Invigorating imaginations with At-Bristol

Nephew exploring At-Bristol by Judy DarleyAt 10am yesterday, my eight-year-old nephew was the first person to enter At-Bristol. For the fleetest of moments, he had the whole, magical place to himself. The expression on his face was one of awe, but also faint panic. As a child with ADHD, being presented with limitless possibilities can be daunting. Swiftly he focussed on his favourite exhibit and we hurried over to feed a skeleton and watch his energy levels rise and fall.

This is just one of countless interactive exhibits at the Bristol hands-on science centre, and before long we were moving on to listen to music through our teeth, play with pint-sized parachutes, and test our reflexes in countless ways, as rain drenched Millennium Square beyond the plate glass windows.

Glass Microbiology by Luke Jerram1

Glass Microbiology by Luke Jerram

I crept way for a few moments to take in Luke Jerram’s stunning Glass Microbiology exhibit – breathe in a moment’s peace among the viruses sculpted in glass and head back out into the mayhem where my husband was helping the nephew milk a pretend cow.

Exploring the Solar System Planetarium show

Exploring the Solar System Planetarium show

We’d deliberately timetabled in a couple of shows in the Planetarium to allow the nephew and ourselves a bit of quiet time. I’m also partial to a bit of space travel, and the 3D shows offer a sense of swooping through the solar system. We visited Venus (too hot, very stormy, not the best place for a holiday), and Saturn’s Rings (too cold, but very beautiful), before swooping back to Earth (just right, and the most beautiful of all). We spent time on Mars and Pluto, and learnt about atmosphere, gas giants and that Neptune is the most glorious shade of blue.

Nephew in Planetarium by Judy Darley

The Planetarium is also on the floor with some of the most engaging displays, in my opinion. The Aardman area animation is ideal for children and adults who like to doodle, while an impressive wind drum provided the chance to build structures to mimic a sycamore seeds spin. We discovered the cause of the Bermuda Triangle’s many ship disappearances, and entered a tilted room where perspective skewed in a pretty magical way.

Constructing roadways

Elsewhere the nephew devoted himself to building roadways for plastic balls, spun metal disks and proved himself to be impressively adept at creating bubbles within bubbles within bubbles. Just watching him get to grips with his surroundings was a masterclass in harnessing a fizzing mind to gain the most rewarding experience possible.

Exiting the science centre into sunshine, the research continued as we headed up to College Green and discovered the tree full of shoes (close to the cathedral, in case you’d like to see it for yourself), met a shy juggler (the nephew’s many questions seemed to alarm him somewhat!) and discovered that it’s possible to skim pennies on the water surrounding the fountain – four skips across the surface from one side to the other.

At-Bristol is a marvel for curious minds, giving adults a way to access their own inquisitive side and nourishing children’s natural sense of wonder. The clamour and chaos is all part of the mix, but if you get in tune with that, you’ll emerge prepared to reinvent the world.

Find out more about At-Bristol

Escape to Port Eliot

Port Eliot Festival cr Michael Bowles

All photographs used in this post are taken by Michael Bowles

Describing itself rather eloquently as “an annual celebration of words, music, imagination, ideas, nature, food, fashion, flowers, laughter, exploration and fun”, Port Eliot Festival brings together some of the best creative talents around and plonks them in the middle of a magical sprawling garden party.

It all kicks off on 27th July, running till 30th July, at St Germans, West Cornwall.

This year’s speakers, performers, mixologists and events include poet Hollie McNish, Geoff Dyer, Three Cane Whale, Salena Godden, Tim Smit, Las Cafeteras, and Martha Tilston, “with a voice like spiderwebbed hollows.” And so many others

There are also exhibitions to be inspired by: In The Round Room, you’ll find Adrift, a combination of art and science, which throws light on the 27,000 individual pieces of debris currently orbiting above us.

Each of the stages have names that seem plucked straight from fairytales: Caught by the River, Walled Garden, Flower and Fodder, The Idler Academy and The Black Cow Saloon being just a few.

Port Eliot woodland cr Michael Bowles

It helps, of course, that the surroundings are some of the finest SW England has to offer, with historical attractions including the oldest church in Cornwall – St Germans Priory Norman church. Natural delights range from the Grade 1 listed park and garden, to the estuary – an irresistible spot for a dusk-glow lantern parade.

