Archive for the ‘Politics’ Category

Lack of Humanity

In September 2012 ‘Freedom for Humanity’ was painted by Mear One AKA Kalen Ockerman on Hanbury Street near Brick Lane. Ironically it’s the street my grandfather worked on when he fled from Nazi Germany in May 1939.

September 2012. 'Freedom for Humanity' a street art graffiti work by artist Mear One aka Kalen Ockerman on Hanbury Street near Brick Lane london

September 2012. 'Freedom for Humanity' a street art graffiti work by artist Mear One aka Kalen Ockerman on Hanbury Street near Brick Lane london

(detail)

Ockerman: “I chose to depict the likenesses of such early turn of the century Robber Barons, specifically Rothschild, Rockefeller, Morgan, Carnegie, Warburg, as well as Aleister Crowley who was a kind of philosophical guru to the ruling elite of that time and a well-known Satanist.”

Rothschild banker

Rothschild

Nathaniel Rothschild (1840-1915)

Nathaniel Rothschild (1840-1915) – massive bulbous hook nose, biblical beard? not so much

Rockefeller

Rockefeller

John_D._Rockefeller_1885

John D. Rockefeller Snr. (1839-1937) – more of a pointy-uppy nose really

john-d-rockefeller-jr

Maybe it’s supposed to be Jnr. – John D. Rockefeller Jnr. (1874-1960) – the suit looks right, but the nose is still a bit off (the specs have been lent to Warburg)

Morgan

Morgan

John Pierpont Morgan

John Pierpont Morgan – more fat than hooked in the nasal department

Crowley

Crowley

Aleister_Crowley

Aleister Crowley – rather a slim nose, not much like Kalen’s effort

Carnegie

Carnegie

andrew-carnegie

Andrew Carnegie – schnozzular mismatch

Warburg

Warburg

Paul_Warburg

Paul Warburg – Kalen’s not quite captured him

alf garnett

More Alf Garnett really – it stands to reason, don’t it, you silly moo

der_sturmer_christmas_1929

Der Sturmer, Christmas 1929, urging people not to buy from Jewish shops. The caption included “Our people hung their Christ on the cross, and we do a great business on his birthday…”

Corbyn: “You are in good company. Rockefeller destroyed Diego Viera’s (sic) mural because it includes a picture of Lenin”

frida kahlo diego rivera

Diego & his missus (Frieda Kahlo)

Viera AKA Rivera: “My Jewishness is the dominant element in my life.” (1935)

Lenin: “The art of any propagandist and agitator consists in his ability to find the best means of influencing any given audience, by presenting a definite truth, in such a way as to make it most convincing, most easy to digest, most graphic, and most strongly impressive.” (The Slogans and Organisation of Social-Democratic Work, 1919)

Corbyn: “I sincerely regret that I did not look more closely at the image I was commenting on, the contents of which are deeply disturbing and anti-Semitic.”

Remembering Kristallnacht

The night of 9th/10th November 1938 was Kristallnacht in Nazi GermanyThe night of 9th/10th November 1938 was Kristallnacht in Nazi Germany. The Kristall/crystal part of the name refers to the broken glass from the smashed windows of Jewish shops, businesses and synagogues. Jewish homes, schools and hospitals were ransacked, damaged and destroyed. Over 250 synagogues and 7,000 businesses were attacked. 30,000 Jewish men were arrested and sent to concentration camps.

The event was widely reported, pretty much as it was happening, largely by foreign journalists working in Germany. With what impact is a moot point.

Kristallnacht was made possible by the support, funding and protection afforded the National Socialists by corporate Germany. Five years earlier (on 20th February 1933 at the palace of the President of the Assembly on the banks of the Spree in Berlin) 24 leading industrialists had attended a meeting with Hitler and Göring. In the wake of it they coughed up money and other support. In doing so they cleared the way for the rise of the Nazis and ultimately Kristallnacht and the Holocaust. This key event is brilliantly spotlighted in Eric Vuillard’s Prix Goncourt-winning novella (récit) The Order of the Day/L’Ordre du Jour.

The brands at that meeting included:

  • Allianz – the insurance and financial services multinational which sponsors the stadium of our local rugby team, Saracens
  • Opel – their cars are now sold in the UK under the Vauxhall brand – they’re even sold in Israel, under their own name
  • Bayer – the multinational pharma company with the motto “We exist to help people thrive” – wrong people in 1933
  • BASF – whose tapes I used to use to make mixtapes as a teenager
  • Agfa – whose film I used to use as a budding teen photographer
  • Siemens – the multinational manufacturer with the motto “Ingenuity for life”
  • IG Farben – broken up after the war on account of having supplied the gas for the gas chambers among other evils – the main successor companies are Agfa, BASF, Bayer and Sanofi (motto: “Empowering Life”)
  • Telefunken – a tellies and hifis name from my youth

So the brands (and their logos) long outlived the Jewish businesses with the broken shop-windows, the people who ran them and the congregations that filled those synagogues.

