Japan Exhibition at WYPW

It’s no secret that I have a passion for Japan and Japanese culture. I am lucky in that nearby to me, there is an excellent art facility called the West Yorkshire Print Workshop (WYPW). They run courses throughout the various aspects of printmaking and also have gallery space where they show different exhibitions throughout the year. This summer they have an exhibition on Japan. So I absolutely had to go and see this and I was so glad that I did. (I apologise for the quality of some of the images).

The artists responded to the theme in various different ways. Some of the artwork produced was going back into the traditional legends, myths and fables as seen in this wonderful print above.

Some of the artwork was pared back, beautifully simple but arresting all the same. The colours evoked a feeling of peace and serenity. Japan has an affinity and respect for the natural world this is tied in with Shintoism and could be seen in the response that some artists chose to represent this natural world with prints of water, trees and animals.

It is hard to choose a favourite print but if I had to it would be the one of the lone businessman with the briefcase walking through a Tokyo street. I loved how in just one simple scene, this evokes exactly the background scene of Japan that is often portrayed in the Japanese fiction that I’ve read. Here we see an essence of busyness and modernity presented by the figure of the businessman with the suitcase which is then juxtaposed within the setting of the street itself with the traditional older shops and older lighting. It is a fusion of the old and the new that incapsulates perfectly what I imagine represents Japan.

Another part of the exhibition displayed a series of tenugui which are thin cotton Japanese hand towels. They also serve a variety of other functions and are used as headbands, decorations or as souvenirs and this is because they are also extremely decorative. Tenugui in particular are a great symbol of the importance of the design aesthetic in Japan, in that what we might take for granted as a plain tea towel to dry dishes with, they see as having a multipurpose function. The tenugui also highlights the importance in Japanese design of something functional that is also aesthetically pleasing.

Overall, this was a very interesting exhibition and it’s only on until September, so if you’re in the area, I would recommend that you visit. Details can be found at WYPW website.

Discovering Tatton Park

RHS Tatton Park Flower Show 2016

Verbena display

This was our first visit to an RHS flower show after many years of watching the BBC coverage so we were excited to go! Tatton Park is the current last large scale flower show in the RHS flower show season. The preponderance of late flowering perennials confirmed this as they were evident not just in the various show gardens but also for sale in the floral marquee.

The atmosphere at the show was very friendly and it was easy to start a conversation not just with knowledgeable plant stall holders or showground staff (who were always helpful and wiling to assist) but also fellow show visitors who we talked to about the sell-off and asked questions about what not to miss. It was a humid day the day of our visit though nowhere near as warm as the first days of the sale were. We visited on the last day of the sale which we planned deliberately to try and get some sell off bargains but once we got there we ended up buying a few plants but mostly bulbs and leaving a bit earlier as the queues were really long at the end (also we don’t have much space for new plants anyhow!).

We spent a lot of time at the show just browsing and taking it all in. We took lots of photos and were in awe of the creativity on display. The vegetable and fruit competition had displays of produce that looked like works of art! Not to mention some of the stalls which were also highly decorative and it must have taken a lot of work into getting these ready for the show. Because of the heat, some of the produce on display had withered slightly by the last day of the show, though some still looked as fresh as the day it was picked. The baskets of fresh produce that schools produced reminded us of harvest festivals! This was a great idea to get kids involved with gardening at schools too.

Agapanthus display

The show gardens too were impressive, a naturalistic planting theme was dominant throughout, so no doubt this trend will continue to run and run. What we took from the show gardens that we were most impressed with was the effectiveness of keeping to a restricted colour palette which makes the planting look seamless. We also noted the importance of using a rich and varied texture in planting schemes. Grasses were key to achieving this texture but they were also juxtaposed with shots of colour from the gorgeous burgundy of plants such as Scabious ‘Chile Black’ and the spikiness of Eryngium. We were keen to purchase some of the Scabious ‘Chile Black’ but sadly was too late as it had sold out by the time we visited. We also had our eye on a blue Catanache, and a black sage that ditto had gone by the time we reached the stall! Another plant that we spotted but missed was Lychnis Cornonaria ‘Gardeners World.’ We have Lychnis Coronaria in our garden but loved the deeper colour of this variety. Luckily we made a note of all the plants we missed out on and have found using the RHS Plant Finder that there are nurseries that stock these beauties in the UK! So when we have room we can think about ordering these!

