diamond geezer

 Saturday, October 28, 2017

The tentacles of Hull, City of Culture, spread up to and beyond the city boundary.

Act V: Micropolis
Springhead Pumping Station, until 5 Nov
One of the City of Culture's major communal strands has been the story of the Land of Green Ginger, a mysterious underground land populated by tiny people, or so the story goes. Ever since some magic crates were discovered back in April heralding a mass gathering in the local park, a series of Acts Of Wanton Wonder have taken place across the suburbs, drawing families into a complex fictional world. The latest chapter began when an unexpected light was seen on top of Springhead Pumping Station, an old Victorian building still used by Yorkshire Water. For two weeks everyone's invited up the lamplit path to investigate further, and marvel, and thousands have already been inside.

Mice, it seems, are key to what goes on at Micropolis, and not in a good way. In room 1 we see projected mice running furiously inside projected wheels. In room 2 we discover the projected mice are being fed into a projected mincer inside a model factory, while tiny projected people emerge with projected McDonalds french fries from a projected door in the wall. So what if it's a tiny bit gruesome, the creative team has had an enormous amount of fun putting this lot together. [BBC video]

In the main room a sprawling cityscape has been built out of what's probably cardboard, with a dozen tower blocks rising at the back, their windows individually illuminated. A man in his underpants is dangling from one, while other lower windows reveal gymming dancers, angry pensioners and butchers sharpening rather large knives. Surely nobody would buy a meaty meal from Fat Rat Burgers or Rolling Rat Kebab, and just what might be going on behind the cinema's closed doors? If this surreal mash-up of model village, murder and looping projected infill were on show in London you'd never have heard the end of it. Your loss is Hull's children's gain.

An Eyeful of Wry: Government Art Collection
Brynmor Jones Library, University of Hull, until 26 Nov
The Brynmor Jones Library is best known for its former librarian, the poet Philip Larkin. I missed him by a year, and haven't been back since 1987 when I used to scan the shelves to aid some postgrad assignment. I almost remembered which way to go to find the place, not helped by the fact that the Art Deco styled block with its brutalist 1969 extension has been very recently re-extended with a new building out front. A banner above the doorway, aimed at next September's intake, urges them to 'Step into your bright future'. I stepped through into very much my distant past.

The library includes a new gallery to showcase the university's considerable art-hoard, which this month is hosting a selection of the more humorous items from the Government Art Collection. Some 18th century cartoons remind us that political satire is nothing new, but the majority of the display is considerably more modern; some Martin Creed neon, a Grayson Perry battlescape, bronze 'polystyrene' cups, even a large frame filled with a reproduction of the floral grille on a Safeway Alpine Garden Gel Air Freshener. I wish this kind of stuff had come visiting when I was studying here.

The best artefact was hidden up the back, a pianola with one-man-band-style instruments attached, conceived by artist Mel Brimfield. This springs into action for 4 minutes 33 seconds on the pressing of a big red button, launching a hyperactive score played too fast for human hands, with added bangs and crashes from behind. This madcap medley commemorates Roger Bannister's record-breaking run in the Helsinki Olympics, even though he only came fourth, and includes snippets of national anthems and even the theme from Ski Sunday. If you dare to click here for an unmuted video, you'll get some idea of my startled joy on pressing red. [quieter BBC video]

The Dyslexia Portrait
Brynmor Jones Library, University of Hull, until 11 Nov
"And if you head across to the far wall beyond the reception desk," urged the volunteer, "there are some abstract photographs based on interviews with dyslexic people." Indeed there were, but I used the art simply as an excuse to cross the lobby past study desks, book drops and a bank of photocopiers, a pretence to mingle with a generation of students I was no longer part of. What I remembered as a temple to books was now a conduit for streamed information, suggesting either I passed through when study was really simple, or conversely when the skills needed to learn anything were conspicuously hard. I walked out of my alma mater feeling chastened and irrelevantly anachronistic.

Stepney Station Art Installation
Stepney Station, until 31 Dec

There used to be a station on the Beverley Road called Stepney. It closed to passengers in 1964, although the track is now a cycleway and the former station building has been subdivided into flats. For Hull 2017 ten lifesize metal sculptures of potential staff and passengers have been embedded in the stumpy remains of what's left of the platform. The installation didn't detain me long, but I thought I'd best mention it because some readers get desolate if I keep blogging for days about things that aren't railways.

Gary Saunt Presents: A Cultural Heritage from Beverley to Hull
Beverley Art Gallery, until 2 Dec
Eight miles north of Hull lies Beverley, a very different kettle of fish. Beverley is a proper Yorkshire jewel, the county town of the East Riding, and retains a twisty historic high street leading to a part-time market square. Its museum and art gallery have transferred to a building that's anything but quaint, the so-called Treasure House, a modern brick hub on a corner site with a cylindrical sightseeing tower. For the very latest City of Culture exhibit head through the upstairs gallery, past the world's largest cattle painting, to find an amazing digital mural.

The panels of this 'dreamscape' stretch for over 20 metres round the gallery walls, taking the viewer on a notional journey from Beverley at one end to Hull at the other. Everywhere inbetween appears to have been skipped over, however. In addition to well-known buildings from the two towns, over 200 people have been crammed in throughout, from actual local-born souls like Maureen Lipman (she's playing cards) to interlopers like Stephen Hawking (he's sat in a dodgem car) and Stephen Fry (he's on a throne with Sooty). It's surreal but brilliant, and merits careful scrutiny throughout as you try to deduce who's who, what's what, and where the artist's warped humour might have come from. Non-visitors can pore over several of the individual panels here.

I also found time to go into Beverley Minster, of course, with its lofty Perpendicular towers and splendid Early English nave. A treasure house of a very different kind, and a reminder that there's a great deal of culture to be enjoyed around here all the time, not just in 2017. [13 photos]

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