A great irony is that another sledgehammer wall smashing event took place in Germany on 9th November – the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989.

allianz_logo-history

The evolution of an eagle-based logo

Allianz-logo

The Eagle has Landed

Logo_Hitler nazi eagle

Nazis loved eagles too – this eagle is looking the other way

Opel-logo-2009

Blitzkrieg means lightning war

second-world-war-nazi-germany-the-waffen-ss-symbol

Nazis loved lightning too

bayer-logo-1904

A cross-based logo (1904)

Logo_Bayer

The cross has persisted

Nazi-NSDAP-Logo

A cross-based logo – Hackenkreuz (= hook cross)

BASF-logo

IG Farben (which created bad chemistry) morphed into BASF among others

IG_Farben_Logo

IG Farben dissolved after the war

ig farben luftschutz helmet

An IG Farben Luftschutz helmet – oddly familiar

AGFA-Logo

Another recipient of IG Farben

Siemens-Logo

Life?

SANOFI-Logo

Life? Another recipient of IG Farben

Telefunken logo

Lightning strikes thrice

 

Quote: Where Trump meets Hitler

“The ideal subject of totalitarian rule is not the convinced Nazi or the convinced Communist, but people for whom the distinction between fact and fiction (i.e. the reality of experience) and the distinction between true and false (i.e. the standards of thought) no longer exist.”

― Hannah Arendt, The Origins of Totalitarianism

Hannah Arendt by Fred Stein, 1944 (Photograph courtesy of the Fred Stein Archive)

Hannah Arendt by Fred Stein (1944) [photo courtesy of Fred Stein Archive]

Quoted at the front of A Woman of No Importance by Sonia Purnell

virginia hall spy a woman of no importance

Virginia Hall (A Woman of No Importance)

Art Vandals 5: Indelible Marx

Weapon: (1) Hammer (2) Red Paint

Reason: (1 & 2) political

tomb of karl marx highgate cemetery london

Three miles down the road from where I am writing is this North London landmark – the tomb of Karl Marx. Buried beneath this grizzly bust are Marx, his wife (Jenny von Westphalen) and other members of his family, all gathered together there in 1954 after having been buried elsewhere in Highgate Cemetery (about a hundred yards away). The tomb has been listed since 1974, elevated to Grade I in 1999.

The monument was attacked for a second time in a month a week ago today (15th-16th February). The first attack was on 4th-5th February. Whether this fully constitutes Art Vandalism is a moot point – it is not the sculpture that has been targeted but, firstly, the plaque with text and, secondly, the pedestal.

Karl_Marx_tomb highgate london

The tomb (as it is generally referred to) was designed by English sculptor and artist Laurence Bradshaw. He was for a while assistant to Frank Brangwyn who in turn was assistant to William Morris, creating a resonant Socialist chain of heritage.

The memorial was officially unveiled on 15th March 1956 at a ceremony led by Harry Pollitt, the General Secretary of the Communist Party of Great Britain. The party funded the tomb.

The tomb is topped by the bronze bust of Marx. It sits on a marble pedestal. The words top front on the pedestal – Workers of all lands unite – are the final words of The Communist Manifesto. The central panel – target of the first attack – comes from the original 1883 grave and lists those interred, which include Marx’s housekeeper Helene Demuth. The text at the bottom comes from the conclusion of Marx’s Eleven Theses on Feuerbach.

Marx was a political exile in London, arriving in June 1849. There are various Marx-related London landmarks including at 28 Dean Street, Soho

blue plaque karl marx dean street soho london

2nd floor, 28 Dean St.

and in Maitland Park Road, South End Green/Belsize Park, where he moved in 1875 and remained until his death in 1883. The house there was replaced by a Camden Council housing block in the 50s due to bomb damage from the Blitz.

karl marx brown camden plaque Maitland Park Road belsize park london

site of 41 Maitland Park Road

He wrote Das Kapital in our city, famously using the British Library reading room at the heart of the affluent thinking territory of Bloomsbury.

This month’s attacks are not the first. There were two bombing attempts in the 1970s, including a pipe bomb set off in January 1970 which damaged the front of the memorial.  And there have been numerous other incidents of vandalism ever since its unveiling in 1956. It has had paint daubed over it before. The bronze bust has been dragged off the plinth with ropes.

karl marx tomb vandalised highgate cemetery

Hammer attack on the panel from the original grave

The weapon of choice earlier this month seems to have been a hammer, a rusty one. The words targeted seem to be centred on the second occurrence of his name.

karl marx tomb vandalised at Highgate Cemetery in north London

The second assault was with ironically Communistic red paint.

karl marx tomb vandalised at Highgate Cemetery in north London

The daubed words include “doctrine of hate”, “architect of genocide” and “memorial to Bolshevik holocaust 1917 1953 66,000,000 dead”.