The floral marquee and nursery plant stalls outside the marquee were impressive in the planted up displays that they used to advertise their plants. Agapanthus were evident in many displays and created some beautiful planting schemes when used with plants that were complementary to their beautiful shades of blue. We ended up buying some Kale plants as ours have been decimated by caterpillars, some Miscanthus grass and a peppermint scented leaf Pelargonium. We also got some allium bulbs for next year which we plan to plant in pots.

Flower shed

The Garden Hideaways exhibits were also impressive! We had three favourite hideaways in this category, with the Outside-In, The Garden Library and The Story of a British Flower Wedding hideaways being our favourites. The Outside-In hideaway won the Gardeners World trophy for best shed and was a very innovative idea that was executed beautifully, with a tree growing from the interior reaching for the sky! The Garden Library hideaway was a favourite because of the book association but also emphasised the importance of continued learning being so important for gardeners. The Story of a British Flower Wedding hideaway captured our attention with it’s beautiful use of colour and made for some impressive photos!

Overall, we had a great day out and would like to visit another RHS show again but we decided that the next show we visit will be on the first members’ day when it is a little quieter, so we could see all the plants and exhibits when they are fresh and then we would also be less likely to miss out on some choice plants. If you like plants and gardens or want to learn more about them and are thinking about going to an RHS flower show we would definitely recommend that you do

A-Maya-zing! The Maya Exhibition in Liverpool

I recently paid a visit to the World Museum in Liverpool to see the exhibition ‘Mayas: Revelation of an endless time.’ I had never visited this museum before and was impressed by what I saw. It looked to be a modern, airy and well-designed museum and not just in the special exhibition areas. The foyer was impressive with a huge skeleton of a Pterodactyl hanging from above!

The World Museum is the only museum in the UK to host this exhibition which is part of the ‘2015 Year of Mexico in the United Kingdom’ and ‘Year of the United Kingdom in Mexico.’ The artefacts have been assembled from the Instituto Nacional de Antropologia e Historia (INAH) in Mexico. A great bonus about this exhibition is one that it is FREE! Which is astonishing when you see the sheer amount of artefacts on display. Another bonus is that you are allowed to take photographs as long as you turn the flash off on the camera that you use. Which is great news for many visitors especially those of us who write blogs!

Head of Pakal Late Classic Period (AD 600-900)
Head of Pakal
Late Classic Period
(AD 600-900)

The exhibition is displayed in a chronological fashion, with a few information panels throughout but what is really clever is that the curators let the incredible artefacts speak for themselves through displaying the smaller ones in a series of glass cabinets and the larger stone sculptures on plinths. I was astounded at the size of the exhibition as when you first walk into the room it appears to be smaller than you think, but it is cleverly laid out so that it is Tardis like and swings round to the right and goes further and further back.

Before I visited the museum, I did not know a lot about the Maya civilisation apart from some general knowledge facts but I learnt so much from the exhibition about the Maya. One of the first things I learnt was that the Maya civilisation lasted a very long time from 3000BC till 1617 (when 90% of the population had been wiped out from disease and slaughter brought by the Spanish Conquisition). Today though, there are more than six million Maya people still living in Maya areas.

Jade Necklace and Bar-Shaped Jade Pendants  Late Classic Period (AD600-900)
Jade Necklace and Bar-Shaped Jade Pendants
Late Classic Period

As stated previously, the exhibition is arranged chronologically into Pre classic (300BC-AD250), Classic (AD250-900) and Post Classic (AD900-AD1550) periods. At the centre of Maya civilisations were huge stone cities with pyramids that contained temples and palaces of the royal courts). These stone cities were the epicentre of Maya culture, a culture that was very advanced and had developed its own calendar and writing system. Maya cities were also very organised civilisations in that they housed administrative, military, religious and arts and crafts centres.