Port Eliot estuary cr Michael Bowles

That’s not all though, not by a long short. Look out for the Hush Starry Garden, Philosophy and Psychology Walks, life classes with owls, Survival Wisdom Masterclasses and much more. Once the grounds open, anything can happen – in the word’s of the organisers, “at Port Eliot, as twilight turns to darkness, you may still feel the menacing frisson of the unknown coming night…”

Now, that’s my kind of party.

Night at Port Eliot Festival cr Michael Bowles

Breath after breath

Waterclour by Liz Butler RWS

Watercolour by Liz Butler RWS

If you visited RWA’s exhibition of The Power of the Sea in 2014, you’ll know how excellent their taste is in choosing works preoccupied solely with one particular element of nature.

This time around the remit was to seek out pieces that scrutinise a more intangible aspect of our surroundings – the very stuff we live in and breathe.

The Balloon over Calais by E. W. Cocks, 1840, oil on canvas, cr Science Museum: Science & Society Picture Library.

The Balloon over Calais by E. W. Cocks, 1840, oil on canvas, cr Science Museum: Science & Society Picture Library.

More than one artist on show creates a sense of substance through the presence of a balloon or several; for others, such as Jemma Grunion and her scattering of oils and resins layered on board, it’s the clouds that transform the unseen into the visible.

Paintings by Jemma Grundon and orbs by Polly Gould

Paintings by Jemma Grundon and sculptures by Polly Gould. Image by Alice Hendy.

You’ll see sculptures representing curls of sky and swooping birds, anamorphic landscapes by Polly Gould, clouds created on tracing paper through the art of rubbing out, a glass trombone and an avian flu molecule. There’s even a depiction by L.S. Lowry of early 20th century air pollution – it’s clear that air resonates with countless possible interpretations – from freedom to sound.

L. S. Lowry, A Manufacturing Town (1922), oil on panel, 43.2 x 53.3 cm. British Council Collection. Photo © Art Image Library LTD. © The Estate of L.S Lowry. All Rights Reserved, DACS 2017

L. S. Lowry, A Manufacturing Town (1922), oil on panel, 43.2 x 53.3 cm. British Council Collection. Photo © Art Image Library LTD. © The Estate of L.S Lowry. All Rights Reserved, DACS 2017

The exhibition itself is beautifully laid out, allowing space to meander and contemplate as light streams in through the main galleries’ lovely and very appropriate skylights. Through four centuries of work, there’s an overriding sense of humanity marvelling at the things that soar so high above us, and of the desire to enter, investigate and conquer this nebulous territory. Artworks focused on flight abound, and a colourful windbreak made from shredded plastic by artist Freya Gabie wafts gently in the breeze.

Windbreak made from shredded plastic by Freya Gabie. Image by Alice Hendy

Windbreak made from shredded plastic by Freya Gabie. Image by Alice Hendy

Other works offer an altogether more intimate examination of our relationship with air, not least in Capacity by Annie Cattrall, made in part using exhalations of human breath. Just knowing that gives me delighted chills.

Capacity by Annie Cattrell. Image by Alice Hendy

Capacity by Annie Cattrell. Image by Alice Hendy

For me, the sky has always seemed to be our very best art gallery, offering up colour studies, sunset silks and endlessly reconfigured sculptures.

To host an exhibition concentrated on this extraordinary theatre of the atmosphere is an act of audacity that I applaud.

Jeannette Kerr voyaging through the Arctic

Jeannette Kerr voyaging through the Arctic

As an added bonus, you’ll find Arctic Air, an exhibition by Janette Kerr PPRWA RSA (Hons), made in response to three weeks on a ship sailing up the coast of Svalbard, Norway. The works are compressed with layers of wonder, representing Janette’s awe at encountering icebergs and glaciers, and thinking of “the hundreds, even thousand, of years locked inside, suspended in tiny air bubbles.”

