Category: Art

If these walls could talk: On the Hyson Green flats

The flats in Hyson Green were built with a huge amount of optimism – and yet somewhere along the line, they became unfit for purpose and were brought to the ground with little remorse from the authorities.

The rabbit warren-like complex, which was where Asda now stands, has been the subject of a local history project called On the Flats (see my earlier post) which is currently being shown as an exhibition at Nottingham’s Brewhouse Yard.

These post-War flats were assembled using a Bison frame structure. Vast sheets of concrete meant they were built quickly to house the growing population. Bombed-out streets and dilapidated houses were cleared to make way for affordable, modern flats, just like the ones people in continental Europe had been living in for decades.

The complex included balconies, courtyards and walkways and for many of the residents – who had lived in slum housing with outdoor toilets and tin baths – they were the height of modernity.

But the flats, along with countless others across the UK, did not live up to  expectations. Planned communities and social housing soon meant neglected ghettos; as one former resident of the flats points out, there were no projects or business opportunities that could have made the community more sustainable.

By the time they were demolished in 1988, they had a reputation for temperamental heating, damp and rubbish piling up which led to infestations of rats and insects.

This exhibition also sheds light on some of the broader social issues of the time. Poverty and racial tension proved a catalyst for the violence that erupted in 1981. One of the inhabitants remembers seeing a mum with a young baby tearing off pieces of her skirt and handing them over to a man who used the fabric to make petrol bombs.

But the flats were also known for their strong community spirit which continues to thrive in Hyson Green today. Residents host blues parties when you could wander along the balconies and turn up at any number of gatherings.

Strong bonds formed between neighbours but many people lost touch when the flats were finally pulled down. The On the Flats project has been a great opportunity for them to catch up with old friends, as well as giving us a unique insight into a part of our recent social history.

The exhibition runs until 15th January.

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Desolation Row: Lowry’s exploration of modern anxiety at Djanogly Art Gallery

L. S. Lowry said that the Great Depression passed him by. It might seem like an unusual statement given that, like George Orwell in The Road to Wigan Pier, he depicted the unemployed and the over-worked in the north of England. But unlike Orwell, he was not politically or ideologically motivated. Instead, his figures become part of the industrial wastelands alongside the derelict buildings, abandoned boats and thick, black smog.

Earlier this month, a wonderfully curated exhibition of Lowry’s work opened at Nottingham’s Djanogly Art Gallery. Here his Lancashire mill scenes sit alongside some of his lesser known rural landscapes which became increasingly stark and devoid of detail.

Although his images are steeped in the everyday there is also something unsettling about them. Like T. S. Eliot in The Wasteland and James Joyce in Ulysses, Lowry does not subscribe to a straightforward social realism but instead explores the existential anxiety of modern life. Personal identity is lost in the crushing machine of industrialisation; people are forced to work long hours and they become disconnected from their families and themselves, as shown in the family scene of Discord (1943).

Lowry painted a number of startling portraits, including Head of a Man (1938), Boy in a Yellow Jacket (1935) and The Manchester Man (1935-6). The red, staring eyes, hollow expressions and skin ravaged by harsh weather, factory chemicals and poor diet reveal the soul-sapping nature of the industrial age and force us to confront the human cost of modernity head on. Contrast these pictures with the pencil sketches A Meeting (1923) and Speculators (1924) which depict middle class professionals sitting in their comfortable offices smoking, drinking coffee and using their minds rather than being physically exhausted by the drudgery of hard labour.

He also produced a number of desolate landscapes, both urban and rural. Some, such as Wasteland (1935), show the spoils of industrialisation at a time when Lancashire’s cotton industry was in decline and these too echo Eliot’s poem. Many resemble a battlefield from the First World War, perhaps anticipating that another war was not far off. The figures of his earlier paintings are notably absent and the once-thriving mills are abandoned although thick, putrid smoke continues to belch out of the chimneys in the distance indicating a legacy of destruction.

