Thursday, 31 July 2014

Jerwood and De La Warr exhibitions, the Hastings fountain - but what is art?

A new exhibition at the Jerwood, another at the De La Warr, and our restored fountain - lots of  things to see!
     At the Jerwood, 'Drawn Together: Artist as Selector' shows work from people who have been judges of the annual Jerwood Drawing Prize. Back in 2012 there was an exhibition of winning entries from that year's competition, and Battleaxe wrote a slightly puzzled and unimpressed blog post about it. Mainly, I was confused as to what constituted 'drawing'. Interestingly, when we were looking at this current exhibition, one of the senior staff was showing some presumably important person round. I eavesdropped a bit, and heard her say that drawing could be defined as 'making marks in space'.I don't know about that.
     As befits the distinguished judges, the exhibition contains some nice things. I can't show many images because you aren't allowed to take photos and not many appear on the internet. My favourite was 'The Sponge', a huge and very funny drawing of a bloke in his bath, with the room reflected around him in lots of mirrors, by Anthony Green, and a massive 'almost' self portrait by Anita Taylor. She produces amazingly powerful images. I also liked a collage of boxes by Rachel Whiteread and this cardboard concoction by Lisa Milroy.

Lisa Milroy, 'Search Me'
      There were some things, as usual, that I just didn't get. A wall of what looked like some dirty hankies that husbands had wiped their fingers on after looking at car engines turned out to be 'Tarnish' by Cornelia Parker - cloths dirtied from polishing famous objects, list below. Eh? All the cloths looked much the same to me. Perhaps that is the point.
List of objects
     One thing the Jerwood still needs to get right - the light reflecting off the glass of the pictures. I quite liked this reflection of the fish and chip shop across the road on the drawing, but I don't suppose it is quite what the artist intended.
Nice reflection....
     Across the hall, there is a Quentin Blake exhibition, 'Artists on the Beach'. Blake has selected ten paintings from the Jerwood collection and produced drawings, with commentary, to highlight them. Presumably, kids and other so-minded folk can go round the gallery and find the paintings. I am glad he chose my favourite John Bratby painting, the one with melons in it.
Quentin Blake 'Artists on the Beach'
     Upstairs, the ten paintings are indeed on view, which is good, but the rest of the permanent exhibition seems to be - yet again - much the same.  Get some different ones out of the store, you guys!
     One last Jerwood view, taken by me. I liked this pattern of sunlight on the floor in the hallway.
Sunlight at the Jerwood

So, on to the De La Warr.  We had our friend Shaun staying and he had never been, so had coffee there first.  It was a hot day, as usual, and we sat out on the terrace - beautiful. Upstairs, there was a small, but very interesting exhibition of Otto Dix World War I prints - that exhibition has now closed, unfortunately.
     Downstairs, we saw 'Ivan Chermayeff: Cut and Paste'. Ivan is the son of Serge Chermayeff, one of the architects of the building, which gives the exhibition particular resonance.
     He is a graphic designer, and there were plenty of examples of his work, but much space was devoted to his off-duty pleasure, collage. The exhibition was extensive (and free) and lots of fun - we spent a lot of time poring over it. The collages were simple, but very appealing, and inspired me to go away and try some. I asked Philosopher whether an exhibition such as this would be shown at the Jerwood. He said they probably wouldn't have it, they wouldn't regard it as Art.
     I don't understand about this. When does design become Art? When does off-duty doodling become Art? When would one's attempts at collage at home become Art?  Why are used polishing rags Art? Why would a Rachel Whiteread collage count as Art and not a Chermayeff? My next blog will be about Follow the Herring on the Stade. Is the 'Coat for a Boat' Art? Or craft?
     Here are some examples from the De La Warr exhibition:
Ivan Chermayeff collages - not art?

     While we are on the them of Art/not Art, on Saturday night we saw the restored Pelham Place Fountain switch on. Hastingas will remember the Great Helter Skelter row, where the Council and the citizens turned down a piece of public Art offered to the town, a large aluminium helter skelter, by Henry Krokatsis.
     The objectors, and the Council, were accused of being ignorant philistines who wouldn't recognise Art if it came up and bit us. I would fall into the philistine category because I thought the helter skelter was horrible. We now have our restored fountain. Presumably, the fountain is Not Art. Or is it? It is certainly pretty, and gives those who see it pleasure.
Pelham Place Fountain - not art?


Thursday, 24 July 2014

Bosham to Bognor - Battleaxe appreciates Hastings!