Funerary Mask from Dzibanche Late Classic Period (AD 600-900)
Funerary Mask from Dzibanche
Late Classic Period
(AD 600-900)

The Maya peoples were very in touch with the natural world and this was shown in the exhibition in the animal artefacts displayed. The Maya also grew Maize which they held as a sacred crop and cocoa which they also believed to be very important. They believed that animals were sacred beings who possessed souls. Certain animals such as jaguars, snakes and owls were worshipped as they were believed to be closer to the gods (as some had special abilities such as being able to fly). There even built a temple called the Temple of the Owl in Dzibanche, Quintana Roo, Mexico. In the exhibition there were many artefacts that displayed such beliefs as the one below:

Head of a Pelican  Late Classic Period (AD 600-900)
Head of a Pelican
Late Classic Period (AD 600-900)

The Maya undertook regular religious rituals as they believed that the gods needed to be sated with blood from animals and humans as blood was seen as the ‘life source.’ So sacrifices were essential for the continued survival of gods and the universe.

Before conducting a sacrifice they would firstly partake of a cleansing ceremony where they would not sleep and abstain from relations. After this, the rituals could begin which included: prayers, incense, singing, dancing, feasts of food and drink followed by human or animal sacrifice.

One of the strangest artefacts on display was a blood letting tool that the Mayas used to pierce either their tongue or in the case of men their genitals to drain blood to offer to the gods. Apart from this sharp stick on display they also had clay sculptures of men injuring themselves in this way with a look of pure agony on their faces!

Human Figurines Late Classic Period (AD 600-900)
Human Figurines
Late Classic Period
(AD 600-900)

Another important part of the exhibition is the amount of Jade on display which was truly astonishing! Jade was used by the Maya in jewellery and for adornment on breastplates etc. Both women and men wore jewellery and as well as necklaces, earrings, bracelets, anklets, hair adornments and decorated breastplates they also created funerary masks out of jade and ear plugs. Jade was one of the main materials used for adornment although they did use obsidian, gold, turquoise, silver and other materials depending on the time period. The Maya could certainly be said to like their bling, they could even be said to be one of the first civilisations that invented a type of grill or tooth adornment as they decorated their teeth by drilling holes through the centre of the top teeth and inserted jade, turquoise and iron pyrites through the holes!

Overall, this exhibition was fascinating. I learnt so much about the Maya and since purchasing this fascinating book from the gift shop, plan to keep on learning lots more. If you are near to or able to visit Liverpool this Summer then I would highly recommend you take time out to visit this excellent FREE exhibition which is on till 18th October 2015.

Alluring Orchids – Kew Gardens (7 February to 8 March 2015)

As you enter the Princess of Wales Conservatory you are greeted by the bold, prickly forms of the Cacti and Succulents of the ‘Tropical Desert’ zone. After meandering through you reach the doors to the ‘Tropical Rainforest’ zone.

Upon opening the doors you are struck by the vivid colours and the lush, dense vegetation that surrounds you. Welcome to the jungle.

orchid closeupThe Orchids were not the only plants on show, but they were the stars of it! Some of the orchids were placed in a naturalistic manner amongst the other plants. This gave the impression of walking a path through the rainforest and stumbling upon these gems of nature.



They were also celebrated in elaborate and fun ways, with huge pillars, numerous archways and faux bees made from lichen and wicker.

The most impressive display being the giant orchid flower display on the pond, this was thoughtfully laid out in the shape of a flower with each petal overflowing with a vibrant and colour mixture of exotic orchids.

orchid pond

There was also many little panels aimed at children, which helped to engage a younger audience. One interesting fact we learned was how the vanilla pods used to make vanilla essence and ice cream, were actually seed pods of an orchid!

orchid archTowards the end there was a whole section of the Princess of Wales Conservatory dedicated to entertaining the children, with an elaborate UV display showing how flies viewed Orchids. There was even an educational craft activity to help entertain.

