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Why I can only be Remain

When I was awoken at 3.30 am in the centre of Montpellier a few days ago by raucous shrieks from blind-drunk English fans down in the street below (no doubt bare-chested and draped in Union Jacks or the cross of St George in the manner of other fans spotted earlier that day), I was not only irritated but also a bit ashamed. I felt shame at their antics, which then triggered shame as a Brit at the whole unedifying referendum “debate” I’d been relieved to escape for a week. When even Angela Merkel sees fit to comment on the débâcle, you know something truly awful is going on. And the news of the shocking murder of Jo Cox which seeped through my self-imposed news ban simply left me without words.

Why did those drunken idiots evoke the spectre of Brexit?  I suppose I just have to own up to the prejudices I have about both groups: that they’re narrow-minded bigots incapable of listening to reason and inhabiting a delusional world of limited horizons. Ok, so there’ll be some exceptions. But not enough to remove the gnawing pain and frustration and even anger I’m feeling about everything going on right now with the referendum.

I am a European, heart, soul and mind. I recognise that the visceral, emotional response I have in wanting to remain is (on one view) simply the opposite end of the emotional spectrum felt by the Brexiteers. I recognise I am as little likely to be swayed by real economic argument as they, and that Brexiteers are as entitled to feel their opinion, however this may have been informed, as strongly as I am entitled to mine. But whilst I am reluctant to claim some moral higher ground for my beliefs, I can’t help but think (in contrast to the other side) I’m the one being driven by the common shared values of the sort of society I want to live in, however idealistic they may be: a desire for mutual tolerance and respect; a love of diversity; providing a warm welcome to the stranger in our midst;  ever-closer integration with people from all over; and profound dislike of rigidity, inflexibility, labels, categories and unchallenged prejudices. Which is why I know not all bare-chested drunk football fans decked in flags are xenophobes and not all Brexiteers are lying bigots. 

Nerdy saddo that I was, the highlight of my teenage years was Britain finally, finally joining Europe in 1973. An early attempt at a novel (when I was 12) set in Brittany was inspired by my first exciting trip onto “the Continent” in a car jostling for space with siblings and the massive family tent. I was thrilled to get first day cover stamps celebrating entry into the EEC (a rather nice interlocking jigsaw design with the British Isles an integral piece), and suddenly my world had expanded beyond the narrow confines of 1970s provincial Cheshire. In preparation for my new future, I spent hours trying to tune in on long wave radio to catch snatches of French and German radio channels I could barely hear, never mind understand. I crowned my Europe obsession by studying Law with French, and finally, joyfully, after spending a couple of years in Paris, returned to London to specialise in the practice of EU law.

What else could I ever be but a European?

If someone had told me back then that this nasty “debate” about our place in Europe  would be happening now, like this, I simply would not have believed it. The EU may be dysfunctional in areas and may be a bureaucratic nightmare, but to make piecemeal criticism the basis for withdrawal is to miss the bigger picture and wider essential context of European history: Jean Monnet’s vision, and the shared values of what counts: united we stand and divided we fall. However generally or particularly you like to take that concept. 

But of course, the “debate” isn’t really about any sensible constructive  assessment of our place within Europe. It’s been reduced to playing on that most basic of human fears of the Other, and the evocation of an apocalyptic invasion of Britain by immigrants. Other articles which have been widely shared within my social media “silo” (eg Polly Toynbee and Nick Cohen,) have analysed all of this brilliantly:  sadly, they won’t be read by anyone in the Brexit camp with half a brain who is genuinely interested in understanding what’s really happening. No, it seems that a worryingly high proportion of the electorate is happy to spout and repeat the insane lies and opinions promulgated by the absurd leadership of the Brexit campaign, and is prepared to vote accordingly.

When this is all over, whichever way it goes, everything bad that happens thereafter will be blamed on the EU by that worryingly high proportion of the population. Even if Brexit wins, the inevitable adverse economic fallout in years to come will undoubtedly be attributed by the xenophobes as the fault of the EU for not agreeing to any sensible exit package. Nationalistic, independent, insular Britain will face the reality of global economic interdependence, and it will be everybody else’s fault but ours. The frenzy of a blame culture will not easily disappear, and will naturally make a good story for a media which is only interested in stories these days. 

The thing which has really troubled me in this whole unedifying “debate” is the role the traditional media, particularly the BBC, has played in all of this. The BBC has been bending over backwards to present impartial coverage, where every comment and pronouncement from either side is counterbalanced by the other side’s response. As a consequence, considered, thoughtful, informed comments from people who genuinely understand the issues are reported on the one hand only to be countered by banal nonsensical easy-to-hear sound bite responses: lies, lies, experts, pah! At what point does this cease to be impartial reporting, and move to a complete abdication of journalistic responsibility to report on the truth and properly inform the public? 

