Wednesday, 26 January 2011

Wave us goodbye: Manchester commemorates the Holocaust (press release)

Poetry films on the BBC Big Screen in Manchester will commemorate the Holocaust, bringing together the memories of older Jewish people. 

The project, titled BRING LIGHT TOWARDS YOU, is one of many arts projects run by the arthur+martha arts organisation. In the build-up to Holocaust Memorial Day on 27th January, poetic texts created by the older people, many of whom are Holocaust survivors, will be displayed ‘in lights’ on the Screen at The Triangle in the city centre. 
The Holocaust has often been linked to trains: millions of people, particularly Jews, were taken to concentration camps by train before being killed in the notorious Nazi ‘Final Solution’ during the Second World War. These 30-second films give fragments from accounts of their journeys: to destruction and journeys of escape.  

Artist Lois Blackburn and poet Philip Davenport worked with older Jewish people living at The Morris Feinmann Home, Manchester, exploring issues related to the Holocaust. “To hear these stories has been a powerful, haunting experience,” said Davenport. “The poems are little pockets of emotion that bring alive one of the most notorious events in  recent history. It's hard to imagine the reality of the Holocaust because it was so huge, so brutal. What these tiny moments of remembering do is connect to ordinary people's experience.” 

Lois Blackburn added: “As in all our projects, we talked to people about the small details of their experience, because it is people’s everyday lives that collectively make history. It’s the sandwiches your mum made, or the look on your sister’s face as you said goodbye. The fact that we’ve been able to help people transform these memories into messages that will be seen my thousands is an extraordinary privilege.”

Maria Turner, Activities Co-ordinator at the Morris Feinmann Home, described arthur+martha’s work as: “Sensitive and caring.” 

Some of the pieces were shown on the electronic billboard in Piccadilly Railway Station on Holocaust Memorial Day 2009, but this is the first time that the whole sequence has been seen. arthur+martha have continued to develop the project in partnership with Holocaust Memorial Day Trust, working with young people with special needs, Roma children and many others.

Funding for the project came from Sparks: The Clore Jewish Development Fund. arthur+martha are regularly supported by Arts Council England.
- Ends - 

Notes to editors: 
Holocaust Memorial Day 
In November 2005, the United Nations established Holocaust Memorial Day as a day of remembrance across the World 
Further information can be found by visiting 
• The theme for HMD 2011 is Untold Stories, which recognises that there are millions of stories that we will never know because they have been lost forever due to the Holocaust and subsequent genocides.

Monday, 24 January 2011

The Bubble Project week 2

You can usually give a bit of a sigh of relief on week 2 of a project; you know a little of what to expect- the people you are likely to be working with, the room layout, the pace of the day... and so we relaxed a bit into the project. Added to our core group of Young Carers were new faces, bringing fresh ideas and energy.

painted latex glove

With our projects with older people, I'm used to the discussions and word making being the popular activity and older people struggling with confidence and the physicality of visual art making. However with the young people, Phil and our roles are reversed. Here Phil is the one having to find inventive ways to motivate the group, and my job is to introduce ideas and techniques and watch the Young Carers run with them.

Phil worked in a low-profile way this week, asking people to comment on their work as they made it - little insights began to emerge, interests and concerns, ways of looking at the world. It's these little phrases that can tell so much about someone; Phil jotted them down, getting poem sketches. I saw him talking with Ryan and snapped a picture of the piece that was developng out of a conversation about the band Green Day. Ryan's work has a punky energy and a touch of Scarfe too - I'm hoping that some of the cutup song lyrics will find their way into his final piece.

Ryan's Customised Trainers

This week we continued with the customised trainers, continuing to find ways of combining the word and the visual. You can see more examples at our flickr site. I love the bold simplistity of Ryan's sprayed, written and painted on trainers, and the storytelling of Kitty's. With a little guidance from Phil she devised The Trainer of Optimism and The Trainer of Evil, each with a twist on her initials: Kitty Bongo for happiness and Killing Bonanza for her dark side.

Good things, Kitty

The life size portraits continued to grow and take shape. It was inspiring to see the energy of the participants being channeled into the action painting, using the diffusers, spattering, spraying, dripping, paint brushes and hands the artworks quickly took shape. Its great working on the floor, it encourages a loose physical approach, working 360 degrees around the piece, loosing the sense of top and bottom. 

Next Saturday we will start to cut the figures out, so we can take another look at them with view for exhibition. 

Collage making was our additional technique this week, particularly when it combined image, colour and word. Kitty did a fantastic collaged hand, that I hope she will add to her life size portrait. It seems to sum up the day, a hand never still, and covered in ink!

Thanks again to our helper Louise. This week we also had two volunteers, Bryone from the Youth Fed, who found us by happy accident at the beginning of the day, and stayed joining in activities and invaluable help clearing up tables, brushes etc. and the wonderful Sarah, who brought with her a welcoming calmness brought of years of experience in teaching art and textiles, and skills and ideas from her own professional practice.

