Lady Garden is a three-woman art exhibition staged in the unconventional setting of Kiss Bar on Park End Street. Against the backdrop of a nightclub (functioning bar included) Ruskin School of Art students Angeli Bhose, Ruth Spencer Jolly and Lu Williams present sculpture, film, sound art, digital collage, drawing and photography.
With tongue firmly in cheek, the work featuring in the show will raise questions about how we view our bodies and ourselves and how our experience of culture dictates our behavior.
Through performance Angeli focuses on the process of our absorption and perpetuation of external influences with minimal processing time as we try to stay afloat in the chaotic sea of information and images. Ruth works predominantly in film and presents two semi-autobiographical works in this exhibition, focusing on the theme of self-improvement. Lu’s sculptures react to the theory of self-socialisation — our instinctive ability to direct our social development by selecting certain influences within our environment to focus upon and imitate, whilst ignoring others. These sculptures are accompanied by collage, prints and a zine commenting upon societal attitudes towards the concept of feminism.
The exhibition contributes to an ongoing debate, recently enflamed by the recent visit to Britain by the UN special rapporteur Rashida Manjoo who expressed concern about the media’s portrayal of women in the UK. It’s a discussion that will continue to roll; Tuesday of 1st week (April 29th) is your opportunity to drop in, have a drink, experience the art and join the debate.
In the 1960s, there was a schoolboy who was a bit peculiar. He was no good at football. The other schoolboys didn’t really get him. He spent a lot of time with his grandmother, a tarot card reader, who said he was going to be beautiful and have a good life. Together they watched 1940s films, and he became fascinated by the costume design on screen: the couture, and all that came with it, wondrous fabrics, exotic feathers and sexy fishnets. Jean Paul Gaultier took what had inspired him at home, and reproduced these images in class. The teacher slapped him on the wrist, safety pinned the sketch to his back, and told him to face the wall. She intended to humiliate him, but the boys now understood Gaultier, and wanted more sketches. Gaultier opened his exhibition in London with this anecdote and in a way, it beautifully captures all you’re about to see.
“The purpose of exhibition is to pay tribute to Jean Paul Gaultier’s humanism” said Nathalie Bondil, director and chief curator of Montreal Museum of Fine Arts who, to my relief gave a charming but brief introduction to the exhibition. That humanism took shape in an iconoclastic approach to fashion and a liberal celebration of beauty.
The exhibition displays not just the fashion, but the musings and principles which underpin all of Gaultier’s work. He doesn’t like his models to be robots. He doesn’t care much for conventional beauty; that is to say the slim, ethereal, classic figures that characterized the fashion world during his apprenticeship in the 70s. His models are fat, old, transgender, mixed race and tattooed. In so many words they are diverse, a fact that reflects his original interpretation of beauty. The spectacular photography on display, small and large images, exemplifies his enduring commitment to that belief, and just the right amount was included, which enables you to give each piece its due appreciation without being overcome with material.
“In Paris, fashion has to be serious”, said Gaultier, “but in London people can be fun’. After a few paces around the exhibition it becomes obvious that Gaultier may, according to his own definition, be in fact more than 1/8 English — something he told us with pride. The talking models scattered around the exhibition in provocative poses removed all doubts as to whether or not he was a designer who challenges convention and enjoys poking fun at the establishment.
By the end of the exhibition, the headline “The Fashion World of Jean Paul Gaultier: From the Sidewalk to the Catwalk” made perfect sense. Gaultier drew inspiration from the sidewalk. Whether it was walking past David Bowie on the Kings Road in 1974 or, wandering around Portobello. He elaborated that “it is more interesting and inspiring to look at people who are not in fashion as they aren’t observing a code”. He transferred these ideas and the people that embodied them to the catwalk. It was his world meeting another world, a distinction, which today can no longer be drawn. He fulfilled his grandmother’s prophecy, and went a bit further, making others beautiful and leads a life good for himself, and even better for society. So to borrow his own words: “Enjoy it, and have a good moment”.
