During the ongoing Covid-19 lockdown I have been extremely lucky to have not been too adversely affected by the restrictions, so I’ve been able to continue working. While I have no commissions, exhibitions or installations on the horizon at present, I’ve continued to work on various self-generated projects, including several new series of works, many of which continue to explore the themes and ideas from the work I made towards the Nine Inch Nails album Hesitation Marks (2013), and which went on to inform much of the work in my Happenstance exhibition at Brantwood (Coniston, Cumbria) last year.
Second Thoughts: Lockdown miniatures
One of the series I’ve produced is a set of 38 miniature mixed media works, Second Thoughts, which are available to purchase. They are all different sizes, in matt black frames measuring 22.5 cm high x 17.5 cm wide; each is signed and numbered on the reverse, and are available to buy at £150.00 (UK Sterling) plus post and packing. Please click here to go through to the gallery
About Second Thoughts
This series were made using and capitalising on excess paints and other materials unconsciously created on surfaces after works have been removed; a sort of forensic examination of what’s left after a work has been removed from the site of its making; like the scene of a crime from which the primary focus of investigation, be it a body or missing possessions, have been removed, leaving only the traces of what might have happened.
The works made for the Happenstance exhibition were concerned with ideas of contingency and chance, and many consisted of tiny abstract squares or rectangles of paper, card or canvas treated with oils, acrylics, earth, plaster, ferric oxide, blood, etching varnishes and various unscientific chemical processes. Alluding to our obsession with the imposition of order on the inherently chaotic natural world in order to better understand it, or so as to be able to better protect it, or conversely to exploitatively abuse it, these were used randomly to create large grids.
These squares and rectangles were first tacked onto large cardboard sheets in grids and subjected to various gestural treatments using art and non-art materials and chemical solutions. Working in layers, with each subject to unpredictable chemical reactions and variable atmospheric conditions, these usually took weeks to complete. When I considered each to be finished I removed the individual pieces – the primary works – from the cardboard grounds, and subjected them to another randomising process by cutting them into hundreds of smaller, mosaic-like pieces to be incorporated in larger works. In the process I became fascinated by what remained on the cardboard sheets, the unconsciously made blurred brushstrokes and the chance residual overspills between and at the margins, and the seepages and pooling that had been unknowingly created beneath where the primary works had been. Blind painting.
“I cannot forbear to mention among these precepts a new device for study which, although it may seem but trivial and almost ludicrous, is nevertheless extremely useful in arousing the mind to various inventions. And this is, when you look at a wall spotted with stains, or with a mixture of stones, if you have to devise some scene, you may discover a resemblance to various landscapes, beautified with mountains, rivers, rocks, trees, plains, wide valleys and hills in varied arrangement; or again you may see battles and figures in action; or strange faces and costumes, and an endless variety of objects, which you could reduce to complete and well drawn forms. And these appear on such walls confusedly, like the sound of bells in whose jangle you may find any name or word you choose to imagine.
Do not despise my opinion, when I remind you that it should not hard for you to stop sometimes and look into the stains of
walls, or the ashes of a fire, or clouds, or mud or like places, in which, if you consider them well, you may find really marvellous ideas. The mind of the painter is stimulated to new discoveries, the composition of battles of animals and men, various compositions of landscapes and monstrous things, such as devils and similar things, which may bring you honour, because by indistinct things the mind is stimulated to new inventions.”
Ruskin in Modern Painters (1857), states that:
“The greatest thing a human soul ever does in this world is to see something (…) To see clearly is poetry, prophecy and religion, all in one.”
And in his Stones of Venice (1851-53) he encapsulates precisely what I’m most concerned with in my work:
“But what we want art to do for us is to stay what is fleeting, and to enlighten what is incomprehensible, to incorporate the things that have no measure, and immortalise the things that have no duration.”
Other news . . .
Whenever it’s been possible during Covid-19 restrictions, I’ve been getting together with my collaborator, Mike Fearon, to work on two ongoing recording projects. We’ve made good progress mixing tracks for the fourth release in the projected six book Still Moves project. Still Moves: four documents the multimedia installation Blue Tears, which was staged in a vast cylindrical building called the Silo, in Porto, Portugal in 2006, and will include two CDs of mixes from the multi-channel installation sound work.
We’ve also been revisiting material amassed for a third Undark album. The Undark albums are collage-driven projects that use unprescribed sound samples generously given by the likes of Rune Arnesen, Evind Arset, Ildefonso and Samuel Aguilar, John Aitken, Jan Bang, Richard Barbieri, Eraldo Bernocchi, Michael Brook, Harold Budd, Mark Clifford, Declan Colgan, Huw Costing, Hywel Davies, Susan Deyhim, Edge, Sidsel Endresen, Brian and Roger Eno, Peter Gabriel, Gigi, Robin Guthrie, Eric Honore, Bill Laswell, Graham Lewis, Nils Peter Molvaer, Thurston Moore, Ryuichi Sakamoto, Paul Schutze, Kevin Shields, Clodagh Simmonds, Hector Zazou, David Sylvian, Hector Zazou, and others. Along with sounds created by myself and Mike, these samples are used like a painter uses a palette of paints to mix new colours, or as I work with collage, constantly moving disparate elements around in different combinations or layerings to create new works.
Unfortunately, due to our respective personal circumstances, the third Undark came to a halt some years back and was put on hold. During recent years we’ve continually revisited the rough mixes that we’d accumulated only to be overwhelmed by the amount of material amassed. We kept coming up against what Buddhists call “the mire of options.” We had too much stuff. We kept stumbling along fiddling with tracks, but not seeming to progress beyond what had been previously achieved. We were being too precious, and I think because we’d listened to the material so much we’d become jaded, unable to hear it afresh. Recently we decided that it might be far more interesting to stop being so reverential to our original arrangements, and to go back to working more in the the way the first two Undark albums were made. So now we’re in the process of working in short bursts, radically deconstructing tracks, allowing instinct, intuition, gut feeling, to determine what to keep and what to disregard: the aim is to surprise ourselves. It’s early days, but so far the results are very promising.
As we don’t presently have a record deal or a publishing agreement I have no idea how or when this album might get out into the world, but we’ll endeavour to keep you informed on its progress. And if there’s anyone out there with ideas for its physical release and publishing, please do get in touch.
Works for my father
I’ve also been continuing with a mixed media series about and in homage to my father who was a rear gunner in Bomber Command flying in Lancaster bombers during WWII. Having flown on over sixty operations and having been injured on a couple of them, thankfully he survived, which was rare as bomber crews had the highest mortality rate of any of the armed forces during the war. The works-in-progress reference his wartime experiences and my memories of him and my childhood growing up in Holland, Germany and England as an RAF “brat” during the uncertain years of the Cold War.
Nine Inch Nails: original works
For those of you who might be interesting, there there are several original works made towards various NIN projects, but that were not used in the final releases, that are still available to purchase. These include works made for The Downward Spiral, Closure, Further Down the Spiral and Hesitation Marks. Please get in touch if you’re interested.
I’ve recently completed an extensive Q&A for David Nibloe’s excellent blog on – davidsylvian.net – regarding my collaboration with David Sylvian on the Ember Glance installation, which was staged in Tokyo in 1990), and the limited edition book and CD that followed. David is currently editing the article and as soon as we know when it’s going to be online we’ll let you know.
Kurt Schwitters Miscellany: possible book project
For the last couple of years I’ve been compiling material for a possible publication revolving around Kurt Schwitters – one of the most important artists of the 20th century and probably my favourite artist of all time – and the notion of collage in its multifarious manifestations, which is, I believe, the most important cultural idea of modern times. It also happens to be the most fundamental guiding principle in my life and work. Part historical, part memoir, part literary, part art-related, part scientific, it will include meetings between facets of interrelated and sometimes unconnected fragments, of ideas and works, many of which continue to shape our diffuse media landscape.
It will include material regarding all aspects of collage including contingency, fragmentation, chance (prepared and otherwise), appropriation, juxtaposition, quotation, accident and stream of consciousness, with asides into literature, cybernetics, music, psychology, architecture, performance, comedy, theatre, polemics, radio, poetry, history, philosophy, film and invention.
Drawing on myriad sources it will explore a cat’s cradle of interconnecting threads linking the likes of TS Eliot, Leonardo da Vinci, Marcel Duchamp, Gregory Bateson, Spike Milligan, John Berger, Walter Benjamin and BS Johnson to Kurt Schwitters, John Cage, Eduardo Paolozzi, Stafford Beer, Edward de Bono and William Burroughs by way of the Watts Towers in Los Angeles, Stephen Jay Gould, Antonin Artaud, Louis (Satchmo) Armstrong, Peter Cook and Dudley Moore. The Goons, W.G. Sebald, Lucretius, William J.J. Gordon, Billy Childish, Saul Bellow and Andrei Tarkovsky will collide and collude with Jean Baudrillard, Anne Carson, Donald Kuspit, Jack Jackson, Ed Kienholz and Brian Eno. Also weaving through it will be Alan Robbe-Grillet, Peter Blake, Brian Catling, John Ruskin, Samuel Beckett, C.H. Waddington, the Dadaists, Nabokov and Rabelais. Morse Peckham, James Joyce, Lee Perry, Borges, and Mad magazine will share space with Anselm Kiefer, Italo Calvino, Joseph Beuys, Flann O’Brien, H.G. Barnett, Rauschenberg, the TV series Black Mirror and Dirty Dicks pub in Bishopsgate, London. And Monty Python’s Flying Circus, Stewart Brand, Filippo Tommaso Marinetti, Virginia Woolf, Jean Cocteau, Nietzsche, and Joris-Karl Huysmans will rub shoulders with Ben Marcus, Christian Boltanski, Emily Dickinson, Marshall McLuhan, Picasso, Lawrence Sterne and the Bizarro Superheroes comics of my childhood.