Sunday, 23 January 2011

Light a candle: Holocaust Memorial Day 2011

(Image shows participant from our holocaust-related project Eyebright partnered by HMDT)

Message from Holocaust Memorial Day Trust:

Please help to create a safer, better future by clicking on the HMD 2011 virtual candle By lighting the candle, you are helping to remember the millions of people whose lives were wasted in the Holocaust, under Nazi Persecution and in the subsequent genocides in Cambodia, Rwanda, Bosnia and Darfur.

The theme for Holocaust Memorial Day 2011 is Untold Stories, which recognises that there are millions of stories that we will never know because they have been lost forever due to the Holocaust and subsequent genocides. Watch the exclusive online trailer for HMD 2011 to discover some of these Untold Stories
Please share these links with your friends, family and colleagues – and encourage them to share it too.

You can like us on facebook and Follow us on Twitter

Monday, 17 January 2011


The Bubble Project: working with Young Carers in Warrington.

On Saturday, Phil and I started the first of 5 workshops for The Bubble Project, at Warrington Art Gallery and Museum. We had a small but perfectly formed group of young people join us for an assortment of art and writing activities around the theme of Street Art and the current exhibition in the Art Gallery. After a facilitating guided tour of Elbow Toe's exhibition from Derek Dick, everyone had an opportunity to try out a variety of activities including poetry writing, trainer customising, making collage materials, contributing to a record breaking long poem and drawing, and life size portraits. The surprise hit of the day was using the spray diffusers with the brusho ink. There was something so transfixing about watching the inks moving across the page and the colours mixing and blending in unexpected ways. There's something freeing about covering a page with colour and shape without using a paint brush or pencil, it takes the fear out of the blank white page.

The size of the group allowed us to get to know each other faster, and for the quieter, shyer children to have space to come out of their shell in a way that may not have happened so easily if they had been lost in a larger group. There wasn't much talk about their roles as carers, it seemed more natural to simply enjoy the time, space and freedom to get on with something creative, to forget any troubles at home, to enjoy exploring materials, colour and words as any other child might.

I'm really looking forward to next week, they are a wonderful group to work with. Next week we develop the life size portraits further, and introduce the technique of collage.

A big thanks to all our helpers, Ann who has had the role of a carer herself and in turn been cared for, enthusiastically cheered on the children and enjoying having a go herself. Louise quietly got on with activities and encouraged others to do the same. Jamie from the Youth Federation came in and combined a burst of energy with working sensitively with the children. Melanie freely shared many creative ideas and helped to make the children feel relaxed and welcomed. And a thanks to the parents and staff at Hayfield Primary, who have been collecting un-wanted trainers for customising.


everyone has different foundations
of love and hate
family traditions
my grandma’s cup of tea
Quality Street from my mum
dad the cornerstone
it’s different the ways you grow
tho when you’re going through you don’t understand
experience is difference
eating hot choc fudge cake is different to
Pringles sour cream and onion
or stopping a punch
just like every family is different to every

and every everyone has different
love and hate come one+two together
when you’re a carer
you’ve got to grow tall quicker
build your own confidence
get all your homework done
get injured, lose trust, lose your pet rabbit
go to a concert and be a rock n roll star
drink from the well of rage
go exploring
the tranquillity of solitude
go and look at the biggest trees
you’ve ever seen

each has different foundations.

(group poem)

Monday, 10 January 2011

Chi Chi the panda and the impossibility of freedom in the shared mind of any given social structure

(From China journal Jan 2010)

China as body politic has been a decade coming out of the big cold war freeze, but it's happening slowly and with contra-indications. On one hand there's an outbreak of Starbucks, on the other there's secret police fingerprints. In Chengdu we find the whole thing exemplified by pandas. Chengdu is one of the big international tourist stop-offs in China because this is, or was, panda country . (Less well-known is the beauty of Chengdu teahouses in summer; even less well-known is the fact that Yan Yan's mum lives here.)

On our first morning in the city, we book an early cab to see the pandas getting their breakfast. It's a cold, bright day with a little mist and we hurtle past dayglo shopfronts and little tableaux of huddled people readying stalls and gossiping, their breath condensing on the cold air. I feel properly a tourist today, snapshotting curiosities from our warm taxi. Julia is still acclimatising to the driving style and has her eyes closed.

We arrive in time for the first panda munch of bamboo shoots. The bears' audience of Chinese and European tourists coo as one. Pandas have the knack of appearing to pick delicately at their food, while in actuality shovelling hundredweights of breakfast down their throats. It's a dodge I envy. They are almost a definition of cute (aka “Q” here) with their Mary Quant eyes and cuddly demeanour and they've a delicacy at odds with their size. I flashback my dad's old cine footage of Chi Chi in the London Zoo of my early childhood.

