Wednesday, 7 September 2011

Hidden Crime, Hidden Cuts?

It's not the Arts but it's the product of six weeks of blood, sweat and public transport.

Crime of Passion.
Hidden Crime.
Behind Closed doors.

Domestic Violence has long been given names that relegate it beyond the hands of Government. But since last October and the Spending Review, the Coalition have paid attention to the sector, only to cut back services. But with two women a week being murdered by their husband, partner or ex boy-friend - can the Government really afford these cuts?

Domestic Violence: Hidden Crime, Hidden Cuts? (mp3)

Sunday, 7 August 2011


A little titbit from my MA Project. These t-shirts were hung up at the launch of DVPO's at Greater Manchester Police last month, they're part of the Positive YOU campaign run by Salford Domestic Abuse Service. Almost beautiful declarations of freedom. 

Saturday, 6 August 2011

A Preoccupation With Romance

Everybody likes a bit of romance. 

Unfortunately there's not much of it around. Let's take a week (this week) in my life as an example, a MARRIED man with two CHILDREN asks me out for a drink and then when I say no, asks to be friends. Yes friends. And then a former 'beau' turns out to be an even bigger idiot than first thought. 

But my pathetic specimen of a love life isn't the point of my post. The real and more important point is, if you're after some romance in your life, and you're off to the Edinburgh Fringe this month I urge you to look up Close Knit Theatre and their gorgeous love story, A Preoccupation With Romance. Conceived during, rehearsed at and inspired by life at Sheffield University. 

Written by Welsh playwright Beth Grant the play seems uncomfortably familiar as it unfolds. It's a story we've all played a part in, one of unrequited love which in this case retains Shakespearian names but is solidly set in the modern day. 

Girl likes boy. 
Boy likes girl. 
Girl tells him. 
Boy gets scared and stupidly turns her down.

But as we know, it doesn't end there. This short but beautiful morsel of a play follows a constantly shifting, lust and lie filled relationship between two people who desperately just want to be together. The couple, played by Sonia Jalaly and Paul Hilliar tease and taunt one another throughout, a routine somewhat lifted by the traces of physical theatre that the script allows. As in most good love stories, friends play a part with actors Kelly Jackson and Nick Birchill offering comfort and cruelty in turn. They are joined by a chattering chorus who offer insight and reassurance throughout in case you can't quite get to grips with the ever changing state of play. 

As mentioned above, the script plays with language of the past but there are sharp bursts from the present which catch you by surprise. It is apparent from the well thought out set, costumes and characterisation that director Sean Linnen crafted the performance to make the most out of Grant's words and witticisms. Each character is distinct, helped by the script but secured by the talented cast. 

It might be the company's debut, but the play isn't self-conscious like you might expect from a first timer. Their preview performance was confident, assured and simply stunning. If their twitter feeds are anything to go by, I think their secret might be a few cheeky shots of gin. But who are we to judge when they're selling tickets like they have been? 

Follow them www. 
and go and see them

Thursday, 2 June 2011

Yorkshire Sculpture Park: The YSP's USP.

I’ll be honest; I’ve never really got sculpture. Slap a dead shark, a toy tank or a chair on a canvas and I can appreciate it. Applaud even in most cases, but sculpture? I think it’s probably all hours spent trawling round European palaces and museums as a child. Seen one bust of Caesar, seen them all. Even old Venus de Milo wasn’t really my bag; there are far better things to look at in the Louvre. But the Yorkshire Sculpture Park near Wakefield might just have changed my mind.

Set in the grounds of the 18th Century Bretton Estate, the park was once the designer playground of the Darcy’s and Lizzie’s of Wakefield. But now, the 500 acres of rolling hills and woodland are home to the works of a very specific class of artistic aristocracy. Over 250,000 people come to see this unique and ever-changing exhibition of sculpture every year.

