RHYMES&REASONS

Observations, Thoughts and Reflections on 21st Century Life

Category: History

Patterns

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Patterns are everywhere.  Life is made up of them.  We are their product.   From the extraordinary beauty of a single snowflake to the relative simplicity of the double helix which forms our DNA, patterns dominate life.  Nature produces them over and over, evolving yes but still within the boundaries of a recognisable pattern.  Man has replicated them from ancient times, everywhere you look you will find a pattern, not always obvious, sometimes we must seek them out.

There is a comfort in patterns, familiar, predictable they have boundaries and therefore a certainty about what has been, what is happening and what is yet to come.  Patterns dictate our behaviour too.  The rebellious teenager who pushes the boundaries of parental control and wisdom, wanting to forge their own path, unaware that they too are following an age old pattern.  They do not, however always work in our favour.  Behavioural patterns can be destructive, like a mutating cancer replicating it’s ugly cells the pattern forges forth, carried by belief that we are right, ignoring all evidence to the contrary.

 I recently visited an installation by UK artist Carl Jaycock in a local church.  Photographs of all the men and women from Shropshire who lost their lives in the First World  War – including Shropshire born poet Wilfred Owen – were formed into the shape of shell cases.  Alongside the beautiful floor tiles this human pattern was a haunting sight.  All those involved in that dreadful war unwittingly became part of the pattern of history.

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In recent weeks Germany has lead the way welcoming those seeking refuge from Syria and other ravaged countries.  There is a collective will to break the historical dysfunctional pattern of their homeland and create a new one – for some perhaps a form of absolution.  But scratch a little beneath the surface as one journalist did and the old prejudicial pattern is soon revealed, veiled but by no means dormant.  Collective will is shunned when reality challenges the pull of our individual autonomy  and the old destructive pattern snaps sharply back into place. Like the rebellious teenager we refuse to listen to wisdom even when we know the consequences may be devastating.

Why do we repeatedly do the same things and yet expect a different outcome?  Most of us are driven, controlled even by our ego, our immaturity beckoned and  seduced toward false havens – a flawed, myopic  isolation of the present suspended from historical context.  We witness the arctic melt, we see that prejudice leads to conflict, we feel when our repeated actions damage our personal relationships.  But still we resist the fluid, less unilateral stance which maturity demands of us, safe in the false belief that it is another at fault, another who must shoulder the burden of change.

   If we are to liberate ourselves from the cancerous, cyclical patterns born of short-sighted self interest, we must learn to cross familiar thresholds with a different, more determined intent in our step.

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“Courage was mine, and I had mystery    

Wisdom was mine, and I had mastery.”

Wilfred Owen

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The Building that Changed the Face of the World!

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“It is one of those rare structures that changed the world of construction and design.  With it’s revolutionary iron frame it was the predecessor of the modern sky-scrapper.”  These are the words of Sir Neil Cossons, former chairman of English Heritage about the Flaxmill in Shrewsbury, UK.

  Described as the ‘grandfather of skyscrappers’ although it is no taller than a modern five storey building, the Flaxmill was designed as a ‘manufactory’ for the processing of flax into fine linen, by architect and amateur engineer Charles Bage in 1796.  Influenced by his friend Thomas Telford and Abraham Darby’s now infamous Ironbridge just 15 031 miles down the road, it was the first time a building had been constructed with an internal iron frame.  The fireproof combination of cast iron columns and cast iron beams was a system which later developed into the modern steel frame making modern skyscrappers possible.  The success of the Shrewsbury Flaxmill quickly spread to a series of other iron frame mills in Britain reducing fire risk but fuelling the industrial revolution.

   047   That is quite a CV for one a building!  But there is so much more to The Flaxmill’s heritage than just facts.  It’s impact was not only on the development of architecture but on the progress of industry, economy and wealth, population, housing and lives.  It has touched four centuries, crossing the threshold of three.  At the time of construction of the main mill building America had not long since won it’s independence, the dust was still settling after the Storming of the Bastille in France and Shrewsbury’s most famous son Charles Darwin had yet to be born.

This sense of encompassing history is palpable.  The collection of buildings radiate an imposing heaviness, weary of having witnessed too much but it’s iron skeleton provides not just a frame but an iron will to keep standing when gravity and time would have it otherwise.  Woven into it’s walls are the stories of all who have lived and worked within them – the blood, the sweat, the tears, the deaths. Two hundred and twenty years spinning, twisting, weaving their threads and stories from the 18th to the 21st century.  The iron frame soars with dignity above your head, the warp and the weft of the architects pen waiting patiently for the next plan to be drawn.

Through the Mill 2015

‘The Iron and The Flax’ and ‘The Linen and The Dye’ by Rebecca Pells

038I have passed by this building hundreds of times but it has only been recently when I had the opportunity to exhibit a couple of my paintings during the Flaxmill Heritage Open days  that I have taken any real notice of it.  Researching it’s history in preparation for my work it is only now that I have come, with some guilt, to appreciate the influence it has had in the development of the modern world.  Imagine the 21st century without skyscrappers – where would all the businesses go, where would all the people live?  London, New York, Tokyo would not be the places they are today.  Things could have taken a very different path.  But they didn’t – thanks to one Charles Bage and his iron framed Flaxmill.