Final Thoughts…

The exhibition is well worth a visit, the greenhouse as a whole was nice to see, and the orchid exhibition made it quite a spectacle.

It was a fantastic opportunity to see some lovely vibrant plants in the middle of winter and is suitable for all ages as well.

Stranger than Fiction

After a successful London run at The Science Museum, conceptual artist and photographer Joan Fontcuberta’s Stranger than Fiction exhibition moved north to The National Media Museum in Bradford where we visited on a cold and wet December day. I had already researched online and seen some videos and read a bit of background information before going to this exhibition but despite doing this I was still surprised at how much was revealed. I knew that the exhibits we were going to see had been created and were not real though pretended to be so. The National Media Museum is split over several floors and this exhibition was also split up into two galleries (Galleries One and Two) over two floors. We visited in reverse order, seeing Gallery Two before Gallery One. Gallery Two featured two displays, Sirens (2000) and Karelia, Miracles & Co (2002). Unfortunately you could not take photos so the images I provide here are not from the actual exhibition.

Sirens (2000)

Out of the entire exhibition, my favourite area was most certainly Sirens (2000). Sirens was mostly comprised of a series of large photographs of fossils of Hydropithecus alpinus (human skeletons with a fish tail or mermaids). Hydropithecus alpinus (a form of sea cow) was said to be discovered by Father Jean Fontana (a play on the artist’s name) in 1947 in the foothills of the French Alps. These creatures or ‘mer-people’ were presented in the exhibition as verified by anthropo-palaentologists to be a link between the evolution of the sea and land animals. The site where they were found were stated as being a UNESCO World Heritage site.

Fontcuberta had so convincingly portrayed these discoveries, the large photographs were stunning and the way that they appeared to cling quite precariously to the side of eroded cliffs or appear to be discovered on the seabed was very cleverly portrayed and extremely playful. Some of the photos had stories attached to them about their discoveries and the lives that they might have lived Cerro de san vincente was a photo of a Hydropithecus and child and was accompanied by a description saying that they may both have died as a result of childbirth. The photo of The Bes rock shelter with two adult Hydropithecus skeletons had a description from Fontana’s diary stating that these were “…the Bes lovers, petrified and together for all eternity.” This brought to mind the evocative Cave of Swimmers scene in The English Patient where they discovered ancient cave paintings to people swimming in what became a desert. The Beaujeau skeleton was said to feature evidence of bone-making techniques and suggested that the hydropitheque had tools and perhaps had murdered the individual found.

Scientific archaeological techniques were presented as having analysed the age, sex and teeth of the hydropitheque where possible and had discovered that some had dietary deficiencies. The first skeleton discovered was from the Saint Benoit Waterfall preserved in the limestone and discovered due to erosion of the rock. The description accompanying this states that: “This landscape represents prehistoric life in its infancy where our ancestors used natural shelters as frail protection against the raging elements.” The language used here ans in other places of the exhibition was very poetic.

Aside from the huge photos in Sirens, there were two glass cabinets, one had a resin cast of a Font Chaude hydropitheque skeleton which looked remarkably realistic on the way that it was created it brought to mind many fossil casts that I have previously seen in museums and on television. I think this was because instead of creating a tail-fin out of bone he had printed an imprint of the tail on the rock which is just how you would see fossilised fish remains. A glass cabinet of curiosities relating to the finds was used to further anchor the exhibit to reality. In the cabinet amongst other items was a mocked up but very realistic looking and faux aged copy of National Geologic magazine (obviously based on National Geographic) with the seabed hydropitheque remains on the front cover. There were also Fontana’s pencil sketches of the hydropithecus skeletons, his rosary bead and wooden crucifixes. These cabinets of evidence further made the exhibit seem to appear be a real archaeological find or at least make people wonder if it was.

There was something incredibly haunting and poetic about Sirens that really resonated with me I think it was the combination of the huge glossy photos and the attempts to anchor these into a form of reality which was playful and created an inventive story that I really enjoyed. I think that Fontcuberta was trying to play with our idea of photography as representing the complete and utter truth, this is so pervasive in our culture and can be seen in the increasing reliance of photo and video identity to prevent and identify criminals but also in fashion photography where models are routinely airbrushed but we often forget this, hence the rise of depression, self harm and eating disorders in Western society.