Pulling into the park, my mind instantly shifted from the picnic in the boot to the scene in front of me. What looked, on first glance, like a huge, spindly white birdcage, big enough to hold an elephant stood out starkly against the green landscape. On later inspection it turned out to be a Jaume Plensa metalwork masterpiece. Not a birdcage but a couple constructed out of a large interlocking alphabet, bringing a new meaning to the humble notion of the love letter.

The park is where nature meets humanity. Where the two are usually at odds, either being ignored or ruined by the other, here they mingle happily like two effervescent party guests. The combination of modern art and ancient land is startling but comfortable. It’s all a little bit Pride and Prej meets the Tate Modern, as if you’re part of an elaborate, living exhibition. As you wander amongst the foliage, works by Henry Moore, Andy Goldsworthy and Martin Creed all peek from between trees. Moore’s work is as always, astounding; large globules of bronze rise above the hillocks and just beg to be touched and rubbed. Andy Goldsworthy is a bit trickier; old tree trunks are suspended in stone-wall pens and his intriguingly named Outclosure is a frustrating but brilliant construction which does exactly what it says on the tin.

But it’s Sophie Ryder’s hare-women that have converted me from sculpt-urgh to sculpture-nerd. Sitting in the walled garden of the estate and peering into the two hundred year old glass camellia house were two great rabbit heads perched on human torsos. The first, constructed from thousands of metres of metal wire, sits proudly, breasts pushed forward and its face calm and collected. I didn’t notice the perky boobs and manicured hands till I’d walked around it a few times, but once I had I wanted to scoop the giggling children away from its feet. I still can’t decide whether this Ryder piece is beautiful or grotesque, mythical or laughable but it is certainly worth a photograph.

However, the second spoke to me in a different way, reminding me of my own work using different textures and found objects. It is, again either a rabbit or a woman, depending on which end you look at first. The huge bronze creature may tower above its viewer, but it’s worth getting on your hands and knees to look carefully at its flesh. Embedded in the bronze are the imprints of tiny toy cars, mermaids and perfectly formed hands which could belong to a neo-classical goddess. Where the shoulder joint should be is a huge mechanical cog and along the shins are thick metal sinews suggesting the hidden athleticism of the human body.

There is so much more to say about the park and there always will be as the exhibits are constantly changing. It’s a free day out, but it shouldn’t be, so ignore the 5km walk that’s involved and get yourself there. Buy an ice cream and feel at one with Art and nature all at the same time, something that is rarely possible.  

or follow them on Twitter @YSPsculpture 

Monday, 30 May 2011

Castle Market: Should it Stay or Should it Go?

Black and White Images courtesy of Harry Ainscough.

Music: The Letter by Joe Cocker 1970

Sunday, 15 May 2011

The Impact of Arts Sector Cuts

Following up from my interview with Libby Brodie from Theatre Uncut, I also spoke to the Artistic Director of Sheffield Theatres, a young director and Helen Parrott from the Arts Council Yorkshire about what impact cuts to the Arts will have on regional theatre.


Wednesday, 27 April 2011

Sony World Photography Awards 2011

1/8 Helmand 10/7, Balazs Gardi, Hungary (2011)

 To see some of the other photographs from the shortlist have a look on The Guardian website. 

Monday, 25 April 2011

Banksy: Should He Stay or Should He Go?

So, one of Banksy’s earliest works is to be sold to a gallery in New York. And blimey what a fuss it’s causing. The Kissing Coppers appeared on the wall of the Prince Albert pub in Brighton about 7 years ago and have been revered ever since. But now the pub landlord, the owner of one of the world’s most elusive artist’s signature pieces, is selling it, wall and all.  And I don’t blame him.

He’s coining somewhere in the region of £750,000 for the work, and told the Guardian that all the money is going into keeping his business running. Funnily, the issue hasn’t been with this man’s significant personal profit. Instead locals have said that he is stealing from the people and streets of Brighton. Technically he isn’t. The landlord was approached by a Banksy aide and the work thus belongs to the pub and the publican. Sadly, most ‘public art’ in Britain doesn’t have much value, think about the ridiculous sculptures scattered around. That big bang bee thing in Manchester and The Bullring, that’s about it for the Brits. With the exception of Anthony Gormley’s Sefton beach men and the much loved Angel of the North there is nothing worth selling. Unfortunately, people (singular) own Art and people (plural) look at it. But in the case of this Banksy, it is a great shame that one of Britain’s only claims to public art fame is being shipped west.

