Judy Pfaff is an American artist known primarily for her immersive and expressive installation art, who currently teaches at the Bard College of Art, New York State. In 2015, she and Johnny Messum were introduced at a gallery in New York, an occurrence that somewhat incidentally led to an invitation to create a large-scale installation in the Messums magnificent 13th century tithe barn.
Judy introduced the opening of her first solo show in the United Kingdom with an artist’s talk. One of her most insightful remarks on ‘Roots Up’ revealed that she must choose where she travels to very carefully, as her location and surroundings always appear in her work. Her art, she admits, is entirely responsive to the events which happen to herself as well as others, citing 9/11, recent devastating flooding in the United States and familial deaths as examples.
Her being so attuned to the environment is perfectly evidenced in Messums Wiltshire’s latest exhibition, a literal reflection and reconsideration of the surrounding ancient landscape. When first visiting this corner of the country, Judy was shown around Old Wardour Castle, Salisbury Cathedral and Stonehenge. She was particularly interested in the architecture of the central vault in the Cathedral’s Chapter House, an element which can be found (now abstracted in form) in the finished show. ‘Roots Up’ is an exhibit which incites wonder, awe and the desire to explore our exceptional surroundings. Her 140ft installation piece combines the psychedelia of the local summer solstices, the magic of dark winter nights and the folklore of times gone by. Judy’s two-dimensional and smaller sculptural works displayed on her specially crafted ‘photowalls’ can be viewed in The Long Gallery next door.
Her fantastical, gravity-defying show is evocative of the buildings designed by her favourite architect, the Spaniard Antoni Gaudí. Architectural flourishes of his are echoed in Judy’s colourful floral bowls, fluted medieval vaulting and overflowing trees; oozing their sparkling multicoloured sap. Judy is resolutely interested in colour, not necessarily concerned with its technical features but instead its artistic, atmospheric qualities — a Kandinsky-like appreciation perhaps. Such excess, ostentation and vivacity is reflected in her approach to two-dimensional work. She describes how creating one image will end with ‘a hundred’ being produced.
Judy’s talk prioritised her processes and highlighted the scale of preparation which goes into such a monumental work of art. She demonstrated just how many people played an intrinsic role and humanised the entire operation by naming those involved. ‘Roots Up’ was a huge undertaking, one typified by the large sycamore ‘root bowl’ framing an elevation of the installation. This tree’s previous owners had done everything they could to get rid of it: attempting to cut it down and even burning it, to no avail. ‘Please take it!’ was the reply when Judy expressed an interest in using the tree for the show. She is able to notice the magic in objects that others are desperate to part with and amazingly, through her unique artistic production, she is able to allow everyone a window into the way she experiences the world.
And her world, as the art critic Dennis Kardon observed in Art in America, ‘has never been cowed by refined minimalist sensibilities’ instead is ‘wild’, ‘prodigious’ and ‘creative’. When she first started working in New York during the 1970s, she chose to ignore the climate of conceptual art as it simply ‘was never my thing’. This, she claims, provides a reason for her rather ‘funny’ or ‘interesting’ reputation. As she gained artistic prominence, she describes being including in a West Kunst exhibition and furiously discovering that the historical section included no women, an unfortunate phenomenon not unlike the treatment of contemporary female artists. The passionate and explosive character of Judy’s stories seem almost at odds listening to her measured slide-show presentation. Her commentary on her work and life was brief and light, allowing the photos and artwork to speak for themselves. Judy manages to be humble without becoming falsely modest and wryly quoted a previous agent’s opinion on her installations: ‘If I could sell this s*** then I would be a great dealer’.
Launching his new book about Parnham, the Tudor mansion where he established one of the most important centres for the creation of furniture in this country, John Makepeace concluded by drawing on the spirit of John Ruskin “uniting the head, the heart and the hand,’ is the most important element in creativity and drove his ambition for the College.
‘At 18 I left school but didn’t go to University,’ he said. ‘I was a cack-handed woodworker except that I had seen woodwork when I was aged 11 and that had stayed with me. People said I would never make anything out of myself as a woodworker and so I took a long distance course learning how to teach craft and took holidays in Scandanavia and America,’ he said.’ In 1957 Britain was still a pretty grey country but there I could ring up virtually any furniture maker and went to see them as I travelled throughout the country.’