Morgan: a suitable case for treatment karl marx tomb 1966 movie film

Morgan: a suitable case for treatment – David Warner as Morgan

One of my first encounters with the tomb was as a teenager getting deeply into cinema, watching the 1966 film Morgan: a suitable case for treatment directed by Czech-British director Karel Reisz. He was a child refugee from the other more famous Holocaust, rescued by Sir Nicholas Winton along with 668 others. Both his parents died in Auschwitz.

Morgan: a suitable case for treatment karl marx tomb 1966 movie film

The Friends of Highgate Cemetery called the hammer attack “a particularly inarticulate form of political comment”. Suits the times.

After the first attack the Metropolitan Police said: “Initial enquiries have been completed and at this stage the investigation has been closed. If any further information comes to light, this will be investigated accordingly.” Another sign of the times.

Officials from the cemetery are getting in touch with the tomb’s owners, the Marx Grave Trust (based at the Marx Memorial Library in Clerkenwell). The monument is uninsured. They are to discuss the possibility of installing CCTV around it.

After the second attack the Metropolitan Police said they had received a report of criminal damage at around 10.50am on Saturday. “There have been no arrests. We would appeal to anyone who has any information to contact us.” The Met spokesman also confirmed no arrests had been made over the 4th February attack.

The quality of political debate in this country is about on a level with the effectiveness of an over-stretched police force. Morgan would love it.

Art Vandals 3: From suffragette to fascist

Weapon: Meat cleaver

Reason: Political, gender political

venus-and-cupid-diego-velazquez Rokeby Venus in the National Gallery painting slashed vandalised

Venus and Cupid by Diego Velazquez

Today I went on a guided historical walk around the East End of London entitled ‘Anti-Fascist Footprints’ led by David Rosenberg, a specialist in East End history, husband of a former colleague of mine at Channel 4. During the tour we walked right past the offices of Little Dot Studios in Whitechapel’s Plumbers Row where I have been working since the company moved from Shoreditch towards the end of last year. David and I recently co-interviewed a veteran of the 43 Group anti-fascist group out of the East End. A (to me) surprising connection came up on the walk this afternoon – one of the photos David showed of a group of women BUF (British Union of Fascists) members included a certain Mary Raleigh Richardson who was on my radar from a completely other angle – as an Art Vandal.

Mary Richardson was the Suffragette who slashed the so-called Rokeby Venus in the National Gallery in 1914.

The Rokeby Venus is the nickname of The Toilet of Venus aka Venus at her Mirror aka Venus and Cupid painted by Velázquez between 1647 and 1651. It resides in London’s National Gallery. It is the only extant female nude by the Spanish artist. It reached these shores in 1813 when it was purchased by the MP John Morritt for £500 and hung in his home, Rokeby Park, Yorkshire. In 1906 the newly created National Art Collections Fund acquired it for the National Gallery, its first significant campaigning win.

Eight years on, on 10th March 1914, Mary Richardson marched into the National Gallery and slashed the canvas seven times with the distinctly domestic weapon of a meat cleaver. Her action was prompted by the arrest of suffragette Emmeline Pankhurst the day before. There had been earlier warnings of an attack on the National Gallery collection, so the plan may already have been in place. Richardson’s slashes were deepest between Venus’ shoulders but covered her back and buttock too. The attack earned her the nickname Slasher Mary in the press. The London Times described a “cruel wound in the neck” and feminist commentators have remarked that the contemporary reports sound more like injuries to an actual body rather than a pictorial representation, indicating that both the incident and the painting have come to take on an emblematic dimension.

Why did Richardson do it? She told the Women’s Social and Political Union (WSPU), the militant suffragette group led by Emmeline Pankhurst, shortly after the incident: “I have tried to destroy the picture of the most beautiful woman in mythological history as a protest against the Government for destroying Mrs. Pankhurst, who is the most beautiful character in modern history.” The WSPU endorsed the destruction of property as a tactic to draw attention to women’s suffrage. Years later (in a 1952 interview) she added that she didn’t like “the way men visitors gaped at it all day long”.

Richardson’s statement explaining her actions to the WSPU:

“I have tried to destroy the picture of the most beautiful woman in mythological history as a protest against the Government for destroying Mrs Pankhurst, who is the most beautiful character in modern history. Justice is an element of beauty as much as colour and outline on canvas. Mrs Pankhurst seeks to procure justice for womanhood, and for this she is being slowly murdered by a Government of Iscariot politicians. If there is an outcry against my deed, let every one remember that such an outcry is an hypocrisy so long as they allow the destruction of Mrs Pankhurst and other beautiful living women, and that until the public cease to countenance human destruction the stones cast against me for the destruction of this picture are each an evidence against them of artistic as well as moral and political humbug and hypocrisy.”

It’s interesting to note that Venus is not looking at herself in the mirror as we see her reflected face front on – the implication is she is looking at us, the male viewer. This may have inspired Manet’s similar mirror trick in A Bar at the Folies-Bergère, also in a London gallery – the Courtauld – which I wrote about as a Picture of the Month in 2010. In that painting the female gaze defiantly and directly challenges us the male observer. It is worth noting that Richardson did not go for the eyes.

mary Richardson slashed the rokeby Venus velazquez

The cuts were successfully repaired by the gallery’s chief restorer Helmut Ruhemann and the painting was soon back on display.