However, the argument that Art should always remain in the place it was created is really rather pointless. Snide comments have appeared on web forums suggesting that the next thing to be sold to the Yank’s will be the Royal Pavilion. A rather tenuous comparison, but where works of Art are concerned it really doesn’t matter how far or near to its place of conception one is exhibited. I’ve seen a whole room of Emin’s in the Pompidou, Picasso’s in Sheffield and Giacometti’s in every gallery I’ve ever visited. And I’ve never thought when viewing a Tracy Emin, ‘this would be so much better in Margate’.

The appreciation of Art comes not from its relationship with its surroundings. Most of the excitement of visiting an art gallery comes from wondering what you’re going to come across inside and not the relationship it has with the city around it. Coming across the work of a Bristol artist in the middle of Berlin…I didn’t wish I was on the shores of the city, he’d brought them to Berlin anyway with his earthy and filthy ‘land art’.

Whilst I won’t deny that the context of an artist’s work is valuable to understanding why they worked the way they did, in the case of Banksy, it is less relevant. His canvas and studio are easily understandable and his work is symptomatic of today’s urban landscapes, he doesn’t limit his work to a city or country, and neither should we. 

Tuesday, 19 April 2011

Uprooted: Dieter & Bjorn Roth

Biodegradable isn’t a word often associated with works of Art. Usually artists want their masterpieces to last, so crowds can appreciate them for years to come. Or, so their fame or notoriety transcends time and death. Works of art should carry forward ideas, trends and socio-political contexts. Vast swathes of time, modernity, conservatism or rebellion can all be communicated within a single picture frame.  This was not, it seems, Dieter Roth’s agenda throughout his career.

Gartenskupltur (1968)

Born to Swiss-German parents in Hannover (b.1930-d.1988) Karl- Dietrich Roth used amongst other materials, books, newspapers and cheese (yes cheese) to create work that both fascinated and disgusted the public. He flitted between working alone and large collaborations with other members of the NYC Avant-Garde movement ‘Fluxus’- the basic concept of which being ‘anything can be art and anyone can do it’. But Roth famously distanced himself from the main man of the movement, George Maciunus. So why am I picking this obscure artist from the abyss all of a sudden? I took a trip to Hamburger Bahnhof- Museum of Modern Art in Berlin a week ago, that’s why.

Rather than tell you why you should go (you should), discuss the quality of the exhibitions (fabulous- permanent Kiefers, Rauschenbergs and Warhols) and what the atmosphere is like (lonely apart from the extremely rude staff). It’s easier to focus on one piece of work that justifies the galleries existence.

I’ve always thought family collaborations are pretty naff, think Hanson and The Vontrapps and you might see what I mean. But the Roth’s have changed this common misconception. Gartenskulptur by Dieter and his son Bjorn developed over a 30 year period and is truly magnificent. 

Think Tuscan farmhouse meets nuclear science programme and you’re on the right tracks. The looming structure fills a fifty foot square hall and comprises of hay barn ladders, rabbit hutches and burnt out TV’s. Then there are the jars, endless rows of glass jars filled with unidentified liquids and surrounded by electrical wiring. It looks like a complicated scientific experiment, or the internal mechanisms of an agricultural machine. There are also nods to nautical life, tall wooden masts rise from the sculpture and are strung with thick wire, whilst broken bottles of Campari suggest a good time ruined by a rough sea. But at the same time, the dying pot plants shoved on top of the TV’s strikes a familiar cord of shabby offices or conservatories. Amongst the plants nestle tins, clocks, screwdrivers, toys, all dusty and broken and inside the TV’s are black and white photos. Roth has, in the past, ripped the floor from his own studio and transplanted it in the middle of an exhibition, the sculpture in the Hamburger Bahnhof shares this sense of something ‘uprooted’…but what its natural habitat was is up for debate.