His breakthrough came when he made a glass-topped table and took it as a prototype to Heals who ordered first six of them, and then, sixty. But it all got too overwhelming said Makepeace, ‘they started having to be made in Yugoslavia and we started selling them in their thousands.’
In September 1977 he established a course at Parnham for people who were practical as well as creative, binding together making, design and business; subjects that were, at that time, taught by different institutions.
‘I realised that the graduates from the Royal College of Art knew nothing about business or making; they were being trapped in a single cause,’ he said.
‘When people do something in depth and well it sets a pattern for life but it is so hard for young people to find places to work to the best standards nowadays.’
He added: ‘If we want entrepreneurs, they need a proper education that brings out all their talents rather than a single strand. In the 21st century there is the scope to use digital design, creating craft is about newness as much as traditions.’
‘Regardless of technology, things made by hand touch our souls and express our cares and our passions’ he concluded.
On Friday 19 May, Mark Roberts, Design Operations Manager at McLaren Automotive, gave the third talk of the Voices of the Future series – an integral part of our Art in Motion; Knowledge and Design exhibition that runs throughout May.
Mark has been at McLaren Automotive since its beginning in 2010 and started earlier, when the Company was in its prior incarnation as McLaren Cars, the organisation that famously produced the fastest and most exclusive super-sports car ever – the McLaren F1 in 1992 – and also the Mercedes-Benz SLR after that. In fact, Mark joined McLaren during the very first week of McLaren Cars, when the company’s co-founder and design visionary, Gordon Murray, was building his team from scratch. That was 27 years ago and Mark has been there ever since, employee number 9 of over 2500 today. As Design Operations Manager he is near-unique at McLaren having seen the company grow into the UK’s most successful super-sports car manufacturer.
Appropriately, Mark’s talk started with the beginning of the F1 project (the last prototype of which is on display throughout May at Messums Wiltshire): he described the unprecedented scenario that saw designer Gordon Murray and the Company’s joint financier, Ron Dennis, decide to build a car that incorporated McLaren’s formidable experience in Formula One motor racing together with Murray’s vision for ultimate road car design. He showed the processes through which the F1 car was conceived, made and developed; he championed the great protagonists in the processes, not least the formidable engineering talent of Barry Lett, and designer/stylist Peter Stevens. Mark’s recollections, wonderfully illustrated with drawings he salvaged from Peter Stevens’ waste-paper basket at the time (apparently Peter didn’t regard his sketches as having any value at the time…) served as a fascinating insight into the evolving design process of the F1: a car that was so far ahead of anything produced before, that even today it is the fastest car of its kind in the world.
Mark described how the F1 was perhaps the last car at McLaren to be drawn in all its elements, and how it was put together by individual teams in the classical, low-production fashion. It was a very small team that created it, and that ethos survives at McLaren where a similarly small ‘family’ produces all McLaren’s current cars. There is a resulting efficiency and integrated methodology that allows McLaren to design and complete a car in just 14 months from initial sketch to production. Something larger companies could only dream of.
The second part of Mark’s talk focused on the evolution of the current range of McLaren cars, part of a process called Track 22 which saw 22 cars designed and put into production in the current expansion phase. Referring to the P1 on display at the foot of his stage –essentially the spiritual successor of the F1 – Mark walked round the car and showed how every little aero-detail was exactingly considered. He showed how airflow worked over the car, how the trim details deflect air to do different jobs, and how nothing on the entire car is superfluous to exacting requirements.
From his walk round the amazing P1, Mark took us through McLaren’s pillars of design philosophy. He showed us how McLaren tried to ‘shrink wrap’ bodywork around the mechanics to create the leanest possible cars and looked to nature, in particular the shapes of sharks, falcons and the male human body, for inspiration.