Last week Philosopher and I set off on a little voyage to explore the Chichester Harbour area, with Bosham as our base.
     Apparently it's pronounced Bozzum. It's an odd thing that in the posh world, there are so many words and names waiting to catch out the hapless pleb who says them wrong. I'm thinking: Althorp, Belvoir, Menzies, Glamis, Gonville and Caius, Ralph, Beauchamp, Urquhart, Cholmondeley, Featherstonehaugh. [Now there's a little competition for Battleaxe readers - leave a comment giving me the correct pronunciation of the names above.]
     As seems to be normal just now, the weather was blazing hot. We stopped for lunch in Chichester, and went to the nice cafe in the Cathedral Cloisters, where you can sit outside in the shade. When we first visited, a couple of years ago, we were troubled by crowds of ecclesiastical wasps, but none were out this time.
Chichester Cathedral Cafe

Cool cloister...
     We drove on to Bosham, where neither of us had ever been. We had rented a little studio apartment in a courtyard garden near the harbour, which proved to be very well-appointed and comfortable. If anyone wants to know the details, please contact me.
Courtyard Studio
     We had heard that Bosham, at the head of one of the harbour inlets, was very pretty. It was nice, but we thought not eye-wateringly beautiful, and clearly was geared towards the needs of an up-market sailing community. There was a nice, unpretentious pub, The Anchor Bleu, where we ate both nights, at tables overlooking the water, a lovely old church, and many gracious homes. Clearly the Sailing Club is the centre of village life. It all felt a bit haw-haw hooray to us.
Bosham Church
View from the pub terrace

Sailor's paradise

Some sort of sailing race
     The tides in the estuary change the profile of the land substantially - roads round Bosham appear and disappear twice a day, as does the car parking at the back of the pub, as this unfortunate motorist discovered.
     We went for a walk around the estuary in the cool of the evening at low tide - in fact, you could cut straight across the middle of the tidal inlet. Much smelly green algae.
Evening low tide

Path across the inlet - algae

Bosham sunset

Storm clouds ahead?
     Houses in Bosham are incredibly expensive and sought-after. I found this article in 'Country Life', about a £3.25 million house on the waterfront that has just been 'launched' onto the market:
    'Buyers in Bosham are mostly London-based venture capitalists and people from the private equity world who are still working, but not as a wage slave any more..... we anticipate that the buyers of xxx house will base themselves in London and use it first as a holiday home with a view to moving there permanently one day.'
     Eh? a £3.25 million holiday home? Who are these people?
     One strange thing - no herring gulls in Bosham. Small black-headed gulls, but none of the familiar shrieking that accompanies life in Hastings.
     On our first night we had firstly, an invasion of flying ants, and secondly, a truly massive thunderstorm - a day earlier than the one in Hastings. Dealt with the ants no problem, with boiling water. Thunderstorm was exciting because the studio had big Velux roof windows. The blinds did not quite cover them, so the almost constant lightning flashed straight down onto our bed.
     Next day, we went first to Hayling Island - Philosopher had never been, and he also wanted to buy a Cretan garden pot from a place that sold such things. I had visited Hayling Island as a child, and remembered it as a nowhere place. We found the pot shop easily, and bought a nice one, but the place is now nowhere veering towards dump.
     Went to visit Fishbourne Roman Palace. I had been years ago, in the 1970s, when it was just being excavated, and remembered walking around an open site. Now, most of the remains are enclosed in a big building, and although there are some nice mosaics, it didn't seem either that impressive or well-presented.
      Next, neither of us had been to Selsey Bill, so went there. Forget it - bungalow-land nowheresville.
      Readers of this blog may remember that I am very into fossils (see previous post), and Bracklesham Bay, just along the coast from Selsey, is a very famous fossil site. We went to look. Unfortunately the tide was coming in, but there were loads of fossil bi-valves just littering the beach. Philosopher said they looked like horny old toenails and not like real fossils at all. Bracklesham? Yet another nowhere place.
Fossil hunting at Bracklesham
Fossil bi-valves
      By this time it was getting very hot indeed, so we drove to West Wittering, where there is an enormous sandy beach on a private estate. My, that must be a tidy business. Parking was £4.50. There must have been getting on for 2000 cars there, and the car parks weren't even full. Our landlady told us that at peak times parking is £8.00. Imagine that income, day in, day out.....
      The beach was heaving. Actually it was no better/different to our own Camber Sands, just much better organised. We threw ourselves into the sea, and had to walk out nearly to the Isle of Wight to get the water above our thighs. It was as warm as a bath.
West Wittering Beach
       Next day, we went to look at Bognor Regis. What can I say? I think it was George V who said 'Bugger Bognor', and I can't really better that. I went to Butlin's in Bognor with my first husband and my daughter in about 1980, but what we could see of the present-day Butlin's 'Resort' was totally unrecognisable. From the outside, it looked like the back of an Asda.
        Visiting these places makes me really appreciate Hastings - the diversity and interest of the architecture, the varied coast and countryside, the general 'buzz' about the place. For everyone who moans and complains about Hastings - go on, swap it for Bognor! Go and live on Hayling Island, why don't you? Or how about retiring to Selsey?