Mary-Richardson-and-Policemen-national gallery rokeby

Mary Richardson at the National Gallery straight after the attack

Richardson was sentenced to a six month stretch in  prison, the maximum for destruction of an artwork.

Richardson was born in 1882 in Ontario, Canada. She made her way to Bloomsbury via France and Italy.

She bore witness to Black Friday on 18th November 1910 when a march of 300 women to Parliament was violently set upon by the police (much as the anti-fascists were at the Battle of Cable Street we were discussing on site this afternoon). The march started from Caxton Hall near Channel 4 HQ. A certain Winston Churchill, then Home Secretary, rejected calls for a public enquiry after the event – interesting in view of the debate about whether Churchill was a goodie or baddie this last week precipitated by John McDonnell’s comments about Churchill being a villain over the Tonypandy miners’ riots in the very same year (1910).

Black-friday suffragette march attacked by police

Black Friday violence on women marchers

Richardson was also present at the Epsom races on Derby Day, 4th June 1913, when Emily Davison was trampled by the King’s horse. Richardson was chased and beaten by an angry mob but given refuge in Epsom Downs railway station by a porter.

Slasher Mary already had form by the time of the Rokeby attack. She had committed a number of acts of arson; smashed windows at the Home Office; and bombed a train station. She was arrested nine times and received prison sentences totalling over three years. She was one of the first two women force-fed under the 1913 Prisoners (Temporary Discharge for Ill-Health) Act, nicknamed the Cat and Mouse Act, in Holloway Prison. I wonder whether it all drove her a bit crazy…

In 1932 Richardson joined the British Union of Fascists (BUF), led by Oswald Mosley. She had come to the conclusion – a real-life Miss Jean Brodie – that fascism was the “only path to a Greater Britain”. She explained that “I was first attracted to the Blackshirts because I saw in them the courage, the action, the loyalty, the gift of service and the ability to serve which I had known in the suffragette movement”. The “Iscariot politicians” comment in her post-art vandalism statement may have been a bit of a giveaway. Richardson rose rapidly through the ranks of the party and within two years (1934) she was Chief Organiser for the Women’s Section of the party. Mosley, in contrast to Hitler’s view that women were fit for Kinder and Küche only, encouraged them to play an active role in the BUF. However Richardson left within two years because she felt disillusioned about the sincerity of Mosley’s policy on women. (Two other prominent suffragettes who took high office in the BUF were Dublin-born Norah Elam and Cardiff-born Mary Sophia Allen.) The BUF, inspired by Mussolini’s Fascists and the whole Italian Futurist vibe, sold itself as a movement of action, youth and dynamism. Its official newspaper was called Action. It is probably in the notion of Action that Richardson’s suffragette and fascist careers meet.

Training at the Women's BUF HQ. Mary Richardson is standing at the back.

Training at the Women’s BUF HQ. Mary Richardson is standing at the back.

 

 

Square Root of Instagram

In 2006 at Channel 4 (London) I commissioned a mobile-centred website called Big Art Mob. It enabled users to publish photos of Public Art (from sculptures to graffiti) from their mobile phones. In other words, it was basically Instagram 4 years before Instagram was invented. It was created with digital all-rounder Alfie Dennen (father of We Are Not Afraid) using a photo-publishing platform he had developed with partners named Moblog. I had been experimenting with Moblog for 18 months when a TV project about Public Art (The Big Art Project) came over the horizon and it struck me as an ideal place to apply Moblog technology.

The main difference from Instagram is that Big Art Mob’s photos were not in square format.

Today I went to see the Klimt / Schiele exhibition at the Royal Academy of Arts, London. I have been a big admirer of Schiele since I heard about him from David Bowie on a radio programme around the time Lodger was released (1979). At the time the Austrian painter was little known outside cognoscenti circles (eg the Marlborough Gallery in London). I was taught a little by Frank Whitford at Cambridge who wrote the Phaidon monograph on Schiele. And I won a travel scholarship at Girton to go study his work in Vienna around 1984. Last year while working at ORF in Vienna I got to do a bit of a self-shaped Schiele tour to mark the centenary of his death which I wrote about in On The Trail of Egon Schiele. I even had a stab at a Schiele in a painting class I recently attended locally:

adam gee copy of egon schiele painting

The exhibition was excellent, bringing out the contrast between how and why Schiele and his mentor Klimt drew. Along the way it reminded me of Klimt’s distinctive adoption of the square format in his portrait painting. Which got me thinking about which other artists went square.

Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer I is a painting by Gustav Klimt, completed between 1903 and 1907. The portrait was commissioned by the sitter's husband, Ferdinand Bloch-Bauer, a Jewish banker and sugar producer. The painting was stolen by the Nazis in 1941 and displayed at the Österreichische Galerie Belvedere

Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer I by Gustav Klimt (1903-1907)

Klimt’s famous portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer is 1.38m by 1.38m. It was commissioned by Ferdinand Bloch-Bauer, a Jewish banker and sugar producer, husband of Adele. The painting was notoriously stolen by the Nazis in 1941 and displayed at Schloss Belvedere in Vienna, until being returned by the Austrian courts to Bloch-Bauer’s heirs in 2006 at which point it found a new home in New York. It is considered the zenith of Klimt’s golden period. It uses Klimt’s trademark technique of cropping the figure top and bottom to create a pillar through the canvas, here set slightly right to allow the bulk of the patterned dress or aura to balance the composition.

Square and portraits reminded me of the excellent Hockney exhibition at Tate Britain last year. The square format works particularly well in the double portraits which were the beating heart of that show.

My Parents 1977 by David Hockney born 1937

My Parents by David Hockney (1977)

The emotionally resonant My Parents is 1.83m by 1.83m, even more epic than the Klimt, yet with the most down-to-earth subjects. Each parent occupies their own half in a very different way – attentive mum, square on, in her own space; pre-occupied dad, at an angle, overlapping the furniture – subtly capturing the difference in parent-child relationship.

Hockney was born on 9th July 1937, eight days before my dad. Nine days later another German Jew, Gerda Taro, died in Spain. She has the tragic distinction of being the first female photojournalist to have been killed while covering war at the frontline. This evening I started watching My Private War for this year’s BAFTA judging, starring Rosamund Pike as Marie Colvin, a latter day Taro. Recently, also for voting purposes (BAFTA Documentary Film chapter), I watched the feature documentary Under The Wire, likewise about the life and death of Colvin (killed in Homs, Syria by an Assad regime air-strike). Taro was killed during the Spanish Civil War in a tragic accident involving a reversing Republican tank.

republican woman 1936 gerda taro

Republican militiawoman training on the beach outside Barcelona by Gerda Taro (1936)

Taro was another stand-out squarist. She was partner of Magnum photojournalist Robert Capa. (Capa was introduced to the world by Picture Post in 1938, where my maternal grandfather worked. The Hungarian Jew, who famously lived out of a suitcase for most of his adult life, co-founded the Magnum photo agency with Henri Cartier-Bresson and others.) I saw Tara’s first ever US solo show at the International Center of Photography in New York in 2007. Capa picked up the habit from Taro and there are a number of square photographs attributed to Capa which are widely thought to actually be the work of Taro.

These days I find myself photographing square by default. I’ve enjoyed using Instagram for years as a platform for photography only (none of the Stories bollocks or video). Initially it was an excellent way to syndicate your photos across your social accounts (when it was linked to Flickr – the monopolists must have disconnected on account of Yahoo’s ownership of Flickr I guess). Square poses its own compositional challenges which by and large I enjoy rising to – there are not that many shots I take which can’t be accommodated in the stable, equal-sided space. It encourages the use of diagonals which can be dynamic. Here’s one of my favourite of my square compositions:

statue of george orwell outside the BBC (New Broadcasting House, Portland Place, London)

Statue of George Orwell outside the BBC (New Broadcasting House, Portland Place, London) March 2018

The square is stable enough to carry the two dark figures on the right side. Orwell’s statue is characteristically smoking, hence the appeal of the BBC smoker – both are fag in hand. Of course Orwell like Taro was a graduate of the Spanish Civil War but he made it home to the BBC and to die in the relatively civilised surroundings of UCH (University College Hospital, established by two of my distant ancestors on the Picture Post grandfather’s side, and where both my boys were born). Orwell’s house (at 1 South End Road) is along the same road in Hampstead/Parliament Hill where my dad grew up. He was a child of refugees from Nazi Germany.

If liberty means anything at all, it means the right to tell people what they do not want to hear

To round off these square stories, Taro was given a funeral, attended by thousands, by the Communist Party of France. She was buried at Père Lachaise on 1st August 1937 (what would have been her 27th birthday) in a grave designed by Alberto Giacometti. On the tomb is written, in French and Catalan

So nobody will forget your unconditional struggle for a better world

Fast-forward to the summer of 2016 – an open-air display of Taro’s Spanish Civil War photos was included in the f/stop photography festival in Leipzig. Leipzig is where my dad was born in July 1937 in the shadow of the Nazi fascist regime, a swastika and eagle on his birth certificate. When f/stop ended, it was decided that the display would become permanent. This was partly financed through crowdfunding. On the night of 3rd/4th August 2016 (two days after Taro’s 106th birthday), the display was destroyed by being daubed with black tar-like paint. This dark act of destruction was widely suspected to be motivated by anti-semitism or anti-refugee politics. A further crowdfunding campaign more than raised the €4,000 required to restore the vandalised photos. The equal and opposite forces of creativity and destruction, light and dark, squared up to one another.

Be there and be square.