The beauty of the work is that it's temporary. This is a feature of much of Roth's work and one that I've rarely considered as a positive thing. The structure itself looks unstable, in fact, I’m pretty sure a large chunk of wood fell off as I took my pictures. It’s not that it has a best before date like the artists dairy product based works, but its ordered chaos could never be recreated.

Saturday, 16 April 2011

War, Wurst and Walls: Berlin

April 2011. A little jaunt to Berlin. Perfekt! 






Monday, 4 April 2011

Theatre Uncut: Libby Brodie

Libby Brodie is one of the people behind Theatre Uncut. She tells me why the Arts aren't just about men in tights and how she thinks the political voice of theatre is underused in today's society.


Sunday, 3 April 2011

Snipping Away at the Arts: Theatre Uncut

In the current 'cuts climate' it's easy for people to shun the Arts in favour of protesting about cuts to the NHS.   In fact until recently, it seemed even the Arts were shunning themselves. The 'I Value the Arts' Campaign seemed to be the only group around to have a popular (and by popular I mean social media related) presence...

But of course, it's in keeping with the nature of the beast to build up suspense. And boy was it worth it. 

Ever since George Osborne made that lengthy speech on a hazy autumn day, a narrative of blame, anger and Clegg hating has shaped almost every news bulletin and report. (One might almost think thank goodness for Libya. At least it gives us a bit of a break.) But, one sector that has remained pretty quiet is the Arts. Despite seeing a significant blow to their one of their only champions- Arts Council England-any anger has been overridden by the charging students and workers. 

To put you in the picture, The Arts Council has to make a 30% cut to its spending by 2015. Last week, this figure was translated into real terms as 600 organisations were refused funding and many more saw their budgets slashed dramatically. Museums Sheffield was one of the victims, losing all its ACE support as did several other Yorkshire based arts groups. 

Enter stage left:  Theatre Uncut. 

This nationwide protest, culminated in a day of ferocious performances across the UK and certainly packed a punch. It began, as all the best plans do, as a discussion in a humble kitchen, between friends Hannah Price, Libby Brodie and Mark Ravenhill. They decided that the 'political voice of theatre' should be utilised in some way against the cuts made in the Government Spending Review.

Soon after the kitchen conversation, they secured the performance rights of eight plays, by some of the UK's leading playwrights, about various types of public sector cuts. Lucy Kirkwood, Dennis Kelly, David
Greig, Laura Lomas, Anders Lustgarten, Mark Ravenhill, Jack Thorne and Clara Brennan all produced original short plays for the cause. The performances began up to a week before, but ended on the 19th March with hundreds of people performing them across the country. 

The plays, some monologues, the rest with up to three actors encompassed a wide range of issues...disability allowance, mental health funding, drug rehabilitation and bankers bonuses...but all had one thing in common, the reminder that the cuts to our public sectors run deeper than any of us can begin to imagine. 

The most moving of the eight were the two monologues, Fragile by David Greig and Hi Vis by Clara Brennan (both directed by Sean Linnen in Sheffield's take on Theatre Uncut). I wasn't the only one left in tears by the mother figure in Brennan's play, who explained how her disabled daughter was missing the vital support she had once received. She explains how as parents they care for their daughter themselves, covered in blood and shit, she is hauled from bed to bath. No quality of life, and even less now the public sector cuts take their toll on Council services. 

Then came 'Jack' the once drug-addled youth who depends on the support he receives from 'Caroline' and the others 'down the centre'. We're all guilty of thinking these kind of  people don't matter...but Greig makes us see that if the precious few who do care are no longer there, then there really is no hope at all. Jack may be riddled with paranoia and anxiety, but he's smart. Really smart. And quickly works out that 'freelance' means 'redundancy'...from the sounds made by the audience it seems this turn of phrase is all too familiar. 