Walking into “Bang Said the Gun”, “the poetry event for people who don’t like poetry”, you will uncover an atmosphere of raucous revelry unique in the world of spoken word. Music blasts, the crowd wave their shakers (or, milk bottles filled with rice) and the hosts weave through the room, chanting and ramping up the merry-making. The night has experienced a surge in popularity of late, aided by the success of its own Rob Auton at the Edinburgh Fringe last year, at which he won Dave’s funniest joke award. From the off, the night storms along under the guidance of Jack Rooke, a slightly chaotic and irresistibly energised compère. Co-founder Martin Galton is the first to be introduced, and he launches into “Rude Bastards”, a familiar crowd-pleaser that soon has the audience bellowing back at him.
Then comes Rob Auton, a man who increasingly resembles a character from a Tim Burton animation, and whose look of wide-eyed naivety and wonder is in perfect accordance with his whimsical, absurd humour. His new “Face Show” appreciates the often overlooked charm of faces great and small, and he creates a moment of tenderness amongst the audience as he encourages us to search for a face we have never before seen. There is something in his poetry of a child’s ability to create poignancy by observing the everyday with new eyes.
The main attraction of the night is the appearance of Howard Marks, notorious drug baron turned writer, who opens by lecturing the crowd on “the anarchy of the English Language” and why money is literally a replacement for shit – accompanied with a lengthy exposition of Freudian psychology. His declarations espouse liberation from materialism and desire to live every moment, but regrettably this energy is not matched by vast passages of his prose, which sound as if they were being read from a textbook. But the moment he moves away from didacticism into a whimsical nonsense poem his writing shines. Each listener is gleefully caught up in his vivid, hallucinatory vision of a universe formed by the “Big Bong”, which culminates in Sad Adam and Christmas Eve getting rat-arsed on reindeer piss.
Yet it is not all fun and games, and James Bunting and Maria Ferguson draw us back to the recognition of poetry as an art with an unparalleled ability to expose the most vulnerable and oft disguised realms of our psyche. They provide the emotional core of the night, both reluctantly admitting that they “can’t do funny” before launching into their fast-paced, witty and ultimately solemn poems. Bunting reminds you how it feels to be in love as well as the acute pain of loss, while Ferguson mixes tales of halcyon, hedonistic days with moments of depression that form a microscopically detailed human tragedy.
The night concludes with the “Raw Meat Stew”, an open mic competition of unerringly high standards, with the winner claiming the Golden Gun Award and a 10 –minute slot at next week’s show. And don’t forget to stick around – in the downstairs bar the night is young for poet and punter alike.
Bang Said the Gun is at the Roebuck, 50 Great Dover Street SE1, every Thursday at 8pm. Tickets on the door £7/£5 concessions.
Eva Kotatkova’s ‘The Storyteller Inadequacy’ may have stolen the show this winter at Modern Art Oxford, but the quiet and colourful Piper Gallery houses one of the most important shows that the gallery has seen in recent years. “Charting the complete graphic design history of the gallery, this exhibition is a photographic trompe l’oeil of around 400 unique posters from the Modern Art Oxford archive,” reads the description.
Modern Art Oxford has been a prominent space both in Oxford and in the national art scene since it was founded in 1965. Notice! is a record of the hundreds of experimental and extremely influential exhibitions that have taken place at Pembroke Street and earlier at the Bear Lane Gallery. Making use of the 500 rare and original posters in its archives, the exhibit tracks changes in exhibition – making over the last 50 years charting progress in layout, branding, political undertones and graphic design.
To create the piece, the posters (all originals taken from the archives) were fixed to the walls of the Piper Gallery and photographed in order to create a floor- to-ceiling representation of the posters in their actuality. The historicity of these posters is brought to light and made very real, as some posters are exhibited with their slight creases or with their corners captured rolling upwards as they slowly unfurl from the wall, leaving small squares of Blu-Tack visible behind.
