Thursday, October 21, 2010

50 UK Days: Week 1

For the past 2 days, the big news in the United Kingdom has been the Tory government’s announcement that they were making cuts of over £80 billion from the national budget, a decision that will affect every aspect of life from education to welfare. (Note that the image you see here is a gilded coach owned by the royal family. I talk more about it below, but I realize now it seems sardonic to juxtapose it against a story about draconian budget cuts.) More startling though is that almost 500,000 national public sector jobs have to be cut by 2014. According to World Bank, the UK’s population is about 61.5 million, so this cut amounts to just under 1% of the population. That may not seem like a lot, but when you add it to the number of individuals currently unemployed here that will raise the national unemployment rate to 8.5%. The current United States unemployment rate is just under 10%, and the US population is 310.5 million, therefore 31 million people are unemployed in the US. That would suggest that unemployment is worse in the US, but if you compare the population ratio between our countries—-i.e. the UK is 5 times ‘smaller’ than the US—-it stands to reason that unemployment here should be only about 2%. (DISCLAIMER: I am not an economist, and as an art person I basically suck at numbers, so if anyone thinks I’m wrong with this, please feel free to comment.) In any case, the point to all this is that people are not happy with the financial cuts that will be happening here. Unlike the US where individual states handle budgets, the smaller size of the UK shows how national decisions like this will quickly affect every aspect of the nation itself.

It’s not like me to start off a post with economics, but I figured it was a good beginning for a post on my extended visit to the UK. I arrived on Monday at nearly noon, considering my flight left JFK 3 hours late. My luggage almost went to Tel Aviv, but fortunately I managed to figure out their mistake before it was too late. (I would have been devastated to have lost some of the new sweaters I had just bought!) I checked into the flat here in Leeds that afternoon and got myself settled into the area by walking around and going food shopping at Tesco. Leeds is actually a lovely small city. The juxtaposition of Victorian architecture with modern and contemporary trends blends well here. I’ll take pictures and post a few soon.

Tuesday morning I took a train down to London where I met up with my friend, the always fashionable RL. We checked into the Landmark, a former Victorian railway hotel near Marylebone Station that has been fabulously reconditioned and renovated. Thanks to the perks he’s acquired from all his traveling, we were upgraded to a junior suite, drank mimosas, and spent time relaxing in the indoor swimming pool and jacuzzi (after getting drenched in pouring rain during the afternoon hours).

We went to Buckingham Palace in the afternoon to visit the Royal Mews, the stable and coach area for the royal family, which was interesting. The picture you see at the top is the historical Gold Coach carved in 1762 by Joseph Wilton which has been used as the coronation coach, and the picture you see here is one of the beautiful Windsor Grey horses bred for the royal family’s use. We also went to the Queen’s Gallery to see the exhibition Victoria & Albert: Art & Love, a show with an array of about 300 objects on view ranging from portraits of their family by Winterhalter and Landseer to works they purchased and commissioned by contemporary painters and sculptors, as well as displays of jewels and personal items. Their love of photography was self-evident in the display of carte-de-visite photograph albums with numerous images for which they posed. The photograph you see here is by Roger Fenton and taken of them in May 1854. The theme of the exhibition is the role that Queen Victoria and Prince Albert played in the history of British art collecting and patronage practice from ca. 1840 to his death in 1861. Their love for one another and the conscious representation of their family as just another rising bourgeois family underlies the idea of the show as well, drawing in part on the rejuvenated popular interest in the couple following on the heels of the movie The Young Victoria, which bklynbiblio readers will remember me having reviewed and loved.

Last night at the Henry Moore Institute, I attended a lecture given by Glenn Adamson, a curator for modern design at the Victoria & Albert Museum. His talk was entited “Affective Objects: The Re-Invention of Craft,” and focused on both how some artists (known and unknown) have managed to instil emotion or feeling through production, whether it is referencing the anonymity and detritus of abandoned ceramic production in sculptural installation work by Claire Twomey, or through subject, as in Felix Gonzalex-Torres asking viewers to take away pieces of candy from an installation that represented his lover wasting away as he died from AIDS. Adamson also spoke about how “craft” was only invented as a concept in the 1700s, and reinvented in the 1800s by people like John Ruskin and William Morris, when the industrial revolution threatened handmade production by replacing it with machine-made goods. He also noted how craft workers today use new technologies to reinvent craft for a new age. It was an interesting talk and there was engaging discussion afterwards about sculpture as craft and the anonymity of the craft worker as compared to the ‘artist.’

That’s been my first week so far, and it’s only Thursday!

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