Monday, 27 August 2018

manchester miscellany

Although I’ve already posted five collections of graffiti that I photographed back in June in Manchester, these were all in locations where large numbers of graffiti had been painted in a relatively small area, and there were other places where perhaps there was only a single graffito. Some of these were well worth recording too, especially the first image:

I can’t help but see this as a row of semi-reclining creatures, possibly human, although that probably wasn’t the artist’s intention. The figure third from the left reminds me of an amorphous snowman wearing a bobble hat, despite the colour. Unfortunately, this was another graffito that I couldn’t fit into a single shot.

I spotted the next work on its own a short distance before I reached the hoarding that I described in The Writing on the Fence. There is nothing exceptional about the writing style, although I do wonder why the black outlining on the letters adjoining the mask is broken. Malign influence? Although I can actually read what’s written, it’s meaningless to me.

I came across an undeveloped area west of Oxford Street that was surrounded by walls and fences bearing graffiti, but I didn’t consider most of these worth recording. However, the next three artworks were a resounding exception. The first appears to be completely abstract, but the more I look at it, I wonder if I’m seeing, or imagining, concrete images.

The object obscuring part of the image in the bottom left of the picture is a lightweight tent. I saw several in similar locations around the city, and I did wonder whether the occupant was a homeless Mancunian, or merely a backpacker looking for a cheap option.

Around the corner to the right from the previous image, there are two more artworks side by side:

It’s worth looking closely at each work in more detail. Both are mostly abstract, but there are faces that were obviously intentional. Of course, once you see faces in paintings like these, you see them where they weren’t intended. And both feature the glinting light motif, which I’ve commented on before:

The red face in the next image doesn’t appear to have been painted by the artist who is responsible for the blue faces that I’ve commented on previously, although they are similar. The central graffito is what I now describe as ‘routine’, but the right-hand tag is much more nuanced—and colourful!

Finally, I’ve included this image precisely because all the lines are crude. Yet despite this apparent limitation, the lettering stands out extremely well:

This is my sixth and final report on graffiti in Manchester. I didn’t go looking for any of it, but in simply wandering around the city, this is what I saw.

more graffiti from manchester
The Writing on the Fence
Lost Horizon
Some Consolation: Part 1
Some Consolation: Part 2
A Graffiti Mystery

Wednesday, 22 August 2018

dom domination

Although there are many other things to see and do in Cologne, the chance to see the city’s cathedral (German: ‘Kölner Dom’) is the principal draw and the main reason we went to Cologne earlier this year. One thing I specifically wanted to check out was the reason for the Dom’s exclusion from the shortlist compiled a few years ago as part of the process of defining a new ‘seven wonders of the world’.

In fact, there were no European Gothic cathedrals on the shortlist of twenty, and only one European site—the Colosseum in Rome—in the final selection of seven. As I wrote at the time (Wonderful), this is a flawed list, because that final selection was determined by popular vote, so nationalistic rather than æsthetic sentiments were the deciding factor. What else would privilege the statue of Christ the Redeemer in Rio de Janeiro, which made the final cut, over the Statue of Liberty in New York, which merely made the shortlist. And while Machu Picchu seems an obvious choice, I wonder why Chichen Itzá was chosen over other Mesoamerican sites such as Palenque or Teotihuacán.

Paula had already been impressed by some of the churches that we visited in Brussels, especially that city’s cathedral, but when we emerged from the main railway station in Cologne to be confronted by the Dom on the other side of the road, she was absolutely gobsmacked. And with good reason. Cologne Cathedral is a veritable mountain of stone (the twin west towers are 157 metres high)—no reinforced concrete here. Here are two views of the west façade, the second of which was taken by Paula (notice the scaffolding on the left-hand tower—the cathedral employs a full-time maintenance staff of 100):

It was impossible to get far enough away to capture everything in a single shot, as this view from the south also demonstrates:

…although the view from the east is more compact. This is the oldest part of the cathedral, construction of which started in 1248 and continued for more than two centuries. Mainly due to a lack of both interest and money, building work ceased in the early sixteenth century, and the huge shell was left unfinished for more than 300 years. However, interest was revived in the nineteenth century, and construction was completed in 1880 in line with the original mediæval plan.