I’ve had to switch off on too many occasions these last few weeks. Those ludicrous interviews with the popular voice of Britain, where interviewees could be heard repeating many of the lies of the campaign as their reason for wanting to leave are simply too painful to listen to. Such ignorance isn’t their fault: they are bombarded by reckless or wilful (it really doesn’t matter which) misstatements of facts by prominent politicians and others who ought to know better, and then relayed unchallenged by a media obsessed with a bizarre notion of fairness and impartiality. This juxtaposition of informed fact with nonsense, if it results in Brexit, is ultimately doomed to have the worst consequences for those very sectors of society least able to inform themselves.

I feel troubled about all of this in a way which is new to me. I don’t like what has been revealed about various aspects of contemporary society. I don’t want to be in a minority of liberal, outward-looking, inclusive people. I have to vote to Remain because it’s my worldview.

Experiments and daily fail


Another day, another set of experiments and another day of unresolved issues. Of course, in my head, I’ve resolved all the problems in half a dozen different ways. 

Running out of time now for the end of the week, I attempted to trial all solutions on the same experimental panel. 

Foolish foolish. 

So many different variants of spray v brush, gilding v spray, opaque v transparent paint and now I have a work of confusion with myriad small passages of potential value but no coherent answer. The actual pieces with the detail done but otherwise empty remain propped up against the walls of my studio, glaring at me in their white glossy vastness and it’s really tempting to just throw something at them. 

But I’m not going to do that just yet. The answer lies somewhere in the experiments. I’ve taken loads of photos, I’m now away for a day and a half, and between now and Wednesday with distance (quite literally) a plan will be formulated all ready for me to forget as soon as I enter the studio again. 

Left Bank Residency: Kanzleraltar 

Kanzleralter

All done. 

I arrived on installation day prepared to hang with the gilded panels facing out if, having torn off all the protective polythene, I couldn’t live with seeing the results. But once the first panel was up with the help of one scaffold and the efforts of four bodies, I thought it was all okay. 

The ambient light has a transformative effect with endless reflections and gold shimmers. The only way for me to experience it is by moving side to side, around, in closer, out, from low down and from within.

The interior space has a different atmosphere entirely; ethereal, opaque, mysterious. 

 

interior view


An amazing ten days.  

Post-match train travel

  
You never know what little event in life will prompt a post after months of, er, nothing. I’ve had lots of thoughts about lots of stuff of course, but the time and effort demanded for blogging on more serious happenings is these days a bit overwhelming.

But this evening I find myself on a train heading north on which all alcohol has been banned. I know this for a fact because I’ve had two emails in as many days telling me that no alcohol would be permitted, and I wouldn’t be allowed to board if I was drunk. So there.

I duly boarded stone-cold sober and found a seat in the quiet carriage. Minutes later three loud inebriated males (how had they passed security?) sat at “my” table and one promptly farted. I debated for a split second staying put and pretending to ignore it out of politeness, and before I could rationally process a decision, a life-preserving instinct hurriedly got me up. I announced the table was all theirs, and found somewhere else to sit well out of reach of the putrid atmosphere.

Many minutes of high jinks and laughter followed and then they started scuffling with phones. One asked a lady across the aisle if she had a charger? She shook her hand and said no. Her five year old quickly piped up to correct her. “Yes you have, Mummy!” Mummy scowled, handed it over, and mumbled that she was getting off in twenty minutes.

Next, a serious of terrifying announcements about alcohol, abuse, inebriation, bag searches and penalties. We are reassured that the train is full of police who will be prowling the length of the train the entire journey, checking out drunken revellers and maintaining order. It seems they are equipped with inbuilt video recorders, and they will not be hesitating to capture us all on camera.

Goodness me. Just a Saturday night returning North on the east coast line after a sporting event. But I’m pleased to announce they now seem to all be falling asleep. Bless. 

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The Year 1483

    I’m easily seduced by ancient objects. The appearance is pretty much irrelevant; what counts is just extraordinary age.

Yesterday I found myself holding a book printed in 1483. Written by John Mandeville, an abbot, it’s a fantastical travelogue bearing about as much relationship to reality of any sort as you might expect from a monk who allegedly had never left the confines of his monastery to go visit the places he was describing. 

No matter. Gazing at the pristine pages of the oldest book in the collection of the legendary Leeds Library I felt strangely moved. Oddly and coincidentally, it’s entitled Travels in The Holy Land: the title of my most recent body of artwork. 
After 1483, we moved to 1586 and a pre-King James bible. Equally fascinating with its how-to-use-this-book guide, and Talmudic style commentary enfolding the main text (see below).

An unashamed bit of advertising: if you live in or around Leeds and love books, you can’t afford to not join this amazing library.

   

   

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Moderates Unite

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Life has a funny way of moving forward. It’s been six months since I posted: me, a regular and committed blogger for over four years.

