Resurrection of the squashed seedlings

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There’s no polite way to say this, Socks Akers has a fat backside. Six kilos of cat nearly put paid to my part in creating a living, breathing, flowering, fruiting art installation.

I’d agreed to foster 60 seedlings, destined to join 2,440 others in a stunning art installation at Left Bank, Leeds. It was a simple task, plant bean, beetroot, sweetcorn and sunflower seeds in little peat pots and keep them safe for a couple of weeks, water them, watch them grow and return them to their pals. They were very happy in the greenhouse, then the great hunk of black and white fur decided he needed a new place to sleep.

So an emergency trip to the shops later and I was re-potting the pots and giving Socks the evil eye. The seedlings were safe, a little wonky maybe, but most art is a bit wonky, except Mondrian, no wonkiness there.

The 2,500 seedlings were placed in a huge circle in the middle of the huge former church, where they have become Anastasis, an immersive installation representing life and resurrection, somewhere to sit, walk, reflect, enjoy, listen, yes listen, there’s even birdsong. It’s rather lovely.

The seedlings continue to grow in their circle, unimpeded by cats. At the end of the week. Earth Day, the circle will be broken and they will all be offered new homes. I’ll be taking a few, they’ll have pride of place in the allotment.

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So this is why I run, then

 

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Arty running at Yorkshire Sculpture Park

 

‘Are you the lady who runs?’ the caller asked. Lady? <Snigger>. Runs? <Double snigger>. It was Radio Leeds who wanted to do an interview about running to music, I don’t run to music, I need to be completely aware of my surroundings, I could trip up at any time, but it was nice to be asked.

It’s not a bad title to have, because I do run, dammit (let’s not talk about being a lady). So why do I run, then? It’s always hard, I’m not a natural. I don’t get awards and I never win races, I’m more likely to come last than first, but I do love it.

For a start,  I’m in the great outdoors, whatever the weather, there’s always something to enjoy, the sights, the smells, the splashings. I’m not a keen road runner, I prefer the trails, but if I have to pound the pavements I do, taking in the urban surroundings, watching the flagstones pass under my feet, hey I spotted 5p the other day, I picked it up, I’m from Yorkshire, me.

I love to race, it’s a challenge, I’ve paid for it so I actually have to do it, because, dammit, I’m not wasting money (the whole Yorkshire thing). Sometimes there are medals, or tee-shirts, though never in my size, but always there are team-mates, friends and so many others there to encourage, cheer and generally chivvy me along. It feels good.

Then there’s running with mates, just because I can. Today a baker’s dozen of us met up at the Yorkshire Sculpture Park and just ran, looked at art, tried to be art, realised we were nothing like art, ran a bit more, then had coffee and cake, it was glorious. That’s why I run, it’s glorious.

An arty cat, in his own words

This is Socks Akers, I’m his human. He wants me to tell you that he is a very arty cat. Personally I think he’s more farty than arty, but it’s a free country, for the moment anyway, and every cat has his day. Today it’s Socks’, so here we go.

“I prefer to be known as His Royal Catness, The Great Hunter, Eater of All Things, Except When I Change My Mind and Turn My Back On It, Master of All I Survey, Especially From the Shed Roof, Digger-Up of the Garden, Jumper Upper onto the Wardrobe, Handsomest Cat Ever, but you can call me Sir.

“My life is good. It wasn’t good to start. I played in the road, the car didn’t want to play. I don’t like cars or roads any more, though I’ve learned to tolerate vets. But what the heck is it with the thermometer up the bum? The indignity of it all, don’t they know I’m His Royal Catness? The Royal Bottom is not to be messed with.

“I spent some time in a Cat Rescue, of course I was better than all the other cats there, I had my own throne. Fortunately for them there were a couple of humans I liked, so I chose them and let me take them to their home, I mean my home.

