IT ALL WENT AWAY

Milan, 15 March 2019

In the late 1980s, globalization really took hold and industry massively began to move out of developed countries and into developing countries. The UK suffered especially heavy losses of its manufacturing capacity. Whole communities not only lost their jobs but their whole raison-d’être. Their ancestors had been forced off the land to work in the factories, the towns they lived in had been created to house the factories, now there was no reason anymore for these towns to exist.  People my age remember that time, especially the miners’ strikes, which was their last-ditch attempt to save an industry that was doomed by global market forces. Artists memorialized those terrible moments in the UK’s recent history.

Miners’ Strike 2 (1970s) by an unknown artist, © the copyright holder. Photo credit: Thames Valley Police Museum
Miners’ Strike (1970s) by an unknown artist, © the copyright holder. Photo credit: Thames Valley Police Museum
Picket Line (2009) by Paul Schofield (b. 1938), © the artist. Photo credit: Haig Colliery Mining Museum
Miners’ Strike (c. 1985) by Margaret Varis, © the copyright holder. Photo credit: National Coal Mining Museum for England
On Strike (1985) by David Lawrence Carpanini (b. 1946), © the artist. Photo credit: Merthyr Tydfil Leisure Trust

But it was all to no avail. One after another, industries closed or moved away, leaving joblessness and broken communities behind

No Vacancies at This Colliery of Any Category (1984) by Andrew Hay (b. 1944), © the artist. Photo credit: Glasgow Museums

and leaving old workers with their memories of better times.

‘There are no longer any birds in last years’ nests. Times change and we with them’ (1993) by Andrew Tift (b. 1968), © Andrew Tift. Photo credit: The New Art Gallery Walsall

What of industry’s environmental impacts, the topic of my professional interests? Well, there was all that black smoke belching out of factories’ chimneys. Painters readily included these smoking chimneys in their paintings of industry: black smoke meant industrial activity, it meant economic progress, it meant wealth! But as we now know, all that black smoke must have also played havoc with people’s lungs, especially poor people’s lungs – they couldn’t escape to comfortable suburbs far away from all that factory smoke – and especially poor children’s lungs. As industry developed, especially the chemical industry, chimney stacks began emitting different coloured smoke, something which artists picked up.

Leith (1970s) by George Mackie (b. 1920), © the artist. Photo credit: Aberdeen Maritime Museum
Industrial Panorama (1`953) by Laurence Stephen Lowry (1887-1976), © the estate of L. S. Lowry. All rights reserved, DACS 2019. Photo credit: Nottingham City Museums

Artists seem to have been less interested in painting the black rivers – or even sometimes highly coloured rivers if textile factories were involved – which were another by-product of industrialization. As usual, L.S. Lowry seems to have been the only painter who turned his unflinching gaze on this watery ugliness.

The Lake (1937) by Laurence Stephen Lowry (1887-1976), © The Lowry Collection, Salford. Photo credit: The Lowry Collection, Salford
Industrial Landscape, River Scene (1950) by Laurence Stephen Lowry (1887-1976), © the estate of L. S. Lowry. All rights reserved, DACS 2019. Photo credit: Leicester Arts and Museums Service

Of course, when industries closed or went away, this air and water pollution disappeared (only to reappear, though, in the developing countries where the industries relocated). Not so with industry’s solid wastes. In the early days, there was always a useful hole somewhere behind the factories where wastes could be conveniently dumped and forgotten about.

The Tip, Hanley (1946) by Michael Ayrton (1921-1975), © estate of the artist. Photo credit: The Potteries Museum & Art Gallery
Reflections (Rose Hill, Bolton) (1954) by Brian Bradshaw (b. 1923), © the artist. Photo credit: Manchester Art Gallery

Industries may have closed down and moved away, but these noisome deposits stayed. How many of them have I dug up over my career! A poisoned present from past industries left for current and future generations to clean up.

And of course the mining operations – coal mines, tin mines, slate mines, … – have left indelible scars on the UK’s landscape, with their tips of mining waste looming up behind the mining villages.

