The Democracy of [Art].

Some writers…are firmly of the opinion that there is a correct way to read their books, and they argue strongly with readers who, they think have got them wrong. My view is exactly the opposite. Readers may interpret my work in any way they please, and people do…The problem with my telling people what I think such-and-such a story means is that my interpretation seems to have some extra authority, which shuts down debate: if the author himself has said it means X, then it can’t mean Y. Believing as I do in the democracy of reading, I don’t like the sort of totalitarian silence that descends when there is one authoritative reading of any text.” – Taken from the Afterword in Philip Pullman’s ‘The Good Man Jesus and the Scoundrel Christ’

This paragraph in Pullman’s book really stuck out for me, and I found myself re-reading the words over and over again. Replacing the terms ‘writer/author’ with ‘artist‘ and ‘book/reading/text’ with ‘art‘, the meaning behind this excerpt can be expanded to demonstrate the accessibility of art and the opportunities it holds in opening debate, be it positive or negative. It’s a statement that I firmly believe – I find great interest in seeing ways in which works of art introduce viewers to new ideas and perspectives, showing us that from one object can be taken a number of different yet equal interpretations depending on the viewers upbringing, education, past experiences, religious/political/social beliefs, etc.

Lest we forget: 100 years on from the First World War.

“By the end of the First World War there were very few people in the countries that took part who remained unaffected. The war reached out and touched almost everyone’s life in some way or other.”

Yesterday marked the centenary of Britain entering the Great War (1914-1918) – the first global conflict of the Industrial Age. Artists and historians have been commissioned for various projects to mark the start of the First World War and to commemorate all those who fought in it. The Open University enlisted the help of a restoration expert to colourise a selection of photographs taken during the conflict. The original black and white images have been completely transformed and brought to life, presenting windows into the lives of the many soldiers and civilians affected by the events of World War I.

(For those wanting to learn more about the events that shaped the First World War, a short BBC video by Dan Snow, giving an overview of the whole war, can be found here)

 

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German Field Artillery Regiment crew, with a 7.7 cm Feldkanone 96 field gun, 1914

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Cleveland Frank Snoswell returns home to Australia from the war

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A soldier receives a hair cut from an Alpine barber in a trench on the Albanian front in 1918.

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Canadian infantry with the mascot of the 3rd Canadian Infantry Battalion, August 1916.

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Indian infantry prepare for a gas attack by wearing gas masks in their trench, 1915.

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A group of soldiers advance from a trench, over a protective wall of sandbags (c. 1915).

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A mobile pigeon loft, which enabled messages to be sent from the Front Line back to headquarters. The BBC reports that 100,000 carrier pigeons were used as messengers throughout the First World War, and records show they delivered 95% of their messages correctly.

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A young boy and girl ride in a decorated toy car to promote the Red Cross during a charity fundraising event in Adelaide, Australia.

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A soldier and horse wear gas masks at the Canadian Army Veterinary Corps Headquarters.

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Members of the 1st Australian Imperial Force at a camp in Australia (c. 1916).

SkyCycle: The Future of London

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The proposed SkyCycle tracks. Image source: Foster & Partners

Norman Foster’s vision for a network of bike paths suspended over London’s railway lines, could see commuters gliding over the city as they travel to and from work. Unveiled earlier in January, SkyCycle would allow cyclists to move through the city completely liberated from the roads. The plans have already won the backing of Network Rail and Transport for London and would see the installation of over 220km of elevated, car-free routes suspended on pylons over the suburban rail track lines, with over 200 entrance points, ultimately accommodating 12,000 cyclists per hour. Lord Foster, for whom cycling is a great passion, describes the plan as “a lateral approach to finding space in a congested city…By using the corridors above the suburban railways, we could create a world-class network of safe, car-free cycle routes that are ideally located for commuters.” The idea gained the approval of the London Mayor, Boris Johnson, by complete accident after Foster’s team bumped into Boris in the lift on their way to a meeting at City Hall. The addition of SkyCycle to London’s already eclectic skyline would present yet another innovative way in which the historic city has continually evolved and adapted to its growing population and to changing fashion.