“It’s tough being a cat, seriously it is, you have no idea how hard it is to look good all the time, even when I’m sleeping. I keep having to check my form, legs splayed out, whiskers at a jaunty angle, just the right level of cuteness as I show my fluffy tummy, I like to be aesthetically pleasing.

“Getting to the point, I’d like to invite you to admire a bit of art I’m cultivating. She’s doing all the work, I don’t have opposable thumbs after all, but I’m the creative force behind it. She’s growing seeds for an art installation somewhere that’s not here. Evidently the idea is for 2,500 seedlings to be displayed for humans to look at and immerse themselves in, whatever that means.

“She planted 50 seeds in little pots full of dirt, then put them in a tray in my greenhouse. So I made a suggestion on improving them, aesthetically. I sat on them, I slept on them, I may have squashed them a little, but they were so warm and comfy, and I incubated the seeds. She’ll thank me for it, she really will. I am a very arty cay, though I am now a very sleepy cat, so I’m off, I have some seedlings to sit on.”

Anastasis, an immersive installation, opens at Left Bank Leeds, on Easter Sunday. Socks’ seedlings will be the wonky ones.

So that’s art, is it?

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Dull, dark with a tendency to depressing, oh and a bit smelly too, especially near the 50p a pee toilets, that’s railway stations for you. Even though the steam trains have long gone and diesel is a thing of the past with these new-fangled electric trains, Leeds station could still do with a brightening up.

Thank goodness then, for arty folk and a passenger bridge with a spare length of glass. The rather wonderful Leeds Inspired, which supports art in the city, managed to penetrate the bureaucracy of Network Rail and get agreement for a real-life artist to brighten up the place a bit, a lot actually.

The artist Supermundane, who is anything but, was set to work to bring colour, vibrancy and a touch of 60s pop art to the station with Super Leeds, a fantastic mural designed to span the main footbridge.

For two fifths of the cost of a pee, I bought two tickets to go on the platform and view this colourfest for myself. The other ticket was for Noel who has volunteered enthusiastically to stand and hold my camera kit while surrounded by passengers  hurrying between platforms, pulling those stupid wheelie trollies. He loves standing in crowds while I faff around with my camera.

It was while I was faffing that a portly Network Rail employee approached with that ‘you-can’t-do-that-here’ look.  It turns out the look wasn’t for me, it was for Supermundane’s super artwork. I don’t think he was artistically-inclined.

“So that’s supposed to be art, it it?,” he asked, nodding towards the explosion of colour in the otherwise dull station, confirming my suspicion that art didn’t feature much in his day-to-day life.

“It is indeed, ” I said. “And the station is all the better for it”

He shrugged his shoulders and returned to interpreting the train timetables which in their own way are art, well they are works of fiction, eh?

Bravo Leeds Inspired, Bravo Supermundane. Let’s have more art in dull places!

Coloured collars for the columns

Column collar under construction
Column collar under construction

Where has all the colour gone? I thought this as I walked into the office the other day to be met by a wave of black. Black jackets, black skirts, black trousers, black blouses, black scarves and black looks as it became clear I hadn’t just thought it, I’d said it, possibly screamed it.

I was in my usual red and orange combination, and that was just my hair. Why are people so reluctant to embrace colour? I suppose I’m biased, I spent a few years as a colour and image consultant so delighted in helping people to cast off the blacks and greys and find the shade of red that suited them.

In my book, there should be more colour everywhere, especially to brighten up our dull British winters, and especially in dark buildings. I’ve spend quite a bit of time at the very impressive Left Bank centre here in Leeds.  It’s a former church, turned arts and music venue. Fabulous space, wonderful acoustics but attractive though the Yorkshire stone is, rather dark and most definitely colourless. It’s also very very cold in there.

Left Bank is huge, its vaulted ceilings supported by massive columns, so I thought what better way to bring a bit of colour and warm the place up than knit collars for the columns?  It will be a garter stitch sensation, a moss stitch magnificence, a knit one, purl one art installation radiating colour and warmth.

