diamond geezer

 Friday, October 27, 2017

As a former resident of Hull, I had to go back in 2017 to experience its year in the spotlight as the UK's City of Culture. I'm pleased to report that Hull did not disappoint. Here are seven events from the arts programme on show right now.

The Train Track and the Basket – Claire Barber
Hull Paragon Interchange, until 31 Dec
Passengers arriving at Hull's imposing terminus this year are greeted by flapping banners, jolly posters and a flock of colourful birds. The birds are part of an artwork remembering the station's role in six decades of 'transmigration', the flow of human traffic from mainland Europe to the New World. Millions of people arrived in Hull by boat, caught trains across to Liverpool or Southampton and then sailed on to a new life in America, until WW1 brought this human flow to an abrupt halt. Many of the migrants carried their belongings in woven baskets, hence that theme's splashed across the windows too.

This entrance space is also where to find the City of Culture pop-up booth, staffed throughout the day by advice-wielding volunteers. The most useful thing I was given was a sheet of A4 paper listing just the events taking place on the day of my visit, which helped enormously in unpacking the 72-page catalogue for what to see. Far too much to see in one day, obviously, but I gave it a damned good try.

The Tool Appreciation Society
Hull Central Library, until 10 Feb 2018
The Tool Appreciation Society sounded like a brilliant take on overlooked history, the contribution of skilled craftspeople to the making of society. Artist Linda Brothwell has been out meeting local veterans like Walter Oglesby and Eva Crackles, as well as assembling four collections of traditional tools to work on especially modern projects, such as the replacement of missing letters outside a Liverpool cinema.

I found the exhibition inside Hull Central Library beyond the staircase beyond the cafe. The most enthusiastic volunteer I've ever met greeted me and showed me all the stuff there was to see in his downstairs room, pointing out what was on the walls, explaining every stack of paper on the table, handing me a newsletter, offering me a sticker, inviting me to leave feedback, then finding more words on the wall he hadn't pointed out before. Upstairs in the Edwardian reading room, by contrast, the volunteer on duty merely clicked his clicker once to register my presence then totally ignored me while I spent not very long reviewing Linda's toolset and longer admiring bookcases and the wood-panelled walls.

A Hall for Hull with Trois Points de Vue
Trinity Square, until 12 Nov
Hull Minster, England's largest parish church, has a slightly less large piazza out front, generally empty. We'll fill that, said Chile-based architects Pezo von Ellrichshausen and Swiss artist Felice Varini, who've arranged 16 large galvanized steel columns in a grid formation in front. Their stated aim was "to highlight the symmetry of the church's facade", although it's currently despoiled by scaffolding so that didn't quite work. Apparently "visitors to the installation will be able to inhabit each of the six-metre-high columns", or in other words step inside, "and experience varying light conditions created by perforations in the steel skin", this mainly because the weather changes. Previous sculptures in the Look Up series, such as the windfarm blade poised above City Square, have had rather more impact.

Turner & The Whale
Hull Maritime Museum, until 7 Jan 2018
For those in search of 'proper' art, Hull's maritime museum has borrowed four canvases by the watercolour master JMW Turner. His whaling quartet was originally displayed at the Royal Academy and captures the offshore industry at its peak, with somewhat fuzzy ships and bloody blurs for carcasses. The people of Hull thank NPS Group for their sponsorship of this exhibition.

The last time I visited Hull the Fruit Market area was in transition, a dilapidated collection of warehouses close to the Humber's murky banks. Today it's a swanky street of bars, galleries and boutiques which wouldn't be out of place in Hackney, except that the far end hasn't quite risen yet, and the coffee is cheaper. As I followed a trio of blondes tottering down the cobbles past a chocolatier and micro-distillery, I wondered what on earth had happened to the city I once remembered.

At the heart of this new gentrified zone is the Humber Street Gallery, a four storey warehouse tastefully converted into exhibition floors with a cafe on the ground floor and a rooftop bar on top. It also put on the two art exhibitions this year which have most made me smile, so well done them.

Hull, Portrait of a City
Humber Street Gallery, until 31 Dec
Photographic exhibitions can be dull, but not this pair, laid out inside the Humber Street Gallery on separate floors. Upstairs are Olivia Arthur's portraits of the youth of Hull, uncompromisingly snapped in black and white poses reflecting their hobbies and interests. Two footballing teens, a girl with a snake hanging from her neck, an Elvis impersonator, a suckling Mum, a space geek, a skateboarder, etc. etc. Blimey, I thought, closely inspecting one of the prints, that young lad really does have 'Destiney' tattooed on his neck.

Downstairs is Martin Parr's photojournalsitic paean to the eateries of Hull. Wall upon wall of chippies, married couples in aprons, cash and carries, formica tables, trays of lemon tarts, 'posh' eggs, Polish sausages and sea salt shortbread, the full diversity of Humberside cuisine as it is eaten. Here were dining out experiences I recognised, with a selection of the photos provided in a printed supplement to take away. The next time the Evening Standard serves up Cara Delevingne and the latest avocado pop-up, get real. [BBC video]

British Road Signs
Humber Street Gallery, until 29 Oct
To celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Calvert and Kinneir road sign, leading artists and designers were invited to come up with a brand new circle, triangle or square. Sir Peter Blake came up with several. I loved the wit and verve of the 58 signs in the gallery, especially those with a simplistic thrust or a pertinent point to make. A warning sign based on an impossible triangle. A mini roundabout in three concentric circles. A Beatles sign with arrow pointing up paired with a Stones sign with arrow pointing down. Give Way to investment in health, education and renewables. Nazis prohibited. Love cycling. No shilly-shallying on the way.

Adding a red superhero cape to the motorcyclist 'leaping over' a vehicle isn't exactly original, but seeing all these signs properly manufactured and stuck on poles was a delight. Of course this year is actually the 52nd anniversary of the Calvert roadsign, and this collection first went on display at the Design Museum in 2015. But as they were commissioned and created by MADENORTH, all the better to see them for nothing in Hull on an up-and-coming street. Non-Hullensians can swipe-right through the British Road Signs Project road signs here. [BBC video]

The Sixteen Thousand
BLOCK C, C4DI, until 5 Nov
As great ideas for public art go, try this. The City of Culture team approached every early years setting in the city, provided clay, and invited every child under five to decorate a brick. All these bricks were then fired, and positioned (upended) in a geometric pattern across the floor of a new business hub located by the mouth of the river Hull. This collective assembly represents the youngest members of Hull's population, and has given them an early taste of the potential of creativity. It looks great.

All's quiet now, but when the schools break up next week the volunteers expect a rush of families coming to see what their littluns have been doing. Then once half term's wrapped up every child has the right to take their own brick home... although they're not catalogued, nor in order, so I doubt that plan is in any way practical. A truly striking reminder, however, that Hull's next generation is very much on its way.

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