Wednesday 28 June 2017

Time Machines exhibition: Palace Green Library, Durham.

Hello time travellers!

Well, you are time travellers, kind of. You're certainly not reading this over my shoulder, in real-time, as I type (I just turned round to check).

You're reading this in the future. Well it's my future, which is your present. And now ... that last sentence is in the past for both of us. And all of this baffling time-switching is exactly why I usually avoid time travel talk; getting my head around the nitty-gritty technicalities is my Kryptonite.

And yet I was drawn to the Time Machines exhibition at Palace Green Library, Durham (ends 3rd September 2017) because its subtitle is: "The past, the future, and how stories take us there"; because stories ... stories I can do ...
Disclaimer: As usual (because no one ever pays me to do these things!) this is in no way a sponsored post. I (and by "I" I mean James) paid for the tickets to the exhibition from my/his own pocket.

Exhibition location:

If, like me, the only thing you really know, or can remember, about Durham is the location of the Cathedral then, you're in luck! Because Palace Green Library is - funnily enough - on 'Palace Green', the area in front of Cathedral's front door. And if you can't find the Cathedral in Durham ... you're really not trying hard enough!

Here's the library which, at the risk of sounding cretinous, is rather delightfully Hogwartian:
Once inside you can browse the Time Machines exhibition (which has a £7.50 entry fee) across two main rooms plus a linking room where you can sit and read some of the time-travel themed books they have on hand. It even contains an unexpected, but hugely welcome, discussion of racial and gender diversity in time-travel which impressed me no end. Plus you can also make your own contribution to the exhibition using sticky-notes ... but more on all of that in a minute!

If you're up for it you're welcome to buckle yourself into the time machine and I'll take you back in time to my visit to the exhibition ... or maybe it's just a leap forward to a time when you find yourself visiting there yourself ... either way, let's go ...

Exhibition contents:

The exhibition begins in a space decorated with intriguing suspended clock-faces with an audio soundtrack of ticking and themed music setting the atmosphere:
Here you'll find a display of old timepieces alongside texts about time, some of which date back to the 1490s. The 1490s! They're incredible specimens, exquisitely made, and preserved, and are useful in illustration the way religions and philosophers have tried to interpret and understand time across the last 500 years. 

It's from here that we get to pass though our first wibbly-wobbly timey wimey portal ... hold on to your hats ...
You OK? Make it in one piece? Can you still feel all your extremities? Well stop it. We haven't got time for that! 

I like this photo I grabbed of James passing through the portal because - even though it's entirely our of focus - no - because it's entirely out of focus, it looks like Scotty's beaming him up:
Yes, yes, feel free to *insert your own 'Kirk' related joke here*.

Now we find ourselves in the main body of the exhibition which houses various time-travel themed texts, including H.G Wells's original manuscript for The Time Machine.
Now, I'm no great sci-fi / fantasy reader, but James is so I was mainly expecting to enjoy the exhibits on his behalf. However, the curators have clearly put in an effort to appeal to a wider audience.
There are discussions about the general paradoxes of time travel, but please don't ask me to explain them ... it hurts my head; along with time-related experiences that I could relate to like precognition and de ja vu:
Along with time-related experiences that I could relate to like precognition and de ja vu. 

(Did you see what I did there? ... Ah, I'm such a wag.) Anyway ...

There are also some fun interactive elements to keep visitors engaged including an old phone you can pick up, and dial, to hear book excerpts read aloud:
Plus there's also an app you can download which provides you with additional audio and video. We didn't read about that element until we'd finished looking around, but if we were to visit again I'd definitely give it a go. 

After browsing all the displays in that area it's time to head through another portal:
And this time we're heading back ... waaaaaay back ... to the start of the universe ...
In a darkened room with a cosmological theme you'll find an intriguing wrap-around film and sound experience. Here we experiencing the dawn of time:
And here's a book that tried to explain it all ... the book which contained Einstein's Theory of Relativity:
And if all that high-mindedness has has overly taxed you ... how about we go and let off some steam with the help of a Post-It?

