30 November 2013

Drawing at the British Museum

The morning found the two of us in the Islamic galleries, which have wonderful objects. I sat down almost at random and found myself in front of these two dishes with birds -
They're from Iran, 15th and 16th century. Drawing painted pottery can be frustrating - the application of the paint to the shape of the dish is very different from using a pencil on a flat piece of paper. 

What to draw next ... those wonderful glass bottles? No, another bird - this harpy (bird-human hybrid) -
I just couldn't get the proportions right - but it's an intriguing object, different from the harpy tomb in the Greek section of the museum. It's from 19th century Qajar Iran, as is the mace behind it, with its horned human head - it might have been used in dervish processions.
The damascened decoration was much more obvious on this - the harpy had very faint traces of inlaid-metal patterns, and on the head the patterns look like all-over tattooing.

Nearby, these inscriptions on basalt from 15th century Bengal, in a type of script called tughra'i, an elegant version of thuluth script -
But instead of drawing these we went to lunch. 

On return, a look at the Mostyn Tompion clock, on display near the entrance, make in 1689 for the coronation of William II (he of William and Mary). It needs winding just once a year, and this panel explains why -
Extra wheels, massive springs, and tiny escarpment are the secrets. It strikes the hour, 1 to 12, an impressive 56,940 times on one annual winding.

It was the house-like structure of the clock that caught my eye (a house that runs like clockwork?) and in the clock gallery were other clock housings -

All are from the mid-1500s. But when it came to drawing, we gave the clocks a miss and settled for "simpler" objects, in my case some of the gold boxes in this collection, given to the museum by Peter Wilding -
See them more closely here; they are exquisitely, beautifully made. Wilding (1907-1969), who contributed to the design of the boxes and supplied some of the gemstones used, commissioned them to show that fine workmanship wasn't something that just Fabergé could do.

Wonderful to learn about them, less wonderful to draw them - except that the attempt to draw does make you look closely. I would very much rather be drawing a handmade object, however rough.

For me, the day didn't yield a satisfying collection of objects/drawing, but reflecting on the reason for my dissatisfaction did suggest a way forward. I had been using various drawing materials (pencil, pen, lumograph), all in my usual book ... and was unsure which pencil etc would be "right" for the different objects. So next time I'll focus on trying different papers with different pencils and pens, and draw the same type of objects - perhaps those glass bottles in the Islamic gallery, with their wonderful shapes ... or the clock housings....

29 November 2013

Metro signs

Take the picture quiz - how many world metro signs do you recognise? 2/10 in my case, haven't travelled much... but I have travelled on this one
in December 1995, in the company of a group of schoolgirls, as part of a tour of the city, in temperatures of -20C. A journey on the Metro wasn't part of the plan, but became necessary, possibly because of a problem with the tour bus. Our guide looked worried, but led us bravely on.
In the booth at the foot of the escalator was a solid woman who hurried people off
the escalator, which went so fast that her job might actually have been to stop them falling (via)
Chandeliers everywhere! The journey involved a change of line, which let us see more of the fabulous architecture and murals - and it was surprising to see how big the tunnels were, with the interchange being on bridges within them.
Spacious platforms - but full of people at rush hour (via)
Many of the rush hour commuters carried big bags. It was one of these - a determined woman with two enormous stripey plastic bags (we surmised these contained everything from her market stall) - who swept three of the girls and me into the carriage, pressing us against the further doors as the carriage filled up. With some consternation I realised the rest of the group was in a different carriage, and that it was up to me to get the girls out at the right stop. Fortunately I knew the name of the stop, but would it be physically possible to squeeze everyone out past those swaddled Russian bodies?

The carriage seemed to be getting fulller and fuller, but our destination, the hotel, was some way out of the centre, and it was a great relief when the woman with the sweeps-all-before-them bags got off before too long. It was an even greater relief to get those girls out of the carriage and reunited with the rest of the group!
Panoramic photo by Bee Flowers (via)
Some photos and facts of the wonderfully-ornate stations are here. A platform 250 metres long, amazing - and that's not the longest one in the system! The first line was opened in 1935, and it serves 9 million passengers a day. One of the stations has an escalator 80 metres (about 250 feet) long.

