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Les  Chateu

Les Chateu

Ok it’s been a while since I last shared my musings with you. A long while. Cue tearful streams of apology and remorse etc. Actually, no, none of that. It’s true I wish I’d managed to write sooner, I have missed it. But I’m sure you’ll forgive me when you hear my reason; for I am with sprog. Yes indeed, I can almost no longer see my feet and am starting to have major panics about pathetically inane things such as storage boxes. So when the opportunity came up to go on one final travelling adventure before it all kicks right off, it took me about hmm, a sip of decaf coffee to decide.

Our annual architect’s office outing is usually an atypical field trip combination of concentrated architectural appreciation and Christmas party debauchery. This year turned out a bit more restrained than usual (nothing to do with me being sober, I’m sure). The destination was Nantes, West France, about 2 hours outside of Paris and as it turned out, a very pleasant city with a good vibe. We arrived into Nantes station a tad frazzled around the edges, after relying pretty much solely on a hand fan for air on the Paris – Nantes connection. At least it wasn’t raining. No, it was actually around 26c, the fact that we’d travelled slightly southwards into France as well as West suddenly making itself blindingly apparent. After a brief wash and brush up, we headed across the beautiful Loire river toward our first appointment; the Ecole d’architecture (school of architecture) by Lacaton & Vassal. An impressive building built on a laudable concept, it has but few flaws, although these flaws do surround some fundamentals such as sufficient winter heating. But hey, the upsides outweigh all that, especially if you’re a visitor and not a student shivering in a parka in mid-Jan. The original design opportunity was put out to competition, an approach which has many negative aspects for designers (not least the generally outrageous amount of work required for free) but also has the potential to shoot a practice into the limelight and often results in a standout design for the client as competitors wring every last creative drop from their architects in order to stand out from the crowd. Lacaton & Vassal clearly did just that, submitting a response to the brief which fulfilled the criteria in 600m2 less area than allowed, leaving significant spaces free for them to propose the solution which makes this clever building what it is; an ambiguous play between public/private, inside/outside. The frame consists of a concrete shell held up by 10m spaced columns. Inserted into this is the steel inner, a simple construction technique allowing the building to be inherently adaptable to meet its requirements which may well change throughout its life; for example, new floors can be slotted in to create extra teaching space or more studios. In the meantime, the ‘spare’ floor area serves an important function, crafting external, public space which can be open to the street or closed off, using polycarbonate moveable walls on every level which unwrap the building and when open provide (on a summer’s day) what feels like exceptional outdoor workspaces, many with fabulous views across the river. The staff are clearly delighted with the results, judging by the impassioned tour given by the school’s comms manager. On the walk back, general agreement was shared about an innovative design with its heart in entirely the right place (despite a few technical hiccups); good design doesn’t always need the ‘frilly bits’, and giving a building the ‘wow’ factor often diverts essential budget from the basic premise of creating enlivening spaces.

Ecole d'architecture by Lacaton & Vassal

Ecole d’architecture by Lacaton & Vassal

As the sun set, we topped our day off with a lift to the top of the Tour Bretagne, a 37 storey office skyscraper with a bar and observation deck at the top. The tower has been unpopular with locals due to it’s seeming blight on the traditional city landscape, kept generally low by the French building control system which is set by province and almost impossible to get around. It does, however, allow stunning views across the city, of which we managed to get a glimpse on Friday evening.

View from Tour Bretagne

View from Tour Bretagne

Day 2 began with my first ever blissfully hangover-free second morning on an office trip. Last time involved a necessary 10am vodka red bull to coax me back from the land of the dead (don’t ask), but this time I was up bright and early and ready to make the most of the hotel breakfasts I usually drunkenly snore through.

Ever heard of Les Machine? Or remember a huge mechanical elephant roaming the streets of London a few years ago? If not, get your Google on and check them out. Les machines are a collective of mechanics, engineers and artists who create fantastical creatures and structures from disused pieces of wood and metal. But far from tickling the aesthetic spot alone (although they are stunning), their creations move, make noise, carry passengers and in the case of the elephant, soak people like me with water, mid-selfie. Their technical ability and creative genius combines in a glorious perfect storm to produce pieces swathed in 19th century circus ambience; a productive and proactive use of the modern Steampunk style which amazes children and adults alike; genuine cross-generational entertainment through design. In one word, fabulous.