Wednesday, 16 July 2014

Combe Valley Countryside Park - an interesting walk

Recently, I went for for an interesting walk round Combe Valley Countryside Park with the WI walking group.
     We headed off from the car park by the Hastings Garden Centre up towards the back of the Pebsham landfill site. I gather that this has now been closed down, is being landscaped and will eventually be added to the park. Apparently, it was the only remaining land-fill site in East Sussex. Where does all our rubbish go now, I wonder? There is what they call a 'Waste Transfer Station' at Pebsham, where it seems that waste is sorted and loaded into much bigger vehicles to be taken - where?
     Readers of this blog may also remember my rantings about the deficiencies of the nearby household waste site. When we visited with a load of garden rubbish last week, there was still no sign of a tip shop - they had a few plant pots on sale down by the soil improver, but nothing else. What a waste of potentially reusable stuff. Talking of soil improver, I read a scare story in the paper saying that local authority soil improver often contains Japanese knot weed. I hope the Hastings stuff doesn't - we have emptied many bags of it onto our garden.
     One more negative thing, about the walk - the amount of dog poo on the paths.You could scarcely enjoy the scenery while looking down to see where your feet were going. OK, if you are in the middle of the country you might feel you could get away with not using a bag, but even the laziest and most feckless person could at least kick the poo off the footway into the undergrowth.
     By this time, you may be wondering what sort of bizarre walk this was - landfill sites, waste tips and dog poo, but really it was very attractive. The verges and banks were full of wild flowers, and there were many butterflies - small tortoiseshells, meadow browns, a red admiral and little orange ones - I don't know what they are called.
     For much of the walk there is a pleasant view down across the Combe Valley - you could see the works on the Link Road in the distance - it is really progressing.
View across the Combe Valley
    Again, see previous blog post for Battleaxe's rabid rantings about that road, but what's done is done now. In terms of impact on the landscape, I believe that in a few years it will blend in, once the vegetation has grown up round it. It is not exactly an eight-lane motorway. Sure, it won't make much difference to the traffic, but then nothing would except a massive road cutting right across from Eastbourne to past Rye, and that will never happen.
   The Link Road is not the first disturbance to the valley - a railway line ran across it until the 50s, with a massive viaduct in the middle. I found this photograph on the internet of the viaduct being blown up in 1969. That must have given the great crested newts something to worry about.
The end of the Combe Valley viaduct
   Our walk took us through the Filsham Reed bed - the reeds had grown up past my eye-line. It is an interesting little patch, marshy little streams crossed by wooden bridges, and there were beautiful yellow water lilies. According to the blurb about the Countryside Park, the reed beds contain a 'nationally important' population of dragonflies, but we didn't see any.
   The path got nettle-covered and brambly, so we ended up stomping up to Harley Shute Road and back down through the Combe Haven Holiday Park. Can't say I'd fancy staying there with such a lovely view of the Landfill site, but there's no accounting for taste.
   Never mind a railway line and a Link Road, I also read that the grandly named Hastings Aerodrome was once on the site of the football fields we crossed to return to the car park. As you can see from the picture, it never amounted to anything and was finally closed in the 1950s.
Hastings Aerodrome at Pebsham
        We ended up with tea and scones at the Garden Centre cafe.
        Here are some pretty pictures of our walk - no poo, waste sites, landfill or link roads visible!

Nettles and brambles

View over the reeds

What is this strange post, lost in the undergrowth?

The reedbeds.

Friday, 11 July 2014

Sissinghurst - eventually! Romney Marsh, Fairlight Hall, busy!