The effect is a very honest and vast floor- to-ceiling display, capturing the essential vibrancy of these pieces of ‘art-marketing.’ On first glance the chronological ordering of the room is vaguely apparent. Most obviously, the recent posters of the noughties are much more regimented in size and framing, in comparison to the earliest pieces, being more heavily and consistently branded. Conversely, the mainly artist-created posters of the 60s vary in size, layout, and information given. The handmade quality of these early pieces is extraordinary, yet in some cases the details of the exhibition are not provided, granting a spontaneous, abstract vibe.
The movement from the ‘60s and ‘70s posters towards the corporate branding of the ‘80s is clear as the museum logo makes an appearance and the use of technology and graphic design become more apparent. The ‘90s see further technological advances and the ‘branding’ extends from the museum to a more clearly brand-focussed ‘artist’ also.
The artist is still at the foreground of the poster but in a very different way.Their artwork is still displayed but the focus shifts more towards the advertisement and marketing of the artist alongside that of the museum- dual layers of marketing and branding within one piece.
Political undertones are evident within the posters. A series of four posters from the ‘80s are presented. They are particularly text heavy and encompass the style of pieces of propaganda as the content of these range from Russian politics to World War Two. These were thepiecesthatweremostfascinating. Great names of British and worldwide art were evident- Tracey Emin’s ‘This is Another Place’ and Robert Doisneau’s exhibitions wowed me, and seeing names from Pasternak to Noel Forster, Gillian Ayres and Jenny Saville hugging the walls was quite astounding.
Most interesting however was viewing these names presented alongside the above propaganda-style pieces, one of which stated: “Whilst the world listened to HIFI from Japan, a museum tuned into art.” Also prominent were two posters for 1988 exhibitions of photography from the height of the AIDS crisis.
This celebration of art history and the history of Modern Art Oxford is displayed in an unimaginable way – one which has local pull and importance and which allows these pieces to speak honestly. The posters are grouped simply as pieces from an extensive and dusty archive, but the stories that they tell span tragedy, greatness and an international art history.
Notice! Is at Modern Art Oxford until the 2nd of February 2014.
As we move tentatively further into 2014, those unsure as to what the new year will have in store would do well to get themselves down to the V&A, where new year’s is being heralded in with two remarkable, contemporary exhibitions, Jameel Prize 3 and Elmgreen & Dragset’s Tomorrow.
On the surface there is little to connect these two shows. The Jameel Prize exposition celebrates the work of modern-day artists inspired by traditional Islamic arts and crafts. Tomorrow is a walk-through piece, pondering the futility of wealth, and the excess and nausea of western living, from the team that produced Death of a Collector. What links these very different exhibitions is their sheer modernity – these are glimpses of the here-and-now, snapshots of the world as it enters its “two thousandth and fourteenth year”.
As for what those snapshots show us, Tomorrow conjures up a bleak state of affairs. The experience is, in fact, less a glimpse than extended voyeurism, as we are invited to pore over the house and possessions of the fictional architect Norman Swann, on the brink of selling up the grand family home he can no longer maintain. Elmgreen & Dragset calculate their details perfectly, from the medicine tablets on the slick mahogany dressing table, to the drip that has found its way through the elaborate plastered ceilings, the Dominos boxes that clutter the corner of the pristine stainless steel kitchen – and the sad little union jack, nesting limply beside a news cutting on riots in Cameron’s Britain. The piece precisely skewers so many of the realities of modern western living: the co-existence of beauty and craftsmanship with cheap, mass consumption, the inability of wealth to protect from the frailty of ageing, the fear of a world where power is changing.
Norman could be a one-man metaphor for Europe, living amidst an inherited and unsustainable wealth, and while we might goggle at the so many unnecessary luxuries – (my favourite was a five foot wide oil portrait of a spaniel) – it is impossible not to feel for Norman as he is made to yield them. Walking through the house, it is as if we are prospective buyers, forcing the old man out with our very tread, or tourist spectators (as, indeed, in a way we are) gawping for our passing amusement at what was once a way of life. There is also the added sense of the morbid fascination with which we pick over disaster stories and tales of the downfall of the rich. Whatever its title, Tomorrow is a complex and disconcerting view of living today.