I’ve been working on this in a deliberately haphazard manner for about two years, slowly accruing material, but I’d say it’s still in its early days. Its design would attempt to create an ordered chaos thereby reflecting its subject. I’ve been mulling over hundreds of possible titles and at present the strongest contender is Smithereens, which derives from the Irish smirdirin “small fragments” (1810). However given the very nature of the project, and like its content, this may of course change. As with the Undark album, I have no idea as to how I’m going to realise this and sneak it into the world. I have no agent pimping it or me up, nor is there a publisher screaming for the manuscript to be delivered, and while the idea of seeking crowdfunding might be a route worth investigating, at present I’m content with the idea that it might have to be a self-published and unashamed vanity project.
Happenstance exhibition catalogues
There are still some copies of the catalogue for my last exhibition Happenstance available to purchase. Click here for details
Mills has responded to questions in two interviews recently; the first, for a blog, is titled ‘How Safe Is Deep? Stealthily as perfume…’ and concerns his approach to art and music-making and explores the recording of the first Undark album (Strange Familiar), and the track ‘How Safe Is Deep?’, which features David Sylvian’s vocals.
The second, for a YouTube piece, concerns the use of imagery in the creation of the art and design for Buckethead’s ‘Electric Tears’ release (2002).
This can be found at: https://youtu.be/VmY4sY29WMY
A Q&A interview recorded live in Ambleside (UK), August 2018, for davidsylvian.net – Mills talks about the releases of the Still Moves series (published by Slow Fuse Sound), the Ember Glance installation, the ongoing Undark project and his current work and ambitions. You can find it at: https://www.davidsylvian.net/articles-and-interviews/davidsylvian-net-exclusives/russell-mills-contingency-ordering-chaos/
Mills outlines his view of how the Cylinders Estate in Elterwater, formerly owned by garden designer Harry Pierce and home to the Kurt Schwitters MERZ Barn, might be developed in a low key way to inform a broader undertstanding of the geography, geology and history of Langdale.
2nd September – 11th November 2019 Brantwood, Coniston, Cumbria, LA21 8AD Mills is working on a new body of works for an exhibition and sound installation in late 2019, to be staged at Brantwood, the former home and museum of John Ruskin (1819 – 1900), which overlooks Coniston Water in the English Lake District. Ruskin was the leading English art critic of the Victorian era; an art patron, draughtsman, painter, watercolourist, and a prominent egalitarian social thinker and philanthropist. Ruskin believed that beauty and wonder could be the solution to the miseries of the urban poor and the key to living a worthwhile life. Mills has often cited him as a major influence on his ideas and his work. Informed and inspired by ideas of contingency, chaos and order, control and surrender, Mills will exhibit new mixed media works and an aleatoric soundwork made specifically for Brantwood. Contextually anchored and process-driven, Mills’ work uses metaphorically charged materials and alchemic-like processes of slow and unknowable transformation. Shaped by evaporation, sedimentation, crystallisation and chemical reactions, they celebrate the weave of order and chaos, as diverse matter is either broken down into entropic confusion or necessarily arranges itself into a cohesive order. Following Ruskin’s recommendations for close observation of the natural world, ‘imagination by combination’ and ‘accidental association’, Mills creates works that, being analogous to the ceaseless flux of nature’s generative processes, mirror and explore many of Ruskin’s most significant ideas about the natural world: as matter, as force, as school, as metaphor for transformation, and as being profoundly political and economic.
The third in a series of six limited-edition, full-colour hardback books, charting the evolution of the multimedia installations they have created since 1994. Each book contains interpretative texts, photographs of the installations and two CDs of re-mixed and re-imagined soundworks made for each work. Process-driven and contextually anchored, the Still Moves soundworks have been devised and produced for multi-channel, aleatoric, immersive listening within specific architectural environments. Static telescopes time and meaning, serving as both an elegy and a celebration of the history, culture and eradication of Tyneside’s proud ties to the sea. While its primary maritime occupations have been decimated by a shameful political ideology, within the physical and cultural contours of daily life, indelible stories held in the world beneath our feet are suggested in three tracks that explore what has been lost, taken, forgotten or ignored. Static also includes a powerfully emotive recording of award-winning poet Robin Robertson reading his specially written chronotopic poem, Sea Fret. Static was written, recorded and produced by Russell Mills and Mike Fearon at Shed Studio, Ambleside, Cumbria, England. Hold is a soundwork by Eraldo Bernocchi, Mills and Fearon, with contributions from Harold Budd, Bill Laswell, Gigi and Lorenzo Esposito Fornasari. Created for a multimedia installation by Mills and Petulia Mattioli in the Palazzo delle Papesse Centro Arte Contemporanea, Siena, Hold integrates recordings made within the building’s former bank vaults, augmented by electro-acoustic sounds and haunting, wordless vocals. Hold explored ideas about possession and revelation, and about seeking alternative readings of what is presented as “truth”. The original mixes of the five tracks were produced by Bernocchi at Verba Corrige Production, Castagneto Carducci, Italy, with additional production by Mills and Fearon at Shed Studio.
Art and design by Russell Mills. Photography by Russell Mills and Bruna Rotunno (Hold). Design assistance by Michael Webster. Mastered by Mike Fearon at Shed Studio. Published by Touch Music (MCPS).
Mills, with Webster, is also preparing a new series of limited edition prints of selected mixed media works that were made to commission for Nine Inch Nails, but were not used in the final releases. The works, previously unseen, were made towards possible uses on the CD and vinyl releases of The Downward Spiral, Further Down the Spiral, March of the Pigs, Closure videos, and Hesitation Marks.
Mills and Fearon are in the final stages of mastering the tracks for Still Moves book three, which features the installation soundworks made for Static for North Tyneside, and Hold, a collaboration with Petulia Mattioni, for the Palazzo delle Papesse, Centre for Contemporary Art, Siena, Italy. Others who worked and or contributed to the Hold soundwork were Eraldo Bernocchi, Harold Budd, Bill Laswell and Gigi. Release date to be announced.
Since 2013 Mills, with his co-designer Michael Webster, has been producing posters and all print and web design for a series of periodic talks and presentations called Russian Days at Stonehill, all held at Stonehill House near Abingdon, Oxfordshire. The talks and presentations are predominantly, but not exclusively, about Russian history, culture and politics. See below for the gallery of posters produced so far.
With his co-designer Michael Webster, Mills recently completed a commission for Bang On A Can All Stars’ new double CD ‘More Field Recordings’, which uses details from recent mixed media works. The album is released on the Cantaloupe label New York. For more information and to order, see the links: Bang on a Can (link one) Bang on a Can (link two)
It seems that my letter to the Guardian (see below) and numerous other print and online publications and journals, has reached Littoral Arts Trust and has touched a nerve. Two curious responses have appeared; one, posted on 5th July by Celia Larner on Littoral’s Facebook and WordPress sites, the second, from Ian Hunter sent to online arts site Artdependence. Ms Larner’s reads:
“It has come to our notice that some nonsensical claims are being published and disseminated against the Merz Barn project and the Littoral Trust by a certain individual and his cronies. The defamation has been going on since 1998, and we have more or less become used to it, but it is not fair to our many supporters to leave it hanging. Mostly the lengthy screeds which some of you will have received consist of academic quibbles and half truths. The crazy financial claims however are more damaging, and we are therefore taking the step of publishing the true figures of public funding received by the Littoral trust for the Merz Barn project over the past 10 years.” https://www.facebook.com/MerzBarnLangdale/ https://merzbarnlangdale.wordpress.com/2017/07/05/public-funding-for-the-merz-barn-project/
“Nonsensical claims” … “ academic quibbles and half truths”… a bit rich coming from Littoral, a so-called arts organisation whose crass modus operandi consists of persistently warping art historical facts in order to attract publicity, induce sympathy, and glean money. When the money runs out, as it always does, and it’s revealed that Cylinders and the so-called Merz barn are still in a “bad state of disrepair”, self-interested Littoral, knowing that everyone loves an underdog, spews out yet more fallacious press releases, shaming the arts world and tugging at heart strings, thereby garnering yet more misinformed media coverage, which triggers yet more credulous donors to open their wallets. While this pattern has repeated itself year on year, the barn decays, the site becomes more ravaged, and Schwitters’ legacy continues to be inexorably debased and erased – all for the sake of Hunter and Larner’s desperately sought ersatz vision. Littoral declares its primary objective as being “to first preserve the Merz barn…”, and yet 11 years have passed and hundreds of thousands of pounds have flowed through Littoral’s fingers with scant evidence of it having been spent on the barn. The Barn is merely used as a pimped-up pretext to a programme of events that predominantly dabble with rurality, and that have little or nothing to do with Schwitters. Cylinders is now no more than a site of specious histories and dubious and mythologised pilgrimage. Despite its vainglorious and inappropriate aspirations for a museum-cum-theme park at Cylinders, all Littoral to work with is a site, its authenticity stripped and devoid of meaning. What Ms Larner calls my “nonsensical claims” and “ academic quibbles and half truths” are inconvenient truths proffered to counter Littoral’s opportunistic misappropriations, distortions and outright lies. Littoral have made no attempt to challenge any of my assertions, because they cannot. If my allegations are false then the trust have grounds to take me to court. The fact that they are not threatening any action, suggests that they daren’t. Littoral’s “many supporters” are no more than a tiny band of perhaps well-intentioned, but ill-informed disciples, who, seemingly indifferent to facts, lazily soak up Hunter and Larner’s increasingly hyperbolic fabrications without question. Willing acolytes, they are bamboozled by Hunter and Larner’s increasingly ridiculous fables. As for Ms Larner’s accounting figures. Being highly selective – and with numerous omissions – they do not reveal the true extent of Littoral’s funding since it acquired the Cylinders estate in 2006. The bottom line is that Littoral have received substantial funds, from both the public purse and through donations, and yet the so-called Merz barn is still little more than a near-derelict, damp, empty lean to shed: probably the most expensive publicly funded empty, lean-to shed in the UK. Notwithstanding the structural changes made when