Sunday, 26 April 2009

Constructivist criticism

To the Tate Modern, across the Millennium Bridge on a bright and windy Saturday. This time, we went to see the current Russian Constructivist exhibition on Alexandr Rodchenko and Liubov Popova.

Not really my area of expertise, but according to good ole Wikipedia, constructivism is "an artistic and architectural movement that originated in Russia from 1919 onward which rejected the idea of "art for art's sake" in favour of art as a practice directed towards social purposes." Love you, Wikipedia...

The show neatly illustrated Rodchenko and Popova's growth in maturity and development of their theory by charting the move from the figurative to the abstract as the clash of the opposing ideas of "Composition" and "Construction".

Composition is:
  • Personal taste
  • Subjective
  • Art made by hand
  • Figurative
  • Symbolic
and inherently bourgeois.

Construction is:
  • Collective
  • Non-unique
  • Mechanised
  • Non-decorative and non-representational
  • Abstract
and so is an expression of Communist principles.

Constructivist art does away with subtleties of the brush, the unnecessary and the personal, in favour of bold graphics and geometric shapes created with ruler, compass, collage.

Most fascinating were the post-New Economic Policy graphic designs, a strange combination of consumer ads for state-produced goods and slogan propaganda aimed at the illiterate.

Also, Popova's fabrics, designed for mass-production and for the workers, were very beautiful: she said of them, "no single artistic success gave me such profound satisfaction as the sight of a peasant woman buying a piece of my fabric for a dress".

Quite something!

Wednesday, 22 April 2009

Better than therapy?

To Make Lounge in Highbury last night for the bookbinding workshop: it was excellent fun. 10 or so crafters sitting around a wide wooden table stitching, folding and gluing for dear life. My effort was perhaps not the best hand-bound book in the world but, hey, as they say at the end of The Simpsons titles, "I made this".

I gained a new skill (not sure if I'll be able to replicate it!) and spent a pleasant evening in the company of like-minded people in a pretty and creative setting - highly recommended.

Interestingly, bookbinding class was 100% female but there was also a crochet class last night with guys in it - although they left halfway through to go to the pub and watch footy!

The word 'therapeutic' came up several times throughout the evening: if therapy was the cure-all salve of the late nineties and early noughties, is make-do-and-mend (crafting, growing your own and the like) the cure for the eco- and econo-stricken late noughties?

Just a thought!

Sunday, 19 April 2009

Women of the world, to the Presses!

A colleague, Steve, who is something of a technical expert in the world of printing and a 'history of print' buff, put this photo on my desk the other day with an accompanying note which read "Women in the composing room, whatever next?"

A bit of background followed, explaining that at the time - around 1860 - women were not employed in printing presses. One social reformer, Emily Faithfull, who was part of the Langham Place Group and dedicated to campaigning for education, employment and suffrage for women, however, believed that composing was a suitable skill for women to learn to enable them to gain respectable occupation.

She then set up a printing works called the Victoria Press, where women were employed as compositors. There was some backlash from the (all-male) print unions, with sabotage and tricks played, but the press went on to great success.

I like to think that we're part of this legacy, although the picture has changed dramatically, and that were here thanks - in part - to Emily Faithfull's vision of skills and training as the solution to bringing women out of the domestic sphere and into the more politically significant world of work.

Read more about Emily Faithfull here.

Interestingly, she died and was cremated in Chorlton-cum-Hardy - I wonder her ashes lie in Southern Cemetery!

Vintage heaven

We ventured out of our comfort zone today in pursuit of tie pins and fifties sundresses - we travelled extreme west to the satisfyingly solid 1930s Hammersmith Town Hall on a pilgrimage to visit the London Vintage Fashion Fair.

Truly vintage heaven this, a cornucopia of of textiles, colours and textures. Beaded bags, silk ties, feathered hats, lace and ribbons and buttons, worn leather Gladstone bags. Everything from ostrich feather fans to heavy beaded flapper dresses to bold fifties prints to seventies polychrome polyester.

I tried on a lilac polka dot forties pinafore and a cornflower print fifties sundress, and lovingly trailed my fingers through trays and trays of bead necklaces and diamante brooches.

We moved on to Chiswick High Street to check out the Old Cinema antiques shop and ate our hearts out over beautiful, mint condition mid-century moderns pieces that we'll never be able to afford: the lead 'if-we-had-the-money' buys? A brick red fifties three piece suite and a haberdasher's chest, full of tiny drawers.

We can but dream ...

Saturday, 11 April 2009

Great Loves Part 2 - Katherine Mansfield

Courtesy of the Penguin Great Loves box set, I am rediscovering my love affair with Katherine Mansfield.

Poignant cinematic stories of gaining love and losing love, rising to a crescendo where the protagonists experience short-lived epiphanies of self-realisation but fail to recognise or translate this into the necessary impetus for transcendence.

My favourite: 'Bliss' (warning: plot spoiler here), for it's emotional evocativeness and the beautiful trope of the pear tree in the moonlight, echoing Bertha's discovery of the deception at the heart of her marriage. Surprised no one's made an art house film of it.

Friday, 10 April 2009

Great earthworks

The raised bed project continues apace ...

The beds are complete, earthworks of great proportions in the sunniest spot. Masses of earth has been painstakingly sifted for hardcore - how on earth do they make these urban green spaces so full of stones, bricks and shards of glass? And litres and litres of compost and manure (double) dug in. Full credit to the Boy for slaving at this enterprise for the past few weeks...

Sown so far, as seeds into the newly rich soil, are the mixed lettuce, spinach, chicory and rocket:

Next, housed in a dinky little bespoke greenhouse, squash and courgette:

Every day, we go out and eagerly open up to inspect progress: so much more exciting than ever anticipated!

Wednesday, 1 April 2009


What a crazy day. Momentous events unfolding bang in the middle of my daily commute.

Watching the BBC News unfold throughout the day - largely to determine how on earth to get home when all roads lead to Liverpool Street - began to take on a rather bizarre air. Pictures of Obama descending from Air Force One at Stansted, as if off an EasyJet flight from Ayia Napa, contrasted with protesters throwing bricks at the RBS HQ; symbolic puppets representing the 'Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse' marching across London Bridge, while bankers-in-disguise looking ill-at-ease in their civvy clothes try to mingle with the crowds; Sarko threatening to storm out of G20, which is taking place in Canning Town. All very odd.

Strange to think, as I sat at my desk in sunny Bermondsey, that pitched battles were being fought in the streets less than one and a half miles away. Helicopters in the sky were the only visible sign.

As I write, I hear that demonstrators in the Climate Camp in Bishopgate are settling in their tent city for the night, while Jamie Oliver prepares Welsh lamb and Jersey new potatoes for assorted dignitaries and assembled British talent. Now there's a beautiful contradiction.

BBC 'live text' news feed is here, an interesting live narrative composed of blogging, texting, tweeting from serious reporters and 'citizen journos'.


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