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June 23 2010

Gormley sets Forth

Antony Gormley's latest sculptural project places six life-size figures between an Edinburgh gallery and the sea

June 20 2010

When Millais took the high road

The pre-Raphaelite's portrait of John Ruskin revolutionised landscape painting. But the exact spot it depicts was always a mystery – until now

It's another sunny day in central Scotland and artist Alex Hamilton and I are roaming through a wood in the Trossachs, looking for the perfect spot. We scramble down an embankment, march across a glade of oak, ash and birch – until, bramble-snagged, we reach a gully and peer downwards. Below us is Glenfinlas water: a stream chasing over the rocks, towards Loch Katrine. We skitter down and pick our way to a promontory that dissects the flowing water.

This, says Hamilton, as my feet get wet, is "nature's Rosetta Stone: the most important site in the history of British landscape painting". This, in other words, is where John Everett Millais painted John Ruskin in 1853. Millais was the pre-Raphaelite wunderkind whose Ophelia electrified the art world. Ruskin was the critic who found his Ophelia "insipid" – and invited Millais to the Trossachs to learn what landscapes were all about. The portrait that resulted is two things. It's a scene from a soap opera: while Millais was painting it, he fell in love with (and later married) Ruskin's wife Effie. It's also a manifesto, a distillation of Ruskin's influential theories on "truth to nature".

Hamilton explores these theories in a new exhibition, The Glenfinlas Cyanotypes, to be shown next month in the Byre Inn pub in Brig o' Turk, where Ruskin, Millais and Effie stayed while in the Trossachs. Their affairs were recently dramatised in the BBC's Desperate Romantics, and Ruskin's love life (or lack of it – his marriage was never consummated and he was said to have been aghast on his wedding night to see a naked woman for the first time) has long been picked over. But despite this fame, and the painting's iconic status, the place it depicts was presumed to be lost. "I've been coming to Glenfinlas since 1968," says Hamilton, now 60, "and everyone locally would always say, 'No, no, the site's gone.' It was thought to have been buried [in the 1960s] under Glenfinlas Dam."

Inspired by an essay by the scholar Alastair Grieve that contradicted this claim, Hamilton returned in the mid-2000s, "and hunted for the site myself. And, after a lot of looking, I found it. Then I started to get the Ruskin community interested." The Woodland Trust, which owns the site, is now set to introduce signage, so that this tucked-away kink in a well-hidden stream can get the attention it deserves. "In any other country in the world," says Hamilton, "this would be treated as a sacred space."

Why all the reverence for Ruskin and Millais? Is the painting (privately owned but seen recently in Tate Britain's Millais show) really that important? Yes, says Hamilton, because it represented a shift – in what art meant, and in ways of seeing the world. "To see clearly is poetry, prophecy and religion, all in one," said Ruskin, who considered landscape painting "the chief artistic creation of the 19th century". To depict nature accurately – to get inside it and revere it – was a moral activity. "What water's made from, what rocks and plants are made from, was something Ruskin felt Millais needed to figure out," says Hamilton. To make art in all but inaccessible Glenfinlas, Millais had to get his hands dirty, get his feet as wet as mine now are – and be eaten alive by midges as he worked.

"Ruskin's manifesto is evident in the painting," says Hamilton. You could say the same of Hamilton's work. In 2009, he was resident artist at Ruskin's Lake District home of Brantwood. His new show's cyanotypes (made by placing objects on to photographic paper and letting the sun draw out the image) are of plantlife found at the Glenfinlas site. Spindly stalks spiral across pulsing blue backgrounds, clouds of tiny petals dance across the frame, and filigree ferns and flowers glow at us out of the dark. They are like x-rays of nature, recalling Ruskin's project to reclassify natural forms according to their "life energy".