Great Girton Girls No.16 – Sarah Marks / Herta Ayrton

After a recent reunion at Girton I decided to get a proper grasp on the history of the institution and read the standard text on the subject of which I had heard much, ‘That Infidel Place’ by Muriel Bradbrook. It’s particularly interesting because it was written in 1969 while revolution was in the air on campuses across the world. (The other name that used to come up a lot was Rosamond Lehmann, for her memoirs I suppose.) It was in ‘That Infidel Place’ I came across Sarah Marks.

Phoebe Sarah Marks Hertha Ayrton 1854 – 1923 British engineer, mathematician, physicist inventor

On that same visit I noticed a portrait on a wall of a woman named Louisa Goldsmid. The name rang a bell and she turned out to be a forebear of mine, closing the circle. A founder of the college, she will be the subject of No.17. She supported Sarah financially during her career.

Phoebe Sarah Marks was born on 28th April 1854 in Portsea, Hampshire (England) and died on 26th August 1923 (at the age of 69). She was a mathematician, engineer, physicist and inventor. As a teenager she changed her name to Hertha and in due course married physicist and electrical engineer William Ayrton, so she ended up with the name Herta Ayrton and that’s what’s on her two relatively recent blue plaques. She got the name Hertha from the eponymous heroine of Swinburne’s poem.

sarah marks hertha-marks-ayrton scientist

Phoebe Sarah Marks (known as Sarah) was the third child of Levi Marks, a Jewish watchmaker who fled Tsarist Poland, and Alice Theresa Moss, a seamstress. Sarah’s mother was the daughter of Joseph Moss, a glass merchant in Portsea. Levi Marks died in 1861, leaving Sarah’s mother with seven children and an eighth on the way.

Two years later Sarah went to live with her aunts in London and be educated alongside her cousins. The aunts ran a school in NW London. She quickly developed a reputation for having a fiery personality.

By 1870 she was working as a governess, a profession closely connected with Girton and the rise of women’s university education.

Sarah got involved in the women’s suffrage movement while still a teenager. That’s how she met Barbara Bodichon, who went on to become co-founder of Girton. They came into contact while Sarah was a governess and she came to regard Sarah almost as a daughter. Bodichon paid Sarah’s fees and maintenance at Girton and supported her financially throughout her education and career. She ended up bequeathing her considerable estate to Sarah and Sarah marked her gratitude by calling her first child Barbara Bodichon Ayrton. Barbie as she came to be known was born in 1886. She became a Labour MP and died in 1950. Her own son was the artist, Michael Ayrton (1921-1975).

The Captive Seven (1949-50) by Michael Ayrton (1921-1975) Tate Gallery

The Captive Seven (1949-50) by Michael Ayrton – Tate Gallery

Sarah/Herta went up to Girton College, Cambridge, in one of the early cohorts of undergraduates there. She studied Mathematics.

Her application to Cambridge was supported by the novelist George Eliot. Eliot used her as the model for Mirah Lapidoth in ‘Daniel Deronda’.

Jodhi May as Mirah Lapidoth george eliot daniel deronda tv drama

Jodhi May as the Jewess Mirah Lapidoth in Andrew Davies’ 2002 TV adaptation of ‘Daniel Deronda’

At Girton she set up the Mathematics club, led the choral society, and, ironically for the fiery personality that she was, founded the College Fire Brigade in 1879 (which persisted until the 1930s).

Girton Girls Fire Brigade formed in 1878

The Girton College Fire Brigade formed in 1879 to protect the the isolated buildings which were located 2 miles from the city centre

While still an undergraduate Sarah built a sphygmomanometer (blood pressure meter). She was taught by physicist Richard Glazebrook. In 1880 Sarah passed the Mathematics Tripos but was not granted an academic degree because the University awarded only certificates, not full degrees, to women at that time. Indeed until 1948! [See ‘The Steamboat Ladies’ post]

The following year Sarah/Herta passed an exam at the University of London, which awarded her a Bachelor of Science degree.  This links back to my relative Louisa Goldsmid whose forebears had helped found University College London, a constituent college of the federal University of London. Sir Isaac Lyon Goldsmid (1778–1859) was a Founder and Benefactor of UCL alongside the likes of Jeremy Bentham and George Birkbeck (my father, a scientist, from the other side of my family than the Goldsmids, in due course went to Birkbeck College to do his PhD in Organic Chemistry).

Back in London Herta made her living by teaching, as well as embroidery. She taught maths at Notting Hill and Ealing High School. She also ran a club for working girls. In addition, she devised mathematical problems for the Educational Times ‘Mathematical Questions and Their Solutions’ page.

In 1884 she patented a line-divider, an instrument for engineering drawing used for dividing a line into any number of equal parts and for enlarging and reducing figures. This was her first major invention and was of use not only to engineers but also to artists and architects. Her patent application was financially supported by that same Louisa Goldsmid and Barbara Bodichon. The line-divider was displayed at the Exhibition of Women’s Industries and received a good deal of press attention. Between 1884 and 1923 Hertha registered 26 patents: 5 for mathematical dividers, 13 for arc lamps and electrodes, 8 for the propulsion of air.

