Summer’s lease

Traveling Treasury - a storytelling performance that inspired the cover of A Wider Horizon
Traveling Treasury – a storytelling performance that inspired the cover of A Wider Horizon

With the publication of A Wider Horizon ten days ago, this phase of the Regular Marvels idea draws to a close. I say ‘this phase’ but I don’t know whether or when there may be a second one. Five years ago, I set out to explore different ways of writing about the place of the arts in people’s lives. I was dissatisfied with some aspects of my own previous work, and even more with the language and assumptions of current arts discourse. Two questions concerned me in particular:

  • If art is important, why is it not accepted as a valid way to understand arts experience?
  • If people are important, why not write about their experience in ways that they might read?

Regular Marvels was a response to both problems. My intention with each book was to:

  • Work with a writer’s, not a researcher’s, methods and sensibility;
  • Work with a visual artist as an equal partner in the process;
  • Choose the subject and focus of each book myself;
  • Write about things the art world undervalued or just didn’t see; and
  • Write in ways that were approachable and interesting to those involved.

Those ideas shaped both the process and the final books, in particular the commitment to publishing them under a Creative Commons licence and making them free through this site. It also influenced their appearance and content: richly illustrated, legible design, accessible language, no footnotes. I wanted each one to be readable at a sitting – a long train journey perhaps.

A couple of recent but unconnected conversations have been encouraging. Joli Vyann, an exciting young performance company, told me that they’d been inspired by Bread & Salt when they were researching their piece about migration, Stateless. And Lyn Gardner, theatre critic with the Guardian (who has just written generously about A Wider Horizon) mentioned she’d read and quoted from Winter Fires. Writing can seem like a mad obsession, like constantly dropping messages in bottles off an ocean pier. It’s great when you get a reply.

With a bit more distance, I might give a better account of Regular Marvels. For now, I want to thank all those who’ve come on the journey – the people who’ve contributed to the books in countless ways and those who’ve read the results. It’s a big busy world and your attention is appreciated. In September, I’ll post news of a new project. In the meantime, I wish you a good summer (or winter if you’re reading this in the Southern Hemisphere…).

If you’d like a digital copy of A Wider Horizon, click on this link: A Wider Horizon (PDF 5MB). Printed books are available now from Creative Arts East, 19 Griffin Court, Market Street, Wymondham NR18 0GU, Tel: 01953 713390 Email:  enquiries@creativeartseast.co.uk

 

Dark matter

Sardul Gill, Dark Matter 1The title of Sardul Gill’s exhibition refers to the unknown material whose presence physicists deduce from gravitational data. Like much contemporary science, it’s complex, heady stuff that is beyond me. Fortunately, the exhibition is not about theoretical physics, though that is one of its starting points. Sardul’s paintings respond to experience, particularly of the physical nature of earth and landscape. As he says, in talking about his reading of physics:

I use all this metaphorically, as an equivalent visual language, when painting: artists and scientists both use metaphor to understand complex situations.

Sardul is one of the artists whose stories are told in Bread and Salt. Born near Amritsar, in India, he moved to Kenya in his teens and then to Newcastle, where he studied art, which had fascinated him since childhood. He was for many years a teacher in Further Education, nurturing young artists on foundation courses, while developing his own practice. The exhibition that opened last week at New Art Exchange in Nottingham is a wonderful body of new paintings, by an artist drawing on a lifetime’s thought and practice.

We worked together on a text about this work, which is included in the NAE Exhibition Guide. It was a pleasure to sit with Sardul in his studio this summer, looking at the work and listening to his thoughtful responses to my very simple questions. At the opening, we repeated that more formally in a Q&A session, illustrated with images drawn from 30 years of Sardul’s work. Although we’d talked about it at different times in the past, I was struck by how consistent his ideas and visual language had been over the years, despite the surface differences.

Dark Matter is a beautiful, rich and serious exhibition that rewards the viewer willing to take a little time. It is on until 2 November 2014, at NAE in Nottingham, and Sardul will be doing a mono print workshop on 11 October; do go if you can. If not, you can see the exhibition guide by clicking on this link.