Hamilton sees that project, and Ruskin's thinking in general, as visionary: certainly, his ideas about the interconnectedness of the natural world, and our responsibilities towards it, couldn't be more relevant today. "A site like Glenfinlas is a useful talisman for that type of thinking," says Hamilton, as around him water foams, willows droop, and lichen clings to rocks as old as time. "We don't have to go to Niagara Falls or the Grand Canyon – we can come here. There is an incredible amount happening in this small world that can tell us an awful lot."

On 3 July, Hamilton will lead a walk to the stream, an event that will serve as the public launch of this special site. "The Woodland Trust will be sensitive," he says, as we retrace our steps. "My work is not about dominating the site or saying I've summed it up. It's about stepping quietly into the landscape, making a connection with the place. I'm pretty sure they're not going to Disnify it." © Guardian News & Media Limited 2010 | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds

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May 05 2010

Election 2010: Conservatives – not just for England | Martin Kettle

The overnight: David Cameron's visits to Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales aim to portray the Tories as a truly national UK-wide party

It is tempting, and the BBC this evening fell for the temptation, to see David Cameron's visit to Northern Ireland yesterday – almost certainly the first election campaigning trip of its kind by a major UK party leader in modern times – in the frame of a possible hung parliament. Looked at this way it can be made to appear like a last minute attempt by the Conservative leader to shore up potential support for a possible minority Tory government if Cameron falls just short of an overall majority to 6 May. Those 18 Northern Ireland seats (effectively only 13 if permanent abstainers Sinn Féin hold on to all their 2005 seats this week) could count for a lot if the Westminster arithmetic gets tight when the votes are counted. Seen this way, Cameron flew to Belfast in a last ditch effort to take his party over the finishing line in a tight race by appealing to Ulster voters as potential allies

Actually, it's something completely different. There's nothing much that Cameron can do to affect the essentially pre-ordained and pretty traditional outcome in Northern Ireland. When the votes are counted, the 10 current unionist seats (or whatever particular stripe) will all be potential Tory supporting MPs in the new parliament while the nationalist MPs from the SDLP have already said they will be supporting Labour while Sinn Féin stay at home while pocketing their Westminster expenses. Even if one or two seats change hands in Northern Ireland this week, which seems likely, the essentials of the outcome there are pretty much set in stone by community division. A quick swing through Belfast by Cameron is not going to change that equation significantly (though it might just help Reg Empey win a seat for the UUP and thus perhaps fulfil Cameron's pledge that Ulster MPs may serve as ministers in a Conservative government).

More realistically, Cameron's trip to Belfast is purely symbolic but in a larger Union frame. His last 48 hour itinerary is taking him from Northern Ireland to Scotland (yesterday evening) and on to Wales today before he ends up in England – and ultimately in his comfortable south midlands Witney constituency. It's designed, in other words, to show the Conservatives as a truly national UK-wide party – not just the English party – on the eve of the party's possible return to government. Last time, in 2005, the Tories took a total of 198 seats, of which a massive 194 were from England, leaving just three in Wales along with the solitary single Scottish Tory MP David Mundell. The polls in Scotland don't currently show much likelihood of any improvement this time. Wales could be another matter altogether, with anything up to 10 Tory gains if things go really well (that's probably optimistic if the Lib Dem campaign surge holds up). Even if Cameron's Ulster Unionist allies pick up a seat or even two, the reality is that any Conservative government this time next week will be overwhelmingly an English based government once more.

This presents a problem for Cameron and an opportunity for his rivals, especially (as Alex Salmond has never tried to conceal) the Scottish Nationalists. Salmond is gagging for the chance to revive the SNP's momentum – which may slow on Thursday – by running as the anti-London, anti-England, anti-Tory, anti-Cameron party in next year's Scottish parliament elections. Cameron is not likely to go out of his way to oblige – he's not so stupid. But the sheer weight of English seats in any Tory majority would be one of the large givens of the new parliament. Cameron loses no opportunity to proclaim himself a traditional unionist Tory – and it is exactly what he is. His problem, though, is that his English party is far less unionist than it once was, and in some respects is teetering on the edge of an explicitly anti-unionist English nationalism.

