Saturday, April 19, 2014

Exploring the Sculpture Gardens

DSC05209 (1300x976)You’d never find it without in-car navigation.

The Roche Court Gallery and NewArtCentre is located half way between Bath and Poole, an open-air venue for purchasing works by many noted artists, including Richard Long, Antony Gormley, and Henry Moore.  I’ve always been fond of the juxtaposition of art and nature, and the rolling Wiltshire hills and budding trees are a wonderful setting for these varied works.

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A plaque near the main gallery reminded visitors of the soul of all art, DSC05135 (1300x956)but I have to admit that it was a particular challenge in some works.  What am I to make of Kim Lim’s sculpted block of marble, Source 1, below?

If, as another plaque reads, Each material has its own life, then the sculptor is revealing something essential about the marble.

If she intends the soft organic carvings to stand in contrast to the hardened surface, then the essence reflects the artist.

If the patterns are symbolic or evocative, then the meaning is how I interpret or experience the work.

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And I couldn’t make anything of it: what purpose did the artist have in creating it?  Naga, a segmented pathway nearby, made more sense, but only because I could project my own experience onto it.

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On reflection, the problem was in how I chose to define essence.  The book-definition is the intrinsic nature or indispensable quality of something, the properties without which it could not exist or be what it is.  That’s a bit ethereal, even for art, so I gave it a bit more thought.

  • If every created thing has a character, then essence is the crystallized memory of the event that brought it into existence.  A sculpture holds the shape that the artist envisioned.  By extension, any recognizable object also has an essence by this rule. A seashell is shaped by an animal; an ocean wave by natural forces: all retain a unique character linked to their creation.
  • Does everything have an essence?  I would say that inanimate things don’t, but I’m challenged to conclude that a footprint in the mud is qualitatively different than a Richard Long handprint.  In the end, they are both shaped by forces and both retain the memory of their creation.

footprint Richard Long

  • Is the essence intrinsic to the object, or does it depend on context, history, or the observer’s interpretation or experience of it?  Because essence is created with the object, then they must retain their own intrinsic essence independent of context.  Meaning, though, is an individual quality conferred by observation and belongs to the viewer uniquely.

It all leaves me sitting in a field scribbling ideas furiously into Evernote.  Good art is generative; it helps me to see and think in new ways about everyday things. 

And a good sculpture garden encourages insight through forms and juxtaposition.  Especially on a sunny spring day.

Friday, April 18, 2014

The next adventures begin

DSC04987 (971x1300)‘sorry, but you’re not eligible for the concession until you’re 61.  The curator smiles sweetly, handed me a guidebook, and noted that the Picasso stereographs were free anyway.  Touché. 

As good as the exhibit was, though, it wasn’t close to being the highlight of this weekend.  Neither was it the spectacular spring weather, the secluded cottage set in lush English gardens, nor even the lavish Moroccan dinner. 

All wonderful in their own right, DSC05023 (1300x931)to be sure.

But it wasn’t an adventure.

It wasn’t, for example, a balloon ride.

It was a perfect evening in Royal Victoria Park, light gusts of wind and a cloudless sky.  Three hot-air balloons were spread over the the clipped grass; the passengers were huddled around their respective pilots getting instructions.  Our guide from Bath Balloons described how we could fill the envelope, tumble into the basket, navigate over the farmlands, brace for landing.  I was only half tuned-in, pulling on heavy gloves to hold the airbag open as it filled.  It was all too cool for words (and who listens to warnings).

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The envelope pulled hard as the fans drove the air in: the pilot warned that he was going to light the burners.  The flames and heat were intense from where I stood as the whole envelope filled and started to rise.  People were directed into the basket, I made a headfirst tumble, apologizing.  There was a sway, a whoosh of flame: we were off.

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At first it’s like being in a glass elevator: the ground simply, silently drops away.  At about 500 feet, it gets vertiginous.  I’m very aware that I’m standing in a thin basket with nothing but air beneath me, and hook one arm around the padded brace. 

The city of Bath opened out beneath us.

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We ascend to 1500 feet, trailing the other two balloons.  There is no wind or sway (I suppose we are moving with the air currents).  After a few minutes confidence returns and I release the support and start to take in the views across yellow rapeseed fields and red-tiled villages. 

It is absolutely amazing.

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I can only liken it to taking a bicycle into the countryside.  it’s not just the silence and freedom of standing in open air, a thousand feet up, but also the connection to the sounds and smells drifting up from below.  The balloon drifts across the countryside at a good clip, moving up and down as the pilot adjusts the vents and burners, consulting maps and advising air traffic control.  The scenery is stunning, light and shadow, color and contrast.  Nobody says much, but just leans over the basket taking it all in.

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We all share a bottle of champagne, pose for a group photo, wave at cars and backyard sunbathers (Too low, shouts one man, caught in his underwear).  The other two balloons drop into a field near Pensford, but we’ve moved a bit south and drop low over homes in Bishop Sutton.  I start to appreciate the difficulty of getting a balloon down: a promising field is ruled out when two horses appear, another is refused because of fresh-planted crops.