I hope viewers get the sense of what I’m trying to do, so I have some things in it, like the horizon lines, which they can find for themselves and relate to. … There is also the behaviour of the material they see, such as the way the fluid runs down, the way it spreads, and the way it is thrown in. They’re all traces of human gestures, which a viewer can relate to. As long as they can connect with just one thing, out of all these, I’m quite happy.

Sardul Gill, Dark Matter 3

 

A gift

Ecclesall Piano

Yesterday evening, Kaoru Bingham gave a piano recital at Ecclesall parish church, where Sheffield edges into the Pennines. There were perhaps a hundred people, mostly sitting close round the piano. I don’t remember such stillness at a concert before: not a cough or a shuffle. You could have heard a page turn, but there was no need: the programme of Bach, Mozart, Liszt, Satie and Chopin was played from memory.

I met Kaoru late in the process of working on Bread and Salt, so her remarkable story does not figure greatly in the book. (But that’s true in varying degrees of all the artists I spoke to, so rich is particularity of each life. This recital was my first chance to hear her extraordinary gifts as a musician. I’m not competent to give a critic’s account of Kaoru’s performance, but I had a wonderful and memorable evening.

Classical music is not usually associated with what arts policy calls ‘cultural diversity’. But diversity was everywhere last night. Here was a Japanese musician settled in Britain and playing work by composers from Germany, Poland, France and Austria to an audience with evident variations of culture, age, background and so on. We had gathered in a late 18th century building imitating a 13th century style thought suitable for a religion rooted in Palestine and Rome. And we listened, among other pieces, to a Mozart sonata that imitated the musical styles of the Turkish forces that had besieged Vienna a century before its composition.

Diversity was everywhere and completely ordinary, not worth commenting on, even here, except that it is so often made into a problem. But last night, as so often in everyday life, it was what we shared as human beings that brought us together around that piano: a gift and a regular marvel.

Kaoru Bingham recital

The power to transform

Parliament of dreams

 

Aquatopia, the latest of Alex Farquharson’s highly original themed exhibitions at Nottingham Contemporary, explores the cultural history of humanity’s imagined relationship with the sea and, especially, the alternative world hidden from sight beneath the ocean’s skin.  The show has been justly admired by the critics and will be going on to Tate St Ives this winter. It deserves and  amply rewards repeat visits.

DIOP_Mati_2010_Atlantiques_01

There is one work in particular that has wrapped its tentacles around my imagination. Atlantiques, a 15 minute video made by Mati Diop, an artist, film-maker and performer, of French and Senegalese heritage. Much of it is filmed in the light of a fire on a beach in Dakar. Young men discuss the terrors of crossing the ocean in a pirogue for a better life in Spain and the despair of being found and deported to where the journey started.

It’s impossible…

View original post 119 more words

Soup vs. Mosaic

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

‘Celui qui aligne, comme je l’ai fait, ses multiples appartenances, est immédiatement accusé de vouloir « dissoudre » son identité dans une soupe informe où toutes les couleurs s’effaceraient.’

Amin Maalouf, Les Identités Meurtrières (1998), 1.2

[Anyone who sets out, as I have done, his multiple belongings, is immediately accused of wanting to ‘dissolve’ his identity in a shapeless soup where all the colours are blurred.]

The division between those who accept reality’s complications and those who do not has always troubled humanity.

There is value in each worldview. Acceptance can make us complacent, tolerating wrongs that could be healed; idealism can give people hope that things can be better and drive positive change. Some of those who argued against the civil rights movement in 1960s America stood in the first camp because accepting that things were complex suited them. The inspirational voices of Martin Luther King, and others, countered that, in truth, nothing could be simpler than to fulfil the constitutional promise that all citizens have equal rights.

But there is wisdom among those who urge caution in attempts to remake the world, particularly where revolutionary zeal minimizes the costs to be paid on the way.