Yes it's embarrassing for the Conservatives that they are making such modest progress outside England. But look at the other trends. Northern Ireland is not going to lurch into separatism any time soon. Wales is electorally much more like England than Scotland. And in Scotland the chances are that a period of Tory rule may actually help Labour in Scotland rather than the SNP. Cameron would be able to live with all that. The end of the union could be farther off than nationalists north and south of the Tweed would wish.

• More election comment from Cif at the polls © Guardian News & Media Limited 2010 | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds

May 04 2010

Gordon Brown urges voters to 'come home to Labour' after late poll boost

Buoyed by a YouGov survey giving Labour the lead in terms of seats, prime minister gives a stirring performance in Manchester

The momentum behind a last-minute resurrection of Gordon Brown's election campaign grew last night after he delivered a powerful testimony to his party's achievements and appealed to undecided voters to consider their record and "come home to Labour".

Buoyed by a strengthening in Labour's polling position – YouGov today puts the party back in the lead in terms of the number of seats – Brown told a rally of 500 party faithful in Manchester that they had a record to be proud of and to fight for.

In a passionate and detailed speech, he read out a 55-point list of Labour's achievements, ranging from the minimum wage to free museum entry, to rapturous applause.

Brown, who was flanked by 10 cabinet ministers, warned that a Tory government would undo that progress, and launched a powerful critique of David Cameron's judgment, saying the Tory leader would have left families to "sink or swim" in the recession, and businesses to go to the wall, and have seen unemployment as a "price worth paying".

The prime minister depicted the Tory leadership as living in "gated communities with 24-hour security" and therefore careless about cutting policing, saying that they can afford private healthcare and school tuition, unlike ordinary people who rely on public services.

"I want to say to those who have yet to decide – listen to what we have to say. When the last 48 hours of this campaign has passed, in that one minute in the polling booth, vote for the kind of country you believe in. And come home to Labour."

Lord Mandelson, who described the speech as "another bravura performance", highlighted today's YouGov/Sun poll which put the Tories unchanged on 35%. Labour was up two points on 30% while the Liberal Democrats were down four points on 24%.

This could give Labour 288 seats, the Tories would have 261 and the Lib Dems would have 72.

"We have a day to go," Mandelson said. "This poll shows we are still in it. Far from David Cameron waltzing into No 10, the public are not dancing to his tune. They are looking very carefully at the choice between Labour and the Conservatives."

The speech and the polls cheered Labour after a tricky start to the day when a candidate described Brown as "the worst prime minister we have had in this country". Manish Sood, who is standing as a Labour candidate in North West Norfolk, said Brown was a "disgrace".

The prime minister was speaking as Cameron embarked on a round-the-clock tour of Britain to cement his support in the final hours of the election campaign.

Cameron echoed the famous declaration by the senior George Bush, in an attempt to reassure pensioners that their benefits would be safe with the Tories. "All these things are safe," he said. "You can read my lips: that is a promise from my heart."

Bush famously reneged on his "read my lips" pledge not to introduce taxes.

On a visit to Scotland Cameron launched a vigorous attack on the prospects of a hung parliament run by a Labour-Liberal Democrat coalition.

Speaking to Tory activists in East Renfrewshire, he mocked Nick Clegg for indicating that he would not support Brown but might be prepared to prop up a Labour government. "If you vote Liberal who knows what you're going to get? You might get a prime minister who wasn't even in those television debates; if that is democracy, if that's people power, I'm a banana."

In a ground-breaking election visit to Northern Ireland, where his alliance with the Ulster Unionist party has broken a decades-long convention of bipartisan politics by British party leaders, Cameron sought to portray himself as a unifying figure.

Speaking in a hotel where one of the worst atrocities of the Troubles took place, he insisted the Tory-UUP alliance had created "a new, dynamic force" for Northern Ireland.