The increasing availability of camera technology also increases the extent that people can create their own truth and fiction. The predominance of selfies and image adjusted photos  that people create and then use to represent as pictures of themselves which are not real but are presented as being so online. Therefore, Sirens was ahead of its time in this respect. I think it resonates even more today than it did fourteen years ago.

It seemed liked Fontcuberta was also making a statement about authority in society and that it was a monk who had first discovered this species was perhaps making a statement about religion and that a monk could be perceived as being the authoritative truth as a man of god and that these remains should not therefore be questioned. If he was making a comment on this then it was interesting that Sirens led into the next exhibition which had much to say about religion.

Karelia Miracles & Co (2002)

Wooden Cross in Demark

 Karelia Miracles & Co (2002) was a investigation by Fontane who went undercover as a novice monk to expose the fraudulent miracles that were said to be performed at a monastery. Karelia (an area between Finland and Russia) was said to be the location of the interdenominational Valhamonde Monastery where monks learned to perform miracles. Fontane was dressed as an Eastern Orthodox Priest though the exhibition seemed to be commenting on this and Catholic religion.

A video displaying short films of Fontane performing miracles was very comedic, my favourite clip was of him smoking in front of a tomb with an effigy of a man on top and when he inhaled the cigarette the smoke exhaled from the effigy! There was also a clip of him performing a speech which could not be heard or translated but was orated at a plinth very expressively with his hands bringing to mind dictators speeches and the accompanying subtitles at the end said although we couldn’t translate what was said it was a very important speech (or words to that effect). Again, in a different way this part of the exhibition was playful, with Fontacuberta making commentary on what he saw as  the fraudulence of religion and its beliefs and perhaps people who steadfastly stick to these and take everything that is presented to them as the gospel of truth without question. He looked at the absurdity of this belief through pencil sketches of the Karelian Tarot of Sound Advice which displayed cards such as: 1. Avoid at all costs being decapitated and 4. Do not take part in the fratricidal disputes of trolls. He then presented a selection of photos of ‘miracles’ most performed by Munkki Juhani (the undercover monk) which began with a photo of him teaching a group of Laponian meerkats to read and getting more and more bizarre and absurd including such miracles as The miracle of the flesh where an image of Che Guevara (confused with Jesus Christ) appears in a leg of Iberian ham. Apparently, “…depending on the sort of acorns the pig was fed this can also reveal the face of Adolf Hitler and, even more rarely, Osama Bin Laden…”

Other photos displayed showed the monk in a block of solid ice The miracle of cryonisation, or on fire on a boat in The Miracle of will ow the wisp and even walking on water and dolphin surfing! Two glass cabinets of other items from the investigation were displayed on top of aged stone tables that looked very catherdral-esque. One cabinet contained items such as a Mirror (Juhaney Grey) with a description beside it stating: ”…curiously it is an ordinary mirror that reflects what you put in front.” The other cabinet contained small photos from the investigation of journalist Joan Fontuberta from: Demystifiers without borders which is obviously a play on doctors without borders. The interesting objects in the second cabinet were relics consisting of what looked like small bird bones and a ring and also in a small box what was stated as being carcasses of Insects and arachnids from the third plague of Egypt.

This part of the exhibition was playful and the most comedic part of Stranger than Fiction I feel that it gave the idea of being able to discover who Fontcuberta is in terms of his sense of humour and felt like the most revealing part of the exhibition in that sense.

Fauna (1987)

Gallery One exhibited other parts of the Fontcuberta exhibition. The first exhibition was Fauna (1987) which I have to admit I myself and my accompanying visitor had strong reactions to. This part of the exhibition was completely different to what I was expecting. I was expecting to see lots of images of photo-shopped animals or creatures like a kind of photo bestiary. There were photos and descriptions of the animals, however there was also quite a lot of taxidermy of bits of different creatures stuck together! The visitor I went to the exhibition with had to leave the room as they instantly felt nauseous and I must admit I couldn’t spend as long as I had planned to in this part of the exhibition as I too started to feel ill. I do wonder if this was part of the intention of Fontcuberta for people to have a strong reaction to Fauna as no other visitors seemed to linger in this part of the exhibition and hurried through. My instant reaction was revulsion and disgust and it was incredibly grotesque. The parts I did manage to make notes of were that the narrative of Fauna which was that it was all the work of Professor of Tetraology (abnormal development in animals) Peter Ameisenhaufen (1895-1955) who catalogued and investigated all of these strange creatures but who disappeared mysteriously in the Scottish Highlands in 1955. I did wonder if Fontcuberta was making a commentary on this by inventing a sort of punishment for this Professor, was it that the same or a different strange animal(s) came for him in the lonely wilds of Scotland in revenge? He made it sound very ominous as to how and why this man had disappeared and does make you think how did this created narrative for this man actually end? Thank goodness the rest of the exhibition reverted back to photography again!

Herbarium (1984)

Aster Tataricus

Herbarium (1984) was the first set of photos you encounter and is comprised of a number of black and white botanical looking photos each said to represent a specimen of exotic plants. In actual fact the photos are comprised of a series of objects put together to represent a flower such as a rubber hose and pieces of plastic. These images were described as being influenced by the work of Karl Blossfeldt (1865-1932) a botanical photographer who specialised in detailed clos-ups of plants. I found this part of the exhibition fairly interesting as I love botanical illustrations. Again, Fontcuberta was displaying his playful and inventive nature here by trying to disguise the flowers as being real and not invented. You could not tell if the plant was real or not in a number of the photos which showed how successful his endeavour was in challenging the nature of truth.

Orogenesis (2002)

Orogenesis (2002) was a beautiful series of computer generated mountain-scapes that were created by using a program called Terragen which was originally created for geographers and surveyors that created maps of three dimensional landscapes. This series of mountain images were beautiful and were split into colour images and black and white ones. They did bring to mind Lord of the Rings landscapes with their powerful rocky mountains and sheer valleys which looked even more stark in black and white. Some of the images used paintings as their inspiration such as Orogenesis: Turner which was a stunning photo of what looked like a Bronte-esque Wuthering Heights moor-like terrain except it was covered in a dusting of bright red heather instead of purple heather and was inspired by William Turner’s The Burning of the House of Lords and Commons (1835). Fontcuberta also used paintings by Gainsborough and Cezanne to influence the images created in Orogenesis.

Constellations (1993)

Constellations (1993), was the last part of the exhibition and consisted of several photos that were starkly black with white dots on said to represent the night sky. Several of the images though did look like bird deposits on a car windscreen! After reading about this exhibition I found out that Fontcuberta actually did use his car windscreen to create these images with dust, deceased insects and other debris, some of which may have been bird-related to create these images. I am not sure how well these images did actually represent the night sky but it was an interesting experiment nonetheless.


In summary, I would say that the Stranger than Fiction exhibition was a mixed bag. I really enjoyed the Sirens exhibit which I thought was inventive in its narrative and beautiful in the imagery created. The Karelia Miracles & Co exhibit was also playful and very satirical take on authority and religion. Both of these exhibits I would happily go to see again. I also thought that Orogenesis was beautiful and creative and would go to see this again. Constellations and Herbarium were less interesting to me personally but I wouldn’t mind going to see these again if I was going to another exhibition. Fauna however, though it was a creative narrative and I liked the story behind it, especially the mysterious disappearance of the Professor, I was repulsed by the grotesque taxidermy and feel it went too far as the narrative could have been retained through photo-shopped images instead. I do know that this exhibition has been acclaimed internationally and this is just my personal reaction and is no reflection on the artist or his work. I felt that by including the taxidermy this may have  possibly been the deliberate intention of the artist to create strong reactions amongst visitors. Overall I would go to visit Stranger than Fiction again and especially recommend Sirens, Karelia Miracles & Co and Orogenesis.