Amin Maalouf, who writes so profoundly of his complex personal history and the unique identity that it has given him, highlights the fear some people express about losing their own identity. That fear can lead them to spin simplifying stories to prop up an idea of themselves they believe to be under threat (although nothing is actually harder to destroy than an idea). But fundamentalists of all kinds take comfort in splitting the world into two camps: you’re either for us or against us.

The image of a human ‘soup’ in which separate identities—expressed as colours—will be lost is an old one. It underlay the racial laws of Nazi Germany, the Segregationist South and Apartheid South Africa, among others states, all of which were designed to prevent the birth of ‘mixed-race’ children. In 1969, the year after Enoch Powell’s notorious  ‘Rivers of Blood’ speech, Blue Mink reached no. 3 in the British singles charts with ‘Melting Pot’, a more optimistic vision but still using the same misguided metaphor.

But the soup image is nonsense, and dangerous nonsense at that. As Maalouf says:

‘L’humanité entière n’est faite que de cas particuliers, la vie est créatrice de différences, et si il y a  « reproduction », ce n’est jamais à l’identique.’

[Humanity as a whole is made up only of individual cases, life is a creator of differences, and if there is ‘reproduction’, it is never identical.]

People are irreducibly individual, particular and unique. They cannot be blended into a homogenous—or colourless—whole. But they can and do stand together, side by side, creating something new and beautiful: a mosaic. If we want a metaphor for how to imagine diversity in the world we would do better to think of a mosaic. That would truly mean accepting reality’s complex and wonderful particularity.

Warnings from history

How far have we come: IN June 1963, George Romney, father of losing Presidential Candidate Mitt Romney, marches for civil rights with in Detroit.
How far have we come: In June 1963, George Romney, father of 2012 Presidential Candidate Mitt Romney, marches for civil rights with NAACP Detroit president Edward Turner in Detroit.

The generation born after the Second World War, known today as the Baby Boomers, is widely associated with comfort, prosperity and what was once known as the permissive society. Their claims and their imagination created the Sixties—as cultural phenomenon not decade—and today they are blamed both for the decline of Western culture and for eating all the pies.

One difficulty with this narrative (and there are many) is why the ‘greatest generation’, who defeated fascism and eventually totalitarian communism, should have produced the most selfish.

As a child of the 1950s, of parents who survived the war, I don’t recognise the regressive interpretation of my generation’s values and history. The world of my youth—which the French look back on wistfully as ‘les Trente Glorieuses‘—was admirable in many ways, though certainly not all. But it was impossible to forget that our peace, prosperity and freedom had been won by our parents at unimaginable human cost or that war on an even larger scale was an ever-present possibility.

The events of the 1930s and 1940s were a constant reference point. Here were the mistakes that had cost seas of blood and mountains of ash. Here were the warnings that must be understood and acted upon. Here was the land of ‘Never Again‘.

st_pauls-bomb-damageBut with time, and with the passing of our parents’ generation, that idea has lost its anchorage. It has become, too often, a hollow mantra pressed into service for increasingly dubious causes.

The failure of Britain and France to challenge Hitler in the 1930s, itself a more complex story than is often allowed, is now used to justify wars of aggression. The failure to prevent the Shoah is used to justify ‘humanitarian intervention’, but on a curiously selective basis. And then there is the warning from the 1930s that has fallen silent: the danger of scapegoating minorities in a time of economic crisis and unemployment. In the 1970s and 1980s, we, the Baby Boomers, drew just that parallel in opposing the intermittent stirrings of the far right in Britain. Today, comparisons with Weimar Germany seem hopelessly distant, though the threat of populist nationalism is greater than it has been in my lifetime.

In Britain, the government indulges in a high-profile media campaign against irregular immigrants, inviting TV cameras to film Border Agency raids on corner shops. In Russia, the election of Moscow’s mayor has become a question of who can be toughest on migrants. In Australia, the Prime Minister is standing for re-election with a deal to imprison migrants in Papua New Guinea so that they aren’t even on Australia soil while their applications are assessed. In Greece, Channel 4 has filmed members of Golden Dawn fantasizing about turning immigrants into bars of soap.