He also explained a process called ‘layering’ to allow air to flow freely through the car and the use of natural prototypes to create a sinewy, muscular and organic aliveness to their designs. He focused on certain areas which showed the complexities of, by example, brilliant door-hinge design, together with other elements of automotive ‘jewellery’: how all individual parts of McLarens are carefully considered. He described how important is was to be brave and to sprinkle in a dose of ‘magic’ in every part of the process – that all these elements, together with a cohesive team approach, rather than individuals working alone, were core to the creation of all McLaren’s products.
For the last part of his talk Mark took us through the current design processes at McLaren Automotive: from technical worksheets, to the creation and editing down of multiple themes; from 2D into 3D renderings and then CNC-cut clay modelling and how the models are then modified by hand. He showed how adding a silver finish to models allows the designers to work better with light and optimise the ultimate muscularity and compound curves of the cars. Mark described how the design team might walk around a clay model for 2 weeks, changing the tiniest details that might look right one day… but oddly not the next – such are the processes of honing great design. And finally Mark described how Virtual Reality in design now contributes and how ‘computer gamers’ are employed to create realities and tools previously beyond their wildest dreams.
All in all, Mark’s talk was a gripping and unprecedented insight into McLaren’s modern car designing process, and the near-200 strong audience loved every minute of it. We are enormously grateful to both Mark and to McLaren Automotive for their time and supplying their precious F1 and P1 prototypes for the Art In Motion show.
See the current McLaren range at: http://cars.mclaren.com
Messum Wiltshire’s curator Catherine Milner and Kate Sallier de la Tour led a small group of collectors including some Messums patrons around the Venice Biennale in a five night whistle stop tour of the most important fixture in the contemporary art calendar.
From Phyllida Barlow’s concrete boulders at the British pavilion that flanked the outside of the building like shrubs in Fred Flinstone’s garden to some ‘speaking portraits’ by Paul Benney in a deconsecrated church, Venice offered a wide array of artistic offerings.
One of the most memorable exhibitions was in the Palazzo Fortuny where three floors of the building, once the atelier of the famous fabric designers, showed everything from ancient stone menhirs dating from 4,000 BC to Marina Abramovich’s newest installation – a collection of crystals that visitors were invited to touch to realign their chakras.
Other spectacles included Damien Hirst’s gargantuan exhibition of make-believe treasures from a faked shipwreck. The artist, who was wandering around his exhibiton as we visited it, happily posed for a number of photographs with members of our group.
One of the most arresting sights however was not formally part of the Biennale at all; an unidentified Englishman was spotted sailing down the Grand Canal on the opening morning of the festival in a Maserati converted into a boat.
It was a great honour for us to welcome Hugo Spowers to Messums Wiltshire on Friday 12 to hear him introduce and talk about his astonishing revolutionary car, the Riversimple Rasa. The Rasa is the world’s first independently-produced hydrogen fuel cell vehicle and, incredibly, has been designed and manufactured to successful prototype stage by Hugo and his tiny team in Wales. In doing so, he has completely out-witted the big international car makers in this technology. His talk was an extraordinary insight into how he has achieved his seemingly impossible dream, despite a very different background in motor racing and old car restoration. Hugo’s is a story of extraordinary commitment, determination, left-field creativity and derring-do, and his talk was an intensely interesting crash-course in how motoring can – and will – be so different in the hydrogen age.
During his talk and during a long enthusiastic question time afterwards, Hugo explained how for over 15 years Hugo has fought for his very particular goal, “to pursue, systematically, the elimination of environmental impact of personal transport”. Right from the start of that dream he has known that hydrogen-powered ultra-lightweight automobiles that are built to last are the inevitable cars of the future. Throughout his talk, Hugo explained how this philosophy remains, at least evidentially, in marked contrast to the views of the major manufacturers and international governments. He explained how the big manufacturers are geared around manufacturing cars from steel and using predominantly fossil-fuel power – in other words, cars with ‘built in obsolescence’ created on acutely unsustainable commercial models. He also explained how the current electric car revolution, while significant and important, is not the answer.
Hugo went on to describe in some detail the advantages of using hydrogen over conventional electric and hybrid platforms, and explained how fuel distribution and safety works. He compared his car to the Toyota Mirai – the most significant hydrogen fuel-cell car in current production – and explained how very much more efficient the Rasa was, despite being designed and built at a tiny fraction of the cost. He also explained how the power requirement for electric cars for the masses was so enormous that the model could never be realistically serviced, at least using current technologies.