Audience participation:

Around three walls of the next exhibition space runs a timeline pointing out key dates in fictional and non-fictional history; as well as questions such as 'Who would you like to go back in time to meet?' or 'What would you go back in time to see?'. And you're welcome to add your own contribution using the sticky-notes provided:
And, seriously, I could have photographed hundreds of those little notes! It was such a rich seam of both comedy -intentional and unintentional. (Like the kid who wanted to go back in time to see turtles. We reckoned his parents just don't fancy a zoo trip and would rather keep him ignorant!)

Along the timeline some people took this as an excuse to speculate on - and give the definitive answer to - the idea of time-travel in general ... 
(Text reads: "If backwards time travel were invented ... where are they?" "I'm one"). They walk amongst us!  

As do Bill and Ted fans: 
... and competitive Whovians: 
And ... as we move along the timeline and into predictions for the future we discover ... 

... a jaded Game of Thrones viewer:
... and even more jaded house-sellers:
(Text reads: "We will, at last, have found a buyer for our house and will not be doomed to die in Thanet. Although it is sunny there".)

... and - is it just me or - do you get the feeling Jane wrote this herself in an act of wishful thinking?
And finally, I don't want to upset anyone but, someone has predicted ... dun dun dun ...
Surely not? Say it aint so!

But, before we get too disheartened, the final room of the exhibition really is something to be happy about.

Diversity in time travel: 

Once upon a time, at any other given point in history, (embracing the puns) an exhibition such as this - hosting iconic, well known, lauded texts on a given subject - would usually be populated purely by works by dead white men. 

And, quite naturally, such pieces do feature here with works from H.G Wells, Plato, Dickens, Einstein etc. But, it's by no means another case of  'pale, male and stale' culture-hogging here as there's been a clear effort to include works by women and people of colour.

Because now, in 2017, it really is time that representation matters to cultural curators, and fortunately here, it does.  The final room of the exhibition asks 'who owns the future':
In this room you'll find works by black and women writers on display and a serious look at the role of time-travelling storytelling within the feminist and racial equality movements. This is accompanied by and a fabulous short video installation about how black creatives (writers, graphic artists, musicians such as Beyonce) have incorporated time travel and futurism in their works in order to look to a brave new world.  My favourite line from the film - the one which made me want to cheer and punch the air when it splashed across the screen - read: "The masters of the present are not always the masters of the future".  

I think I need to see that on a T-shirt, like, yesterday. (Which should be possible now we know there is such a thing as time travel. There is. It's true. I read it on a Post-It.).

But, seriously, those are the kind of conversations I'm looking for in my cultural consumption these days. I'm interested in hearing about, and seeing work from, a diverse range of perspectives across gender and race and - if curators, directors, producers, editors etc can't find a way to include people other than straight white men in the topics they've chosen to explore, or the stories they've chosen to tell, well ... then they should be looking for a different story.

The Time Machines exhibition could easily have been another collection that limited itself to documenting the activities of 'important' white men, but it didn't. It made the effort to tell a new tale ... and it's all the more interesting for doing so.

BTW: the mirrors in this final room are simply begging you to Instagram them! And I won't let them down on that front, although ... it is a pity that in this particular one, the phrase 'The clock is ticking' stretches right across my groin area ... jeez ... alright, alright, keep your opinions to yourself please! ;-)

Further details:

If our virtual TARDIS-spin of a tour around the Time Machines exhibition has sparked your imagination then here's where you can find out more:

Note: if the £7.50 the entry fee feels a little steep, then you might like to know that the cost does include 2 return visits before the end of the exhibition. I would advise, that to make the most of your time there, download the app (we didn't!), use the interactive phone, sit and linger with some time travel books, write a sticky note (and feel free to tag me in it if you share a photo of it on social media), watch the film ... and take Instagram-worthy shots in the mirrors.

So tell me time-hopping friends ... what do you think?

