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Steven Oliver

The 'New Room' in Bristol

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Edited by Steven Oliver, Sunday, 23 Apr 2023, 20:34


Coming home from a holiday in Devon I had a chance to look at the Methodist 'New Room' in Bristol, which features in the 'Christianity and its material culture' chapter of A111. 

The chapel is the second building on the site dating from 1748, the first which opened in 1739 was quickly outgrown. It sits just off the main Broadmead shopping centre in the middle of Bristol, there is a courtyard in front of the building with a statue of John Wesley on horseback.


One aspect of the building's design which wasn't mentioned in the A111 materials is the small stable block that flanks the entrance to the chapel. Travelling was very much part of a Methodist preacher's life and so the building including accommodation for both humans and horses!


I like the simplicity of the building's interior - the roof lighting really does flood the room and even on quite a grey day made it seem much more open and inviting than I'd expected.



Something that links with the more recent 'crossing boundaries' A111 theme and which initially surprised me was that the only translated information in the museum was in Korean. Apparently whilst the Methodist Church shrank dramatically in membership across the UK in the 20th century it saw a big increase in South Korea following missionary efforts from the USA - sufficient to make it worth the museum's while to try and encourage donations specifically from Korean pilgrims to the site! 

This variant on non-conformist Protestant Christianity is now practiced much more commonly outside the UK than it is within it.


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Steven Oliver

Gothic East Yorkshire

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Edited by Steven Oliver, Thursday, 23 Mar 2023, 20:52

In late February I took impetus from studying AWN Pugin's great Gothic Revival buildings in the metropolis and set off on a local pilgrimage of Victorian church architecture and design. I picked up the 'Southern Route' of the Sykes Churches Trail across the Yorkshire Wolds.

All the churches on the trail were built, rebuilt or restored by either the 4th or 5th baronet of Sledmere, both identically named, Sir Tatton Sykes. Of the two, Sir Tatton II (1816-1913) made the far greater contribution, launching a building and renovation programme of rural churches (17 in total between 1866 and 1913) that was essentially unique in the Victorian/Edwardian period.

Both baronets commissioned nationally recognised architects who specialised in the Gothic Revival style to restore or design the building and interiors of the churches. The architect JL Pearson subsequently went on to design Truro cathedral, GE Street is probably best known for the Royal Courts of Justice in London, Temple Moore also had a practice specialising in the Gothic style.



My trip took me to the following churches: St Mary, Sledmere; St Mary, Cowlam; St Michael, Garton-on-the -Wolds; Wansford Parish Church; St Elgin, Frodingham; St Mary, Kirkburn; St Nicholas, Wetwang; St Mary, Fimber; St Mary, Fridaythorpe; St Mary, Thixendale and ended at St Edith, Bishop Wilton.

The outstanding highlights were definitely the amazing painted interior at Garton-on-the-Wolds (such a surprise after the austere Norman exterior), the Norman fonts at Cowlam and Kirburn, and for all round unity of vision and design, St Edith's at Bishop Wilton. 

I've included some glimpses of the really beautiful decorative arts on show.

Glass

(St Luke painting Mary and Jesus was at Wansford; the windows showing scenes from the 'Creation' are at Thixendale and by the same company, Clayton and Bell, and to the same design as the wall paintings at Garton; Clayton and Bell are also responsible for the scenes of Jesus on Lake Galilee and feeding the five thousand at Fimber and window details of castle and flowers at Wansford)



Tiles

(The knotted pattern is at Thixendale, the other tiling is from Bishop Wilton) 

 



Ceilings

(Going clockwise these ceilings are at: Thixendale; Thixendale; Bishop Wilton; Garton-on-the-Wolds)



Walls

(All these paintings are at Garton-on-the-Wolds, the architect GE Street was responsible for the design, Clayton and Bell created the paintings)



I have included an image of the bust of Sir Tatton Sykes II that can be found in each of the churches, they are quite an achievement.


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Steven Oliver

The 1916 Rising in stamps

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Edited by Steven Oliver, Sunday, 28 May 2023, 20:41

I thought I'd share the stamps that the Irish An Post published in 2016 to commemorate the 1916 rising.

Having now read the A111 chapter 'Remembering and forgetting in Ireland' I think there were some really interesting choices made about what was 'remembered' (I wonder a bit about what was still 'forgotten', perhaps the impact on Unionists, the link with Germany?). The stamps came grouped into four themed sets


Leaders and Icons

An Post stamps 2016 commemorating the 1916 Rising

The leaders are grouped to represent the three organisations involved in the Rising, the IRB, the IVF and the ICA and there are a couple of the flags flown over the occupied buildings. This set is similar to the stamps published in 1966 - the seven executed signatories to the proclamation of independence.