But Cameron suffered a blow when Kenneth Clarke, the shadow business secretary, dismissed the idea of brokering deals with Northern Ireland politicians. Warning of the dangers of a hung parliament, Clarke told "In the end you can always do a deal with an Ulsterman, but it's not the way to run a modern sophisticated society."

His remarks will have applied to the idea of having to rely on the support of the larger Democratic Unionist Party. The Tory leadership is hoping that the DUP will support Cameron if he is forced to try and lead a minority government.

But Peter Robinson, the DUP leader, last night contrasted his independence from Cameron with the UUP's formal link with the Tories.

The new alliance appears to be struggling, according to Belfast Telegraph/Inform Communications poll. This showed that the UUP's share of the vote is 13%, down on the 17.7% it won in 2005. The Democratic Unionists are on 26%.

Cameron arrived at Belfast City airport in a turbo-prop plane shortly before 2pm yesterday just as the "no-fly ban" had been lifted by airport authorities on both sides of the Irish border. The ban had been caused by the return of volcanic ash clouds above the island. © Guardian News & Media Limited 2010 | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds

March 01 2010

Pay £4m or the Leonardo gets it

• Five on trial over threat to destroy £50m masterpiece
• Theft from duke's castle remains Britain's biggest

A solicitor has been accused along with four other men of threatening to destroy a stolen Leonardo da Vinci masterpiece unless they were paid £4.25m, in a conspiracy allegedly hatched in the offices of one of Glasgow's leading law firms.

Marshall Ronald, 53, a lawyer from Skelmersdale, Lancashire, has gone on trial for allegedly helping to organise a plot to extort the money from the Duke of Buccleuch for the safe return of Leonardo's Madonna of the Yarnwinder.

The high court in Edinburgh was told today that the conspiracy was organised with the help of two co-accused from Glasgow and two other men from Ormskirk, Lancashire.

The five alleged conspirators are accused of trying to extort £4.25m from the duke and his son Richard, the 10th and current duke, by "menacing them" and "putting them in a state of fear and alarm and apprehension" that the painting would be damaged or destroyed if the ransom was not paid.

Valued at £30m to £50m, the painting was the centrepiece of the then duke's collection at Drumlanrig castle, near Dumfries, reputed to be the UK's most valuable collection in private hands, when it was stolen in August 2003 in a daylight robbery. The heist remains the UK's biggest art theft.

The painting was recovered in October 2007 after police raided the offices of the law firm, HBJ Gateley Wareing, in Glasgow. The duke, a keen fine art collector, had died aged 83 a month before it was recovered.

The court was told that the two alleged thieves, not among the five men on trial, had threatened to kill a young tour guide and brandished an axe at other staff when they took the painting from its protective case.

The casually-dressed men had been posing as tourists, and escaped through a window at Drumlanrig castle, the ancestral home of the dukes of Buccleuch, carrying the Leonardo under their arms.

Alison Russell, then an 18-year-old who had just begun her first season as a tour guide, told the court the two men were the first visitors to arrive at the gallery housing the painting, immediately after the castle opened one morning in late August 2003.They had ignored all the castle's other galleries and her attempt to describe the collection.

Then, she told the court, one of the thieves "put his hand over my mouth and told me I had to lie down on the ground or he would kill me if I didn't".

Sarah Skene, 73, another tour guide, said she heard "a commotion" in the staircase hall housing the painting, and heard a male colleague shouting "please don't do it. Retreat, retreat."

She came in and saw one of the thieves wielding the axe. "He was standing guard on the picture," she said. "After it was done, they disappeared out of the window."

The jury was shown two CCTV images showing the thieves: a thick-set man wearing a white sunhat and a gilet-style waistcoat, and a slimmer man with a baseball cap and dark-coloured casual jacket. Both men walked under the CCTV camera with their faces obscured by their hats.

Currently in the National Gallery of Scotland in Edinburgh on temporary loan, the painting, which measures 20in x 14in, shows the Madonna with the infant Jesus and the cross-shaped yarnwinder, a symbol of Christ's crucifixion.

