Public art commission ‘Mother…’ by Studio Morison at Wicken Fen (image by Mike Selby)
Ruthie Collins, founder of Cambridge Art Salon, gives her arty picks of the month
It’s March: spring is most definitely here. Time to dust off the chillier months and get cracking with new cultural ideas and inspiration. Cambridge has long been known for its spires and willow-trimmed facade, but it also has a strong urban side to it, too. A side whose vernacular character is being increasingly commercialised, putting at risk some of the city’s most vibrant cultural hotspots. Perhaps one of the most symbolic of these developments is the battle to save The Flying Pig on Hills Road. Artist Jim Butler is exhibiting a range of illustrations of this well-loved pub, commissioned by The Guardian, in The Pig itself until 6 April. An Illustration and Book Art lecturer at the Cambridge School of Art, Butler’s work explores the urban experience.
“Places like The Pig are the heart of the community,” says Butler. “I’ve been in Cambridge 13 years and I still remember the first time I went there. The first person behind the bar I spoke to was print maker Kip Gresham’s son, who grew to become a successful artist in his own right – Mr Penfold. The place has always been a way in to meeting people, giving a real sense of cultural life of the city.” He adds: “The whole atmosphere, people mixing, those things are so important. If you lose it, it’s not easily replaced. It has a unique atmosphere and the landlords are brilliant.”
The Flying Pig, famously, was apparently where Pink Floyd’s Syd Barrett first met David Gilmour; a bastion of the kind of old-school pubs that underpin British culture. A hub of close-knit community spirit and intimate gigs, it pulses with the kind of creative character that many feel is under threat in the city.
“All cities change, but there’s a danger that the vernacular buildings that give character to a place, for ordinary people, are being lost. Respecting people that live in an area, that make a community happen, their views should be taken into account,” says Butler.
People wanting to help the pub can sign the petition on change.org. “Get in touch with your councillors,” urges Butler. “They are elected by us to listen to us. Go down to The Pig and enjoy it, as it might not be there in five years. That sense of celebrating what’s there is key.”
Also one to visit this month is Mother…, the newly launched public art commission by Studio Morison (made up of artists Heather Peak and Ivan Morison) at Wicken Fen. The stunning natural landscape and wide, East Anglian skies make this an evocative spot to encounter art, nominated by the public for the commission as part of New Geographies. Commissioned by Wysing Arts Centre, the work is a response to nature writer Richard Mabey’s book Nature Cure, a memoir recounting his recovery from depression through connecting to nature. Also inspired by artist Heather Peak’s childhood memories of the East Anglian landscape, its sculptural shape references the traditional fen hayrick, making it a space in which you can read, write or contemplate nature.
Artist Ivan Morison says a key reference for the artists is the song Mother, from Idles’ debut 2017 album Brutalism, because it’s “a song that expresses an anger and frustration at the modern world, and its impact on our individual and family lives”. He adds: “The sculpture offers a space to reflect on these troubling thoughts, as well as an opportunity to perhaps still the mind for a while by focusing on the simple material qualities of the work, and the changing nature of the landscape that surrounds it.”
One very positive response to climate emergency has been this huge resurgence of interest in reconnecting with the natural world – from the ‘rewilding’ movement to practical ways to grow or source locally grown food, this timely reaction against the Anthropocene flourishes in the arts, too – long may this last. You can also hear talks on women in science and conservation at the Museum of Zoology as part of International Women’s Day on 7 March at 2pm. Go to hear more about the “amazing women working to understand and protect the world around us”.
Nature lovers can also go sculpture hunting in the city’s many gardens and parks: from finding a Barbara Hepworth sculpture over on the grounds of Churchill College, to taking in Jesus College’s enchanting garden, with excellent sculpture on display (and a fantastic cafe), there’s plenty to discover. There will be a programme of events celebrating Mother… over the coming months. With Mother’s Day this month, might this be the perfect place to take your mum for a nature-inspired treat? Whatever you do, have a fabulous March, all.