Schwitters’ relief was removed in 1965, the addition of the so-called ‘Merz Platz’ piazza and its ludicrous memorial sculpture have completely destroyed the historical integrity of the building and the site. And despite Littoral’s claims, the barn contains no evidence of Schwitters’ work or presence. Whatever artistic or cultural importance it may have held has been thoroughly lost through Littoral’s subsequent series of botched penny pinching DIY alterations. Littoral claim that the barn and the estate “remains much as it did when Schwitters left it in 1948”. However under Littoral’s governance it has resembled the edgelands of our suburban towns, evoking an asylum seekers transit camp, with its makeshift yurts and leaking tents and its scrapheap static caravans. It’s not unusual to find it strewn with litter, a rusted skeleton of a pram, corrugated sheets, warped panels of wood, spilling rubbish bags, a peeling rowing boat on pallets, discarded plastic garden chairs and old saucepans. Not only would Schwitters and Harry Pierce struggle to recognise the place, they would be saddened and angered by Littoral’s wilful despoliation of the site. See below: Celia Larner’s recently posted, highly selective breakdown of Littoral’s income from the end of 2006 to the end of 2016. Numerous omissions make this document virtually meaningless. See attached for another version of Littoral’s accounts, this from 2005/06 to the present, sourced from the websites of Arts Council England, The Charity Commission and Open Charities. While there are accumulated Declared Expenditure figures for each year, as many of the individual entries fail to identify precisely what activity or project they have been awarded for, or exactly how the funding has been expended. I’ve tried to be as scrupulous as possible, but I’m not an accountant and there may be errors; if so I apologise. Compare both sets of accounts then do the maths. Littoral’s figures don’t add up, and there is a huge discrepancy between its funding claims and the actual funding received. LITTORALS ACTUAL ACCOUNTS-PLEASE CLICK HERE The second response from Ian Hunter reads:
Sir Nicholas Serota conveniently ignores the central findings of the independent report about the future of the Merz Barn project that his Arts Council also commissioned and paid for; “The U.K. has an international moral responsibility to safeguard the future survival of Schwitters’ last Merzbau, the Elterwater Merz Barn, which is an acclaimed pioneering and experimental site for modern art and architecture”. Mr Russell Mills has been making very similar silly and unfounded claims about the Merz Barn project for well over 10 years now. Just about everybody in the art community here in the North of England is getting rather bored with his immature antics. We understand that he has also recently been undergoing some health issues, and we would like too take this opportunity of wishing him well and for a full and very speedy recovery. – Ian Hunter Merz Barn Project Director
Below is my response as submitted to Artdependence, slightly edited: Many thanks for getting in touch and for sending me Ian Hunter’s curious and revealing response to my letter. The “central findings” quote that Hunter refers to as being ignored by Sir Nicholas Serota, “The UK has an international moral….”are not Serota’s, but are Hunter’s. The dubious “moral responsibility” angle is one that Hunter has riffed on repeatedly in the media for years. These are Hunter’s words and he can be found spouting them on a video film that Littoral disseminated on its Merz Barn Langdale Facebook site soon after ACE recinded its regular funding to Littoral. Interestingly this film has recently been deleted from the site. Serota is cognisant and appreciative of the importance of Schwitters’ work in art historical terms, and particularly of the significance of his Merzbau installations. However this doesn’t automatically translate to mean that he, the Tate, ACE or anyone else, are in favour of Littoral Arts Trusts’ governance of the so-called Merz barn project at the Cylinders estate, or for the trust’s proposals for the barn and the site. Everyone who knows and cares about Schwitters appreciates that the site and the barn are important in the story of Schwitters, but, and in spite of Littoral’s claims to the contrary, not everyone supports what Littoral have been doing there. Why is it that Littoral are no longer able unable to garner funds from Arts Council England and other public funding bodies? Why is it that all the major galleries, museums, institutions and scholars that have a genuine interest in Schwitters – MOMA NY, the Tate, the Sprengel Museum and Kurt Schwitters Archive in Hanover, the Armitt Museum in Ambleside, the Hatton Gallery in Newcastle, Abbot Hall Art Gallery and Museum in Kendal, the ‘Schwitters in Norway’ project team, and the Kurt Schwitters Society – will have nothing to do with Littoral or its activities? Who does he mean when he states that, “Just about everybody in the art community here in the North of England is getting rather bored with” my “immature antics.”? Can he define immature, and antics in this context? Can he pinpoint the specific “ immature antics” he’s referring to? Can he name those in the “art community here in the North of England” he’s referring to so that I might at least have some basis of fact on which to challenge him. As far as I know, this assertion is as bogus as much of Littoral’s characterisation of anyone who has dared to questtion its behaviour. Also I doubt that Serota would be too pleased if he were to be informed that he too is being accused of making “silly and unfounded claims”, as Hunter so clumsily implies. The “independent report”, having been authored predominantly by Littoral’s supporters – and, bizarrely, Hunter – many of whom would’ve expected to benefit commercially if the plans had proceeded, was not independent, objective or impartial. The report’s findings and recommendations contained no independent observations or proposals, but rather were a catalogue of Hunter and Larner’s delusional wishes. You should also be made aware of the fact that the supposedly “independent” consultancy report’s first appointed consultant, Wallace Heim, resigned her post as her findings and recommendations did not suit Littoral’s pre-determined objectives and overblown, vainglorious aspirations for Cylinders i.e. she was forced out by Hunter and Larner. I suspect that ACE were being somewhat generous in their co-funding of the consultancy report. Like Serota and many others in the art world, they understand the significance of Schwitters’ work and its legacy, and therefore, for the right reasons, have tried to work with Littoral over the years, only to be frustrated that, despite the trust receiving substantial funding bailouts from ACE and many others, it has persistently failed to fulfil its primary objective, “to first preserve the Merz barn…” I suspect that ACE’s co-funding of the report was it’s way of giving Littoral one last chance. Evidently Littoral failed, again. As for Hunter’s comments and claims about me… Outrageous and libellous, they are the rash, unhinged ravings of a charlatan exposed. Hunter, in typical Trump fashion, desperately deflects truth by belligerently denouncing it as ‘fake news’ and then resorts to unfounded personal slurs. However, there is a tiny grain of truth in Hunter’s response. I have indeed been following Littoral’s activities for some time, since 1999 in fact, when I had my first unfortunate dealings with him. In that time I’ve been attempting to expose the truth behind Littoral’s extremely dubious operations, seeking to reveal the facts of it’s governance, which I consider to be dictatorial, feudal and undemocratic; its misappropriation and distortions of art historical facts, cynically concocted to attract publicity and more funding; the crass and shameless contextual inappropriateness of its purportedly Schwitters-related events, projects and endless symposiums; and crucially, its finances, which I believe, need to be thoroughly investigated, preferably by the Charity Commission. Hunter states that the claims I’ve made about “the Merz barn project” are “silly and unfounded”. “Silly”? Actually, the reverse is true. My allegations are all based on facts, and all can be traced to their sources. When writing about Littoral’s finances (monies received from both the public purse and from private donors) I have quoted figures and data taken directly from Littoral’s own accounts as posted on the websites of the charity Commission, ACE and Open Charities, and from Littoral’s own declarations on its Merzbarn WordPress and its Merz barn Langdale Facebook sites, as well as from Hunter’s pronouncements in the media, print, online and on film. While Littoral have been highly selective with its finances when mentioning them in the public realm, my contentions have consistently been based on verifiable data. When I have questioned Littoral’s hyperbolic claims for Schwitters i.e. that he was threatened with his life by the Nazis, or that in his last year he jumped on Ambleside pub tables to recite this phonetic poetry, I’ve researched fully and found them to be complete fictions, cynically concocted to pimp up, to mythologise, the Schwitters story in order to generate more publicity and to siphon more money out of funding bodies and well intentioned but ill-informed donors. Hunter’s allegation that I’ve “been undergoing some health issues” – the obvious implication being that I’m mentally unstable – is appallingly cynical and completely untrue. His response, and particularly this assertion, is ridiculously ill-considered. It’s the typically “immature” reaction of the bully who has been found out. It also happens to constitute defamation of character and as such is libellous. Given that everyone who knows me, including those in the “art community here in the North”, can confirm that my health, physically and mentally, is fine, he should be mindful of the possible consequences of his uncalibrated outpourings. I’d be very curious if he can qualify his claims and name his sources. If he’s unable to do so, then I’d expect a sincere apology, and an assurance that he (and Ms Larner) will immediately cease and desist from disseminating this blatant lie and any other unfounded allegations, otherwise I may be obliged to seek legal advice. All best wishes, Russ P.S. It’s also worth noting that Ian Hunter who proclaims himself as “Merz Barn Project Director”, is not actually listed as a director at Companies House, or with the Charity Commission…