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Originally conceived in the 1890’s as a money-making enterprise, the California Cycleway (to connect Pasadena to Los Angeles via 14km of raised timber decking, with a toll of 10 cents per Cycleway user) was never completed due to the rise of the Model T Ford and the automobile industry. Only 2km of the track was built before construction ceased. Will Foster’s SkyCycle prove better luck?  Image source: Cycle Infrastructure/nai010

 

Photos Merged: Cities of World War II, then and now.

Google Street View specialist Halley Docherty brings life to old pictures by combining aged photos with corresponding Street View images. In these photos Docherty takes us back to cities of the second world war, giving us a glimpse of life then and now.

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A boy reaches for his father’s hand as Canada’s British Columbia Regiment marches through New Westminster, B.C. October 1940.

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German soldiers march down the Champs-Elysées in Paris, June 1940.

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On October 14th 1940, a bomb partially destroyed the Balham station civilian air raid shelter during the London blitz.

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Cranes lifting buses from the Balham bomb crater, October 1940.

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The bridge connecting two sections of the ghetto in Warsaw, Poland, pictured in the first half of 1942, a year before the Warsaw uprising.

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Crowds watch the D-Day newsline ticker at Times Square, New York City, on June 6th 1944.

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Jubliant crowds line the Champs-Elysées after the liberation of Paris in August 1944.

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Russian soldiers rally at the Brandenburg Gate in Berlin in 1945.

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A man surveys the wreckage left by the explosion of the atomic bomb over Hiroshima, Japan, in August 1945. The ruins of the Prefectural Industrial Promotion Hall (pictured), one of the few buildings to remain standing, are now part of the Peace Memorial Park.

 

Photographs all by Halley Docherty.

London’s Seven Dials

The stranger who finds himself in the Dials for the first time…at the entrance of Seven obscure passages, uncertain which to take, will see enough around him to keep his curiosity awake for no inconsiderable time…” – Charles Dickens, ‘Sketches by Boz’ (1836)

In the early 1690’s, the MP Thomas Neale (1641-99) attempted to develop part of the overcrowded slum of London’s St. Giles into what is now Seven Dials. Today the trendy shopping area is a far cry from the disreputable hovel depicted in William Hogarth’s Gin Lane (1751) – printed almost 60 years after Neale strove to pull the area out of the gutter, it shows that the original plans for redevelopment were ultimately a failure. Neale wanted to establish Seven Dials as a fashionable London address, following in the earlier footsteps of the successful Covent Garden Piazza. However, the area failed to do this and it quickly deteriorated into one renowned for its many gin shops. At one point a pub could be found on every one of the seven points facing the central column, their cellars and vaults connecting in the basement, accommodating the possible need for a quick escape.

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William Hogarth, ‘Gin Lane’ from Beer Street and Gin Lane, 1751, Etching and engraving. Image source: en.wikipedia.org

Neale’s master plan began to unfold in 1691, with the construction of six streets radiating out from a central ‘circus’, holding a column decorated with six sundials. A seventh street – the eastern part of what is now Mercer Street, named after the Worshipful Company of Mercers, who owned the land and licensed the building work – was added in the early years of the eighteenth century, but it was too late for anyone to alter the already finished column to match. The seventh style of the middle column has thus been interpreted as the actual monument itself.

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Modern day map of Seven Dials, London.

Charles Dickens Junior (1837-96) noted the poverty of the area in the nineteenth century: shops selling second and third hand goods, a bizarre cluster of stores selling “every rarity of pigeon, fowl and rabbit, together with rare Birds such as hawks, owls and parrots, love birds and other species native and foreign”. He took note of children playing in the streets together completely unsupervised, while their parents presumably sat in one of the seven pubs facing the central monument – “it is evident whatever there may be a lack of in the Dials, there is no lack of money for drink”.

