Author Archives: Erin

Wanborough to Godalming

Watts ChapelMy friend Sam and I have been slowly working our way through the Time Out Book of Country Walks, Volume 1. I picked up a used copy online for £3, but they’re all avaliable online for free in their most up-to-date form through the Saturday Walkers Club website.*

The other day we decided to do walk 2: Wanborough to Godalming, which travels through the Guildford area of Surrey. At just over seven miles, the walk was considerably shorter than most of the other ones in the book, no doubt to leave walkers some time to take in the cultural attractions on the way. Most of the scenery was wooded and due to the absence of interesting wildflowers this time of year, pleasant, but fairly unmemorable.

Unlike most of the walks, this one crossed a highway, which was a bit frightening. I think the book said “with care, cross the dual carriageway” but neglected to add the bit about making peace with whichever deity one would normally pray to.

Across the highway the walk takes you through the middle of a vinyard where the signage warns you to not stray from the path, because the vinyard makes use of high quantities of sprays. We mused for a bit about how global warming has made owning a vinyard in southern England a viable business venture. Though if the grapes in England are sprayed with chemicals that make them dangerous to walk near, I doubt I’ll be purchasing any English wine in the near future.

We stopped in at Watts Gallery, which is dedicated to the memory and work of George Frederic Watts, though it also displays works by other related artists and craftspeople. Taken in its entirety, the gallery gives you a little snapshot into a particular period of Arts and Crafts and pre-Raphaelite romantic backlash against the Industrial Revolution. It was interesting to see a selection of work that spanned Watts’ career in a number of styles, some more academic or commercial, some more expressionist and symbolic. I particularly liked the collection of ceramics on display by William and Evelyn DeMorgan, and given that no one seemed particularly fussed about me having my camera out, I took a lot of pictures of them.

The gallery also had a temporary exhibit on the work and life of Richard Dadd. Dadd was by all accounts a complete nutter who suffered from what was probably some form of paranoid schizophrenia. After murdering his father he spent the rest of his life in mental institutions. The majority of his ouvre was created while he was living in Bethlem Hospital.

His work was really cool to see up close. When you view paintings online it’s so easy to lose sight of the scale at which they exist. His work has so much intricate detail that I’d always assumed that it was much larger than it actually is, but the paintings were surprisingly small and richly textured. The longer you stare at them, the more little details become apparent, and you can see in it the roots of a whole generation of fantasy illustration.

Watts Chapel

Watts Chapel

The real highlight of this walk though is Watts Chapel, designed and built by Watts’ wife Mary Fraser-Tytler as a means of training local people to work in crafts and trades. Both the interior and exterior are made of ceramic, richly patterned in Art Nouveau and Celtic revival style.

* The Saturday Walkers Club website is an amazing resource for anyone based in London without a car. The site has hundreds of itineraries for walks that begin and end at train stations within two hours of London that have been created by club members and are free to use. Most of them pass by some specific site of interest that you may have missed if you’d just set out on your own. Highly recommended.

Horniman Museum

After the conference I really needed a brain break. I visited the Horniman Museum and found it delightful despite being filled with screaming children.

My visit reminded me that museum displays are really a lost art. I loved the natural history gallery, not so much for the content but for the authentically art deco way in which it was displayed: lots of 20’s typefaces, carefully handwritten labels and bold geometrical design. There was a lot of care taken to display the taxidermied animals in really beautifully decorative ways as well. I was so enamoured with the design that I found it really jarring when one of the display cases had labels that had obviously been computer-generated.

Along with the old displays they also had some of Polly Morgan’s art taxidermy. I found it interesting and creative but I feel really ambivalent about the use of taxidermy in non-traditional ways. It’s a weird, irrational set of feelings about death that I have yet to parse.

I loved how a bunch of the galleries preserved a slightly random, cluttered Victorian wunderkammer sort of feel to their displays. It really did make you feel like you were walking into someone’s personal collection of interesting stuff. However, there were many times where I felt like I really wanted to know more context about the objects I was looking at, where I felt like I was probably missing some important bit of information that prevented me from really understanding it.