In 1884 Herta began attending evening classes on Electricity at Finsbury Technical College. These were delivered by Professor William Edward Ayrton, a pioneer in electrical engineering and physics education, and a fellow of the Royal Society. They ended up getting married the following year (6th May 1885). After their marriage she assisted him with physics/electricity experiments. She also began her own experimentation into the characteristics of the electric arc.

Electric arc lighting was in wide use in late 19th Century Britain for public lighting. Its tendency to flicker and hiss was a significant problem. In 1895/6 Hertha wrote a series of articles for ‘The Electrician’ linking these defects to oxygen coming into contact with the carbon rods used to create the arc. In 1899 she was the first woman to read her own paper (‘The Hissing of the Electric Arc’) to the Institution of Electrical Engineers. (Early in my career at Channel 4 I collaborated with the IEE on a long-running creative industries talent development project called IdeasFactory which I ran from 2003 to 2005.) Herta was elected the first female member of the IEE (alone in that status until long after her death – the second woman to be admitted was in 1958). In 1902 Herta published ‘The Electric Arc’, a summary of her research on the electric arc.

Helena_Arsène_Darmesteter_-_Portrait_of_Hertha_Ayrton

Portrait of Hertha by Helena Arsène Darmesteter who also died in 1923 and whose mother was the editor of the first Jewish women’s periodical, Marion Hartog Moss, presumably related to Alice Moss. She exhibited at the Royal Academy and the Exposition Universelle in Paris in 1900.

She petitioned to present a paper to the Royal Society but was refused on the grounds of gender – in 1901 her paper ‘The Mechanism of the Electric Arc’ was read on her behalf by renowned electrical engineer John Perry. He proposed her as a Fellow of the Royal Society the following year but this was rejected by the Council of the Royal Society, who decreed that married women were not eligible to be Fellows. Two years on, however, she became the first woman to read a paper before the Royal Society (1904) when she was permitted to read ‘The Origin and Growth of Ripple Marks’ (which was published in due course in the Proceedings of the Royal Society). Herta presented six papers to the Royal Society between 1901 and her death, a final one in 1926 being delivered posthumously.

Herta was the first woman to win a prize from the Royal Society, the prestigious Hughes Medal for original discovery in the Physical Sciences (especially the applications of  electricity/magnetism). It was awarded to her in 1906 for her work on the electric arc, as well as on the motion of ripples in sand and water. She was the fifth recipient of this annual prize. It took until 2008 for the second woman to be awarded the medal.

In 1899 Herta was put in charge of the Physical Science section at the International Congress of Women which took place in London. The following year she delivered an address at the International Electrical Congress in Paris. In the wake of that success the British Association for the Advancement of Science allowed women to serve on general and sectional committees.

Herta’s work on vortices in water and air gave rise to the ‘Ayrton fan’/’Ayrton flapper’ which was used in the trenches of the First World War to dispel poison gas. She fought for its adoption and even organised its production, over 100,000 being used on the Western Front.

Ayrton anti-gas fan [Imperial War Museum]

Ayrton anti-gas fan – waterproof canvas with cane handle. The back has a hinge so it can fit the varying shapes of the backs of parapets, corners of traverses etc. The fan is 89cm long, with a blade 47cm square, and weighs less than 0.5kg.

After the Great War, Herta helped found the International Federation of University Women (in 1919) and the National Union of Scientific Workers (1920).

Her death highlights the wonders of natural science – she died from the bite of an insect (and subsequent blood poisoning) at New Cottage, North Lancing, Sussex. She has a blue plaque at her London home at 41 Norfolk Square in Paddington, placed there in 2007, 84 years after her fatal sting.

O death, where is thy sting? O grave, where is thy victory? [1 Corinthians]

In February this year a second blue plaque was unveiled at the site of her birthplace at 6 Queen Street, Portsea.

Phoebe Sarah Marks Hertha Ayrton 1854 – 1923 British engineer, mathematician, physicist inventor

In 2015 the British Society for the History of Science established the Ayrton Prize for web projects and digital engagement in the history of science. Which brings us nicely up to the present.

 

Coincidences No.s 212 & 213

No. 212  (27.03.18)

Members of the Jewish community hold a protest against Britain's opposition Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn

26th March 2018

I am working with a fellow producer in Covent Garden in his office. We are talking to a colleague from Glasgow-based Finestripe Productions who attended the Labour Anti-semitism rally outside Parliament last night. This prompts my co-producer to mention who his MP is (as he was prominent at the event).  “Where is the constituency?” Harrow he tells me.

I go round to my mum’s for dinner with my step-dad. We have arranged to go for a Chinese somewhere in Colindale. When I arrive the plan has changed. It is more of a family affair and we are going to a different Chinese. We drive through Harrow, on to Hatch End. (Not sure I’ve ever been here before.) I decide to phone my co-producer from outside the Chinese: “I think I may be in your manor.” I tell him the name of the restaurant. “Look opposite, slightly to the right. Can you see Wellington Road?” I can. “That’s where we live.”