28 November 2013

Poetry Thursday - Poem for someone who is juggling her life, by Rose Cook


This is a poem for someone
who is juggling her life.
Be still sometimes.
Be still sometimes.

It needs repeating
over and over
to catch her attention
over and over
because someone juggling her life
finds it difficult to hear.

Be still sometimes.
Be still sometimes.
Let it all fall sometimes.

-Rose Cook

Found on the artpropelled blog, traced back to Calm Things (where I also found a link to Mary Ruefle reading her "28 Short Lectures" - watch them here; they start with "Why all our literary pursuits are useless" - and I commend to you the one on Shakespeare.) 

An analysis of Rose Cook's poem is here, and the book it comes from, "Notes from a Bright Field", is available here.

Rose Cook (www.rosecook.wordpress.com) lives in south-west England. She is one of the Apples & Snakes poets and has performed and presented her work in many places in the UK, including the Soho Theatre in London, the Bristol Poetry Festival and the North Devon Festival. Her work has been published in various magazines and collections, including her own collections In 2009, HappenStance published Rose’s collection Everyday Festival (2009), Taking Flight (2009), and Notes from a Bright Field (2013). She has run writing workshops with older people and offers poems for reading aloud at the Totnes Memory Cafe. She is also a photographer and has worked as a teacher, oral historian, Person Centred Therapist and supervisor. 

Needle code

It is a truth only lately realised, that a sewer/sewist in possession of a vast array of sewing-machine needles ought easily to be able to distinguish one type and size from another. At last, one manufacturer has sought to address this neglected issue. Clever, isn't it? (Get your own copy here.)

Clever on the part of the manufacturer in another way too: Now, not having needles of each type and size will demonstrate a certain lack of commitment to the art of sewing; a true master of the craft needs to be able to use the "proper" needle at all times!

27 November 2013

Production line

The week's six sewing kits are all cut out and ready to sew at once. They have migrated from the cutting-decisions area to the supplementary work surface near the machine, which is near enough to lay things on when sewing, but still requires standing up to use the iron. (It's not good to sit too long at a stretch.)

Unfortunately, when many complex items are being made at once, it's easy to get confused about what goes where -
Here's a semblance of order, ready for further steps tomorrow -
In a few hours, what looks like an unruly mess can be transformed into something beautiful and useful - that's what I like about sewing, and other forms of creating ... but oh the many steps and actions and decisions between one and the other!

A two-talk day

Dryden Goodwin at lunchtime, one of the UCL lunch hour lectures, when faculty give an update on their research. The lectures are available to watch online, either live (Tuesdays and Thursdays at 1.15 during term time) or archived - an amazing resource!
In the evening, Ruth Corney talking about "Swimming on the Heath" at Camden Local History Centre; she's been taking photos of swimmers on Hampstead Heath for some years and now they are part of a book written by Caitlin Davies, "Taking the Waters: A Swim around Hampstead Heath". The photos of swimmers in the snow are ... chilling ...
In between - five hours with nothing planned, and nothing I particularly needed to do. A strange sort of limbo.

First method of killing tim - poking around in a bookshop - this bit of the wishlist is from the natural history (general) section -
Then to the British Museum; the sketchbook was in my bag, but I was disinclined to settle down to an afternoon of drawing ... not sure what I'm looking to draw ... but wandering from gallery to gallery was instructive.
Percival David collection of Chinese ceramics
Love that copper glaze! The deep dish was made about 1430.
Instead of labels, info is on screens
Elsewhere, Roman surgical instruments
Hot chocolate at London Review Cake Shop (with barely a glance into its associated bookshop) - time for a little drawing -
and logging a "his and hers" conversation - the small jagged bits are her encouraging "mm"s -
Nearby is the "sophisticated hub" of Lamb's Conduit Street, with some tempting shops, including Persephone Books -
After that, to the library to read at random until it was time for the talk. I picked up "Cognitive Surplus: Creativity and Generosity in a Connected Age" by Clay Shirky, which questions what we do with our "free" time, and what can be achieved when we turn off the television. He defines habits as "accumulated accidents" - it makes you think about how behaviours turn into habits. Also I like what he says about surprises: "a surprise is having new information that violates our previously held assumptions."