Les Machines - The Mechanical Elephant

Les Machines – The Mechanical Elephant

Aside from a quick lunch and the return wander to the station, thus ended our visit to the city of Nantes, a  simulating, vibrant, and beautiful city which I wholly recommend you visit. We did stop at Paris on the way back, which although gorgeous and gay as expected, has somehow lost its mystery and so that glorious sense of secret discovery which comes from an unexpected find. There’s undoubtedly so much I didn’t see in two short days, and things at which I only managed to snatch glances as we passed whilst on our way to somewhere else. Another visit to Nantes calls I think, next time with baby in tow!

Loire River

Loire River

Local church interior

Local church interior

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Local church interior

Local church interior

Detail of the Law Courts

Detail of the Law Courts

Les Machines Headquarters

Les Machines Headquarters

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Workshop in Ecole d'architecture

Workshop in Ecole d’architecture

Front of Law Courts

Front of Law Courts

View from the roof at Ecole d'architecture

View from the roof at Ecole d’architecture

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One of my favourite things about this idiosyncratic little Isle we call the UK is the quintessential seaside town. There are few other things which encapsulate so specifically the unique facets of the British psyche into one small microcosmic burst of sublime kitsch consumerism, freezing waters lapping on dirty beaches and cheap, melting ice cream cones (with a flake, of course). It’s fabulous. Tasteful is sometimes lovely; a middle-class cup of Earl Grey on a Victorian garden terrace in Cambridge can be all well and good, but really it has comparatively little soul. Stick me on Margate beach surrounded by gobby kids with parents no less refined, half-blinded by the reflections from the arcade frontages which prove that all which glitters is definitely not gold, and I’m in my element. I can’t help but assume you are all suspecting that I am a typical product of my upbringing in this respect. That I relish these, to some, distasteful scenes with glee because of their centrality to the 1980’s childhood of a working class Southerner. Correct. But it is not only this geographical circumstance of birth which causes me to grin as soon as my internal satnav senses I am within 10 miles of a sugared doughnut shack; British seasides truly are on their own merit singularly enjoyable.

Growing up in Dartford in the 80’s and 90’s, Margate was our closest beach and still a fairly thriving hive of domestic tourism at that point. We would plead with our parents to take us there, as yet uninterested in foreign climes or the lure of saccharine Disney marketing. The swingboats at Margate beach were the highlight of our summer. How tantalisingly simple life was then! As we got older, Dreamland, that disintegrating grandfather of theme parks, became the focus of our pubescent attentions. The lure of its death-defyingly ancient roller-coaster structures stoking the fire of our naive, thrill-seeking bellies. The what we considered subtle experimentation with the mating ritual, (which in hindsight consisted entirely of stalking a group of usually slightly older boys, acting as if we hadn’t noticed them and reaching the end of a whole day having never actually spoken to them) was played out around the grounds of Dreamland like groundhog day. We could get angsty conversational mileage from that kind of near-encounter for days.

Then one fateful day Dreamland surrendered to the inevitable and impending padlock of the health and safety regulators. A thousand teenagers loitered, bereft, with only the arcades for entertainment. But soon these began to wither away too, the effect of the 1960s emergence of cheap package holidays abroad becoming visible on the face of the town. Less families, less fun, less income; more unemployment, more pound shops, more crime. Seaside towns have always been particularly vulnerable to the effects of economic shift; their seasonal nature meaning winter is often as bleak as summer is bright. But there came upon British seafronts in that era a tidal wave of degradation, half-empty swingboats standing then as monuments to a lost age of contentedness.

