Thursday, April 30, 2015

Design Museum - Design Lab insights

The current home of The Design Museum
Yesterday at Design Museum went along to a session arranged to provide Volunteer Tour Guides with more insights from one of the curators (in fact a Senior Curator), Alex Newson and very illuminating it was too.

Alex described his own trajectory from a one-time engineering student to an MA in Museum Studies at UCL and his subsequent employments.

Many of the Volunteers with a curating background were able to empathise when he spoke about how Museums had boomed and related courses had proliferated to the result there are too many qualified people seeking too few jobs.

It's fair to say that an understanding  of Architecture is a useful asset  to have in the world of  Design critique  -and Alex has used this to his advantage.

Alex was able to speak informatively about  the content of the Collection Lab too, points I noted were :
1) SolarSinter 3D printing-  The SolarSinter is a practical means of producing items using the power of the sun and the abundancy of sand . In the Collection Lab the display is a video with some associated items but the story is so much more - Alex explained how it was envisaged that it could be of use in Space travel enabling settlers to produce constructions without having to ferry large items out to other planets.
A description of 3D printing can also be used to explain the possible moves from Mass Production to Custom production for suitable products.

2) The second item that Alex spoke about was effectively the first example of Mass produced furniture - a Bentwood  Chair that was manufactured by Gebruder Thonet in Austria in the 19th Century - it was made of wood that was treated with steam to make it malleable and has subsequently been described as a Design Classic

3) Alex then spoke about the First Laptop Computer, it becoming the archetype of its particular genre  and also the  questionable success of the  'One per Child' computer which as a development project had a philanthropic business model (the idea was that developed market sales would subsidise the developing world use.

4) The final item Alex spoke about in detail was the Folding plug which he'd first encountered  as a near prototype from the Korean Design Student Min-Kyu- Choi, Min had bought a new fine piece of tech which he'd almost immediately scratched with a  plug so he'd gone and designed an elegant  way to avoid this in the future, subsequently he's gone on to bring a product to market -0 a great design story.

Having performed several tours of The Lab, there's a tendency to run the same tour each time and the value of a group re-visit is that it creates the space to re-examine what you're doing.

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

This weeks's philosophy session - more Pragmatism

A  moving landmark
There's much talk of Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs)   and there are great resources on the internet for learning lectures e-books and the like but for me with  Philosophy it really is the case that learning takes place in  group sessions and by a good teacher come facilitator keeping us en-route.

Having listened to Melvyn Bragg's In Our Time on the subject of the 'Philosophy of Pragmatism' watched a couple of YouTube items and read a handout  I still did not feel fully connected with the topic.

It was slightly comforting to find speaking with classmates that they too had not felt connected to the School but of course this is not an end to it and we continued the investigation in class.

I have also become more intrigued by other influences on 'thought' be it the times and places that 'schools of thought'  were established  (Pragmatism came after the US Civil War and is considered an American phenomenon) and the traits and backgrounds of those who are influential in the 'school' (The founder of Pragmatism was something of an outcast in the academic world he sought to inhabit).

C S Pierce is this figure and is  considered the 'Father' of the school of Pragmatism, which can be considered as being about what is 'real and tangible' and looking at the 'Experiential consequences of a concept'.

Pragmatism sought to ignore some of the questions that Philosophy has  traditionally grappled with
while recognising what practical concerns are what is important.
To help with this a tool is available known as Pierce's Maxim- this is (from various sources)

Consider what effects, that might conceivably have practical bearings, we conceive the object of our conception to have. Then, our conception of these effects is the whole of our conception of the object. 