The prosecution claims that in July 2007, nearly four years after the theft, Ronald, the solicitor, had contacted the duke's insurers and their loss adjusters and claimed he could arrange for the painting's return. He allegedly told two undercover police officers posing as the duke's representatives that "volatile individuals" were involved who would "do something very silly" if the police were informed.

Between 10 August 2007 and 4 October 2007, Ronald repeatedly asked the detectives to pay £2m into his own solicitor's firm's account and another £2.25m into a Swiss bank account, the charges said.

During those weeks, Ronald and two co-defendants, Calum Jones, 45, and David Boyce, 63, drafted an agreement at the offices of HBJ Gateley Wareing to organise the safe return of the Leonardo, once the £2m had been paid to Ronald's firm.

The charges allege that in late September and early October 2007, Ronald embezzled £500,000 from his clients' accounts and arranged to take possession of the painting, from persons unknown.

On 29 September, Ronald bought acid-free paper and a folio case, allegedly to transport the painting. Four days later, he allegedly paid £350,000 to another of his co-accused, a builder from Ormskirk called Robert Graham, 57, for the painting.

With the last defendant, John Doyle, 61, also from Ormskirk, Ronald and Graham allegedly took possession of the stolen painting – an offence similar to receiving stolen goods known as "reset" in Scots law – and then took it to Jones and Boyce at their offices in Glasgow.

On 4 October, they allegedly showed the paintings to the two undercover detectives, who were known to them as David Restor and John Craig, demanding a total of £4.25m payable in two large sums for its safe return.

The trial continues and is expected to last for up to six weeks. © Guardian News & Media Limited 2010 | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds

January 26 2010

Cordelia Oliver obituary

Journalist, painter and tireless champion of the arts in Scotland

Cordelia Oliver, who has died aged 86, was an indefatigable promoter of the arts in Scotland. In 1963, when her cultural commando friend Richard Demarco and Jim Haynes were making waves in Edinburgh with the Traverse theatre, Cordelia was offered a roving commission as the Guardian's arts correspondent in Scotland. For more than three decades she reported, often through pessimistic political times, the surge of optimism she felt in Scottish theatre, opera, music, painting and sculpture.

I first met her in the run-up to the Charles Rennie Mackintosh centenary exhibition at the Edinburgh festival in 1968. Cordelia, a most loyal Glaswegian, would have preferred the celebrations to be in the city of his birth. Unlike many in Glasgow at this time, she shared the considered judgment of German and Austrian architects who acclaimed the "Mackintoshismus" style. She had spent the war years at the Glasgow School of Art, not only as a student of painting by day, but as a volunteer firefighter by night. "If we painted in large letters: 'Glasgow School of Art built by Charles Rennie Mackintosh' on the roof," Cordelia remembered William Hutchison, the school's wry director, telling their nightwatch before dawn, "no self-respecting Luftwaffe pilot would ever think of bombing us."

Cordelia Patrick was born in Glasgow, the daughter of a merchant navy officer from the Mull of Kintyre. She attended the city's Hutchesons' grammar school, where she won the art and English prizes. At Glasgow School of Art, she won the Guthrie portrait prize and continued, after graduation, to teach evening classes there, along with her day job teaching art at Craigholme school for girls. As a prize-winning soloist she sang with Glasgow's Orpheus Choir. When that disbanded, she joined the Phoenix Choir, and sang at the first Edinburgh festival in 1947.

By the next year, Cordelia had married the writer and photographer George Oliver and left for London. But in 1950, when George became the art editor of a travel magazine, they moved to Edinburgh. As George's job gave him backstage access to Edinburgh festival productions, it allowed Cordelia to catch performers on the fly, in line drawings, many of which peppered her then anonymous reviews for the Glasgow Herald.