But What makes Fragile really clever is that 'because of austerity measures' the audience play the part of the carer, Caroline. As a result her words are formal, mechanical and unfeeling...a tone not far removed from that of the MP's we hear on the news. 

Most startling is how current the plays are. There are references to Mohamed Bouazizi and Tunisia and the student protests. And, as the characters of Jack Thornes play Whiff Whaff ask the ultimate hypothetical question 'What would David do?' the audience shifted uncomfortably in their seats. 

Libby Brodie, one of those behind Theatre Uncut, told me that they were conscious not to make it 'about theatre, by theatre people' and that it isn't 'just theatre for theatres sake', and I promise you it isn't. Strangely,  not one of the plays is about the cuts to the arts, but I soon realised that they don't have to be. The very method of performance and the poignant conveyance of passion, despair and disappointment with our current Government is enough to convince anybody that the Arts need to be protected. If only to make more stands like this. 

Keep an eye out for my interview with Libby Brodie which I'll be posting in the next couple of days. 

Theatre Uncut was performed at The Crucible in Sheffield on 19th March.
Directors: Daniel Evans, Jonathan Humphreys and Sean Linnen

Saturday, 5 March 2011

Apples and Pears

Preparation for my next assessment has seen me spending a lot of time in Castle Market, Sheffield. And I've fallen in love with the place and the people who work there. I'll be posting the whole project at a later date but heres a few of the photos I've been taking.

If you're down Castlegate way pop in and buy yourself something for tea. Footfall at Castle Market is down and rents are going up by 40%, the stallholders need the support of the city to fill the void the lack of Council input has left. 

Wednesday, 2 March 2011

Back in Time

This has nothing to do with Sheffield but is the most exciting photography project I think I've ever seen.

People return to the photographic poses they struck as a child.

Seriously gorgeous.

Saturday, 26 February 2011

Human Nature

Ever wondered where you came from?

Well, if you stop by the Winter Gardens this month you can find out in a very unique, and beautiful, way. Primitive Streak is a 'science-art-fashion-collaboration' by sisters Kate and Helen Storey and it's found a temporary home in Sheffield's plant infested hotspot until March 10th.

The collection of 27 dresses chart the first 1000 hours of human life, from fertilisation and the uncomfortably named 'Sperm Coat' to the formation of the heart in a spectacular scarlet number. Not all the dresses are on show this month but the few that have been chosen are certainly some of the most fascinating. Fashion designer Helen, who has worked for both Valentino and Lancetti and won several prestigious awards for her work over the years joined forces with her scientist sister, Professor Kate Storey in 1997. She had already been drawn to the fusion of science and art in previous projects but Primitive Streak was something different.

The pair infused Helen's creativity and skill with Kate's professional scientific research and came up with the textile based collaboration. Since 1997 the collection has toured the world and enthralled audiences.

I spoke to Helen this week when she was in Sheffield setting up the exhibition. She said that she hopes 'the fusion of art, fashion and science will bring in new audiences of every age, sex and culture'. She also described how the basic element of 'fashion' makes the potentially complex theory behind the work more accessible because, 'noones afraid of a frock'. When asked about the location she admitted that she had a bit of a soft spot for The Steel City, saying that she felt her way of thinking was very welcome here and that her long history with the city was founded in the warmth of the people to new ideas.

Walking around the dresses with Helen made the collection seem even more groundbreaking, I realised I'd never seen cell division made so explicit and so striking. Set upon an ivory shift dress, the process of anaphase is no longer a confusing, slimy scientific process but a corsage or brooch you wouldnt mind wearing on your tailored jacket. Similarly, fertilisation isn't an internal messy, sticky consequence of sex but a long delicately woven gown I'd quite happily don for a summer wedding. And suspended above the whole collection is a hat that, while embodying the formation of the heart, wouldn't look out of place at Ascot...or dare I say it, on the head of her Madge.


I'm completely taken by the exhibition and despite some of the dresses needing a bit of touching up in places, they are still as fascinating as the day they were made.

