We’ve just returned from our annual family holiday and 2014 saw us spending a week on the Kent / East Sussex boarder. This is an area we’ve come to grow fond of over the last few years, spending time in both counties for extended weekends and trips out, but never a whole week. Seven days gave us plenty of time to explore the area further, and aside from the usual holiday type stuff, it struck me just how much cultural activity there is to be had in this region with Hasting’s Jerwood Gallery, Brighton’s excellent Museum and Art Gallery, and further around the coast, Margate’s Turner Contemporary. Despite not visiting any of these this time, (we did make it to the Jerwood, but it was closed for a rehang), we did end the holiday on a graphic design high by visiting Ditchling Art+Craft Museum, (more of this in part two of Holiday exhibitioning, to follow shortly), and the opening day of the Ivan Chermayeff: Cut & Paste exhibition at Bexhill-On-Sea’s De La Warr Pavilion.

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The Chermayeff exhibition was truly inspirational. I knew some of his work previously from seeing it in design history books, but I didn’t realise how prolific he was/is. The walls of the large gallery were packed with work, and as the title suggests, the focus was on assemblage. There were some posters for specific corporate and cultural clients, but the vast majority was of work he has done in his own time. Throughout, regardless of whether for a client or personal work, whether tackling something frivolous in nature or weighty in tone, there was a real sense of play and wit throughout the exhibition. So much so that I came away feeling like I had just seen one of the best graphic design exhibitions I had seen since Alan Fletcher’s retrospective at the Design Museum in 2007. Ideas, puns and visual play runs through all Chermayeff’s output.

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Chermayeff once worked alongside Fletcher, so it is no surprise that there should be some commonalities. There are also obvious comparisons to the art world’s Matisse, Picasso, Ernst and Schwitters in his collages and paper-cut montages. I’d come away from the Matisse show at Tate Modern recently not feeling overly impressed and that somehow the work on display was largely vacuous (1). Chermayeff’s creative approach was refreshingly opposite to this as it either had communication at its core, or it challenged the viewer to think differently about found objects and how one connects different visual elements to create a new narrative. In Cut & Paste’s catalogue, Milton Glaser writes in the introduction, “In a catalogue of Ivan’s collages 1987–2011, Louis Newman states, ‘Chermayeff is among the few who can transpose design into high art,’ referring to his big, red unforgettable sculpture ’9′ on 57th Street. I always find the phrase ‘high art’ to be problematical, more like the relationship between haute cuisine and ‘home cooking’, where the differences are contextual, rather than the nature of the ingredients. I prefer to think of design and art as separate characteristics like sex and love—each can be significant and pleasurable by itself and every once in a while you get both at the same time—solving a problem is one thing, changing consciousness is another.”

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Ultimately, as the quote above and an excellent 12 minute film in the show suggests, Chermayeff places a heavy importance on the art of seeing and finding connections, and this shone through in the collection displayed at the De La Warr Pavillion. As Alan Powers says later in the catalogue: “We see them [Chermayeff's collages] and think, ‘I could have done that,’ and so go out with our eyes sharpened to see the second reality behind the first. This sharing of pleasure is hardly a didactic form of art, but it relates to Ivan’s mission as a designer, which, along with serving his clients to his best ability, includes a wider desire to teach the world how to see by exercising what John Milton in Paradise Lost called ‘the visual nerve’.”

Ivan Chermayeff: Cut and Paste is on at the De La Warr Pavilion until 14 September 2014. Entry is free.

Chermayeff: Cut and Paste Guardian review

 

(1) I know Matisse was important in terms of breaking concepts of painting, and his use of colour and form are visually amazing, but much of it looked like pointless non-applied surface pattern to my eyes. I felt his output worked much better when applied to a context, such as a book jacket, magazine cover or stain glass window. Hanging on a wall, it did nothing for me.

 

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Reflection over yellow. From Graphic Interruptions visual investigation published via Ongoing page

Over the past few days I’ve been updating several things on this site. Those that come here regularly will find a new page which collates some of my ongoing photographic projects. These visual investigations have for a while now been buried on Flickr, and while I’m a supporter of the improvements Flickr have made over the last couple of years, one of the negative aspects of these changes is that ‘sets’, or ‘albums’ as they are now called, are not as easily accessible as they used to be. Instead of being able to make them visible on your front page, they are now buried in a menu system. For someone like me who used sets to collate related material into themed projects, this makes showcasing projects to others more complicated. Alongside this, I had been considering creating a new website which hosted these, my portfolio and my blog all in one place. Unfortunately, I have neither the technical ability nor the time to build this. Equally, I don’t have the money available to get someone else to do it for me.

