Category Archives: Heritage and Art

Learning from Cromwell and Co.

Today I went wandering around the current exhibition in Milton Keynes Central Library, Newport Pagnell – Cromwell’s Garrison Town. It was an interesting exhibition which was very old skool in terms of how it was presented and to be honest could have been a bit dull if it hadn’t pressed some particular interest buttons for me.

The exhibition primarily focuses on the history of Newport Pagnell and role it played in the English Civil War(s), but it also touches upon the history of Stony Stratford too. Pictures of Sealed Knot visits to both are included amongst the exhibits. The exhibition illustrates how these two small towns, which are now viewed by some – but not the locals – as being part of Milton Keynes were on opposing sides during the civil war. Stony was held by the Royalists and for most of the time Newport Pagnell was held by the Parliamentarians. Thus, as the exhibition makes clear this area was the front line between Oxford and East Anglia.

I found this borderland idea interesting as it is something which continues into the modern day. MK is hard to categorise in terms of where it lies regionally. We are on the edge of several regions and our life here reflects that. TV wise I get Look East, police coverage is provided by the Thames Valley Force, the main “local” railway company is London Midland.

There was some important non-conformist dissenter history within the exhibition, aswell as literary treasures. There was a chunk of wood which was part of a pulpit Bunyan had preached from and some documentation relating to Rev. John Gibbs who was one of the 17th century dissenters who left the CofE and formed an independent church which is now the URC. This history page on the Newport Pagnell Baptist Church site outlines the way in which other local dissenting congregations can be seen to trace their heritage back to Gibbs and within the exhibition is an article from the Baptist Quarterly dating back to the 1920’s.

I find the whole subject of non-conformist history absolutely fascinating and important, it is an important part of my religious heritage.

In terms of how radical political non-conformity and dissent has always been viewed as dangerous one line in a time line in the exhibition is very telling. In 1649 Levellers were chased through Newport Pagnell and their leaders shot.

One thing I am very aware of is that it is easy to romanticise the situation of the time, particularly as non-conformists who still have that Puritan DNA in us. That would be a mistake, but I do worry that this exhibition focused too much on bland information without going into much depth about what the reality would have been. For example when it says volunteers to go to Ireland were told they weren’t needed – such as simple sentence, but so much more than is immediately obvious is held within it.

As I say an interesting exhibition if you are in to that sort of thing, but possibly not if you’re not a social history/ non-conformity buff. I know space was obviously an issue for this exhibition and I would have liked to see it presented in a larger space. I think that would have made a difference.

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.

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.

Homeless Art at home in church

Open Door is a charity in Milton Keynes which supports the homeless and ex homeless in a range of ways, including it appears using art. At the moment they have an art exhibition running in Christ the Cornerstone Church. This is one of a couple of exibitions currently on display in the community centred building. The church  FB page tells me that the art is hung in the church cloister, I just thought it was the corridor surrounding the big chapel in the church :).

There was a great variety of pieces on display ranging from soap sculptures inspired by Barbara Hepworth to pencil drawings, abstract paintings and charcol etchings amongst others. My personal favourites included a set of plates which were painted in different designs.

The art varies from the enthusisatic amateur to the definately talented and I think that was one of the joys of the exhibition – the ordered variety in what was on offer.

On a hot day seeing that, along with the other exhibition currently on display and the beach hut which is outside as part of the fringe festival made me smile. On a day when I was feeling frustrated and annoyed, (as much with myself as with anybody), these bits of community art made me feel connected to the world beyond me again and a bit more aware of my connection with God.

And that’s one of the things I am most learning to love about the building of the church I worship in – they value art. Yet, and it’s what I have to admit confuses me lots about the place too. They have a resource which they share with the wider community – the space which they use to exibit the art and the more permanent pieces – yet they don’t seem to fully recognise the opportunity or spirituality within this. Looking around the web there is no way of telling what exhibitions are currently on and what suprises might be encountered within the building. The artists are, I suspect, just seen as other users and the art as another part of the “non-spiritual” use of the building. Yet, art is by its very creative nature a spiritual thing – engaging with a beautiful piece is just as spiritually uplifting, if not more so on occassion, than anything which might go on within one of the two chapel areas. To my mind the gallery is one of the most special things the church has to offer, (but then I am an artsy hippy type).