Landscape, County Durham (date unknown) by Marjorie Arnfield (1930-2001), © the artist’s estate. Photo credit: Middlesbrough Institute of Modern Art, mima
Elliot Colliery (c. 1970) by Gilbert House (1919-2007), © the artist’s estate. Photo credit: Caerphilly County Borough Museums & Heritage Service – Winding House
Miners and Colliery (1970) by Tom C. Brown (1925-2006), © the copyright holder. Photo credit: Llyfrgell Genedlaethol Cymru / The National Library of Wales
The Slate Mines (date unknown) by Fred Uhlman (1901-1985), © the artist’s estate / Bridgeman Images. Photo credit: Herbert Art Gallery & Museum

In my next and final post, I’ll slip in some paintings which didn’t fit my narrative but which deserve to be seen by a wider audience. I’ll also meditate on what has been the deeper impact of this story on the UK.

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All photos from the Art UK website

 

WHAT MASK SHALL WE WEAR TODAY, DEAR?

Beijing, 30 March 2014

We’ve had a bad air day here in Beijing.
smog in Beijing
Actually, we’ve been having a series of bad air days, after a relatively long period of good air days. Due to the change of weather patterns as we move from winter to spring, I imagine.

In any event, these days of high particulate levels have led to an efflorescence of masks on the face of pedestrians.
beijingers wearing masks
When my wife and I first arrived here four years ago, the local population stoically accepted the situation. The official government position at the time could be summed up as: “air pollution? what air pollution?” So the masses followed the party line and officially shrugged off the decision by some foreigners to wear protective masks as weak-kneed and effeminate. At most, they would don surgical masks
mask-medical-2
a common enough habit here, although used more as a way to control the spread of the common cold.

Then, about a year ago, with the change in party leadership, the government made it publicly known that actually there was an air pollution problem, and almost overnight Beijingers started wearing protective masks. Such is the power of the party …

My wife and I, though, are made of tougher stuff and have considered all these mask wearers, Chinese and foreigners alike, weak-kneed and effeminate. That is, until now. Because even we, tough nuts though we are, have begun to think that maybe we should also be wearing masks on bad air days, before we get hit with an irreversible case of asthma or worse.

But what masks should we wear? And here, I have to say, aesthetics will play as much a part in our decision as efficacy. Efficacy alone would suggest wearing some sort of gas mask. The problem is, gas masks – at least in their traditional form – are fantastically unaesthetic. Consider this photo, taken in London during the Second World War
gas masks WW2-1
The Londoners in question were taking part in a drill, to make sure they knew how to use their masks in case the Germans dropped gas bombs.

Or how about this one, also from the Second World War, of some bizarre outing in the woods by a bunch of people (scouts?), all kitted up in gas masks
gas masks WW2

Can you imagine us all walking around Beijing looking like this? Already walking around in the smog is depressing enough. Having people looking like this looming out of the fug around you would be enough to give you a serious case of the heebie-jeebies. It would be like meeting a streetful of Edvard Munch’s screamers; one would begin to start screaming oneself.
The Scream lithography
The more modern gas masks have a friendlier design, showing as they do the face of the wearer.
gas mask-modern
I mean, at least you could smile at each other as you pass on the pavement and give each other moral support in this time of trial and tribulation.

But I feel that wearing even such a user-friendly gas mask would really be over the top. After all, we are only being subjected to excessively high particulate levels and not to massive leaks of poisonous gas, which these gas masks were presumably designed to deal with. Good design must be “fit for purpose”, as they say; these gas masks fail on this criterion.

A somewhat pared-down version of these gas masks is available in China, which has the “snout” but not the eye coverings.
mask-1
And that is precisely the problem which I have with this particular mask design. It would make the wearer look somewhat porcine
pig snout
So we need to look further afield for an efficacious but also aesthetically pleasing mask. I have found these on the web and/or seen people wearing them on the street:
mask-2

mask-3

mask-4a

IMG_0374

mask-8a

mask-8
My wife and I have debated the relative merits of these masks. Always assuming that we take the final plunge and buy masks, she would go for the fourth, which gives her space to breathe; she has tried the last mask and found it suffocating. For my part, I would go for the second mask, which I find pretty cool.