As a result I’ve put together a compromise here on WordPress until I have built up the technical knowledge or saved up enough money to go bespoke. The Ongoing page currently features 5 projects, with more to follow. They are each separately hosted on Tumblr sites, with links back and forth between WordPress and Tumblr. A further advantage about this arrangement, as opposed to leaving it all on Flickr with no views, is that it allows me to write about the projects as they evolve, directly in Tumblr so the context is there with the imagery.

While going about this, I have also taken the opportunity to tidy up a few other areas of this site. I have moved a few items to what used to be called ‘work’, but is re-titled Archive, as well as updating copy and links on other pages.

I will still continue to use Flickr for general photography, but themed projects that demand more than simple online storage will be hosted on Tumblr in future with a link through from here.

Letter to the East Anglian Daily Times, re: an article printed on 28.06.14 regarding the publication of the 2014 State Of Ipswich report

Dear EADT

I write to take issue with analysis of the State of Ipswich report in Paul Geater’s article on Saturday. It claims “…the poor standard of education probably contributes to it, [Ipswich], having one of the lowest average wages of any town in the country”. Such ‘analysis’ that makes assumptions without presenting any evidence is compounded when, in a reference to the fact that 25% of Ipswich workers earn below the ‘living wage’, it states there is: “a difference between the genders with 18% of men earning below this figure, [£7.65 / hour], but 32% of women below that line”. This is despite the fact that Mr Pinter of Ipswich Borough Council is quoted as saying, “that this difference in wages was in spite of the fact that girls did much better than boys at school”.

In summary the article presents the view that women are worse off in employment than men despite doing better at school, but it is ultimately the education system that is at fault for low wages. While there may be many things wrong with the education system in Ipswich that need addressing, I’m afraid that the blame for low wages and gender differences in the workplace can only be laid at the feet of employers. Such reporting does not hold employers accountable for poor wages and inequality, and in doing so excuses such unacceptable behaviour.

Nigel Ball

Last week I was lucky to catch the Museum of Water exhibition at Somerset House before it closes at the end of this month.

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The Museum of Water is a project by Amy Sharrocks who has been collecting donated water and associated stories for the last 2 years. As the museum’s website pronounces: “In a time of relative plenty in Britain, we are gathering a collection of water for future generations to consider. Clean water is more and more difficult to access across the world: will people look back at our current profligacy with horror and amazement…will the notions of fountains, swimming pools and baths become as archaic as the Broad St Pump now seems? We need to hold on to it, consider what is precious about it and how we are using it now in order to explore how we might save it for the future.”

The museum doesn’t have a permanent site, and tours the country showing its collection in different locations. But for the month of June it is being hosted in the basement of Somerset House.

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The basement of Somerset House is a suitably dark and damp venue, with the added feature of a leaky roof complimenting the exhibition. Volunteers are on hand to talk you through the exhibits and show you the filing systems used to log all the donations.

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In this location, a sense of a victorian curiosity show is overpowering. The shelves are laden with vast amounts of bottles and the dark wood and sensitive lighting help to focus the attention of the viewer on the different shapes of bottles and the explainers contained next to each.

The stories of people donating water veers from the poignant and academic to the pointless and banal. There is a unifying sense regardless and the whole feels very human and touching, let alone thought provoking. It struck me as I view the different donations that water is a single source, as all of it is contained within this world of ours. What I drink out of a tap today, and then pass into the British sewage system could end up half-way around the world. So despite some of the donations being from Madagascar or Delhi, it is fitting for it to sit next to water from Suffolk. And at the same time, because of the discolouration of some of the samples, (and yes, there are some of those sort of ‘samples’ as well), it becomes blindingly obvious that safe drinking water is easier to come across in Ipswich than in Delhi.

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There are interactive ‘puzzles’ in some of the alcoves in the basement as well which are fun. For example, one alcove contains a bowl of water with pots surrounding it; if you pour water from one pot into the bowl, you form a connection and a recording of someone talking about their relationship to water starts playing. And it immediately stops if you break the flow.

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It is a shame that the exhibition is only on at Somerset House for the month of June. So depending on when you are reading this, you either haven’t got long left to see it, or you’ve missed your chance. However, this is an ongoing project, so some aspects of it will be viewable in other locations in the future: follow the Museum on Facebook or Twitter to keep abreast of its development, or view its Flickr page to see photographs of more donations and different locations to Museum has visited.

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Museum of Water website

Museum of Water on Facebook

Museum of Water on Twitter

Museum of Water at Flickr

I’ve been admiring St Andrew’s church in Felixstowe every time I have walked or driven past it for a while now. Today, I finally went out of my way to take a closer look, and some pictures.

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As a bit of a fan of concrete buildings my eye was drawn to St Andrew’s from afar, and as I got closer, it didn’t disappoint.