Anyway, if you happen to be in the area and interested the exhibition is on until 6th August. The beach hut in the garden, which is shown below, is there until I think until the 29th July – when the fringe festival ends.

The Non-Scientist gets turned on by Geeks

I don’t do science and so would not have imagined an evening spent listening to four distingished contributers to Seeing Further: The Story of Science and the Royal Society would have been my kind of thing. But thanks to somebody at church who couldn’t go and so thrust the ticket in my hand over coffee I found myself there and loved it.

Bill Bryson was hosting this as part of the 350th anniversary of the Royal Society. It was a hour and a half q&a with Lord Martin Rees (who is apparently a big cheese in the science world), Philip Ball (a journalist and writer), Georgina Ferry (writer and broadcaster) and Richard Holmes (a historian and biographer).

The discussion largely revolved around scientists, science and their purpose. It also had an interesting feminist undercurrent going on.

So what were the key things I got/ learnt from the evening?

1) Dorothy Hodgkin (beware it’s a Wikki link…read Ferry’s book to check), the only female Nobel Prize winner for science is yet another kick ass woman of the early/ mid 20th century whose life is worth investigating. Georgina Ferry has written a biography on her and the outline given was facinating.

2) The line between art and science is finer than we think.

3) Lord Rees made the point that science needs the freeze rather than the cut because as one contributor said, “the history of science shows it’s not about economic purpose only. Enquiry is part of what it is to be civillised.”

4) We’ve been here before. In the 1820’s, another time of recession, Babbage wrote “The Decline of Science in Britain” just as Darwin was going off to explore.

5) The relationshp between science and religion is often misunderstood. I know quite a few Christians who are also scientists but on this panel it was atheists and Bryson was keen to use the US creationist debates to try and highlight the apparent divide. There was a lack of new atheism on offer though. Lord Rees spoke eloquently about why atheists should take a position of accomodation, as did Ferry.

Ferry explained, “People want to know why they exist. People build structures they feel safe in. Religion is not going to be seen off.”

Lord Rees went further and said, “the new atheists are doing a great deal of damage”. He went on to explain (in almost but not exactly these words – I was scribbling the best I could), that fundamentalism of whatever sort is dangerous and allies and religious leaders should be respected. He also pointed out if young Muslim 6th formers studying science are told they have to choose between God and science they will choose God and the scientific community and science will lose good scientists.

6) The final message that came out was that story tellers are important. Scientific discovery involves a narrative which is usually interesting and powerful but which often lacks an audience. Alot of good scientists go unrecognised beyond their peer group.

All in all, as I say, a good night which made me appreciate TOH’s academic self a little more.


An art gallery wrapped in a bit of fabric which went through the building seemed to sum up the randomness of life at the moment. The said “installation” was part of the The The Things Is (For 3) exhibition at the Milton Keynes gallery. It was truly the most random exhibition I think I’ve come across and well worth going to see if you’re in the area and like modern art.

Nipping into the gallery was part of my “trip down south” to go to G. & J.’s wedding in Tunbridge Wells, (which was lovely) and help TOH with some flat hunting in the land of the concrete cow. Doing all this as cheaply as possible meant that we ended up in the a lovely but somewhat surreal b&b. The owner was wonderful and I don’t think I’ve ever met somebody so eager to please..Although he was a self proclaimed agnostic his love of hugging and lack of awareness at personal space at times was something only normally experienced in church. Still he was brilliant.

A visit to London

Having won the tickets to go and listen to Desmond Tutu in conversation with Sir Trevor McDonald TOH and I headed down to London for what Bridget Jones would describe as a mini-break.

Just before we left the hotel to go and see the Arch + newscaster TOH got down on one knee and did the proposing thing. She has placed a shiney ring on an appropriate finger (i.e. one that fits, and can be discreet if required). Important thing is that she and I and the people who matter know it is a ring of commitment. And it is done before she heads off down south for her new job.