In the summer of 2014, I was left with a sense of unease about society and my place within. I felt unable to identify with so much I was reading and hearing. I identified a sense of overwhelm and hopelessness. I could not sort through my feelings in any way that might make sense. I recognised as many people do that I had more in common with moderates and freethinkers from any cultural or religious background than I necessarily had with people from my own culture or religion. I ended my post with the question of how do you protest nuance?

Now I realise the question was: when will the silent majority united by tolerance for difference of opinion and an overriding love for our common humanity take to the streets?

The follow up and answer to my last post is today. A million people taking to the streets in Paris, including 40 world leaders, including the Palestinian president and the Israeli prime minister.

It’s surreal. I’m sitting watching the scenes on the Place de la République in Paris with awe and not a little envy.

THIS is a march I would have gone on. THIS is the voice of humanity. The voice of tolerance and freedom is unambiguous, and there is no place for nuance here.

Liberté, égalité, fraternité.

Let it always prevail.

Where do I stand with “Pro/tests”?

20140727-140845-50925285.jpgProtesting on behalf of innocents in Leeds 26 July 2014

It’s been a week of invitations: invitations to join protest marches on pro-Gaza, pro-Israel, pro-peace and anti-terror.

I’ve realised it’s a reflection of my attempts over the last few years to understand the perspective of both sides and to inform myself as much as possible about what goes on in the Middle East. So, my inbox sees a variety of newsletters and accordingly a variety of invitations. They are from organisations genuinely trying to provide balanced information, so it’s interesting that these invites to protest made me a little uncomfortable.

After some reflection, I decided it’s because a protest march does not permit nuance. The slogans and chants are simple and clear. Pro-this, anti-that. Everything reduced to black and white which sometimes doesn’t matter, but not in this case. Not in an area of multiple, even infinite, shades and textures of perspective and narrative.

Some things I find are easy to state unequivocally. Thus, Israel has a right to exist. Palestinians have a right to self-govern and flourish free from occupation. Terrorism against innocent civilians is wrong. People have a right to defend themselves.

BUT (and it’s a huge BUT) if you tip all these rights in a pot and mix with reality and history and emotion and politics, nothing is simple any more.

The only slogans I feel comfortable with these days are those expressly showing compassion for both sides, because there are innocents on both sides and ill-considered actions and immoral actions on both sides (and indeed by many other nations world-wide at all stages in history, including the UK). A good example of the sort of thing I read with relief is the Facebook site Jews and Arabs Refuse To Be Enemies which is a treasure trove of inspiring photos evidencing clear humanity.

Marching “pro Israel” (however much I believe in Israel’s right to exist and defend itself) and marching “pro Gaza” (however much I feel torn up with horror at what is happening to civilians) is not something I feel helps anyone. It polarises and reinforces the whole wretched partisan taking-sides aspect that makes me so uncomfortable. Forceful declarations of pro-whatever carry an implication of being anti-the other, whether or not this is the case, and so I can’t do it.

And yet, there is a troubling undercurrent too in terms of current pro-Gaza sentiment.

Yesterday in Leeds city centre there was a powerful pro-Gaza art installation protest in the middle of Briggate. A representation of dead civilians lying across the pavement with a comment encouraging passers by to carry on walking past because these people don’t count for anything. (I may not have remembered this exactly but that was the general thrust)

I suddenly felt very, very uneasy. I suddenly remembered (again) all the deaths of recent months in Syria and Iraq. And the Christians of Mosul in Iraq being given the choice of paying a tax, converting to Islam, or being beheaded.

I stood looking at the protesters and wondered suddenly: Where are the impassioned art installation protests about these other issues? Where are the marches about Syria and Iraq? What is it about Israel-Palestine that prompts such particular passion? I’m scared to take this line of thought any further.

With the Leeds protest, I approached the young veiled girls who were part of the group. I said I was struck by the power of their installation and understood their compassion and feeling for the victims. They eagerly listened to me and nodded. We talked some more. I asked them whether they were thinking about extending this protest to the thousands of other victims of 2014 in the Middle East, for example in Iraq and Syria?

They slowly nodded. Why not indeed? I said I thought it was interesting and understandable their focus was Gaza this week, but there was so much more that needed saying. Then I finally told them I was Jewish. They were fascinated and said they welcomed my response; because they said “everyone blames and assumes Jews don’t care” about what’s going on in Gaza, and they seemed genuinely surprised (and appreciative) to hear a slightly different, more nuanced response to their protest .

I’d like to think I made them see the difference between the Israeli state and Jews in general, and that Jews do not lack compassion for the innocent victims in this conflict. I hope they might possibly now see current terror in the Middle East in wider, more complex terms. And for the record, I genuinely didn’t feel they were anti-Semitic despite the throwaway comment about Jews.

However, the big question still remains: how do you protest in nuanced terms?

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