Take Me By The Arm

I really enjoy learning about the lives of others, which is something we all do as an audience when we listen to music, read a book, or watch a film. It’s not simply because I am nosy – I prefer to say inquisitive – but one of the purposes of storytelling is to take an individual on a journey and to show life from another person’s point of view. Stories told through written word, visual performance, and musical arrangement are often a source of inspiration on a subtle or even subconscious level to both the teller and the receiver.

I watched a film today and there was a moment whilst watching when my heart pined a little for my best friend whom I saw recently (though I must note, it was a mere moment because I can equally hear his scoffing half-laugh chiding as he casts me a withering look).

The film was set in England in the 1950s, it’s autumn and the scene that caught my attention sees a man and a women strolling arm in arm in a garden bathed in late afternoon sunlight. Autumn in the UK is my favourite time of the year and when I close my eyes to daydream more often than not I am transported to such a scene, with the russet and gold leaves casting a dappled warmth across the path and faces of two friends. The story of the film is about two individuals who at this particular point are sharing those first simple moments when two people realise that they really enjoy one another’s company; there is no confusion in this relationship, no lust or words going unsaid, no feelings beyond a shared platonic connection of friendship.

I think there is something so lovely about walking arm in arm with a friend, feeling close to that person with such innocent tenderness, as if are you sharing in a secret as you take a turn around the room. In such a moment you are in a little alliance, it isn’t necessarily a romantic gesture but it is a sure expression of companionship. I don’t stroll about clutching the arm of all of my friends though, because sometimes it doesn’t sit quite right in that relationship.

That being said however, just you try and wipe the smile from my face as I step out next time arm in arm with my best chum, whenever that may be. Why such an unspoken, gentlemanly gesture makes me so happy inside I couldn’t tell you, especially since that same friend will no doubt tell some ridiculously embarrassing story about me within five minutes, utterly spoiling the moment. I love him and he drives me round the twist sometimes too, but perhaps that is the perfect balance in our friendship.

Coincidences

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Life is sprinkled liberally with strange coincidences. It’s the beginning of the week and you’re listening to a friend share stories from a recent holiday in Iceland. Before the week is out you will bear witness to numerous seemingly subliminal signals about Iceland from work colleagues, TV programmes, magazine articles and Instagram posts that eventually you’ll seriously consider looking up flights and buying a Lonely Planet guide so you too can be in on the action. I won’t be the only person to have experienced a scenario like this and perhaps on some occasions the coincidences are actually symptomatic of an omniscient marketing strategy to “guide us” through our day to day lives. However, some coincidences are downright weird and truly warrant the reaction: “what are the chances, spooky or what?”

A couple of days ago I was catching up with a dear friend of mine, and as we exchanged messages back and forth like a virtual ping pong match between ourselves we shared current life updates, old memories and screen shot pictures of the music we were listening to. Combined, we have the best music tastes-as far as we’re concerned that is-with music at the epicentre of our relationship over many years. I reminded my friend of the day he burst into my bedroom on a whirlwind of elation whilst exclaiming with such joy that he had found his funeral song. It was a slightly morbid turn of events for what was a beautifully sunny spring day but I listened to the track and heard why it was so inspirational and significant for him. I certainly haven’t forgotten that day, neither have they and the song is still “the song” to be played. Good to know.

Here is an excerpt from the following day’s conversation:

“Today is quite good, finished my book and now I’m walking to work.
It smells like rain”
“Ha.
I love that smell”
“Which is a good smell.
Yeh!”
“Correct”
“What are we like”
“I know.
Had a car crash last night”
“Bonfires are another great smell
Wait, what?!”

As I whittled on typing my responses quicker that he could respond, I almost missed the key statement and on first reading it felt like a punch to the gut that stopped me in my tracks. One day we’re making each other smile with our shared black humour, the next one of us plays dice with death and I’m left stunned at the evident fragility of life. I’m always on the way to somewhere when things like this happen, when I really don’t have the time to work through the emotional upheaval. Just because I know the song that someone wants played at their funeral, does not mean I want the opportunity to do so to arrive any time soon.

I have since been assured the crash wasn’t too serious, another broken nose and a few cuts and bruises, so blasé as we joke about sueing the French for the malfunctioning airbag. But in all seriousness, that was a close call, and a strangely coincidental situation that I do not want revised or repeated.

A Little Miracle

I’ve started a new internship. And it’s great, and I’m learning so much, absorbing a new field and a new set of unpronounceable acronyms, meeting new people, and feeling fried by the end of the day. But there’s no time to kick back, as I’m also doing a Masters degree (albeit part-time and via correspondence, but still), so at the end of the day, I’m back in front of the screen, reading even more reports on protracted crises, and defunct protection schemes. My eyes feel ready to go on strike, and my head feels strangely as if it was stuck in a clamp.

And then this week, my mum went in to hospital, as did a friend, both for silly accidents. They will both be fine. Everything is still manageable. Everyone’s ok, I don’t want to play up any drama.

But it’s a little overwhelming.

So I sat on my balcony this evening as the sun set, and took in some deep deep breaths. It was only then that I realised the flowers blooming beside me. I know, it’s spring, no big deal. But you see, this is a little bit of a big deal.