Jameel Prize 3, featuring works from ten different artists, is more varied in outlook, but its contemporary thrust is the same. Many of the pieces consider the rapid changes of a globalised world, such as Faig Ahmed’s traditional carpet designs with their intricate, ordered patterns collapsing in one corner, and Mounir Fatmi’s dizzying video installation, all movement and chaos. Laurent Mareschal’s drawings made from spices share and evoke the transient nature of the burgeoning street art scene; while Pascal Zoghbi’s experiments with Arabic typography, refashioning it into both poppy, commercial fonts, and sloganish spray-paint ones, seem to nod to the dual pressures of capitalism and the more socialist ideals of the Arab Spring, which are now vying in the Middle East. Change is the defining ethos of the show, and – for these artists certainly – the defining spirit of our times.
The Arab world in vertiginous change, Europe in slow defeat – two visions of the world in 2014. It is well worth making the trip to the V&A to see them, uncomfortable viewing as they may sometimes be.
PHOTO/Victoria & Albert Museum
In 2013, we were provided with plenty of fresh evidence supporting the adage, “sex sells”. Miley Cyrus’s seemingly ceaseless twerking and gyrating, for example, helped her album “Bangerz” achieve the year’s biggest album sales week for a woman, while the song and video for “Blurred Lines” vaulted a 36-year-old Robin Thicke, who had been toiling away in near obscurity since the mid-1990s, into our collective cultural consciousness. Two recent exhibitions at the Musee d’Orsay and the British Museum contributed eroticized bodies to further stoke the fires of our desire.
Masculine/Masculine: The Nude Man in Art from 1800 to the Present Day, which opened on Sept. 24 at the Musee d’Orsay, featured plenty of depictions of sensual male flesh for visitors’ contemplation. Male genitalia abounded, either coyly covered in wisps of cloth or on full view, prompting one woman when I visited to loudly proclaim that the exhibition was “positively pornographic”. Works such as the celebrated classical masterpiece the Barberini faun, with his invitingly spread legs and head thrown back suggestively, however, show that “pornography”, with its dismissive, pejorative associations, is an inapposite term to apply to the works of this exhibition, in which the male form is celebrated both for its erotic and more purely aesthetic associations.
The art at the D’Orsay, however, looked positively prim compared to the pieces in the British Museum’s exhibition, Shunga: sex and humour in Japanese Art, 1600-1900. Shunga, in the form of paintings, prints, and illustrated books with text, are sexually explicit, with frank, graphic depictions of sexual intercourse. Featuring a wide variety of male-male and male-female interactions, the works in the exhibition, according to the museum, promoted societal values “generally positive toward sexual pleasure for all participants”, as evidenced by the numerous depictions of both male and female orgasms. The light-hearted images of, for example, a cat batting the testicles of an otherwise-engaged man, furthermore, suggest an integration of sex into broader society, culture, and, in particular, art; while the images are sexually explicit, their meticulous compositions and attention to detail made them prized, celebrated possessions, regarded as suitable gifts for brides or official foreign visitors.
Both exhibitions are undoubtedly attempts to increase the cultural relevance of the two venerable institutions and to appeal to a demographic more familiar with Beyonce than Bonnard. On this front, they have been wildly successful: according to museum figures, Masculine/Masculine attendance was triple that for a show at the same time last year, and the Shunga show, which was sold-out its opening weekend in early October, was packed when I visited in mid-December.
The exhibitions, however, do not simply copy the depictions of sex and sexuality found in popular culture. Music videos and television shows worryingly feeds us the same tired model of sexuality again and again, in which young women, and particularly nonwhite women, are relentlessly objectified for heterosexual male consumption. The D’Orsay and the British Museum trade the trite images of Miley Cyrus slapping black women’s bums and rappers ogling strippers for a wide range of sexual models, featuring men and women of various ages, ethnicities, and sexual preferences exercising agency. What these exhibitions, and their incredible success, show is not so much society’s appetite for “pornography” as its hunger for more nuanced, varied, and honest depictions of human sexuality.