Human beings face grave problems today, individually, collectively and globally. How easy it is for those aspiring to power to get support by stoking fear and hate. That is the real lesson of history and I learned it from people who’d lived it, as a child of the Baby Boom, of that moment of hope that grew from and in reaction to the ashes of death.

Srebrenica memorialAnd if that’s too far back now, think of Yugoslavia, holiday destination for so many in the 1970s and 1980s, and charnel house in the 1990s. The Greatest Generation gave us the best chance in history of making a good and just society in Europe. We owe it to them not to waste it.

Bill Ming, Against the tide

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

 

To mark Bill Ming’s solo exhibition at New Art Exchange in Nottingham, we’ve worked together on a book about his work and life. It is available from the gallery and through the artist’s website, and can also be downloaded as a PDF file here: but be aware that, with more than 70 colour photographs, the file is large (55MB). Below is an essay that I’ve written for the book. The photos above are from the launch last night.

Bill Ming: an appreciation

Bill Ming in his studio 2013 (photo: Bartosz Kali)
Bill Ming in his studio 2013 (photo: Bartosz Kali)

The challenge of difference

Ten men can be sitting at a table eating, you know, dining, and I can come and sit down where they’re dining. They’re dining; I’ve got a plate in front of me, but nothing is on it. Because all of us are sitting at the same table, are all of us diners? I’m not a diner until you let me dine. Then I become a diner. Just being at the table with others who are dining doesn’t make me a diner, and this is what you’ve got to get in your head here in this country.

Malcolm X, Chicago, 14 February 1965

Anyone who approaches Bill Ming’s work with open eyes, with an open heart and mind, will encounter a gifted, original and deeply serious artist. The work is unusual in today’s contemporary art scene for its ideas, aesthetics, techniques and, not least, its approachability. There are pieces, like Old School, with the boy sitting at his desk, or the Caribbean landscape of Antilles Reflections, that are immediately recognisable. The blues singer in the doorway of One Room Country Shack seems to hold an intriguing story. It is easy to respond to the colour, the figurative elements and the humour. There are many immediately appealing aspects to this work.

Keep looking, though, and layers emerge beneath the attractive surfaces. There are visual and intellectual connections within each piece, and with other works of art—his own and those of Western and non-Western artistic traditions; to history, faith and politics; to old films, songs and world myths; to fundamental human experiences of love, fear, loneliness, hope and suffering. All life is here, it seems, in all its colours and complexity. And, on each return the meanings of these sculptures and collages reform themselves, enriching and changing the encounter.

No. 9 Shed (Photo Eddie Rhead)
No. 9 Shed (Photo Eddie Rhead)

However, the qualities that make Bill Ming’s work both approachable and rewarding are not very fashionable in today’s art world. Accessibility, humour, political and moral complexity, visual appeal, respect for traditions, humble materials, lack of pretension and craft are all out of favour. Indeed, according to some theories, they are clear signs of ideological deviance. Such disrespect for critical norms risks a kind of artistic banishment, like the internal exile the Soviet Union used to inflict on dissidents.

Bill himself sees darker sides to the reception of his work, and it is true the European art world struggles with the distinctive experience of black artists from its former colonies. Their ethics and ideas, their sensibility and aesthetics, are often different. But they are not less sophisticated, less important or less valid. Indeed, their very difference should be welcomed as a vital and invigorating test of fixed ideas.

The undervalued qualities in Bill Ming’s work are intrinsic to its subversive nature and to the challenge it makes to dominant forces, inside and outside the art world. This is art that invites the viewer to think as well as feel, to decide as well as smile, and to ask some uncomfortable questions about the way the world is— and why.

First impressions

I met Bill Ming in 1982, when I visited a studio he had in an old canal-side warehouse that Newark District Council was renting to artists. My first sight of his work was in this big, chilly top-floor space: twisting, dancing figures, oddly flattened as if they had not been allowed the space to be fully themselves. There were also beautiful horses’ heads, chewing or kissing each other. I’d seen the horses that inspired them in a nearby field, and I felt I understood what the artist was doing. Those sculptures have lodged in my mind’s eye for three decades, though I can’t picture the work of any other artist I saw in that building.