Even more stark are Lowry’s paintings of the lakes, seashores and rural landscapes of Derbyshire, the Yorkshire Moors and the Lake District which are largely free of human activity and the antithesis of the pastoral idyll. As in the city, there is nothing comforting here; the land is oddly life-less, almost lunar and detached from any real sense of location, hinting at perplexing metaphysical questions about time.

The exhibition continues at Djanogly Art Gallery, Lakeside Arts Centre (University of Nottingham campus) until 5th February. Entry is free.

 

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Relive your memories of Hyson Green flats at Museum of Nottingham Life at Brewhouse Yard

The Hyson Green flats did not last long but during their brief lifetime, they become something of an urban landmark in the city and home to a thriving community. Built in 1965, the complex included 593 individual flats and maisonettes and its distinctive modernist design meant that it stood out in an area that is largely made up of Victorian terraces.

The flats were demolished in 1988 to make way for Asda but many former residents look back on their time there with great fondness.

There will be an opportunity to discover more about life in the Hyson Green flats at a new exhibition which opens at Museum of Nottingham Life at Brewhouse Yard on Saturday.

On the Flats is a local history project run by the Partnership Council, a charity working in Hyson Green. More than 40 volunteers have spoken to ex-residents to find out more about their memories of the flats and the exhibition also includes a film with interviews and archive footage such as old television news clips of events surrounding the flats.

Residents have contributed a host of items to the exhibition, for example a slab of concrete and a street sign which were salvaged when the flats were demolished. The exhibition also details the role the flats played in the Nottingham riots in 1981, as well as the impromptu blues parties that were held.

The exhibition runs until 15th January.

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Klaus Weber: Suspended animation at Nottingham Contemporary

This weekend sees the launch of a new exhibition by German artist Klaus Weber at Nottingham Contemporary.

Born in Sigmaringen and now working in Berlin, Weber’s work explores our ideas about what is natural and what happens when this is disrupted. The new exhibition includes a life-sized moving figure of a man running off the roof, a sun mirror, artificial rain and a tornado made from a hoover. At this show, entitled If You Leave Me I’m not Coming, you will not be looking at paintings on a wall but sculptures occupying all the space in the gallery – and I mean all the space. For example, the cartoon-like ‘running man’ will launch himself from the gallery roof and be suspended in mid air. The sculpture has a motor in its chest which drives the pistons to make the man’s legs move.

There is also a giant wind chime, measuring four-and-a-half metres. It will be tuned to the ‘tritonic’ scale, which was banned during the Middle Ages because it was believed to summon the devil. Meanwhile, Weber’s ‘bee paintings’ have been created by bees themselves; during their first cleansing flight of the year they excrete on white surfaces, in this case on canvases.

Alongside Weber’s solo exhibition, there is a second exhibition at curated by the artist himself. The show, entitled Already There, is a collection of 200 objects and art works loaned from collections at Tate, the Science Museum, The Ashmolean, University College London and the Bode Museum in Berlin.

Describing the objects as the ‘foundations’ of his art works, they include tools used by pre-historic man; Bronze Age animal sculptures; a bird cage from a lunatic asylum; an armadillo skeleton; brain coral and Regency anatomical models complete with lift-out organs. The objects will be displayed alongside loans from Tate, chosen by Weber, dating back to 1661 and some of the artists include Louise Bourgeois, William Hogarth and Gilbert and George.

The new exhibition opens on Saturday and run until 8th January. Entry to Nottingham Contemporary is free.

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A new perspective at Lakeside’s Djanogly Art Gallery: There’s more to Lowry than pictures of matchstick men

Salford’s MediaCity is the new home of the BBC and, with its futuristic glass buildings and sleek architectural design, it is a world away from the industrial landscapes depicted by L. S. Lowry.

The towering factory chimneys have now been replaced by huge office buildings, miserable-looking people have been replaced by creative types and the city is lit up rather than bathed in a stagnant smog.

Lowry’s world is preserved at the excellent Lowry Arts Centre at Salford Quays and public interest in his work has not diminished over the years; his depictions of communities and places of work hark back to Britain’s industrial past, which for better or worse, is fast becoming a distant memory.