With George, a keen vintage car driver, Cordelia travelled extensively throughout Europe. In 1971 their destination was Bucharest, so she could write the catalogue for Demarco's Romanian art exhibition and encourage the artist Paul Neagu to emigrate to Scotland. Before long, Cordelia was presenting Neagu's television performance piece Going Tornado, in Aberdeen. Her ecstatic preview of the theatre-maker Tadeusz Kantor's The Water Hen, staged by Demarco in an abandoned poorhouse, helped launch it as the hit of the 1973 Edinburgh festival.

When Demarco invited Joseph Beuys and other Düsseldorf artists to stage their Strategy Get Arts exhibition, with its catchy palindromic title, at the Edinburgh College of Art, all hell was let loose among the Scottish arts establishment and there were tirades in the press. Now, 40 years later, George's photographs and Cordelia's perceptive reporting capture the excitement of this landmark event. Collaborating with Beuys on his later Edinburgh installations, George Wyllie was inspired to create his massive Straw Locomotive for the 1988 Glasgow Garden festival. When the flames of its Viking funeral died down, the silhouette of a giant question mark hovered in its burnt-out carcass. "Why," asked Cordelia, "has the National Gallery of Scotland never collected Wyllie's work?"

From 1970 onwards, Cordelia championed the creative troika of Giles Havergal, Philip Prowse and Robert David MacDonald who together, at a rejuvenated Citizens theatre, forged a drama unique in Britain, opening the whole spectrum of European theatre to Glasgow audiences. Cordelia wrote Magic in the Gorbals: A Personal Record of the Citizens Theatre (1999), and many books and catalogues on artists; her most revealing was on her student contemporary, the expressionist painter Joan Eardley.

George died in 1990. Towards the end of her life, Cordelia was taken off many arts organisations' press lists, probably on account of her age. Fortunately, Bill Williams's Artwork, Scotland's most independent arts newspaper, gave her the freedom to express her astute views right up to the week she died.

When the National Theatre of Scotland launched Gregory Burke's Black Watch in a variety of ad-hoc spaces, it endorsed everything Cordelia had campaigned for. "A Scottish national theatre is an activity," she wrote. "It has to start with a company, not a building." Who could have said that better?

Richard Demarco writes: Cordelia and her husband, George, were both artists and patrons who shared my belief, in the 60s, that Scotland's world of the contemporary arts should take advantage of the international stage provided by the Edinburgh festival.

They enjoyed the company of artists at their home in Pollokshields, Glasgow, where the conversation would inevitably be inspired by their international collection, which juxtaposed Scottish art with Romanian.

Cordelia supported the most demanding aspects of avant-gardism, notably expressed by the Polish artist and director Tadeusz Kantor and his Cricot 2 theatre productions, which explored the interface between theatre and the visual arts.

I recently organised an exhibition of work by Cordelia, her friend and fellow student Margot Sandeman and Archie Sutter Watt, whose Galloway landscapes they admired. We all celebrated the fact that Cordelia sold a still life of flowers, painted not long after she had graduated from Glasgow School of Art. The sale raised her long-cherished hopes of spending her final days as a painter.

Cordelia Oliver, artist and critic, born 24 April 1923; died 1 December 2009 © Guardian News & Media Limited 2010 | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds

January 16 2010

Sir Fred Goodwin given job by Scottish parliament architects RMJM

Former RBS chief gets first role since bank taken into government control at height of credit crunch

Sir Fred Goodwin, former chief executive of Royal Bank of Scotland, has swapped banking for architecture to secure his first role since being ousted from the bank during the October 2008 taxpayer bailout.

He has been hired in an advisory capacity by RMJM, the Edinburgh-based firm involved in designing the Scottish parliament which was completed 10 times over budget and three years late.

It is understood that Goodwin, 51, has been working behind the scenes for RMJM for a number of weeks and that his involvement was only revealed when it was announced internally yesterday.

His appointment was immediately met with surprise. Lord Oakeshott, Liberal Democrat Treasury spokesman, said: "It is a strange business decision. I can't believe it will open doors for any contracts paid for by the British ratepayer or taxpayer."