Participants

An Post stamps 2016 commemorating the 1916 Rising

These were a very interesting set of choices, the Dublin police constable was the first person killed in the uprising by Sean Connelly who himself died in the Rising, Michael Malone was an IVF member who died in the Rising his brother William had died the year before on the Western Front, Dr Lynn and Elizabeth O'Farrell were a doctor and nurse respectively who were active Nationalists and provided medical care to the rebels, the picture of Jack Doyle and Tom McGrath is one of very few taken inside the GPO during the week

Easter Week

An Post stamps 2016 commemorating the 1916 Rising

More interesting choices...Seán Foster was among the 40 children who died in the Rising, Louisa Nolan received a medal from George V for tending to British wounded, Sir Francis Fletcher-Vane was a British officer who exposed the murder of the pacifist Francis Sheehy-Skeffington and four others by another British officer (there was an attempted cover-up, Fletcher-Vane was relieved of his command but had the political contacts to get the perpetrator convicted) 

The Aftermath

An Post stamps 2016 commemorating the 1916 Rising

Images of the destruction in Dublin, of poor Dubliners scavenging for fire-wood, the repression and round-ups of the public that contributed to a change in public perception and Roger Casement who was the last leader executed having been caught soon after smuggling in arms for the rebellion from Germany.

An Post credit two historians for their contributions to the development of the stamps, Fearghal McGarry and Lar Joye

I don't think many of these stamps, other than the first four, could possibly have been printed in 1966, I found them a really fascinating set now I've learned so much more about public memories!

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According to Mark McCarthy in his 2012 review of 1916 remembrance (Ireland's 1916 Rising: explorations of history-making, commemoration & heritage in modern times. Farnham: Ashgate.),  'much of the substance of the 90th anniversary commemoration was about recovering lost memories of the revolutionary past. In what seemed like a public relations exercise of grandiose proportions, Easter 2006 was all about recasting the Rising in a new positive light and sanitising its legacy from all of the negative connotations associated with the actions of the Provisional IRA during the course of the Troubles.' 

The Taoiseach, Bertie Ahern, had played a key role in the negotiation of the 1998 Good Friday Agreement and according to McCarthy 'saw the 90th anniversary as an opportune time in which to reassert Fianna Fáil’s republican credentials and reclaim the Rising’s legacy from the Provisional IRA.' 

The first military parade since 1971 to celebrate the 1916 Rising was seen in central Dublin and the scale of celebrations exceeded anything that had occurred during the Troubles.

The commemorative stamp was a simple photograph of a recently cleaned and refurbished GPO building and to my mind is the most 'neutral' of all the stamp designs memorialising the Rising. There are no images of conflict or visual references to the rebels themselves - it certainly does look like a 'sanitised' legacy.


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In 1991, the 75th anniversary of the Rising, the commemorative stamp was a combined image of the Cúchulainn statue which stands in the GPO building as a memorial to the Rising and the text of the Proclamation of Independence. The Irish text on the side of the stamp translates as 'in memory 1916'. The other image on the first day cover is a statue of Hibernia which stands above the pediment on the building.


The original statue 'The death of Cúchulainn' was made in 1911-12 by the sculptor Oliver Sheppard and chosen by Éamon de Valera in 1935 as the 20th anniversary approached to be a monument to the Rising. Though mortally wounded by his rival Lugaid, Cúchulainn has himself tied to a standing stone to face his enemies upright in death. Only when a raven lands on his shoulder do his opponents know he has died.


The 1935 memorial also includes part of 1916 Proclamation, but Allison Martin (https://www.historyireland.com/easter-rising-commemorations-in-the-early-irish-state/) makes the point that only a section is included. The failure to include the section on expectations for religious and civil liberty and equal opportunities for all its citizens may reflect a nervousness on the part of the government that the social ambitions of the rebels had not yet been achieved.

When this stamp was issued in 1991 the 'Troubles' were ongoing, the 'Birmingham Six' had been released from prison in England a fortnight earlier, regular sectarian killings occurred in the weeks surrounding the anniversary. The text that accompanied the first day cover reads as quite constrained in its description of the Rising, 'a noble but hopeless venture', 'in almost every sense, a failure.' 

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The 1966 commemorative stamps could be saved in this special display leaflet, there were eight stamps in total. Seven stamps commemorate the signatories to the proclamation, each is given a brief potted history, particularly highlighting their role in the Rising. The date of execution is given for each. 




I think the stamp commemorating the Rising itself is perhaps the most interesting. The text says it 'joins symbolically the lives lost in the war of independence and the theme of Ireland marching into an era of freedom'. The stamp uses the three colours of the Irish flag and I think the sunburst is probably a reference to the Fianna in Irish mythology, the Irish text simply commemorates 'The Easter Rising'. The stamp design was by the Irish artist Edward Delaney, who is best known for his sculpture, including major memorials in Dublin to Wolfe Tone and Thomas Davis. The chapter discussed some of the 'sculpture wars' of this period, but only mentioned the 'victims' of Republicans, Delaney's Wolfe Tone sculpture was blown up by Loyalists in 1971 - but recast and replaced shortly afterwards.