One theatre group, two nights, six plays. Almost Random Theatre (ART) is barely twenty months old and has begun 2014 with a stomping start. On offer were six brand new pieces: four from the winners and runners-up of two playwriting competitions two plays by ART founder and producer Chris Sivewright.
Sivewright’s School Assembly explores the twisting suffocations of jealousy and the drive for revenge. A teacher (Paul Barrand) discovers that his close friend and colleague (Simon Donahue) has had an affair with his wife. Despite unpersuasive advice to ‘keep things private’ from a headmistress (Angela Myers) desperate to avoid bad publicity, confrontation takes place and, as the play ends, it seems that so too has disaster. Paul Barrand captures ferociously the fuming agonies of a man who feels himself wronged, his body shaking in furious tension throughout. Some strange moments of script (no man genuinely devastated at the infidelity of his wife would make a bad pun about another man ‘popping in’ to her body) didn’t prevent the play from being thoughtful about the gap between appearance and conduct, although it could have been subtler, showing more and telling less.
Next up was Lisa Nicoll’s Poedunk, a black comedy in which a fourteen-year-old girl visits a psychiatrist who seems to have problems far worse than hers. The joy of this play was all in the words, with frenzied moments unfolding at perfect pitch. Ellen Publicover’s Pippi is marvellous: frantic, overthinking, self-torturing, and yet also self-empowering, determined to prove that she can make life better. Her delivery was superbly matched by Victor Ptak’s Dr Igor Harvatz. This 20-minute play has a clever twist and an interesting storyline, but what really shone through was a talent for expression that belonged to script and actors alike.
Monday’s final play, just 10-minutes long, was Pool Boy, by Edwin Preece. Although the most modest—minimal props, no flashy lighting, cast of two, action grounded in dialogue—this was also the sharpest of the Monday plays. The script is eerie, and smart, lulling the audience into the complacent sense that they have guessed the denouement, only completely to surprise them in the play’s final moments. Both actors (Soraya I-Ting and Marcus Davis-Orrom) mastered their roles, manipulating well the economy of the script.
Tuesday began Chris Sivewright’s second offering, Transformation. This play felt more sincere than School Assembly, if less coherent. Schoolgirl Emily (Rachel Eireann) is doing a school-project on well-being and has asked her grandfather (Richard Ward) for help—although it doesn’t seem that she actually needs it, given that when he is talking she tends to spend most of her time texting her friends or frowning in boredom. The relationship between the pair could have done with a little more honing: Emily spends so much time huffing or ignoring her grandfather that the closeness the storyline needs to claim for them isn’t quite believable. He seems charming, she obnoxious. The play seems more about the ills of modern life than anything else, which makes grandpa’s plea to be kept involved in the changing times sound disingenuous. And of course, ultimately, it is grandpa who shows Emily that he knows what it is to have a good time.
Jonathan Skinner’s Kind is a consummately structured piece, and my favourite of the shows. Six short scenes show the turning of fortune’s wheel as rich Richard and penniless Penny swap places. Dick wants the homeless Penny off his posh pavement and even gives her a tenner to disappear. But the two become acquaintances. The play’s plot is obvious early on, and it is part of the play’s strength that it remains absorbing even though we know how it will end. Penny (played gloriously by Rachel Eireann) seems to be one of life’s winners, even when her luck is low; her way of looking at things transcends that of the naïve young girl. Richard (Simon Donahue), on the other hand, is miserable even when things seem good and one can’t help worrying as the play ends that, unlike Penny, he won’t be able to leave homelessness behind him. Perhaps the play isn’t about kindness so much as life-attitude.
Ian Fletcher’s The Trinity ended the ART sextet. A 10-minute play about three criminals who want to become super-villains, the play explores friendship and ambition, suggesting that both are doomed to failure. The play had elements that provoked thought but would have benefited from more development. There are three major scenes and each of them seemed too short to merit the emotional significance attached to them by the dialogue. The friendship test isn’t successfully realised as momentous because the close friendship we hear the characters profess has not been exhibited. Whether this is a problem of direction or just that the play could do with being longer is a question that deserves attention, for there are seeds of potential interest here. A little more care and nourishment may bring them to fruit.