Margate soon became known to those who hadn’t spent childhood days there as a bit of a dive, its slightly more well-to-do neighbour Ramsgate wringing the mileage out of its nouveau-riche marina facade and characterless wine bars, attempting to emulate the seafront harbours of its continental competitors. Margate stuck to its guns; sun, sea, sand and some truly great fish ‘n’ chips. As with so many other nearby towns it is now only just starting to see some semblance of a recovery. Interestingly, this regeneration is seemingly part of a pattern; a swathe of curious ‘cultural quarters’ beginning to emerge from the wind-battered frontages of these former summer holiday havens. Folkestone, Margate, Dungeness; all have been sprinkled with a relatively recent dusting of artistic and culturally important spectacle. Without further research I can only speculate as to why this might be, but educated guesswork would lead me to suggest the gradual migration of the middle classes from London might have had at least a partial impact. Commuter towns now reach even as far as the southern coast, much as a result of the bordering areas outside London observing a continuing rise in living costs. It’s obvious then (to some councils at least!) that you would try to appeal to the interests and expectations of London commuters; to put in the worthwhile effort and investment which might encourage them to stay in your culture-rich but comparatively affordable and close to home surroundings.

Down at Margate, the most visible and high-profile evidence of this artistic injection is the new Turner Contemporary, all classic Chipperfield wide and light exhibition spaces and orgasmic interspatial elements. But it may not hold this title for long; I hear on the grapevine a most exciting rumour. It seems grandfather time may rewind his clock for Margate and resurrect my childhood pleasure park, Dreamland, like an old but cocksure phoenix ready to swagger back into the consciousness of the town.

Of course the obvious artistic link to Margate is through someone who may well not agree with my sickly-sweet love for it; Mad Tracey from Margate, aka 90’s artworld darling and one of my personal favourites, Tracey Emin, her often biographical works shocking staunch upholders of the British taboo with graphic representations of the gritty side of life in the town during its decline. Or maybe she would? Without her difficult upbringing amidst the area’s grim social scene and degenerate male contingent would she ever have achieved such fame and fortune? Tracey Emin’s wistful recollections of the area in her artworks have greatly influenced how much I enjoy her work. Aside from respecting the brutal honesty of her cathartic subject-matters and refusal to bow to the mummified art establishment, I feel an affinity with her attachment to the town in which I spent countless fun-filled days circa 1989.

It seems almost bizarre to me that I will soon be showing 3 of my own photographs in one of the new art galleries in this town for which I hold such affection. Aside from the encouraging fact that these modern and exciting spaces now exist there at all, it’s interesting that artists from the South-East are coming to Margate to exhibit instead of heading into London and seems to me indicative of a gradual shift in collective focus onto non London-based art. It’s high time we began to look locally at the wealth of unrecognised and underdeveloped artistic talent on our doorstep, not solely in my hometown of Dartford and around Kent but further out and beyond. London art has been done to death, let the artistic era of the provinces commence!

A selection of my photographs will be shown, along with the work of some of my fellow Dartford Arts Network members (Kasia Kat Parker & David Houston), as part of an exhibition primarily featuring the paintings of Tunde Odelade at the Pie Factory Gallery in Margate. The exhibition runs from 8th May – 21st May and is free to visit. For directions and further information see their website and if you’re in the area on 10th May do come in and say hi – I’ll be there milling around from 10am – 6pm.

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Extract from Jules Wright and Thomas Zanon-Larcher's Lady of the Sea at The Wapping Project

Extract from Jules Wright and Thomas Zanon-Larcher’s Lady of the Sea at The Wapping Project

I’d heard of the Wapping Project before. As someone interested in the arts in London, it was almost hard not to. Exclamation at it’s evident all-round brilliantness gushed from every source, über-cool reviewers and members of various ‘in-crowds’ chattered excitedly about its innovative programme and siting. But inevitably, like a million other must-sees in and around London over the years, I had always failed to actually get there and consequently, regrettably, allowed it to drift from my subconscious to-do list. In a sadly ironic twist it’s impending closure means that I did finally manage to visit, after receiving last week an email from the project’s deputy director Marta tempting me with the sale of various jugs/bowls/glasses at bargain prices. The reason for the kitchenware sell-off being that the renowned restaurant based there, along with the rest of the project, will be no more after 22nd Dec, with reports claiming that complaints from residents about noise levels has forced the shutdown. Complaints about the complaints have also been voiced in increasing number, with creatives across the city mourning the looming date of its disappearance. On a brighter note of self-interest, this situation did mean that moi managed to swiftly baggsie myself a few cut-price treasures for my kitchen cupboards (every cloud and all that).