But it is Hugo’s leasing model which is a crucial part of the plan, and he described the many benefits of offering a new way of owning and using cars – of how Rasas would never be sold but instead leased to customers, who would by a ‘service package’ to use it, a bit like is currently achieved with the mobile phone industry. He explained how he has a new style of service-provision model that will enable customers to travel for a fixed price per month, with minimal harm to the environment. His leasing model and revolutionary car also require a company with a new form of governance.
“By owning the vehicle ourselves and not selling it, it is in our interests to make a car that will last as long as possible and be as cheap to run as possible,” Hugo explained. He also pointed out how parts need to have value at their end-of-life so that their costs were recoverable. All these are cornerstones to his philosophies, which make The Riversimple Movement – his company and business model – and its zero-emissions car, so fascinating. It also makes all the world’s established car mass-producers look decidedly behind the times.
Although it is mind-boggling to imagine a world of tiny lightweight, largely-recyclable cars, powered by hydrogen and leased in entirely new ways, Hugo’s pretty and extraordinary car works beautifully and achieves all his Company’s goals. Just to prove the point his car was demonstrated on Saturday to an astonished audience. Seeing it nipping silently about the lanes of Tisbury, producing no emissions at the tail pipe, was a brilliant moment. And now the Chinese are going to make it.
Hugo is financed by the Welsh Government and a series of independent supporters, and he has just raised well over £1m through crowd funding. You can join The Riversimple Movement here and be part of this marvellous initiative. http://www.riversimple.com
As a man who dreamt, invented and made, Hugo is a hero of our times. It was wonderful to have him and his wife Fiona with us at Messums Wiltshire. His car remains on display as part of the Art In Motion: Knowledge and Design exhibition until May 19th.
From cars with goose bumps to ones with no bonnet, Professor Dale Harrow, Head of the Vehicle Design programme of the Royal College of Art revealed during a talk at Messums Wiltshire last week, some of the ideas that students of car design are playing with and the importance of drawing and sculpting in forming the cars of the future.
‘Everything starts with a sketch and then we sculpt the cars in clay,’ he said. ‘The silhouette and centre line profile is the most important; If you get that right it all pulls around that. The aim is to make the car look as if its moving when it is standing still – to make it dynamic.’
It takes 18 months from the first sketch to production. Most prototypes are modelled in silver as this is the most flattering colour Harrow explained. ‘When we design cars we consider how reflections work in the sculptural process. The challenge we have is packing people and engineering into one aesthetic form.’
He went on to talk about 3-d printing and intimated that people in the future might download car parts and put the elements together to build their own.
In 1928 General Motors talked about aesthetic styling. Now its marketing, strategy, manufacture, research and design, psychology, engineering, business and marketing, technical issues, social change and globalisation that guides production, he pointed out.
‘The Y Generation is not used to owning things; they want experiences’ he said. ‘Products are becoming services and the question for the car industry is how to make the service better.’
Audi has developed a living surface for one of its models which reacts to different air temperatures like the hairs on your arm.
Much of the discussion after the talk focused on the autonomous cars of the future; 1.24 million people are killed in cars every year – a figure that could drop by 98 per cent with autonomous cars.
Showing images of cars that look more like rounded pods than the blade shaped cars of today, Harrow explained that the real challenge for his students is that 80 percent of the world has no access to mobility; a problem that the British are leading the world in trying to resolve.
‘The British have the most progressive and diverse car designers in the world and the skills and knowledge of the UK are unequalled,’ he concluded.
On Friday 5 May Richard Sutton, Curator of Art In Motion; Knowledge and Design, gave a talk celebrating the skills of the brilliant designers who were responsible for creating the finest cars of their eras. He described how each car in the new exhibition was chosen specifically to illustrate different types of construction, different approaches to design, and different ways to travel.