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This is a commemorative from 1941 and the silver jubilee year of the Rising which occurred during the 'Emergency' (aka WWII). What I found interesting was the image of fighting youth. (The Irish is the 'in the name of God and the dead generations...' from the Proclamation)



In one of the A111 chapter references by Allison Martin, https://www.historyireland.com/easter-rising-commemorations-in-the-early-irish-state/ the 1941 celebrations are discussed and how, despite being a neutral country the government opted to make a real show of the military in the commemorations.

"De Valera and his administration therefore decided to use the commemoration service in order to project an image of military strength. In reality, the Irish state was militarily and financially unprepared for war. Nevertheless, the impressive military procession had the desired effect: one reporter from the Irish Independent was left with the distinct impression that ‘the nation was prepared’."

I think this political priority really comes across in the stamp design, none of the other commemoratives (there are ones from 1941,1966, 1991, 2006 and 2016) emphasise images of 'battle' like this - a really potent image!

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In 1941 a provisional set of stamps (two and three pence) were also printed and released just before Easter that year, these were standard 'definitive' stamp designs over-printed with the text 'In memory of the Rising 1916' in Irish. 


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Steven Oliver

'the materiality of cultural construction'

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Edited by Steven Oliver, Thursday, 23 Mar 2023, 20:29

Plastic bottle shaped in the form of Mary the mother of Jesus

"As an object moves from one person to the next, from one social setting or one culture to the next, it acquires different values and associations, negotiating differences and carrying with it veneers of significance..."

‘The materiality of cultural construction’ (2008) David Morgan. Material Religion (vol. 4, no. 2, pp. 228–9)

This is a plastic bottle in the shape of Mary, the Mother of Jesus, which I either bought pre-filled or filled with water (can't remember which) at the pilgrim site of Lourdes in the summer of 1987 and then brought home as a 'souvenir' for my parents. It is now back on my shelves as I'm clearing up my mother's flat for sale now that she has moved to residential care.

I've decided to think through some of the ideas Morgan describes as the 'social career' for this object.

This was an object I bought thirty-six years ago aged 22, I had (privately at that point) decided to become an atheist perhaps two or three years before - having been brought up a Methodist. I had travelled to Lourdes as the nearest rail station to Gavarnie in the central French Pyrenees where I had planned a short solo walking holiday. I can remember that Lourdes surprised me, I found both the commercialisation of the 'pilgrim site' and the whole scale of the Roman Catholic imagery and 'performance' of pilgrimage quite disconcerting. It is one of very few locations I've been to where religion and faith are such a fundamental aspect of a place now, informing everything from what is on sale in the shops to the names of the hotels.

I think I only stayed overnight (can't remember where - presumably camping) I saw the Grotto from outside and people collecting water from a set of taps, I wandered through a huge subterranean church. I didn't attend any services or explore any of the available 'St Bernadette' tours or activities, but I did witness a number of physically disabled young people being wheeled to the shrine - I recall that being a rather humbling experience as I'd been feeling very superior, amused by all the 'tat' on sale in the shops (mints, 3-D Jesus pictures, snow-globes etc...).

(Far from uniquely!) buying souvenirs of holidays is a tradition in our family, essentially established and maintained by my mother. We collected objects, created scrapbooks etc. and I think it is chiefly in that tradition that I initially purchased the object. It was in my price range, portable, locally appropriate and a 'conversation piece' when I got home - I think I often look for objects that I somehow feel 'embody' a place. For me, at that point, its 'meaning' was simply an example of exotic kitsch Catholicism, different from any of the religious symbolism I had grown up with - and additionally it contained the 'magic water' which I could contrast with the scientific rational beliefs that I was acquiring (I had just finished my first real research training).

The initial setting for the 'Mary bottle' will have been in a shop, presumably alongside other versions of the same object and surrounded by other pilgrim souvenirs - a sort of secular/quasi-religious space dedicated to commerce based on either faith or tourism (or both). I wish I could remember for sure whether it came pre-laden with water, or whether I filled it up at the taps - I think it was the latter, but I really can't say for certain now.