Art doesn’t have to be approachable, of course. Some of what I have come to value most once seemed bizarre, hostile or just dull, and it has taken time and patience for my appreciation to grow. Bill’s work does reward time and patience—I still make discoveries in pieces I’ve known for 15 or 20 years—but it is often welcoming at first sight. It does not show off or say how much cleverer the artist is than the viewer. It says hello. Stop a minute. What are you thinking?

Some of that is surface: the carefully worked forms, the glowing yet subtle colours, the layers of texture. It is often beautiful, even when dealing in ugly realities. Sometimes it is representational. Blue skies, white shutters, pink walls. Palm trees. Faces; hands; animals. The sea. Fishes and boats. But even when it is not, the materials and the skill with which they have been worked root each piece in a serious present that eschews gimmicks. It looks good, so you want to keep looking at it.

It is often humorous, or strange. A grown man in a high chair. A woman on a delivery bicycle, with a boy in the basket. But the wit is never cruel and when there is irony, it is because the artist has seen it in the paradoxes of experience. It is not a protective, post- modern device to distance or alienate the viewer. Whatever else might be said about this work, it invites dialogue.

Defending the possibility of interpretation

Only DefendinTake an early piece like Only Defendin’. It looks straightforward enough: ten or eleven shields hanging at the height they would be if people were carrying them. But there are no people. Short chains are suspended above. There are some (clubs?) among the shields. At the front, ‘at first sight’, are a couple of shields that look African, or perhaps a European idea of African. Behind and around them are square, industrial-looking panels (canvasses?) and on each side a piece of golden corrugated metal, its corners cut.

Do they define the edge of an alley, blocked by this wall of shields, or are they improvised defences pulled from a fence? Who is being attacked and who is defending? Are the two Africans being chased or surrounded? Or are they leading? Whose backs are to the wall?

Are the chains weapons or restraints? Or do they suggest the strength in unity that people find when they stand their ground together, only defendin’?

For Bill, there is a specific experience behind this installation, which he made as student at Maidstone Art College: ‘It’s my ritual space. I had to defend myself, my right to be there as a student. I used the canvas as a way of absorbing information. The arms of the shields were made of sponge—again trying to absorb the information and yet still trying to defend myself.’

The work arises from his experience, as the only black student on his course, but beyond that it opens up a complex range of possibilities. There is the same richness of texture and openness to interpretation throughout Bill Ming’s work. It is attractive, in the sense of drawing you towards it. but having achieved that, it proves much more complex and elusive than it seemed. Hearing what Bill says about Only Defendin’ brings understanding, but it is only one way into work that always remains open to other meanings and questions a viewer may bring.

A modern humanism

The human figure is central to Bill Ming’s work. Over decades he has produced a series of thin, not quite life size figures, in diverse positions and situations. They are typically alone. Even when they are in pairs, as in Beached, or in groups, they seem isolated, as if the artist does not quite believe in the possibility of reaching beyond our selves.

Beached - detail (photo Bartosz Kali)
Beached – detail (photo Bartosz Kali)

The figures in Still Tryna Spoonfeed Us and Old School imply the absence of others. Each is a contemporary Everyman (and Everywoman) representing both itself and all of us. And yet, these sculptures are also deeply personal. They speak of lived moments and echo powerful feelings the artist has known and been marked by.

It is also significant—and challenging to a European art world whose ideas of human beauty were shaped by Classical Greece— that these figures are clearly not modelled on white Caucasians. Although their formal aesthetic is closer to Expressionism that Realism, it is evident that they are from the Global South: Africans, Americans or islanders perhaps. Their complex colouring evokes both the troubles that visualising race has brought the modern world and the pride that those oppressed by it have found in the very ideas used to stigmatise them. Unlike metal, this wood is soft and warm to the touch. It bruises and burns; it can be cut. It also glows with every colour of blackness.

