Clog dancing

There was a fascinating exhibition at Compton Verney this summer all about ingenious automata and different mechanical models. There’s a good review – with links – here.

Lots of fun but, underneath, there was also a strand which explored our relationship with the machines we make. C and I were riveted by a video of clog dancing – steps learned from an elderly mill worker – demonstrating the dances that developed in counterpoint to the machines the women worked amongst. Here’s the video now. There are some introductory scenes (which are worth watching) but if its the dancing you’ve come for start at two minutes in.

Clog dancing

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Did I mention Sister Corita? We came across her by accident earlier this summer in a visit to the lovely museum of art and craft in Ditchling

We didn’t know there was an exhibition on and had gone there to see works by Edward Johnston, Eric Gill and other craft workers in the Catholic Guild Gill founded in the village.

They were political in their way. Phillip Hagreen’s prints still have power:

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and a very characteristic cleanness of line, a modern unfussiness. What they don’t have is pzazz! Sister Corita has. In spades.

The connection between them is catholicism. Sister Corita was an American nun, working on prints and printmaking and, through the 50s, 60s and beyond engaging directly with the radical politics of the day – Vietnam, consumerism, poverty the need to bring christianity into people’s lives.

(from the website)
The ground-breaking work of Corita Kent (1918-1986) comes to Ditchling Museum of Art + Craft this summer. Corita was an artist, a famously charismatic educator and a Roman Catholic nun based in Los Angeles during the 1960s. A contemporary of Andy Warhol and Ed Ruscha, her vibrant screenprinted banners and posters drew on pop and modern consumer cultures and became increasingly political throughout the decade. Her bright, bold work confronted issues of poverty, racism and war with an aesthetic more aligned with protest movements of the time than traditional religious imagery. Frequently appearing on the streets surrounding the Immaculate Heart College in Los Angeles, where she taught, Kent’s imagery aimed to capture the public imagination in order to influence social change.

The effect of walking into a room full of her prints (especially after the restraint and control of those great English craftworkers) is extraordinary.

 

 

 

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Mad dogs or Englishmen

One thing leads to another and this morning I found myself listening to one of the 1955 Reith Lectures from the BBC. They were given by Sir (then Doctor) Nicolas Pevsner on the subject of Englishness in Art. It’s not nearly as jingoistic as it sounds. Pevsner tells a nuanced tale but, early in the first lecture, he lists what might at that time have been a list of ‘English’ characteristics. Englishness, in the popular mind is about:

“Personal liberty, freedom of expression, and wisdom in compromise, the two-party system not shaken by communism or fascism, the democratic system of negotiating in parliament as well as on boards and committees, the distrust of the sweeping statement (such as mine are) and of the demagogue.”

I paused and thought about the state of political debate in the country at the moment . I thought of Twitter (for goodness sake) and wondered about where that pragmatic and generous spirit of compromise had gone to. No matter, Pevsner goes on:

“Then the eminently civilised faith in honesty and fair play, the patient queuing, the wisdom in letting go in Ireland, in India, in Burma, a strictly upheld inefficiency in the little business-things of every day, such as the workman’s job in the house, windows that will never close, and heating that will never heat, a certain comfortable wastefulness and sense of a good life, and the demonstrative conservatism of the wig in court, the gown in school and university, the obsolete looking shop-window in St. James’s Street, the Steward of the Chiltern Hundreds, the Keeper of the Queens Swans, the Portcullis Poursuivant, the City Companies, and £-s.-d., and yards and acres, and Fahrenheit. All those things seem as eternal as the rock of Gibraltar.”

I recognised it at once as the picture of England and Englishness that my father believed in and loved. Pevsner, in the lecture, does offer different, historical, perspectives but concludes:

Now that I have said so much to show what is not permanent in the national characteristics of England, may I indulge in a few examples of how surprisingly much after all does appear to be permanent. Paul Hentzner, the German tourist who came to England in 1598, already says the English are ‘impatient of anything like slavery’. Misson in about 1690 says they ‘eat a huge piece of roast beef on Sunday…and the rest cold the other days of the week’.
Their idea of vegetables, says Karl Philipp Moritz in 1782, is ‘a few cabbage leaves boiled in plain water’. The English do not work too much, says Sorbière in 1653, they believe that ‘true living consists in knowing how to live at ease’. And one more example, Antonio Trevisan, Venetian Ambassador to Henry VII in 1497, remarks that the English say, ‘whenever they see a handsome foreigner: he looks like an Englishman’. Saussure, who was a very shrewd observer, says the same: ‘I don’t think there is a people more prejudiced in its own favour than the British’.

And go to Ogden Nash, and you will find this:

Let us pause to consider the English
Who when they pause to consider themselves they get all reticently thrilled and tinglish,
Because every Englishman is convinced of one thing, viz:
That to be an Englishman is to belong to the most exclusive club there is.

My father to a T.

It helped me realise that, child of the sixties that I was, when I came home from grammar school head filled with notions of English bad behaviour abroad and fallibility at home – all narratives that challenged this charming, white, middle class view of the people we were, I wasn’t just debating a point, I was challenging a faith.

I also wonder now, 63 years later, what has stood the test of time and what Englishness means now.

 

Mad dogs or Englishmen

Birthday Cards

It was my birthday a little while ago. I had some lovely cards – although, because my Facebook account is deactivated, for the first year since about 2008, I didn’t get that flurry of warm electronic wishes from friends far and wide.

I missed that, but I also reflected that for every card I received:

An artist or designer had been able to work creatively and be paid for it.

Trees had been cut down and shipped (and replanted – I’m sure all my cards are from sustainable sources) keeping loggers, machinery manufacturers, HGV drivers in employ

A paper manufacturer created pulp and made the card and the envelope it was posted in. Printers applied the design (and bought ink from its own manufacturers who in turn bought and made the dyes to colour the inks)

Somebody put it on a shelf in a shop and sold it. I hope whoever it was that chose it for me had the pleasure of looking through all the possibilities, finding one that they thought was just the thing. I’m sure they did – I had some really smashing cards.

Then it was written, stamped, posted, collected, delivered and received with great pleasure.

So many people had a hand in each of my birthday cards, so many livings and occupations were supported, so much wealth spread around our little economies, such a lot of tax paid and collected.

There are environmental issues to be tackled to be sure – but Facebook’s huge server farms have their problems too. What struck me more forcibly than ever was that at least with my cards it isn’t just Mark Zuckerberg – getting grotesquely, absurdly, undeservedly richer and richer – who benefits.

Thanks to you all – I’ll make sure to remember your birthdays too. x

Birthday Cards