Under the stewardship of Goodwin RBS became the fifth largest bank in the world, only to collapse into the hands of the taxpayer after the disastrous acquisition of the Dutch bank ABN at the end of 2007 just as the credit crunch started to grip the financial markets.

He was hounded out of his native Scotland to a hideaway in the south of France after the furore over his £16.9m pension pot which was later halved under pressure from the government and the new manage­ment of the bank. Goodwin returned to Scotland six months ago after agreeing to reduce his payout.

The taxpayer is still on the hook for as much as £54bn after bailing out RBS, which was crippled by bad investments in its investment banking arm. The ­government owns 84% of the shares which are currently worth less than it paid for them.

The architects, whose initials stand for Robert Matthew Johnson ­Marshall, said Goodwin had been hired for his international experience.

"We have appointed Sir Fred as an adviser to the business. Working closely with our executive team, Fred will be advising on our ongoing international strategy. He has a huge amount of international business experience. This is a rare [skill] set and one which is valuable and relevant to RMJM," the firm said.

Goodwin is not the first of the bankers involved in the crisis to take steps to rehabilitate themselves. Andy Hornby – his counterpart at HBOS, which had to be rescued by Lloyds – is now chief executive of the pharmacy chain Alliance Boots, which is owned by a private equity firm.

Goodwin's former colleague Johnny Cameron, who ran the RBS investment bank, has not been as fortunate. His attempts to return to the City at the investment bank Greenhill were derailed by the Financial Services Authority while his role at headhunters Odgers Berndtson only lasted a week. He resigned after UK Financial Investments, the body responsible for looking after the taxpayer stake in RBS, pulled a contract from the headhunters.

A spokesman for Goodwin said the former banker did not want to make any comment on his role at RMJM, which is currently involved in building the Commonwealth games athletes' village in Glasgow. © Guardian News & Media Limited 2010 | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds

December 18 2009

Glass act

Gallery fails to see funny side after student puts metal pole through window as part of an art project

Does breaking a window count as art? Yes, murmured the 50 or so artniks who recently crowded into a former Edinburgh ambulance garage to view a film of sculptor Kevin Harman doing just that. No, insisted Kate Gray, director of the Collective Gallery in Cockburn Street, whose window it was.

The courts are on Gray's side. Yesterday Harman, a prize-winning graduate of Edinburgh College of Art, was fined £200 for breaching the peace on 23 November, when he smashed a metal scaffolding pole through one of the gallery's windows. Fiscal depute Malcolm Stewart described the affair as "a rather bizarre incident" which had left Collective staff "upset."

As Harman, age 27, had already paid £350 to have the window instantly replaced, his artistic intervention has proved pricey. The Collective's decision to prosecute was promptly condemned by Harman's supporters.

"They should have shaken his hand and bought him a drink," declared Royal Academician Michael Sandle. Edinburgh art guru Richard Demarco, whose foundation recently awarded Harman a £2,000 scholarship, described the gallery's action as "intensely regrettable", and the artist as "a serious, hard-working and gifted person."

Gray was unavailable for comment, as was the Edinburgh College of Art, where Harman is in the second year of a master's course. It is understood that several of his tutors had been supportive of the project, which was initially labelled Brick. The scaffolding pole was substituted as a safer option.

The student, who has a piece in the current show of the Royal Scottish Academy, explained that he was less distressed by the fine than by the Collective's dismissal of his work as "vandalism", as the charge sheet put it. "There have got to be serious questions asked of their position as arbiters of art," he told the Guardian.

It was explained during the 15-minute hearing that Harman had forewarned the Collective of his intentions, twice by letter and once in person, but had declined to reveal when he would strike. "He thought the gallery were in something of a quandary about what to do," defence lawyer Mathew Patrick told Sheriff Roderick MacLeod. "He certainly wouldn't have gone ahead if he had known the police would be called."