But this perhaps because of the writing style might not be too clear either and Pierce sought to clarify it many times later statement being:

This employment five times over of derivates of concipere must then have had a purpose. In point of fact it had two. One was to show that I was speaking of meaning in no other sense than that of intellec
.tual purport. The other was to avoid all danger of being understood as attempting to explain a concept by percepts, images, schemata, or by anything but concepts. I did not, therefore, mean to say that acts, which are more strictly singular than anything, could constitute the purport, or adequate proper interpretation, of any symbol. I compared action to the finale of the symphony of thought, belief being a demicadence. Nobody conceives that the few bars at the end of a musical movement are the purpose of the movement. They may be called its upshot. But the figure obviously would not bear detailed application. I only mention it to show that the suspicion I myself expressed after a too hasty rereading of the forgotten magazine paper, that it expressed a stoic, that is, a nominalistic, materialistic, and utterly philistine state of thought, was quite mistaken

Which to me is even less illuminating!

Other Philosophers came after Pierce and his contemporary colleague William James  (brother of famed author Henry James) a Psychologist and Philosopher  he acted as something of a St Paul figure  in evangelising the idea and also absorbed some of the Darwinian theory of the time in his take on Pragmatism.

A little while after these two figures came John Dewey who was another Philosopher/Psychologist he lived a long and celebrated liberal life and he preferred to label his take on Pragmatism as Instrumentalism.

Modern Philosophers who are connected to the Pragmatic tradition include  Richard Rorty, another  one being  Robert Brandom (who seems to have quite a beard) and Dennett, it might be too much to say that the  living Daniel Dennett is a Pragmatist but he has certainly been influenced by this approach.

I might need the other Dewey here

[ During the class I was thrown into a minor panic when I felt the need to state (unequivocally but moving to self-doubt) that the Dewey of Philosophy (John)  fame was not the same as the one who created the Dewey Decimal cataloguing system  despite our course leader being under the shared misapprehension - it was something of a relief to find that they were different people (Melvil was the library man) - odd that even as 'mature' adults we should still anticipate that  teachers will know things beyond that which we should reasonably expect.]

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Sculpture Victorious at Tate Britain

Part of the Oswaldo 'takeaway'

Lots of great stuff as usual at Tate Britain, new things for me include audio sculpture near main entrance called 'Something going on above my head', it was certainly different and is by the artist Oswaldo Maciá who comes from Colombo and is concerned with the 'Ambiguity of Language' amongst other things .

Tate Britain  has also got  exciting new display items to 'see', a couple that caught my eye were  the conceptual piece by John Hillard of a  'Camera recording it's own condition '  and the enigmatic Sow Farm (near Libbey ) by John Gerrard.
Joseph Wright - bewitching

It was nice to see a feature-ette on the often overlooked enlightenment painter Joseph Wright of Derby too.
A nice little guide

Last visit I was unable to drag my weary limbs around Sculpture Victorious  but this time it was at the start of my trip I went in  and I really consider that it was worth seeing.

The exhibition made me re-evaluate the use of 'Victorian' as a derogatory comment very pleased to see that Hamo Thornycroft  whose 'A Sower' recently delighted me in Kew Gardens was a leading light in Sculpture  at the time Queen Victoria was reigning.

What I particularity liked about this exhibition was the quirkiness and inventiveness of the times things like a  system for making miniature copies of sculptures (Cheverton was the inventor).

But there were social commentaries too like John Bell's American Slave a clear and ringing answer to  the American Hiram Power's  sculpture of The Greek Slave

There was also an important female voice of the time in Mary Seton -Watts who was more than jsut an adjunct to G F Watts.

A very old film showed the mood when public sculptures were unveiled - it was a time of high drama with spirits running high the  Police were sometimes needed to quell the excitement of the masses .

My personal favourite of the exhibition was  A Royal Game by William Reynolds-Stephens, a sculpture depicting Queen Elizabeth playing chess against  King Philip of Spain - very inventive, using modern materials in a creative way

'A Sower' by Hamo Thornycroft

Monday, April 27, 2015

More picture framing in Richmond

Another session at the RACC today and as I managed to allow myself plenty of time for my journey this week I was able to enjoy a promenade across Richmond Green now used for 'Village Cricket' but at one time used for jousting.