Ancient Air by Jeannette Kerr

Ancient Air by Janette Kerr

Just like the exhibition in the upstairs galleries, this is a contemplation of a part of our planet so otherworldly that it almost feels off-world…

And yet this element is what enters our body and fuels all our vital internal churnings. Without it we could not exist, let alone create and appreciate art.

Air: Visualising the Invisible in British Art 1768-2017 is on at RWA in Bristol until 3rd September 2017. Find details at http://www.rwa.org.uk/whats-on/air-visualising-invisible-british-art-1768-2017. All images in this post have been supplied by RWA.

Art review – Drawn 2017

Ghost Nets of Hallsands (iii) by Frances Gynn, ink, crayon and charcoal_£2000

Ghost Nets of Hallsands (iii) by Frances Gynn, ink, crayon and charcoal

The Royal West of England Academy‘s biannual exhibition Drawn has returned, with a wealth of works that reveal the powerful possibilities offered by ink, pencil, paint and thread and more.

“Drawing is a means of communication and interpretation; it is a building block of creativity and a fundamental part of the creative process,” says  Gemma Brace, Head of Exhibitions.

Eighteen Occasions by Rebecca Swindell, pen on cork_£350

Eighteen Occasions by Rebecca Swindell, pen on cork

The variety of mediums was exceptional, including a selection of atmospheric etchings by invited artist Norman Ackroyd RA. My favourites among the others include Rebecca Swindell’s ink drawings on corks (shown above), titled Eighteen Occasions, Yurim Gough’s Shopaholic on ceramic, and Belinda Durrant’s corset titled Gilded Cage.

Terrain by Dail Behennah, paper and graphite_£3000

Terrain by Dail Behennah, paper and graphite

Dail Behennah’s elegant executed Terrain is a three-dimensional geometric landscape that drew me to my knees for an almost immersive view. In other cases, a few swipes with a stick of charcoal conjure an arresting portrait, while skilled artists such as Kevin Line capture scenes of uncanny realism with the same humble medium.

Bowed to the Wheel by Kevin Line

Bowed to the Wheel (cropped) by Kevin Line

In the adjoining gallery, dim-lighting and a sense of seclusion offers the backdrop to Lines in a Landscape: Drawings from the Royal Collection, a selection of works lent by Her Majesty The Queen.

Guercino, Detail from A Landscape with a three-arched bridge over a river, c.1625, Pen and ink (RCIN 902717), Royal Collection Trust © Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II 2017

Guercino, Detail from A Landscape with a three-arched bridge over a river, c.1625, Pen and ink (RCIN 902717), Royal Collection Trust © Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II 2017

Next door you’ll see examples plucked from the RWA’s own extensive collection for Beyond The Sketchpad, before emerging into the Drawing Lab with the option to create your own work.

In the speeches at the preview, Peter Randall-Page RA RWA swept us away with a reminder of all the ways in which the term drawn can be used: how we can draw curtains; draw people together; draw water from a well; draw swords; be drawn and quartered,  among others.

Even in language, it’s clear that drawing opens up a multitude of possibilities, but in this case it’s the paintings, etchings, sculptures and otherwise realised works that stopped me in my tracks.

The Hounds by Abigail Reed, Charcoal on paper_£950

The Hounds by Abigail Reed, charcoal on paper

Drawn and its accompanying exhibitions are on at the RWA until 4th June 2017.

To submit or suggest an art review, please send an email to Judy(at)socketcreative.com.

A Day At The Lake festival

Chris Bull of the Bullzini Family. Photo by Joe Clarke

Chris Bull of the Bullzini Family. Photo by Joe Clarke

I’ve always got an eye-out for events that could stir the imagination, and a brand new festival in Staffordshire seems set to tick that box with a flourish.

Taking place on 30th April till 2nd May, the three-day extravaganza aims to celebrate the history of Rudyard Lake in Staffordshire, and the spectacular feats of daring it attracted.

Intrigued? Me too!

Organisers Wild Rumpus are declaring A Day At The Lake as “an ambitious, large-scale outdoor experience. For one weekend only, Rudyard Lake in Staffordshire will be reimagined as it was in the late 1800s as an excursion place for thousands of day trippers.

Highlight are set to include Chris Bull’s daring recreation of a wire walk by 19th century legendary tightrope walker Carlos Trower, aka The African Blondin.

