Just over a year ago we flew into Heathrow, the birds chirping loud and clear as we rolled into London on the tube, I realised I had not consciously heard bird song for a month. Were there no singing birds in Russia, Mongolia, China or even spring time Japan, or had I just not noticed over the ‘noise’ of everything else.

train from Osaka

After a 2 day ferry took us across the sea to Japan. We passed through Osaka on our way to Kyoto where the Sakura parties were in full swing. Wandering through the night streets full of people in high spirits, visiting temple gardens. Filing past dramatically lit landscaping and bamboo. Kneeling in our socks alongside business men and women at the edge of a raked gravel garden ‘ooh and aaahing’ at a full bloom weeping cherry tree, lit like fireworks, centre stage. Blossom trees spotlit in a park full of darkness and smoke. Wading into the darkness, towards the chanting, to find groups of people huddled together under the trees, drinking, eating, singing, intoxicated by but seeming to forget, the blossom all around them.

weeping cherry tree

bamboo woods

Sakura Spotlightjonny no. 5 cables

We took one train then another, up through the centre of Honshu to Yudanaka, a small town at the start of the Japanese Alps. This whole area seemed used for agriculture, fruit and nut trees as far as I could see, their wiry branches stretched out along supports, too cold for blossom yet. In peoples gardens the ground was worked right up to the back door, not much space for flouncy planting and landscaping, all the land is made use of, it seems like a simple thing, but I’ve never seem it before.

Shrine at Temple in Obuse

Twenty minutes down the trainline Obuse is well known for its chestnut growing with which it makes puree and sweets and tiles it’s pavements with chestnut wood. Here also lives a temple ceiling painted by Hokusai and an old school house museum full of things that we visited in a storm that flapped the windows and pelted the roof.

 

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Chestnut paving, Obuse

From sleepy gentle countryside to Tokyo, which blew my mind. Whether it was the enormity of city itself or the cumulative effect of 3 other countries and cultures in 3 weeks, once we entered Tokyo I was very grateful to be lead around and looked after. The train and underground systems are excellent, I managed to walk around in a daze for most of the visit without getting too lost.

Tokyo transport map

Tokyo UndergroundTokyo night

The city is layer upon layer in a constant state of rebuild. To be a twenty year old building is a rare thing apparently.

Tokyo day 

And old Tokyo buildings are resettled in a park museum on the outskirts of town.

 

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a month away – a day there

February 19, 2014

On our second day in Beijing we got to meet Qu from, the now gone but by all accounts wonderful, artist run, Homeshop. We spent a day wandering the city together asking, telling, asking, telling.

Peking university Boya Pagoda

We walked through Peking University where old and new campus sit side by side. Anybody can go into lectures and participate in discussions with the classes and some owe their education to such opportunities. Groups who have discussion within the grounds have to be careful not to get split up.

new gate for poor area

We walked through an area where people new to Beijing often live. New rooms built one on top of another, within old courtyards, tight alleys winding through the warrens. The gate in the picture above newly built at one entrance to the area. We visited a grand, pay-in park, just next door, where the ruins of buildings stand as a memory of the western razing after the opium wars. In the space between the warrens and the park, washing hung in the breeze under the blossom.

washing in the trees

shadows in park

scooter mum

a month away – a day here

January 22, 2014

jade doorway

Just in time for Chinese New Year, my travel reverie arrives in China. I’ve been putting this one off as I so wanted to say something worthwhile about the place, it being a country that everyone seems to have an opinion on at present. My good intentions of reading around my subject got as far as China Diary by Stephen Spender and David Hockney, lent me by the lovely Sara Stabb,a book made after the two men were toured around the country for a month in 1981. It’s an interesting read with regards to two men’s views of China at the time and also how two artists and a country approach such a task.  I was only in China for 3 and a half days, still I will share some pictures and thoughts.

Erlian station

My first encounter with China was in Erlian, leaving the train to have it’s bogeys changed we found we couldn’t get into the station and then later on, couldn’t get out again. I became increasingly frustrated at the restrictions of movement, especially when there was a beautiful platform in full sunshine outside to enjoy. Had there been lots of people to control I could have understood it better, and I guess that’s why those restrictions were in place, but there were just a few of us milling around being kept from our trains and the sunlight – as i saw it. Of course our train came back from the depot at the correct time and we were let out and allowed to climb aboard, this did rather set the tone for a while.