Moreover, the nineteenth century also saw an influx of Irish workers into the area, who were predominately attracted by the cheap, though overcrowded, lodgings. Henry Mayhew observed in 1861: “In many houses in Monmouth Street there is a system of sub-letting among journeymen. In one room lodged a man and his wife, (a laundress), 4 children and 2 single young men. The woman was actually delivered in this room while the men kept at their work – they never lost an hours work!” The flood of immigrants gradually spread out to surrounding areas, from Endell Street to Charing Cross Road and Shaftesbury Avenue, easing pressure on Seven Dials and allowing for a steady gentrification of it as craftsmen and larger businesses moved in.

** Interestingly, nearby Neal’s Yard, today housing many vegetarian cafes and homeopathic remedy shops, has been home to alternative medicine, occultism, and astrologers since the seventeenth century, all of whom were attracted by the sundials and the symbolic star layout of Seven Dials.

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Photo of Seven Dials looking up Little Earl Street, now part of Earlham Street, in 1896.

Mixed Blood

Coming from an Anglo-Japanese background myself, CYJO’s continuous photographic series Mixed Blood (2010-2013) is something that hits close to home. The project depicts New York and Beijing based “mixed” families, and highlights the cross-cultural, unique, and subjective lifestyles and experiences born from the amalgamation of different cultures, faiths, and ethnicities. CYJO’s photos are windows into the lives of families that have had to naturally create a culture and identity of their own through tradition, modernisation, and citizenship.

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I feel a strong connection to the portraits and narratives in CYJO’s Mixed Blood. They are at once familiar and provocative. They highlight the borrowing, plucking, reshaping, and discarding that we do in fixing our identities at any given time, in a particular space, and for a particular purpose. – Dr. Maya Soetoro-Ng, University lecturer and sister of US President Obama.

 

Liu Bolin: The Invisible Man

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Hiding in the City No. 16 and No. 17 — People’s Policeman, 2006. Photo: Eli Klein Fine Art, © Liu Bolin

As a child (and still today) I was/am a huge fan of the Where’s Wally series. So coming across Liu Bolin’s work for the first time this year, I was instantly drawn to the similar challenge it invited of finding hidden figures. Bolin is more commonly and aptly known as the “Invisible Man” due to his incredible talent of blending into the backgrounds and settings of his works – in some cases, he is completely unseen despite being in the absolute foreground. Presenting a talk at a TED conference in February 2013 (just under 8 minutes long and really worth watching!), the Chinese artist explained that physically disappearing into his art gave him the opportunity to consider the “contradictory and often inter-cancelling” relationship between civilisation and its development. Through these images Bolin was able to emphasise the social and political issues inherent in China today, using his works as a platform to speak for those made invisible by the Chinese government – whether by consumer culture or by circumstances of history.

In the talk, Bolin refers to his 2005 ‘Hiding in the City’ collection as a “reflective…series of protests”, highlighting its powerful and intentionally thought-provoking nature. The images came about after Chinese police destroyed the artist’s village of Suo Jia Cun, as the government attempted to discourage communities of artists working and living together. In retaliation, Bolin and his assistants painted his clothes, face, and hair to blend into the background of his torn down studio. Since then, the “Invisible Man” can be found fading into scenes set all over Beijing. The objective being that “just as with Bolin himself, the contradictions and confusing narratives of China’s post-Cultural Revolution society are often hiding in plain sight”.

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Hiding in the City – 2005. Photo: Eli Klein Fine Art, © Liu Bolin

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Hiding in the City — Family Photo, 2012. Photo: Eli Klein Fine Art, © Liu Bolin

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Hiding in the City No. 92 — Temple of Heaven, 2010. Photo: Eli Klein Fine Art, © Liu Bolin

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Hiding in the City — Mobile Phone, 2012. Photo: Eli Klein Fine Art, © Liu Bolin

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Hiding in the City – Sleeping Lion, 2012. Photo: Eli Klein Fine Art, © Liu Bolin

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Hiding in the City – Panda, 2011. Photo: Eli Klein Fine Art, © Liu Bolin

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Hiding in the City No. 99 – Three Goddesses, 2011. Photo: Eli Klein Fine Art, © Liu Bolin

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Hiding in the City No. 71 – Bulldozer, 2008. Photo: Eli Klein Fine Art, © Liu Bolin