After living down here for nearly three years, we eventually got ourselves to Sissinghurst this week.
     Our friends from Birmingham had gone home - see later for our outings to Fairlight Hall etc., and Philosopher and Battleaxe fancied another little trip before getting back to normal.  It was touch and go - the weather looked very threatening, but we persisted, and fortunately it stayed fine.
     The gardens were busy, but not horrendously crowded. It must be terrible in peak holiday time, weekends and hot days.
     The gardens were pretty, but, we felt, a little stiff and 'National Trusty'. We prefer the riotous informality of Great Dixter.  One big plus, the plants all had labels, which I found very useful - it is annoying seeing something you like but you don't know what it is.
      Vita Sackville-West's famous White Garden was looking a bit blowsy, but the dull weather made the whites shine out wonderfully. There was another part of the garden where everything was yellow and orange - again, many of my gardening friends won't have yellow on their patches, but it does look bright on a grey day.
      Anyway, here are a few pictures.

      On the way home we found a very good nursery/garden centre. High Banks Nursery is just outside Hawkhurst on the way to Cranbrook. It had a really excellent selection of plants, a pet shop and a nice looking tearoom. A good addition to the Battleaxe Best Garden Centre Guide.
      So, what else?  Last Saturday we took our friends on a lightening trip round the Romney Marsh churches. This was difficult because Sue really likes to look at places in detail.  However, going slowly does enable you to see more things. One memorial in Brookland Church caught our attention - it turns out that the woman, Mary, was a smuggler. Whatever she was, it is hard to imagine losing all those children.

     We had lunch in the Royal Oak in Brookland - an excellent pub, with very good food - thoroughly recommended.
     Our outing was so rushed because we had forgotten that the Fairlight Hall piano recital started at 5pm.
     It was by the winner of this year's Piano Concerto Competition, the seventeen-year old Korean, Taek Gi Lee.  As last year, the audience were seated outside, in the courtyard, with partial cover from large umbrellas, and the weather was dodgy. We didn't even attempt a picnic this time as it looked like rain.
     Last year the sound of the piano was almost drowned out by the wind in the trees. This year, it wasn't windy, and they had cut many of the trees down. The only interruption was from some noisy birds. However, as late arrivals if it had rained we would have got soaked. Even though the lad is a brilliant pianist, as last year, we left at the interval, and showed our friends round the gardens. I was told by someone who stayed for the whole programme that it did indeed rain, and this time the sound of the piano was drowned out by the rain beating on the umbrellas. So we made the right choice.
    It is a shame, because it would be a really lovely event on a nice evening. Better luck next year.
    When we were walking across the gardens we saw the pianist, sitting on his own, looking very small and rather wistful, presumably getting his mind into gear for the second half. It must be a lonely life for a young boy.
     This week I have also had WI things, Stanza Poetry Group and a horrible session in the dentist. Tonight we are off to the Stables Theatre..... what a busy life for a Battleaxe.

Friday, 4 July 2014

Rude Mechanicals 'The Wife', in Crowhurst. Battleaxe recommends.

Just a quick update. Last night two old friends came down from Birmingham and, on the suggestion of a neighbour, we went to see the Rude Mechanical Theatre Company in their open-air performance of 'The Wife', on Crowhurst Recreation Ground. 
     It was a beautiful summer evening. First of all hot sun, then gradually cooling dusk, and the rising moon, on a classic tree-lined English village cricket field - the loos were in the wonky wooden pavilion. We took a picnic, and arrived early, expecting to see the place thronged, but at first all we could see were a couple of medieval-looking tents in a small enclosure far away in the distance at the end of the ground, and scarcely a soul to be seen.
     However, the enclosure gradually filled up with what looked like the inhabitants of Crowhurst, all like us with rugs, picnics and fold-up chairs - I should think there were 100 people there.
     The Rude Mechanicals perform what they describe as contemporary Commedia dell'arte. The characters wore white face paint instead of masks, and there were hardly any props. They used mime and improvisation as well as words and music to get the story across. The white faces seemed to give the actors extra expression, as well as a slightly other-worldly feel that fitted well with the fading evening light.

The performance
      Interestingly, we saw the origin of 'slapstick' played out before us. The actors used literal slap sticks - wooden clappers, or battachios. These gave sound effects to mock fights, or episodes of physical comedy.
      'The Wife' is based on Chaucer's tale of The Wife of Bath, and the wife, Alyson, is the central character. In addition there were five other actors playing assorted roles. Alyson first of all led us through her prologue, the tale of her five husbands, and then her story proper, about Roland the Knight and his quest to find out what women really want.
      It was absolutely fabulous - we all enjoyed every minute of it. It was lively, bawdy, very funny, fast-moving and exceptionally well-acted. All six players threw themselves into it with total gusto, and all gave strong performances. The songs and music were also great.
     I was sorry to read in the programme that the Rude Mechanicals have lost their Arts Council funding. They perform all over the South East, and are well-worth supporting. On 27 July I see they are here, at St Leonard's Gardens.