Remembering the Joy of the Mechanical in the Digital Age.

Last week I went to visit the ‘Marvellous Machines’ exhibition currently showing at the Ipswich Art Gallery. It is a fascinating, stylish display of visually elegant and appealing mechanical artworks.

Baba Yaga from ‘Baba Yaga’s House’ by Keith Newstead.

And, what’s more you get to push small, red buttons to make the automata work in all their whirring and squeaky intricacy.

‘Goat and Bucket’ by Paul Spooner. Mechanical sculpture.

In these digital times it’s easy to take for granted all our speedy, convenient tech. We click and scroll without a second thought as to what is actually going on beneath the screen.

‘Sit up Anubis’ or ‘Sleeping Musculature’ by Paul Spooner. Mechanical sculpture.
Pendulum clocks from 1699.

It wasn’t always so and the ‘Marvellous Machines’ exhibition reminds us of all those bewitching clockwork and mechanical objects from the past. Some examples such as mechanical toys were purely for entertainment and some were functional equipment that was often beautiful too.

Hammond 2 Braille typewriter, 1884. Hammond’s company motto was ‘For all nations, for all tongues’. You can swap different parts around to type in 14 different languages.

Functional objects from the past on display in this exhibition included a braille typewriter, a rather attractive ‘shrimp’ sweet making machine

Shrimp sweet making machine. (Donald Storer and Richard Durrant used this machine to make shrimp-shaped sweets at ‘The Homemade Sweet and Rock Factory’ in Felixstowe between 1950 and 1988.)

and a scale model of the an early Otis lift.

Scale model of Waywood-Otis automatic lift, early 1900s. Waywood-Otis used models like this to show-off their technology to customers. Traction lifts use pulleys and counter weights to move up and down.

Of course, humans have used mechanisms to make moving toys for thousands of years.

Naturally, in an Art Gallery some of the works on display are examples of art. These delightful mechanical sculptures by Paul Spooner are exquisitely crafted, and are both beguiling and witty.

Barecats by Paul Spooner. Mechanical sculpture.

I particularly liked the manner in which the mechanics are also on display in this piece. It has become an expression of our contemporary culture to reveal inner workings. Here you can see the cogs and spindles are finely made and are assembled in a functional and satisfyingly ordered arrangement.

Spaghetti Eater by Paul Spooner. (notice the flowing taps too) Mechanical sculpture.

Another work by Peter Markey, Artist-Painter, resonated surprisingly strongly with me. It’s as if he has been spying on me!

Artist-Painter by Peter Markey. Mechanical sculpture.

‘Marvellous Machines’ featuring these quirky pieces from Cabaret Mechanical Theatre, continues at Ipswich Art Gallery until 3 November 2019. If you can’t get to Ipswich a list of upcoming events displaying some of these mechanical sculptures is available on the Cabaret Mechanical Theatre website. Finally, Cabaret Mechanical Theatre sell some of their work online offering one-offs, limited editions and even ‘build your own’ kits.

Artist-Painter by Peter Markey.
(Looks like I feel when faced with another weekend of decorating this old house!)
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If we go down to the woods today. . .

It’s that time of year, if you are lucky and live near a bluebell wood, to go strolling through one of Mother Nature’s more enchanting realms. Delicate English bluebells form carpets of violet-blue beneath deciduous trees tinged with the palest of lime green.

I remember several childhood ‘bluebell’ walks. A couple were through the woods near Little Baddow, in Essex and another was an occasion when my family visited the woods near Butley Priory in Suffolk, decades before the remaining gatehouse was restored into a wedding venue.

But what if you live in the middle of a town?

A glade of bluebells, Holywells Park, Ipswich

Well, Holywells Park, Ipswich, does it again. The wooded area of the park may not be vast nor the ‘Bluebell Walk’ exactly long, but they are there, delicate, bluebells nodding gently in the breeze.

The Woodland Walk, Holywells Park

The Woodland Walk partly runs along one side of the park. On the other side of the high, brick boundary wall there’s Bishops Hill, also known as the A1156, busy with traffic. Yet as you walk on down into the peace and quiet of the park you could be forgiven for thinking you were in the middle of a large country estate complete with a wildlife pond.

Such changeable weather

We’ve had some high winds and fast moving weather systems recently in East Anglia. Clouds, some with and some without rain, have been whipping across the Suffolk countryside.

These photographs were taken in less than a minute as we drove through the pleasant village of Little Glemham. It was almost a Hitchcock moment with the sudden darkening of the sky, but without the multiple flocks of birds.