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I was given a bouquet of flowers on my birthday, the 26th of January, in the midst of dark winter. Long after the other dahlias and roses in the bouquet had wilted, these orange flowers didn’t seem to be finished. So I put them in a wee pot of water, and left it on the balcony. And despite the cold, the wind, the lack of attention, despite the fact they were cut in winter, probably brought over from Holland or wherever, they flowered, and flowered, and flowered. Now, on the 5th of May they still haven’t finished.

A little miracle. And a little push to go on, flowering, flowering, despite the elements.

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A Walk About Town: Part Two

A mere stone throw away from the Castlegate, I continued on my treasure hunt trail to experience the Look Again Festival by locating the Peacock Visual Arts centre down a little alleyway so surreptitious in its location that I almost missed it completely. Thankfully, I did not and found what was to be my favourite discovery of the whole festival: ‘The Brutalist Playground’, by architect collective Assemble and artist Simon Terrill.

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The juxtaposition of the marshmallow-esque building blocks and austere minimalist structural positioning really struck my fancy, and was very effective in establishing ‘a contemporary narrative’ for the post-war urban planning prevalent in and around London ’50s and 60’s. Fun, engaging, and provocative, ‘The Brutalist Playground’ was originally commissioned by the Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA) in 2015, and asks the audience to reconsider the original Brutalist designs and intentions, and our own contemporary attitude towards risk assessment and freedom to play. Not just for children, the light hearted nature of the ‘The Brutalist Playground’ inspires joy in people of all ages, something special and to be commended.

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The public is invited to be part of the installation, what is a playground if not a space for play, the reconstituted foam providing a gloriously springy, playful platform for sensory experience. Not one to shy away from silliness, I was at first surprisingly self conscious as an adult on my own and felt an awkwardness reminiscent of infancy watching the big girls playing together and wishing they’d let me join in. One trip up the squishy pink staircase and down the appropriately adult-hipsize wide slide dispelled all social inhibitions prerequisite to maturation into the “grown-up world” and I fell a little bit more in love with the whole concept and piece.

There were a number of excellent events and exhibitions which I was unable to take in on my cultural treasure hunt including the ‘Unreal Estate’ commission, although I was amused to come across ‘Locked’, one of Iain Kettles’s two inflatable structures as part of Interzone, whose undisclosed locations encouraged the puplic to participate in a hide and seek game and question the relationship we all have with our surroundings. The playfulness of the Look Again Festival taking residence in such a rigid city centre surrounding built primarily of cold, grey granite was enchanting and I am delighted to discover that several of the exhibitions will still be accessible for the month of May, so there’s still time for more enlightening discoveries.

Aberdeen, you’re not so bad, and just like the bare Scottish landscape coming out of the winter and welcoming spring there are small signs of life starting to poke out and bring a little smile to my face. The year ahead is looking a little less grim and I hope to continue to find inspiration in my surroundings now I’ve seen the benefits of giving a place a second chance to show just what it has to offer.

A Walk About Town: Part One

What else can you do when invited to embark on a treasure hunt but tie up your boots straps and set off on the adventure, keeping your eyes open at every turn. Marching down the main street in Aberdeen city centre a couple days ago I set off with a smile on my face and an open mind ready to get engaged.

Promising to “challenge the way we all see the Granite City“, the Look Again Festival has certainly done just that and I must write to the organisers and pass on my congratulations. Subtle yet creatively conspicuous in the city, the diverse programme of exhibitions and events spread out beyond the confines of the city centre to one of the university campuses and a number of art spaces in the surrounding area. As a pedestrian this was the perfect introduction to the small galleries whose existence had been unknown to me prior to this weekend, with the keen volunteers at hand to offer directions and navigate highlights at the different sites.

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Starting my cultural trail with perhaps the most accessible project, the ‘Mirrored Pavilion’ situated was in the Castlegate and beautifully reflected the historical architecture of the area. Designed by Lucy Fisher, second year architecture student and winner of the Look Again Architecture Design Competition, the bold and elegant sculpture caught the eye, draws the attention of the public into the festival vibe, as well as played the pivotal role as information hub for the festival and exhibition space for the Look Inside Design Collective. I found the ‘Mirrored Pavilion’ to be charming, prominent without being ostentatious and I saw how it caught the attention of members of the public more often inclined to keep on walking whilst minding their own business; the perfect focal point to catalyse enthusiasm and promote the ethos of the Look Again Festival.

Sharing the Castelgate location, the ‘Diabolical Dance‘ installation found particularly poignant staging at the Mercat Cross. Shelagh Brown, a final year Contemporary Art
Tactics student at Gray’s School of Art here in Aberdeen, created a hauntingly moving spectacle which drew inspiration from the history of the city. Twenty-four pairs of shoes, embedded in concrete, were position around the Mercat Cross to represent twenty-four named witches in Aberdeen in 1596 and 1597 accused of ‘dancing round the Mercat Cross as Halloween’. I was unfortunately unable to make it to the official talk with the artist at the Town House but had the good fortune of meeting Shelagh Brown herself at the actual site of the installation and a short discussion with her gave fascinating insight into the thought process behind the piece.

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Little fun fact, a number of the pairs of shoes used as moulds were the artist’s own, including the fur lined boots she was wearing when we met. The cast and sculpted pairs of concrete shoes actualise the ‘impossibility of defence against the accusations’ and cleverly invite an audience to feel the weight of such persecution and empathise for the victims, centuries on but not without forbearance on modern times. By asking the public to put themselves in someone else’s shoes, I think Brown wonderfully connected with the sentiments of Look Again Festival and I applaud her for doing so in such a modest and gracefully striking way.