On Saturday 15th July, Mills and his musical collaborator Mike Fearon will be working with filmmaker Charlie Leek, recording and filming the Gladly Solemn Sound choir perform a concert of West Gallery Music at St Martin’s Church (Martindale old church), Martindale, near Ullswater in the Lake District. The concert will include a rare performance of the moving funeral hymn My Life’s A Shade (1753), with music written by William Knapp (1698-1768): this is the piece of music that partly inspired ideas for the Now Then multimedia installation, which was staged at the ArtWorks, Shaw Lodge Mills, Halifax in 2015. The recordings will be integrated into the final mixes of the Now Then soundwork tracks for Still Moves | six. The time of the concert and admission costs will be posted as soon as all details are confirmed. The Gladly Solemn Sound choir was formed in Lancaster in 1992. It sings West Gallery Music: the all but forgotten rural church music of the 18th and early 19th centuries. At that time, most small churches were organ-less and their choirs were led by fiddles, clarinets, cellos, bassoons etc – music florid and lively, rhythmically energetic, delighting in earthy (sometimes unorthodox) harmonies and simple polyphony. Victorian reformers disliked the style preferring the more decorous ‘Hymns Ancient and Modern’, sung by children’s choirs, to organ or harmonium accompaniment. The choir’s repertoire consists mostly of English metrical psalm settings, anthems and carols, often taken directly from local manuscript sources. Martindale is at the south-east shore of Ullswater the parish of Martindale is a secluded, peaceful and atmospheric gem. Nestled in a remote valley it is accessed from Howtown via a steeply ascending single track road with hair pin bends known as Hallin Hause, which offers panoramic views of Ullswater. The ‘new’ church of St Peter, built in the 1880’s, stands at the top of Martindale Hause, a short walk away from Hallin Fell, with its magnificent views of the lake. Martindale is the home of the oldest herd of wild red deer in England. This herd is the only pure red deer blood-stock in the country, with no Sika cross-breeding. They are most likely to be seen in the area of the Nab in the Howegrain and Bannerdale valleys and towards High Street. The area is also home to semi-wild fell ponies. St Martin’s Church (Martindale’Old’ Church), dedicated to St Martin of Tours, lies another half mile up the valley. The first reference of a church being on the site is in 1220. The present building is a simple single chamber, constructed in 1634 of stone. Despite successive restorations to the present building – the last being in 1882 when the roof was replaced following violent storms – it is essentially as it was in the 17th century. A Roman font, reputed to have originated from a wayside shrine at High Street at the top of the fells, was originally a standing stone said to be at least 1700 years old. At one time it was used by local residents to sharpen tools, but was later hollowed out to be used as a font. Marks from the tool sharpening are still visible. The benches and the pulpit date from the 17th century, as does the table, inscribed with the date 1674, which serves as a simply laid altar, with a wooden crucifix and candlesticks. The flagstoned floor was laid in 1724 to cover a dirt floor, its bell is some 500 years old, and its windows are plain. The churchyard contains a Yew Tree estimated to be 1300 years old; documents in the church state the men of Martindale, who were famous as bowmen, used the tree and others in the district to replenish their arms. A very special place, the visitors’ book reflects the significance that the church has had in the lives of those who have worshipped or visited.
On Friday 9th June The Guardian published an article, Cumbrian shrine to modernist art may be sold off to developers by Hannah Ellis-Petersen, announcing Littoral Arts Trust’s apparent threat to sell off the Cylinders estate and with it the so-called Merz barn, the near derelict shed in which Kurt Schwitters created a fragment of his last, unfinished Merzbau sculptural relief. See the full article here: https://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2017/jun/08/kurt-schwitters-merz-barn-threat-property-developers-cumbria Since Littoral acquired the Cylinders estate in 2006, Mills has sought to expose what he believes is Littoral’s shameful exploitation of Schwitters for personal and financial gain through cynical misappropriation, misinformation, distortion and outright lies. Believing the article to be no more than a minimally re-jigged press release penned by Littoral’s so-called directors, Ian Hunter and Celia Larner, Mills has written to the Guardian and numerous other publications (print and online), analysing the article and revealing the disturbing details of Littoral’s dictatorial governance, the huge and disquieting disconnect between Littoral’s aims and objectives, the extremely generous funding it has siphoned from both private donors and the public purse, and the actual outcomes for which these sums were awarded or donated. See Mills’ letter below.
Regarding your article: Cumbrian shrine to modernist art may be sold off to developers by Hannah Ellis-Petersen (The Guardian, Friday 9th June 2017) Dear Sir or Madam, As an artist, long time admirer of the work of Kurt Schwitters, and as a resident of Ambleside, I feel compelled to respond to your article to inform you that it is woefully misinformed and consequently hugely misleading. It also neglects to mention its disturbing back story. This could be because that, as suggested by the articles’ numerous and familiar fallacious claims, it has the fingerprints of Littoral Arts Trust’s own directors Ian Hunter and Celia Larner all over it. You should be made aware of, not only the specious distortions in your article, but also some highly disturbing facts regarding Littoral’s governance, its finances, and its continual warping of art history, contrived to garner press attention, sympathy, and crucially, yet more funding for its activities at the Cylinders Estate. Littoral Arts Trust is a company registered as ‘Littoral/Projects Environment’ (Company number 2526443, Charity number 1002365), described as “… an arts research and development Trust, which promotes new creative strategies, artistic interventions and cultural partnerships in response to issues about social, cultural and environmental change’. Major aims of the Trust are to: “… promote the arts and rural regeneration’, to “… cultivate new metaphors for environmental sustainability’, to “… curate critical art interventions in new agricultural contexts’, to “… re-embed the crafts in the discourse of environmental sustainability’, and to “… recover the ideological, social and aesthetic purposes of the crafts”. Since it acquired the Cylinders estate in 2006, Littoral’s declared priority commitment has been to, “… first saving the Merz Barn”, before pursuing any further development of the site. Yet the Trust’s numerous press releases and public statements, and particularly its recent relentless stream of appeals for bailouts, lay bare the fact that it has failed miserably to honour its primary objective. On the strength of its re-writing of the Schwitters’ story, Littoral have gleaned considerable sums of money from numerous funding bodies. In so far as Littoral’s funding can be understood by examining records freely available on the websites of ACE, Open Charities and the Charity Commission, it seems that contrary to its repeated claims of having received only modest sums, Littoral has actually been the recipient of numerous significant sums from a multitude of sources. These have included donations of artworks for auction in 2006 (a Damien Hirst “spin” painting, which sold for £143,393, and others which realised £30,000), and grants from charitable organisations such as the now defunct Northern Rock Foundation (two awards totalling £168,000), and the Henry Moore Foundation (£40,000). In addition Littoral has been claiming £12,000 a year as ‘payment in kind’ for use of the Wierside Bunk Barn in Chapel Stile, Elterwater (despite accommodation fees being levied on participants at its Cylinders events). And just last year it gleaned £65,000 in donations in response to its bogus flood damage appeal. None of these can be perceived as small sums. Generous awards for its rural and its inexplicably conjoined Schwitters/rural events received from local county and town councils are dwarfed by those from ACE, the Heritage Lottery Fund, DEFRA and the Cumbria Fells and Dales Local Action Group. Indeed it is the funds that Littoral has siphoned from the public purse that surprise. The Trust’s income from public bodies between 2002 and 2015 totalled a remarkable £1,229,645, of which £859,272.96 was awarded since the acquisition of the Cylinders Estate in 2006. Between 2006-09 Littoral received £150,000 from ACE and annually since then it received further substantial ACE awards of £40,228 (2010), £45,497 (2011) and £43,014 (2012), and in 2013 a further £25,255 from DEFRA. Littoral’s claim to have received no funding for the past five years is incorrect.
While its true that its ACE Regular Funded Organisation (RFO) grant was revoked in 2012 (and the directors’ recent claims to be subsidising Cylinders Estate from their pensions and savings may be true), the Trust has, from 2012, continued to receive funding from the Arts Council: £48,000 (27.11.13) and £38,700 (02.05.14). Between 2006 and 2013, Littoral’s declared expenditure for the renovation of the Merz Barn and the Cylinders Estate, to the Charity Commission, was £261,359: a surprising amount, considering the noticeable decrepitude of much of the site, as verified in Ian Hunter’s statement two years later in the Westmorland Gazette (10.01.2015), that, “…the Merz Barn and the buildings on the site are now in an advanced state of disrepair”. Whether Littoral’s funds have come from public bodies or private organisations and individuals could be considered as irrelevant. The fact remains that there is a huge and disquieting disconnect between Littoral’s aims and objectives, the extremely generous funding – public and private – particularly the amounts received since 2006, and the actual outcomes for which these sums were awarded or donated. As Littoral’s hill of money has seemingly dissolved into thin air, the so-called Merz barn has remained near-derelict, its condition deteriorating year on year to the point of near collapse. Under Littoral’s self-serving governance, the barn has become an asset-stripped carcass, probably the most expensive, publicly funded, empty and dilapidated shed in the UK. The question must be asked; where has this hill of money gone if not on the repairs and restitution works for which it was awarded and gifted? For just one example of Littoral’s habitual and inappropriate use of public money, consider this … In 2012 Littoral received £30,459.96 from the LEADER/RDPE (Rural Development Programme For England) for “the repair of the barn and the creation of a surrounding piazza to include a platform for a memorial to all the artists persecuted by Hitler as ‘degenerate’, including Schwitters.” The bulk of this grant was expended on the “memorial piazza”, while very little was spent on the barn, which remained near derelict. The final cost of the piazza and its ‘sculpture’ was £39,257.00 – taxpayers’ money. Littoral’s justifications for this memorial are as ill informed, morally dubious and as crassly insensitive as is much of its characterisation of Schwitters’ legacy. The Entartete Kunst exhibitions started up in the spring of 1933, but Schwitters left Germany months before the famous Munich exhibition of 1937 was even planned. Many others like Hausmann had left far earlier, even before 1933: Max Ernst left Germany as early as 1922. In addition, about half a dozen artists whose work was exhibited in the 1937 exhibition were already dead. Only three artists – Max Beckmann, Ernst Wilhelm Nay and Johannes Molzahn – emigrated at the time of the 1937 Entartete Kunst exhibition. Of about 50 participants – selected and researched at random – who were represented in the 1937 exhibition, roughly half stayed on in Germany, some for a few years, some till the end of the war. Other artists like Hannah Höch were not included in the 1937 exhibition, perhaps because she was female and considered unimportant. During the Nazi regime Höch, Otto Dix and many other artists stayed on, simply keeping a low profile. Others whose art was branded as degenerate and who were included in the 1937 exhibition were actually Nazi sympathisers Emil Nolde joined the Nazi party in the early 1920s. Even worse, some actually worked for the Nazis after 1937, normally in the propaganda department. Heinrich Ehmsen, for instance, was given about 30 commissions personally by Göring and also worked for the Luftwaffe and Goebbels. This may explain why there is no monument to the defamed artists as a group in Germany – certainly Schwitters would not have regarded many as colleagues.
