I was listening to a discussion about Bernard Malamud's short story "A Summer's Reading." In the discussion, the author Aleksandar Hemon mentioned a study he read about in the New York Times where people feel they are a character in their own life story and try to act out this character as they want them to be seen. I can relate to this, not in a way that one may put on an act, but in taking control of your life to make it a more positive experience, living the way you want to, being aware of things, the nuances that, far from being unimportant, come together to form a more rounded whole, as opposed to hole.
I put a shelf up in my room, there I have placed some treasures, including my book of 'Six Fairy Tales' illustrated with incredible etchings by David Hockney. I found a painting on the street of a shepherd watching his flock in the Swiss mountains. It is up on my wall and looks like a window into a landscape where I can run to when I need to. It looks grand against the midnight blue. My firend gave me a shirt which makes me look like the lid from a jar of Bonne Maman jam and a denim shirt. These things make me happy.
Saltaire is Good Air
I travelled to Saltaire last weekend. Saltaire is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, in between Leeds and Bradford, a village built by Titus Salt, an industrialist who viewed the living conditions of his workers as of prime importance. There are darker elements to this type of town planning, a kind of social control with restrictions on public houses and a visible sense of hierachy, with wardens having slightly taller, almost watchtower like houses so they can keep eye out over the proles below. This aside Salt firmly believed in rights for his workers, ensuring good housing, good schooling for the children of his workers and a high standard of working conditions throughout.
We walked about and I collected and looked and made some drawings, they are noit great but it was nice to be sketching with no real purpose again.
At Saltaire there is a superb collection of Hockney paintings and prints, in the Salts Mill. This collection is free and shows a good, broad spectrum of Hockney's work, from his early Rake's Progress prints through to recent landscape paintings and portraits. I would recommend a visit to anyone, if solely for this purpose.
On the way back from Saltaire I was overcome by the excitment of not only being on a train but the possibilites that are out there. The places. I firmly believe that train travel should be heavily subsidised if not free. If money was diverted from motorway and road construction and from handouts to the car manufacturing industry and put towards the railways our country would be far finer plae. This may seem like an idealistic train of whimsical thought but it is far more than this.
Free train travel would allow anyone to go anywhere they pleased. There would be no reason for people to be bored or miserable. More than this it would broaden our horizons. It would contantly educate, showing us new places, taking us to new people, giving us new experiences. It could stretch to the continent. It is easy to forget we are linked by a stretch of steel, be it under water. It would reunite us with nature, take us out of the cities and into the countryside, or to other cities, other countries. Being placed in one locale would not be an issue. Seeing places would no longer be a financial burden or restriction. Every person has the right to see the Scottish highlands, every person has the right to see the Cornish coast, every person has the right to walk up Snowdonia, traverse the Lakes, sail the Broads, ascend the Peaks.
Also on my journey, as we returned to Leeds Railway Station, an incredible noise reverberated around the carriage. I assume one of the rails, where it meets another must have been slightly bent and when the wheels ran over it it was forced to straighten then spring back. It felt as though the train was running along a piano string and was struck by a hammer. A Seventh rung around our heads and seemed to stay with us for the rest of the trip.
Treasures found in Saltaire, in my friend's garden and on my seemingly almost daily pilgrimage to Morrison's. Without trying to sound like I am obsessed with the man, as Mr. Hockney said in the documentary I mentioned last week, once you start noticing things, you see more. I begun properly collecting leaves and flowers and plants only a few weeks ago I am now constantly looking. Far more aware of my surroundings, seeing things I would before never have noticed, slowing down to revel in the beautiful minutiae of my habitat. It is simply not enough to have seen it, so I collect. I am greedy. I want to have. I have...
My urban garden is coming along nicely with some fresh sprigs of green slowly and shyly showing their heads. I have constructed a pretty rudimentary raised bed out of two pieces of wood, supported with bricks, and found two shelving units in my basement which have become two perfectly sized and already sectioned plots. I have planted purple sprouting broccoli, courgette, tomato, strawberries, broad beans (who are finally wriggling out of the earth), leek, onion, spinach, salad, rocket and some herbs. There is nothing finer than a broad bean straight out of the garden. I hope I am not too late.
In the Nous Vous studio we are working on a couple of pieces of work for the next exhibition at PSL, called Town and Country the show looks at some pretty self explanatory ideas surrounding the environments we live in or around. It is a nice position to be in, developing ideas of the artists and curators, where it feels more like a design project in an art gallery context rather than creating an artwork itself. It is not necessarily a more preferable position but certainly one that is welcome after our recent forays in to the art world.
The following pictures show an experiment that relates to one piece we are creating for the show. In a way another kind of urban garden. A tight, full of compost and grass seed, hung from our stairwell. I hope we have grassy clegg nut soon.
I read today that some 98 per cent of vegetable varieties have disappeared over the past century and regulations are hastening the decline. I also learned that very few vegetables and fruit we eat, even those we feel as typically 'British' are indigenous to this country. They, like us, are nomads, wanderers, migrants.
A couple of new (short and/or unfinished) bits of thoughts
Mini Weather Station (Netsuke?)
I saw a mini weather station on the top of a concrete plinth outside the Birmingham Bull Ring Centre on a Bank Holiday Monday morning, but this is not about me.
The weather station was about as big as my hand, outstretched, little finger to thumb, the diameter of a weather station. Three shallow cones, like a coolie hat, vertically tethered to a spoke extending from a central axle, the hat's owner fallen out, out of the hat, could not contest with gravity, the hat now filled with the passing air.
I can remember little of it now, but what little I can remember of it was that it was little. Small and grey. Measuring the obvious, making a note of the pointless. It cannot look ahead, it cannot give us warning or good premonitions. It can simply remind us of what we know, let us know it is windy without having to get our hair blustered, let us know it is raining without having to get our feet wet, let us know it is hot without having to get the sun on our face.
Squirrel Woodburner Owners Club
The men talk of wood and the burning of it. They may not know the meaning of rhetoric, be intersted in books or sit through all of 'Withnail and I' but they can burn wood. Burn it in a small black cast iron vestibule in the corner of their lounge.
They talk of wood sheds, chopping blocks, sizes of baskets, brown coal, flumes and the history of the law surrounding cordage. Do all men become wood burners? Do we one day stop observing the trees, see them as our fathers and chop them down and reduce them to hunks, fill our wicker baskets with them, transfer them to smaller wicker baskets so they can fit through our patio doors, handle them with heat resistant gloves, rotate them them manicles and watch as they smolder. I have seen it happen. Happen to the best of us. We men. Wood burners.