Stonehenge – but not as you know it

The more observant of you (who actually follow the blog – if there is indeed anyone out there?!) may have wondered why in my previous Newcastle post, in a link to the photos at the end, and at the end of the set of photos of Newcastle there were some images that were not taken in Newcastle

Jeremy Deller’s Stonehenge, Doncaster

But neither were they taken at the real Stonehenge – that part of everyone’s journey to the southwest along the A303 where traffic slows to a standstill as people take photos, gawp out of the windows, and sadly often have accidents.  (But also that mystical place of pilgrimage where druids and many others welcome the seasons, and ask all sorts of questions…)  No, these pictures were actually taken at Bentley Park in Doncaster, which staged Jeremy Deller’s Sacrilege Tour.  The stones have not been dug up and transported (how were they transported to the real Stonehenge in the first place?), but they have been turned into a life sized bouncy castle – Stonehenge on tour as part of the cultural bit of London 2012.  Touring to some rather unusual or smaller towns that may not necessarily spring to mind when thinking of Turner-prize artists, this was just really good fun – and extremely knackering!  I picked up Amy en route back from Newcastle (and ironically Gateshead is where Stonehenge had travelled from a couple of days earlier), and we went bouncing.  The sun stayed out; there weren’t many adults without children; we felt a bit silly, but had huge grins on our faces as we fell flat on them, tried to climb up the stones, laughed at dads throwing kids as though they were footballs into the ‘goal’ aka bouncy stone.  It was fun.  I am not sure how well publicised it had been in Doncaster – and although the views were perhaps less spectacular than when it had visited the Yorkshire Sculpture Park, nevertheless, everyone there was happy.  Let’s have more of this interactive, physical, fun art.  Stuff that makes you laugh.

Newcastle jaunt

On Friday I drove from Leicester to Newcastle, to meet artist Yvette Hawkins, and to see an exhibition of a year-long project she has run, entitled Book Apothecary.  Book Apothecary is a series of old suitcases, filled with artists’ books and objects – things that challenge and make us think about the ways in which objects are kept, how they are kept and so on.  Yvette was recommended to me by Sheila McGregor at Axis, as someone whose work questions the role of museums, curating, collecting, and so on – all those questions that Mouseion hopes to grapple with.  This project consists of work created by young people as part of a Cultural Olympiad project, funded by NE Generation, as well as works by artist mentors.

Book Apothecary at Stevenson Works, Newcastle

The suitcases (there are 16 in all), range from ones specifically bookish, to others more object-based, to mechanical, to sound pieces, to memory, history and engagement focussed ones.  Two of the other artists involved in the project are Dawn Felicia Knox and Theresa Easton, both of whose work is highly curatorial/museumy, object-centred, about collecting, engaging with, sensing and displaying things – and ties in perfectly with the Mouseion themes too.  There are a few logistical issues to overcome (some of the work is on show at the Great North Museum until the day before Mouseion’s installation), but I am hoping that the case in Mouseion will reflect something of the cabinet-like quality that I saw at the ‘Curious Case of’ exhibition.

Dawn Felicia Knox -Installation in ‘The Curious Case Of’ at Great North Museum

Anyway, Yvette had invited me to the NE Generation Preview Launch Event at Stevenson Works, which showcased all the different young people’s projects from Newcastle and the North East – including the Stories of the World museum projects, other museum ones – and some amazing peformances of street dancing and dancing with fire, art projects, video/VJ projections, hacking an XBox.  Part of the funding had even paid for a disused church to become a circus school.  Amazing and very inspiring stuff – let’s hope that there really is a legacy for all these cultural olympiad participants.  I miss that sort of working with young people at the moment.  Even though I had no idea who the people referred to in the speeches were, it was quite a special and life-affirming moment – and the people were incredibly friendly and welcoming.  I like Newcastle.  Its Persian restaurants are good too.