It was to be a further twelve years before another Shrewsbury man named Charles would also change the world.  Charles Darwin.  But that’s a whole other story!

For further information about Shrewsbury Flaxmill visit Friends of the Flaxmill Maltings

For my artwork visit Rebecca Pells Artist

Heirloom Bouquet

Bouquet of Heirlooms

Heirloom Bouquet Rebecca Pells 2015

Never have so many owned so much as we do in the 21st century.  Consumerism is spreading like a virulent disease infecting huge numbers of people.  Far from fleeing and looking for an antidote it’s welcomed by many who seek to catch the bug and embrace it.

From where does our love affair with the inanimate come?  The first objects were practical and necessary – clothes, tools and utensils and then excess commodities which could be traded in exchange for ‘foreign’ goods brought wealth and the ability to purchase more. But from earliest times we have evidence of purely decorative items such as jewellery and ornaments, artifacts which quickly became an indication of status or something cherished.  Items became integrated and entwined in our personal history handed down from generation to generation, a familial wave passing through our lives.

 Although many of us today continue to judge our success and that of others by what we own, abundance seems to have changed this relationship – things are replaced with an up to date version or simply because we have become bored and enjoy the fleeting satisfaction of acquiring the new. Many of us seek an identity  – or perhaps seek to escape from ourselves  – through the things we clutter our lives with.  Barely grasped and with little time for emotional attachment, we no longer truly inhabit the gift of inheritance. Perhaps that is the way it should be, the inanimate remaining transient, pleasing one moment and forgotten the next.

  However, there is a comfort in the familiar, in the multilayered existence of inheritance; a stabilizing, grounding sense of belonging which comes from things with which we grew up, the landmarks by which we navigated our early years.  They are the threshold between our history and the present, between what has been, what is and what is yet to come.  A kind of immortality we cannot ourselves achieve.  Often they are not of much monetary worth, but offer the far greater value of connection.

In the above painting the jugs are from a collection of my mother’s, the string of pearls my grandmother’s and the oak cabinet on which they rest from my great grandparents home.  By contrast, the flowers arranged in a mass produced vase offer a metaphor of contemporary ownership, admired for a short time before fading and being discarded to make way for the fresh.

My Great Grandfather Arthur Pells  1851-1927

My Great Grandfather Arthur Pells 1851-1927

Why I look forward to living in a tolerant free society

Tolerant.

A word which has become so commonplace in western society that if the Oxford English Dictionary were listed in order of ubiquity it would appear near the beginning.  It is viewed as something good, worthy, virtuous even – the hallmark of a progressive society.  There is an air of self-congratulation about it because we have managed to suppress something we instinctively feel, in order to promote an outer acceptance.  Politicians and other leaders announce that we live in a tolerant society as if we have arrived at some kind of cultural ideal.

But is it really this simple? To feel tolerant of something you first have to perceive it as different from you in some shape or form, most often the opinion or behaviour of another individual or group.  The term has become synonymous with accepting people from other countries and cultures into the place in which we live and work.  But the very act of tolerating keeps us separate from those we wish to integrate with.  If you feel the need to tolerate, then you are still experiencing a difference from yourself which you feel some discomfort about.  It suggests an element of effort, a ‘putting up with’ for the benefit of the greater good.

Perhaps this doesn’t matter if it enables people to live together in a friendly and cordial manner.  However, the wall of tolerance often serves only to restrain the frustration at having to accept that which our instincts tell us to be wary of.  Under pressure from external stress such as unemployment or lack of resources, these repressed feelings break forth in the form of blame or anger directed at those we previously accepted.  From early humans to modern man instinct has provided a warning to be cautious of strangers and tolerance is merely a sticking plaster covering this innate response and does little to negate it completely.

Genetic Ancestry Tree

Genetic Ancestry Tree

But overcome it we can, as living alongside those from other parts of the globe becomes the norm and over time differences will cease to both us, there will be no tolerance required, no pre-judgement or labelling as to who is friend and who is foe. Historically migration took centuries, the mixing of cultures happened slowly with integration following initial resistance.  My own DNA can be traced back centuries to the North Caucasus region on my maternal side and Germanic roots on my father’s.  At the time of testing in 2009 the closest match on record to my genetic profile was that of a Turkish individual and an Iranian.  It’s not so much that we will end up in one homogenous melting pot but rather than eyed with suspicion, our differences will be embraced.

Already the 21st century has seen a rapid increase in relocation but our instincts, slow to change their habitual response, have yet to catch up.  One day the word ‘tolerant’ maybe obsolete and dropped entirely from the Oxford English Dictionary  . . .  only then will we live in a truly free society.

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