And, then back in Ipswich on Monday, walking through Christchurch Park, it was all jolly waving daffodils in the bright spring sunshine . . .

and I spotted . . . a flashy, noisy bird who turned out to be camera shy!

February flowers in the cemetery

On Monday I had a scarf order to despatch and as it was a gorgeously, bright and sunny winter morning I decided to take a detour and walk through the cemetery to the Post Office.

This is my first visit to the cemetery since just before Christmas and what a pleasant surprise.

A tapestry of snowdrops and crocuses in various stages of blooming flowed in between the old headstones and graves.

Of course, the bright, but low winter sun enhanced the scene although the recent storms and high winds has left a muddle of fallen twigs amongst the blooms.

As I walked through this enchanting green space not only was it a feast for my eyes, but there was also a full chorus of birdsong including the sporadic rat-a-tat-tat drilling of a woodpecker.

Public Processions as Protest

R-Space Gallery CIC working with artist Lucy Turner and Seacort Print Workshop.

During these times of very strange, volatile, unpredictable, wobbly, erratic and, when you examine it all as a whole, completely chaotic politics, it is interesting to have a brief look at some ‘political’ slogans.

Rural Arts North Yorkshire with artist Angela Hall.

I am not going to engage with the Brexit shambles, but instead take a peak at a few slogan’s which were paraded in last summer’s celebration ‘Processions’ marking 100 years of votes for women.

‘Processions’ was a mass participation artwork to celebrate 100 years of votes for women. It was an open invitation to every woman and girl across the UK to get involved by being present on Sunday 10th June 2018 in one of the four UK capitals.

Greater North Belfast Women’s Network who worked with the National Museums, Northern Ireland.

Women from across the country gathered in Belfast, Cardiff, Edinburgh and London dressed in the colours of purple, green and white, and marched together inspired by the great processions of the suffragettes and the suffragists in the years leading up to 1918 and the coming of votes for women.

Millennium Court Arts Centre. International Women’s Friendship Group working with artist Tonya McMullan, Flax Art Studios.

One hundred women artists were commissioned to work with community groups and organisations to facilitate the creation of banners with participants collaborating in workshops generating ideas and collectively producing colourful, striking and thought-provoking banners.

Many of the banners trumpeted slogans with universal appeal.

Banners from Women of the Estuary (that is the Thames Estuary) hanging in the Ipswich Library.

And, some banners celebrated various sections of society with both professional and non-professional female practitioners acknowledged.

The Braids Art Centre, Ballymena, Northern Ireland with artist Rosalind Lowry.

Needless to say, I especially appreciated those banners referring to the worlds of creative women.

Mid Wales Arts Centre with artist Loraine Morley on display at DanceEast.

And, finally, on a personal note, having gone to school in Essex I was quietly amused by the Essex women’s bold take on owning their space in this world.

Metal Culture, Southend-on-Sea working with artist Heidi Wigmore.

How times change!

Recently I have been sorting and collating and trying to delete some of my thousands of photographs. It’s what I call a New Year’s task and as usual I have already been completely sidetracked!

This time it was all St Gabriel’s fault or rather should I say the talented Victorian stained glass artist who created this work. I think it could possibly have been painted by somebody who worked for James Powell & Sons. It has an Arts and Crafts feel, and, the overall design of the complete window has a look very similar to the late-19th/early-20th century works by that famous, London-based stained glass makers.

It wasn’t so much the beauty of the window, although I really do love the restrained aesthetic of this style of glass, but I wanted to know who had made it and so the hunt began. I was sidetracked.

Disappointingly, I was not successful, however, I did come across a little thread of discord from 2005 regarding the taking of photographs within National Trust properties. The above stained glass window, that had captured my attention, can be found in the chapel on the Oxburgh Hall estate in Norfolk.

The Chapel of the Immaculate Conception and St Margaret. Architect J C Buckler. 1835

Inside the chapel there are a few artworks worth attention. There is the tomb of the 6th Baronet, Sir Henry Bedingfield, complete with a fine, marble effigy and alabaster tomb chest.

Marble effigy of the 6th Baronet, Sir Henry Bedingfield. 1800-62

There is also a further stained glass window by Thomas Willement, this time featuring heraldic motifs and . .

Heraldic stained glass window by Thomas Willement. 1838

there is an oddly, overblown altarpiece arrangement. This is not the original 1839 altarpiece. In fact the painted and gilded wooden structure we see today is a retable with wings that was purchased sometime in the late-19th century. It is unclear when and who put together the full arrangement with the upper retable, the sacrament tabernacle and the bottom, carved altar table.