To the specifics of your article: Cumbrian shrine to modernist art may be sold off to developers by Hannah Ellis-Petersen HE-P A small stone barn nestled in the Cumbrian hills revered as a pioneering piece of modernist art is under threat from property developers, after arts institutions including Arts Council England refused to save it. Merz Barn is the unfinished work of artist Kurt Schwitters, who fled Nazi Germany after his work was deemed degenerate and made his home in Langdale in the Lake District. RM What is “revered as a pioneering piece of modernist art” is not the “small stone barn”, the so-called Merzbarn, but is the unfinished relief sculpture that Kurt Schwitters created on one wall inside the barn. The barn itself, a former hay barn built in the early 1940s, is no more than an empty, damp, near derelict lean-to shed, which contains no evidence of Schwitters’ work. As the article later states, the actual art, the Merzbau sculpture, was removed to Newcastle, in 1965. Schwitters did not flee Germany “after his work was deemed degenerate by the Nazis”, as your article claims. He left Germany months before the famous Munich ‘Entartete Kunst’ (Degenerate Art) exhibition of 1937 was even planned. His departure from Germany with his son Ernst was actually impelled by the latter’s youthful political activities and imminent military call-up to the Hitler Youth, which he resisted. The Nazi authorities never revoked Schwitters’ passport, nor was his property in Hannover confiscated or his bank account frozen, which would have been the case for an ‘enemy of the state’. Schwitters did not “make his home in Langdale”, he lived in Ambleside. Littoral’s directors and their credulous acolytes have a long history of shameless dissemination of misinformation, distortions, half-truths and barefaced lies about Schwitters, cynically concocted to gain publicity, induce sympathy and ultimately to siphon money from ill-informed potential donors. Amongst the numerous falsehoods advanced by Littoral includes claims that Schwitters was threatened with his life by the Nazis, that his escape to England had links to the politically and racially motivated Holocaust and the death camps, and that, having escaped from Norway following the Nazi invasion in 1940, on his arrival in the UK, he was arrested as a spy. All hyperbolic balderdash. Littoral have also claimed that Schwitters “spent a significant amount of his life in Elterwater” and that he actually lived at Cylinders, while paradoxically, he allegedly “walked the ten miles return journey between Ambleside and Elterwater every day”. In actuality he spent less than three years in Ambleside, where he lived, and less than three intermittent months at Elterwater, where he occasionally worked on the Merz sculptural relief. A recent addition to Littoral’s fanciful re-writing of history, has Schwitters, in 1947, entering Ambleside’s pubs, leaping on to tables and reciting his phonetic poems while the locals patronisingly tossed coppers for him. These (and many other) mendacious claims are contradicted by the fact that during his short time in Ambleside his health was declining rapidly, so he was physically incapable of undertaking most of these activities. Throughout 1947 he was bedridden for over eight months. When he could get out he could barely manage to walk twenty yards without resting, let alone manage to walk a ten mile round trip. In his short time in Ambleside he had suffered high blood pressure and asthma, he broke a leg, which became severely ulcerated, developed influenza followed by pneumonia, and soon after a brain haemorrhage and experienced temporary blindness. There followed a lung haemorrhage, bronchitis and another bout of pneumonia before he finally died of pulmonary odema and myocarditis in January 1948. The winter of 1947 was the coldest on records, with icebergs sighted off the East Anglian coast. As the severe conditions in the Lakes restricted the already meagre bus services between Ambleside and Elterwater, Littoral’s claims that he spent every day at Cylinders working feverishly are romantic nonsense. It’s likely that his visits were infrequent, and his frailness meant that most of the physical work on the Merzbau sculpture was done by others under his direction. For all that, what was achieved and what has survived is remarkable. However on his death the work itself was no more than a tenth of what Schwitters envisioned and it’s actual artistic merit in this unfinished state is highly debatable. And despite Littoral’s frequent assertions, there is no evidence that, “…. Schwitters said he wanted the place (Cylinders) to be somewhere artists could come and find support, and a place to stay and work”. Nor are there any accounts of any explicit wishes by Schwitters (on his death bed or otherwise) that he desired Cylinders Estate to be developed as a ‘rural art museum’. Like so many of Littoral’s claims these are simply delusional.
HE-P Schwitters used the barn as a studio in the 1940s and turned it into an experimental dada-inspired artwork. He covered the walls in a collage of materials, from glass to found objects and sculptures, but died of pneumonia three months into the project, in January 1948.
RM The barn was not “an experimental dada-inspired artwork” – as Littoral have often claimed. Schwitters was not a Dadaist; a fellow traveler certainly, but not a member of the gang, hence his own movement Merz, and hence the use of the name Merzbau for his immersive sculptural reliefs. The wall was not “dada-inspired”. And the only evidence of the so-called “architectural experiment” is the remaining fragment of the unfinished Merzbau that is in Newcastle. What remains at Cylinders is nothing more than a pitifully neglected empty 1940s lean-to shed. Schwitters did not “cover the walls with a collage of materials”. He worked on one wall only, which he failed to complete.
HE-P The building is considered an important piece of national heritage, and artists and architects including Damien Hirst, Antony Gormley, Bridget Riley and the late Zaha Hadid have made financial donations towards its upkeep.
RM The building itself is not “an important piece of national heritage”, although Schwitters’ Merz relief sculpture that it once housed is. While Hirst did donate a ‘spin’ painting to be auctioned as part of Littoral’s fundraising campaign to enable it to purchase the Cylinders estate in 2006, he has not made any financial contribution towards the upkeep of the barn. Hadid’s £25,000 donation came through Zurich-based Galerie Gmurzynska. The publicity generated by Gmurzynska’s substantial donation triggered further grants from the Cumbria Community Foundation (£15,000) and the University of Cumbria (£5,000), and undisclosed amounts from the Dulverton Trust and the Sir John Fisher Foundation. Galerie Gmurzynska’s apparently altruistic offer has to be considered alongside other possible motives, and in the context of the gallery’s history. Galerie Gmurzynska has been involved in several highly dubious, and in some cases illegal, dealings concerning the movement of art works from Russia to the west, the avoidance of tax and VAT payments, and attempts to avoid payments regarding damage to an artist’s work. It’s on record that it has been in trouble with Russian customs, the American courts and the Swiss Federal Customs Administration. Equally damning is the fact that it also represents and exhibits the paintings of Hollywood hulk Sylvester Stallone… More significantly perhaps, Gmurzynska’s donation was made a month before it opened its Kurt Schwitters: Merz retrospective exhibition. It could be perceived that it was made, not as an act of genuine philanthropy, but as a shrewd way of garnering a wealth of highly valuable publicity. Cumbria Community Foundation’s donation of £15,000 came from a fund (of donations from the public) set up specifically for Cumbrian businesses and organisations that had been adversely affected by the December 2015 floods. The average grant given was £5,000. The December 2015 floods did not affect the Cylinders estate at all and yet it received £15,000. Having been conned into dishing out £15,000 of this publicly donated money, when contacted about this massive discrepancy, Cumbria Community Fund failed to respond. N.B. The Armitt Museum in Ambleside, which was badly flooded, only received £5,000. The money donated by the University of Cumbria should also be considered against some more disquieting facts. The University currently stands at 118 out of 121 in the UK’s 2017 university rankings. It has one of the lowest entry standards and one of the worst research records in the country. It desperately needs to raise its game. It craves research “points” (points mean prizes, and prizes mean money). To this end it has, with suspicious haste, established a Kurt Schwitters PhD Scholarship, which is being run in association with – you guessed it – the Littoral Arts Trust, which similarly yearns for some academic/research credibility. The University has also appointed Littoral Director Ian Hunter as a Research Reader (whatever that means?), and its first student is someone who has had, until recently, close ties with Littoral. Some serious questions need asking about the University’s links with Littoral, particularly with regard to the reasons for and conditions of its donation.