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I assumed correctly that it was built circa 1930, as there is an Art Deco essence to it with the gridded balustrades and sharp geometric corners. After my foray, I did a little bit of searching on the Internet and discovered St Andrew’s was completed in 1930–31 by Hilda Mason and Raymond Erith.

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It is certainly an imposing figure, albeit one that has been softened by the Yew trees surrounding it. Interestingly, on closer inspection, you can see lots of other architectural influences. In the image below, if you replaced the concrete and pebble-dashing with timber beams & wattle and daub you would have what looked like a Tudor manor house.

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One of the most striking features in my opinion are the balustrades that top off the whole building giving a sense of a battlement or castle like structure.

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These Modern features, (for 1930), are then strangely augmented by more traditional big heavy oak doors.

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A notable point that I’ve come across in my research is one of female architects and their associations with churches. In an article on the subject by Lynne Walker, St Andrew’s and Hilda Mason are featured extensively:

The tradition of women as patrons of ecclesiastical buildings goes back to at least the middle ages. In the nineteenth century, the design of churches, their furnishings and decoration were considered appropriate for women, especially if they were built as a memorial to a family member or associated with the professional activities of a male family member. The design of churches reinforced the idea of women’s supposedly superior moral and spiritual nature. Like the design of houses, it could be viewed as associated with private unpaid ‘ladies’ accomplishments’ which were comfortably within the domestic sphere.

With professionalisation, churches continued to be a building type which attracted women’s design activities. Experimentation with concrete was a pre-war Arts and Crafts adventure, but it became a hallmark of modernism. St. Andrew’s Church in Felixstowe was designed in reinforced concrete by Hilda Mason (1880- 1955) in collaboration with Raymond Erith.

The Architectural Review called it: “The only English Church built in concrete—this is, in which concrete is used otherwise than as a cheap substitute for stone”. The construction was concrete frame with steel rods providing the tensile strength and concrete slabs made on the site (cavity brickwork). It was a church which the Architect & Building News, and its architects, believed welded “a logical and straight forward use of material to the strong fifteenth century tradition of East Anglia, such as Dedham, Lavenham, and Blythburgh”, although the tower, an important element of the composition was unexecuted. Erith’s superb drawing skills were put to good use in producing a set of presentation drawings for parish consumption which made the concrete church look more like a Suffolk parish church than it would ever do again.

Not surprisingly perhaps this unexpected building got a rough ride from the Church Commissioners’ architects, but Architectural Review supported St. Andrew’s as a “brave experiment that has the merit of combining structural sincerity with a genuine English feeling.” Hilda Mason anticipated that a connection with the Perrett’s concrete Church of Notre Dame, Le Raincy (1922-3) was, and is, inevitable. She feared that this would increase the unpopularity of her own church by association with architecture which was too innovative, foreign and Catholic.

Hilda Mason’s other major work was completely modernist, Kings Knoll, 1933, Woodbridge, a house for herself in the International Style.

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This now Grade II listed building is a fascinating hodgepodge of styles, one that bravely predates by many years postmodernist architects willingness to mix historical styles which was so forbidden by hardline Modernists.

 

People Power installation by Stephan Charnook

Claire and I visited Manchester for the first time at the end of April. Of the many things we saw and did, a highlight for us both was a visit to the People’s History Museum. Housed in a specially converted pump-house, the museum hosts an amazing visual display of artefacts relating to political history of ordinary people in this country, with an obvious bent towards Manchester related events and organisations, from the Peterloo Massacre to celebrating 150 years of the Co-op.

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The museum could equally be called the Graphic People’s History Museum, as walking around it becomes obvious just how important graphic design has been to organised labour and grass-roots movements in this county. From broadsheets to posters, from trade union banners to badges and T-shirts—this must be a go-to museum for anyone interested in political graphic design. Importantly, they also have a dedicated conservation room, with conservers fighting the effects of time on historically important trade union banners. (You even get to see them at work through a large plate glass window into what looks like a humidity controlled room with banners laid out on vast tables; unfortunately this is the only area you are not permitted to take photographs).

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As the museum covers a vast time period, it is not surprising that the visuals employed to ‘agitate, educate and organise’ change throughout the three floors. From original iconic pre-World War 1 posters that you’ll readily see in graphic design history books, to some truly excruciating 1980s anti-racist GLC posters:

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If there are any criticisms I can make of the collection it is that the narrative presented has a left-wing bias that gives the sense that this is the ‘official’ story. While it is understandable that the Labour Party and key trade unions are focussed on in large measure, being highly important and having the biggest historical impact on this country, some factional left parties and organisations are given exposure over others. For example, a sympathetic nod is given to the Anti-Nazi League and the SWP and Militant Tendency, while there is a complete lack of anything relating to anarchist history; there is no Class War or anarcho-punk mentioned anywhere, both of which were very visual in their output and both politically and culturally important throughout the 1980s and into the 1990s in the north of England. Despite this minor gripe, there is a good spread of other worthy causes such as gay & lesbian rights and the Anti-Apartheid Movement, although these were quite fleeting considering the impact they had on changing societal attitudes.

