Make Good Livelihoods
We set our 'What, Where and Who piece up in the Use and Beauty Parlour, currently exhibited on The Moor, Sheffield city centre until 12th August. Designed by graduates from the School of Architecture of The University of Sheffield as a mobile pod to be erected wherever such a space is needed.
At the moment it is occupied by Henk - who has been assisting people to carve the Ruskin phrase 'There is no wealth but life' into the last remains of our Ruskinland oak tree. Seiko Kinoshita, a Japanese weaver of beautifully light and colourful sculptures. Coralie Turpin, a mosaic artist and Jason Thompson, a sculptor well known for his skillfully crafted sculptures featured in many of Sheffield's parks and public spaces. I have been there too, talking to the people who enter the space, finding out where they're from, what they do and who has helped them in their lives.
Interesting stories that are often funny, moving, happy, weird (!) and, yes .... also frequently heart-breaking. In the context of being at the bottom end of The Moor that was perhaps something I should have expected. There are a lot of poor people in Sheffield. A lot of people are ill, have disabilities, sometimes hidden but not hidden for long once people start talking.
After one day I felt exhausted and I was pissed off with myself for feeling so useless - what is the point of this stuff we do as artists?
On the third day we were surrounded by a small group of religious men, carrying crosses and waving bibles and singing (loudly and badly) songs about Jesus. I was wondering how similar I sounded when I talked to people about John Ruskin. Maybe I should start singing about Ruskin and walk around Sheffield with a banner to see how many people I could convert?
Ruskin was lucky and privileged - he was able to become a philanthropist, he was from a wealthy background and he had an enormous amount of support from his family and the network of wealthy influential people surrounding him. Even if he often spoke out against the sort of wealth acquired through acquiring money and property - his position enabled him to be heard and gain notoriety. I think he absolutely tried to do the best thing he could do and I'm sure he sometimes felt as useless as everyone else who knows that they have been lucky in life. You can escape the messiness that poverty brings with it when you have a job, live in a good place and have family and friends. He escaped frequently - to Venice, the Alps, the Lake District. I too escape frequently and forget very easily the fact that many people can't get away. They are stuck where they are.
It wasn't all depressing. Don't get me wrong. I also laughed with people. With the lady who comes in every day carrying with her a variety of cuddly toy animals and then frantically starts drawing and drawing until you have to take the pencils away from her and persuade her to come back the following day.
Or the man who took me out of the pod and stood me on a crack in the pavement and then talked for 30 minutes about all these energy lines that run through the city and through people and burst out of the ground. Dazzling! He was very happy.
The guy who works in that awful Council building at the bottom of The Moor came in to say he loved what we were doing.
The Pakistani father with his two surly sons and two fiesty daughters who are so happy and chatty and cant' stop making things. They visit every day on their way back from Moor Market and Iceland.
And lots and lots of children who burst in and enjoy participating in all the activities on offer. Mums and dads watching them proudly. They may be poor too, but they will be fine!