HE-P In 2011, Arts Council England withdrew funding for the maintenance and restoration of the barn, meaning that the Littoral Arts Trust – comprising Celia Larner, 80, and Ian Hunter, 70, who look after the property – have had to use their savings, pensions and even the sale of one of their houses to keep it going.
RM Last month, Arts Council England turned down an application for £75,000 of funding for Merz Barn for the fifth consecutive time. Of course it did. Having pumped hundreds of thousands of taxpayer’s money into Littoral and its projects since before 2006, Arts Council England tellingly rescinded the Trust’s regular funding in 2012, quite simply because the trust has persistently squandered public money and consistently failed to fulfil its objectives. Littoral’s last, recent five applications to ACE have failed for the same reasons.
HE-P Hunter has also offered to hand the building to the Tate in London and the Museum of Modern Art in New York for free but both declined, and he said the trust now only had the resources to look after the barn for three or four months before the directors would be forced to sell it off.
RM This claim may be true, but I doubt it is. It sounds suspiciously like yet another example of Littoral’s disingenuous sophistry. By making such claims Littoral casts the Tate and MoMA New York as unsympathetic, thereby shaming not only the art world, but also arts funding bodies. This is typical of Littoral’s modus operandi. Most respectable museums with any genuine interest in Schwitters know enough about Littoral to ignore its protestations and increasingly querulous demands. In recent years the Tate, MoMA, the Sprengel Museum and Kurt Schwitters Archives in Hanover, the Armitt Museum and the Kurt Schwitters Society have all kept Littoral at a long arm’s length. Cylinders was purchased in 2006 with money from, among others, the Northern Rock Foundation and the Arts Council. As public money was used in its purchase, should the estate be put up for sale on the open market, then Littoral’s Directors, Hunter and Larner, cannot be allowed to simply pocket all the proceeds, which, given the location, acreage and beauty of this highly desirable piece of real estate, would be considerable. As part of Littoral’s agreement with the Arts Council, on receipt of its initial award, Littoral would surely be obliged to reimburse the Arts Council. It may also be the case that Littoral, having failed abjectly in its declared objectives, could be forced to pay back all of the ACE money it has received since the purchase of the estate as well. Such a sale would also inevitably raise awkward questions as to, not only Littoral’s charitable status, but also with regard to its apparent commitment to honour Kurt Schwitters’ legacy.
HE-P “We’ve already had two developers approach us in the last six months about buying the land, offering us £300,000 cash,” Hunter said. “We’ve sold one of our houses to put into Merz Barn, we’ve used up our savings and our pensions are negligible, so our backs are against the wall here. We’ve turned both of the developer offers down as they wouldn’t offer us any protections for the barn, and we would prefer not to sell it on the open market. But we don’t think we can hold off for much longer.”
RM Where is the proof of these alleged unnamed property developers and their unsuccessful offers? It’s highly likely that these supposed offers are yet another shameless invention i.e. a lie, vamped up by Hunter and Larner to milk more sympathy and dupe some credulous donors to cough up more yet more bailouts. Similarly unambiguous sophistry has worked very well for Littoral in the past, as evidenced by the £65,000 in donations that it received in 2016 following its bogus claims of damage incurred at Cylinders in the December 2015’s storms and floods that devastated much of Cumbria. Littoral’s claim of rejecting the offers as the developers “wouldn’t offer us any protections for the barn”, is a bit rich considering that, despite having received substantial funding, it is Littoral’s negligence and mismanagement that have allowed the barn to deteriorate year on year. It must be noted that the Cylinders estate, being located in what is arguably the most beautiful valley in the Lake district, in the middle of a National Park, is protected by far more stringent planning policies than elsewhere. Its environment is fragile and precious. The likelihood of a developer being granted planning permission for any development there is zero, and any developer who has purportedly offered any amount (in cash or otherwise), to purchase Cylinders, without first investigating the implications of the National Parks’ planning policies, is an idiot. Further protection is offered by Harry Pierce’s 1944 National Trust Covenants (still active), which he drew up specifically to prevent the land from being despoiled by the kind of activities that Littoral has been and still are undertaking on the site, and from its proposals for the contextually and environmentally inappropriate and disproportionate development that it desires. The covenants expressly forbids the erection of “any temporary or permanent building or erection on any part of the land hereby conveyed except such of a kind as may be approved in writing by the National Trust …” They also forbid “… any building or erection except those needful for agricultural or horticultural purpose (which purposes shall not be deemed to include housing accommodation)”. Littoral, in its typically cavalier fashion, has flagrantly ignored these NT covenants: the estate resembles an edgeland camp of rusted static caravans, piecemeal yurts and patched tents in a mire of rubbish. Rather than honouring Pierce’s wishes and his legacy, Littoral has betrayed and trashed them.
HE-P The historical and artistic importance of this modest building has been emphasized numerous times by figures such as Melvyn Bragg, who described it as “an outstanding contribution to the understanding of contemporary art”. While the elaborate swirling wall of art created in the barn was removed in the 1960s and brought to Newcastle’s Hatton Gallery, the stone studio is considered a powerful and emotive spot central to Schwitters’ legacy as an artist in the UK.
RM It could be argued that, art historically, “the stone studio”, is in itself is of little importance. A former hay barn built in the early 1940s, of breeze block construction, with some walls clad in Lakeland stone, and with a leaking tin roof, it has no architectural merit and, being devoid of Schwitters’ work or any evidence of his presence, its significance is, at best, purely nostalgic. Through Littoral’s persistent warping of historical facts, it has become a site of dubious mythologised pilgrimage. Claims for its emotive pull are Littoral’s alone. Like Tim Farron and many other ’ notable’ figures, Melvyn Bragg’s knowledge of Schwitters, his life, work, and of the so-called Merz barn, is negligible. What little knowledge he may have has probably been fed him by Littoral’s partial directors, Hunter and Larner. When approached to endorse anything cultural in Cumbria, both Farron and Bragg as a matter of course, though not entirely for altruistic reasons, offer their support – with no questions asked. HE-P In 2011, when the Royal Academy of Arts put on its major British sculpture exhibition, it erected a Cumbrian slate replica of the barn in the gallery’s courtyard, and at a conference about Schwitters’ legacy, at Tate Britain in 2014, then culture minister Ed Vaizey said: “Kurt Schwitters’ extraordinary Merz Barn and artistic legacy in rural Cumbria are our responsibility – in the north and also nationally.”
RM The Royal Academy of Arts 2011 exhibition was of “major British sculpture”. And yet Schwitters was not British but German. The Cumbrian slate barn was a reproduction not a ‘replica’, which is something recreated by the original creator. Schwitters had no hand in the original 1940s building nor in the RA version. The RA barn was sealed and empty and it was not the actual barn but a pretend barn. Schwitters’ Merzbau sculptural relief had been inside the barn, not outside it and the original barn was not a piece of sculpture but merely its container. As a sculpture it had no logic or contextual appropriateness, and Its inclusion in the exhibition was utterly meaningless. And it cost a small fortune. For Littoral, such discrepancies are of no matter as it served their purpose of garnering a huge amount of publicity, locally, nationally and internationally. Littoral’s Facebook posting the day after the 2014 Tate conference vaingloriously revealed that Ed Vaizey’s endorsement was included in a speech that had actually been written by Hunter and Larner, and which was handed to him immediately before he spoke. The words and opinions he voiced were not his, but were Littoral’s. Following a letter I wrote to various publications in response to yet more articles reporting Littoral’s alleged troubles, offering evidence of Littoral’s litany of misinformation, half-truths and outright lies, in which the truth of Vaizey’s speech was also exposed, this posting was swiftly deleted.
HE-P The local MP, Liberal Democrat leader Tim Farron, also gave his backing to the maintenance of the site in 2014 when he said: “I cannot overstate how important a site the Merz Barn is and what a boost for the Cumbrian economy if some sort of art museum or similar could be accommodated there.”
RM Following Farron’s ill-informed support for Littoral’s mission as quoted in the Westmorland Gazette in 2014, I wrote to him informing him of the facts regarding Littoral and to remind him of the need for someone in his position to exercise far greater discretion when considering any requests for endorsements. He suggested a meeting to discuss my findings, which we had the following week. Having been fully informed of Littoral’s history and practices (its murky finances, dubious behaviour and its serial failings), and having the good grace to acknowledge his lack of knowledge about Schwitters and Littoral, he has since distanced himself from Littoral and promised that he would no longer issue ill-informed endorsements in support of the trust.
HE-P Artists have stepped in to help fill the funding gap. Hirst put £150,000 and Hadid’s gallery last year gave £25,000 to the barn after it suffered major flood damage during Storm Desmond.
RM Hirst has not contributed to “help fill the funding gap” since ACE withdrew its funding in 2011-2012. However, in 2006 he did donate a ‘spin’ painting, which raised £150,000 at auction, towards Littoral’s funding campaign to enable them to purchase the Cylinders estate. See above re. Hadid’s contribution. The barn did not “suffer major flood damage during Storm Desmond” as your article states. The Merz barn was not “devastated by Storm Desmond”, which hit Cumbria on 5th December 2015, nor by the subsequent Storm Eva, which hit on Boxing Day. Littoral’s Facebook entries throughout December 2015 make no mention of any damage being incurred by the barn or at any part of the Cylinders estate at any time throughout the month. Indeed a photograph of the Merz barn taken on 12 December and posted on Littoral’s Facebook page, showed the barn in a tranquil picture post card snow scene, with no signs of any devastation to the barn or the estate. It wasn’t until 29th January 2016 – nearly two months later – that Littoral posted, again on its Facebook page, news of the barn being hit by “some kind of whirlwind” – during the previous night the 28th January. Mysteriously and miraculously nowhere else in neighbouring Chapel Stile or Elterwater was such freak weather experienced that night. It wasn’t until March 2016 that Littoral launched yet another whining PR campaign, disingenuously claiming that the so-called Merz barn had suffered severe damage in the winter storms of December 2015.