For the next thirty years of so the 'Mary bottle' lived on a shelf in my parents front room, one of a number of souvenirs and family mementos. It didn't have any particular position of importance, and would have sat alongside 'a gift from [insert]' pottery - my memory is of it being reasonably out of reach, certainly not put anywhere that implied accessibility was important. I haven't asked Mum specifically what meaning the object held for her over that time, but what came up when I mentioned it were her memories of me at around that age. Whilst the water level in the bottle is not full to the top, I've no sense from her that she made any use of it and no doubt this could just be a consequence of evaporation - or perhaps it was never completely full. It wouldn't surprise me if she had chosen to use the water however, she and my father faced a number of significant health problems, there are aspects of Mum's thinking that are quite 'magical' and whilst her non-conformist faith held little truck with 'fancy stuff' there was always an ecumenical strand to her religion.

However, I think the most likely meaning the object held over all this time was 'me' - one of a set of objects around the house that reminded my mother of her son. I realise I've left Dad out of these reflections, but 'nick-nacks' were very much Mum's domain - at most Dad would get involved in making a bespoke 'device' to support something, or perhaps in mending any breakages - I don't know for sure, but I'd guess the object had little significance for him.

Over the last five years the object has been on the bedroom window-sill of my mother's flat - she relocated to Yorkshire from Devon after several years living alone. Interestingly, the 'Mary bottle' survived what was a very significant clearance of objects at that time as she downsized to a single bedroom flat. In fact the majority of Mum's ornaments went either to charity shops or refuse, including many of the objects I might have bought. I've no sense of why this object was retained and whether that implied any change in its meaning at that point. I wonder if the fact that it was a 'religious' object made it hard to simply throw in the bin and it was kept by default (it was unlikely to be of value to Oxfam for resale!). However, I also know Mum finds it hard to accept my atheism (which we only really discussed fully about a decade or so ago) and I wonder whether it held significance for her as an object that reflected an earlier time when she thought we shared a faith - again not something I have been brave enough to ask about.

Now however Mum shows no signs that she wants the 'Mary bottle' in her new single room within a residential home. Family photos, plants and flowers are the only objects that she now regularly has around her - and seems happy with this. I know she now has more significant religious doubts than at other times in her life and whilst she had a number of faith-related objects and books these aren't things which she currently appears to want to interact with. When we talked about the bottle recently it led mainly to memories of my travels and visits home and I'm sure this was always its chief significance for her.

So it comes back to me - back to a shelf, now in my study. Right now its meanings are all wrapped up in this reflection and as a consequence the object will probably continue to hold a connection with OU study and an 'academic' consideration of religion. It is also a link back to my (relative) 'youth' and the time and place it was first bought and, of course, to my own relationship with my mother. It has no connection to any super-natural realm, nor do its contents. I will certainly keep it whilst my Mum is alive - after that I'm unsure, it's time for a review of much of the clutter that I have collected that, whilst it may trigger memories for me, will have no meaning for any of my children. I see no likelihood of my returning to a religious faith - but perhaps its association with healing may also contribute to my retaining it - a reminder that there are many different ways beyond the scientific in which health is considered.

So, this object which 'in principle' is a Christian pilgrimage souvenir containing 'holy water' imbued with a healing power has most of its current meanings entwined with family dynamics and personal memories of an earlier life of exploration and discovery now complemented by an intellectualisation of culture and the arts.


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Steven Oliver

'...the lack of any legitimating tradition within feminism'

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Only just started this book (and may dip in and out as chiefly interested in the early phase at this point) but didn't want to lose sight of the arguments Caine raises about reasons for, as she sees it, the lack of a continuity in traditions in feminism that might be seen in other political and social movements.

'...this lack of a definite and coherent feminist tradition seems itself to be a result of the oppression and subordination of women that are the target of feminism. For women in general have lacked the resources needed to establish and transmit their ideas.' 

'Moreover, feminist writers, activists, and theorists have never had the the kind of prestige or patronage which would make later generations seek connections with them as a way of enhancing their own status or prospects.'

Caine makes the point that claiming connection to a founding father in other fields like economics '...automatically conferred legitimacy and importance on male writers [...] connection with Wollstonecraft suggested only moral laxity.' (page 6)

Caine goes on to suggest the lack of a single tradition might make feminism '...appear particularly subject to discontinuities and to breaks and constantly to be in need of revival and rescue.' resulting in opportunities and challenges. The absence of a strong central tradition can make it feel a 'starting from scratch' for every generation, 'On the other hand, the lack of an institutionally based tradition has conferred great freedom on later feminists to break with the past, [...] to formulate new theories and programmes [and also] to read and reconstruct their feminist past as they choose.'

Along with being helpful in thinking about the nature of Wollstonecraft's 'legacy' I think these may be important issues in other situations, particularly thinking about traditions relevant to other oppressed groups.


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Steven Oliver

"Creating a miniature anthology"

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Edited by Steven Oliver, Wednesday, 24 Apr 2024, 20:10

The 'Reading Poetry' chapter of A111 has an online activity to select our own tiny anthology of poems from 'The Faber Book of Beasts', this was my attempt - with a few added photos.