Richmond is a lovely spot which has managed to retain character and has great amenities including 2 cinemas and 2 theatres

A spring view of Richmond's Green heart
A lovely spot to live

The range of courses at the RACC seems pretty impressive too and the fayre at the cafe there is very reasonably priced.

Looks like it was once a school

A nice name for the block

As well as advancing on the matting that we started last week we had a go at cutting the mouldings that will make up our first frame.

The cutting of the moulding requires a fair amount of precision and certainly patience and an accurate measurement technique are needed.

Our teacher is able to demonstrate and explain what is required, soon we'll be adding glass and we're also going to look at the idea (and practice) of using  (or re-using) existing frames (these can be either bought new or second hand), this I find promising, while I can see I might get a Mat cutter (The Logan 350-1 is a likely  candidate) I'm not sure about getting a mitre cutter  like the one we used today - it seems that should you want to make frames it is worth considering getting the mouldings ready cut - a little more expensive but means stock-holding is not needed and that a good quality can be assured.

Sunday, April 26, 2015

Reducing landfill and avoiding Wheelie bins as well as an unrelated James Bolam is spotted on the Tube

I suppose regardless of which particular political party you support the reduction in refuse going for landfill is something to celebrate.
Takes at last 2 weeks to fill

In Ealing the rubbish collection is currently weekly and recycling is at the same frequency - most weeks we put out a green box for recycling (Glass, Papers, Cardboard and foil/metal) and a plastic recycling about every 4 weeks.

As a keen compost-er with an allotment I don't need to worry about garden or much kitchen waste but recognise that people in flats have different problems.

For our particular circumstances I'm delighted that we're in a position to put out a 'black bag' less than once every 2 weeks- as well as meaning less rubbish it means I don't have to get up before 7;30 every week to put out a bin bag that should I put it out the night before would mean foxes attacking it.

Well Ealing's Labour council has been agonising over ways top save money and has come to the conclusion that a revised rubbish collection  scheme can help.

I'm comfortable with collection becoming something that happens every 2 weeks but I do not want the monstrous 'wheelie' bins that it seems are to be foisted on us, I don't see how this will save money or is environmentally friendly, they're ugly and encourage greater waste disposal.
A 'likely lad' alights  at Chiswick  Park station

I intend to contact councillors to voice my objections both on aesthetics and practical grounds and in the meantime will add my name to this petition.

I'd ideally like to see wheelie bins only used in commercial situations and do not think they are something that should spoil residential areas.

Friday, April 24, 2015

Seeds - Cucumber, climbing beans, Tea, Coffee and Mental Health

More seeds planted 
This time of year for anyone in the UK who likes growing things is a busy time - I'm a bit like the guy at the circus rotating plates on sticks.

As well as the regular crops I've decided to give a try to Tea and Coffee, the Tea is actually Camomile and the coffee undefined.

Much as the British explorers brought seeds from abroad in the Victorian age  modern gardeners are often not content to grow what they know our climate supports and push at the edges   - so I've also got a packet  of various Cactus seeds from when we holidayed in the Canary Islands recently.

The kit box
Soaking seeds
the pots with seeds

Oddly enough I saw a little bit of an old QI (on Dave) and pictures of what various drugs did to the brain were shown - one of the stimulants that had what looked like a worrying effect was coffee.

On the subject of the brain -I got a chance to revisit an area that interested me yesterday  (some time ago I went to talk at The Royal Society on research into the causes) I attended a presentation giving an overview of mental conditions.

One of the few things that Liberal Democrats might feel a little pride about is being part of the move to put mental health on the public agenda but to be able to take part in debate around this you need to know some of the terminology -  here's a little of what I picked up.

Mental health conditions appear to beon the rise in the UK, there are (of course) questions around this phenomenon, is it that we're now more keen to diagnose? Are we saying normal reactions to the rough and tumble of life  are 'Mental problems'? And do drug companies have a monetary interest in the medication that follows?

In the UK Mental Health is diagnosed according to ICD -10 which is broadly speaking a classification tool.


Schizophrenia is a serious condition which is accompanied by both Negative and Positive symptoms.
An example of the  positive symptoms include Thought Broadcasting.