Tutu was wonderful. As you may be aware the former Archbishop of Capetown has been reported as retiring from public life and so this was an amazing chance to see him before he goes. He was giving anacdotes and advice answering questions from McDonald and then from the audience. When he was talking he mentioned the 1988 Hyde Park celebration of Nelson Mandela’s birthday….that was the first time I apparently saw him speak….although I have to admit my only memory of the day is seeing Jim Kerr and Simple Minds singing Don’t You Forget about Me. During his recollections he spoke with hope and diplomacy, truly an amazing man.

Yesterday we did some art on the cheap, using our Tate membership. The highlight was the Rude Britannia exhibition at the Tate Britain. Viz, Spitting Image and Hogarth were all on display, amongst others. I think one of my favourite bits was a cartoon of the fat slags being told, “keep em on”. We did the cheap cruise down the river on the Tate to Tate boat and then wandered around the Exposed and Deception exhibitions. Apart from the Green Line film the Deception exhibition was just plain wierd…didn’t get it and didn’t particularly enjoy it. Exposed was great in places but equally disturbing in others….still worth seeing. However, if you have to choose I would recommend the Britain rather than the Modern at the moment.

Changing for Good, For One Day Only

Yesterday I was Changing for Good, but for one day only. No, it doesn’t sound any better the other way round. In English this meant I spent a wonderful day being semi-enthused and semi-offended by Steve Chalke, thoroughly motivated by Paul Blakey, really inspired by Jane Cook and refreshingly entertained by Applecart .

I will start with “the star”. Now to put this in context I have to explain I was a child of the mid-late 80’s Baptist church youth group. Therefore as a teenager I was subjected to video upon video of Chalke and occassionally him talking in person, (he was the preferred eye candy of youth leaders of the time). The only noteable talk of all this I remember was him getting a hall full of impressional kids to stand up if they would promise once they grew up and got good jobs rather than buying a Merc they would get a little car and spend the difference on funding a Christian worker for a year, I stood and meant it….just never had the money. The other thing I will remember, and more fondly, is that he was the inspiration for Christmas Cracker. This was a series of charity restraunts we did over a couple of years, most noteably in a shop which was closing down, and a series of community radio events at Christmas for a couple of years. (The relevance of this will be come apparent in a moment). As the years went on I remember seeing Chalke at Spring Harvest over the years and being midly pleased about his focus on social justice.

Yesterday he was giving a good message, and interestingly talked about how 5 years ago he opened up a community radio station in his church over August and this led to a reduction in crime. He happened to mention it to Gordon Brown and before you knew it it was a recognised crime reduction initiative and Chalke was on his way to becoming something to do with the UN. There was no mention of the fact he had been encouraging the use of community radio licences all those years before, he wanted it to start 5 years ago in yesterdays talk. But then, that’s Steve Chalke. He is a social entreperneur who has facilitated a heck of good work, and become part of the New Labour machine, (one gets the feeling from some of the comments yesterday about being on the phone to central government every day he is now part of the ConDem nation machine)….anyway, one can only be so cynical about somebody who has had the guts to face up to much of the evangelical establishment on various issues over the years and ensure that the “British Tradition” of mixing evangelicalism with social justice has been sustained.

Yesterday he said one thing to make me really angry though. He said that we have the wrong picture of God and the kingdom we are working towards is more of an occupation, like the Israeli occupation. There was no acknowledgement that such occupations might be wrong, rather he said the church should be taking that approach. This pisses me off because it is exactly that sort of approach which led to the attrocities committed by missionaries in partnership with the British government in the nineteenth century. More recently if any Palastinian had been in that room, (and whilst I don’t think they were it wouldn’t have been beyond the realms of possibility in Durham), it would have been even more offensive to them. Occupation is wrong. God does not want occupation, he wants positive active choice making based upon transformative love not violence.