We were met in a ‘small’ (see London) town by strangers with a loose connection and treated to their curiosity, warmth and generous hospitality. I explained my experience in Erlian to one of our hosts and he explained that, with respect, I just needed to do what I was told and sit and wait like everyone else.

courtesans room

I found similar restrictions in place the next day in Beijing. I just wanted to cross the road but I had to go 3 sides round a square to get to the other side. Now I think about it, this is a more familiar problem to me in England, than it seemed at the time.

forbidden palace gardens

We shuffled around the Forbidden Palace, cold in the Beijing fog/smog. Groups huddled, looking through their cameras at the empty halls and  palaces. The smaller palaces filled with collections of ceramics and jade (see top photo) and living spaces of the courtesans (3rd photo) had such perfect proportions. Perhaps because the rooms were screened off, seemingly left as they had been, with a thick layer of dust on the table in front of the windows,nicreasing the sense of longing, the spaces seemed perfect for being in, nestling in, waiting in. They conjured scenes of intimate and elegant hospitality. They seemed a little like cages too, screened off as they were.

forbidden palace door detail

door in palace courtyard

We climbed to the top of Yingshan Park with a  hot sweet potato to view the forbidden palace through our first cherry blossom of the year. Then we climbed back down stone steps to the sounds of groups gathered in song. Further on in the park we found others playing games, jamming and having discussions. It was a Sunday.

view from top of Jingshan Park

Jingshan steps

There were patterns painted, carved, moulded, engraved and lived everywhere and the marks of time patterning on top of all that.  I tried to soak it up without photographing everything. Still, more to come.

Jingshan park door detail

lions in Jingshan park

UB main square UB main square mast UB street light

In and around Sukhbaatar Square in Ulan Bator. A large space surrounded by an opera house, a culture house, the palace, a massive sculpture of Genghis Kahn….but also some lovely street lights.

choijin museum 3 choijin museum 2 temple grounds

Lots of the Buddhist Temples in Mongolia were scrapped during the Communist era, Choijin Lama Monastery, above, was lucky enough to be allowed to stay on as a museum. The Temples were a feast for the eyes and a proper celebration of life in all its forms. Walls and ceilings full with lurid painted patterns and images, ghostly prints hanging from the rafters, stuffed textile spirits, hundreds of cast Buddhas and deeply dyed banners, the smells of smouldering incense and the whir or prayer drums.

Wherever you look in Ulan Bator you can see the mountains that surround the valley city. You can also see building sites. Old and new budged next to each other.

choijin museum 4

From the top of the hill crowned by the Zaisan Memorial you can see the city growing as it pushes against the sides of the valley.

Zaisan 1 Zaisan 2 Zaisan 4 Zaisan 6

The Zaisan Memorial was built to commemorate the lives of Soviet soldiers in World War II. The mosaics also nod to Mongolian independence, relations with China, Japan and space exploration. I wonder how much the teenagers who hang out up there know or rate the sentiments expressed in the graphic style. The Mongolian language, full of sounds that seem to get turned over and around the tongue many times before being let out of the mouth, was a little too nuanced for me to pick up enough to have this conversation.

Terelj2Terelj4

Walking over patchy snow and ice that is melting away to reveal the sandy, dry grasses of the Terelj National park on a day late in March. A change to the more familiar-slush mud puddles of Russia.  Some lovely dry brush trees and hills to etch at a later date.

Terelj3

Something about Ulan Bator was really wonderful. It seemed to me to be the people, who walking down the street would meet your eye with an open smile to share a joke or to simply acknowledge that we are both here together in this moment. I might have been naive or overly romantic, but Mongolia and the Mongolian people felt open, warm, full of interest and playful curiosity. Maybe this is down to their nomadic souls, perhaps it was just how I was feeling at the time. Ulan Bator is a developing city with all the potential unknowns that this status brings, whatever path it choses to take I hope that warm and open feeling remains.

