Monthly Archives: August 2012

You can’t beat a muddy festival. Well, maybe you can, with a sunny festival, but a muddy festival is good for the soul. This was my second year at Green Man festival, a particularly chilled out and folky festival taking place near Abergavenny in Wales. The legacy of the 2011 installment lured revellers into a false sense of security, drawing us back with the promise of a similarly sun-soaked weekend spent lounging in the beautiful grounds of the Glanusk Estate. The weather-gods misled us.

As with many other fests which have taken place during this year of deluge, it was pig heaven. Yet as always the British ‘carry on’ spirit prevailed. We did indeed carry on, often in a Carry On fashion, squelching through the mud and eventually ditching the shoes in a show of welsh-weather solidarity. Not long after making this (in hindsight, unwise) decision, as the mud splurged unpleasantly in between my toe-digits, I became aware that this mud did not smell like your average garden mud. The distinct pungent fumes of horse excrement reached my nose just as it was explained to me that a horse fair had taken place on this very site a few short weeks ago. Despite, and sometimes thanks to, the mud, we had a wonderful if sometimes feral experience. We sang loudly and badly along to some great acts, danced our socks off in Chai Wallah’s and watched the Green Man burn in spectacular fashion on the last night of the festival.

On Monday the festival was over and 15,000 people began to embark on an awkward journey home, covered in stinking mud amongst trains full of stern commuters. As we pushed our belongings up the hill towards the car in a commandeered wheelbarrow, tractors raced back and forth anxiously, dragging many drowned live-in vehicles back out to solid ground. Luckily for us we were only heading to the Lodge which stands on the estate opposite where the Mountain Stage is usually placed.

My sister Denise – caterer, supper-club chef/owner, Britain’s Best Dish regional finalist and cake-maker extraordinaire – is contracted to cater for the crew during the put up and take down of the event. As a regular festival-goer this unusual insight was both surreal and fascinating. The crew of a festival are like worker bees and the festival their Queen; but generally as a punter you don’t even notice their presence. Once you have been enlightened to this it is as if they appear, suddenly visible, all around the site. The hard work and often vile toilet-related situations they have to face are rewarded on the Monday night after the festival, with a crew party (which is usually even messier than the festival).

After moving into the lodge we spent a week working 7am – 8pm cooking for between 20 – 70 people per meal. I managed to partake in more washing up than I had ever thought it possible to produce from a single domestic kitchen and had just enough time left for a beer around the camp fire in the evenings.

Nature Nurture

Tree Decoration

‘Wishes’ tied up inside the Green Man

Festival stalls

Sleep amidst the mud

Tent shadows

In the crowd


Nighttime in the walled garden

The Green Man burns

Late-night revelling

Homemade coleslaw and Fennel salad

Abergavenny Station

August Shadows

I’m breaking two integral rules of my blog with this post. Firstly that its about art and secondly that it’s about art in the city ie. London. The second I can’t argue with; Dartmoor can in no way be mistaken for London, or any other city, no matter how familiar the desperate games of ispy you have to play to keep you sane in traffic jams on the way. But the first I can probably cover in some tenuous fashion.

This past weekend was spent by myself, the bf and 9 work colleagues in a boggy field in the middle of a moor and was much more fun than that actually sounds. After an epic 8 hr journey we realised, in typical comedic fashion, that we were lost. On the moors. At night. With no phone signal. Our only choice was to ask for directions in the local pub (thankfully not too reminiscent of the Slaughtered Lamb). Managing to extricate myself from an over-enthusiastic local guide and smiling sweetly at tedious local warnings to watch out for ‘the Hound‘, we finally set off on the final furlong. As we passed a sign saying ‘Sheep Lying in the Road’ I, in my by this time almost hysterically tired state, laughingly shook my head at this bizarre instruction, but all soon became clear. Passing over the cattle grid, in the pitch black that is evening on the moor, we were suddenly thrust into a surreal safari scenario; sheep featured heavily (lying in the road, funnily enough), horses rambled around unperturbed and my personal favourite moment, when a large, horned, angry looking bull seemingly challenged us to a territorial duel.

