Freedom

As some of my readers know, when I am in London I live on a boat.  This week we cast off our moorings and set sail on the River Thames with few plans except to go up the river. It is wonderful to be so free to chose how to spend our time.  By day two we were chugging gently past Runnymede and thought we ought to take a look around.

History is everywhere in this place.  I knew about the Magna Carta.  I had at least done THAT much history when I was at school but it did me a lot of good to read about it again and consider what the signing of this document actually stands for. Obviously there is more to it than this and I know that King John was not quite as good as his word so it was some considerable time before we enjoyed the freedoms which is lays down but I am absolutely clear that during the time since it was originally enshrined in history it has been considered a true milestone in the fight for individual rights and freedoms.

Both the United States Bill of Rights and the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights owe a great deal to Magna Carta, to name just two.  Without it the world would be a poorer place. When I reached somewhere with a wifi signal I did a bit of searching and found this wonderful clip on the British Museum website which, for those who are interested, gives a ‘nutshell explanation’ of this incredibly important document. It is worth a look.

There are a number of other memorials in recognition of the struggle for liberty at Runnymede and so, puffed up with pride that it all started here in Britain, we set off to take a look.  Eventually we found ourselves on the hill over looking the river.  Here there is a haunting reminder of the loss of life by Allied Air Forces during the Second World War.  In one year, 1943, there were more than 30 men killed with the name Smith.  That is to say there were 30+ men with the surname Smith who were sergeants in the RAF killed in that year.  This does not count other ranks called Smith.  Nor does it include  members of other Air Forces: Canadians; New Zealanders; Australians to name just a few.  Nor does it include anyone with surnames which include ‘Smith’ and some other suffix or prefix.  as I looked at this particular column of names – one of 300 – I found myself shivering with some intangible and deeply sad emotion. More so that when I tried to digest the fact that 20,000 men are remembered on the monument.  Maybe that number is too large to comprehend.

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The combined Air Forces memorial at Runnymede.

I hate war!  I cannot understand why differences of opinion cannot be thrashed out over a plate of Nachos and a beer or two.  But the fact remains that in the early 20th century the world was plunged into despair and huge numbers of people died for the simple reason that they believed in Freedom.  I have never felt more appreciative of their sacrifice than I did standing there in the solitude as the daylight was dimming.

I need to make something very special from the small handful of clay that I picked up in a tree throw on the slope of Cooper’s Hill below the memorial.

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I want it to be as open and welcoming as possible.

I have started on a large dish which is as open as I can make it.  I want it to look as though anyone might be able to approach it and rinse their hands.  I also want it to be as fragile as possible in recognition of the fragility of the peace and freedom which we are so privileged to enjoy in this country.  If I don’t get it right the first time I shall keep remaking it until I do because this matters!

 

Ai Weiwei at the Royal academy

This week I visited the Ai Weiwei exhibition at the Royal Academy.  I am a bit late really, most of my friends were there weeks ago and if you haven’t been yet, well get a move on!

Ai Weiwei needs little introduction and there is so much written about him by people who know a great deal more than me so I shall not even go there.   However, I think the exhibition is worthy of a blog.  As an aspiring artist I am always intrigued by the work of people who have become household names.  What makes them so famous that we must flock to see their exhibitions?  Is it what they stand for or the beauty of their art?

Weiwei’s work is his expression of his campaign for free speech and human rights.  But I wonder how many of the people gazing with wonder at the Bicycle Chandelier spend any time at all considering the thinking behind it.  The art speaks of conditions in Weiwei’s homeland but its mesmerising beauty risks masking something of that for me.  I find myself so overwhelmed by the beauty of the repetitive patterns in the bicycles and also in his marble that I fear that it is too easy to forget the story behind it.

I still remember seeing his Sunflower Seeds at Tate Modern back in 2010 and the stir which they caused.  When I visited the Tate it was still possible to interact with the seeds and people of all ages were to be seen lying in the installation, creating ‘sunflower seed angel pictures’ sieving them through their hands and simply sitting within the drifts of ceramic pieces.  But precisely how many of them were giving a single thought to the message behind them I wonder.  Correct me if I am wrong but is it not true that if one turns a comment into a thing of beauty or fascination, does one risk almost everyone missing the point?  And if I am correct, should art which speaks of ugly situations, such as the consequences of an earthquake or suppression of free speech be so beautiful?