Of course, the best would be that NO-ONE has to wear masks. But for that to happen, the party is going to have to take some painful decisions. We will see …

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Smog in Beijing: http://www.csmonitor.com/var/ezflow_site/storage/images/media/content/2013/0114-smog/14755543-1-eng-US/0114-smog_full_600.jpg [in http://www.csmonitor.com/World/Latest-News-Wires/2013/0114/Heavy-smog-in-Beijing-prompts-uncharacteristic-government-transparency-video%5D
Beijingers wearing masks: http://www.thestar.com/content/dam/thestar/news/world/2014/02/24/pollution_soars_in_china_rare_industry_shutdowns_reported/china_smog.jpg.size.xxlarge.letterbox.jpg [in http://www.thestar.com/news/world/2014/02/24/pollution_soars_in_china_rare_industry_shutdowns_reported.html%5D
Mask-medical: http://news.xinhuanet.com/english/china/2013-10/21/132816417_11n.jpg [in http://news.xinhuanet.com/english/china/2013-10/21/c_132816417.htm%5D
Gas masks in WW2-1: http://www.moneyandshit.com/wp-content/uploads/2010/02/partisans-in_World_war2.jpg [in http://www.moneyandshit.com/partisans-in-gas-masks-during-world-war-2n/%5D
Gas masks in WW2-2: http://charlesmccain.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/12/hist_uk_20_ww2_pic_gas_mask_mock_london.jpg [in http://charlesmccain.com/2013/12/2768/%5D
The Scream lithography: http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/en/5/50/Munch_The_Scream_lithography.png [in http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Munch_The_Scream_lithography.png%5D
Gas mask-modern: http://img.xxjcy.com/pic/z14f386f-0x0-1/industrial_gas_masks_product_mf27_full_eyepiece_gas_mask.jpg [in http://www.xxjcy.com/manufacturers/z6a4a78/iz28e1a63-mf22a_type_gas_masks.html%5D
Mask-1: http://gdb.voanews.com/B8CC4108-6777-4820-9381-2F5CFE6AB98E_mw1024_mh1024_s_cy7.jpg ] [in http://www.voanews.com/content/study-finds-coal-pollution-cuts-north-china-lifespan-by-five-and-a-half-years/1697648.html%5D
Pig snout: http://kristilowe.files.wordpress.com/2013/09/istock_000012723567small.jpg [in http://kristilowe.com/tag/pig-snout/%5D
Mask-2: http://www.allergyasthmatech.com/ProdImages/model_photo copy[1].jpg [in http://www.allergyasthmatech.com/SP/Air_Pollution_Mask/101_373%5D
Mask-3: http://www.loftwork.jp/~/media/Images/Event/2013/20131218_frog/r_04.ashx?h=402&w=537 [in http://www.loftwork.jp/event/2013/20131218_frogdesign/report1218.aspx%5D
Mask-4: http://www.myredstar.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/02/Totobobo.jpg [in http://www.myredstar.com/smog-living/%5D
Mask-5: http://www.pri.org/sites/default/files/story/gallery/huang.jpg [in http://www.pri.org/stories/2013-11-11/beijingers-don-masks-defend-themselves-against-dirty-air-and-make-fashion%5D
Mask-6: http://www.i-m-s.dk/wp-content/uploads/2013/02/china-air-poll.jpg [in http://www.i-m-s.dk/pollution-finally-a-front-page-story-in-china/%5D
Mask-7: http://www.theworldofchinese.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/02/top5-masks-master.jpg [in http://www.theworldofchinese.com/2014/02/the-top-pollution-busting-face-masks/%5D

BLUE SKY DAY!

Beijing, 24 January 2013

The air is clear, the sky is blue! Finally, the grey murk of the last week or so has gone! I don’t know where it’s gone and I don’t care. All I know is it’s gone. When I walked out into the street this morning, my heart jumped on seeing the blue, blue sky. I’d almost forgotten what a blue sky looked like.

As I walked along my piece of canal, a man on the other side burst into song. If I’d known the tune I would have hummed along. As it is, I smiled benignly at the lady who was walking her dog and she smiled benignly back. I didn’t even mind the very uneven paving stones in the canal path which threaten to trip me up every day.

As I walked into my secretary’s office, she cried out “it’s only 62!” She had already checked the PM 2.5 readings on the US Embassy’s twitter feed and was preparing her daily air quality report to all staff. We laughed in sheer pleasure.

The air is clear, the sky is blue, hallelujah!

blue sky 002

blue sky 003