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We cross Chew Valley Lake, the shoreline absolutely lovely in the sunset.  The chase vehicles have to go around the long way; we find one field after another dotted with trees and hedges, while Blagdon Lake looms ahead in the dusk.  The pilot brushes a tree, then another, advises everyone to brace for a sudden landing.  A drop, a bump, a thump, and we’re down on the shore, two glorious of flying  hours from Bath.

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DSC04862 (1300x975)Papa Bush celebrated 80 with a skydive.  Me, I celebrated 60 with a balloon ride.  ‘Really an amazing experience: many thanks, Chris, for arranging it.

And yes, an ex-flautist can still do his candles.

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Easter weekend in Somerset

DSC04894 StitchThe crowds were already gathering, people pouring down the stairs into the Bond Street Tube Station by 3 pm.  Most have a four-day weekend and were trying to get a jump on others similarly leaving London (the Evening Standard predicted that over half the people living in London would leave for the holiday break).

DSC04846I was in for investor meetings and to take advice on our organization and funding – all of the pieces seem to be falling into place.  There’s a lot of writing still to be done, and I spent the train ride south scribbling Urgent notes into my diary and notebook, prioritizing. 

Still, it’s a holiday weekend, and the British are onto something when they make firm plans for a break, an outing, and some rambles in the countryside this time of year.   I haven’t been to the rolling hills and orchards of Somerset, southwest of Bath, and friends suggested that it would make a perfect weekend this time of year.  Cottages were still available for hire, DSC04906 (1300x937)despite the number of people traveling, and the weather forecast couldn’t be better.

And, on arrival, it looks wonderful.  ‘many pictures and stories to come…

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Cambridge and south

DSC04816 (1300x975)Wolfson College has begun work to organize their spring gardens.  Tulips are replacing daffodils; flowering shrubs pressing aside bluebells.  The wisteria, my favorite, hasn’t bloomed yet but it should be glorious by the time I return.

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The 3-day span between my Dutch landing and the start of Easter break is going to be full, so I rose early this morning to walk the gardens and think a little.  It’s a nice anticipation of Easter weekend in a few days.  I’m going to take a little time away, its supposed to be fantastic weather most of the time.

Meetings in London began at 2, so I headed south on the express train at noon.  It’s a nostalgia trip: the fields were painted yellow with flowering rapeseed, familiar stations rushed past.

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London was also in full bloom, warm and busy.  I darted through the smaller streets and alleyways in the city centre, crowded with early afternoon pub-goers and office-workers on break enjoying a tapas and a people watch. I’m warming up to London, day by day: there’s a lot of rich culture up the side streets and an energy that belies the gloomy economic forecasts.

I’ve learned that I’ve been granted lifetime membership in the Turner Society,  a treat alongside the Tate membership which allows me free worldwide access to any exhibition of Turner’s works.  Call me a fanboy, but I always learn a lot from studying his canvases and drawings.  He was a very original thinker and anticipated a lot of the modern techniques that followed him.

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Meetings, then an evening train down from Waterloo (above) to Bournemouth, April sunset falling in bright yellow contrasts over the darkening rolling green countryside.  I have another set of meetings in London tomorrow, but, arriving in Poole, I discovered that the car battery had run down during my absence.  AA promises a jump before 1 am, so there’s time to review saved longform discussions in Pocket before they arrive.

The Times had an interesting op-ed discussing the nature of happiness: is it rooted in life satisfaction, feelings, or emotional well-being?  I tend towards the latter (thinking of the prior two as being, respectively, contentment and pleasure). 

They then define emotional happiness as Being in good spirits, quick to laugh and slow to anger, at peace and untroubled, confident and comfortable in your own skin, engaged, energetic and full of life.  Again, this resonates with me, but I also think that they miss the essential quality of pleasure in the specific or overall state of things.

I also think that real happiness is transient: either ennui or reality will intrude before long to reduce it.  So happiness is always a search and an attitude.  The article notes that tDSC04844 (975x1300)he antecedents are a sense of security; a good outlook; autonomy or control over our lives; good relationships; and skilled and meaningful activity.

Bouts of happiness are the single best indicator of how our lives are going, and its interesting how well that list aligns with the qualities that I’ve tried to intentionally cultivate since last summer.  Control and Choice are still controversial, but I’ve made progress otherwise.

The service truck arrived at 11:30 – it took a series of increasingly strenuous measures to revive the battery.  The culprit turned out to be laving the TomTom plugged into the cigarette lighter while I was away, I took a half hour drive into the New Forest and back to put a good charge onto the car.

DSC04845 (1150x1300)There’s a cottage booked near Bath for the holiday weekend and I’m really looking forward to a few days in the countryside to do some cooking, reading, walking, and consolidating.  So, ‘off tomorrow night to find some peace.

‘and taking my new ‘Life in the UK book’ alongside my Dutch language tutorials, for some study…