26 November 2013

Not your usual quilt

MRSA Quilt (via)
Anna Dumitriu's "MRSA Quilt" is coloured with rather unusual dyestuffs - the blue colour is made by MRSA bacteria.
"The quilt squares are made using natural and clinical antibiotics on chromogenic (pigment-generating) agar in which the fabric has been embedded and inoculating the squares with bacteria, creating patterns that reflect the interaction between bacteria and antibiotics. The quilts are embroidered with thread dyed with saffron as well as with the antibiotic Vancomycin" says this write-up, which includes a video of the artist talking about her work.

The project's website adds this information: "There is huge gap between the public’s understanding of the issue of hospital acquired pathogens or ‘superbugs’ as the press describe them. MRSA is a mutated form of Staphylococcus aureus, which is part of our normal bacterial flora and thought to be carried by around 25% of the population (this figure could potentially be much higher as it may simply be that our testing methods are flawed). MRSA has acquired genes which mean that it can withstand treatment with methicillin-based antibiotics. However, vancomycin is usually still effective. MRSA is not only acquired from hospitals, there is also community acquired MRSA. In hospitals patients are more susceptible to infections if they are immune compromised or have operation wounds, hence the risk of MRSA there. Patients are routinely tested. However, transmission vectors (how the bug moves from person to person) are not properly understood and the Modernising Medical Microbiology Project is now using whole genome mapping of bacteria to try to understand far more about this important factor."
Dumitriu's other "lab work" includes a project on tuberculosis, the world's largest infectious killer. "Where there's dust there's danger," as the saying goes - so she used dusty felting wool to make little lungs, which were then embedded in the medium used to grow the tuberculosis bacteria. After a month of having bacteria growing in them, the little woolly lungs were sterilised before being exhibited, so there is no risk of infection from them, just a "memory" of being contaminated. They'll be shown in early 2014 at Watermans in Brentford - look under "The Romantic Disease" on her website, normalflora.co.uk.
She says the objects she has created can be used for storytelling, to engage the public and communicate issues connected with the diseases and their clinical and cultural importance. The lungs and the quilt that she has made reveal - or rather, allow people to get interested in - things they've never thought about till being confronted with, and hopefully intrigued by, these strange objects.

Dimitriu is artist-in-residence on the UK Clinical Research Consortium Project “Modernising Medical Microbiology” at the University of Oxford; this sort of mix of art and science has been going on for a while but still astonishes - or horrifies - a lot of people (especially those who see no "need" for art and think that science is totally objective).

It's been said elsewhere that this sort of work isn't art and it's "a total waste of resources". It would be interesting to know how a residency in a clinical research programme is funded, and what sort of public engagement or other outreach, eg interaction with staff, is expected of the artist. 

25 November 2013

Monday miscellany

Freak October Snowstorm by Judy Ross (from the SAQA e-newsletter)
showing as part of Local Colour 
"Just 90 companies caused two-thirds of global warming emissions"  - that's the headline to this story. Which might make you think that individual effort - you and me recycling and turning off the light when we're out of the room - is useless. Our time might be better spent in some sort of targeted collective action ... picketing or protest march, anyone?
Using cabbage cores for printing wrapping paper - it just needs some
snowflakes or a few stars and hey presto, seasonal forest scene
ununtrium - temporary name for element no.113, recently discovered - or rather, created - by two research teams, a Russian-American collaboration and in Japan. It doesn't exist in the wild and is extremely unstable and radioactive. (Do we really need more such elements??)
Trying to get some sourdough starter going
Should Grayson Perry be called a "national treasure"? His Reith Lectures seem to have transformed him from controversial artist to ... well, you decide what - one line of thought is here.

