Monday, 17 August 2015

Richard Long at the Arnolfini

I state my bias right away: Long is my hometown artist who I most admire.  His word work is poetry pared down to its most simple essence: the significant things we notice along the way.

And moving throughout the landscape is what this work is all about. The walk. Everything else is just recording and documenting. Which makes it rather difficult to mount an exhibition.

Happily the words on the walls work their magic, as do the site specific mud paintings and the slate cross.

New mud thumb prints are charming in their aboriginal patterning.

Meanwhile out of the gallery up on the Downs is Boyhood Line, which is worth finding (one third of the way up Ladies Mile on the right as you leave Clifton, if you want directions, as I had to ask three gallery staff before finding one who could show me, but not furnish me with, a map). The grass is overtaking the white stones and there is a certain amount of public interference going on, as Long expected.

My only quibble, and it's not a small one, is that the Arnolfini does not have anywhere near enough gallery space to do Long's work justice. Not by a long chalk. There simply wasn't enough of on show to make a trip from anywhere other than Bristol worthwhile. Luckily, I was passing, otherwise I would have been sorely disappointed. But if you are local and like your art conceptual and constrained, enjoy this this summer.

Monday, 3 August 2015

France Profond

The usual wind takes the heat out of a sunny day on the first weekend in August. Northern France. The wheat harvest is in full swing - combines and grain carriers churn across the land with all the efficiency mechanized agriculture can afford. In the sea of golden grain, patient maize and two-tone cattle lie different plots. At regular intervals British and other cars stop beside the fields of white and green that dot the Somme landscape every quarter of a mile or so.

The curious, the buffs, the just-passing, the serious historians, the searches of family history, whatever their motives the passengers spare the time to stand in the corners of these forever England places. Of course, they are more than forever England as the Welsh, Irish, Scots, Australians, New Zealanders, Canadians, Indians, French, and Germans will attest.

We came to the Le Tournet Monument in search of one particular grave. And that’s a thing in itself. Not all the men slaughtered in this place a hundred years ago were afforded such. The names on the monument, just 13,400 of them here, are all that there is to mark these men. 

My relative on the other hand has a headstone, a beautiful piece of creamy marble, kept moss and lichen free by the commendable Commonwealth War Graves Commission.  On it, under the Prince of Wales feathers of the Welsh Regiment and above the simple cross are his name, J. Lewis, his rank – Private, his army number and the date he died, 13 February 1916.

What is missing is that he was John Lewis, my great, great uncle, and that he was only twenty when he was the target of a German sniper early on a Sunday morning in the bitterest month of winter. I remember my great grandmother telling me about her lovely brother when I was a small girl. We have photographs of him. We have a geology book he inscribed.

Here we are then, nearly one hundred years later, taking a pause in our busy lives, feeling rather goose bumpy, writing a message in the visitors book, taking pictures, and making a mental note of where he is. If you stand one meter to the left of the right hand pillar at the entrance to the monument and look towards the oak tree, his grave is directly in front of you in the fourth row in front of the tree, beside four other Welsh boys, all about the same age, all killed days apart.