HE-P The Arts Council said it did not usually publicly discuss the reasons for grant allocations but emphasized that “grants for the arts is a highly competitive programme”. In 2014, the Arts Council gave a £38,000 grant for Littoral Arts Trust to compile a report into the future of Merz Barn and possibilities for its restoration. The report found that it was “potentially a major international success story for the UK, Cumbria and Arts Council England … there is likely to be increasing visitor demand for the preservation and interpretation of this artist’s work”. It also warned that “stabilisation and restoration work at the site are urgently needed” to ensure its survival and to protect Schwitters’ legacy.
RM The report cost around £55,000, funded by ACE, South Lake District Council and the Granada Foundation: most of this largesse was taxpayers’ money. Having received a hill of money since 2004.05 – from public funds and donations – much of it awarded or gifted specifically for the renovation of the barn, and much of it from ACE, the “stabilisation and restoration work at the site” should’ve been completed years ago. Indeed in 2009, just three years after acquiring Cylinders, Littoral were informed by its own architectural advisor, that the barn’s desperately needed restoration would require just £25,00 – £30,000: this advice was ignored. ACE, having been duped by Littoral for years, and wishing to avoid further embarrassment, wisely rejected the report’s questionable findings and highly prejudiced recommendations. In 2014, in yet another appeal for financial assistance, Hunter stated (for the umpteenth time) that, “the Merz barn is not in a great state of repair” (The Westmorland Gazette 17.6.2014). And more recently, again in The Westmorland Gazette (10.01.2016) he stated that, “the Merz Barn and the buildings on site are now in an advanced state of disrepair.” Note that this last admission was made a month before Littoral claimed that the Merz barn had allegedly “been devastated” in the December 2015 storms. The fact is that the barn was already in a neglected, ramshackle state and has been allowed to steadily decay since Littoral acquired the estate. This mantra has become all too familiar in every media story about Littoral and the Merz Barn, becoming more frequent and increasingly querulous since 2012, when the Arts Council tellingly withdrew its annual RPO funding.
HE-P However, the Arts Council said the report did not “demonstrate a viable business case at that point nor did it cover other potential sources of capital funding beyond the arts council or offer any match-funding strategy”. The public body added: “The Arts Council does not include protection and restoration of cultural heritage – this is the responsibility of other bodies.”
RM The report recommends a development project that would absorb yet more sums of public money, with Phase 1 capital works requiring about £52,000,00. Further phases of funding would follow, estimated to be approximately £1.4m, for more restoration works, new buildings, landscaping and the implementation of some kind of mixed arts programme. The bulk of the money would have to be sourced from public funds. The report claims to be independent, and yet it has been compiled by a group of consultants, some of who would undoubtedly benefit, commercially, if the report’s recommendations are ever allowed to proceed. Incredibly, also included in the group of consultants is Littoral’s own so-called Director, Ian Hunter. (While he calls himself a director he is not actually listed as one at Companies House.) Such a consultancy report, co-authored as it is by a consortium of vested interests, cannot be considered to be independent, objective or impartial. The report’s proposals describe a hugely disproportionate, commercialised art theme park, an expensive vanity project that will betray the wishes of both Schwitters and Harry Pierce, the landowner who allowed Schwitters to use the former hay barn as the site of his last Merz sculpture. The proposals are not supported by the Tate, MoMA New York, the Sprengel Museum and Kurt Schwitters Archives in Hanover, the Kurt Schwitters Society or the Armitt Museum in Ambleside, and they are vehemently opposed by the site’s neighbouring residents of Elterwater and Chapel Stile, predominantly on the basis of the likely further detrimental impact on the environment.
HE-P Costs of upkeep for the barn are about £45,000 a year. Larner sold her own small Lancashire mill cottage for £ 90,000 last year to raise funds for maintenance. Hunter said he was now considering selling his own home as a last resort. “Don’t get me wrong, we love it – but we’re two old people who realistically can’t be here labouring for much longer,” said Hunter said. “So what we’ve tried to do is keep it going as best we can because we feel like we have a moral responsibility.”
RM Over the past few years Littoral’s directors, Hunter and Larner, deflecting every lie and dishonesty, and portraying themselves as underdogs and maligned martyrs, have claimed too much sympathy, too often and for too long. Your portrayal of the pair as impoverished pensioners who “have been forced to use up their savings and meagre pensions’ incomes to keep the project afloat”, may prompt a reach for a hanky, but it belies the fact that, as stated above, Littoral Arts Trust (which is essentially a double-headed dictatorship of Hunter and Larner) have received a shed load of funding, from both the public and private sectors. This has evidently been either squandered or pocketed. Presumably Hunter and Larner have also been awarding themselves salaries and expenses? Your article also neglects to reveal the further bailouts of £65,000 which Littoral received in 2016. All in all, they’ve done very well out of Schwitters thus far.
HE-P The pair have also appealed to Nicholas Serota, the former Tate director who took over as head of Arts Council England this year, to rethink the organisation’s decision in light of his pledge to distribute funding across rural communities.
RM Littoral have often suggested, mischievously, that Sir Nicholas Serota (former director of the Tate and now Chairman of ACE), and the Tate, are fully supportive of its aims and objectives, with particular regard to its proposed developments for the Cylinders estate. While Serota is fully cognisant and supportive of the Merz project i.e. the artistic and cultural significance of Schwitters’ pioneering work in its totality, he has never stated that he or the Tate share or support Littoral’s aspirations for any kind of arts centre or museum at Cylinders. At a rammed Central Lakes Neighbourhood Forum convened on 15.7.2014, which I attended, Hunter outlined Littoral’s grandiose proposals for the site. During his presentation Hunter, trying to pimp up the proposals and impress his audience with some obsequious namedropping, claimed that, “the Tate and the Arts Council have aspirations to build a museum on the site”. When queried about that claim, Serota commented that “such aspirations may be in the minds of Littoral Arts Trust, but they are not ones which Tate necessarily shares.”
HE-P Hunter said he hoped another cultural institution would pledge to look after the barn on behalf of the nation.
RM Despite Littoral’s piecemeal despoliation of the estate, Cylinders deserves to be preserved and developed sympathetically. The estate still holds an essence of Schwitters’ presence and still bears, just, the hallmarks of the landowner Harry Pierce’s 1940s endeavours. With contextual and environmental appropriateness, a low-key museum, focusing on the complete history of the site, including its long period as a gunpowder works, as well as its important connections to Schwitters, could be developed that would satisfy the art world, the local residents and the needs of the Lake District’s tourist sector. Ideally such a project would be overseen and managed by a consortium comprising the Hatton Gallery in Newcastle, Abbot Hall Gallery in Kendal and the Armitt Museum and Library in Ambleside, all of which have a legitimate claim to and interest in promoting Schwitters and his time in the Lake District. The Hatton has the actual Merzbau relief sculpture, Abbot Hall has a small collection of Schwitters’ works, and the Armitt, which is recognised as the home of Schwitters’ Lake District and UK legacy, has the largest collection of Schwitters’ work on permanent public display in the UK. It should also be noted that, unlike Littoral, the Armitt has never received any public funding. However in order to achieve such a project, Littoral’s bloated development proposals must be halted, its governance fully investigated (possibly by the Charity Commission), its two directors urged to step down, and the Trust itself dissolved and relieved of its ownership of the Cylinders estate. If you’ve read this, bravo and sincere thanks. Due to its length (for which I apologise), I know you won’t print it in its entirety, but perhaps you might publish some kind of correction to the errors in your article? An ideal response would be that you might consider commissioning a journalist to thoroughly investigate this matter, especially as it involves, amongst many other disturbing issues, the use and/or abuse of public money, and as such it should be considered to be in the public interest. The least I can hope for is that, having read the above, you will approach any future Littoral-related stories and press releases with extreme caution, and be sure to thoroughly fact check all of their claims and assertions before you consider publishing anything regarding the trust or the Merz barn. Should you need any further information, please do not hesitate to get in touch. Yours sincerely, Russell Mills MA (RCA), Honorary Visiting Professor, Glasgow School of Art
Mills has recently conducted an interview with Mark Andresen for The Pan Review: an online bi-monthly look at the arts and literary scene. Topics include his involvement with art and design for the exhibition, ‘Still Lives: Photographs from the Brunskill Collection currently on at both the Armitt Museum and Library in Ambleside and in shop windows around the town; the ongoing Still Moves publishing and CD project; his thoughts on computers, plagiarism; contingency; and what it is about being an artist that floats his boat.
Read highly-regarded Eye magazine’s blog by John O’Reilly who, with deft erudition and subtle elegance, reflects on Samuel Beckett’s Murphy and Mills’ artworks for the series of Beckett publications in the late 1970s and early 80s. O’Reilly is Associate Lecturer MA Innovation Management, Central St Martins University of the Arts London, journalist and Editor of Varoom magazine. Eye is the quarterly international review of graphic design and visual cultures. http://www.eyemagazine.com/blog/post/winding-up-with-mills-and-beckett1
Mills, with his co-designer Michael Webster, have just completed the art and design of over 100 pieces for print for a new exhibition, Still Lives: Photographs from the Brunskill Collection at the Armitt, for the Armitt Museum & Library in Ambleside, Cumbria. As well as designing a new series of posters and all print elements for the exhibition, Mills and Webster have also designed a series of 60 unique posters, which will be located in the windows of Ambleside’s shops, cafes, restaurants and businesses throughout the duration of the exhibition.