This autumn, Djanogly Art Gallery at Lakeside Arts Centre will be hosting a new exhibition of Lowry’s work, from the industrial landscapes of the 1920s to some of his lesser known works when he became interested in representations of figure groups and individual figure painting. Known for his representation of concrete subject matters, this exhibition, which opens on 16th November, is also an exploration of the abstract.

The 1930s proved to be a dark time for Lowry: he had lost both of his parents and was experiencing a growing sense of isolation. It led to him producing an extraordinary series of paintings which also reflect the sense of national foreboding about the impending war. In contrast to the busy street scenes of his earlier paintings, the ones from this era contain scenes of empty, industrial wastelands and portraits of blank, ravaged faces.

By the time the war ended, Lowry was no longer required to look after his invalid mother and began travelling around the UK. The result was pictures of the wild landscapes of the Lake District, Yorkshire Moors and Derbyshire, along with a series of sea paintings. Alongside the impressive paintings, this collection also includes a number of pencil drawings, from rudimentary sketches on the back of an old envelope to sophisticated drafts for his paintings.

Entry to Djanogly Art Gallery at Lakeside Arts Centre, University of Nottingham runs until 5th February. Entry is free.

 

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Tributes to Jean Genet at Nottingham Contemporary

As a teenager, the rebellious Jean Genet was one of my favourite writers. The son of a prostitute, he grew up in poverty and ended up in jail for petty crimes. He turned to writing while in prison – and later became the darling of the French art world and the toast of well-known figures such as Jean Cocteau, Picasso and Jean-Paul Sartre.

But it is Genet’s association with social and political activism in the 1950s and 1960s that was the dominant theme at Nottingham Contemporary‘s new exhibition Act One & Two which opened on Friday. The break down of the exhibition into two acts was extremely effective. Act One is a solo exhibition by Marc Camille Chaimowicz (featuring five other artists) – and here we see an exploration of the personal realm. There are rooms strewn with personal objects and naked bodies which stand vulnerable yet defiant.

Act Two examines the political life of Genet, particularly his association with the Black Panther movement in America and his campaigns against colonialism. The pairing of the personal and the political is an apt reflection of Genet’s life. He was punished for something personal (his sexuality) – but the struggles he faced and the norms that he subverted in his literature came to represent the struggles faced by many other groups during this era and came at a time when the civil rights and the feminist movements were taking off.

This exhibition was launched alongside the Contemporary’s Summer Party which was a great night of music, dancing and drinks on the terrace.

This Thursday, I am also looking forward to a talk by art historian Sarah Wilson entitled Genet: From the Existential to the Post Colonial. For tickets, click here.

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Landscape of dreams and madness in Woyzeck at Nottingham Playhouse

Before the curtain had risen at last night’s performance of Georg Buchner’s unfinished work Woyzeck at Nottingham Playhouse, we were greeted by a long-haired, demonic-looking narrator, resembling a circus entertainer who set the tone for what was to come.

Performed by members of the Deutches Theater Berlin and directed by Jorinde Drose, it is a tale of poverty, the class system, adultery, jealousy and murder played out in a surreal, almost post-apocalyptic landscape. The play has a strange, dream-like atmosphere which makes it difficult to set it in any particular time or place. There are references to Russian Cossacks and Groschen (pennies), suggesting the action may be taking place in the 19th Century somewhere in central or eastern Europe – but the characters who inhabit this world, such as the Doctor and the Army Captain, are both abstract and absurd.

And yet this is a touchingly human play. It tells the tale of a poor soldier, Woyzeck who has to support his wife Marie and their child so he works for the Army Captain and lends his body to medical science to make enough money. But when Marie betrays him by having an affair with the dashing Drum Major, he descends into madness and finally murders her for what she has done.

The fact too that this play is performed in German – with its more concrete words – emphasises the physicality of relationships and the ways in which mental turmoil can be played out by real actions such as drunkenness and murder. In one memorable scene, the Drum Major – played by the comical and wildly brilliant Christoph Franken – drinks copious amounts of schnapps, pours it straight into a heartbroken Woyzeck’s mouth and throws it across the stage, giving the impression of each of the characters’ anguish spilling out uncontrollably.