And so it was that I found myself, on a damp, dark Thursday eve in December arriving at Wapping, it being an attractively strange place oozing history and character in that nouveau-classy manner of much of the east docklands area; the palpable taste of new money ‘a la Shad Thames refurbed wharf architecture, but it’s modern flashiness still unable to conceal that dark undercurrent, the sense of unease a residue from centuries of rough riverside streets; crime, murder and the nearby Execution Dock instilling an aura of menace in the fabric of the historic maritime area. The breeze from the Thames feels old, almost as though it has been carried along from 1750, the spectre of Jack the Ripper lurking behind each corner, hidden on the dark and wet almost deserted streets which glisten under the subdued glow of the streetlights. I must admit, I loved it.

A 5 minute walk from the station along Wapping Wall brings you to an initially underwhelming industrial gated entrance opposite the famous Prospect of Whitby pub, but a tentative peek through the door reveals the dramatic facade of the old Wapping Hydraulic Power Station, windows emitting that syrupy phosphorescence of low candlelight and allowing just enough contrast with the dark night to give an initial glimpse of the restored machinery-clad interior. Once inside, I immediately enjoyed just being in the space (I’m a big fan of old industrial architecture) gleefully eyeballing the structure and revelling in my dreamy rose-tinted imaginings of its past days. Kitchenware collected, I reluctantly prepared to be on my way, the sense of foolish missed opportunity dawning on me and regret beginning to seep into my consciousness, when deputy director Marta eagerly pointed me towards a small door just off the main hall – “go and see the last exhibition” she said, “before we close for good”.

Stepping through into the dark entrance of the Boiler Room I was struck instantly by the unmistakeable smell of damp and cold; wet on metal and the past still hanging in the air, the pungency of childhood adventures spent exploring places where perhaps you shouldn’t be. Coming to the top of a staircase I saw below me a partially constructed wooden structure set upon a bed of sand, snow and gravel. Shafts of brilliant white light poked through what appeared to be window holes, illuminating the surrounding area and inviting me in and out of the dark cold gloom. Stepping inside felt a little like an intrusion; I was in that rather rare position of being the only person at the exhibition, meaning the suspension of disbelief was thrillingly heightened. It could well have been someone’s house, inside were benches covered in sandy blankets, the accompanying soundtrack intensifying the effect of the drama as you entered the space. One whole wall of the shack consists of a screen projecting the photographic essay shot by Jules Wright and Thomas Zanon-Larcher in Svalbard and (I discovered later) inspired by Ibsen’s play ‘The Lady from the Sea‘. The inside/outside setting of the installation parallels with the movement of the story through interiors and exteriors as it follows the Nordic couple, the quality of photography and direction recording their emotional turmoil visually whilst also relating it to us via physical atmosphere and sound.

Interior of the wooden shack at the Lady From the Sea installation by Jules Wright and Thomas Zanon-Larcher

Interior of the wooden shack at the Lady From the Sea installation by Jules Wright and Thomas Zanon-Larcher

I sat there for a good fifteen minutes; a record for me I think. When it comes to moving artworks I usually find myself less engaged than in those which are static, maybe the controlling and over-independent facets of my personality find it jarring to be forced to look at something else, to be told when I have to move my gaze on. This set of photographs however, succeed in delicately achieving an unforced flow, lingering long enough on each image to make you eager for the next, but not so much that you get bored of it; adeptly sufficient in length for the viewer to drink in each lovely drop of it. The direction and curation utilise cleverly our brain’s ability to fill in the blanks; leaving the little shack I felt inherently that I knew the characters well, understood their respective positions, sympathised with both viewpoints and even hoped that they sorted their troubles out in the end. All that emotional response gleaned from 15 minutes in front of a set of still photographs.

On the way home, feeling extremely lucky to have had an unexpected private view of such a beautiful new exhibition, I mused on how I had ended up there. Fate? Was I meant to see the Wapping project at some point, a spurious roundabout kitchenware errand leading me there all along? I like to think that chance is a better bet than fate. Sometimes there occur poignant moments in life which materialise entirely through random fortuitous happenings and, like a cyber-finger enacting the proverbial Facebook poke, never fail to make me acutely aware of the importance of chance incidents within the bizarre rollercoasters of our daily lives. It was a circumstantial moment such as this in which I found myself last Thursday evening; unexpectedly sitting alone inside that cool, damp, wooden shack and revelling in my good fortune.