Right now the Horniman has a temporary exhibit on about folk art from Romania, featuring a lot of textiles. I loved the opportunity to really study the patterns and textures, took a lot of pictures and notes.

There was also an exhibit of photos of women from Sierra Leone. The photos were taken around 2007 and included a bit of information about the women and where they were in their lives, conveying the resiliency of people living in poor conditions in the aftermath of civil war. I would be very interested in seeing a new set of photos documenting where they all are now and what’s happened in their lives in the time since the original photos were taken. What has been the impact of Ebola on the lives of all of these women, I wonder?

In translation

Dance UK’s conference went really well. The sad thing about working on an event is that you never fully get the opportunity to experience it like a visitor. I was so focused on my work that I didn’t have the time to really attend the sessions, some of which would have been really interesting to a cultural policy wonk like me.

I may never get over squeeing a little bit internally every time I see some of my work being used. In this case, title slides for all of the presentations, projected all over the place.

A big highlight during the conference for me was a performance by Verve, the postgraduate performance company of Northern School of Contemporary Dance, performing Ocean, choreographed by Jamaal Burkmar. Such an inspiring and moving piece of work.

You can see footage of the whole performance here.

Right on the heels of Dance UK’s conference, I headed to the Nehru Centre to watch one of our interns, Gayathri Rajaji, perform a recital in tribute to her late guru Adyar K Lakshman. I was interested in going because bharatanatyam is a dance form I know absolutely nothing about.

I think it was a beautiful tribute and introduction to the style. I was really impressed by how complex the rhythms were and how much hand-finger-foot-eye coordination was involved.

But what I enjoyed most about the performance was that she took the time to explain the stories that the dances told, making gestures with her hands as she narrated. It meant that while you were watching the dance you could follow along with the story just by watching her hands.

Without that explanation the dance would have still been beautiful and interesting, but my comprehension would have stopped at a purely aesthetic level. As soon as the gestures were explained, the language barrier was broken and the dance communicated so much more, and didn’t feel foreign at all. The key was having that language translated.

I think sometimes I forget that dance is an abstraction of lived experience. This is something that both Jonzi D and Ivan Blackstock expressed in their own ways during the conference, in speaking about hip hop.

 

Take, for example, Jonzi D’s tree. Hip hop’s not my thing. I didn’t see a tree until he explained that this was a tree, and once he did, I saw it. It was there. I think it’s true of any style. Once you move past the abstraction and conventions you find that underneath the dance is communicating something far more universal.

The Future: New Ideas, New Inspirations

The Future New Ideas New Inspirations

A while ago a vortex opened up at work and sucked up all of my time. It’s no easy feat putting on the UK’s largest ever industry-wide conference for dance but I work with some amazing people and I’m confident that it will be awesome.

For those of you who can’t make it to the conference, I hope you can tune in to the livestream online and catch a bit of what we’ve been working on.

During the conference we will be collecting information and comments from viewers so please do join in the conversation on Twitter.

Belated update

Long time no see, eh?

Things have been really busy around these parts lately. I hate how whenever one leaves off writing in a blog for a long time the resulting post ends up being a big, uninteresting list of things done over the preceding period of time. I’d rather just tell you all about interesting little episodes, projects I’m working on and the like.

I started a new job working at Dance UK and Youth Dance England in December. The good news is that it’s the best job ever, but the bad news is that it sucks up a lot of my time and makes it hard for me to sit down and write about what I’m doing.

I’ve worked in non-profit arts for a few years now, but dance is new to me, so it’s been fun spending time immersed in the project of learning everything there is to know about British dance. Work takes me to lots of interesting places, like Royal Opera House, above, or the dance science lab at Trinity Laban, below.

Though lately I’ve mostly been in the office, snowed under with work. Right now we’re working on the UK’s largest-ever dance conference which is a hell of a lot of work, but also pretty exciting.

