Nobody Rides the Unicorn: theatre review

From the outset, the PuppetCraft cast encouraged a non-frontal and participatory style of theatre, asking children to sit on the floor close to the scenery.

Continue reading “Nobody Rides the Unicorn: theatre review”

The Rain King:theatre review

Review originally published on DigYorkshire in October 2013. As seen at Harrogate Theatre as part of All Points North 2013.

Sarah Wallis’ The Rain King presents depths of meaning; intensity of character; complicit and knowing humour keeping us on side; profound reserves of talent both in writing and acting; a real pleasure, and a hidden gem. Continue reading “The Rain King:theatre review”

Yorkshire Sculpture Park

Spring is arriving in Yorkshire and I love the breezy sunshine. A trip to the Yorkshire Sculpture Park was an obvious choice last weekend, and Miro at Yorkshire Sculpture Parkone I had been looking forward to for a while. Apparently, half of Britain agreed with me, as the place was heaving. The restaurant was a single mum’s nightmare – hours of queuing and crowds and waiting for food. Although on a quieter day, the view from the glass-fronted building would have been lovely.

The park is set in the grounds of a stately home and covers 500 acres. We covered a predictably frustratingly small fraction (with a pushchair) but what we did manage was memorable and worthwhile. The park was hosting a new Miro exhibition, although none of us were particularly taken. The children failed to sense the whimsy of the “Personnages” and I was more intrigued by an apparent reference to Brimham Rocks in a sculpture which strongly resembled the rock called The Idol…!

However, a much more natural and emotional response followed naturally, when we left the confines of the visitor centre area and started running down the sunny hill, where Barbara Hepworth’s 1970 group “The Family of Man” strides down the slope.

Perhaps it is a general feeling, or perhaps something personal to me, but the sense of serenity about this group really filled me with a sense of deep happiness, and I was very grateful that it was there, and that it had the power to evoke such positive emotions. Everything about the group, whether it was the spacing of the figures or the sense of free motion downhill through the trees, or the solid and confident weight of the bronzes whose abstract shapes were both angular and fluid, pliable and strong, suggested unity and family.

The sunshine certainly helped, but the children shared my sense of satisfaction and peaceful enjoyment, running inbetween the figures; which do have a strong sense of personhood about them, even though they are more abstract than the Miro “Personnages”. My son, in particular, had a warm and visceral response to the Hepworth figures, which expressed itself in a very tactile way. He seemed to respond not only to the texture, but also to the shape, scale, and sun-warmed surfaces of the sculptures. The liberation proposed by the Sculpture Park setting, which allows both children and adults such rare close physical interaction with art, seemed rather joyful in this context.

Other works set throughout the grounds also encourage tactile interaction, but after this first moving experience, none of the other artworks quite inspired the same feelings. However, my daughter had a sweet and personal reaction to Elisabeth Frink’s “Sitting Man” – she took hold of its hand and started singing nursery rhymes: “Round and round the garden, like a teddy bear…” Possibly, she was struck by the lifelike pose and scale, but certainly a sense of trust had been instinctively engendered. I found it fascinating to observe the children’s uninhibited responses to each work.

The monumental scale of Anthony Caro’s “Promenade” was certainly one of the most visually arresting sights in the Park, and the children enjoyed making it their playground, finding secret passages, rooms and houses in exactly the same way as all the other young visitors. I think they felt this was the sole purpose of the installation – not really ‘art’ at all – whereas I feel the Hepworth group did retain its purpose as a visual and physical object to experience.

I had been looking forward to seeing Anthony Gormley’s sculpture, “One and Other”, positioned high up on a tree in a hidden, forested corner of the Park. It was oddly small, but as with all Gormley’s human figures, imbued with plenty of intensity: and the pose indicated a resiliant human defiance, a combination of vulnerability and strength.

A definite favourite, though, with the children was Henry Moore’s “Large Two Forms”. Every child visitor to the Park seemed drawn to it, and it was immensely satisfying to be able to walk in and around it and through the middle, touch the worn and smoothed surfaces, and observe and experience the shapes from all angles. What the children loved most, though, was the sonorous materiality of the bronze, and every child put their ears to the sculpture to hear the strange bell-like echoing within the shape.

I think what is particularly lovely about the Sculpture Park is the variety of sculptures and the informality which is encouraged. Nothing staid or restrained about this ‘gallery’ – it is all touch and running and sunshine – and really a unique and quite special experience.

For the full collection of 72 photos taken at the Yorkshire Sculpture Park, please click here to visit the set on Flickr.

Gordon Baldwin – Objects for a Landscape

‘Sculptural potter’ Gordon Baldwin’s exhibition, ‘Objects for a Landscape’, is at York Art Gallery from February to June of this year. I took the children during the half term break, on a mild and breezy York day. The gallery had laid on a creative workshop and I was interested to see what my children would make of it.

Called ‘Clouds made of Clay’, the workshop was responding to one of Baldwin’s particular inspirations, cloud formations. The young participants were encouraged to work the clay freely, while trained assistance was available for older children more interested in developing different techniques.

As we had done at the Hepworth, I took the children to the workshop first, to give them a ‘way in’ to the exhibition. Photographs of some of Baldwin’s pieces, as well as photographs of clouds, were on the table as source material if needed. What surprised me was how the children responded to the stimulus.

My son made and remade several abstract pieces, oddly reminiscent of Baldwin’s own instinctive working method (which he describes in a video on the gallery website). He seemed to shape and work the clay until he achieved a form that interested him, then unmade it or defaced it in an interesting way, before crushing it or flattening it and starting again. I was amused to see that he remembered clay working techniques (such as coil and pinch) which he learned last year with ceramic teacher Jo McKinnon, at her workshop in the south ofFrance.

Only once did he start to make ‘a thing’ – an animal – but this project didn’t seem to inspire him. His final piece had holes through the middle. I couldn’t help wondering if Barbara Hepworth from last month’s gallery trip was still in his mind.

My 2 year old daughter loved cutting and pushing the clay with the tools that were at our disposal. She was obviously interested in investigating its materiality rather than making it into a particular visual form.

As we left the workshop, it turned out to have been an absolutely perfect introduction to the exhibition. Both children were curious about what the artist had made out of the same material they had just been handling.

While I found some of the darker aspects of Baldwin’s work preoccupying (in particular, I felt that one overriding theme, the sharp edges and cuts in swollen, bulbous forms, hinted at bodily violence; the black interior of pieces such as ‘Vessels for Dark Thoughts’ felt somewhat unsettling), the children enjoyed a more playful interpretation. They asked me to pick them up so they could see inside each piece, commenting on the different shapes and colours; they enjoyed discussing whether a bowl or pot was lumpy, or spiky, or smooth; they wondered what each piece might be ‘for’.

Here was a gallery which had truly engaged its young visitors with the materiality of the art objects on show. The fascinating video of the sculptor at work, which was playing on a loop in the centre of the exhibition space, clearly was suggesting that we focus on the process, rather than the outcome.

What fascinated me about the video was the sculpt0r’s uncertainty about where the work was going, what it would become, what he would do with it. Freeing his own creative process in this way also frees the viewer. While the associations and feelings surrounding the pieces had a specific and not particularly pleasant resonance for me, the novelty of cups, bowls and vases in odd shapes, with odd openings, was enough to capture the children’s attention and make them think and play with visual and physical concepts.

Click here for the Flickr set with more photos from the workshop, or click here for the York Art Gallery site with full images from the exhibition.

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