What is it to be human? Piece of the day – Saturday

We all have a story – Emma Bird
We all have a story – Emma Bird

So. For my last piece of the day (the exhibition closes today) I have chosen We all have a story by Emma Bird, an intricate sculpture in thin wire.

Emma says this about the piece:

We (being human), we laugh, we cry, we love, we are full of a range of emotions, we make things, we break things, we play, we interact with others, we reproduce. Essentially we all have a story. Our stories are unique, we are all unique, this piece celebrates this concept: we all have a story that is being written.

It is a positive piece, and perhaps one we could too easily enjoy or dismiss as being ‘representative’ (which way you go on that depends very much on what you think art is and what it should do). I think that misses the point. We read the three-dimensional arrangements of wire and we see a person, in part because the lines and folds of the wire have been set to convey that. But that selection, the outlines Emma has chosen to put in wire, are not natural or automatic, any more than the story of our lives. When we tell someone about ourselves we select, edit and omit, using the lines we have to shape the story something to the way we want it. Are we heroic, wronged, selfless? The strands of life we select will be chosen and bent to that shape.

This is a piece which really benefits from being seen in the round: if you are in Newcastle upon Tyne today (Saturday 25th July) you have until 4 pm to see it at the Holy Biscuit, along with the rest of the What Is It To Be Human? exhibition. It will be on view at other venues around the country throughout the rest of the year. Check www.whatisittobehuman.co.uk for details.

What is it to be human? Piece of the day – Friday

Your dancing days are over – Jane Rosier
Your dancing days are over – Jane Rosier

So. My penultimate piece of the day from the What is it to be human? exhibition. I’ve chosen Your dancing days are over by Jane Rosier. Jane says this about the painting:

The title of this piece comes from a recent conversation with my orthopaedic surgeon.

Your dancing days are over.

His diagnosis is clear, unemotional, matter-of-fact, final. My body is going to be cut and that is that. There are no other options. It’s all a bit obvious… almost mundane…from his perspective anyway. But from mine, it’s as though he’s forgotten he’s talking to a person who has any any feelings. There is no consideration of my former talent, my career, my memories, my passion for dance. There is no expectation that I might still have dreams and ambitions. There is no recognition that careless words spoken in a moment might bring overwhelming pain. I pretend to be strong and composed, adult even, but inside feel jarring loss.

But surely to be human is to uncover weakness and admit a cry for help?

So the painting exposes my emotions. I wanted it to be dramatic – stark – showing body parts that have been cut off; depicting a final curtain call on a much loved career; submitting to the disintegration of the human form. I wanted all the texture and colour and imagery of the work to represent decay and abandonment. It’s a view into my real world when those words were spoken: ‘Your dancing days are over’.

It is a bleak picture, because it faces up to the final physical dissolution that awaits us all. No matter how well we eat, exercise, and take only a moderate amount of strong drink, our bodies will fail us. Maybe our minds will fail us first: (the great novelist Iris Murdoch watched Teletubbies as Alzheimer’s erased her memory and mental capacity). It is going to happen.

I don’t know if Jane intended it, but the severed legs behind ‘her’ legs remind me of sixteenth and seventeenth century woodcuts of battles, executions and torture, where dismembering and disemboweling leave a scatter of limbs and body parts. Also, the stack of pieces behind her head bring to mind some of the mediaeval charnel houses and ossuaries, neatly stacked with the bones of those who have already undergone that dissolution.

Jane has given us a response to that question ‘what is it do be human?’ It’s an uncomfortable one, but an honest one.

There’s a better image of the painting here, but to get the full sense of it, come along to the Holy Biscuit today and tomorrow (24th and 25th July – 11 am – 4 pm) and see it along with the rest of the exhibition.

What is it to be human? Piece of the day – Thursday

The one among the many – Jemma Mellor
The one among the many – Jemma Mellor

So. Today’s piece is a series of six photographs by Jemma Mellor, who says this about the set:

The artist is looking at the tension between our opposing desires to be in community yet also to retain our individuality.

We see the benefits of being a collective, being united with others, avoiding isolation and being part of something bigger than ourselves, yet we still long to stand out from the crowd, to be noticed for our individual attributes and to be seen as unique and different.

By focusing on scenes from the city that are devoid of humans, this artwork particularly focuses in on the urban landscapes that are designed with this tension in mind- bringing us together, yet keeping us separate.

The artist is not making a critique of individualism or communal existence, she is simply highlighting this necessary balance that exists for every human being. To be the one among the many.

My first reaction was ‘where is everyone?’ which, I suppose, is picking up on the formal constraint Jemma has imposed on herself for this piece. Thinking further, the one, the isolated person, is the photographer, and by extension the viewer. I become the one, looking at the accommodations for all the other ones who form the many.

