Newsletter / In April
The lengthening evenings and prospect of a long Easter weekend leave us unable to think of much else at present than getting out of town and out of doors. There is something about the changing of the clocks, the moving so consciously from one season to another, that re-focuses attention on the world around us. It’s as though the new, expanding light gently makes us aware again of our place in the larger world, shows us what we’ve been doing that is unnecessary and reminds us that the best work is that done with modesty, without distraction and with singular intention. While we re-orient ourselves in this way, here are some other people and things whose simplicity of focus we admire.
An architect by training, Leonard Koren also publishes books, consults at large companies on design and marketing, has published magazines and worked on music videos. At first glance he doesn’t seem to have a particular focus to his work – until you read his books. Influenced greatly by Japanese philosophy and design he creates books that hone in so closely on a single subject that they become a world within themselves. Yet still they remain modest, taking each subject addressed back to its barest essentials. Undesigning the Bath is a reaction against overdone luxury interiors; Gardens of Gravel and Sand a meditation on just that (going so far as to exclude distracting rocks from the pictures of perfect gravel gardens). Koren’s defining book though, is Wabi-Sabi: for Artists, Designers, Poets & Philosophers, it celebrates all that he holds dear – humble aesthetics and beauty that is imperfect, impermanent and unconventional.
Cycling is a twice-daily escape for those of us lucky enough to be able to ride to work. Two periods of time in the day where the distractions of technology cannot reach us (unless we are foolish enough to risk accident for the cause of our telephones). But for some cycling becomes an all-encompassing pursuit. Nick Hand spent two summers cycling around the coast of Britain, meeting working people and recording soundslides of them as he went. The result is well worth a listen. Some take their passion for cycling further and spend the spring crossing continents to take part in race after race. A Sunday in Hell is a documentary of perhaps the most dramatic of these races – the Paris-Roubaix challenge, where much of the latter portion of the ride takes place over narrow cobbled tracks – choked with dust or slick with mud, depending on the weather. The 1976 film immerses itself in the atmosphere of the race, looking at it from all angles (the participants, organisers, spectators, a protester and mechanics) with calm observation and beautiful cinematography.
More than anything else this Easter I would like to lie in the grass and allow my mind to wander. By a river perhaps, with friends and family around, good food and drink to hand. Tempting me to this is Anne Schwalbe and her photographs of meadows. The Berlin-based photographer excludes everything from her square frame but the soil, grasses and flowers (and sometimes snow) beneath her feet. The photographs feel richer for this concentration; they are not narrative but immersive and speak of a child-like curiosity for even the smallest patches of ground. Looking at such a small space in such detail somehow allows the mind more freedom, to explore and imagine without restriction, and then to return easily to that which is most important to you, whatever that may be.
Photograph: Wiese III 2009, by Anne Schwalbe