To demonstrate how the Dom dominates the city, I’ve selected the following five photos. The first is of the road that separates the railway station from the Dom. The scaffolding on the left-hand tower is clearly visible:

The next, taken by Paula, is the view from the opposite bank of the Rhine, with the Hohenzollern Bridge on the right of the picture. The exotic building to the left of the Dom is Groß St Martin, one of twelve Romanesque churches to be seen in the mediæval part of Cologne.

Ancient and modern (also taken by Paula):

The following photo was taken downstream from the Hohenzollern Bridge, while the one after that was taken from the bridge itself. I cannot positively identify the rider on the horse, but given that Hohenzollern was the dynastic name of the Prussian imperial family, it’s likely to be one of the kaisers.

We signed up for a guided tour of the cathedral, although you could spend a week here and still be seeing something new. However, we were treated to some very fine snippets of information that you would never know about unless told. For example, all the mediæval stained glass was removed upon the outbreak of war in 1939 and stored in deep basements all around Germany, but all the nineteenth-century glass was destroyed during the war. Here are two of those mediæval windows, first a view of the entire window, then an enlargement of a portion:

I will leave it to you, the reader, to determine what is being depicted here, although the second window has a martial rather than a religious theme.

All the following interior shots were taken by Paula. Apart from the stained glass, I couldn’t take a photo without activating flash, which I didn’t think was appropriate in such a place. I hadn’t been paying full attention to our guide, but my ears pricked up when she pointed out the gold reliquary behind the high altar. It contained the bones of the three wise men!

Call me a cynic, but how were they ever identified?

They appear only in Matthew’s gospel, and then for only the first twelve verses of Chapter 2, at the end of which:
12 And being warned of God in a dream that they should not return to Herod, they departed into their own country another way.
In other words, they disappeared from history, if they were ever part of history in the first place. They are far more likely to be a story made up by Matthew to fulfill some Old Testament prophecy or other. Apparently, though, the relics were a major focus of pilgrimage during the Middle Ages (they were installed here in 1164, in an earlier version of the cathedral). In other words, they were a money-making scheme.

There were some interesting mediæval mosaics on the floor surrounding the reliquary, which weighs 600 kilograms, although I don’t think it can be solid gold, despite the vast wealth of the mediæval Church. Unfortunately, the light made it difficult to take a good picture. This one is the best (the wavy lines represent streams and rivers):

The choir stalls are also mediæval originals:

The main entrance is extremely grand:

…but the side doors are scarcely less elaborate:

…while this cast iron bas-relief is one of several along the side walls:

The most important architectural innovation of the Gothic period was the flying buttress, good examples of which can be seen in the next photo:

When a flying buttress cast a shadow across a window during our cathedral tour, our guide referred to it as a ‘bridge’, but this feature is better described as a ‘half-arch’. The effect of flying buttresses can be seen in the next photo. Because a flying buttress takes part of the weight of the roof, it is possible to pierce the walls with much bigger windows than were possible in earlier Romanesque churches, which relied on the round arch.

The only one of the new seven wonders of the world that I’ve seen is the Great Wall of China, and I think the Dom is more impressive. It is certainly a better representative of the Christian contribution to world civilization than Christ the Redeemer. I haven’t tried to include everything that I saw in this collection of photos, because that would be an impossibility. Would I go back to Cologne? Certainly. Would I take another look at the cathedral? Yes, but only if I could be allowed to explore the gallery that you can see in the previous photo just below the windows.

Sunday, 12 August 2018

a graffiti mystery

I recorded the results of my explorations of the Ashton Canal in Some Consolation: Part 2, but I deliberately avoided including the graffiti in one small location for reasons that will quickly become apparent. Most of the graffiti that I included in that report were in a relatively small area on both sides of the canal, starting almost immediately after the towpath passed under a road bridge. However, before reaching the first graffito in this location, I noticed a narrow gap in the concrete panel fence, so naturally I wondered if it led anywhere. It did!