ice

May 1, 2013

baikal ice 2

The frozen Lake Baikal has an ice road with actual road signs that is used daily between the freeze and the thaw. The road is replaced by hovercraft when it becomes unstable and a ferryboat in the summer.  We got to drive over this twice on our way to and from Olkhon Island late March. At times the van’s wheels spun and the driver moved off the road and back again while we held our breath, but of course it was perfectly safe, they have been driving the lake for years. From afar the water seems frozen mid-wave; in the shallows it looks like shallow waves, further out it looks like deep water, perfectly normal, except it’s frozen. If anyone can explain this to me please try.  Here are some close ups of the ice I took while walking around the edges of the lake near Khuzir.

life, death and drawing

February 28, 2013

Last week I got up early and made my way to London to meet dear friends and unintentionally set out a nicely themed day. Not wanting to stray too far on a Saturday we first visited the Foundling Museum to see their collection of tokens and swatches of fabric kept to identify parent and child.  Tokens included playing cards, rings, bent coins and my favourite, a hazelnut, a little dented but still intact. The fabric swatches came from those brought in with each child and were attached to a list of the wardrobe and belongings left with them entered into a thick ledger. The parent kept the token to reclaim the child when they were able and this did happen but sometimes they came too late and sometimes not at all. The power invested in these small tokens through the emotion and responsibility attributed to them is really something.

For more tokens and objects invested with power we walked over to the British Museum’s Ice Age Art exhibition where the keen eyes and hands of humans 40,000 years before us described the limbs and movements of animals perfectly. I’m a little baffled by my feeling that although we’ve refined our tools and materials in 40,000 years we have not been able to improve our drawing skills. If anyone could enlighten me or add to it, please do! (I’m afraid I didn’t read much of the interpretation material).  Perhaps the person making these drawings at the time was considered a master, perhaps they all had that level of skill – having never been told they couldn’t. Again I was moved by the animated version of the cave paintings projected across a cave wall….if only there had been more of this….and resolve again to reflect on the ways cave paintings were intended to be seen: on a particular journey, to create a narrative and a learning experience. I suppose we use this approach in lots of ways now, down to the psychology of supermarket layout, but I’d much prefer a rambling adventure through caves, hollow ways  and undergrowth.

Finally we had a quick glide around the wonderful Wellcome Collection’s Death exhibition after the attendant had informed us that “there would be no more Death in 15 minutes”. A brilliant suite of prints by Otto Dix and some lovely old photos of people posing with a skull. I was surprised that each piece of work seemed to have skulls or skeletons in it (though I might have missed something in the rush) and I wondered if we could make work about death without a reference to our skeletal frames. I think we can and do, but maybe that wouldn’t be so befitting for the Welcome Collection.

saw us catching a bus across a causeway to hideout at Roa Island, scoffing nut roasts and chips til the skies cleared and we could sit in the ‘ferry’ without getting toowet.  Off we went to Piel Island…..

wind worn windows

the castle, built in the 1300’s , stands on the shore, not far from the pub and a terrace of houses, the only buildings on the island, apart from the camping toilets, as far as I could see. The stonework was pretty well intact but the windows well showed the years of wind that had blown through them.

Piel Island was presented to the people of Barrow in 1920 as a memorial to those who lost their lives in the First World War. You can get a boat there and back from Roa Island for a fiver and if you get a  permit from the pub you can camp anywhere on the island. A tent was very snugly set in one of the fortress’s towers.

Roa Island used to be an island, now it is part of the mainland, joined by the causeway that passes through the flats and marshes that I guess have developed since.

This structure and the marshes it sits in brought to mind the start of Great Expectations, the prison ships, the hiding place…the door was padlocked and there was no interpretation  plaque in sight so I might just keep that story in place. Either that or it was an early lighthouse, now very much inland.

many chimnies

New work

October 19, 2011

trial print for the journey series,

I made some new prints for the Hot Bed Press residency at Warrington Art Gallery and Museum.  We were asked to respond to one of the themes in the Inspired to…exhibition that showcases work from the collection under the categories music, seasons, love and journeys. I’ve spent the summer sitting in random places meditating on the wild spaces between paths of travel we cut through the landscape. It seemed a natural progression to use these shapes in the prints. It’s hard to see, but the whole print is debossed, honest. There are four prints at Warrington as part of the Warrington Arts festival, showing until the 27th October so have a look if you can. Among others showing are Mandy Tolley and Kelly Dyson who are both brilliant printmakers.