No. 213 (26 & 27.3.18)

1962 lawrence of arabia movie film poster

1962

I am watching a movie from the 80s, ‘Winter Kills’ starring Jeff Bridges. It strikes me that Jeff looks a lot like my old friend Adam D.

I get an email from Adam D for the first time in ages, about 70mm screenings of ‘Lawrence of Arabia’ in his home town of Amsterdam – do I fancy flying over?

Coincidences No.s 210 & 211 – Radio radio

22.iii.18

It is 4.30 in the morning. I hear the cat out on the landing. I come out of the bedroom and it seems a bit frantic. I shoo it downstairs and as I follow it to lock it in the kitchen I notice movement in the downstairs hall. A mouse. I chase the mouse into the kitchen, close the door, open the back door and shoo it out with a brush.

I go back to bed and turn on the radio to lull me back to sleep. The programme on BBC World Service that comes on is talking about getting rid of mice and how do you know that you’ve got rid of them all.

24.iii.18

Jeff Bridges as Nick Kegan in Winter Kills movie 1979

Nick Kegan / Jeff Bridges 1979

I decide to watch a slightly obscure 70s movie on Saturday night – ‘Winter Kills’. It is about the aftermath of the assassination of a popular young US president and the conspiracy theories which follow his shooting. The main character, Nick Kegan, bears more than a passing resemblance to Robert Kennedy.

I stop the movie to go into the kitchen to turn off the dinner. On the radio, which has been left on, is Robert Kennedy in an archive programme on BBC Radio 4 about the killings of both Kennedy (RFK) and Martin Luther King (MLK).

RFK Robert Kennedy attorney general may 1961

Robert Kennedy 1961

 

Principles of Adult Behavior

John Perry Barlow, Internet rights pioneer & visionary, went virtual on Wednesday this week, aged 70 after a long illness. Barlow was co-founder of the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF).

John Perry Barlow, Internet rights pioneer & visionary

Bob Weir, one of the founding members of The Grateful Dead, said of him: “John had a way of taking life’s most difficult things and framing them as challenges, therefore adventures.” John wrote some lyrics for the Dead. He also wrote ‘A Declaration of the Independence of Cyberspace‘ in 1996 (on February 8th as it happens, so its anniversary lies between his passing and the publishing of this post). It opens:

Governments of the Industrial World, you weary giants of flesh and steel, I come from Cyberspace, the new home of Mind. On behalf of the future, I ask you of the past to leave us alone. You are not welcome among us. You have no sovereignty where we gather.

so something of the Ginsberg/Howl thing about it. It concludes:

We will create a civilization of the Mind in Cyberspace. May it be more humane and fair than the world your governments have made before.

John drafted a set of ‘Principles of Adult Behavior’.

1. Be patient. No matter what.
2. Don’t badmouth: Assign responsibility, not blame. Say nothing of another you wouldn’t say to him.
3. Never assume the motives of others are, to them, less noble than yours are to you.
4. Expand your sense of the possible.
5. Don’t trouble yourself with matters you truly cannot change.
6. Expect no more of anyone than you can deliver yourself.
7. Tolerate ambiguity.
8. Laugh at yourself frequently.
9. Concern yourself with what is right rather than who is right.
10. Never forget that, no matter how certain, you might be wrong.
11. Give up blood sports.
12. Remember that your life belongs to others as well. Don’t risk it frivolously.
13. Never lie to anyone for any reason. (Lies of omission are sometimes exempt.)
14. Learn the needs of those around you and respect them.
15. Avoid the pursuit of happiness. Seek to define your mission and pursue that.
16. Reduce your use of the first personal pronoun.
17. Praise at least as often as you disparage.
18. Admit your errors freely and soon.
19. Become less suspicious of joy.
20. Understand humility.
21. Remember that love forgives everything.
22. Foster dignity.
23. Live memorably.
24. Love yourself.
25. Endure.

Pretty wise and a number really resonated for me.

5. Don’t trouble yourself with matters you truly cannot change. – particularly useful in the age of Trump & Brexit

7. Tolerate ambiguity. – I’ve become increasingly conscious in recent times of the polarised tendencies of the ways humans think, drawn constantly to black and white rather than grey

16. Reduce your use of the first personal pronoun. – I’ve become particularly conscious of this in the realm of politics – listen out for those “I”s and you’ll be struck by how common it is and how much it makes you doubt the speaker

17. Praise at least as often as you disparage. – a little praise goes a long way from my experience

19. Become less suspicious of joy. – I’ve become fascinated by the word Joy in recent years. My daily motto is: I will enJoy my day. Many things that would benefit from a bit of Joy often are devoid of it for no good reason.

All 25 give food for thought. On the subject of which, a parting shot from JPB:

…in the years to come, most human exchange will be virtual rather than physical, consisting not of stuff but the stuff of which dreams are made. Our future business will be conducted in a world made more of verbs than nouns.

John Perry Barlow at the Bar Cross Ranch

JPB at the Bar Cross Ranch

 

 

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