Take your mind off such petty problems by watching one of the top 10 animated movies, as chosen by The Guardian - a list is here (I've seen none of them, but have enjoyed many unknown short animations).

24 November 2013

Automated traffic on your blog (scary!)

This quote comes from the useful Spamspoiler blog, and highlights something that all bloggers should be aware of --

"If you have a blog and check to see where the traffic to your blog originates, you may notice traffic from websites called Vampirestat.com, Adsensewatchdog.com, Villainstat.com, Uglystat.com and/or Zombiestat.com. First off, don't click on them to find out why they are sending you traffic.

Neither Adsensewatchdog, nor any of these others have anything whatsoever to do with Google or Google AdSense and are essentially spam sites that use automated traffic to blogs to attract clicks to their own sites from blog owners such as you. Once you're at their site, at a minimum, you'll be fed ads. At worst, you might fall victim to malevolent code that seeks to infect your computer with who knows what (although I haven't verified that these particular sites are seeking to plant anything on your machine).

Stay away. "
"Domain secrets revealed!" - hmmm....
A couple of other I see a lot on my stats are 7secrets.com and searchconduit.com. Both of these seem to be "domain information" sites. Look up the latter and you will find lots of info on how to remove the virus it inserts if you have clicked on the link on your blog stats.

(I heard about it here.)

23 November 2013

A week of intermittent sewing

Only just managed to reach my target of six sewing kits -
Some good pieces of wool for the pages of the needlebooks have surfaced, but I haven't been able to start using them; those started last week are finished, though -
As they are made from printed fabric sample swatches, these books are quite small, 6cm high - to fit nicely into a pocket of the sewing kit. I'm also making a larger size (from larger swatches), 9cm high. The inside of the cover is usually silk or linen.

Mountains of pannetone

at Wholefoods, Kensington High St
Waitrose, Finchley Road
This time of year, mountains of pannetone appear in the shops. Ah, those temptingly beautiful boxes - and the useful carrying handle - and lovely stuff inside...

Open the box and out tumbles a tall, round loaf - small in relation to all the space available in the box!

Tastes great, but try to put what's left back in the box though and you quickly discover just how useless that lovely box actually is...

At least it's recyclable. Rescue that lovely bit of ribbon though, with its plastic ends, a sort of leisure-time treasury tag - surely it has dozens of uses?

My slight irritation with what is actually a delicious and seasonal thing to eat has prompted me to find out more about it. Pannetone came from Milan and is one of the symbols of that city; large-scale production started about 1920. It's now eaten in many countries and is linked to Christmas and the idea of king cake. It has been hailed as " the king of the Italian Christmas dinner but also one of the most counterfeited Italian desserts around the world."

I'm not about to try making my own, even though this recipe requires only one rising, and this recipe promises not to have an "over-aerated texture":  "It is made during a long process that involves the curing of the dough, which is acidic, similar to sourdough. The proofing process alone takes several days, giving the cake its distinctive fluffy characteristics. It contains candied orange, citron, and lemon zest, as well as raisins, which are added dry and not soaked. Many other variations are available such as plain or with chocolate." 

That summary comes from wikipedia, which also has some serving suggestions: "It is served in slices, vertically cut, accompanied with sweet hot beverages or a sweet wine, such as Asti or Moscato d'Asti. In some regions of Italy, it is served with crema di mascarpone, a cream made from mascarpone, eggs, sometimes dried or candied fruits, and typically a sweet liqueur such as amaretto; if mascarpone cheese is unavailable, zabaione is sometimes used as a substitute." Or, use any leftovers to make a posh bread-and-butter pudding.
No wonder there are mountains of pannetone in the shops - Italian bakers produce 117 million pannetone and pandoro cakes every year! Italians eat about 40 million of them. New technologies provide a shelf-life of five months, but even so, seasonal workers are needed. Italian companies producing "real" pannetone are Alemagna, Bauli, Flamingi, Maina, Motta, Perugina, Le Tre Marie, and Valentino.