This mini-anthology was prompted by reading one of the poems, Les Murray's 'Pigs'; a startling attempt at creating a distinct animal voice, one in which we also face square on to the process of routine animal slaughter. I decided to trawl 'The Faber Book of Beasts' for other (inevitably livestock) farming poems and explore briefly what poets may have to say about this relationship between humans and the natural world. To be included I thought that there should be at least some indication of a farm or farmer somewhere in the poem (so room for Craig Raine's 'Lamb', but not for Blake's). I found about thirteen poems in total and having decided that Heaney and Hughes could be allowed only one apiece I ended up with the following ‘collection’. A number make for quite tough reading, particularly all in one sitting - but with global livestock now outweighing wild mammals and birds by a factor of ten it feels a relationship we (particularly meat-eaters like me) should work at understanding.

 

1.Craig Raine, 'Pretty Baa Lamb' (pp. 208-9)

Image of sheep in field

It seems right to start off the anthology with new life. The title deliberately infantilises, using the 'dream' language we keep for our own young as we talk about the farm. However, the poet is quick to detail the mechanics of tail docking and castration and despite the vigour of the lamb's suckling reflex we know its end is already in its beginning. 'Its life a death/exact in every detail,/the lamb belongs here/ in the improbable dream/we tell each other,/day after day, before it fades.'




2.Richard Wilbur 'A Black November Turkey' (pp. 37-8)Image of turkey

The poem gives a beautifully observed portrait of the turkey in its prime, but one literally 'foreshadowed' in dark plumes 'Himself his own cortège/And puffed with the pomp of death,' It may have a 'timeless look', but the clock is running and late November will bring Thanksgiving Day.

  



3.Norman Maccaig 'Fetching Cows' (p. 89)Inage of cows

I love this simple account of gathering in cattle, perfect in taking me to the time and place - the swaying ABA rhyming pattern occasionally disappearing in the enjambment of stanzas three and four then sounding out again. The final metaphor is a perfect descriptor of that burdened swinging walk, 'The black cow is two native carriers/Bringing its belly home, slung from a pole.', but I struggled with those 'natives' for quite a while. I was going to have to leave it as just 'of its time' (and nothing wrong with that) but then I was struck by the thought, what could be more 'colonised', more 'enslaved' by man than nature? Suddenly a wholly different view point opened up.

 

4.Seamus Heaney 'Cow in Calf' (p. 62)

A real sense of 'contact' in this poem, Heaney absolutely takes me into the stall with this cow - I can feel the stinging in my hand as we try and move her on. Three stanzas of free verse, but finishing in a flourish of repetition and internal rhyme, 'The udder grows. Windbags/of bagpipes are crammed there/to drone in her lowing.' 'Windbags/bagpipes' 'her.../her.../her...' 'drone/lowing/going'. Yet again the farming cycle of birth and death is emphasised, this calf, like all the others, is part of a process.

 

5.Les Murray 'Pigs' (p. 206)

This reminded me of another one of Les Murray's frequently anthologised poems 'The Cows on Killing Day' (https://griffinpoetryprize.com/poem/the-cows-on-killing-day/), in particular with the 'herd-speak' of 'Us’ and ‘we'. Here, verbally and syntactically it tries to shock us in to animal eyes, both when talking of an ancestral dream-time, 'Us back in cool god-shit. We ate crisp./We nosed up good rank in the tunnelled bush.' or when brought up cold against the image of hung carcasses, '...This gone-already feeling/here in no place with our heads on upside down.' Of course, human language, however twisted, constrains it to the anthropomorphic - but it is at least exciting to even try and meet animals on their own terms. 

 

6. Ted Hughes 'View of a Pig' (pp.275-6)Image of pig

To end the anthology we have most definitely moved here from life to meat, the recurring words are 'dead/death' and 'weight/weigh/poundage'. 'Such weight and thick pink bulk/Set in death seemed not just dead./It was less than lifeless, further off./It was like a sack of wheat.' This was one of the less violent Hughes poems in the overall anthology, but even here when the slaughter is complete and conducted by someone else, he seems compelled to engage us in some form of assault, 'I thumped it...'. The poem invites us to imagine the living pig '...its life, din, stronghold/ Of earthly pleasure...' but also asks us to acknowledge that if we want 'lard and pork' then pity is really 'off the point.'


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Steven Oliver

A sculptural field trip in Yorkshire

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Edited by Steven Oliver, Sunday, 29 Jan 2023, 10:23


A frosty trip across to Yorkshire Sculpture Park today, followed by a visit to the Henry Moore Institute in Leeds.