Almost Random Theatre is random. The plays range in quality and success, but all of them are innovative and energetic, and the joy the company takes in performing them is manifestly evident. Each of these plays is brand new and it’s marvellous to see a theatre company so open to fresh talent and creativity. Even better is that, for all the ‘everyone’s got a shot’ ethos, quality doesn’t suffer and all of the playwrights, with all of their actors, deserve thorough applause. Most of all though, ART is to be celebrated. This is an initiative that will continue to gather strength.
With the announcement of the Golden Globe winners this year, the media inevitably splashes out in stories from the most mundane repetition of the winners, to the painfully more mundane Daily Mail ‘scoop’ that ‘Jennifer Lawrence was thrashed the night before the Golden Globes’. As the awards are shared and spread, actors, producers, and those other people who get awarded during the interval for bizarre things like sound editing, rejoice in the recognition. Then the moment is gone, and they all gear up for the Oscar nominations.
Since the early post-war period, the circle of cinema-making has been dictated and defined by this period. Any film intending to be considered as a serious and self-aware creation has had to ensure it is released in the period of consideration for the Oscars, and preferably not win Best Drama at the Globes. Because, when journalists agree too much, they go on to realise they may be wrong.
What does not seem to be questioned as thoroughly as perhaps it should be is: why have such institutions been awarded with the ubiquitous voice of cinema? In fact, it seems difficult to recall them ever winning an award in their own right – it is ironic to think they have never been acknowledged by their own system of worth-attachment.
Rather than launching into the question of whether we should, at all, try to create any omniscient measure of cinematic quality, let us turn to the organisations themselves.
The Golden Globe award is given by the Hollywood Foreign Press Association. This organisation was founded by foreign journalists, based in Los Angeles, trying to raise the profile of overseas markets for cinema amid the turmoil of the Second World War. The group was originally led by none other than the British correspondent for the Daily Mail.
The original intention, therefore, was not at all focused on cinema, or the art of picture-making. It was an attempt to improve the marketing strategy of Hollywood films abroad via access to top-end celebrities for interviews in local papers around the world.
Today, the Hollywood Foreign Press Association annually selects up to five journalists to join their prestigious ranks, and boasts a combined readership of over 250 million. In essence, these people are influential enough to have ensured these films are given a certain level of praise before they even reach the stage of award-giving. The fact these journalists are influential enough, however, seems somewhat counter intuative to the process of award giving. Namely, the worth of an award stands quite aside from a local newspaper review offering praise in the Telegraph. Yet, given the structure of the organisaiton, as nothing more than a conglomerate of those very same people behind the Telegraph, Le Figaro and Vogue reviews, the Golden Globes acknowledge nothing more than the fact several important people may have enjoyed the film.
Rather than necessarily encouraging film quality, and the death of the contrived rom-com (probably featuring Jennifer Aniston), the Golden Globes is a celebration of influence. The award ceremony is a ploy, initiated by journalists, to demonstrate the weight of their own opinion that will (in an ironically metaphysical twist) then be discussed even further in the media. It is media-led influence driving influencing media.
The films themselves are perhaps excellent, at times dire, but all in all perfectly acceptable. What they are certainly not is the life changing experiences suggested by the titles Golden Globe and Oscar.
Diane Keaton, for instance, accepted Woody Allan’s award for a lifetime achievement in writing, producing, and directing films, by noting that “Woody Allan films have changed the way we think about life.” Yes, somewhere between solving global warming and offering a military strategy for the colonisation of Antartica, Woody Allen films have also had me completely reconsider my epistemological conceptions of the world. So shaken was I, at the sight of Midnight in Paris, that I began to think of life not as the historically chronological and ordered thing that it is, but as the magically lyrical paradigm where people and events occur for my cinematic convenience. It’s done me wonders, really.
The more Golden Globes we hand out, the more we restrain cinema-makers to this seemingly inescapable globe of golden showbiz and loud noise. In fact, the best reaction a filmmaker could ever provoke is a simple, still, heavy, and thoughtful silence.
FEATURED PHOTO/ jdeeringdavis