Coming back to the UK after three months of travel had the potential to be something of a letdown. Luckily I had an event on the horizon that promised to cushion my landing and gave me something to anticipate.
While living in Liverpool, I’d come across CreativeTourist.com, a site devoted to raising the cultural profile of Manchester, particularly among visitors from outside the city. They also organise events like the Manchester Weekender mini festival. The writing is sharp, the design is attractive and user-friendly, and I wish something like it existed in Liverpool. They’ve joined forces with the similarly minded Culture Vulture of Leeds to create a new network in northern England for arts and travel bloggers. The event sounded like a perfect day out in arty Yorkshire (yes, I realise those two words might not habitually appear in print together, but they should): a morning at the Yorkshire Sculpture Park with two writing workshops, and the afternoon spent at the Hepworth Wakefield. Both were places I’d wanted to visit for sometime but hadn’t managed to haul myself across the M62 to see.
Saturday dawned bright and sunny with puffy clouds floating across the sky. The coach driver from Wakefield station to YSP could not have been more friendly and the ride over was a nice chance to chat with fellow bloggers. I hadn’t realised how big the sculpture park is until the bus was winding its way down the drive to drop us at the Hayloft, a recently restored space above the cafe now used for small group events and other functions. It turns out that this was the student union in YSP’s previous life as Bretton Hall College–and artist Jo Brown remembered it well from her student days there. I love finding living memories and connections to the history of a place.
Creative Tourist co-founder Susie Stubbs kicked off proceedings by welcoming us and opened the day with a focused and accessible presentation about blogging. Keeping journalistic standards, finding your niche and your voice, having focus and discipline in writing regularly (totally not my strong point and something I definitely need to work on), creating original content and knowing your audience are precepts that seem quite straightforward but can get overlooked in the quest for SEO (how much of your Twitter feed is filled with regurgitated lists? It makes up an unfortunately large percentage of content in the travel blogging world. Perhaps it’s time for a cull). Also a reminder to actively engage with others in your field and play nice online is never amiss.
We headed downstairs and across the park for our guided tour of the Miro exhibition with YSP curator Sarah. The show certainly opened my eyes to the breadth of his practice as a sculptor. I really enjoyed the room devoted to bringing the creative process alive with original objects and casts that led to the final work. Miro’s willingness to experiment with different techniques, foundries and finishes right up to the end of his career was impressive and inspiring. Clearly he never lost a sense of curiosity. Many of the shapes and forms connected clearly with motifs more familiar from his painting. There was a great sense of connection between sculpture and the vibrant paintings and prints on display in the indoor galleries. One blogger asked about the decision to keep the walls white instead of painting them. Sarah replied that colour had been considered, but once the prints were introduced to the gallery space that their colours helped lift it and that it would have perhaps lessened the effect of the prints to have them on a coloured surface.
Some of my favourite objects were the ‘phantasmagorical creatures’ that were based on fantasies Miro had in his youth and made manifest quite late in his life. They were small, strange assemblages that were a juxtaposition of found objects with a green-y bronze, very weathered looking patina. Maurice Sendak’s recent death must have still been floating around in the back of my mind, because the first thing that came to mind is they were the mechanical cousins of the creatures in Where the Wild Things are.
After lunch, our second workshop was with arts writer Jessica Lack. Her talk about writing about contemporary art was so helpful in unpacking different types of arts writing (preview, feature, review etc) and offering helpful strategies for dealing with problems art critics encounter (how do you write about a show that’s mediocre? what if you just don’t get a particular work of conceptual art?). Her tips are ones I will definitely return to. She was really engaging and not afraid to use a few mistakes she’d made as examples of what not to do. I’d love to attend a critical writing workshop with her if the chance presents itself.
So far, so good. I met another American expat, Kate Feld, also of Creative Tourist and we had a good natter on the ride over to the Hepworth. I wasn’t sure if the day could get any better, but the Hepworth and their team were as fantastic as Nina and Sarah at YSP. When we arrived we were greeted by the news that the gallery had just welcomed their 500,000th visitor–and weren’t yet a year old. That’s a pretty impressive number and had far exceeded their predictions for the first year. We were in time to see the twice a week puppet show performance within Heather & Ivan Morison‘s exhibition. It was an interesting dimension to the work–the puppets looked to be roughly hewn and the light and sound aspects of the performance made it a really immersive experience. I admit I struggled to hear all of the dialogue clearly, but we had been advised that acoustics weren’t really a focal point of the building’s design.
The space inside allows much more light to enter than is typical of most galleries, where windows are often shaded or blocked to protect paintings. I realised how unusual it was to visit to venues with such a strong emphasis on sculpture. The Hepworth has such a rich permanent collection, augmented with loans like the familiar Pelagos and an interesting range of nexhibitions of postwar and contemporary art. David Thorpe’s arts and crafts-influenced works I’d seen before at the Saatchi Gallery and really liked, so they were a welcome inclusion.
After an hour or so in the galleries, we got to chat over some very tasty nibbles and wine. Conversation kept drifting off as we gazed out the window of the auditorium; the building is actually built into a river bank and the weir and resident heron (cheekily named Patrick by Hepworth staff) transfixed us. One member of the team admitted it was sometimes difficult to have meetings in the room because everyone was looking out the window. I wish I’d taken a picture now, it was a great panorama. When we did get back to conversation, it was great to meet bloggers from different backgrounds with different interests. There were students, artists, diarists and I’m sorry I didn’t get to talk to everyone.
A massive thank you to everyone who helped organise such a fun and interesting day out. The only downside to it is that there was no way of taking everything in at either gallery; I’m definitely going to have to go back and explore both further. I felt revived and inspired as a blogger and very supported by the idea of this network. I look forward to being involved in future events.