Friday 26 July 2013

Guest Blog: The Flight of the Spoonbill,
by Ian Starsmore

David Lincoln and Martin Skipper: Apples

The Flight of the Spoonbill is the most recent exhibition organised by the North Norfolk Exhibition Project, in Cley Church, Norfolk. Each year the curator chooses a new theme, and this year, mine comes in part from the fact that the Spoonbills are nesting for the first time for three hundred years on the marshes at Cley. Their presence seems fortuitous in this landscape, their oddity suggestive, perhaps via Edward Lear, of the magic and vulnerability of this coast, our point in history, our dislocation from nature.
In proposing the exhibition I was strongly aware of the church building itself, once a port and bordered directly by the sea. The architecture has sculptures of monkeys, some on top of the pinnacles, plants, dragons, lions, angels, owls, mice, dancing and drumming figures, musicians, foliage. There are sculptures of two masons, each displaying their arse and balls, no other words will do for their posture and gesture, as they grin at us over their shoulders and six hundred years. 
The building is animate, full of suggested movement, and most of it celebrates and warns us of nature, describing our place within it, which is not high. The creatures depicted are not images of things which can be owned.
So I sent out my call to artists and some scientists, asking for a creative response to the problem of the ecology of our situation. I was less interested in ‘art’ than in a kind of honest search. In the show there are: apple trees, some lost and some found; a vertical garden; aerial photos of the marshes, taken from a kite; the genome of wheat; a river of reeds; a confessional which contains the sea; paintings of diving, of pollen and pollution. I chose 65 makers and have come close I think to making something like a garden of odd things in the church, the work representing what I feel to be the fecund, fertile, untidy, imperfect echoes of the church of St Margaret of Antioch, its traces of wall colour, remnants of the blaze of images it once contained in textiles, glass and paint. I wanted the exhibits to fill the main body of the church in the way it once would have been filled with people and animals, each distinct and earthy, clumsy, mobile, just what they are, thought and art striving to be something, whether coming close to it or far. The building is as imminent as the exhibits. The work is reflective and conceptual as a dawn walk, as playful as a plastic spoonbill, or as plain as a map or a genome. 

Helen Breach: Spoonbills

While the exhibition has been on, the church has been in use for two weddings, two funerals and a village fete; each time the art work giving way to brides, undertakers, coffins or book stalls and this is how it should be; a reminder. Margie Britz’s Mandala, all bones and skulls is wheeled to one side, to make way for a wedding, displacing Andrew Schumann’s sculpture The Garden of Earthly Delight. I swept the floor clean and talked to mourners or wedding guests who were shocked initially, to find that there were ‘things’, ‘Bestiaries’ and ‘Bats’, a ‘Confessional’ with a trouser press, in the space there. I liked the way something allowed all these events to occur together; new art, odd things, unfamiliar, taking part in local personal, emotional and traditional rituals; the woman with the new hat. Out of these encounters came conversations and recognition and integration of art and life, present and past that seemed at any rate to me, to be fruitful, grounded in different practicalities. 

I talked to as many people as possible, maybe too much, but hopefully I spoke and went away in the right proportions. Mostly I liked to see visitors engrossed in something, peering in to look at the Mandala’s dead frogs or the cement snails on the 1901 mapped oars, or, thinking of the sea, the monument in the floor to the young man drowned three hundred years ago. I do not know what kind of stories or thoughts all these things engendered. Thanks though, to the girl from Stibbard Primary School who rushed up saying, “Ian Ian Ian.... The Confessional’s gone wrong. Come quick!”, and pulled me along to look. Or...the boy who thought that the chair attached to Sophie Dawson’s Dawn Walk was a Murderer’s Chair, because one of his mates had heard a scream from the IPod’s recording of the animal sounds of the previous dawn. I put him right and tried to turn the conversation to the imagination. He preferred his Murderer’s Chair, and so do I. 
I think England is becoming mean. I wanted a show that, whatever else it is, is generous. It was fun to do, and I hope fun to visit; raising thought;  a dark subject; a show intended to be buoyant, which appears and will go, leaving a space for new curators and makers.