There will also be outdoor theatre, literary events, storytelling, orchestras and dance from regional, national and international artists, authors and performers.

Michael Symonns Roberts (winner of the Forward Prize, Costa Poetry Prize and Whitbread Poetry Award) has been commissioned to write a new poem inspired by events at The Lake to mark the occasion.

Rudyard Lake itself was one of the first sites of mass tourism in the UK, and you’ll be able to immerse yourself in times gone by with rowing boats, walks and steam trains while enjoying world-class outdoor arts.

Carlos Trower aka The African Blondin performing at Rudyard Lake in the 1800s

Carlos Trower aka The African Blondin performing at Rudyard Lake in the 1800s

Up to 20, 000 people a day would visit to watch incredible spectacles and feats including Carlos Trower The African Blondin, walking a wire 100 feet above the lake in 1864 and 1878, drawing huge crowds.

Visitors to the lake included John Lockwood Kipling and Alice Macdonald who named their son Rudyard Kipling after the beauty spot where they first met.

A Day At The Lake will be the first event of this scale at Rudyard Lake for over 100 years and marks the first Staffordshire Day on 1 May 2016 – a day marking 1000 years since the county was first mentioned in the Anglo Saxon Chronicle.

Got that? Quite simply, masses of inspiration and fun. Early Bird tickets £12 adults, £6 child, under 3s free. Find full details at www.dayatthelake.org.uk.

Got an event, challenge, competition or call for submissions you’d like to draw my attention to? Send me an email at Judy(at)socket creative(dot)com.

Writing prompt – playtime

After Hours brain cr Judy DarleyPlaytime is an essential part of childhood, helping to develop skills, fuel curiosity and spark imaginations. But why should children have all the fun? Science centre At Bristol has two floors packed with opportunities to explore, experiment and marvel at the world around us, but more excitingly they’ve cottoned onto the fact that adults relish the chance to play and so hold regular After Hours evenings for over-18s only.

Sans kids, the mood is one of grown ups embracing their inner creativity, with people creating animations, investigating our own biology, milling flour, milking cows, and soaring among starfields via the 3D planetarium show.

After Hours lamb testicle

After Hours lamb testicle courtesy Bordeaux Quay

My man and I attended the Valentine’s special SEX themed night, complete with a chance to spot Orion’s penis in the night sky, nibble lambs’ testicles (they tasted a bit like really garlicky chicken nuggets, in case you were wondering) and examine the emotional centres of a human brain.

After Hours bubbles cr Judy Darley

As the night wore on, it was intriguing to watch friends walling each other into phallic towers in the Build It area, and witness the growing competitiveness of spawning enormous bubbles.

After Hours Build It  cr Judy Darley

So many possible prompts for art, theatre or storytelling! Where could your imagination take you?

For details of upcoming After Hours specials and other events, visit www.at-bristol.org.uk.

If you write or create something prompted by this, please send an email to Judy(at)socket creative.com to let me know. With your permission, I’ll publish it on SkyLightRain.com.

Antarctica challenge – make a better world

Landscape - Antarctica cr Jason EdwardsThe year’s tail-end is always a time for reassessment. Have you achieved what you set out to? Could you have done more?

Why not finish 2013 on a high note by applying for an extraordinary opportunity? Antarctica: No Ordinary Place, No Ordinary Assignment is a global search launched by Air New Zealand to seek out an environmental enthusiast keen to share the wonders of the Antarctic frozen continent with the world.

Boats - Antarctica cr Jason EdwardsThis is a money-can’t-buy experience, and perfect inspiration for any creative soul – in fact, it’s likely to fuel your imaginative output for years to come. Continue reading

Why journeys are good for writers

Dog in surf cr Judy DarleyLast week I travelled from Bristol to Penzance by train and it reminded me why journeys are so good for writers.

In part, yes, it’s about seeing new things, meeting new people, being open to new experiences, but equally valuable is the power of the journey itself.

For starters, providing you’re not controlling whatever vehicle you choose to travel by, getting from A to B invariably carves out a space of precious time, which can be filled by putting pen to paper or finger to laptop key.

Continue reading