Friday, September 18, 2009

My head hurts!

Not because of the copious amounts of wine I've been drinking with friends and family during my stay in Bristol, but because today I was required to think... and quite hard, too. I've attended my first sessions at the IMPACT conference in Bristol and it's been really interesting.

I'm fascinated by what happens when artists and academics get together (and yes, I appreciate that there are artists who are academics as well as academics who are artists and that sort of dualism isn't particularly useful). I've not been to other professional conferences (unless you count the times I used to deliver sessions on the tax advantages of charitable giving, many years ago, but that was when I was a speaker, not in the audience) and so I'm very ignorant but I imagine that if attending a conference on theoretical physics, say, then all the sessions and most of the speakers would be 'on topic'. What struck me today was the diversity of topics in discussion and how difficult it must be to try and corrall speakers into an overall session theme.

The consequence is that topics are so diverse that sometimes the session titles are either misleading or meaningless! My first session on 'Theoretical Approaches to Print' was fine, with erudite discussions on materiality, the interface between art and science in one speaker's art practice and the digital matrix in printmaking.

The second session I attended was titled 'Print in the Social Sphere' and whilst I was impressed by the diversity of speakers I detected a lack of underlying cohesion in the topics discussed. We moved from talking about the paradox of printmaking and the implied production of multiples as an egalitarian art form against the elitism of art collecting and the consequent incongruity of multiple anything in a world awash with multiples, through the necessarily emotive topic of printmaking as activism, as evidenced in the political commentary in apartheid South Africa (with the attendant AWFUL verb-making word "conscientize"! YUK), through to a presentation on lamp posts as a public gallery space in Buenos Aires to a final two-voiced ramming-the-point-home-repeatedly piece about sustainability in printmaking that was a bit like a Fry and Laurie monologue but without the humour or the self-awareness.

At least one person fell asleep, which is not entirely surprising since the Q&A session at the end degenerated into a holier than thou exercise in individual print practices, debating the merits of particular sorts of vegetable oil in post-printmaking cleanup. No-one was satisfied with stating that they use vegetable oil instead of solvents without scoring points about whether ground nut oil is more ecologically acceptable than blended vegetable oil which might contain palm oil or soy bean oil, both of which are intensively farmed in South America, destroying huge swathes of rainforest. I sat there with eyebrows slightly raised as delegates around the room chipped in, only slightly surprised that we didn't extend the conversation to include a debate about the energy embodied in producing plastic oil bottles versus cans...

What's on the schedule for tomorrow? Well, I think I'm going to a morning session about 'Applied Arts', then coming home for a short time to meet up with Dearest Husband and Darling Daughter, who are currently flying over the Indian Ocean on their way to Europe, and then I'm off to the UWE campus at Bower Ashton for a product fair, academic poster event, open portfolio sessions and various exhibitions, which I'm really looking forward to (if I can figure out how to get to the campus without a car). Adios!

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Ode to Bristol

Once upon a time I used to live in Bristol, which for those who don't know is an historical city about 150km due West of London. I spent 4 years in London and had a great time, but eventually the noise and the traffic and the sheer effort involved in getting anywhere begin to take their toll and I moved on. I'd been to Bristol when I did a 1 year post-grad business course at Bristol University when I left Oxford and had fallen in love with the place. Walking through the city centre you pass remnants of medieval walls, a 14th century church, huge red brick warehouses from the Industrial Revolution and catch glimpses of Isambard Kingdom Brunel's famous Clifton Suspension Bridge over the Avon Gorge. What's not to like? There's opera and world class theatre, a livly arts and music scene, a zoo, children's festivals, the annual balloon fiesta, plenty of wine and food and some of the best restaurants in the UK... and when you get on the bus the driver is likely to ask you, "Where's that to then, lover?" with a Bristolian burr. I love it.

I've been living in Australia for 3 years now (blimey!), and haven't been back to Bristol for two years, so I'm having a strange time of it now I'm here. I've been away long enough for there to have been major building projects completed that were only in the very early stages of demolition and clearance when I left, and yet in other ways I haven't been away for long enough for the smaller things to have changed. For example, Cabot Circus is finished and open and when I left it was mainly a huge headache for Bristol drivers who had to navigate lots of roadworks on a major route in order to skirt around the edge of a mammoth building site.

The development is a huge shopping complex that has revitalised a slightly seedy-looking part of town called Broadmead. Bristol was heavily bombed during WWII and the medieval centre was destroyed. In the brave new world of the 1960s Broadmead was turned into a purely commercial area with no residential accommodation, but by the 1990s it was failing, really, and the big stores had mostly moved to an out-of-town complex called The Mall on the edge of the motorway. Broadmead was full of second-string shops, the odd department store and a lot of empty buildings. And it wasn't pretty.

You could argue that Cabot Circus isn't pretty either, and I wonder what it will look like in 20 years' time, but for now it's quite a thrusting sort of development, covered in a paned roof to keep out the British weather.

The developers have at least tried to beautify the development... Walking along the outer walls on my way to the bus stop, and feeling a little disoriented because it didn't come out quite where I'd expected, I found the above wall of what looks like etched slate. The imagery comes from something like a medieval herbal and is based, I presume, on what would have been woodcut illustrations. Printmaking is everywhere!

