Monday, 17 September 2018

The Yorkshire Sculpture Park

The day after my niece's wedding the sun was shining again. I had read about the Mister Finch: The Wish Post exhibition at the Yorkshire Sculpture Park and was determined to get there. I mean, how amazing was it that the largest solo exhibition of an artist I avidly follow on Facebook happened to be on when I was in the UK?
I last visited the park back in 1991 to see a Sophie Ryder exhibition. Her work left a great impression on me but I couldn't remember the park so well. It turned out to be far nicer than I had remembered!
The Yorkshire Sculpture Park (YSP) is an open-air gallery in West Bretton near Wakefield in West Yorkshire, showing work by British and international artists including Henry Moore and Barbara Hepworth. The park's collection of works by Moore is one of the largest open-air displays of his bronzes in Europe. The sculpture park occupies the parkland of Bretton Hall, a country house which housed Bretton Hall College until 2001 and was a campus of the University of Leeds until 2007. The park opened in 1977 and was the UK's first sculpture park to host temporary open air exhibitions rather than permanent displays. Today it hosts exhibitions both indoors and outdoors as well as permanent sculptures in the grounds.
Armed with our park leaflet highlighting just some of the 80 sculptures to see in the open air, we simply started wandering. Our first stop was at the historic Chapel courtyard to see Al Weiwei’s 'Iron Tree', top. I had seen some of his trees at the Israel Museum in Jerusalem last year and was keen to see them in a very different setting. Inspired by the wood sold by street vendors in Jingdezhen, southern China, Iron Tree comprise of 97 tree elements cast in iron and interlocked using a classic Chinese method of joining. 
Stepping inside the 18th-century Chapel a wonderful surprise awaited us. Acclaimed Japanese installation and performance artist Chiharu Shiota has created an inspiring and beautiful site-specific installation 'Beyond Time' using 2,000 balls of white thread which drifts up from floor to ceiling, twisting around and drawing you in to the spirit of the place. Photocopied pages taken from the YSP’s archives are strewn within the white webbing, like free-floating foliage. I found it hard to drag myself away from the Chapel.
Apart from the sculptures, the park is a very pleasant place to stroll around. There are various pathways and tracks to follow, a lake which is split into two by a bridge and a dam, and some gorgeous woodland. We set off in the direction of the dam, spending some fun time watching geese slide down the dam's concrete walls into the lake below. The night before we had been dancing late into the night, so we had set off late for our visit. We soon realised that there wasn't time to see the whole park. Therefore the Upper Lake, which leads to a Greek Temple and Shell Grotto, awaits a further visit. For this visit we stayed in the country park around the Lower Lake, though I soon found that sticking to any kind of route was totally beyond me. A glimpse of something through the trees and I was off!
Jaume Plensa's 'Wilsis', top, belongs to a series of portrait heads depicting young girls from around the world, with their eyes closed in a dreamlike state of contemplation. At over seven metres high, the work is extraordinary.
I was anxious to see Antony Gormley's 'One and Other' since I had seen his public sculpture, the monumental Angel of the North, up-close near the A1 in Gateshead. Gormley's work is usually based on casts of his own body, in an investigation into the body "as a place of memory and transformation". 'One and Other', perched high upon the woody remains of a dead tree, reflects Gormley's individual concerns with isolation and claustrophobia, but the figure has lost any distinct features and, as such, represents the universal.
Julian Opie's 'People 15', below, documents people walking around in the urban environment within the distinctly rural YSP landscape. Opie emerged as an influential artist in the 1980s after studying at Goldsmiths College in London.
I was delighted to find two of Sophie Ryder's wire works, 'Sitting' and 'Crawling', near the Camellia House greenhouse, which dates back to c.1817, above, top. Huge in scale, her hares are a dominant, watchful presence in the landscape.
Nearby was Barbara Hepworth's 'The Family of Man', a beautiful representation of figures in the landscape and one of the last major works Hepworth completed before her death. Hepworth (1903–75) was born and raised in Wakefield and became one of the 20th-century's most eminent international sculptors, shaped by her early years in Yorkshire. In Autumn 2016 expert conservators restored 'The Family of Man', which has been on public display at YSP since 1980.
Then it was time to step indoors to see 'The Wish Post' in the YSP Centre. Textile artist Mister Finch has brought more than 75 intricately hand sewn and constructed soft sculptures and props to the YSP. The exhibition centres around the story of The Wish Post, a magical kingdom of woodland animals whose job it is to collect and sort other creatures' wishes, which are breathed into envelopes and posted in toadstool postboxes. For one night each year, The Wish Post creatures have the chance for their own dreams to be whisked away by the wind and come true. Badgers in blue jackets, hedgehogs playing brass bells, thimble-tailed rats, elegant swans, long-eared rabbits, and dapperly-dressed moles - all life-sized - gather together to prepare the wishes for the wind, ahead of The Wish Post festival.
The exhibition was a delight to see! It showcases Mister Finch's masterful use of up-cycled and new materials, from discarded wire, steel and wood, to vintage tapestries, cross stitch samplers, tablecloths, antique silverware and rescued cloth. The self-taught artist has drawn inspiration from British folklore, the historic Bretton Estate and Yorkshire wildlife to create his textile wonders.
All the works in the exhibition were available to buy, though I believe they all sold on the opening night of the exhibition. Unfortunately they were well beyond my reach anyway, though I did treat myself to Mister Finch's self-published book, which documents his journey creating 'The Wish Post' and includes behind-the-scenes photography. I really would have loved a hand-sewn and embellished Toadstool. And, no, I hadn't overdosed on contemporary art from my visit to the YSP!