Treatments - often Medication which has side effects that can require further medication - some medication gives patients Parkinson's disease like symptoms and severe weight gain.

Therapies - CBT is often used to help sufferers and is favoured by the NHS in the UK

Social - There are networks that support Hearing Voices Network is an example.

Bi-Polar Disorder - this has some high profile sufferers (Like Stephen Fry) and is associated with dramatic 'highs and lows' these include manic episodes where speech can become extremely fast and delusions are prevalent.

Treatments -Mood stabilisers are the favoured drugs.

Therapies -CBT again can be appropriate.

Social - there's support at BiPolar UK

Depression is probably the biggest mental health issue in the UK and many of us know of people who have this condition, it typically is accompanied by lower levels of activity, self-esteem issues and reduced concentration. Those with depression may have less of an appetite (for food) and can also have reduced sleep.

Treatments- drugs that are used are termed  anti-depressants.

Therapies -CBT and other three letter type acronyms abound here CAT, along with IPT and DIT are some of them.

Social - there are Health and Well-being centres around and the Depression Alliance 

Personality Disorder - is about how we function in the world Borderline Personality Disorder can be a difficult condition to manage it's associated with Emotional instability and sufferers often have a history of abuse and/or neglect.

The final area I will mention is

Anxiety and Panic Attacks -

Panic attacks - these can often be treated with CBT along with 'exposure therapy'  and  medication includes anxiolytics - simple measures like breathing adjustments  may bring some calm

Social - there's a group called Anxiety UK

Thursday, April 23, 2015

Life on London's Southbank

London is a culturally diverse  (perhaps the world's most diverse) and it is also a Tourist hotspot destination - just take a walk along the Southbank and you'll feel you're on holiday if you're a resident or merely visiting.

Here are some recent pictures from the beating heart of the capital.

A modern view across the city
A camouflaged ship 'dazzles

It's not often that you see Tower Bridge being raised (Okay it's an inflatable one) 
An impressive juggler

There are plenty of Shaun the Sheeps around (hopefully) generating cash for Children's' charities.

Who you lookin' at? A Shaun the sheep

More music 

While my guitar gently weeps
(actually not mine or me )

I Lie Around  (actually it's not me but the titles of a Wings B side)

Another charity raising Shaun

The latest Routemaster - another design classic perhaps?

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

City Lit - Ways into Philosophy- Philosophy in the 20th Century - review and Intro

Okay let's cuts some trees too
Blimey - life is a challenge for commuters on Monday it felt like I was spending half my life on buses (the troublesome 65)  and yesterday following problems on the London underground's Central Line it felt like I was taking an expedition involving mediaeval torture (okay I might be prone to exaggeration).

Blocked &

Road closed,

And then when I got to Holborn the area was being remodelled and re-imagined following substation problems in the vicinity.

Having said that it felt good to be back amongst some of the 'gang' of searchers in thought and to see that the course was being headed up by Scott who had run a couple of the previous courses i have attended at City Lit.
There were 12 students present and about 4 or so of these were 'returnee's'.

Well again it was brought home to me how little I know but that this doesn't negate an effort to find out more.

Review and Intro 

The session was largely a scene setter and review of what brings us to the (almost) present day terrain of 20th Century Philosophy -this Scott explained was about what might losley be described as movements and wasn't necessarily about key figures .

6 statements were provided to engage us.

1.) Modern philosophy begins with the work of Rene Descartes (1596- 1650). It is primarily concerned with questions about the nature and extent of human knowledge

Descartes is often labelled as the father of modern philosophy and the adjective Cartesian is used to denote detachment and the application of objective mediations, Descartes was concerned with Epistemology.

2) The philosophy of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries divides into two main branches: rationalism and empiricism. Rationalists take the view that the mind makes an essential contribution to knowledge.
Empiricists take the view that knowledge derives from experience. Rene Descartes (1596-1650), Baruch Spinoza (1632-1677) and G.W. Leibniz (1646-1716) are rationalists. John Locke (1632-1704), George Berkeley (1685-1753) and David Hume (1711-1776) are empiricists.