I'd gone to YSP to look specifically at the exhibition 'Relics in the Landscape' by the contemporary American sculptor and artist Daniel Arsham, as an example of his work is included in the TMA on Greek and Roman Sculpture. There are six pieces, all displayed in the Formal Garden which is (as it implies) a formal green space, overlooked by a balustraded viewing path. Each sculpture is cast in bronze and coloured to simulate the patina seen on a classical statue. All the sculptures are modelled on existing iconic objects either classical sculptures or 'pop icons' like Pikachu or the bicycle from the film E.T.. Sometimes the scale is increased, and each sculpture is also marked by areas of what the artist calls 'erosions' as though they have been eaten away in some process of decay. Within the erosions are geode-like 'crystals' cast in stainless steel, the combination 'suggesting growth, transformation and the persistence of time'. Most of the statues are based on a plinth of some form, but the dominant sculpture 'Unearthed Bronze Eroded Melpomene' is designed to appear as though parts of the sculpture may yet to be excavated from the ground.



Unearthed Bronze Eroded Melpomene 

This is based on a statue dated from c. 50 BCE of Melpomene, in Greek mythology the muse of tragedy and lyre playing. The original sculpture is now held in the Louvre Museum. Arsham has dramatically scaled up the head from the original statue.





Bronze Eroded Venus of Arles

This is also based on a statue now held in the Louvre Museum, Vénus d'Arles thought to have been created in the 1st century BCE.



 

Bronze Eroded Astronaut and Bronze Crystalised Pikachu

Whilst the massive bronzes in particular had a dramatic impact and were beautifully set in the landscape I was left a little 'underwhelmed' by the works. The patchy erosions, didn't seem to me to really give quite the idea of a transforming process that may have been intended - perhaps that was because the 'crystals' were cast objects, images I've seen of Arsham's work for interior display use 'actual' crystals and I think look more intriguing. We're used to seeing classical statuary in various stages of decay, so for me it would have to be the 'change' that could bring some excitement. 

The idea of Pikachu as a latter-day Ozymandias didn't really grab me 😂  



After some packed lunch and a lovely bowl of soup at YSP I headed home via Leeds, and dropped in to see the exhibition at the Henry Moore Institute 'The Colour of Anxiety'

This was a great, three room exhibition of sculpture from the Victorian period, but with lots of really direct links to A111 and to the development and questioning of tradition.

The full title of the exhibition was 'The Colour of Anxiety: Race, Sexuality and Disorder in Victorian Sculpture' and the key to all the exhibits was a reflection on the move 'away from the the whiteness of Neoclassical marble' by British sculptors in the second half of the nineteenth century - and the inclusion of colour in their work.

There were links in this movement to the 'Gothic Revival' which we will look at later in the course, with interests in medieval art techniques, the rediscovery of ancient polychromy in sculpture, 'Orientalism' and new industrial techniques. The exhibition encourages us to also think about the impact of ideas of societal degeneration, Darwinism', race and imperialism and changing sexual politics.

'From the Hope Venus to the Tinted Venus'

Sculptures in this room included Antonio Canova's Venus (a representation of the Neoclassical ideal) and Hiram Powers's The Greek Slave which essentially has Venus in chains, representing a Christian white slave in a Turkish market, but perhaps indirectly talking of American slavery (Powers was American) - but also emphasising (like a number of the works here) naked bondage.

There was book on display by Antoine-Chrystome Quatremère de Quincy who apparently coined the term 'polychromy', challenging beliefs that ancient Greek sculpture was never coloured.

There was also a preparatory model for a 'Tinted Venus', by John Gibson that went on show in 1862 with 'ivory-tinted skin, blue eyes and rosy lips.' It apparently went down a storm with the public - but outraged artists and critics.

Finally, of relevance to A111 there was a 'table-top' sculpture of Cleopatra Dying, by Henri Baron de Triqueti, which was made from ivory and bronze (known as chryselephantine sculpture) on a marble and ebony base. This was seen as meeting a 'growing taste for coloured materials but also a fascination for all things Egyptian.'


Antonio Canova Venus  (The Hope Venus) 1817-20

Antoine-Chrystome Quatremère de Quincy Minerve Du Parthenon from Le Jupiter Olympien, ou l'art de la sculpture antique considéré sous un nouveau point de vue 1814

Henri Baron de Triqueti Cleopatra Dying 1859


Echoes of Slavery

The second room presented a number of works that have complex and challenging relationships with race and slavery. These were all statues or images representing black women, often either in chains, or markedly sexualised, or both. Several were produced, or reproduced, in bronze to give colour to the body. The exhibition also included two contemporary works by black artists Sanford Biggers and Maud Sulter. I particularly liked Biggers's statue Nile, which was caved in black marble and had a West African Dan mask on the body of a Neoclassical human form representing originally the River Seine.