So I’ve enlisted the help of my friends in the Calverley Knitwits who are knitting squares which I’m sewing together to make as many collars as I can. That’s the deal, they knit, I sew. I’m also accepting knitted squares from anyone else prepared to put yarn to needle. With each column 370cm in circumference, that’s a lot of 15cm squares, but they can stretch a bit, hopefully a lot.

We’ll keep on knitting and sewing until winter, bringing a splash of colour and, as the collars are taken down and made into blankets, some extra warmth.

Time to stand and stare

Slow Art Day at the Stanley and Audrey Burton Gallery, Leeds University
Slow Art Day at the Stanley and Audrey Burton Gallery, Leeds University

What’s the best way to look at art? Slowly and preferably with a glass of fine wine in one hand. But seeing as budgets for public galleries hardly break into double figures, I’ll just take the ‘slow’.

Yesterday was the annual international Slow Art Day . Galleries all over the world gave ordinary members of the public the chance to not just look at art, but to stare at it for a long time in silence, think thoughts about it, ranging from the ‘good grief, is this ART?’ to ‘I wonder that this would look like upside down’ with the obligatory ‘I like/hate this’,  then chat over a cuppa.

The bijou Stanley and Audrey Burton Gallery tucked inside Leeds University’s Parkinson Building was the only gallery in the entire Independent Kingdom of Yorkshire to participate. Its current Jewish Artists in Yorkshire exhibition was the focus of the slow art, Leeds has the third largest Jewish community in the country after London and Manchester.

The gallery had chosen four works for us to look at. Bean bags, camping stools and sturdy benches were available and we were invited to take a good, long look and then have a big think. Helpful notes told us we could draw it, look at it upside down, though in the case of some of the paintings, how would I know? And more importantly, how would I do it? Only in my imagination, I concluded and that was really what it was all about.  I’ve visited a lot of galleries and it’s the first time I’ve done this, especially when it’s a painting I may normally walk straight past.

I was quite taken with The Jew, by Leeds artist Jacob Kramer which, I took the time to discover, was painted in 1916, when so much history was yet to happen, a thought that took up quite a bit of my reflection time. I came to the conclusion I liked it, it made me feel rested and relaxed, the lines were simple and soothing, the brush strokes calm and careful. I’m not sure I’d want it on our pink walls next to the silk screen print and photos of coffee, I concluded. Though I suspect Jacob Kramer wouldn’t want his art in such a frivolous setting.

What a great idea and while I’m looking forward to next year’s event, April 26,2014, I’m not going to wait until then to take it slowly when looking at art.

Make art, not war

Razia with the ropes

I’ve come to the conclusion that if artists ruled the world there would be no wars, with any conflict confined to minor skirmishes rooted in artistic differences of the kind that split up The Beatles.

The latest installation at Gallery II, tucked away in the decidedly un-arty engineering block at the University of Bradford brings together art and conflict on a very personal level. Changing Spaces is an interactive installation, in other words the visitors make it happen which is what I like in my art. None of this standing around and looking, let’s get in there and do it!

Artist Sorrel Muggridge was commissioned by Lisa Cumming, from the University’s Peace Studies Department and David Robison of the Media School to create an  installation where people could say something about conflict and how they have dealt with it by making rope.

I joined Lisa and Gallery helper Raiza to bring my own conflict and commit it to rope which I would make myself. Sounds bizarre, but it was an amazingly moving experience.  I started by writing my own conflict down on a tiny roll of tape, a challenge in itself and not something to share here. Lisa and Raiza helped me make the rope, stretching out from hook to hook across the room, winding, twisting and tying and of course chatting, which to me was all part of the interactivity and the art. The finished rope is hung from the ceiling, joining those made by others, all making a statement about dealing with conflict.

My own rope was two, one rough, one smooth, brought together with the climber’s figure-of-eight knot, my conflict right there in the middle. How satisfying. How moving.