17.05.2019

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One of a series of profiles of our neighbours, here in Pullens Yards. We love craft: the creative process that involves turning a vision into reality. We craft brands and sign systems. Our neighbours craft pots and buildings, chairs and lutes, paintings and beeswax candles, eaux de cologne and hats.

CAIRN YOUNG

Most people do one thing. They are a teacher, an insurance broker or a flight attendant. Cairn can't put his finger on what he does. And roaming the workshop he shares with Ian Spencer - under the banner Yard Sale Project - and the studio upstairs, you simply can't tell, the spaces are Aladdin's Caves of tools, machines, wood, drawings, maquettes, half-finished wooden or steel carcasses, ceramic forms, and a cupboard, called Cubrik, that swirls open doubling its size with physical ingenuity impossible to understand.

Clements Yard, the home of Cairn's lair, was derelict when he came across it as an industrial design student twenty years ago. He saw its potential immediately. He squatted at first, but then went on to pretty much rebuild it and its studios with a handful of compadres. Is this architecture or community building?

In making their distinctive multi-layered furniture, Cairn and Ian use a design technique they call "Chaos". Chaos as in the scientific idea of disorder being merely a more complicated form of order. Borrowing from the way nothing in Nature is pure, or perfectly symmetrical, they fashion furniture which seems far closer to Henry Moore's sculptures or neolithic tombs than what mass-production methods have made us used to. A myriad blocks of wood bonded like crystals, and carved into sinuous body-like shapes. The chairs are other worldly. Alien thrones.

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And then there is Cairn's cutlery for Auerhahn, showing that he can be novel within the tightest parameters. My favourite are the spoons, that twist as though they are reaching for that last drop of honey. Or his bowls for Rosenthal, with food cupped safely in the centre, they bloom outwards like flowers.

Although Nature is clearly at the heart of what he does, Cairn doesn't baulk at unnatural finishes, chrome or polycarbonate. What he is doing though, is bending these industrial substances into forms that humanise them, eccentric, unexpected, rhythmic forms.

See other posts:

FRANK BOWLING

KELVYN SMITH

KATTY JANNEH

DAVID COWLEY

CAROL MATHER

ELISA ALALUUSUA

To visit the studios, which open twice a year, see more here:
pullensopen.org

05.04.2019

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One of a series of profiles of our neighbours, here in Pullens Yards. We love craft: the creative process that involves turning a vision into reality. We craft brands and sign systems. Our neighbours craft pots and buildings, chairs and lutes, paintings and beeswax candles, eaux de cologne and hats.

ALISON COOKE

I am not by any stroke of the imagination conventional, but still I call myself a potter. I am drawn to deep history, in all senses of that word deep.

For the latest project, I have managed to get clay from 30 metres below London Bridge. It took countless calls and emails, but eventually I managed to get big pieces from the spoil of Costain's piling machine. And then the real work begins. I have to work that stuff to extract workable clay from it. Soaking it, sifting, then sieving, until I arrive at something that is mostly clay.

And then I test it to see how it responds. Fire it to 1,250˚C. At that extreme temperature clay is on the edge of melting, and the trace elements of metals within it at that temperature do melt, or suck in air like bicarbonate of soda when you bake. It's exciting to see what comes out, will it be flat and shiny like black glass, or coarse and bloated like a loaf of bread?

Only when I have extracted enough clay, and discovered how it behaves, do I think about bringing things to a conclusion - creating a set of pieces, forms that trying to summarise and hint at the story of the site, the extraction of the clay, the nature of the clay. I am so interested in the idea that I am capturing the clay at this moment, this point in its journey, it's already been so many things; hurtling through space, liquid in the earth's core, lava blasted out of a volcano, solid rock, under the sea, in a mountain, and then fleetingly in my hands. That's what I mean by the line of history, by deep history. The human dimension is so brief in comparison to the time without humans. Who knows what this clay has seen, what would talk about if it could talk? I suppose that is what I am trying to do, make the clay give up some of its history, encourage it to speak.

See other posts:

FRANK BOWLING

KELVYN SMITH

KATTY JANNEH

DAVID COWLEY

CAROL MATHER

ELISA ALALUUSUA

To visit the studios, which open twice a year, see more here:
pullensopen.org

05.03.2019

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One of a series of profiles of our neighbours, here in Pullens Yards. We love craft: the creative process that involves turning a vision into reality. We craft brands and sign systems. Our neighbours craft pots and buildings, chairs and lutes, paintings and beeswax candles, eaux de cologne and hats.