Deathly Women

This was the final room and had some startling statues, almost all femmes fatales. These included the man-eating serpent woman Lamia, by Sir George Frampton who was quite astounding and looked basically like Tilda Swinton - well Tilda Swinton in some wild garb! 


There was a Pandora by the Victorian sculptor Harry Bates, but the standout for me was another work by the same artist, Mors Janua Vitae 'Death, gateway of Life', illustrated below - made me think of some the imagery in the illustrations in Birds, Beasts and Flowers I think DH Lawrence might have approved!

A curious feature': Harry Bates's Holy Trinity altar front (1890) -  Document - Gale Academic OneFile

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A grand day out and I learned a lot from the exhibition at the Henry Moore Institute - just the right scale for an exhibit and a really excellent written guide and signage. Not really thought that much of the Victorian period in terms of arts (perhaps just the pre-Raphaelites) but I think this could be a really fascinating transitional period - so many social pressures and changes going on.





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Steven Oliver

Birds, Beasts and Flowers

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Edited by Steven Oliver, Sunday, 29 Jan 2023, 10:26

Very excited today to have a look at a rare copy of a poetry collection which includes one of the poems I'm studying in A111, DH Lawrence's 'Bat'. Looking through my local university library catalogue (the SCONUL scheme is just such an excellent thing if you can get to a local library) I'd found a reference to a book in their 'rare books collection', the Cresset Press 'Birds, Beasts and Flowers' published in May 1930 - just two months after Lawrence died of tuberculosis.

The book was a limited edition of 530 copies illustrated with wood engravings by Blair Hughes-Stanton, and it is a beautiful thing.

An open book

There's an excellent account of the book, with lots of detail about both the illustrations and the artist at the following reference.

Keith Cushman, “Lawrence, Blair Hughes-Stanton, and the Cresset Press Birds, Beasts and Flowers”, Études Lawrenciennes [Online], 41 | 2010, 

Online since 28 January 2014, connection on 04 January 2023. URL: http://journals.openedition.org/lawrence/151; DOI: https://doi.org/10.4000/lawrence.151

The book contains a full-page frontispiece which I've shown above and nine full-page engravings before each section of the poetry collection, there are two smaller engravings as head- and tailpieces. 

'Bat' is one of four poems in the section 'Creatures', but perhaps sadly only 'Fish' and 'Mosquito' make it into the accompanying illustration. As the article explains, Lawrence was persuaded by Hughes-Stanton to contribute short 'prefaces' to each section and these were often the focus for the illustration. The texts Lawrence added are cryptic to say the least and seem to sometimes have only tangential contacts with the original poems (written nearly a decade earlier) so not sure they particularly 'help' in thinking about the poems. (The only link to 'Bat' is probably in the preface text that talks of how the sun's rays 'hurt the creatures that live by night', although that really speaks more to Lawrence's poem 'Man and Bat' in which the poet is trapped in his bedroom with a lost bat.) However, certainly made me think about the examples in A111 from William Blake's work and the comment made in the learning materials about taking image and text as an 'artistic totality'.

Open book

One final point was the discovery that the text of 'Bat' in this edition differs from that in the 'The Faber Book of Beasts' - the penultimate line in the latter edition, 'In China the bat is symbol of happiness.' is missing. I have to say I prefer the poem without it, a challenge for another day to discover which version of the poem originally included that extra line!

Poem Bat Poem Bat

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Steven Oliver

A lightening trip to Ashmolean Museum in Oxford

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Edited by Steven Oliver, Sunday, 29 Jan 2023, 10:26

A parental taxi-run to Oxford allowed for a hasty (15min) dash into the Ashmolean Museum and more specifically to the 'Cast Gallery' that began in 1884 as a resource for teaching classical archaeology. The following are a few 'snaps' I managed to take - along with a promise to come back and spend some quality time in the future! (spent almost more time in the loo than I did in the gallery 😆)

 Ashmolean Museum

The text is taken either from the accompanying museum labels - or from the online catalogue.

Early Greek kouros

Cast of early Greek kouros, Delphi, Greece, c. 570 BCE

'The stocky, heavily muscled naked figure stands in the schematic ‘walking’ pose copied from Egypt by early Greek sculptors, signifying motion and life. One of a pair excavated in the sanctuary of Apollo at Delphi (now in Delphi Museum). The pair used to be identified as Kleobis and Biton, after a story in Herodotus about two statues at Delphi, supposedly of these two boys from Argos, who pulled their mother, a priestess, in a cart to a festival she needed to get to. The subjects are however more likely to be heroes or exemplary worshippers of Apollo, the god of the sanctuary. Such figures could carry a range of different meanings.

