bit of the Tate Modern. There were some crossovers between the two adventures which were quite exciting and related to thinking about the relationship between environment, architecture and art/culture.

The Shorts Event at MK Gallery was aimed at film makers primarily, although also open to everybody. It started with a short talk by director and producer Rosemary Hill who was giving top tips for documentary film makers. The talk gave some helpful information and advise about the essential ingredients some of which were also useful to think about when blogging.

The first and, in my view, most significant film was “I Love MK: A film about streets sports issues in MK”. It had originally been made in 2005 but was reedited in 2012 and focused on the skater street culture in the town. The film outlined the reasons why MK had become a world renown centre for street sports enthusiasts and some of the problems which this had caused for businesses and the council. It explained how a creative approach had been taken by a range of stakeholders including skateboarders and the council and showed the results which had come out of the whole process – the Buszy.

This theme of looking at location and culture and their interplay has also been something going on at the Tate Modern this month. In the expanded educational and community area downstairs, on the same level as the Turbine Hall, there was an exhibition by the South London Black Music Archive. This is an ongoing project by Barby Asante working with Leaders of Tomorrow to bring together memorabilia and stories related to black music in South London. There were no exclusions put in and so they were looking at all types of black music, as the contributors defined it. This meant the stories printed on receipts, which had been texted in, ranged from people talking about going to see The Fugees to a 95 year old choir master whose favourite hymn was “master speak they servant heareth”.

Both the MK street sports film and this exhibition were excellent examples of how art and culture capture social history and levels the gap between the academics and the people whose culture and history it actually is. Presented in this form knowledge from the street is valued and available to all to analyse and discuss. Whilst it has gone through the gatekeeper of the curator or producer this does not sanitise it in the same way as when it is represented through the academic who claims to have a privileged knowledge and understanding.

Another Tate exhibit which was giving voice to older woman was  The Whisper Minnesota Project from Suzanne Lacy. This was located in the Tate Tanks, a new area in the ground area of the former power station. In one room you had a quilt and in an adjoining tank you sat and listened to the recording. It was enlightening and I found it a real privilege to listen to for some time.

The way level 0 at the Tate Modern has been expanded is wonderful. It gives a new feel of rawness and grassroots engagement which is detached from the more sanitised parts of the building whilst still very much being part of the overall gallery. Not sure that fully articulates the feeling that the lower part of the building, (beyond the Turbine Hall), gives but then as with many other spiritual places there is much to do with the Tate Modern which can’t be put into words.

The other films we saw on Friday tended to focus on comedy, apart from Suzanna Raymond’s Shadows, Little changes by James Static and Eternal in Turn which was produced by Independent Cinema MK to accompany the visit of the Boat Project to the International Festival which I posted about in July. My favourite of the comedy films was In Rehearsal produced by Susan Lee which had a slight Calendar Girls feel to it, although Who the Hell Is Alice directed by Penny Bamborough had a brilliant moment within it when somebody who had been taken for a weekend away with a new date discovered she was on a CU retreat style thing….was a genius moment.

As you can tell I’ve enjoyed engaging with the arts and as usual engaging with them on a shoestring. Entrance charge to get in to the evening of shorts was cheaper than a trip to normal cinema and the bits I saw at the Tate Modern (which also included Otobong Nkanga’s Contained Measures of Shifting States installation) were free. That’s one thing I love about art and the way we have it in this country – doesn’t matter how skint you are you can enjoy it. I think that’s something important and whilst I think some changes will inevitably happen as a result of the recession I hope this affordability doesn’t disappear, although stories such as this Journal article explaining how Newcastle Council are proposing 100% cut in arts funding show how uncertain this is.

Culture Vulture or Arts Philistine

The concrete cows are an iconic part of Milton Keynes. Recently, as reported in various parts of the press they had a makeover. Whilst this was initially talked about in a polarised language of community art verses vandalism the reality is that it was a wonderful act of non-violent direct action with a very specific purpose to try and restore and protect the towns art and the vision of community arts which inspired it, as this BBC News article explains.

Over the last 8 years and 2,499 posts art in various forms has been an important part of this blog. I have a long held appreciation of music, theatre and literature which I was bought up with.