Somehow getting through this obstacle course we arrived and began to set up camp. Unluckily for us (which seemed to be the way it was going) my car battery promptly died and we discovered the campsite was akin to a marsh/bog. Cue much expletive muttering, squelching, lost shoes, louder expletives etc. until finally, having beaten all the odds, we were set up. At which point we sat down and got quite drunk.

Next day we took our planned trip to Castle Drogo. As we passed through the previous night’s safari plains in the daylight, we realised that the moor is extremely beautiful. Batches of heather and long stone walls pierce the barren landscape, absorbing you as you gaze at it; the power of mother nature hypnotising you back into her arms. Castle Drogo itself is a strange but enticing piece of architecture. I began the tour unimpressed at the self-indulgence of the building and its client. Drogo is the last castle to be built in England, in 1911 for Julian Drewe, a stinking rich businessman with delusions of grandeur. His saving grace was in hiring Edwin Lutyens, a well respected architect known for high profile projects in India and the Cenotaph in Whitehall, amongst many others. The detail in the building is sometimes stunning and often understated but never, unlike it’s commissioner, gawdy. A very modern castle is in itself an unusual thing to behold and in turn provokes contrasting associations; modern exposed surfaces, sprawling Tudor magnificence, 21st century minimalism, medieval defences (it even had a portcullis! Overkill indeed). Precedent chronology darting back and forth until you don’t quite know what you think or what it’s all about, but it’s got some very pretty details and particularly eye-catching grounds so it wins out overall.

The return journey to London was luckily not as harrowing as that on Friday but still lengthy as we took the scenic route and detoured to Salisbury. Having never visited the city before I am glad I did and would recommend it for those who like olde-worlde pubs (come on, who doesn’t?) and cathedrals. Sadly I didn’t have enough time to discover what else Salisbury may have on offer but did manage to grab a few snaps before we headed off home. Here are a few from over the weekend.

NB: A blog post may not be forthcoming next week as I’m away camping (again), at Green Man Festival this time, but if I get time/battery/signal I will definitely keep you up to date.

Yves Klein – The Void ’58

At least half of the people I spoke to about the Invisible Art Exhibition at the Hayward Gallery turned their noses towards the sky before I had even finished voicing the title. Quite astounding, seeing as it’s the most natural progression the art world could have taken. For as long as we can remember, art has been about the aesthetic. The visual. The wall/canvas/fresco/marble etc. As early as 1917, with Duchamp’s Readymades, we started asking why. Why should we not progress, invent, explore, move outside of the boundaries history has placed on art?

Conceptual art theory is inherent in this exhibition at the Hayward gallery. The belief that an idea is just as valid as the physical, is embodied in almost every piece in the show. It begins with Yves Klein, a champion of Conceptual art. His works on Immaterial Pictorial Sensibility, and The Void ’58, are a challenge, a provocation, but also an exploration into previously uncharted territory. A brave venture into the white noise of a blank canvas. What is in there? The power of the void can be overwhelming, a fact exemplified by an infamous example, the theft of the Mona Lisa from the Louvre in 1911. A mass of visitors queued to stand and gaze at the space the painting had previously inhabited; the story behind its absence was thrilling enough to attract record numbers. Ironically, most of these visitors would likely have scoffed at  an empty plinth displayed as sculpture, but they were nonetheless uncontrollably enticed by the very same concept.

Empty space where the stolen Mona Lisa had hung

On arriving at the Hayward you are asked to enter the gallery at the usual exit point, and feel almost as if you are not in the Hayward at all as you walk the familiar course from back to front. Yoko Ono’s piece, Painting for Burial, 1961, consists of a short list of instructions on what to do with a canvas at dawn light. It is beautiful in its infinite potential. Each viewer’s imagination will take a unique turn at her suggestive poetry. Where is the place she speaks of? The physicality of the text is merely a reference to the idea, the main part of the piece, which is itself a non-physical thing; an abstract concept. Despite their physical manifestation ie. the text on paper, the work itself can be defined as ‘invisible’.