  • Now you've had a general overview of the experience do you fancy visiting the exhibition in 'real life'? 
  • Have you already been? Or have you just enjoyed me dragging you around the exhibition from the comfort of your sofa?
  • Where/who would YOU want to visit from the past
  • What do you predict for the future?
  • Have you recently visited an exhibition which made an effort to be inclusive (without being tokenistic)?
  • And ... do time travel storylines baffle you too? I think the last one I tried to get my head around was the Ethan Hawke movie 'Predestination' ... I just can't get that looping of time thing, like the events which happen that change the future - or is it the past - and which bits have to have happened in which order to make the next things happen. Nope, I give up. I'm putting on a romcom instead. ;-) 
As always we can continue this conversation via any of my online homes:

And I'll see you here or there, soon, or later on, or maybe even in the past ... I don't know ... I might need to read up on those time-travel paradoxes again ...


Monday 19 June 2017

The Summertime Jane Austen Book Club: welcome to the Sanditon-along!

Hello hello.

How do you fancy sitting back, people-watching, and maybe falling in love Jane Austen-style this summer?

If that sounds like how you'd like to spend July then come and join in with an impromptu, informal, summer book club hosted by me (hello!) and Ruth from Everyday Life of a Suburban SAHM.

Sanditon - an unfinished novel by Jane Austen (completed by other authors)
When Jane Austen died, 200 years ago next month, only 4 of the books we know and love her for - Sense & Sensibility, Pride & Prejudice, Mansfield Park and, my personal favourite, Emma - had been published.

Two further works - Northanger Abbey and Persuasion, were published posthumously ... and then there was Sandition. Austen had only written 12 chapters of Sanditon when she died on July 18th 1817 and, since then it's been released into the world after being completed by several different authors. 


Last week Ruth posted on Instagram (where she's @thestreetsofw5) about how she rescued an abandoned copy of Sanditon from the jaws of death* at a recycling centre. (OK, I may have exaggerated ... but she did rescue it from a recycling centre where it was surely only a few collections and deliveries away from being pulped!)

And her post leapt out at me because I have a copy of the exact same edition, which I rescued from a charity shop, and - like Ruth - I had never read it. So I suggested we join forces for a communal read-along: or - more precisely - a Sanditon-along!

We're opening the covers on Sanditon on July 1st 2017, and taking our reading at a leisurely pace throughout the month.

Grab yourself a copy of Sanditon by Jane Austen by any which way you fancy before July 1st*.
  • *Actually ... don't worry if you don't get it by that date - that's just when we're starting to read it, and chat about it in occasional blog/Instagram posts. Feel free to join in whenever you can,  but if you'd like the communal element try to get into it before the end of July. 
  • Check your local library catalogue - because good books are good, but free books are even better! 
  • I've had a quick look on Amazon (UK) and there are actually a few copies available of the same edition we're using.  
  • Dip into eBay, charity/thrift shops and - apparently recycling centres are a good sourse of abandoned novels! 
  • And of course there are ebook versions available out there too. Basically ... however you can get Sanditon under your nose is fine with us! 
It's almost guaranteed that we will end up reading different versions as it seems several other authors have completed what Jane Austen started. But that's no problem ... it'll probably lead us to interesting conversations about the various ways the story is taken by its different writers!

Throughout the month share your Sanditon reading experiences with us on social media / blogs:

  • eg. Share photos of your copy, or your where you're reading it.
  • Let us know how / if you're enjoying it.
  • Use the hashtag #sanditonalong if you'd like us to easily find your post - and to find posts by others.
  • Feel free to tag me on Instagram @withjuliekirk  and/or Ruth @thestreetsofw5 if you'd like to make sure we see your posts!
You can also join in by:

So, how about it? Are you in?

It's such a wonderfully serendipitous chain of events that's led us, including you, here, now ... 
Firstly, someone chose to leave that book in the recycling centre. Then Ruth just happened to notice it, decide to take it home and post about it on Instagram. Where I just happened to see it and recognise it as exactly the same edition as the one lounging on my shelf. And now, just days later, here we are planning to read Jane Austen's final, unfinished novel, during the 200th anniversary of her death ... and beyond.  And encouraging others - you - to join us in doing the same. 

I've been meaning all year to find an appropriate, meaningful  way to mark her anniversary not merely because it was an important one of 200 years, but also because of her age when she died: she was 41 and 7 months. On her anniversary I'll be 41 and 6 months ... and I've felt somehow obliged to consciously mark the occasion. And now, almost accidentally, I know what I'll be doing! 

I'll be reading her final book alongside a network of readers who, like me, might well be encountering it for the first time. 

