Monday, 12 December 2011


So the boat's being stripped back in readiness for winter.

Winter's a more subtle season on the coast. We lost our leaves about a month ago and the saltmarsh stays greenish brown the year round. It's just the increasing winds (although last May was ferocious) and shift in light that flags up the change. I don't know whether you can actually see further on a clear winter's day than in midsummer but it certainly seems that way. And while we lose daylight, the sun (even behind clouds), reveals a fantastic smelting of metals: platinum, silver, aluminium, pewter, all the cliches you can imagine hammer their way across the sea and sky at this time of year - even if it is blue enough, sun shining, the message never quite gets through to the water.

And of course winter is announced by migrating birds. Now is the time for huge flocks of geese to cut across the sky, the waders are loud and in party mood at twilight, curlews everywhere, and starlings schooling from early afternoon branch to branch.

And the same subtlety happens around the boat too. From the pontoon it almost looks ready to sail, to a passing glance, but look closer, and the sails are off, engine decommissioned, cushions out from below, all the charts and nav gear are tucked away from the cold and damp. It is stripped back from all our comforts to its essence of hull: fibre glass and paint, and bare rigging. Bouyant but unsteerable. Cold and unappealing. It has become the sea it sits on. Maybe it always is, but in this sharp light its uncreaturely nature is more evident than when prancing through waves. A nautical hibernation. Not really a hibernation, not a sleep so much as a shhh

Monday, 5 December 2011

The Turner Prize, Art and Emotion

Tonight the Turner Prize is announced and in an uncharacteristic spirit of relevance, I'm bloggin about it. Well, not the prize, but the shortlist.

I went to see the four shortlisted works last month in Newcastle, more out of curiosity than enthusiasm. I wasn't expecting much. Which is always a good way to enter any gallery, or open any book...

First room: Martin Boyce: my hightlights were the strangely greasy-looking paper aeroplanes scattered on the floor and beautifully wrought air vents in the wall (reminiscent of Moroccan design). These and the other objects in the rooom were formed from the same structural form. Askewed repetition, endless geometry. Art for mathematicians?

Second room: Hilary Lloyd: video installations just don't hit my x-spot, but the room had a great view eastwards over the Tyne - a huge widescreen realtime player that drew most of the people who were int the room when I was, so turning us gallery visitors into Big Bro.

Third: Karla Black: Untamed plastics and paint. Multi-coloured sheets made for a kind of fly tape entrance. Another world. The hanging knotted plastic sheets, lightweight and glacial in colour was beautiful but also reminded me of a little girl who suffocated in the mounds of plastic waste in Darjeeling in India.

Fourth: George Shaw: Urban landscapes / wastelands painted in model paint which gave them a not quite real not quite surreal quality. I loved this not being able to put my finger on what wasn't 'true'. My favourite was the bent railings, as if someone had slipped through them, a very small someone or a very strong force...But there was nobody in the picture.

All these works have no evidence of people in them - I couldn't even really see people from the third floor window of the Baltic. How is the emotive content, I'm told is required in art (include poetry in this catagory), created, if there are no 'characters' to relate to?

How does the viewer (reader) connect? Where do we find the emotional resonance in a plastic bag? Or some bent railings? Or, more personally, in a boat, or the sea? Is there something visual art and poetry can offer that negates the need for protagnists? And if so, do we, the viewer/reader, always need to supplant our own into it? Are we so egocentric to always need recognisable life in art? Be that from our own back catalogue of experience if the artist has kept one (themselves) from it? And if there is no discernible emotive content what do we seek instead?

Addition: Stephen Burt answers many of these questions in this issue of PNReview

Monday, 28 November 2011

Steve Zissou? In Lancaster?

No, he wasn't, but the Friends of the Maritime Museum were treated to a great slideshow by Gordon Fletcher yesterday, with him chatting (uber-passionately) about his sightings in dives around the Bay and west coast of Scotland.

It was only a 40 minute talk but packed with fascinating facts, for example did you know the barnacle has the largest (relative to body size) penis of all creatures? It was a risky starting fact, but loosened up the (mainly male) audience.
© Gordon Fletcher

I loved his extreme close-ups of fish eyes, in which you could see galaxies of light and colour. The photos of brittle stars were just as divine, their filaments combing against the fat cushion starfish: an otherworldly version of Laurel and Hardy. But perhaps favourites were at the end when he showed a sequence of photos of the water surface as he was resurfacing.

The sea is a lens, he explained. Multiple lenses, really, created by wavelets on the surface that either focus or dissipate light under the water, and the objects near the surface, so cliffs and clouds viewed from metres below the surface became post-impressionistic forms, ice-creatures, mythological landscapes that have disappeared from our lives.

Transcendental. And it surrounds our island...

Monday, 21 November 2011

Anticipation v Anxiety

And so it was Spotlight on Friday, where I had been asked to take a ten minute slot. I like the monthly event - a friendly audience, a wild mix of work/performers and it's local.

It's very much a known event. I've performed all sorts of work there - solo, with my old collaborative trio 3dV, as Hymas & Lewis, straight, big, old and new. So it took me by surprise to feel so nervous. I'm not sure why since I always feel nervous before getting onto a stage. I thought at first it was when I had memorised work, for the obvious fear of forgetting stuff. But latterly it seems to be for whatever I do.

In part Friday's nerves were down, I'm sure, to my decision to read new work. I find it very useful (if challenging)for the editing process to take work to an audience. There is a new 'collective' ear brought to each poem.

I wonder if a part of me (the bloody clever clever subconcious me) recognises the value in having this anxiety (the flip side of excitement, after all): to prevent complacency, sharpen my ears, insure a connection with the audience - not to take for granted the position of telling people my work - and to hold each poem carefully as it deserves as it's being told. Basically, it seems, there is no getting away from the fact nerves serve the energy of my performance. It's a shame the experience is akin to swallowing staples.

I gave, what I considered to be, a quiet rendition, fairly stationary, so I could best hear the new work. People listened. I listened. I changed some poems mid-recitation. I stepped off the stage ultimately happy with the experiment, relieved, looking forward to the next one.

Monday, 14 November 2011


With readying the boat for hibernation, I've been scouting around Glasson Dock, on foot and in books, and recently found this great aeriel photo of the place, pre 1960s, when the graving dock was still in use. (Found in a great picture book compiled by Nigel Daziel and Sue Ashworth)

What I find most fasinating about this picture, however, is the custom house just visible on the far right hand side of the frame. An inauspicious building especially in comparison with its relative in Lancaster that is adorned with porticoes, columns and double-sided steps.

I think what's particularly interesting is while Lancaster's custom house was built on the cusp of the shipbuilding heyday of the city, and so reflects all that hope and ambition, it is still regarded as a important historic monument, and accordingly it houses the maritime musuem. Glasson's custom house was built as the industry was declining, Glasson Dock, itself, was a last ditch attempt to cling onto shipbuilding/ship repair. So the custom house is appropriately more conservative, cautious, perhaps. And sadly is now inaccessible, encased as it is (preserved by being listed, I suspect) by warehousing built with a neat square indentation that edges round two walls of the house.

What was once the gateway to a place, the house that made the money to keep the port running, is lost to hawthorns, corrugated iron and breeze blocks ...
This place of order, accounting, lists and registration has crumbled away into something I am now repiecing with new lists and new accounting to make sense of what it was, what it is, a rebuilding, an honouring in language that has no financial value whatsoever! And right now, that feels positive...