So after a late night, my mission for the following day was to see all sorts of things.  Of course to visit the above-mentioned exhibition at the Great North Museum (formerly the Hancock, and recently done up) – loved the museum.  Then pottered to the MFA Show at Newcastle University’s Hatton Gallery just over the road on Newcastle’s lovely red brick campus – a vast labyrinthine space with installations, constructions (Sam Thorpe’s rescued boat brought from Exeter and somehow taken down flights of stairs to the studio), film (Isabel Lima’s Contact Zone – performance on the beach), paintings (Bernie Clarkson) – and lots more besides – including an interesting foray into finding out about Kurt Schwitters and his Merzbarn Wall.  But, time was of the essence as my aim of the day was to see Janet Cardiff’s 40-part motet at BALTIC.

Walking through Newcastle there was some sort of world music festival – very jovial – with South American performers (when will I get to Peru, Bolivia and Ecuador?), and then I headed down to the water where there was another festival of speedboat dexterity or something – before which though I went into the Side Gallery – to see a wonderful – both uplifting and depressing photographic exhibition of work by Lynsey Addario – Veiled Rebellion: Women in Afghanistan.  Was incredibly powerful and moving to see women’s (in)visibility – ranging from trainee teachers sharing a picnic in the park, to a woman whose nose had been cut off, to an elderly woman surrounded by poppy heads, addicted to opium. I’ve forgotten the percentage of opium addicts in Afghanistan, but it is enormous.

I had to wait for the Millennium Bridge to tilt – a wonderful sight – and glad I got there just in time to see it – and then crossed to BALTIC, where having seen Richard Rigg’s Clearing (a mountain hut with the actual mountain terrain reconstructed inside it), I started at the top, on the viewing platform (with OWL projects soundscape) and then made my way down – to Mark Wallinger’s commissioned pieces – spectacular chessboard with 10000000000000000 (binary form of 658,336 – or something?!) pebbles were placed on the squares, while in another piece, bricks were numbered in chalk, similar to his ‘MARK’ graffiti pieces across London, and a film in which scaffolders put up scaffolding to construct something (what?) on the shingle beach as the sea lapped around them – but then to the piece I have been wanting to experience since first hearing colleagues talk about it when it was in the Millennium Galleries in Sheffield back in 2004, alas, just before I worked there and I never saw it.  Since then, I have sung Thomas Tallis’ 40 Part Motet, Spem in Alium with the Sheffield Philharmonic Chorus in 2008 – I think one of the most beautiful pieces of music in the world – but also incredibly hard to sing with so many parts, and its 8 choirs (I think)…  It’s Sam’s most favourite piece of contemporary art.

Well, being immersed in the middle of Janet Cardiff’s Forty Part Motet was incredible.  I couldn’t not well up and soon tears were pouring – why?  Sound sometimes has a much more visceral effect than the visual or any other sense.  The speakers become the singers – person-height, and as is signature with Janet Cardiff’s work, the quality of the recording is so rich.  Fragile voices, the choristers of Salisbury Cathedral (with its personal resonances), and the wonder at being able to wander and listen to single parts, hearing breaths, swallowing, notes less confident.  But overall warm, rich, outpourings that hit you right there (where is there?) – beautiful and from somewhere else. Is that why it makes you cry?  I wonder if this piece is more powerful for singers?

And then, after 11 minutes of singing, the conductor stops, and silence reigns.  But the silence is not silence.  For in it, you can hear the coughs, splutters, inane conversation, the reaching for water, the making notes in the copy, the discussion about what is happening next…  And I wondered if some people didn’t notice that.  You had to get up close to the speakers to hear this inner world.  I think that is why Janet Cardiff is such a genius – she plays with interiority and exteriority – just as she did at the Hauptbahnhof at Documenta.  And it was worth every second.


(Photos of my day are on Flickr here and here – I will work out how to embed a slideshow one day…)

print it*

On Friday 24 August, as a special treat for completing the first draft of interpretation text for the Mouseion exhibition (much on that to follow), I went to Sheffield’s Site Gallery to see the current exhibition, print it*.

