Sculpture for a Modern World?

“I was born with the ideas of certain shapes in my mind, as far back as seven …”

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The sculptor Barbara Hepworth developed her unique vision early in life – her career refined and developed this into art.  We have seen something similar with her near contemporary, Jacquetta Hawkes, and her interest in the deep past.   Both artists were drawn to the qualities of stone and of landscape, the visual, the tactile – a romantic, lyrical, British take on modernism.

They came together on the experimental film Figures in a Landscape, for which Jacquetta wrote the script, characteristically setting Hepworth’s art in the context of Cornwall’s geology.  Again and again the director, Dudley Shaw Ashton, shows us natural forms in the landscape which then merge with Hepworth’s created forms.  We see her creating too, at work in her studio, hewing her ideas out of the rock with chisel and saw; hard, physical work requiring strength and finesse.

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The film uses strident music by Priaulx Rainier and saturated 1950s colours to striking effect.  Before I saw it, having read the script, I’d pictured the black and white, wild, romantic Du Maurier Cornwall depicted in films of the period.  I remember being surprised and even unsettled by the way the elements of the film were put together, and it made me look again at Hepworth (who, like Henry Moore, may have suffered from over-exposure as a certain kind of public art, ubiquitous and often unloved in public spaces during the 1970s).

This intriguing film is on show as part of a major Hepworth retrospective.  Open from 24 June-25 October 2015, Sculpture for a Modern World has been extensively reviewed and discussed and will bring Hepworth and her contemporaries to new audiences.  I hope to visit the exhibition next time I am in London – watch this space!

It makes my flesh weary: Jacquetta Hawkes and continental drift

Why do Earth’s continents fit together so neatly?  Were they once joined together?  If so, why did they move apart?  Are they still moving and if so, how?   The theory of plate tectonics, developed during the 1960s, elegantly answers these puzzling questions.  The continents are on plates which move thanks to convection, grind against each other and move as new rocks rise up through the ocean ridges and push the plates apart.  We now see that Earth’s geology is a dynamic, living system, with renewal centred on the sea bed.

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When Jacquetta Hawkes wrote A Land, this theory hadn’t yet taken shape.   Geological change in her worldview was overwhelmingly vertical: land rose through volcanic activity and was then worn down, endlessly.

” … the limestones and sandstones, the chalk and clay that make so great a part of the landscape of Britain. It makes my flesh weary to recall this seemingly endless levelling down. In fact it is not endless. So long as the hard skin on which we live rests on a morass of molten magma, there must come a moment when it will weaken and ruck up, and as the energy long curbed below is freed, the sedimentary rocks that have been laid so quietly on the sea floor may be thrust up ruggedly into the air.”

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Tim Radford cites this striking passage in a chapter on plate tectonics in his new Guardian short, Science that changed the world.   For him, Jacquetta’s book, along with The Sea Around Us, by Rachel Carson, illustrates the 1950s view of the workings of Earth:

“For [Carson], and for Hawkes, the ocean floor was the basement, the foundation, the oldest part of the planet. It was pretty difficult to imagine how a continent could migrate across it. The seeming snugness of fit of the Brazilian bump and the west African concavity was just as likely to be a co-incidence: just one of those puzzling things in a perpetually puzzling world. There were, indeed, as both writers seem casually to concede, schools of thought that contended that continents could move. It was just that nobody could imagine how the continents could have moved, and then propose an empirical way of proving that they did”.

Photo credit: Globes in the National Geographic shop, Regent Street, 2008.  Ricardo’s flickr stream, CC BY 2.0.

Stone-book and word-hoard: Robert Macfarlane returns to A Land

A Land, the unique, unclassifiable book Jacquetta Hawkes was born to write, is celebrated in the latest publication from nature writer Robert Macfarlane: LANDMARKS.

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Landmarks is a word-hoard, a glossary of disappearing dialect words for British nature phenomena, a celebration of the particular and the specific (qualities to which Jacquetta was of course drawn in her own writing).  Macfarlane reflects on his own journey into nature writing and the authors who influenced him.  He describes A Land as the “stone-book” of his twenties and devotes several pages to reflections on its power and strangeness.

Macfarlane always has interesting things to say about A Land, a book he has clearly pondered over many years.  I noticed the way he discusses an interesting paradox in A Land.  Its scale is both very broad – spanning millennia, transcending ideas of nation/country/race, absurd when seen from the perspective of deepest time – and very precise.  It is recognisably a product of its particular time and place: New Elizabethan Britain: the era of the Festival of Britain, renewal after the privations of post-war austerity, the romantic modernism of Barbara Hepworth and Henry Moore.  As Macfarlane notes, Jacquetta shaped the relationship of these disparate elements with aplomb and daring, zooming from her own garden to the Cretaceous and bringing all together with passion, deep knowledge and honesty.

From Aquabob to Zawn, Guardian article by Robert Macfarlane about the word-hoard in Landmarks & some (very positive) reviews of the book: Guardian, Independent, Telegraph, Times Higher Education Supplement.

Beautiful, Inspiring, Moving: responses to Woman in Time

“Woman in Time”, our spoken word event based on the diaries and poems of Jacquetta Hawkes, went down ever so well.  Waterstones Bradford cafe was the perfect location, with a view of beautiful books and plenty of delicious cakes and coffee.  We got some lovely feedback – this cloud shows the words our audience used to describe the event.

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Huge thank you to the British Science Association for funding this project and to Waterstones Bradford for being such lovely hosts.  And of course Tori Herridge for having the idea for this event and making it happen.  We are investigating possible venues for a repeat performance in London sometime soon … cake is a must of course.

Jacquetta updates!

Coming along to our fantastic free event exploring Jacquetta’s Mount Carmel experience on 18 March?  All welcome and there is still room!  Register and find out more here.

Yesterday Dr Christine Finn was interviewed on BBC Radio Jersey: she discussed Jacquetta’s Jersey archae0logy and some exciting news about her authorised biography – you can listen to the interview on the iplayer (up till 10 April).  Christine’s piece is about an hour into the broadcast.

The Return of Lazy Susan

The rich visual and creative imagination of Jacquetta Hawkes continues to inspire artists: working with them is one of the delights of managing her Archive.  In 2014, Kate Morrell created the exhibition Pots Before Words for Gallery II at the University of Bradford.  She drew on the ideas and formats to be found in the collection to develop fascinating new artworks, including this sculpture and “portable toolkit”, Lazy Susan.

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In March 2015, we will be delighted to welcome Kate and Lazy Susan back to Bradford.  Kate is extending and reflecting on the original project by filming female archaeologists and archivists (using Lazy Susan) to discuss and explore artefacts from their profession.  I will be one of the interviewees!

Woman in Time

Woman in Time

Waterstones Bradford, 18 March 2015, 7-8 pm

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Join Tori Herridge and me (Alison Cullingford) for Woman in Time, an exploration of humanity from its earliest days through to the turbulent middle years of the 20th Century.  We use poetry and spoken word performance to tell stories of three women. One of these women died, one went on to great things, and one disappeared.  Their lives intersected on one day 80 years ago …

Part of British Science Week.  Find out more on their website and register via eventbrite here.