At a time when car design – not just its manufacture – has become digitised and ever more remote from the processes of making by hand, he said he felt that the exhibition was particularly appropriate at the 13th century barn of Messums Wiltshire. “Modern cars – particularly modern supercars – are often ugly and aggressive, designed more like weaponry than anything organic and ‘of the earth’”, he explained, comparing the latest Lamborghini with the beautiful 1966 Miura that is central to the exhibition.
The fact that the barn displayed cars made from sheet metal and hand-made round wooden formers by craftsmen of exceptional eye and skills going back to the age of the early coach builders, was very significant, he said.
He then showed an evocative film recently-made that demonstrated how we as children are influenced by our environments, our parents and teachers, and these ambitions seed the design styles of the future.
Moving on to a Jaguar XK120 parked outside the entrance that evening he explained how the XK, which appeared in 1948, just three years after the end of World War II, encapsulated a new curvaceous and fluidity of design, a completely new ‘look’ after the hard-edged armoured era of the War. He also showed how it compared with its immediate Pre-War predecessor, the 1938 SS Jaguar 100, designed by the same men; the change in shape mirroring the new zeitgeist.
“There have been literally thousands of car manufacturers since the Victorian times and there are a host of candidates for the most significant designs since the War, but each car in this exhibition represents the high-tide of if kind – a kind of perfection that no other model represents,” he explained.
Richard then told the story of each car chronologically, starting with the 1959 Alfa Romeo Giulietta SS ‘low nose,’ the exclusive work of the legendary Italian designer Franco Scaglione.
Richard showed how the car had its routes in the realm of the aeronautical world and how it evolved from the fantastic creations shown in the mid 1950s at the famous craftsmen showcase that was the annual Turin Motor Show. “Italy is and always has been a nation of Leonardos,” he explained.
Richard paid particular attention to ‘ the big three’ designers from Italy, who between them also had three cars in the exhibition: the 1966 Lamborghini Miura (the first mid-engined production supercar), the 1968 Ferrari Daytona and the 1984 Ferrari 288 GTO. Giorgetto Guigiaro, Marcello Gandini and Leonardo Fioravanti, were responsible for more important cars from Italy during the 1960s, ‘70s and ‘80s than any other group, and Richard explained their differences in approach.
He also touched on the philosophies of the various important British designers of the time including Sir William Lyons and Malcolm Sayer of Jaguar and John Tojiero and his associates who were responsible for so many iconic sports cars from the classic eras including three great British cars that are in the exhibition: the Jaguar E-type, the AC Cobra which competed with it, at least in performance terms, and the incredible McLaren F1, designed by Gordon Murray and styled by Peter Stevens.
The beautiful F1 on display is kindly loaned by McLaren Automotive and is soon to be supplemented by the company’s latest ultimate model, the P1. Mark Roberts, the Design Operations Manager and central to both the F1 and the P1’s deign processes, is due to talk at Messums Wiltshire on Friday 19 May at 7pm.
As part of the wider “Little Creative Festival” in the area Messums Wiltshire introduced some of the techniques that can be used to create tone, shadow and volume in drawing. The results were a delight and surprise, with 30 minutes of instruction and work in grids on paper, the children set off into the exhibition to set and draw any of the sculptures that caught their eye.
With Education forming a part of the Messums Wiltshire weekly remit and an interest in seeing draughtsmanship at the start point of many peoples artistic adventures, the future looks exceptionally bright in the hands of these talented young artists.
Saturday 4 March 6-8pm, £15 in advance £18 on the door. Bookings
An evening of poetry, birdsong and music arranged by Pippa Haywood with Mark Meadows and violinist Theo May.
Performance Starts at c 6:15 and runs for approx 1hr 20.
“I am the song that sings the bird.
.. I am the word that speaks the man.”
Taking the current exhibition as it’s starting point, the evening will look at birdsong and it’s relationship to poetry and the human voice. The event will include both live and recorded readings interspersed with birdsong and original compositions by Theo May.
Pippa’s wide ranging TV and radio work has made her a familiar voice to many . She is a regular reader for Poetry Please on Radio 4 and has appeared in numerous TV comedies and dramas.
Mark Meadows is a local actor and singer who will also be known to many for his work in radio, TV and theatre.
Theo May is an inspired young musician currently studying composition at the Royal College of Music.