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One of the most touching displays for me was a celebration of those that volunteered from the UK to fight fascists in Spain during the Spanish Civil War in 1936, including a typed and signed letter from George Orwell. There is something about this story that I always find moving. Having read and seen much about how ordinary people gave up their time, (and many their lives), to help fight the advance of fascism in Spain, so that the Spanish themselves could concentrate on fighting their own revolution, being confronted by collections of belongings from those on the front lines was over-powering.

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A POUM wallet is displayed with volunteers’ belongings from the Spanish Civil War. POUM—a Spanish communist/Marxist party with anarchist sympathies who organised battalions of foreign volunteers to help fight fascists, (and for whom George Orwell fought alongside).

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It seems both fitting and sad to write this post today when many right-wing, (and some openly racist), parties have had electoral success in European elections this last week. It was hard not to let his thought linger today as I edited these images to post here. But when we were walking around the museum it was equally depressing that there was not only a corner of the permanent collection devoted to the Manchester born Co-operative Society, but also on the ground floor the Museum was hosting a special exhibition celebrating 150 years of the Co-op. While this in and of itself was a great exhibition, with the Co-op in so much financial and organisational trouble at the moment, it felt like a very deflating experience looking through the Co-operative’s rightfully proud history with knowledge of how recent greed and mismanagement has bought such an important British institution to its knees.

Employees’ magazine for the pre-Co-op CWS

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So it is with a bitter-sweet taste in my mouth that I post these pictures here. But regardless, if you are in Manchester at any time then I can not recommend a visit to the People’s History Museum enough.

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I’ve recently had the pleasure of working with Eddie Duggan of the BA (Hons) Computer Games Design course at UCS. Eddie has been organising From Cardboard to Keyboard and Back, the XVII Annual Colloquium for the International Board Game Studies Association, due to be hosted at UCS’s Ipswich campus later this month. It is a major conference with papers being presented from academics, historians, archaeologists and students from around the world.

I agreed to design and artwork the conference programme last year, and after a hectic few weeks of work on the contents over Easter, the artwork was finally sent to print this week. Eddie and I involved second year UCS graphic design and illustration students in the process, who in small teams had to pitch concepts for a cover illustration and delegate maps, with Eddie acting as an external client who they had never met before. The activity provided them with a chance to hone their professional skills by presenting their concepts to someone who wasn’t a peer or a lecturer they were familiar with.

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Colloquium programme cover with the winning illustration by second year graphic design student team comprised of: Jamie Bird, Tatjana Gecmane and Georgina Warden; who won a ‘client pitching’ activity to have their work featured in the publication.

It has been an honour to be involved in some small way with this conference, and great to have been able to give graphic design students a chance to have their work showcased to an international audience.

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An exhibition of work created by third year Graphic Design students at UCS themed on English culture. This exhibition will also feature work by graphic design students from Edith Cowen University in Australia, who answered a brief in tandem with UCS students looking at Australian culture.

The exhibition is being curated by second year UCS Graphic Design students as part of a professional practice module. Second year students are creating the visuals that support and publicise the exhibition, deciding how to hang the work on display, as well as blog and tweet about their experiences in hosting an exhibition for the first time.

The Private View is 20 May at 17:30, Public View weekdays 21–26 May 10:00–17:00, (email graphics@ucs.ac.uk in advance for access).

Room 1, University Campus Suffolk, Arts Building, Ipswich

ourenglanducs.wordpress.com

@OurEnglandUCS

Today I stumbled across The Truth of Revolution, Brother, a proposed book about the philosophy of punk.

Taking its title from a Crass lyric, (the infamous anarcho-punk band that took punk’s DIY ethos to a whole new socio-political level), the book promises to go well beyond the music, fashion and graphics shlock that most nostalgic punk cash-ins opt for. For anyone like myself who formed many of their personal and social political beliefs from their experiences within the punk movement will understand what an important document this could end up being. Particularly if the accompanying promo video is anything to go by:

 

The book is being put together by the surnameless Lisa, Charlie and Robin, who say the book is largely written and designed, almost ready to go. With a launch date of August 2014, they’ve started a Kickstarter campaign to raise enough funds for the first print run, and come payday, I’ll be on Kickstarter making my donation.

 

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