ELISA ALALUUSUA

It's no surprise that Elisa, with that surname, comes from somewhere exotic. A reindeer farm in Lapland: a bleak and beautiful place, full of lakes and forest, snow and the aurora borealis. By some stroke of fate, she met another Finn whilst in London, married him, and they both live here. They are somewhat torn between the stark beauty of their homeland and the cultural richness of London.

Elisa focuses on drawing and video - an odd combination. Drawing is an intimate form of art, every mark is a product of your own imagination. Video is about machinery, cameras and computers, of holding up a device and recording the world. Elisa talks of structure, some way of funnelling her creativity, and both drawing and video give her limits. She says she sees the practices as interwoven: "documenting one's life journey". They are both ways of recording reality; video in a literal way, drawing as a catalogue of each subtle movement. Both practices, she says, are a way to "present life as it is".

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She rarely envisages a piece in her mind, rather she sets herself constraints that she has to work within. Like drawing lines in sets of a hundred. Or counting circles as she draws and erases them. Or using time as a way of controlling the work. A memorable example of this is Elisa's 24 hour drawing marathons, that "push mental and physical boundaries", artworks where both time and counting coincide, in a room lined with paper, Elisa drawing intersecting circles, a staggering 16,000 of them.

As an Englishman, moderate in all things, I marvel at this endurance, embracing difficulty. Elisa says it originates from her early life on a farm, farming is an arduous activity bound by processes, in the arctic no less, where night and day merge, and severity is a way of life. But she left that behind, and came to soft London. Perhaps her work is all a re-enactment of that tension, between limits and freedom, between rules and breaking them - "fabulously intriguing" life happening despite constraints.

See other posts:

FRANK BOWLING

KELVYN SMITH

KATTY JANNEH

DAVID COWLEY

CAROL MATHER

To visit the studios, which open twice a year, see more here:
pullensopen.org

05.03.2019

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One of a series of profiles of our neighbours, here in Pullens Yards. We love craft: the creative process that involves turning a vision into reality. We craft brands and sign systems. Our neighbours craft pots and buildings, chairs and lutes, paintings and beeswax candles, eaux de cologne and hats.

CAROL MATHER

Carol's studio is small compared to others at the Yards, the size of a bedroom. She doesn't need much space, her work is small work, she is a silversmith. She sits at a desk, lamps angled onto her hands, a leather pouch stretched from the desk to catch the silver filings. The tools carefully laid out are those for the tiny violence of small-scale metal working; files, hammers, vices, wire pullers.

She shares the studio three days a week with Grey, a terribly handsome Whippet. Her great love is animals. Tutors at college frowned on her for not making abstract work. When she left college, first she made jewellery boxes, highly decorated. But what people liked most were the animal-themed embellishments, so she stopped making the boxes, and started making just the animals. After animals, her main source of inspiration, is late Victorian Gothic. Highly decorated, elaborate, with a big dose of medieval.

The display cupboard on her wall boasts quite a bestiary. Each piece serves a purpose; a warthog pincushion, a bear with panniers for salt and pepper. Her most recent project is miniaturisation, using computer alchemy. Carol's pieces, already small (the size of a plum), are scanned, 3D-printed in resin, casts made, and tiny replicas cast in silver. All those fantastic collective nouns; a streak of tigers, a knot of toads, but what are the nouns for a mixture of different animals? There on her table is a tumble of stags, rabbits and hounds. Gathered for a hunt, or a parade.

She works steadily on commissions. Making pendants and tiny statues of people's loved animal companions. She shows me one in progress. A pendant of a one-eyed Jack Russell, perfectly capturing his up-turned snout, long body and short powerful legs. Such life she has wrought in such tiny form. Just as alive as the Whippet dozing behind us.

See other posts:

FRANK BOWLING

KELVYN SMITH

KATTY JANNEH

DAVID COWLEY

ELISA ALALUUSUA

To visit the studios, which open twice a year, see more here:
pullensopen.org

12.02.2019

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Walking the streets of Bangkok, there is hardly any litter. But occasionally you see a flattened empty cigarette packet. After seeing one with the most horrific photograph on it, I started collecting them.