Do I like Cabot Circus? Hmmm, hard to say. It's difficult to navigate around and a bit brutal in its architecture so I'd say 'not really', at least in an aesthetic sense. What I really did like was the appearance of Harvey Nichols in Bristol! If you don't know the store, perhaps you remember Joanna Lumley forever meeting people for lunch at 'Harvey Nicks' in Absolutely Fabulous? It's synonymous with designer labels and ladies-who-lunch, and it's definitely NOT the sort of place I usually go into. However, despite appearances to the contrary I am a fashion fiend. Yes, I know, this does sound highly unlikely, but since my youth I have in fact read Vogue assiduously and lusted after certain designers. I even have a few choice pieces in my wardrobe, believe it or not, and I can certainly spot Moschino, Commes des Garcons or Dianne von Furstenburg at 100 paces. So it was delightful to spend half an hour in the designer ladieswear department at Harvey Nicks in Bristol with friendly, helpful assistants who didn't mind me drooling all over the clothes! Ahh, the enjoyment.

Anyway, I've had my fix now of Georgian houses, early Victorian terraces, small-but-imaginative front gardens, uneven pavements and lots of greenery, mixed with wonderful views from the hilly streets out over the Mendip hills or West towards Wales. There's been sunshine and scudding clouds in a brisk wind, and plenty of early Autumn leaves to kick through. It's been fun being in Bristol again.

Sunday, September 13, 2009


Yes folks, this is (reverential whisper....) the bag. I felt you needed to see pictures. Now as I'm blogging on the move and my tiny little laptop isn't the fastest machine on the planet, it's possible that the photos aren't the best representations of the gorgeousness that is my new not-a-rucksack-bag, but they'll have to do.

I've been having a little competition (with whom?) to see how much stuff that I used to carry around in my rucksack I can fit into the bag, and the answer is... quite a lot, actually! So far I've managed my wallet, my camera, my laptop (in its bag, with its mouse and charger), my sketchbook, pens, lippie, keys, tickets, friend's housekeys (oops!), water bottle and cardigan. Wow! Really the hardest part is getting used to the lack of dangling adjustable strappy bits (and lets face it, these are what rucksacks mainly contribute to the impression that you scale mountain peaks in your spare time), and the fact that I can only carry it on one shoulder. I'm trying not to stress out about how quickly the beautifully striped interior will get dirty and the fact that I can't throw it in the washing machine!

Friday, September 11, 2009

Greetings from sunny London

In fact I’ve been here for 36+ hours now and the jetlag is beginning to kick in.  I arrived early at Heathrow yesterday morning and ended up on my friend Helen’s doorstep at the unsociably early hour of 06:25 and she, much to her and her family’s credit, was apparently still delighted to see me!  I sailed through yesterday on an adrenalin high and have only come down to earth this evening, feeling a bit nauseous and insulated from the world…

Once Helen and Simon had taken their children to school yesterday and gone to work I went into London (on the basis that if I didn’t move I might fall over and sleep…).  How strange it is to be back!  It’s like fitting into a well-loved glove; everything is familiar and yet strange.  It’s a slightly unbalancing feeling but (perhaps my jetlag is manifesting itself here) I’m not expressing myself very well.

I went first to the British Library and renewed my reader ticket which makes me very happy.  As a child growing up the attainment of a reader’s ticket was, for some strange reason, a longed-for pinnacle of achievement.  I have no idea why I was so set on the idea but having caught onto it I was delighted that my PhD research meant I was allowed to have one!  I think I was a strange child… and no, that isn’t a cue for anyone who knew me to make sarcastic comments.  Anyway, renewing the ticket was easy and allowed me time to shop. 

First stop was Falkiners to buy paper, and you would have been proud of me.  Instead of blowing my holiday money on the first day by purchasing half a shop full of cumbrous, heavy paper I managed to restrain myself and purchased only a dozen sheets!  That done, I was able to take the tube from Holborn to Bond Street and visit John Lewis.  I failed dismally to find a tie for my dearly beloved husband but I was – and this is a triumph – able to buy a handbag.  If you know me well you will have observed that I have spent the last 25 years welded to a rucksack, on the grounds of laziness, practicality and the unreasonable opinion that carrying one makes me look capable and energetic, or something.  However, people (friends and that husband I mentioned) have recently commented that I’m now old enough to graduate to a proper bag.  I, naturally, insisted that if I had to part with my latest rucksack (which, I realised, is 4 years old) it would have to be for some sort of trophy bag that justified the attendant mental upheaval and so it’s become something of a joke amongst friends.  But there I was, in John Lewis’s, when I spotted a display stand of ‘Radley’ bags, which are very English, and a large sign proclaiming an extra 20% off the listed price just for that day.  I ask you, what reasonable person could have failed to take advantage of the offer?

So there you go: I’ve been here for less than 48 hours and already blown a load of money!

Saturday, September 05, 2009


Time is ticking away! I'm off to Europe on Tuesday morning...

Nelson Ball Clock available from Haus Modern Living

First Bristol, UK, for the IMPACT printmaking conference, then a rail trip from London to Brussels via the Channel Tunnel rail link; Brussels to Paris for a weekend of high culture (and hopefully a rendezvous with my former tutor John Ashton), and finally on to the Veneto region of Italy on the sleeper train (I want to wake up on a moonlit night and see the Alps sliding past the window!), where we're picking up a hire car to spend a glorious 10 days in a farm house we visited two years ago, plus a few days in Venice proper to take in the Biennale.

Gosh, how awful. I apologise in advance for any delays in Tweeting or blogging. I aim to get my tiny brain around the intricacies of mobile blogging and tweeting but who knows how well I will fare, or how frequently I will have internet access? I promise to try my best, but please forgive me if I'm not as good as I could be...

When I get back it will be full steam ahead! with my Etsy shop (I hope), in time for the Christmas shopping run-up plus lots of blogging on our house building site, since Warren reckons he'll have the house to 'lock up' stage by the time I get back.

Baci baci, ci vediamo quando torni !


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