Find out more about Helen and Kate here:


Sunday, 13 February 2011

Exhibit C

Castle Street
 in Sheffield may not be an obvious choice for a photography exhibition; you’re more likely to see people making an exhibition of themselves than showing off their creative talent. But last week I watched as the greasy windows of the Co-op were washed then filled with over one hundred images of Sheffield, past and present. What is usually a pedestrian rat-run from Fargate to Castle Market was suddenly filled with people, lingering in front of the windows in groups. When I joined them, everyone was pointing proudly at the images of their city, identifying the incidents and locations that they recognised.

Some of the images are from the past month, The Moor and its graffitied words of inspiration appear next to images of the city’s high rise buildings. There are photos of trams, famous buildings and the city’s people dating back to the early 70’s. All the photos are taken by those who know and love the Steel City and they help chart the changes across generations. The exhibition is part of the Facebook lead project ‘Pictures of Sheffield’ and was conceived by Hedley Bishop, who says that is ‘not an art project’, but I tend to disagree. Not only do some of the photographs stand out amongst the more amateur endeavours but the concept of displaying these gems in the grimy and often overlooked Co-op creates a strange juxtaposition of beauty and grim practicality.

Two photographs in particular that resonate behind the glass are an unnamed shot of the Madina or Wolseley Road Mosque and that of a Royal Mail postbox (more interesting than it sounds.)

The first shows the centre of worship in all its glory, with its emerald dome rising up amongst the red brickwork of the terraced houses around it. The colours are subtle yet stunning; Eastern opulence versus Northern grit.

The second caught my eye as soon as I approached the window, framed solidly it is on first glance a sharp shot of a Royal Mail Postbox, but the embossed ‘GR’ that features on the front of all of these beauties has been defaced by the clever addition of three letters, A N and Y. The word ‘ANGRY’ glares out from the scarlet paintwork of the pillar box. It’s an image that reminds us of past traumas the city has faced, most notably being at the centre of Maggie T’s tirade on the miners in the 80’s, but also captures a more recent sentiment felt by the city- betrayal by their own. Nick Clegg’s relationship with the city is beyond repair.

It’s a funny little display but it captures my attention every time I walk home. So, next time you’re down near Primark take a few more steps and have a gander.!/group.php?gid=25750519904&v=info

Monday, 24 January 2011

Literary Olympics

Whilst Danny Boyle slaves away on his plans for the 2012 Olympics opening ceremony, London’s Globe Theatre has announced an altogether simpler, yet stunning idea. An Olympic Festival, with each one of Shakespeare’s 38 plays being performed in a different language.

Now, I’m a tad ashamed to admit this, but I actually felt a little frisson of excitement when I found this in the news. What could be better than Hamlet and all the ‘Next King of Denmark’ malarkey actually in Dutch? And Iago, the ego-centric villain of Othello, rambling through his vicious plans in Greek?  And perhaps history’s most tragic love story being gasped and sighed through by Italian speaking actors? I’ll hedge my bets and say nothing is better than this.

I understand that this may not be, strictly-speaking, the reality of the situation. Clearly, some of the plays will have to be performed in a language that has nothing to do with their setting, plot or characters. But even this doesn’t put me off; personally I think The Tempest in Swahili would be simply lovely. However, whilst the romantics amongst us will probably get swept away in a tide of delight and duelling, I’m guessing that for some the thought of Shakespearian rhyming couplets in the playwrights own tongue sends shivers down the spine. Some people simply don’t get Shakespeare. And I do get why they don’t. Even people proficient in Shakespearian English can be foxed by some of his wordplay, puns and double-entendres. Some of it just doesn’t seem to make sense and it’s easy to get lost amongst the language and the multitude of lovers galloping across the stage. But this is a different argument altogether and one that deserves a dissertation worth of effort to discuss.

But the Globe’s idea is much easier to digest. What better way is there to symbolise the world coming together in one country, than bringing all the languages of the world together through the words of that country’s most eloquent poet and playwright.   

Have a looksee on The Globe's website for more: