Ruskin in Sheffield producer Ruth Nutter contributed to the 'Ruskin, Turner and the Storm Cloud' symposium held in York on Monday 20 May. These are her reflections.
Reflections on yesterday’s symposium at York Art Gallery and York Medical Society.
Suzanne Fagence-Cooper, Sandra Kemp and I gave presentations on Curating Ruskin in the 21st Century. Suzanne speaks very clearly and inspiringly to a modern audience and highlighted the Guild as working with Ruskin’s ideas today. Sandra focussed on The Ruskin’s aim to constantly probe and interpret the Lancaster collection differently, through the eyes of others, reminding us of Ruskin’s focus on the ‘little patches and scratches of the sections and fractions of things’. I presented on how I use my socially engaged practice in the RinS approach to working with Ruskin’s ideas today.
Emma Stibbon, the visual artist who created the recent image of Mer de Glace to contrast with Ruskin’s daguerreotype of the same view for the York exhibition, was in conversation with archaeologist Jan Zalasiewicz, who introduced the concept of the modern day challenge to reduce the pull of the 'technosphere’ over our precious biosphere. The technosphere is all our man-made interconnected technology which Jan visualised as the equivalent of a metre thickness of carbon wrapped around the world. Emma spoke movingly about her desire to draw and paint things fast-changing and disappearing nature.
On Ruskin and Environment Mark Frost revealed a swathe of Victorian apocalyptic literature on smog and pollution (mainly London-focussed) and drew out this observation by Ruskin (in Fors Clavigera 27.93) on climate and our power to help nature:
“Your power of purifying the air, by dealing properly and swiftly with all substances in corruption; by absolutely forbidding noxious manufactures; and by planting in all soils the trees which cleanse and invigorate earth and atmosphere, - is literally infinite. You might have the rivers of England as pure as the crystal of the rock; beautiful in falls, in lakes, in living pools; so full of fish that you might take them out with your hands instead of nets. Or may do always as you have done now, turn every river of England into a common sewer, so that you cannot so much as baptize an English baby but with filth, unless you hold its head out in the rain; and even that falls dirty."
Howard Hull, Brantwood Director, gave the closing address, Shelter from the Storm: John Ruskin and the search for Peace, which was a moving reflection on the battle between trauma and peace which Ruskin felt in the world and felt inside himself. Howard shared the significance of Brantwood, Chamonix - and specific ‘happy’ rocks - to Ruskin as places he felt at peace - and the importance of these moments of peace for everyone to stop, feel in harmony, and move on. I loved the sense evoked of the Lake District as a place in perfect balance - the point of balance between life and death. Often soggy and rotting, but never too much, always enough to be fertile and life-giving - a living laboratory of people and environment in balance.
It was good to see a number of Guild Companions and students of Ruskin in the audience.