There was a drop of about 1.5 metres to a small area choked with young trees. It was enclosed on three sides by brick walls and on the fourth by the concrete fence. And there were six well-executed graffiti, starting with this one on the concrete fence:

You will notice immediately that all six are in distinctively different styles, although the next one is a very basic design. The photo is probably improved by the shaft of sunlight:

The yellow writing on the left of the next photo appears to have been done by the artist responsible for the tag, which is highlighted in the same shade:

Because of the trees, I couldn’t get far enough away to be able to photograph the whole of the next tag, which is unusual in that individual bricks in the wall have been highlighted in white:

The rounded lines in the next tag—not a straight line anywhere—are quite common, but I’ve not been able to locate any more graffiti in exactly the same style:

This is easily the most elaborate of the graffiti here:

The word I’d use to describe it is ‘reptilian’.

And here’s the mystery: graffiti such as these are intended by the artists to be seen, which explains why so much graffiti is painted on the abutments of bridges and walls running alongside railway tracks. Indeed, the trackside out of Cologne was covered in graffiti for several miles out of the city. And three graffiti artists were killed in south London in June when they were hit by a goods train on a section of track without any refuge from such intrinsic dangers.

And here’s the rub: the graffiti that I’ve featured above are not visible from the towpath, and the opening in the fence is inconspicuous, to say the least. The six graffiti appear to have been painted by different artists, so were these examples merely practice? Was the idea to reproduce these designs in more public locations once the necessary skills had been honed?

I can’t answer these questions, although it does seem likely that the various artists knew each other and may have been part of the same ‘crew’. But they do underline the need to understand the motivation of artists if one is to fully appreciate their work. I come to graffiti with almost no knowledge of the background culture and history, although this type of graffiti appears to have originated in New York in the 1970s, when subway trains were plastered with tags. There may be links from that city with gang culture and hip-hop music, although that is mere speculation on my part. All I can do is describe what I see. And a lot of the graffiti I recorded in Manchester is well worth seeing.

Wednesday, 8 August 2018

some consolation: part 2

Although I’d been disappointed not to find the location that I described in Lost Horizon when I looked for it again the following day, I did find another impressive display of graffiti further along the Rochdale Canal (Some Consolation: Part 1). However, that was not all I found that day.

I’d decided to retrace my steps to the city centre, but where my route took me onto a footbridge across the canal, I noticed that the continuation of the towpath led into a short tunnel, and I wondered to where it might lead. (This is what I identified as the start of the Ashton Canal in Canal Knowledge.) I proceeded to follow the canal for several kilometres, during which I photographed a few isolated graffiti. These are the best:

It isn’t often that you see graffiti on surfaces this rough.

Wow! One I can actually read, although it doesn’t make any sense.

Eventually, I came to a location next to a lock with graffiti on both sides of the canal. The remainder of the photographs in this collection were taken here. Unfortunately, many of the graffiti are partially obscured by vegetation, which probably wasn’t there when they were painted.

The second of these graffiti is stylistically similar to the third graffito in this collection (above).

It may look as though I’ve chopped off half a letter on the right-hand end of the next image, but if you compare this with the following photo, you will see that they are separate graffiti:

The mottled shade from trees behind the wall irrevocably alters the tonal balance of the second graffito.

Grey seems to be a popular colour hereabouts, although the second graffito does have a few splashes of other colours:

And this is probably the most colourful graffito on display here:

More grey, and only straight lines. No curves:

The next graffito is the most complex in this collection. It was only possible to capture it in its entirety from the opposite bank of the canal:

Notice the blue face on the left. I saw several examples of this image around Manchester, and I’ve included it here because it may be associated with the main graffito.

The remaining graffiti were located on a wall on the other side of the canal, starting with this one, which I assume was painted by Leon:

You may think that the top has been chopped off the photograph, but that is actually the top of the wall! The same effect can be seen in several other photos.

Although the two graffiti in the next photograph are stylistically different, the colours are very similar, suggesting that both were painted by the same artist.

I wonder whether the black shapes in the right-hand graffito in the next photo are meant to represent whales and sharks:

The next two graffiti are clearly by the same artist. Not only are there stylistic similarities, the colours used are identical:

The next graffito would probably have been quite vivid when first painted, but my guess is that this has been here quite a while, because the paint is flaking off.

…while this one appears to have faded quite a lot:

The final image is darker than it should be because of the angle of the sun:

So, although I couldn’t find the location of Lost Horizon again, I could find some consolation in the locations featured in this and the previous post.