Among my own favourites of the standing figures is a series that was first exhibited at Islington Art Factory in London in 1996. Mostly solitary, these lean figures were cut and scarred, their wounds sometimes stitched with rows of tiny nails that brought to mind the loading plans of 18th century slavers’ ships. Around their feet were pebbles, stones, sand. They stared ahead like ghosts, making no eye contact. They summoned up the Africans who had died on the Middle Passage of the Slave Trade and been flung overboard unceremoniously, as perished cargo. Britain has a fine memorial to the animals who have died in war, but there is still no national memorial to the millions of Africans forcibly taken across the Atlantic to slavery, torture and death by British businessmen.

Politics and morality

These histories and their contemporary consequences resonate throughout Bill Ming’s work, which is, in the best sense, profoundly moral. It’s worth making a distinction here between politics and morality. Where politics is concerned with current, transitory issues, morality looks further, to the unchanging laws that (should) guide human beings in their conduct and relationships. Politics decides how much the strong can get away with. Morality questions the legitimacy of their strength. Bill’s work does not shy away from politics but always approaches it from the deeper, more complex and more important perspective of morality and ethics.

One Room Country Shack (Photo Bartosz Kali)
One Room Country Shack (Photo Bartosz Kali)

At first sight, One Room Country Shack seems to represent a 1930s blues singer and his home. But look closer and you see a white face. Is this a white man, ‘blacking up’, despite the warning notice about the corrupting influence of ‘race music’? Or a black artist who has to disguise himself as white to get a hearing? Why is the sacred heart of Jesus on the wall behind him, alongside images of old blues singers and someone who might be a freed slave? This is unsettling art, full of ambiguities, not superficial posturing.

The people in Bill’s work are from the wrong side of the tracks. He has neither interest in nor sympathy for those who do well out of the way in which most societies are run. Instead his attention goes to those who are maimed in war, as in Bomb in a Baby Carriage.

It’s never Captain Ahab: it’s the sailors shipwrecked by his mad pursuit of Moby Dick. It’s not the famous figurehead; it’s the forgot- ten fallen. Is that a vulture who is occasionally seen perching on a drowning sailor’s paper hat, waiting for the end? Or an imperial eagle?

The sea is a principal theme in Bill Ming’s work: he was born on an island and first left it to work as a cook on a liner, feeding the floating hundreds. In his sculpture, the sea is a world of beauty, pleasure and discovery, but also of disorientation, displacement and exploitation. Bill has an abiding concern with international trade in commodities and the price paid by those who produce them or—in the case of slavery—those people who were themselves designated as goods. It is evoked in the seed corn spilled (or eaten) in the college piece, Sower n Seed/Yield, and in the coffee beans and used cartridges in his exhibition at the Bluecoat, during his tenure as Henry Moore Sculpture Fellow in Liverpool. Other realities of globalisation appear throughout the work.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAHands Across the Table is a key example where a family, a holy trinity of poverty, share a single fishbone for their meal. Visible from the window, the lovely blue sea has been emptied by a factory ship like a huge machine, a floating car or even Godzilla’s head. These hands stretch across the sea to take, not to give. On the wall is a reproduction of Trevor Nickolls’ painting, From Dreamtime 2 Machinetime (1981) whose composition is echoed in Hands Across the Table, as questions about the industrial exploitation of nature also echo between the two works.

But the piece also makes reference to the religious imagery that often connects Bill’s work with the European art of the past: a cup has been upset, its wine spilling across the table like a bloodstain. This poor meal is, in its way, another last supper, another sacrifice. It is the consequence of violence, oppression and injustice that is represented, not the more questionably dramatic act. The work’s allusions and emotional imagery offer no simplistic answers.

In dialogue with the tradition

The religious imagery in Hands Across the Table is just one aspect of how Bill Ming’s work situates itself within art’s complicated traditions. He draws inspiration from and refers to the classical Western canon, the black American artists he encountered as a young man, the diverse African and Native American artistic traditions he has discovered since and last, but by no means least, the hybridity of the Atlantic and Caribbean crossroads where all these ideas, practices and aesthetics meet.