The whole occasion, of our pop-up Sanditon-along book club, is almost perfectly Austenian in itself! What with its themes of coincidences, the 'almost-didn't-happen'-ness, the love of books and reading, the sharing of stories between female friends ... it fits happily within the Austen universe. 

And Ruth and I hope you'll get chance to join us there! 


So tell me ... are you going to go find/dust-off a copy and get ready to start reading with us on July 1st 2017?!! 

Wednesday 14 June 2017

Notes from the Notebook: "The wheel turns. And you lose".

Hey you. 

So, I've turned the tombola that is my collection of scribbled-in notebooks and plucked out this snippet from nearly a decade ago. 

Funnily enough, I paraphrased this exact piece to someone in an email just last week. I think the Universe is dropping me a hint ... 

Notes from: 24th October 2008

Never admit that you are getting over something which the Universe had a hand in creating in the first place.

It doesn’t like it.

It resents that its whirling dealings could be so easily overwritten, and conspires to prove to you just who is in charge of this whole game.

The wheel turns. 

And you lose.  

Thanks for turning a page with me today.

Julie x

Do keep in touch either here on the blog or through any of my online homes:

Catch up on previous notebook delving here via my Pinterest board.

Friday 9 June 2017

York Art Gallery: 2017 Aesthetica Prize exhibition

Hello, hello.

(BTW: This is NOT, in any way, sponsored post, I paid for my National Art Pass myself!)

Calling all art-lovers! See if any of this grabs you ...

If you're not going to be near York ... hang around anyway and have a virtual visit!

And ... if you're anywhere in the UK: make sure you check out the National Art Pass summertime 3 months for £10 offer. 
The £10 card gains you free entry to over 240 museums, galleries and historic houses across the UK as well as 50% off entry to major exhibitions. (Offer ends July 7th - so get a move on!)

FYI: adult entry to York Art Gallery is £7.50, and there are several other places you can use the card while you're in York, making it definitely worth the £10 up front! And then you can continue to use it for the remainder of the 3 months anywhere you like! 

Ready for the tour? OK then ... (try to keep up or I'll have to make you all wear coloured baseball caps so I can keep count and make sure no one's wandered off ...)

Last summer James and I both signed up for the 3 month £10 National Art Pass deal after a friend shared it on Twitter ... consider this me paying it forward! After the 3 months, when the card ran out, we decided to subscribe for the full year, full price, as we'd become used to having a good excuse to get out and have a wander around a gallery or museum. Now, each time we visit York we pay the gallery a visit, no matter what's on; as we get in free with the Art Pass, we don't need to check or worry if an exhibition is not our 'thing' ... we can just let serendipity lead us (and you know how much I like a bit of serendipity!) 

Which is why we didn't know anything about the Aesthetica Art Prize Exhibition currently running on the first floor of York Art Gallery, before we found ourselves standing in it! And, for anyone else as oblivious to it - here's the official description from the gallery website:

"A platform for innovation and originality, the Aesthetica Art Prize Exhibition invites audiences to engage with captivating projects from some of today’s leading artists, both established and emerging. From individual narratives to global concerns, the artworks comment on contemporary culture and explore themes such as globalisation, perceptions of space and alienation in the digital age."

And it really was original and captivating (and filled with photo-opportunities which perfectly pandered to my Instagram fixation!) photo-, here are a few of my favourite pieces ... 

most photo-worthy was this rainbow beauty ...

I Am Here by Emmanuelle Moureaux
This delicate, swaying, multi-coloured piece is 'I Am Here' by Emmanuelle Moureaux. (The more sturdy, bearded, piece in shorts is James ... in case there was any confusion there).

Aesthetica Art Prize Exhibition
What you can't quite see from that distance is that this ombre monolith is made up from 18,000 individual cut-outs of a female figure:
100 Colours Emmanuelle Moureaux
Here's some more info on it:
100 Colours Emmanuelle Moureaux
There was even a sign on the wall that encourages you to spot - in amongst those 18,000 figures - a single cat, and two girls, one with a balloon, one an umbrella, somewhere amid the crowd!! So we gave it a go. We tried. James thought it would be fairly easy.