Print it exhibition at Site Gallery, Sheffield

Exhibition layout and design

It’s a combination of several projects, but includes a stunning exhibition of printed books and other print press works on paper, created by Coracle Press between 1989-2012. Coracle Press is based in Ireland right now, but I think originated in Norfolk (not least as the title of the touring exhibition and its stunning accompanying book is ‘Printed in Norfolk’).  Simon Cutts is its founder (or one of them?)- and his simple, beautiful, both profound and warm words reflect the aesthetic of the printed material.  I like his poem, ‘le Marche’ (with an ‘e’ acute, as in ‘market’, not ‘march’, but can’t work out how to do the accent – I should have a printing press, not a computer, then I could sort through the letters and find the things I need manually…)

I looked for                                                                                                                               a lettuce                                                                                                                                  but bought                                                                                                                               a petticoat

(Simon Cutts in RGAP 2012 Printed in Norfolk: Coracle Publications 1989-2012, Research Group for Artist Publications, Sheffield, p.25).  Brings to mind wandering through Breton markets, eating crepes with my grandmother as my mother looked on, horrified that we were eating on the street…

Back to print it*.  The visual quality of the exhibition is stunning: minimal interpretation, simply presented, and also tactile: visitors can actually pick up and read the books, postcards, invitations and so on.  Which means that I spent a lot longer time in there absorbing things than I would have done had I not been able to pick things up.  And it really made me want to do some printing – of words, images, thoughts and ideas.  And of course, since I am curating the Mouseion exhibition in Leicester’s School of Museum Studies at the moment, it gave me a lot of food for thought and ideas to send to my PhD colleague and friend Cy Shih, who is the designer of the exhibition – I’d love to keep it with this printing press feel – with thick textured paper or card, creams and deep browns.  Further exhibition images show more detail of some of the works.

In addition to the Norfolk exhibition, the team at Site had also produced a Pop-Up Artist Bookshop – which incorporated many of the things from the exhibition, by Coracle Press, as well as from other printing studios around the world.  Something that I found incredibly moving was Susan Howe’s ‘Poems from a Pioneer Museum’, copied below from the website:

Poems From A Pioneer Museum


Susan Howe 2009

32 letterpress cards printed on Canaletto Liscio paper
in binders box 130 x 100. 300 copies I copied these poems, almost verbatim, from typed identification cards placed beside items in display cases at Salt Lake City’s Pioneer Memorial Museum founded in 1901 by the Daughters of Utah Pioneers. The artifacts and memorabilia in their collection date from 1847 when Mormon settlers first entered the Valley of the Great Salt Lake until the joining of the railroads at Promontory Point, Utah in 1869.

An extravagant purchase I couldn’t resist.  Not only is it a gorgeous series of printed cards, it is in a green baize box – a proper museum object of museum objects and catalogue entries.  I love it.  Useful (for teaching, example giving, idea generation) but also a nice THING.  And this purchase didn’t fulfil my desire to possess things entirely either – so I ended up with a stack of things in addition to the catalogue: some Erica van Horn postcards and a book ‘Rusted: Six Small Iron Articles of Unknown Use – found and drawn Ballybeg 2004′ – I think that this would complement Hazel Jones’ A1 Scrap Metal project.


Erica Van Horn 2004

16pp laser and letterpress in two colours, sewn with wrappers 150 x 105.100 numbered copies.2nd edition of 150 copies 2007


And ‘The Die is Cast’ by Caroline Bergvall & Nick Thurston – a book of sayings and proverbs which have been merged and mixed together through the pagination and binding of the book – which Karl & Kimberley Foster would like in their Object Dialogue Box ‘first aid kits’ – how phrases can set and spark the imagination…  ‘You can’t judge a / spade’ or ‘Call a spade a / book by its cover’.  It is strange how everything I am currently doing in my PhD and extra-PhD world seems to have been whizzing through my head while I looked at this exhibition – its design, content, interpretation, objects, reasons, people, ideas.  Everything is interlinked.  Always.

Another artist’s book that I bought was Chloe Brown’s ‘Coming Ready Or Not’, which although written in 2000, before I knew her, is a little reminder (of some of the better days of that rather hellish project we ran together – another story…).

So that was my journey into printing and presses, poetry and purity, words both intangible and tangible.