You can see a better image of The One Among The Many here, alternatively, come along to the Holy Biscuit to view the work in person and taken in the whole What Is It To Be Human? exhibition which is on until Saturday 25th July (open 11 am – 4 pm).

What is it to be human? Piece of the day – Wednesday

Exodus – Benjamin Harris
Exodus – Benjamin Harris

So. My pick for today is Exodus by Benjamin Harris, a stack of blocks, reminiscent of a child’s first building blocks, but many times bigger. Benjamin says of the work:

The typically friendly childrens’ blocks take an authoritative and sinister towering form. The parallel is drawn between the exodus/leaving from maternal dependancy/Egypt through to the symbolic realm/Wilderness of “standing on your own two feet”; simply, growing up. The blocks become representative of the assimilation of language in the child’s mind; the tangibly ‘real’ is deferred into the black and white aesthetic.

Yup. I can see that. Also, I found in the tower of blocks something of the stark leading of the pillar of cloud and pillar of fire that guided the Israelites out of Egypt in the Exodus story.

You can find better images of Exodus here, or alternatively, to be towered over, call by the Holy Biscuit, where the work is in the What Is It To Be Human exhibition until Saturday 25th July (open 11am – 4 pm).

What is it to be human? Piece of the day – Tuesday

Retrospective sisterhood – Beth Louella
Retrospective sisterhood – Beth Louella

So. Here’s my pick from the WhatIsItToBeHuman exhibition for Tuesday: a double portrait by Beth Louella. Except, as Beth explains, that isn’t quite it:

The painting depicts two women who look like sisters.  They are in fact the same woman (the Artist) nearly twenty years apart.  The young woman on the left is her younger self and the woman on the right is her now. Retrospect is a particularly human quality, as is emotion.

I’m not picking it because of its cleverness (although I do like that), but because it speaks of the way we change and don’t change throughout our lives. I don’t want to get into the ship of Theseus here, but rather reflect on the fact that we do change: physically, I can reach a shelf I couldn’t have when I was four; mentally, my maths is rather better than when I was four; experientially, the lens of memories refracts new experiences. Yet at the same time, I am still me, in the same body, with the same mind and spirit.

Retrospective sisterhood makes me wonder about what was in that twenty year gap, and also my last twenty year gap.

You can see the piece on the WhatIsItToBeHuman web site, or face-to-face at the Holy Biscuit until Saturday 25th July (open 11 am to 4 pm).

What is it to be human? Piece of the day – Monday

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God made man out of the dust of the earth (Genesis 2:7) – Robert Cox

So. This painting by Robert Cox one of the pieces in the What Is It To Be Human exhibition currently at the Holy Biscuit.

Rob describes it like this:

This piece is an abstract representation of the ancient Hebrew creation story. It depicts the idea that we are nothing without the breath of God breathing life and humanity into our body and soul.

I’ve picked for my piece of the day, because of the nearly-abstract blockiness of Adam as he lies there (or almost lies there because he isn’t quite himself yet) with his yellow clowns feet to the left, still part of the earth and also no longer the earth. It’s the making process that Rob has captured. Beaming down on his head are three very solid rods – surely each part of the trinity playing a part in this making.

You can view a sharper photograph of it here. Even better you can see the piece at the exhibition at the Holy Biscuit all this week. It’s open 11 am to 4 pm Tuesday 21st to Saturday 25th July.

What is it to be human?

What is it to be humanSo. It turns out I am organising an exhibition of visual art.

I have been involved with  for two years now. Back in January, Sputnik and Creative Arts Network launched a mixed-medium, open-submission project, asking artists to respond to the question WhatIsItToBeHuman? We had a great response and visual art exhibition is the touring the UK.

WhatIsItToBeHuman? will be showing at the Holy Biscuit, Newcastle, from Monday 20th July to Saturday 25th July, 11-4 pm. We also had three events around the exhibition:

Sunday 19th July, 1–3 pm: Sputnik Sunday Launch.
Bring a picnic and enjoy the first chance to see the exhibition and engage with Sputnik. Drinks and fruit freely available.

Wednesday 22nd July, 7–9 pm: Sputnik Hub.
An opportunity to view the exhibition, with a discussion about Sputnik from 8 pm.

Friday 24th July: Sputnik Acoustic.
An evening of live music and poetry.
Doors open 7 pm, performance begins 8 pm. Drinks and snacks.

If you are nowhere near the North-East of England you can view the exhibition online at www.whatisittobehuman.co.uk along with tracks from the music project and ebooks (in standard ePub and Kindle mobi formats) of the new writing anthology (which I edited).

Our WhatIsItToBeHuman? pack (postcards, CD album and printed anthology) is available to buy.