Press Release Still Lives: The Brunskill Collection at the Armitt and Beyond Ambleside, a bustling little town in the heart of the Lakes will this summer play host to some of its former residents and visitors. Those who lived in, worked in and visited the area 150 years ago will reappear as individual photographic portraits throughout the town as part of the Armitt Museums ‘Still Lives’ summer exhibition. The individual photographic portraits are the work of the Brunskill brothers, who from 1865 to 1906 ran a photographic studio in Bowness. Almost the complete life’s work of this photographic studio is now held by the Armitt Museum and includes a vast archive of 17,800 photographs on glass plates. This is a rare and important survival giving a invaluable insight into the Victorian world and its inhabitants, and also into the workings of an early photographic studio At the heart of the exhibition is the Armitt Library where the local families are represented. Here the Mackereths, Braithwates, Benson, Tysons, Birketts and Hawkriggs take centre stage, as they once did in life. These are the families most closely associated with the development of the area, the fullers and freeholders whose fortunes rose and fell with that of the woollen industry. This however is an exhibition about community, hosted by the community, and as such it will spill out through the doors of the Armitt and into the streets of Ambleside. The sixty or so portraits to be seen here include the beautiful Miss Midgely, the unsettling Borwick Twins and the defiant Tom Carlisle in the Market Place. On Compston Road there is old Mr Pannington with the face of a man born in the eighteenth century and sweet little Miss Brown with her soldier doll. Louche Mr Foster with his top hat and tin whistle will take up residence in the Golden Rule and in the White Lion, the formidable P.C. Greenbank will keep the peace. All over Ambleside will be the faces of the people who were here long before us and of course they will include that now almost legendary bespectacled, pipe smoking Jack Russell, a truly heroic figure known only as ‘Mr Sedgwick’s dog’. This is an exhibition which highlights an unusually rare collection; rare not only in its almost complete survival and as an important resource for the family historian and anyone with an interest in photographic and social history but also as a singularly beautiful and fascinating collection in itself. These portraits, in their quiet austerity still have the power to fascinate. They have an extraordinary sense of timelessness- the paradox of presence and absence made sharper by the passage of time. Still Lives: Photographs from the Brunskill Collection will take place at the Armitt Museum and throughout Ambleside from 1st May 2017.
Still Moves | three, the third in the series of six limited edition, full colour hardback books with CDs, charting the multimedia installations Mills has created with collaborator Mike Fearon since 1994, iscurly in production. Still Moves | three documents the installations Static (2001), which was devised, but unfortunately not realised, for creation in North Tyneside in 2002, and Hold (2005) a collaborative work made with Petulia Mattioli for the Palazzo delle Papesse Centre for Contemporary Art in Siena in 2005, Still Moves | three will carry two CDs of the extended mixes of the installation soundworks, which have been mastered by Mike Fearon. The soundwork for the installation Static features award winning poet Robin Robertson reading his specially written poem Sea Fret, the full text of which is also printed in the book. The soundwork for Hold was created by Mills and Fearon with Eraldo Bernocchi with contributions from Bill Laswell, Harold Budd, Gigi and Lorenzo Esposito. Still Moves | three will be available at a date to be announced.
Mills, with his co-designer Michael Webster, is working on a new selection of limited edition prints. These will feature some of the works that he made towards possible uses on various Nine Inch Nails packages, but were not used in the final releases. These will include works made for the Downward Spiral, Further Down The Spiral, Closure and Hesitation Marks.
Mills has been commissioned to undertake the art and design of a limited edition boxed release of two custom designed USB drives carrying the six hour long electronic soundscapes Veils and Vesper installation project by Pulitzer prize winning American composer John Luther Adams. Commissioned by Cantaloupe Music in New York, Veils and Vesper is to be released at a date to be confirmed.
Mills has recently completed a series of 12 works made in response to the 2011 Fukushima nuclear and tsunami disaster. The mixed media works, some of which contain plant and organic material from radiated sites in both Fukushima and Chernobyl, were commissioned in 2012 by a Japanese documentary film maker whose family are from Fukushima and who have been directly and seriously affected by the disaster.
Mills is currently working with the film maker Charlie Leek on several film projects. Leek first worked with Mills when he made a short documentary about Mills and his work for Nine Inch Nails’ 2013 Hesitation Marks album. This was followed by a short documentary to accompany and promote his Cargo In The Blood exhibition at the 1830 Gallery, the Artworks, Shaw Lodge Mills in Halifax in 2015. He subsequently went on to make promotional films for the Cargo In The Blood multiple and book, which was released in a limited edition of 2000 also in 2015. Leek’s documentary on Mills and his work is ongoing, the intention being for a longer in-depth study of Mills, his ideas and his work across all genres and disciplines. Leek is also working on a series of films to accompany and promote the Still Moves series of limited edition books. These will examine the ideas behind and the making of the numerous multimedia installations that Mills and his collaborator Mike Fearon have created in the UK and abroad since 1994, with particular regard for the installations’ soundworks. The films will include interviews with Mills and Fearon and will explore the influence of their native Cumbrian landscape on their work. Leek will also be working on two films for the Armitt Museum and Library in Ambleside. With the Armitt’s curator Deborah Walsh and Mills, Leek will make one film about the Armitt’s diverse and rich collection, which represents some of the most influential writers, thinkers and social activists of English culture, including the Armitt Sisters, Thomas and Matthew Arnold, the Collingwood family, Thomas De Quincey and the Lakes Poets, Harriet Martineau, Beatrix Potter, Charlotte Mason, Canon Rawnsley and John Ruskin. The Armitt also holds one of the most extensive collection of mountaineering books in the UK, including the Fell And Rock Club library, and a vast photographic archive with photographs and plate negatives by the Abrahams Brothers, Herbert Bell, Moses Bowness, JW Brunskill and Charles Walmsley. Artists represented include William Green, William Payne, Fred Yates and the radical avant-garde German artist Kurt Schwitters. A second film will focus on the Armitt’s growing collection of works by Schwitters, focusing on his final years in Ambleside. The Armitt’s collection of Schwitters’ work is the largest concentration of his work on public display in the UK.
See the film of Mills at OFFSET 2016 CLICK HERE Following Mills’ talk at the OFFSET 2016 conference in Dublin in April this year, Mills was invited to contribute to Just Six Degrees, an online project based on the ‘six degrees of separation’ theory, in which creative practitioners write about creatives who inspire them. Just Six Degrees founder MIchael McDermott asks creative practitioners one question: who in the world inspires you right now? Mills was nominated by musician and U2’s designer Steve Averill and in turn he has chosen his friend and occasional collaborator, the musician, producer, activist and creative polymath Brian Eno. Its hoped that the Just Six Degrees chain containing Mills’ appreciation of Eno will be available to view in the next couple of months. The link to Just Six Degrees is: Just Six Degrees
Mills has no exhibitions or installations planned for the immediate future.
Mills will be exhibiting at the: NCAD Gallery, The National College of Art and Design 100 Thomas Street Dublin 8 Ireland from 6th – 29th April. The exhibition Blue Print For A Storm will feature mixed media works made for Nine Inch Nails’ 2013 album Hesitation Marks, alongside recent works. There will also be two film compilations on view; one featuring multimedia installations made since 1994, the other of films made to promote both the Hesitation Marks album and the Cargo In The Blood limited edition multiple. The Cargo In The Blood limited edition multiple will also be on display with details of how it can be ordered. For more information phone + 353 (0) 1 636 4390 or go to: www.cad.ie/about/gallery facebook.com/NCADGallery twitter.com/NCAD_Gallery instagram.com/ncad_gallery
OFFSET Dublin 2016
Mills will be appearing at the OFFSET Dublin 2016 conference at the:Bord Gáis Energy Theatre, Dublin. The conference runs from 8th – 10th April, and Mills is scheduled to present at 1.00pm on Saturday 9th April.
Cargo In The Blood | The Reverse Is Also True A deluxe limited edition multiple focusing on the art works made for Nine Inch Nails’ Hesitation Marks album is now available to purchase. Produced in a limited edition of 2000 Cargo In The Blood includes a five colour 320 page fully illustrated hardback book showing all the works made for the commission with interpretative texts and essays charting the ideas behind and processes used in each work. Each also contains an original mixed media work framed in Corten steel and a uniquely coded etched Corten Steel plate. Every copy is encased in a folding suede portfolio measuring 15” x 13” x 2”. Each cover features debossed and foil stamped typography and has been hand cauterized. The book has been printed with metallic silver and 4 colour printing UV inks. Cargo In The Blood will be available to order on 16th December at 10.00 am (Pacific Time). Priced at $300.00 it can be ordered through www.nin.com and www.cargointheblood.com Cargo In The Blood will ship from USA in late December and from the UK in mid January 2016. To document the inspiration and process behind the artwork of Cargo In The Blood and Mills’ previous collaboration with Nine Inch Nails on The Downward Spiral, filmmaker Charles Leek has created a fascinating short documentary film containing exclusive footage and access to the artist, which can be viewed on www.cargointheblood.com Leek has also created a short ‘teaser’ film about the project, which can be viewed on instagram Tumblr: Twitter: Instagram: Facebook: