Proverbs and Provocations
The good news finally landed on my doorstep this afternoon. It was heavy and generous so I actually heard it drop with a clatter and thud. Henk Littlewood and I have been granted the funding from Arts Council England to support our project. We are over the moon and ready to move on. The first thing that will need to be done is take the tree down and move it to dry storage as it is about to sprout leafs. Henk will be organising a flatbed lorry to transport the tree to Darley Dale saw mill where it can be planked, beamed and stay until dry - the big work can then start in September. But Henk can already begin to work on the frame of our structure.
My ideas are beginning to go somewhere. One thing that I want to continue doing in this project is an approach I took when I undertook the Sheffield Bazaar project: I like to give something back to some good cause although I haven't quite made up my mind how I would do it. I'm thinking about badges again - not from wood this time but from metal. I visited Berlin earlier in February with my daughter and we ended up visiting two flea markets where I re-discovered these Lenin badges. I have seen them around before, mainly on the jackets of young guys in the 1970s and 1980s as a statement in favour of anti-capitalism and/or pro-communism. It felt rather nostalgic and there seems to be a strong sense of that in Berlin. A yearning for all the best bits that the former DDR offered: no unemployment, a clear structure and .... perhaps a sense of social equality.
The first time I visited Berlin was in 1984 - before the wall came down. I have these vivid memories that the West side was all sunny and alive and lit up at night and the East side was grim and grey and very very dark. I'm sure this had more to do with the fact that we had been carefully brainwashed into believing that everything East Block was grim and grey. I remember seeing evidence of what my Social Geography teacher referred to as 'hidden unemployment', ie., ten men doing a job that two men could have done with ease. I also remember the bland soup with fatty chunks in a dreary restaurant and the trip to the department store on Alexander Platz where everything was so cheap that we found it difficult to spend all our money - and how we laughed about feeling rich, oh yes, how we laughed.
There is a brilliant art documentary by Phil Collins that I saw a few years back that told the story of a woman who taught Marxist theory/ideology in the former DDR. As soon as the wall in Berlin had come down she went West and turned her back on teaching Marxim. I believe, if I remember it correctly, that she started to work for a bank. After a few years however, she became disillusioned. She remembered all that was good or made sense. There was this huge longing for something meaningful in her story ... and it really moved me. I wonder if she would have felt the same though had she chosen a job in the NHS?
The other great thing I encountered in Berlin was Pieter Bruegel the Elder's 'Dutch Proverbs' (Berlin Gemalde Gallerie). It is both silly but at the same time quite provocative. This wonderfully rich painting tells you a disjointed story of the foolishness of men, the pointless and destructive actions of men. I particularly laughed at the image in the left hand bottom corner: it looks like a woman strangling a devil in a suitcase but I have no idea which proverb it illustrates
I'm not quite sure how the two experiences fo seeing the badges and seeing this painting connect but I feel that the over the top depictions of all these tiny morality tales or warnings are kind of what I like to replicate in the interior of the shelter Henk and I hope to build. The humour is lovely and it is through this pointing and laughing at others that it slowly begins to dawn that most of us are probably no more than very temporary, insignificant, foolish things that mess things up - but that without this messiness perhaps we wouldn't be laughing or learning either.