Ian Starsmore

Exhibition: open each day 10.30 to 5pm; to August 4th.
Web and blog:

Tuesday 23 July 2013

Breaking the Silence: Lines on The Royal Birth

Lines On The Royal Birth 
or My Bid for the Laureateship

The duchess has given birth to a male heir 
Let there be barbecues, son et lumiere
Let bald primadonnas tie ribbons in their hair

Let garden gnomes rejoice in floral borders
Let there be würlitzers and bass recorders 
Let alcoholics put in their last orders

Let bulky policemen wear a skimpy dress
Let rectors rhapsodise and bishops bless
Let there be orgies of public happiness

Let royal correspondents set fire to their pens
Let there be Kate-theme parties in the Fens
Let men use women’s facilities and women men’s

Let windows flap, let buttons be undone 
Let obsessive punsters make the perfect pun 
Let the Windsor sun shine on the Windsor son

Behold the Commonweal’s new wealth of nations
Proclaim an end to our trials and tribulations
The male heir’s here. Begin the celebrations

Thursday 4 July 2013

In Berlin for DW Agenda programme

More time passes. On Friday Deutsche Welle sent me an email to try to arrange another occasion for a studio talk show about current affairs, in my case about Hungary. There had been three previous attempts to bring me over but I was busy each time. At last the time was clear and I could go.  I caught a plane on Monday and returned late Tuesday evening.

Arriving in Berlin about 4:30, I took the train to Berlin Zoo, then it was one stop on the U-Bahn and a short walk to the motel. The idea was to settle in and then to meet dear friend and fellow writer K at 7pm, but when she didn't turn up I rang her. It seems she hadn't read my email properly and that she thought I meant Tuesday evening. She was staying outside Berlin and she said she'd come in by car - about an hour's journey. I tried to dissuade her but she insisted. Then, about fifteen minutes later there was another call from her to say the engine was dead. So we cancelled and I went to eat by myself around the corner on a rapidly darkening night.

Soon enough there were rumbles of thunder and lightning began to play in the distance. It was quite a smart restaurant. Nearest to me was a German-speaking white mother and an English-speaking black father with a young black child who spoke both languages. The boy clearly wanted a lot of attention and kept interrupting their conversation, needling them. They handled it pretty well. I might have lost my temper. Two smiling wraith-like waiters attended on me. The food was very good. The lightning flashed. The child shouted. There was just the odd spot of rain. I ate a Wiener Schnitzel - very good it was too - with a glass of Pilsner, ran to a sweet and a coffee then headed back to the hotel and tried to sleep. The room was stuffy, but when I opened the window the traffic roared. It was about 2 or 3 before I nodded off. Breakfast was full of young people helping themselves to the continental necessities, with one or two older types like me.

After breakfast and packing I walked over to the DW studio where I discovered - I should have known - that it was TV not radio. I was made up, had gel applied to my hair, then sat in the studio with my fellow guests, a Wikileaks spokesman and a Professor of computing and robots at the Free University. It was odd to be flown over from East Anglia to Germany to be part of an entirely political programme in English. Melinda, the anchor, was a sharp minded and sharp eyed chair.

The programme was forty-five minutes long and I didn't make a fool of myself though I did pull a lot of silly faces - maybe I am always doing that, just not seeing myself do it. I liked my fellow panellists, both clearly good intelligent people. We talked about USA surveillance and about the potentially good use of drones. My own starting point was the Councl of Europe's decision not to put Hungary under formal monitoring.

This was the programme, that is if this link still works, and continues to work in the future. I enjoyed it. So much to say, so many details, so little time. It's hard to pace yourself and to select the best possible detail. You don't know the questions in advance and must think fast. They seemed pleased, but maybe it's theur business to seem pleased. I was labelled Poet and Translator at one point and Commentator at another. Was I becoming the latter?

But there will be more to talk about regarding Hungary soon. I also want to write about the Meir of Norwich launch and will try to do so tomorrow.