As you can see from my photographs, when the wings are opened displaying scenes from the Passion and the life of St James of Compostela, the whole effect is unbalanced and out of proportion within such a small chapel. Flemish altarpieces from the sixteenth century are often seen these days in museums and art galleries, but originally they would have been erected in cathedrals or larger churches set beneath high vaulted ceilings and tall windows. Perhaps the entire Oxburgh construction was purchased during a moment of Victorian religious zeal. Strangely, according to the official guidebook ‘The retable was acquired by the National Trust in 1982 with the aid of grants from the Art Fund, the National Heritage Memorial Fund and the Victoria & Albert Museum’ thirty years after Oxburgh Hall had been given to the National Trust. If you are at all interested in the baffling and convoluted arrangements for keeping some art accessible to the public you can read about the retable provenance here.

Now, after that minor digression, I come back to the issue of taking photographs, such as mine of the Oxburgh Retable, in National Trust properties. Back in January 2005, Simon Knott, who has made a fine photographic record of much of East Anglia’s church art, was visiting Oxburgh Hall. And, in 2005 photography was not allowed inside any National Trust properties for ‘security reasons’. However, Mr Knott attempted to photograph inside the chapel and was caught by the room steward. Mr Knott subsequently recounted this episode on his website. He was mildly critical of the NT’s over zealous no photography policy and then latterly received a sharp slap down in reply. Below is a glimpse back to those pre-selfie, pre-Instagram days!

Postcript, June 2005: Teresa Squires, House Steward at the Hall, was alerted by, as she put it, ‘a concerned National Trust volunteer’, and contacted me [Simon Knott] : I am most concerned about your puerile comments regarding the “sneak” photography. The National Trust has a No Photography rule for a number of good reasons, of which one is security. If you had taken the trouble to enquire of the steward, you would have found out that the No Photography rule only applies during public visiting hours, and an arrangement can be made to photograph for bona fide reasons at another time. Your irresponsible attitude is likely to cause others to think they can buck the system with impunity. Remember, the National Trust is a conservation charity, not a subsidised Government organisation. Yes, it is most unlikely that someone will steal this particular altarpiece, but art crime is on the increase everywhere. If you are truly concerned with recording and disseminating knowledge of church history, I would expect you to show a little more respect.

From commentary by Simon Knott

How times have changed! Fortunately, in 2009 the National Trust changed their policy regarding photographs. It is, of course, still no flash photography (so damaging to delicate artworks), but the sensible decision to permit paying visitors to photograph and share their experiences can only help attract more visitors to National Trust properties. Furthermore, sharing pictures of minority interests such as the needlework of Mary, Queen of Scots, can only be a positive addition to our shared culture.

Now it’s time for me to return to my original task and get deleting those underexposed, overexposed and just slightly out of focus photographs.

Stag – from ‘The Cavendish Hanging’ more information at Oxburgh Hangings

Decorated Trees for the Festive Season

It’s interesting to see the civic responses to decorating public spaces at this time of year. Some Christmas trees work well for their locations. Down on Ipswich Waterfront the tree elegantly adds seasonal spirit to its setting whether it’s a drab December day or a winter sunset.

And some Christmas trees simply brighten the mundane places for all those travelling at this time of year.

Ipswich Railway Station

However, some trees are magnificent in their own right only to have their charm reduced by a cluttered civic space that should have been spectacular. It is disappointing that the lovely tree in the newly revamped Ipswich Cornhill is being obscured by a large temporary marquee (which I have tried not include in the photograph). I see from our local paper that I am not the only one to consider this set-up a disappointing mess.

Of course, most Christmas trees are in people’s homes and it’s been seven years since I have had a tree at home. I think it’s probably because it will be my first Christmas in this old house and the Victorian bay is such an obvious and familiar setting for a decorated tree.

It was a little walk down memory lane as I unwrapped the forgotten ornaments for the first time in seven years. I have some of my mother’s decorations and memories of family Christmases with my mother and my grandparents filled the room along with intermittent showers of glitter and the scent of pine.

Young talent – Annie Lai

More-Annie-LaiCreative-review

Every now and then Instagram gives us something interesting and positive. On Tuesday 26th June the media folk at Creative Review posted this intriguing photograph by a new young talented photographer, Annie Lai.

The post informs us that Annie (for those of you who might want to have a peak on Instagram she’s @annielai_) has only recently graduated from the London College of Fashion. She grew up in China, but spent her High School years in New Zealand, before taking up her place to study photography in London. I can see why Creative Review chose to feature her work as there is a hint of a retro quality about it yet overall it is most definitely new contemporary work.