There is an ongoing struggle around the viewpoints of Rationalists (where the mind makes an important contribution)  versus Empiricism (where the perspective is sensory and experience based), rationalists will argue that senses can deceive us and feel that there is such a thing as inherent knowledge.

3) Immanuel Kant (1724-1804) combines the insights of rationalism and empiricism in an epoch-making way. He is the first philosopher to provide a method for exposing nonsense in philosophy and setting a limit to what philosophy can promise to find out about the world and our place in it.

Kant was a key figure who was able to take insights from both of the two traditions, Rationalism and Empiricism  - he asked what was the point of questions and arguments that could not be resolved and believed that there was a limit to what we can know, as humans unlike God are finite. Kant created an idea of 'Nonsense busting', criteria that can apply

i)   Principle of significance
ii)  Claims need to relate to experience
iii) Information from the world
iv) Reasoning , judgement

Kant did not see questions such as 'Am I free?'  as useful.

4) German philosophers after Kant - especially G. W. F. Hegel (1770- 1831) - were not content to accept the limits imposed on philosophy by Kant's method. They constructed systems that were supposed to constitute absolute knowledge.

Of course Kant's ideas (as those before him)  generated reaction and figures like Hegel  championed the  freely acting individual.

5) In the twentieth century, philosophers of different persuasions began to regard an understanding of language (meaning, interpretation, etc.) as crucial to the solution of the problems of philosophy. Martin Heidegger (1869-1976) and Ludwig Wittgenstein (1889-1951) are notable examples.

In the 20th century language became an important area of study  (around interpretation and meaning) and some questions of knowledge 'metamorphosised' into questions about language

6) Another major development of twentieth century philosophy is the split between 'analytic' and 'Continental' philosophy. Although philosophers on either side read many of the same philosophers, they focus on different issues and practise philosophy in different ways. Analytic philosophers stress the importance of clarity and argumentative rigour, and mock the obscurity and pretentiousness of Continental philosophy. Continental philosophers stress the importance of (for want a better term) existential issues, and take issue with the narrowness and formality of analytic philosophy.

Analytic thought is generally around formal procedure and Continental (as we might expect) is more involved with what it means to be here and our understanding.

The movements

So the 'movements' we're going to look at 9and more as we move on) are

Pragmatism - a self conscious US tradition that concerns itself with the difference adopting a claim would make (James and Peirce are important figures).

Logical Positivism - comes out of the Austrian circle and uses observational practices and verification principle (important text from A J Ayer)

Phenomenology - is from the continental and concerned with a first person perspective and how we experience things - (Jackson's thought experiment around redness, the so-called Mary Phenomenon   is influential )

Structuralism and Post-Structuralism - often about differences e.g. 'red' is defined as not blue or green (important figures are Claude Levi-Strauss and Ferdinand de Saussure)

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Sonia Delaunay at Tate Modern

This way in
After resumption of Philosophical studies at City Lit this morning (more on this later) I thought a visit to Tate Modern was somewhat overdue and decided to remedy this.
The useful guide

The Exhibition that has started since my last visit is an interesting figure, that of Sonia Delaunay.

A feminist viewpoint might make the point that the male hegemony has tended to marginalise women in the Arts (And for that matter Philosophy too) clearly there's a tendency to often see the Women of strong partnerships to be the lesser creative but it seems to me this may not be the case for the Delaunays .

Sonia's personal story seems an interesting one she was all but adopted by a childless couple (her Uncle Henrri Teurk  and his wife) who gave her many opportunities to enjoy the rarefied world of Exhibitions and galleries.

Sonia spent time in France amongst the Fauvists and the De Brucke group and her second marriage to Robert Delaunay created a strong  artistic partnership.

After visiting  the exhibition I looked at a work by Robert (Endless rhythm) and it was clear to see the similarities between the work of the two artists..