Bomb in a baby carriage (Photo Bartosz Kali)
Bomb in a baby carriage (Photo Bartosz Kali)

In Bomb in a Baby Carriage, for instance, you might find echoes of the American installation artist, Edward Keinholz, African wood- carving, William Morris, the blues, Graham Greene and even Mary Poppins, in restless dialogue with a composition and ideas unique to the artist. There are good sides to globalisation, even if they don’t make the rich richer.

Bill Ming has suffered from some condescending and ignorant reactions to his work: ‘A black man carving wood figures? Ethnic craft at best—and you can get the real stuff cheaper from any market in Nairobi’. But his use of wood, among other materials, is a respectful acknowledgement of aesthetic and cultural practices often disregarded by the West except when ‘discovered’ by an accepted genius like Picasso. Bill makes wood speak for the peoples whose roots he acknowledges in his own identity, and adds to that tradition with an intercultural dialogue that could not have been made a moment earlier than now.

Bill’s work is also in an intriguing dialogue with itself. Sculptures that stay in his studio too long are liable to be reworked into some- thing else, or cut up altogether to become part of a new piece. I have a pencil drawing of some of the great blues singers (itself inspired by Paul Oliver’s The Story of the Blues book and LP) small reproductions of which appear in Bomb in A Baby Carriage and One Room Country Shack.

In some artists the whole body of their work becomes a coherent artwork in itself. Each piece is like a short story in a collection that traces a complete human life. There is exceptional consistency in Bill Ming’s art, from early college work to pieces he is making today, perhaps because his chance at being an artist came later than most and after varied and sometimes painful life experience. That is one reason why parts of an old sculpture can be successfully reworked into a new one. There is great diversity in Bill’s work, as well intellectual and aesthetic development, but it is always anchored in the artist’s singular and compelling vision.

It is for these reasons, among others, that I describe Bill Ming’s work as gifted, original and serious. It is deeply rewarding: funny, beautiful, humane, angry, clever, ambiguous, instructive—the list really could go on. He has not won the Turner Prize, but he sees that as a badge of honour. He has won the respect of thousands of people, of all cultures, colours and ages. That too is a badge of honour.

Available downloads

Wit Dese Hands by Bill Ming, including the artist’s reflections on his life and work, over 70 colour photographs and a piece by Andy McKay as well as this essay  (PDF file 55MB download).

Against the Tide: text and images of this essay (PDF 250kb download)

Bread and Salt Launch in Utrecht

A few photos from the launch of Bread and Salt/Brood en Zout at De Stadsschouwburg Utrecht on 21 June 2013, all taken by Jaap de Boer. A selection of photos from the two day festival can be seen here.

More from the event, including a recording of Mohan Rana’s poems will be added as time permits.

A Swiss perspective on art and migration

'Gaijin' David Favrod
‘Gaijin’ David Favrod

«For a Swiss, I am a Japanese and for a Japanese I am a Swiss or rather a gaijin.»

Pro Helvetia, the Swiss Arts Council, publishes an excellent free cultural magazine called Passages. The latest issue is entitled Here and There: Art, Society and Migration:

How do contemporary artistic practices reflect the realities of multicultural society? In the current issue of Passages, dancer and choreographer Ioannis Mandafounis talks about his globetrotting life between airports, hotels and rehearsal rooms. Swiss-Cameroonian author Max Lobe pokes fun at the clichés of “here” and “there.” And theatre curator Shermin Langhoff discusses her success in bringing “post-migrant” theatre to the German stage.

You can download a PDF of the magazine, which includes this striking image from David Favrod’s ‘Gaijin‘ project, by following this link, or subscribe free to the print edition.

Bread and Salt published

Bread and Salt, Stories of Art and Migration, was published by Vrede van Utrecht on Friday evening, a part of its final community arts festival. Launch and festival were both wonderful, and I’ll write more about them as soon as I have time. The main thing for now is that that book is available for download here, or in print from Vrede van Utrecht.

I’ve also added all Bill Ming’s images from the book here, with some of his reflections as captions: just click on the images to open up a slide presentation and you can read Bill’s words.