Paul Blakey turned up with another Halifax Street Angel and a bloke from Hull Street Angels. Peter, who leads StreetLights up here, with his wife, also spoke. Now, ok I was going to be biased in this sort of session. I volunteer for StreetLights and am fully convinced of the benefit of these initiatives. However, what struck me was how Paul Blakey in particular was just an ordinary bloke. There was no trendy hair cut, he didn’t look like a Mac user, and he was up there talking about how they just got on with it up there. There is no doubt that Paul is an amazing bloke, looking at what he had achieved, but he is not full of himself, he just seemed like a nice ordinary bloke with no pretentions what so ever – so different from Steve Chalke. I loved this session which got real people talking about real issues in real communities.

In the afternoon I went to a seminar by Jane Cook, (one of the former WSC students), on spirituality and outdoor persuits. This session was chilled, laid back and inspiring. Jane again was talking to ordinary people about what they could do with people from their churches and communities. She went through a whole host of ideas and did some theological reflection on them. It was great and I really enjoyed her session. Again it was rooted in the real world and what was achieveable anywhere.

Finally I saw Applecart, who somehow hadn’t gotten on my radar at Greenbelt last year. Applecart were one of the most refreshing things I have seen in years. Basically they do theatre with a Christian theme in the real world. This means that it is the sort of thing you can take your granny to and she will love whilst you will be blushing, thinking what will she make of the language…which, yes, did include the F word. The best bit of what they were doing last night was inspired by Peter Cook and Dudley Moore. Two blokes in flat caps in  a pub discussing Jesus telling the religious bloke to  be born again and what this meant. I won’t go into detail for those who might see it at Greenbelt this year, where they are performing four different shows. Sufficient to say the bits about it being horrible to think about having to go through your mums chuff and rupturing her were hilarious. The thing about Applecart is they are explicitly performing normally for non-Christians and have a booking criteria which means they deal with real comedy in the real world rather than sanitised stuff in church buildings which might even make Disney look risky.

All in all a good day, but one which further emphasised to me that whilst Christian social entreprenurs and Mac users might have a place it’s ordinary people in the real world that I prefer to listen to. If you are still here I  leave you with a You Tube clip of Applecart doing an interview at Greenbelt.


Baltic Space Cage

Level 3 of the Baltic is often cluttered with installations and sculpture. At the moment, however, it is an oasis of space in a crowded city. John Cage – Every Day is a Good Day is the exhibition in there until 5th September. It was hung using a computerised version of the  I Ching, meaning it is based on organised randomness.

In the large, uncluttered, woodern floored space the framed art looks great from a distance but close up one might well be convinced “modern art is rubbish” to parody the Blur quote. Basically it’s beautiful if you don’t stop to look at it. At the end is a seperate room filled with colour, images, shapes and sound which well may resemble a synathesia overload. However, it does serve as a useful reminder of how the development of rave was dependent upon this wierd psyhcodelic stuff. So I would recommend this exhibition simply to breathe in the space rather than actually admire the art.

Cornelia Parker’s exhibition was still closed due to a leak and so you were instead directed to the level 4 external terrace with its glorious view over the ever changing face of Tyneside.

For art lovers I would recommend level 1’s Cage Mix, Scultpture and Sound by various artists. This develops the work of John Cage and was curated by Alessandro Vincentelli. I was struck by Christian Marclay’s Shuffle which was creating a musical score through contemporary pictures containing musical notes, and is available to play with from Amazon I see (follow the link above). This collection of  cards was really beautiful in a late modern way. My favourite artists work here was Graham Gussin’s stuff. In “This is Heaven Don’t you Think?” he had produced an ink tracing of 15 seconds of sound, put into an audio image. It was reminisent of the cover of Joy Division’s Unknown Pleasures. In his “Threesixty” Gussin had framed a 12″ record. Whilst the description of what it was meant to represent seemed like utter arty bollocks the simple framed vinyl was beautiful.

I was disappointed the film exhibition area seems to have disappeared and in its place you find Baltic Shop 2 making the gallery even more focused on the visitor as a consumer. This area is devoted to selling pieces which can be bought with a loan through the Own Art Scheme.

Another recent innovation seems to be Baltic Bites on You Tube. I leave you with their clips of the Seripop thing they did.