What I would say about the work of this artist is that although it clearly has a style and visits many ideas more than once it does not as some of the exhibitions I've visited feel like too little spread rather thinly, there is a clear structure with figurative work giving way to abstraction and Delaunay  was able to work across a selection of materials and media- working in fashion poetry and commercial publishing.

My favourite works by Sonia were Electric Prisms and the Large and Small Flamenco paintings.

I found some of the works had a near Mondrian-esque quality and they did both connect sound and painting (and others have remarked on this).

Also of note was a film of Sonia's fashion designs made in 1925 but in Colour! Also worth noting were the dramatic works that Robert and Sonia collaborated on for the International Exhibition of Arts and Technology in Paris in 1937.

Another point is that having started a framing course I found myself studying the mounts.

And as the filmic homage to Banksy would say 'Exit through the gift store


Monday, April 20, 2015

Framing course starts and a nice exhibition of Paul Catherall Linocuts

Despite a painful journey into Richmond via 65 Bus I got to the RACC just about in time for the first part of Picture Framing Beginners course.

The RACC is just a short walk from Richmond's Station just by the famous Orange Tree Theatre.

The RACC is round the corner
Like so many good courses this one is lead by a practitioner in this case Sue Harper, who is also happy to steer the course towards the particular requirements of those taking part.

Having (of course) learnt that there's considerably more to framing than first meets the eye I was very keen to see some examples of what I'd been introduced to.
For Arts Sake Ealing

Ealing has a really nice 'Gallery' called For Arts Sake and at the moment they're showing Linocuts by Paul Catherall .

Reading the interview with Catherall it seems he's far more modest than he should be - there's a nostalgia to the style of the works which are clean and incisive - and to my mind not that expensive.

It is obvious that Catherall really likes the monuments and landmarks of London - here we can see St.Paul's, BT Tower  and Tate modern with various hues.

I liked seeing Trellick Tower which I've encountered and learned a little of before.
Trellick Tower in Yellow

A BT Tower detail

Looking at the Lincocut prints it did become apparent that the style here was not to use Aperture and Undermounts, also the frames were white and designed not to distract from the work.

Seeing such no nosense frames reminded me of when as part of a group I visited an exhibition of works by Julian Schnabel  -were the main thing we discussed was the frames.

And of course the exhibition changes my perspective - I cam imagine that this picture below could be used as the basis for a great Lino-cut.

Sunday, April 19, 2015

Kew Gardens in April

After visiting Richmond on Friday morning I took a diversion on the way home and went back via Kew Gardens.

Kew has an amazing history- partially tied up with being the retreat George III and his wife Charlotte - at this time Kew was considered pretty rural.

It is also very much on the tourist map and features like 'The Japanese Garden' attract international visitors and their commentaries too,

The second Kew Palace

A view of the Japanese Garden

A calm place amidst the hurly-burly.

Another feature of the gardens are the structures which provide a time-line dating back to Victorian glory days there are modern Glass houses too.

A modern Glass House

Not dropped in from outer space

Generally I'm not too envious of other homes (or other items - if you aspire too much take a look at this Video from 'School of Life') but wouldn't mind living in the one below - convenient and with a balcony - quite something.

It looks like a great place to live and on Kew Garden's doorstep.

The other day I highlighted a figure who reminded me of my Dad, during this visit I saw a figure that made me think of my Mum.
A reminder of Mum.

Saturday, April 18, 2015

uncovered Haven Green

And Flag

I often park the car near Haven Green, Ealing it's convenient and generally a nice route into the shops and facilities of Ealing.

Last year the flats (above left) were covered over ahead of so redecoration subsequently the covering has been removed and a French flag was flying proudly at high level earlier in the week.

The council and their contractors have made a good job of making the green look nice - hopefully the preservation efforts of people like the redoubtable Victor Mishiku will mean that the area is not ruined and that buildings like 'The Stables' are preserved.

Tranquil civic spaces are important and create space for people to reflect and think.
It really is something of a 'Haven'