The "tall, leavened fruitcake" has its predecessor in Roman times and has appeared (probably as a very much flatter cake) in art throughout the centuries, for instance in a 16th century painting by Pieter Breughel the Elder - possibly one of these -
Why the distinctive box? In Brazil at least, people have  "a curious habit of touching the products to see if they are really fluffy. And to protect those cakes, made with so much care, Bauducco designed the first box packaging" - that was 1965; the company now produces 60 million pannetone a year; it has 70% of the market in Brazil and exports to 50 countries. Their ovens are 54 metres long, and the process takes 48 hours from start to packaging.

The history of the box design eludes me (did the Italian companies borrow it from Brazil??), but in the search, these Pantone-chip pannetone boxes appeared -

22 November 2013

A watery theme

"Water, Water" was the title, The Old Fire Station in Henley-on-Thames was the venue, and quilts were the medium of the exhibition organised by Kate Findlay. We arrived just as some filming was going on -
Some more photos to give you a bit of an overview; see individual pieces with quilters' names here  -
Make your own raindrop peg bag!
Why oars? Henley has a famous regatta, for one thing - every July since 1839
The exhibition was open to submissions from Contemporary Quilt members, and the textiles (only half are shown in my photos) included Delia Salter's umbrella above the sales desk -

Hambling and Rattenbury

Two pieces from the current exhibition at Bohun Gallery, Henley-on-Thames -
Lightning Coffin by Maggi Hambling
Torso with Figure by Jim Rattenbury
Maggi Hambling is mostly a painter, well known for her portraits; her sculpture includes "the scallop shell" at Aldeburgh.

Jim Rattenbury used to be based in Wiltshire but is now in southern Spain. He paints and makes prints but it's his recent small figurative sculptures that appeal to me.

21 November 2013

Poetry Thursday - My Cuckoo Clock by Robert W. Service

My Cuckoo Clock
I bought a cuckoo clock
And glad was I
To hear its tick and tock,
Its dulcet cry.
But Jones, whose wife is young
And pretty too,
Winced when that bird gave tongue:
Cuckoo! Cuckoo!

I have a lady friend
Whom I would wed,
For dalliance should end
In bridal bed.
Until the thought occurred:
Can she be true?
And then I heard that bird:
Cuckoo! Cuckoo!

Though ignorance is bliss
And love be blind,
Faithless may be the kiss
Of womankind.
So now sweet echoes mock
My wish to woo:
Confound that cursed clock!
Cuckoo! Cuckoo! 
Robert W Service (1874-1958) is sometimes called "the Bard of the Yukon" - he went to the west of North America with dreams of becoming a cowboy, and after travelling round doing various jobs he ended up working for a bank in Whitehorse in 1904. The town had begun as a campground for prospectors in 1897, lured up north by the hope of finding gold. The paystreak that Service worked was to mine the legends of the gold rush - with poems like "The Cremation of Sam McGee" and "The Shooting of Dan McGrew", which he recited at concerts. It seems that a line would come into his mind, which would be the start of an entire poem, written overnight or composed during a long walk in the woods. The first book of collected poems, Songs of a Sourdough, was an immediate success and went through seven printings before its official release date, and many thereafter - earning him a total of $2.5million in today's money.

Service wrote much more poetry; novels, especially thrillers; and later, two volumes of autobiography. He lived in Paris and Brittany and wintered in Nice. Visiting Russia at the time of the Hitler-Stalin pact, he had to flee and later to leave France - during the occupation, German soldiers came to his house looking for the poet who had mocked Hitler in verses published in newspapers. He went to California, entertained the troops by reciting his poems, and played himself in The Spoilers (1942), including a scene with Marlene Dietrich. With his wife and daughter he visited the Yukon in 1946, but he wouldn't return to Dawson City, where he had lived from 1909 to 1912, preferring to remember it as it had been.