Being the child of a poet and storyteller formed part of this I guess, although my mum who took me to the theatre loads whilst she was alive was a huge influence too. What probably had the most interesting and lasting influence was the role my dads involvement with punk driving various bands but particularly The Adicts around at various points in the late 70’s and early 80’s had on me. I was exposed to punk as a young child, not as something dangerous or a racket but as something which my dad would write home about on postcards. There was one I remember talking about a football match of some sort between The Adicts and Die Toten Hosen, written in that sort of way that indicated he was having a good time but I might also want to explore Die Toten Hosen’s music at some point. Tied into this was the left wing political side of stuff – one of the things I wish I could remember from being a kid was seeing the Clash at the Rock Against Racism concert in Victoria Park in 1978. Unfortunately as a 6 year old I didn’t realise the significance of what I was seeing. Thing is though my dad still took me and I can say, (even if I can’t remember a thing about it), I saw The Clash.

Some of the key posts on the blog which have related to art and culture are the following:

This one is about seeing the 2011 Turner Prize exhibition (amongst other things) in Newcastle last year. Didn’t seem to have much to say about the Turner Prize in 2009 when it was in Milbank. 2006 was a year when my post informs me that I much preferred the Degas, Sicket, Toulouse-Lautrec exhibition on in London at the same time to the Turner itself. This post reflects how, a few years before I started blogging, I got into the Turner Prize and more specifically on why I have the admiration I do for the work of Tracey Emin who is one of my favourite artists.

Perhaps the most important visual art event that I have blogged on was not some national exhibition but rather about a work of art I discovered at a small exhibition of the work of Egyptian tent makers, Stitch Like and Egyptian, in the Durham college where I did some mentoring work. This post describes my utter joy and thrill at seeing  Hany Abdul Kader’s  “The Revolution of 25th January”.  Another local example of art I fell in love with during my time in Durham were the Miners Banners, which I first encountered close up at this exhibition reviewed back in September 2008 when I’d only been in Durham a couple of weeks.

Music wise I could fill a page with various links I guess. There’s festivals, big concerts, small concerts and small hall events which I’ve attended and reviewed. Narrowing it down the best gig of my entire life (and I’ve been to a few) was Green Day  at Milton Keynes bowl back in June 2005 and so that was an early post. The Indigo Girls at the Sage in 2009 needs to go in there as a good gig I blogged about in a reasonably sized regional venue. Steve Winch in July this year was a great surprise at a local festival as this review indicated. As for the most surreal gig talked about on here that has to be Gareth Davies Jones at North Road Methodist Church, Durham (which has also been mentioned a few times in this blog), in April this year.

Book wise I could go for alot of things but I think Stella Duffy’s Theodora and the sequel The Purple Shroud  which was published this year are probably amongst the best I have read and reviewed on here. Perhaps one of the most passionate reviews and surprising books I reviewed on here was Howard Schultz Onward, how Starbucks Fought for its Life Without Losing it’s Soul. If I was looking at it now I think my review may have been different.

Theatre wise there have been a number of productions seen which I could comment upon. One great experience was seeing Sir Derek Jacobi playing Lear last year. So looking forward to Vicious Old Queens the new sitcom coming out next year, according to reports yesterday, which will feature him and Sir Ian McKellen (who the blog tells me gave the best speech I heard at Pride in 2008). The post for Lear has a range of artsy stuff talked about within it and I think the heading Soul Feast seems very apt. June 2008 had a lovely post about me enjoying culture on a shoe-string and includes reference to me going to see A Midsummer Nights Dream at the Globe. Getting away from Shakespeare the way I love to use art to recharge is documented with an excellent example, our trip in March to see Noel Cowards Hayfever. The Durham Mystery plays were an excellent example of community theatre as I think came across here.

Reading through this is interesting because it shows how middle class I am in many of my tastes but at the same time it has highlighted how much I just love the arts in all their forms. I might not do opera and I struggle with classical and choral type aspects of “high culture” (see the end bit of this post on an interesting week for an example where I encountered Nick Clegg too) but I am quite obviously a bit of a culture vulture rather than a complete arts philistine.