I’ve been taking a class on the Poetry of Place at Poetry School with Roisin Tierney on Monday nights, which is one of the highlights of my week. I’m constantly impressed by the work that my classmates bring in, and the feedback on my works in progress has been very helpful.

I’m also taking lindy hop classes at Swing Patrol London, which is super fun.

My new Sunday project is learning to spin on a wheel. It’s a lot of things to think about all at once, but I’m gradually improving. Today the weather was warm enough that I was able to do some spinning outside. The cherry blossoms are starting to bloom and it was nice chatting with random neighbours and cats who stopped by to check out what was going on. I think another couple weeks of working on it and I will get it down.

I’m thoroughly enjoying springtime in London, seeing the world very rapidly get a lot less grey. One surprise has been how friggin huge bees are in England. This one was over an inch long and very fat. I have no idea how it manages to stay in the sky.

2014, you were amazing.

By the end of 2013 I was in a serious rut and in desperate need of a life change. Things had stagnated in pretty much every way that is important. I concluded that the only thing to do was to move abroad.

I was quite flippant about the whole thing at the time. I was going to quit my job and move to England, where I would find a better job and do lots of travelling. I had no job offer or professional contacts in my field at the time. I had a couple friends and a bit of money I’d squirrelled away into my escape fund.

I remember multiple people insinuating that I was crazy, or that it wouldn’t be as easy as I made it out to be, that I hadn’t thought it out much. That was simultaneously true and untrue.

I had thought about doing something like this for a long time. When I set everything in motion, though, I hadn’t really thought out the details at all. I just figured I’d figure things out as they happened. I made a few dumb and/or costly mistakes on the way but after all that, I more or less accomplished exactly what I set out to do.

I moved to London, into a good place with great housemates, made friends, travelled a bit and found a better job within a few months.

Which isn’t to say that there haven’t been some setbacks along the way. There have been many. But I have been surprised and humbled by the kindness and generosity I have been shown by people in London, and it’s their support and the support of many people at home that has made it so much easier.

I’m really glad I did it, and I think I will always look back at 2014 with fondness.

So if you’ve got a crazy idea like moving abroad with no clear plan sitting on the back burner of your brain, my advice is to stop overthinking it and make it happen.

Textures and Repair at the British Museum

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I visited the British Museum over the weekend for a bit of inspiration. On this visit I spent a lot of time in the China, South Asia and Southeast Asia room, which has objects on display from the Paleolithic to the present.

Because so many historical periods are represented there’s a lot of variation in technique, colour and style, representing very many different influences over time. Far from being isolated, trade and repeated invasions have resulted in a rich and varied visual history, and a range of styles that go far beyond the styles we typically think of as “Chinese.” It’s more likely that our understanding the kinds of things we like to think of as Chinese style is more because of our familiarity with certain classes of manufactured goods created for export.

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On this visit I was drawn in particular to the different textures and designs of pottery and vessels. I thought these two animals from the Eastern Zhou period were interesting, becuase they’re covered in patterns that seem distinctly Celtic. The first contains a criss-crossed pattern of what appeared to be a series of interlocking animals like what you’d see sometimes in Medieval illuminated manuscripts. The second is covered with a complicated series of spiral and braid patterns that remind me of the sort of pattern you would see in Celtic metal and stonework that you would find in Northern Europe and the British Isles. They’re from the 4th to 3rd century BC and the 5th to 6th century BC, respectively.

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It was also fun to discover some quirky things, like these Chinese-made plates showing the crucifixion and the resurrection. They were obviously inspired by Western art while looking for subjects for their goods for export, made by some people who weren’t very familiar with the subjects they were trying to portray. Consequently you get these crucified people who inexplicably have quite well developed breasts, and a very feminine-looking bearded lady of a Jesus getting resurrected.

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There were also a few beautiful examples of repair on display. I wouldn’t have noticed this one before I became acquainted with Andrew Baseman’s Past Imperfect blog. This jug looks fine at first, but closer inspection reveals that the handle broke off some time previously and was reattached with metal staples.