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Smoking in Asia is rampant, how it was here in Britain and America twenty years ago. They don't smoke in public buildings or on transport (can you remember that? the tube trains thick with smoke!!) - but you'll see crowds outside hotels, and those smoking rooms at airports. They also hold cigarettes differently, their hand held palm-towards-face, the cigarette sometimes between the middle two fingers.

The photographs of Hell are the result of the World Health Authority Framework Convention on Tobacco Control: "every person should be informed of the health consequences, addictive nature and mortal threat posed by tobacco consumption". Thailand is a signatory. Article 11 suggests a "large health warning" covers a recommend 50% or more of the packet.

"Evidence shows that health warnings and messages that contain both pictures and text are far more effective than those that are text-only ... [and they] increase motivation and intention to quit ... Pictorial health warnings and messages may also disrupt the impact of brand imagery on packaging and decrease the overall attractiveness of the package."

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Why so many different images? "The novelty effect of new health warnings and messages is important, as evidence suggests that the impact of health warnings and messages that are repeated tends to decrease over time, whereas changes in health warnings and messages are associated with increased effectiveness."

Then I stumbled upon a very different packet. For those that know anything about Chinese visual culture, this packet pulls out all the stops.

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It is red, the colour of money and good fortune and of the Chinese flag. Gold is a close second to red. The front shows an image of Tian'anmen, the Gate of Heavenly Peace, it is the entrance to the Imperial Palace, the point from which Beijing extends outwards in a series of squares, quite literally the centre point of the Chinese world. It makes a big features of the two marble columns outside, making them far larger than they are in proportion to the gate. Can it be because the columns are tall and cylindrical and white? On top of all this, the most significant way that value is conferred on the packet is the brand name: Chunghwa: the name for China itself.

If smoking is generally popular in Asia, it is more than that in China, "Nearly three-quarters of all Chinese men are smokers ... Smoking could eventually kill a third of all young Chinese men if nothing is done to get them to drop the habit, according to the largest ever survey of tobacco use ... Two landmark studies involving 1.25m Chinese people show that [as of now] China has the largest number of smoking-related deaths in the world." So far the medical information that has done so much to reduce smoking elsewhere has yet to reach the ordinary Chinese: "Surveys showed two-thirds of Chinese people think smoking does little or no harm, 60% think it does not cause lung cancer and 96% do not know that it causes heart disease."

In fact, it is rather the opposite. Cigarettes are a symbol of wealth. This is from China Daily, one of the Communist Party newspapers: "Serving a cigarette is good manners. When we meet our boss, we serve a cigarette to him to show our respect. When we talk to somebody, we offer a cigarette as a peace offering, which will build trust observably. We thank our plumber with his fee and a cigarette, We serve a cigarette to a guest, suggesting "You are very welcome." A cigarette (a nice cigarette is better) is an external, material expression of a compliment. To our shy, not-good-with-words Chinese, cigarettes helps us talk.

"In many places in China, the cigarette brand could also represent one's social status. It is kind of a cigarette version of "You are what you smoke." China has many kinds of cigarettes and a huge price gap between different cigarette brands while cigarettes in other countries have similar prices, some are even the same.

"Chunghwa, as a symbol of a high-end cigarette brand in China, has very high sales in China. Anyone who carries a Chunghwa cigarette between his or her fingers is regarded as upper-class or a wealthy man or woman ... If you are holding a low-end cigarette, you are probably a nobody."

Chairman Mao is said to have promised, as a result of the Communist revolution, Chinese people would have ample food, shelter and cigarettes.

To anyone really, really interested in why China seems so reluctant to go the way of Thailand, and swap Tian'anmen for a tumour, this study explains. (The short answer is, unsurprisingly, the same as the answer to why smoking prevailed in the West for so long after its effects were known: money.)

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I chanced across this fiendishly clever photobook, which explores the way cigarettes are part of marriage celebrations, in the way flowers and food are abundant, so are money, champagne and cigarettes. The book is inside a card container the exact size of a packet of Chunghwa, the book itself has cigarettes printed on the boards: you open the tiny book, you enter a foggy world of coffin nails.

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Quentin Newark
(cough)

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