On the night of the full moon, place a canvas in the garden from 1:00 AM till dawn. When the canvas is dyed thoroughly in rose with the morning light, dismember or fold it and bury. The ways of burial:

1.) Bury it in the garden and place a marker with a number on it.

2.) Sell it to the rag man.

3.) Throw it in the garbage.

Yoko Ono – Painting for Burial 1961

Another example of this is Chris Burden’s White Light/White Heat ’75, in which he lay suspended on a plinth in a gallery above eye height for 22 days without food. Visitors could not see him there but reported a ‘sense’ in the room, a feeling of presence. Burden reported hearing a visitor say “He can hear us, and he doesn’t answer, but he can’t help listening…it’s like God”. Gianni Motti’s Magic Ink,’89 is a selection of works drawn onto paper in invisible ink. Knowing that the drawings were there drove me instinctively to imagine what they were and established me in the position of artist. Like Ono’s burial piece the make up of the work will change for each viewer, becoming essentially dependent on their imaginative participation. Motti’s drawings also provoke questions about the physical quality of imprints, as does Song Dong’s poignant Writing Diary With Water ’95-present. Dong began practicing calligraphy as a young boy with water on a stone, as a cheaper alternative to ink and paper. Years later he describes the process “Although it is just a stone, it actually has become thicker day by day, with my own thoughts added on it.”

Chris Burden – White Light / White Heat ’75

Gianni Motti – Magic Ink ’89

Song Dong – Writing Diary with Water ’95-present

Tom Friedman’s 1000 hours of staring, ’92-97, uses the process of staring as a medium for his work. Exploring why the transferring of emotion is often not considered to be a valid medium through which to create artworks, his Untitled (A Curse) ’92, a space above a plinth which has been cursed by a witch, is similarly thought-provoking and again explores our shifting perception of unseen forces. As human beings we both believe in and place primary importance on forces such as emotions. People instinctively consider love, intelligence, and empathy as having intrinsic worth. If in our daily lives we respect non-physical elements as significant, then why is this not the case in art? Consider the blind person visiting an art gallery. Their experience is through imagination, idea and verbally transmitted emotion through a third party. We don’t consider their experience to be worthless, so why do we think it of someone with sight who has the very same experience? We should be encouraging ideas, not devaluing them.

Tom Friedman – 1,000 hrs of Staring, ’92-97

Tom Friedman – Untitled (A Curse), ’92

After hurriedly shuffling out of the room in which Teresa Margolles’ cooling system installation, Aire / Air, ’03, circulated the vapour from water used to wash the bodies of murder victims, I noticed that observing other people going in and out of the room was fascinating in itself, provoking varied reactions of disgust, horror, intrigue, humour and distaste. The show concluded with an uplifting physical participation piece, Jeppe Hein’s Invisible Labryinth, ’05. Putting on the headset, which vibrated as you hit a ‘wall’ in the maze, I felt slightly self-conscious, but I was soon exchanging stifled giggles with approaching fellow explorers as we walked carefully around the room, occasionally stepping back and turning to find the correct path.

Teresa Margolles – Aire / Air ’03

Jeppe Hein – Invisible Maze ’05

The exhibition celebrated both our imagination and the strength in the power of suggestion. On a number of occasions I found myself questioning whether these things really were invisible; what if Warhol’s invisible sculpture was actually there? I managed to resist the urge to run my hand over that plinth and certainly wouldn’t have gone near the space which held the witch’s curse (just in case). In the end the show sent me on my way with a huge grin on my face, feeling like a child who had just stepped out of a (sometimes Grimm) fairytale.