Creative-review2Looking at this fashion photograph I feel I should grab my Art Historian’s hat and immediately delve into the world of Roland Barthes to consider why I am so taken with this image. Although it is not a blatantly emotionally charged photograph, I think its composition, tone and framing, and crisp lighting is engaging us more than the average fashion photo. I think it has both studium and punctum. Naturally, this is a subjective view and in Barthes’ musings on photography he suggests you can be interested in a photograph (studium) without it having that special quality/effect he called punctum:

A photograph's punctum is that accident which 
pricks me (but also bruises me, is poignant to me). 
Rolande Barthes 
from 'Camera Lucida - Reflections on Photography'1980

After considering why, for me, the photo has pricked me, I think it is very personal. Overtly, it has made me recall images of Twiggy and Edie Sedgwick that were splashed across the magazines from my childhood. Then, in a fleeting drift of linking memories radiating out from this recollection I arrived at recalling my childish thrill at wearing some new orange sandals. My sister and I had accompanied my mother on a visit to a home hairdresser. It had been a very hot day and she had dressed us in matching homemade turquoise and green paisley print mini-dresses. And, I got to wear my new sandals. Amongst the many events of childhood, a random moment on a random day was caught to become a poignant memory for me and it has been strangely evoked by this 21st century fashion photo.

As far as my own attempts at fashion photography go I think I have captured one decent shot in the last 1,000. Again, it’s all subjective, but I think this photograph probably works for more than just me as it is one of my popular pics on Instagram.

Walkies copy

Dragon Boat Racing for Charity

ArrivingLast Saturday some seriously energetic folk climbed into their boats and spent the day racing in the Fresh Start Charity Dragon Boat Challenge. Dragon boat racing is an ancient Chinese tradition rowing to the rhythm of the drum and has grown into a global sport. On this occasion the racing was all part of a fundraising initiative to collect money for the Fresh Start Charity which provides support for children who have suffered sexual abuse.

Lined-up-ready

Down at the Ipswich Waterfront 18 crews from a variety of local businesses rowed heats of 200 metres during the course of the day. The challenge was finally won by the Ipswich Canoe Club. I guess no shock surprise there!

RacingBut, of course, the big winner was the Fresh Start Charity as £10,000 was raised for such a worthwhile cause.

Another-heat

Guess what was in this parcel?

What-is-in-this-boxHere in the UK there has been a grass roots movement to deal with the epidemic of wasteful plastic excess. The introduction of a law to charge for single use plastic bags has been with us from October 2015 and since January this year the charge has applied to every new plastic bag provided by any retailer with more than 250 employees. I know it’s not ideal, but it is a start in the right direction.

There is also now a move to stop the use of plastic straws and plastic takeaway coffee cups. And, since January 2018 we also have a ban on the use of microbeads (very small plastic beads) in toothpastes and facial scrubs.

But, and it is a big but, what about all the plastic used in packaging especially in these online shopping days where goods are despatched from one end of the country to the other. The other day I had a surprise. The above box arrived for me and I thought this is rather odd I haven’t ordered anything remotely this size. This must be a mistake. So I began unpacking it  .  .  .  .  .

Several-deep-china-bowls

And, yes, you’ve guessed it, from peering through all that plastic bubblewrap – a tile.

Just-one-tile

Yup, it was just a single 6 x 6 inches ceramic tile! I was flabbergasted, a single tile. Madness. (I must just point out that another tile sample I received also came singly, but in a custom fit, simple, recyclable cardboard box. Sorry no photo of that nifty packaging as I never dreamt I’d be writing about it!)

And, if you were wondering about the packaging I use to despatch my scarves, they are sent off in recyclable and degradable cardboard boxes with the outer white box made from 75% recycled material.

My-cardboard-packaging

Gucci – channelling Henry VIII

Gucci-2018-Tony-Gentile-Reuters
Gucci 2018, Milan. Photo Tony Gentile – Reuters

Just in case you missed the press coverage a couple of months ago (Feb 2018) of Gucci’s outing at Milan’s fashion week, here’s a couple of pictures. Apparently, the Creative Director at Gucci, Alessandro Michele, was musing on the French philosopher Michel Foucault’s ideas concerning identity politics. Actually, for once, on this occasion words have failed me.

Gucci-2018-Venturelli-WireImage
Gucci 2018, Milan. Photo Venturelli – WireImage

Agnes-Ashe-silk-scarf-strangling
Photo Agnes Ashe – Creepy silk scarf strangulation 🙄