The idea of reconfiguring existing structures has long interested artists. In 1978, German sculptor Bogomir Ecker sawed 8cm off the Eiffel Tower. During the same decade, the American artist Gordon Matta-Clark carved up (usually) condemned houses in New York and Paris. More recently, Richard Wilson has successfully distorted building facades. Art galleries have been contaminated with mud (Antony Gormley) and suitcases of putrefying cheese (Dieter Roth) – admittedly after permission was sought.

"There has obviously been a profound level of misunderstanding of the raison d'être of Kevin's work," Demarco said. "The word destruction does not apply to him. His whole ethos is about making things which are negative into things that are positive."

The wider world will soon be able to judge for themselves. The film of Harman's action has been made available, while an installation featuring the shattered window and court documents, will be unveiled in spring.

Before all that, Harman has more pressing matters to attend to: the case has left him running late with one of his essays. © Guardian News & Media Limited 2009 | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds

December 19 2008

TERRA 459: The Flying Dustbin PART FOUR

The Flying Dustbin is the success story of the Fulmar, a seabird which numbers 500,000 pairs in the UK but was virtually unknown as a breeding species at the turn of the last century. The film documents the reasons for its success, but is also a warning. The Fulmar faces some very serious modern problems, 9 out of 10 Fulmars in the North Sea have plastic in their stomachs whilst global warming is diminishing its natural prey stocks, leading to breeding failures. The film was shot at various locations around Scotland including Aberdeenshire, the Orkney Islands, St Kilda as well as in the Netherlands.

December 09 2008

TERRA 458: The Flying Dustbin PART THREE

The Flying Dustbin is the success story of the Fulmar, a seabird which numbers 500,000 pairs in the UK but was virtually unknown as a breeding species at the turn of the last century. The film documents the reasons for its success, but is also a warning. The Fulmar faces some very serious modern problems, 9 out of 10 Fulmars in the North Sea have plastic in their stomachs whilst global warming is diminishing its natural prey stocks, leading to breeding failures. The film was shot at various locations around Scotland including Aberdeenshire, the Orkney Islands, St Kilda as well as in the Netherlands.

December 05 2008

TERRA 457: The Flying Dustbin PART TWO

The Flying Dustbin is the success story of the Fulmar, a seabird which numbers 500,000 pairs in the UK but was virtually unknown as a breeding species at the turn of the last century. The film documents the reasons for its success, but is also a warning. The Fulmar faces some very serious modern problems, 9 out of 10 Fulmars in the North Sea have plastic in their stomachs whilst global warming is diminishing its natural prey stocks, leading to breeding failures. The film was shot at various locations around Scotland including Aberdeenshire, the Orkney Islands, St Kilda as well as in the Netherlands.

November 29 2008

TERRA 456: The Flying Dustbin PART ONE

The Flying Dustbin is the success story of the Fulmar, a seabird which numbers 500,000 pairs in the UK but was virtually unknown as a breeding species at the turn of the last century. The film documents the reasons for its success, but is also a warning. The Fulmar faces some very serious modern problems, 9 out of 10 Fulmars in the North Sea have plastic in their stomachs whilst global warming is diminishing its natural prey stocks, leading to breeding failures. The film was shot at various locations around Scotland including Aberdeenshire, the Orkney Islands, St Kilda as well as in the Netherlands.

November 26 2008

TERRA 456: The Flying Dustbin PREVIEW

The Flying Dustbin is the success story of the Fulmar, a seabird which numbers 500,000 pairs in the UK but was virtually unknown as a breeding species at the turn of the last century. The film documents the reasons for its success, but is also a warning. The Fulmar faces some very serious modern problems, 9 out of 10 Fulmars in the North Sea have plastic in their stomachs whilst global warming is diminishing its natural prey stocks, leading to breeding failures. The film was shot at various locations around Scotland including Aberdeenshire, the Orkney Islands, St Kilda as well as in the Netherlands.
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