In sooth, I know not why I am so sad.It wearies me; you say it wearies you.But how I caught it, found it, or came by it,What stuff ’tis made of, whereof it is born,I am to learn.And such a want-wit sadness makes of me,That I have much ado to know myself.— William Shakespeare, The Merchant of Venice
Like Antonio in The Merchant of Venice, I’ve lately been troubled by a inexplicable melancholy. Lethargic to the point of inertia, I was really grateful to the Big T for organising a trip to Gibbs Farm Sculpture Park last week. It got me off my butt and out into the fresh (really fresh) air.
The park is the private domain of entreprenuer Alan Gibbs, and is home to an impressive collection of minimalist abstract sculptures — most on a monumental scale.
Once a month, Gibbs Farm is opened to the public. Tickets are usually snapped up very quickly, so the Big T did wonderfully well in getting us a couple.
As you would expect with a collection that specialises in large-scale work, the park is enormous — around 1000 acres in total. Access is by foot only, although golf carts can be brought in by arrangement for those who could not walk the terrain. It takes around 3-4 hours to visit all the sculptures in good weather. But last Thursday could not be described as having “good weather.” Frequent showers meant a constant juggling act with umbrellas, and soggy ground underfoot made the steeper parts of the walk quite challenging.
But on the plus side, the lowering skies added an incredible atmosphere and provided a great backdrop for photographs.
The scale of the works can be quite challenging for photography. Te Tuhirangi Contour is a wall, 252 metres long and six metres high which follows the natural contour of the land. At this size, I found it really difficult to capture its undulating shape and scale.
Anish Kapoor’s Dismemberment, Site 1, is an 85 metre tube of “PVC membrane stretched between two giant steel elipses.” (1) It rests in a valley, so it’s impossible to see the whole work. In some ways, that just adds to the sense of awe I think the work inspires.
By the end of our visit we were wet, muddy, exhausted and longing for a cuppa. A good day then.
(1) Description of the work in visitors’ guide.
Practicing with my new lens. The boy-child told me it has a very shallow depth of field, but I don’t think I grasped quite how shallow until I shot these photos of our fur-baby. Am quite pleased with them though.
My darling boy-child bought me a new camera lens for my birthday. Fantastic present, and I get to enjoy the packaging as well.
It is ironic, or perhaps just fitting, that these words should be painted on rusting industrial pipes abandoned beside London’s river Thames; they come from The Manifesto of Communist Party, written by Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels, and first published in London in 1848.
The phrase is from a section of the manifesto (1) describing the ways that capitalism fundamentally changes economic, social and even physical structures. By their nature, capitalist enterprises require constant growth and innovation to survive. With changing economic conditions, old social and cultural relationships give way (willingly or not) to new forms of engagement. That which seemed permanent is no more.
London, like many cities, is growing rapidly, with huge physical changes to the landscape. Much of this growth — in construction and infrastructure development — is taking place south of the river around Greenwich and eastward towards the Thames Estuary. The skyline is punctuated with the harsh geometry of cranes and tower blocks.
Earlier this year, we spent a week in Greenwich. Our apartment, occupying a corner position on the seventh floor of a building, had expansive views; of the Cutty Sark, of the three-hundred-year-old St Alfege church (designed by Nicholas Hawksmoor) — and of building work. From every window, the prevailing view was of cranes and half-built apartment blocks, rising above London’s history.
We are beginning to wake up to the fact that unlimited growth is not possible on the closed, finite system that is our planet. Voices of dissent are growing in strength and number and I would like to think that Marx’s words can have another meaning — that neo-liberal ideologies, which are currently made to appear as “solid fact”, will melt in the heat of public scrutiny and critical analysis.
Change is inevitable; the form it takes is up to us.
This post was written for Sally D’s Mobile Photography Challenge.
(1) The full paragraph is:
The bourgeoisie cannot exist without constantly revolutionising the instruments of production, and thereby the relations of production, and with them the whole relations of society. Conservation of the old modes of production in unaltered form, was, on the contrary, the first condition of existence for all earlier industrial classes. Constant revolutionising of production, uninterrupted disturbance of all social conditions, everlasting uncertainty and agitation distinguish the bourgeois epoch from all earlier ones. All fixed, fast-frozen relations, with their train of ancient and venerable prejudices and opinions, are swept away, all new-formed ones become antiquated before they can ossify. All that is solid melts into air, all that is holy is profaned, and man is at last compelled to face with sober senses his real conditions of life, and his relations with his kind (I. Bourgeois and Proletarians, Manifesto of the Communist Party, 1848).
Sculptures in bronze are inherently monochromatic; the drama and nuance coming from structure, texture and sheen.
The Bomber Command Memorial, located in the Auckland Museum is quite a small work — the figures are around 30cm tall. Yet it is highly detailed, right down to the texture of the sheepskin in the airman’s jacket collar. The work as a whole depicts the crew of a Lancaster bomber, and was commissioned by the New Zealand Bomber Command Association as a memorial to the 6000 New Zealand airmen who served in the RAF during World War II. Almost one third of those young men died in combat or of wounds sustained.
The Meeting Place, by British sculptor Paul Day is situated within St Pancras Station, London. The nine metre tall sculpture depicts an embracing couple and is impressive — if only because of its scale.
But actually, I prefer the frieze around the base of the work. Appropriately for a railway station, it comprises a series of scenes of arrivals and departures; welcomes and farewells.
The images below show WWI troops, their eyes covered, one hand on the man in front, walking in single file along the platform while civilians farewell their loved ones aboard a train heading, almost certainly, to war.
The figures in the frieze are about the same size as in the Bomber Command Memorial, and are even more detailed. Even the rough texture of the soldier’s bandages has been captured by the artist’s skill.