The Lady of the Sea by Jules Wright and Thomas Zanon-Larcher runs until 22nd December 2013 at The Wapping Project, Wapping Hydraulic Power Station, Wapping Wall, E1W 3SG 0207 680 2080.

For more information on The Wapping Project in its final days contact marta@thewappingproject.com

Extract

Extract

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Wall projections outside the wooden shack in the Boiler Room

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Interior of the shack with projection extract

Extract

Extract

DSC_1512Like me, you have probably never, or perhaps only recently, heard of Lens; a little provincial pocket of France thrust recently and violently into the tourist consciousness, yet still beautifully unaccustomed to its latest role as the home of the newest Louvre outpost designed by SANAA (a recession-respecting snip at a mere €140m), and the main reason for us arriving into nearby Lille last Friday morning for our annual office trip.

Working for an architectural firm means that thankfully office trips don’t mean cheap, vacuous weekend benders to Newcastle, but generally are programmed around an initial visit to a building/site/area of architectural interest. This is of course supplanted by an obligatory messy Euro-trash evening in a sweaty disco, before back to the cultural appreciation the following day, it taking a little more time to focus on exhibition guide text at that point.

Lille struck me instantly as far less industrial than I had probably unjustly and certainly unfoundedly, imagined it would be. Although an established eurostar terminal, it may be that it is more regularly used as I have used it in the past, as a changeover point to get to Brussels or Germany. It was certainly sans the mountains of tat which swarm over the streets of most tourist areas, threatening to engulf guided tours under lethal tsunamis of flag-emblazoned crockery. As I was served a beer at 11am with extreme nonchalance and without even a disapproving glint sweeping across the eye, I decided I liked it already.

The journey to the Louvre-Lens consisted of a 40 min train ride, during which a large number of grown adults (myself included) repeatedly exclaimed our amazement and happiness that the train was double-decker, a situation which I’m sure endeared us to our fellow French passengers and was undoubtedly compounded by the intermittent squeals of excitement and roars of laughter about the newly invented and utterly fabulous ‘shouty shouty tradey card game’ (patent pending). We enjoyed it, anyway.

Lens itself is a pretty little town, the insertion into its outskirts of an internationally important museum collection reminding me of the recent Tate Turner Contemporary constructed at Margate. Indeed an applaudable attempt to drive valuable visitor traffic to a place which currently has little. Would we have gone there otherwise? We arrived at the building after a very European 7 min walk (more like 15) and a touching welcome to France shouted from a window consisting of ‘fuck you bitch’ in redeemingly good English. A long, low and understated metal shed rose suddenly from behind some strange landscaped mounds in the immediate vicinity which were reminiscent of tellytubby land. They must’ve spent €120m on the inside, then. Well, yes and no. Aside from my facetiousness, you can see from the plans that the basement occupies the same long, low space as the building itself, providing extensive (and expensive) archive space for the Louvre’s immeasurable collection. It has also been carefully designed and specified (apart from the roof, which I’m told, in terms that a non-architect can understand is, well, not very good). We were not able to see the touring exhibition space as the Rubens show had finished only days before, much to my joy, viewing one of his waxy grimacing spectacles in the permanent collection was quite enough.

The main exhibition hall is beautiful and distinct, its vast expanse clearly influenced by Tate Modern’s momentous and celebrated Turbine Hall with a rather new take on museum curation; pieces displayed on individual floor panels and plinths, in chronological order and measurable by the timeline etched into the metal of the right hand wall.

DSC_1549 The attached pod area, or ‘garden pavilion’ is tacked onto the back of the main hall with the intention, I imagine, of bringing the visitor back into the here and now after the artificial lighting and whistlestop history tour of the shed. It achieves this effect sharply, vast floor to ceiling windows sucking in light greedily, scattering light-saber beams around the space through translucent floor to ceiling blinds. Shadows of light and dark pierce the (generally unpopular) scuffed floor surface like swords of good and evil, in the kind of detail drama that makes a photographer’s dream.