The panda sanctuary is renowned for its inmates fabulous living conditions so we're disturbed to see the animals in small concrete cells, glassed on one side so that people like us can peer in at the bears despite their shyness. Then as we watch a magic trick occurs, a small steel door opens in the cell we are watching and the bear disappears into greenery. We go around the back to see a large field of grass, shrubs and trees where the bear is free to roam with a couple of companions. This pattern is repeated through the sanctuary. At first it's a relief to see the animals released into a bigger captivity. But of course it is still captivity. And it is one perhaps not so different to that shared by the human population.

Friday, 7 January 2011

No. 1 Emperor

(From China journal Jan 2010)

If you happen to find yourself in the walled city of old Xian you might think of visiting Lao Sun Jia. Climb some wooden steps between janglingly bright neoned shop fronts, part a polythene draught screen and you'll find yourself in a restaurant that's a venerable 100 years old. It looks like a Brit burger bar from the 1970s, all beige and formica, but the food is fit for picky kings. Julia and I stumble in, late evening, and within minutes the table is a mini-banquet of Yangrou Pao Mo, a lamb broth with bread crumbled into it, stir-fried pepper and beef, and - most spectacular of all - roast lamb and wolfberry. The sauce is a dark chocolatey sheen dotted with red flecks of the fruit. With our meal, come ale glasses of local tea. Within each glass are berries and flowers. It's like drinking the taste of a summer garden.

Xian sits on the Silk Road and part of this legacy is Muslim-influenced cookery. The city has a Muslim quarter near our hotel. The other legacy is the abiding principle of fear as a key to power. The city walls are 12 metres high, 14 km long and wide enough to accomodate a major road if you wanted to run one along it. A further outer wall, now gone, was seven times the length of this. Streets are a grid, typical for a military-friendly city - it's easier to crush rebellion.

Outside Xian, below ground level, is the city's most famous heirloom - the terracotta army. They are the death guardians of the First Emperor Qin Shi Huang, a man who both united and terrorised his subjects. He particularly liked burying people alive and it seems appropriate that those terracotta companions of his were not only buried, but are themselves made of clay. All returns to the earth, the lesson of Ozymandius. Although his army has been disinterred, the First Emperor's personal tomb has not been excavated. It is reputedly full of traps, mazes, underground rivers of mercury.

We walk around these hordes of clay people. The scale of the enterprise has a kind of wild triumphalism, as if Qin Shi Huang was going head-to-head with death. Or as a canny powerbroker, that's perhaps what he wanted people to think. It's a strange, dazing place - an archaeological dig the size of a battlefield roofed over aircraft hanger style. The army are in battle array, readied in columns. A few are separate from the main horde for close inspection, among them a ringer for Joe Stalin. I photograph some of them and text the picture to Trehy for his birthday message; he has a collector's fondness for autocrats.

Tuesday, 4 January 2011

Tibet Kitsch

(From China journal Jan 2010)

The Tibet Hotel in Chengdu has a marbled entrance foyer full of light effects and high-back cushioned chairs, doormen in brown felt coats and in the teashop a line of Tibetan wall embroideries. Up on the roof of this 20-odd-storey block is a Tibet-themed temple-style roof. There is Yak on the menu.

In our room are two crossbreed bhudda/pixies and the bathroom accessories in their spotlit cabinet are held in a silk bag with Tibetan-inspired calligraphy as decoration. It's funny in the way that corporate hotel themes are funny, but a joke with bad breath. In the last four years since the China-Tibet railway opened China has re-colonised this colony with train cargoes of migrant workers, aiming to dilute Tibetan-ness so much that the country becomes at last a province. The relationship, we are told, is an uneasy one. Our original plan was to visit Tibet but the extra travel and visas and money and the subzero season precluded the idea. With Julia still coughing from Huang Jie Ping's traffic smoke and studio chill I'm glad that this is the version we ended up with, however ersatz.

The room is toasting warm, the bath (my first in two months) has unlimited hot water, the bed has fresh linen, the thing is sumptuous. We sit in armchairs drinking the Oolong tea that Yan Yan gave us as one of his parting gifts. The tea is fabulous and the warmth of the room lulls us.

Yan Yan also gave me an exquisite writing book and green tea. Dan Dan gave Julia a red shawl for her cough and me a book of stone print characters. Deng Chuan gave me a pottery tiger that looks like an extra from Yellow Submarine. Yao Bo gave me Li Bai in Chinese, in answer to my Pound version. Wang Jun gave us a book of his work and a huge farewell feast. The reason I give this list is to make a point. None of these people are rich; all are generous with what they have and their consideration.

For my part, I elicited help from Deng Chuan in last-minute present buying rush and she made her disapproval for my thoughtlessness clear - and was additionally unimpressed when I try to make things better by spending more money. Present-buying is about the acknowledgement of the other individual; an inappropriate gift is sloppy and hurtful. So we drink Yan Yan's tea and I think about the kindness of China and the invasion of Tibet.