Thursday, 13 September 2018

Amsterdam and Hull

Mister Handmade in Israel and I have travelled to the UK a few times over the last year. All for good reasons I must point out.  We usually fly into London and spend time there, but this July we were heading north for my niece's wedding in Harrogate, so it made sense for us to fly into Humberside airport, the nearest airport to my dad's home. That required a stopover in Amsterdam. Such is life!
We had 12 hours to spend in Amsterdam and my brain was bursting with ideas. Sadly I decided not to visit one of the many wonderful museums there on this occasion. Mister Handmade in Israel isn't as interested in museums and art galleries as I am and, in addition, I didn't want to feel rushed or feel that we were trying to squeeze too much in to one day. In the end we decided to spend the day simply walking and cruising round Amsterdam.
We had a great day.
We walked through Dam Square and viewed Amsterdam's Royal Palace, the National Monument and de Nieuwe Kerk. We passed through the Bloemenmarkt, Amsterdam Flower Market, which we both found very disappointing. It was touristy and tacky and severely lacking in flowers! We saw the Anne Frank House (both of us had visited it previously) and enjoyed a delicious brunch alongside one of the many canals. At 1:30pm we joined one of the Free Walking Tours Amsterdam. Our guide was Sonja, who informed us at the end of the tour that it was only the fifth time she had taken out a group. We would never have known. She really knew her stuff and answered the many questions I had. The tour was informative, funny and a great way to learn a little more about Amsterdam.
We discovered why Amsterdam is known as the most liberal city in the world, how this small fishing village become so important in the 16th century, and a lot about Dutch culture and typical Dutch food. We visited the beautiful Begijnhof, a peaceful courtyard surrounded by churches and building which housed women as far back at 1346, and wandered through Oudekerksplein, the centre of Amsterdam's red light district.
When our feet were beginning to hurt we joined a Lovers Canal Cruise (though the title makes is seem far more romantic than it actually was!). I was concerned that much of what we would hear would be the same as our walking tour earlier in the day, but that was not the case. We saw a wider area of Amsterdam, this time experiencing it from the water. We passed grand merchant houses, gothic churches, museums and medieval buildings and sailed by the iconic Skinny Bridge.
Then it was time to fly on, this time to Humberside Airport and on to Hull, which I had last visited in June 2017. We had limited time for touring on this occasion since the focus of our trip was my niece's wedding, but those of you who read my blog regularly will know that I always find the time to see some new places! We wandered around Hull's Old Town, popping into the Streetlife Museum of Transport to see one of Hull's cream phone boxes. A strange fact about Hull is that telephone company BT have never run the public phone boxes in the city. All of the communications in the city were run by the city council until 2007 and so all of the phone boxes are cream, not the usual red that BT uses. We passed The Deep, ate a fun lunch at a café on the pier and saw the now fully renovated Hull Minster with its stunning new mirror pools.
I was delighted to discover that the current exhibition at Hull's Ferens Art Gallery was Clangers, Bagpuss & Co. As well as telling the story of Bagpuss and The Clangers, the exhibition went behind the scenes of their other creations; Pogles' Wood, Noggin the Nog and Ivor the Engine. Did you know the Clangers' iconic whistles were actually scripted in English? Or that cult favourite and "saggy old cloth cat" Bagpuss was originally supposed to be marmalade coloured, and not pink and white at all?
Another day we drove over the Humber Bridge to the delightful Waters' Edge Country Park. Until the 1990s the park was one of the most polluted industrial sites in the area. A multi-million pound reclamation project transformed the area into a nature reserve with a series of ponds, reed beds, marshland, woodland and wild flower meadows. There are three short colour coded walks around the ponds as well as access to the riverside walk along the banks of the Humber and the Humber Bridge Walkway. We visited the park with my dad who was not walking well at the time, so we kept it simple and stayed on the decking near the park's ponds.
Nearby we stumbled across The Ropewalk arts centre, the longest Grade II listed building in the country, used in the past to make ropes for shipping. Now a museum, an art gallery, a lovely little café and only a stones throw from the Waters' Edge Country Park, it was a fascinating find. The museum tells the story of rope making with extensive photographs and written commentary from the many people who worked there until the factory's closure in the late 1980s. 
Then it was on to Harrogate, a spa town in North Yorkshire, for a few days. My niece's wedding celebrations were due to take place. Harrogate is a tourist destination and its visitor attractions include its spa waters and RHS Harlow Carr gardens. Unfortunately the weather was amazing for the whole of our time in the UK apart from the day of the wedding when it rained heavily, so we did not see much of Harrogate on this occasion. The wedding was beautiful and the weather did not spoil anything at all! We can go back.
There was time for just one more visit so we made a return trip to the Humber Bridge, this time to enjoy the foreshore and a family lunch. I watched the bridge, a 2,220-metre (7,280 ft) single-span suspension bridge, being built as a child. It opened to traffic on 24 June 1981 and, when it was opened, it was the longest of its type in the world. It's still a lovely place for a walk and a good opportunity to take some nice pictures. It was also the perfect place to end our visit to Hull. Perhaps the most iconic structure in the Humber region, I always knew that I was just about home when I saw the Humber Bridge.

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