The world of bar room brawls and lost love, is perfectly evoked by the songs of Tom Waits which sound track the play. Performed by the fantastic band, some of the pieces of music hang heavy with a sense of longing, while the experimental doodling jazz of others capture the characters’ unravelling mental states.

The play, with its echoes of Hamlet, Arthur Schnitzler’s Lieutnant Gustl and Werner Herzog’s 1979 film version of Woyzeck where the wild-eyed Klaus Klinski plays the part of lead character, is one of the best productions I have seen for a long time. It is what theatre should be – experimental, passionate and above all, not stuffy. Go and see it if you can.

Woyzeck was performed as part of the first ever NEAT11 (Nottingham European Arts Festival).

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Playful pictures: Cyril Blazo at The Moravian Gallery, Brno

cyrilI have just returned from the the Czech Republic’s second city Brno  – a beautiful, historic place where the streets are lined with grand central European buildings, theatres and churches and where the beer is as cheap as water. But unlike the country’s big sister Prague, there is not a stag do in sight and the warm Moravian climate brings a relaxed quality to the city as people while away the hours in one of the many pavement cafes and breweries.

One of the highlights of my trip was a visit to the Moravian Gallery (Moravska Galerie) with an exhibition by Czech artist Cyril Blazo. His collages look deceptively simple, even child-like. He takes pictures from magazines, newspapers and even colouring books and cuts out a shape in the picture. He then turns it over to place the picture on the reverse side onto the first picture creating humorous juxtapositions. Some of these work better than others. Some are simply playful while others make an implicit comment on the fact that we live in a world where we are surrounded by 2D images which can be deconstructed.

The Moravian Gallery itself is excellent. There are some outstanding works by early 20th Century Czech artists particularly from the expressionist and cubist movements. The mood of some of these paintings seems much darker than those produced by western European artists at this time and it was a good opportunity to see something not normally shown in the UK.

Other treats for art lovers in Brno include the beautifully painted Centre for Experimental Theatre and Cafe Falkwhich puts on live music and films in its basement. And not only does it do fantastic (and very cheap) coffee cocktails, it has some lovely vintage furniture and a really bohemian – sorry ‘Moravian’ – vibe.

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From the age of elegance . . . a glimpse into the Abraham Textilarchiv in Zurich

I was lucky enough to catch the last few days of the Soie Pirate exhibition at Zurich’s Landesmuseum,  a collection of pieces from the Abraham Textile Archive.

Throughout the softly-lit rooms there were some wonderful examples of colourful fabric patterns and swatches from the Zurich textile firm Abraham.

The opulent fabrics and timeless designs, most of which date back to the latter part of the 20th Century, perfectly evoked the elegance of the post-War era. The exhibition also draws together various aspects of the textile industry such as the craft of creating fabrics – shown by the printing table – as well as the firm’s links to the fashion world.

And forhigh-end vintage fashion lovers, there were some excellent examples of dresses by Yves Saint Laurent, Givenchy and many more using Abraham fabrics.

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The Sochi Project

Another highlight of my trip to the Berlinische Gallerie is a piece of photo journalism entitled The Sochi Project. The brainchild of photographer Rob Hornstra and writer and film maker Arnold van Bruggen, this project documents life in a small town in Russia, not far from Georgia and the troubled region of Chechnya. The town is called Sochi and in 2014, it will play host to one of the world’s most high-profile events: The Olympic Games.

The Sochi Project is a fascinating insight into what life is like for the town’s citizens before it is completely changed by the Olympics and its associated infrastructure. This is a town that in some ways has not changed for centuries. Many of its inhabitants face severe poverty but it is also a place where religion and traditions play a huge role in the life of its communities.

Perhaps what makes this project so interesting is that we do not know what will happen to the people of Sochi. The Olympic Games may regenerate the area and bring prosperity and opportunity to the town’s citizens. On the other hand, the rapid rate of non-organic growth may leave a few richer, but the majority no better off and communities ripped apart. It is certainly one to watch.

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