24 March 2013

Salford the Surreal

Winter still hasn't let up for us here in Manchester; we've been told it's something to do with a weather pattern over Russia. It's been awful, around 2˚C most days, rain and grey and windy wet. It's exhausting.

March should be milder, especially after the vernal equinox.

I can't help but think that the planners (NVA) of Speed of Light thought it would be a little warmer by now, too. An art project, involving a hundred volunteer runners dressed in remote controlled light-suits, it seems better-suited to a dark summer's night.

But on Friday night, blistering winds were tearing through Media City. I can't imagine being one of the runners. Why would anyone run in this weather? WHY?

They warmed up for about 30 minutes. They ran by me in silence.

Watching people run by, in their lit-up suits, with only the sound of wind and the waves of the canal, was a weird experience. The runners were like aliens. I didn't want to get too close. 
The only thing that would have been worse than running in that stinging cold weather would have been standing around waiting for the grand finale! Lucky for me, I work in Media City, so when I couldn't stand the cold anymore, I went up to the 3rd floor of my building.

There were moments, during the wait, when I wasn't sure it had been worth waiting around at Media City until 8pm. But then, all the runners crowded together, a huddle of blue lights on the dark, wet ground... and suddenly, their lights turned red and they ran apart, exploding like a firework. They were stunning, glittering, and the whole night made sense. This is why people would run in this weather...

But I'm still unreformed. I'm really glad I was indoors and warm to see it.

**The laughter in that video is courtesy of Internet Man, as I now refer to him. He seems nice.

19 March 2013


I step off the train into one of the worst snow storms I've ever seen, like wandering into another world.

On my first visit to Oxford, a windy, otherworldly snow seems apt.

As the icy slush seeps into my boots, I look for Christ Church College, where I'm meant to hear a talk on CS Lewis.

"Oh, how very apt," I mutter, feeling my toes recoil from the wet coldness.

Then, I see this giant mound.
I'm not sure what this mound is about.
But there are signs telling me to not even think about climbing it.

I wasn't thinking about it. At all. Really.

Christ Church turns out to be a breathtaking beautiful castle-like college, not unlike the Cambridge colleges.

But I can't explore it, not today, because it is snowy and windy and my feet are turning blue. Well, brownish-blue anyway. 

Luckily, there is a lovely little cafe, with big picturesque windows overlooking Christ Church. I sit, order a hot coffee. Eventually, warm to the view, even if my feet are still frozen.

While I had planned to explore Oxford's renowned beauty, I content myself with a brilliant talk on CS Lewis by Alastair McGrath.

Later in the week, back in Manchester, I hear about a pub in Oxford called The Bookbinders' Arms. Must plan another trip to Oxford, I suppose!

16 March 2013

Writing on the Wall

I used to live about 2 blocks away from the Whitworth Art Gallery, on Oxford Road, near Manchester University, so I caught all its exhibits fairly regularly.

These days, though, it's a bit out of my way, as I rarely have need to even go to the university, much less further south. Walking down long, trafficky, loud and smelly Oxford Road is not a delightful prospect, so I avoid it as well as I can.

But today... I was meeting someone at the Whitworth Cafe. Someone from the internet. EEP. I don't know why this made me so nervous. I've met loads of people from the internet before. I have a nasty habit of bullying people on Twitter to meet me in real life. But this person... well, he wasn't from Twitter. He was from a dedicated dating site. EEP!

Wandering around the gallery, though, my nerves calmed upon coming to the Richard Long show.  His work is largely landscape art, which includes stuff like using stone that's already in a landscape to create artwork in that landscape. He reminds me a lot of Andy Goldsworthy. Needless to say, a lot of his art installations can't really be brought into a gallery.

A quartz stone path was laid down the middle of the room, and on the walls, there were bits of text inspired by his walks (see picture above). The whole room had a sense of calm and quiet, despite the jazz quartet warming up downstairs. It was like he'd brought the quiet he'd found on his nature walks into the space, somehow.

I breathed the calm in and realised it was 2pm. Time to start my internet dating adventure... What could possibly go wrong in an art gallery, right?

ps It turns out you're not technically allowed to take pictures in the Whitworth. Woops!

10 March 2013

A Winged Monkey Army

When I first moved to Sydney, I remember visiting the MCA regularly, but since I've been in Manchester, my art gallery visits have significantly diminished, for reasons undiscovered.

But, one place I try to check out every time they have a new exhibit is the Manchester Art Gallery. It's home to fantastic local art and craft collections, and I find their temporary exhibits to be truly wonderful.

Founded in 1824, the MAG is a publicly-owned art gallery, and in the fashion of Victorian paternalism, features an inscription along the side that makes its purposes entirely clear: "For the Advancement and Diffusion of Knowledge."

A few months ago, I went to the First Cut Exhibit, a show based entirely on paper-based artwork, the kind of thing that has recently been popularised by Rob Ryan. The kind of thing that won Kara Walker a MacArthur Genius Grant not so long ago.

Andy Singleton's delicate curving storm spun with the drafts in the room, casting mesmerising shadows against the corner.

James Aldridge's intricate lacey work reveals, on close inspection, lurking sinister creatures.
And today, I went along to see the Raqib Shaw exhibit– it was incredibly beautiful. Part of his exhibit was outside the gallery.

He installed tree branches and plants, daffodils and bulbs, intertwining along the fencing that borders the footpath outside the gallery. Inside the gallery, the greening continued.

His paintings shimmer with stunning enamel and rhinestone. There's a South Asian sensibility here; the influence can be seen not only in the gaudy glittering of the pieces, but also in the depictions of human/animal chimeras, which make up a huge part of Hindu mythology. Hinduism subverted is rare joy to see in Western art galleries– so often, it seems Hindu mythological art is subjected to the Western gaze more uncritically.

That's not an issue with Shaw's work. Irresistibly pretty, they draw your eye in...

And what do you find? Monkey-headed, teeth-loined creatures engaged in bondage situations, vomiting blood onto each other's crotches.

I know. I mean, my word. It hardly bears thinking about.

My friend Geraint and I walked around the entire exhibit, giggling like children and pointing out weird bits of paintings to each other.

"What's coming out of that one's butt?"
"No, wait, that one has a crotch where his head should be and a screaming gibbon head at his crotch??"

There is a goofy childish element to it, but it's also deeply disturbing, sexually charged, weirdly aggressive. I didn't take many pictures of his paintings, partly because pictures wouldn't really do them justice–hint hint! Go see them yourself!– but also because I was just enjoying them.

I did take a picture of one of most horrifying, haunting and mesmerising sculptures I've ever seen. Raqib Shaw's Adam depicts a man with a bird's head, violently held down by a lobster. Geraint and I couldn't agree on what was happening, exactly, but it was unnerving. As I walked around, I kept wondering what I would think about the work if it wasn't slightly removed from me through its whimsical medium & technique... if it wasn't slightly removed from me by depicting chimeras, instead of humans. 


If you made it this far, I should probably also let you know that part of the reason I've been off the blog lately is because I've been spending an awful lot of time lately applying for a job and then preparing for the interview...

Luckily it was all worth it! Starting tomorrow, I have a 6-month contract as Development Producer! I could not be more chuffed and excited and nervous about it...