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This one’s more obvious. The spout fell off and was replaced with a metal one. Someone obviously decided it would be a good idea to also attach the lid to a chain so that it would not get lost.

There’s also a lovely felted boot with beautiful scalloped stitching, patched with leather. I took a bad picture of it but there are many better photos of it on the British Museum website.

I love that these are on display at the museum, that the curators didn’t decide at some point that they were too damaged to be accessioned and put on display. The fact that some of these objects are quirky and broken only confirms to me that they were created and used by humans, which makes them far more interesting to me than things that for whatever reason were never used, and consequently survived to present in a pristine form.

Quill

Quill, by Jared Flood

This is the first knitting project I started after moving to the UK, since due to lack of space, I had to leave all of my yarn and knitting supplies at home. I wanted it to be substantial enough for it to take a long time, yet easy enough that I could work on it without having to think much, since I had so many things to think about: finding a job, a place to live and dealing with the headaches and bureaucracy surrounding moving to another country. I also wanted something relatively simple in a creamy white colour to replace a similarly coloured pashmina that I seem to have lost while moving.

Quill by Jared Flood delivered. It’s been a great easy project for long train rides and episodes of Doctor Who. The feather and fan section got to be a bit of a slog after a while though so I was very glad when I finally got to the edging.

I’m going to come across as a heretic but I hate circular needles and I avoid them whenever I can. They were recommended for this project because the rows get so long and I don’t think I would have been able to get through it without them. But I ran into some issues at the beginning the edging section. It got very fiddly and my needles acquired a mind of their own and started twisting around.

In all likelihood this is because I use cheap circs and not the super expensive fancy ones that have nice flexible cables. I’m on a limited budget at the moment and I also need something to justify my hatred of circs.

I solved the issue by using a straight and a circ in tandem. Worked like a charm! The edging flew along after that.

I’m happy with the result and I think it will get a lot of wear this winter. I enjoyed it so much that I think I might eventually try out the multicolour option. I love the yarn too. It’s 100% British Alpaca from I Knit London, a satisfying mix of warm, squishy and drapey.

Progress pictures and needle and yarn info on Ravelry.

Adventures in hyperlocal knitting

Mudchute Farm sheep

It’s November first, which means it’s Wovember in the UK! Wovember is about celebrating wool and the people and animals who produce it and drawing attention to the challenges they face at home and in the global market. Wovember outlines this here.

I knew beforehand that moving to the UK might be a little dangerous for my budget and now I suddenly find myself in a place where there is so much excellent wool to be found. That was part of the plan, of course, and inspired by Knit British I’ve decided to try only purchasing wool and fibres sourced from UK producers for the time being. It’ll be a fun way of learning more about domestic wool production, and some of the breeds and small producers that exist in the UK.

I believe firmly in buying locally produced goods where it’s an option. Aside from the lowered carbon emissions that come from shorter travel distances, it helps maintain jobs and livelihoods of people in one’s home economy. And, in the event of problems in global supply chains, buying local enables us to be less susceptible to shock by keeping knowledge and production close to home.

Icy Water Mittens

Right. Well, remember earlier when I said it was getting cold outside? Well, my first finished attempt to keep winter at bay is this pair of mittens. The pattern is Icy Water and the yarn is special because it’s hyperlocal, from Mudchute Farm, a 3.5 mile walk from my house.

I was a little surprised to find such a large farm in East London. It seems to be a favourite place for people to bring young kids because you can meet all the livestock they have there. There are signs everywhere welcoming people to feed the animals, but only carrots. Everyone, everywhere on the farm is carrying bags of carrots. At first I was surprised to see that people had come so prepared, but then I realised that there is an Asda right next door. I’m sure it leads the country in carrot sales.

Mudchute has a small flock of rare-breed sheep that it uses to produce a very durable feeling wool in a limited palette of colours. They also serve lunch and there’s a lot of pleasant walking around the park and farm, so it’s a nice day out, regardless of if you’re interested in knitting.

The mittens are very thick and warm so I imagine I’ll get a lot of use out of them this winter. Project details on Ravelry.