DSC_1573 After a thorough exploration the general verdict was positive; although perhaps a little too ‘in vogue’ for my taste, the brushed metal shed vibe starting to feel slightly nauseatingly trendy, it did feel coherent, well-designed and was a pleasure to experience. But it was Lille and Lens which ended up being the real winners, both turning out to be places I would visit again after initially being places I would never have chosen to go. We still haven’t managed to discover why a town so far inland appears to have seafood as its staple restaurant offering, but a quest to find out gives me a good excuse to go back!

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I left my soul there / Down by the sea / I lost control here / Living free – Morcheeba, The Sea

I think anyone who has visited Dungeness will attest to the fact it is a strange and often eerie place. A vast network of barren flatlands, it is home to a host of wildlife, some alien-looking concrete sculptures, a thankfully underrated and thus often deserted beautiful beach, and a much loved, rideable little steam train which has filled the dreams of many a Kentish child.

On visiting the area, one is struck immediately by the landscape. The gleaming green wetlands of an RSPB nature reserve contrast, in a bittersweet thrill, with the deserted expanse which runs along the seafront; startling red rusting machinery and crumbling fisherman’s shacks dot the horizon. The effect is very much ‘Texas Chainsaw Massacre‘ and its power hinges partly on the same provocation of human emotion which made successful that infamous film – the exposure. The vulnerable haunting nature of a sparsely populated area. A lack of shelter, a lack of shade. Nowhere to hide, no-one to help. Of course at Dungeness there are plenty of houses, but certain areas of the front are almost entirely empty. A few architects and design gurus have taken the opportunity to build experimental structures, which sit upon the plains like spaceships landed on an African peninsula.

A trip up the lighthouse allows you to survey this scene in all its glory, the mini steamtrain line on its perpetual circuit, the endless patches of reds and browns interspersed with grey waves of shingle and sprinkles of green, the open ground scorched from the all-seeing sun in tandem with the assisting sea breeze.

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An exploratory walk North-West leads you over this dusty earth and through to the nature reserve where upon the horizon great blue lakes appear, quenching the entire landscape. The air becomes fresher, the wildlife more prolific and an abundance of beautiful birds showcase the best of nature’s design and make you remember why the RSPB are so important.

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Emerging from this bliss and turning North-East will lead you straight to the ‘Acoustic Mirrors’. Set amongst the lush vegetation and straddling an impressive lake, these striking concrete structures were erected around the time of the second world war. Dungeness, the only part of Britain classified as desert by the Met office, seemed a perfect spot to erect these objects, relying as they did on quiet surroundings to pick up the noise of approaching enemy planes. The acoustic mirrors, or ‘listening ears’ as they were known, were an early exploration into the principles of radar, their use discontinued once new technological advancements surpassed their capability. They are now of historical interest and it is possible to cross the water to walk around them.

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And besides all this you still have the glistening beach, shrouded with an ominous rising steamy mist at low tide on a hot day and thanks to the proximity of local favorite camber sands, used mainly by locals, with a few scattered tourists.

In all, the place is, well, strange. The first time, a bit too strange. But the second time. The second time I fell in love. See you soon Dungeness x

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Photograph: Greg Shrubsole

Photograph: Greg Shrubsole

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Photograph: Greg Shrubsole

Photograph: Greg Shrubsole

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Photograph: Greg Shrubsole

Photograph: Greg Shrubsole

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Photograph: Greg Shrubsole

Photograph: Greg Shrubsole

Photograph: Greg Shrubsole

Photograph: Greg Shrubsole

Photograph: Greg Shrubsole

Photograph: Greg Shrubsole

Photograph: Greg Shrubsole

Photograph: Greg Shrubsole

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All photographs Kate Withstandley except those specified

Having just returned from a holiday in Altinkum, Turkey (a couple of hours SE of Bodrum) I thought I would share some photos with you (having not had a chance to do anything art in the city-related  recently).

Parts of Turkey are, of course, extremely beautiful. The thermal pools, World Heritage Site Cleopatra’s Pool, and the ruins of Hieropolis (LifeCity) at Pamukkele were stunning, and our boat trip around the local islands exhibited a veritable paradise as it took us to a number of deliciously secluded sandy bays.

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.