It was not fairly easy. We did not spot any. We gave up!

Could you fare any better?
Despite that ... it was a fascinating installation that threw up questions of identity and individuality, and our place in a crowd ... not to mention: how on earth do they transport it between locations??? (imagine the tangling!!) And where does Moureaux buy her supplies?!

Because - crafty friends - that's a lot of pizza-box deliveries of coloured cardstock right there, isn't it? A lot. 18,000 silhouettes! 100 colours!

I mean I think it must be close to, I don't know ... what would you say? Close to maybe, almost, 50% of the card stash you've got lurking in your cupboards there ... wouldn't you say?  

And see that outdoor exhibit there? Also by Emmanuelle Moureaux? That's your ribbon collection that is ...

It's another in Moureax's '100 colours' series, this time made from 100 shades of fabric suspended above tatami mats which you can lay on to experience the work from beneath:

(In case this video doesn't display properly - it has been known - I'll put it on my Facebook page and you can see if it works better for you over there!)

Before lying down I had double checked the sign that said it was OK to do and carefully, respectfully curled myself under and began recording. The children who came along once we were done didn't share the same hesitancy ... they were straight in there enjoying the rainbow from the inside! And who can blame them? It's a really simple but magnetic, dreamy, piece  - if you get a chance to, then - no matter your age - go and see it face to face!

Back inside another piece you can experience close-up is Adam Basanta's 'Curtain', which consists of a 3m long curtain of ear buds!

"Looks like the inside of your car" I joked to James when I first saw it and, to be fair, that's not too far from the intention of the piece! It is about the ubiquity of these funny little bobbly creatures in our everyday lives, how they can be used to keep in touch with people ... but also as a sign for others to leave you alone and not speak to you.

They emitted a crackling, white noise, chirruping, sound ..... as if dozens of cicadas were talking to you on hands-free. I really liked this piece ... I'm not quite sure this gent felt the same ...
And here's yet another piece with which you can get up-close-and-personal: 'Shadow Play' by an artist known as breadedEscalope ...
In fact, without you, the viewer, the audience, this is only half a piece. It's not until you place your finger in the centre that the shadows change and the piece becomes a clock. One of my favourite things about this one was the grubby little spot - made by successive fingertips - on the otherwise pristine white walls!

And finally ... my other favourite exhibits were these multi-layered, complex, wooden assemblage structures by Lesley Hilling:
As someone who collects vintage bits and bobs, who picks up flotsam and jetsam, who saves things dug up from the garden ... these were fascinating treasure troves of reclaimed wonder:
I spent a long while in front of these, just scouring for insights into what she'd used. (Gail - if you're reading this - she used lots of wooden school rulers ... so that's what you can do with your collection!)
And - not wishing to take anything away from the artistry in the design, and I'm sure it wasn't her intention - but ... their square shape truly did appeal to my Instagrammer's square eyes! But hey, it can't hurt to be both harmoniously balanced and infinitely Instagrammable at the same time, can it?
So, there you have it, my top picks from the selected pieces form the Aesthetica Art Prize exhibition longlist running in York Art Gallery until September 10th.

If it's colour, texture and interaction you're looking for ... then get yourself there. There were all age ranges in attendance when we went - from the old chap looking sceptically, but thoughtfully, at the pieces, to the half-term tribes clambering amongst the 100 colours, and all the 40-something Instagrammers and smartphone photographers in between! It's a great one to catch and  - if more traditional art is more your thing - the very decorative and romantic Albert Moore exhibition on the ground floor will be a real treat too.


I hope you enjoyed your virtual tour around the exhibition with me ... which bit did you like best?
  • was it the reclaimed wood?
  • the sizzling ear buds?
  • getting to poke a gallery wall leaving behind your mucky fingerprints?
  • was it the glorious swishing and swaying of both of the '100 colours' pieces?
  • or was it ... feeling a little better about your mountain of cardstock after you saw how much Emmanuelle Moureaux can get through?
Now then ... where'd you fancy going next?

As always we can keep in touch either here in the comments or via any of my online homes:

Julie x


Useful links:

Artists mentioned:

*All photos are my own, taken on my Fuji XM1.