The engraved and simply modelled body surface, and the large eyes and flat-topped head are typical of the earliest large-scale Greek statues. The long hair is elaborately carved in thick, beaded locks, an archaic aristocratic fashion of the period. The subject is beardless, yet has strong muscle development, a full scrotum, and a trimmed mat of pubic hair - he stands on the threshold of manhood.'

[Note that the hair on this kouros is shown coming over the shoulders, more like a kore - presumably a 'local' (in either time or place) variant in style?]

Image of Peplos kore 

Cast of ‘Peplos kore’, from Athenian Acropolis, c. 530 BCE

'The young woman held an offering in her outstretched left hand (missing) and wears an unusual combination of clothes: a thin underdress visible at her feet, a thick belted dress or skirt, and a short mantle. The outer clothing would have been brightly patterned and painted.'

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Athens, Acropolis Museum, inv. 679.

Found in three fragments in the 1880s, northwest of the Erechtheion on the Athenian Acropolis.

Small statue of kore type. She has long hair falling in symmetrical tresses on either side of the head and down the back, held by fillet, and crowned by stephane. She wears a chiton, a long garment held by a belt, a long jacket, and a short mantle. Studies of remaining pigment on the original marble surface have revealed complex painted decoration, with animal friezes on the long garment and lotus-palmette and running spirals on the jacket.

In: Frederiksen, Rune, and R.R.R. Smith, The Cast Gallery of the Ashmolean Museum: Catalogue of plaster casts of Greek and Roman sculpture (Oxford: Ashmolean Museum, 2011)

 
 Image of Diadumenos 

Cast of Diadoumenos (hair- binder) of Polykleitos, from Delos, c. 100 BCE

'A young athelete ties a fillet around his head after winning a contest. The marble statue is a sensitive Hellenistic version of a bronze victor statue by the famous fifth century sculptor Polykleitos of Argos, made in c430BC. Over forty later copies attest the impact of this statue.'

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Athens, National Museum, inv. 1826.

Found in 1894 in the House of Diadoumenos on Delos, Greece.
Statue of naked athlete tying fillet in hair. A himation and quiver are draped over the supporting trunk to his right. Hellenistic, c. 100 BC copy of a statue of 440-420 BC by Polykleitos of Argos.

In: Frederiksen, Rune, and R.R.R. Smith, The Cast Gallery of the Ashmolean Museum: Catalogue of plaster casts of Greek and Roman sculpture (Oxford: Ashmolean Museum, 2011)

 Image of Diskobolod 

Cast of Diskobolos (discus-thrower) of Myron, 460-440BC

'An athelete is coiled up in a taut, momentary pose, about to throw the discus- one of the pentathelete’s five events. The cast combines a headless statue from Hadrian’s Villa at Tivoli and the head of a statue found in Rome. Copied closely from a lost bronze victor statue by the Athenian sculptor, Myron, active c460-440BC.'

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Statue: Vatican, Museo Pio Clementino, Sala della Biga, inv. 2346. Head (Lancelotti Head): Museo Nazionale Romano, inv. 126371.
Statue found in 1791 at Hadrian’s Villa at Tivoli, east of Rome. The head found (with its body) in 1781 in Villa Palombara on the Esquiline Hill in Rome.
Statue of naked, male athlete with short hair throwing the discus. The cast combines a statue in the Vatican with the head of a statue in the Museo Nazionale (ex. coll. Lancellotti). Roman, 2nd century AD, copying statue of c. 450 BC by Myron of Eleutherai.
Modern: lower left arm with hand, right lower leg with foot, fragments of body, right arm and diskos.

In: Frederiksen, Rune, and R.R.R. Smith, The Cast Gallery of the Ashmolean Museum: Catalogue of plaster casts of Greek and Roman sculpture (Oxford: Ashmolean Museum, 2011)

 Image of Augustus#
Emperor Augustus, from Villa of Livia at Prima Porta, near Rome c. 20 BCE

'Augustus raises his right arm in the gesture of a general addressing his troops. The military commander's cloak and armour were the most distinctive of all Roman power costumes. The breastplate carries an elaborate allegory of the return of the standards lost to the Parthians in 19 BCE. The marble statue was once brightly painted'

'At the time of its discovery (1863), extensive remains of the statue's colouring were visible. In this reconstruction, the original pigments were recreated and their approximate shades were applied on the cloak, parts of the armour, the hair, the eyes, but not on the skin or on the ground of the armour, which were originally left uncoloured. The result shows some of the startling effect of polychromy applied to statues in antiquity.'


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Second, painted cast of the same original as B 161.
Cast acquired in 2009 from the Musei Vaticani. Reconstructed polychrome version produced under the scientific direction of P. Liverani.

In: Frederiksen, Rune, and R.R.R. Smith, The Cast Gallery of the Ashmolean Museum: Catalogue of plaster casts of Greek and Roman sculpture (Oxford: Ashmolean Museum, 2011)


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