Pre-Raphaelites | Tate Britain

With over two hundred works spanning across painting, sculpture, furniture and wallpaper, the Pre-Raphaelite exhibition at Tate Britain is something to contend with. The group of artists, writers and poets are frequently associated with their personification of beauty but here the curators are arguing that the brotherhood were also radicals, innovative inventors that led the first British modern art movement. Although the stunning red headed women that frequent the canvases are present throughout, the exhibition is split into additional themes including Nature, Salvation and Mythology.

It is an ambitious exhibition. For one thing, the Pre-Raphaelite exhibition includes all of the popular and expected paintings from Rossetti’s women, Millais’ Ophelia to the dying body of the suicidal Chatterton by Henry Wallis. These paintings are, to me, beauty in its purest form but they are also over-familiar. They’re the images of tortured souls that grace the pages of Victorian poetry books and classic novels. It’s a challenge to argue that this densely emotional, passionate aesthetic is the work of proto-modernists.

However, the Pre-Raphaelites were painting at the same time as Karl Marx was writing. In 1848, when the brotherhood formed, Marx and Friedrich Engels has published the Communist Manifesto. It might be a little far fetched to suggest the group were modern artists, but they did share revolutionary ideals. They made pyscho-drama of Victorian society and mocked the hypocrisy of the age. Their blatant approach to female sexuality was forward thinking. Millais’ 1851 painting of Mariana shows a woman locked in the Vicarage and longing for something far more satisfying.

If you’re a fan of the Pre-Raphs, like me, then this exhibition has everything you could want. Not only the popular paintings of torture romantics and bold, suffocating colour, but also a vivid exploration into alleys of though not previously associated with the group. Does it achieve in presenting them as proto-modernists? Perhaps not fully, but it does successfully marry the fictional heartbreaks of Tennyson with the brutal reality of Dickens. It’s excessive, emotive and heavy with the romance only accessible to poets and artists. A collection of images that make physical all that is bitter sweet, ‘a love that moves the sun and the other stars’.

Only Wolves and Lions @ BAC

Deputy Editor Freya Gosling heads over to Battersea Arts Centre to join Leo Kay and Anna Smith performing their latest production ‘Only Wolves and Lions’. Red red wine, cooking, eating, music, dancing and discussion were all up for grabs during this very special evening.

Very rarely does one get the chance to munch down delicious hot food during a theatre performance…. unlike during a screening at Peckham Plex Cinema, it is frowned upon to devour nachos during a Pinter play at the National. However, theatre company Unfinished Business’ latest creation ‘Only Wolves and Lions’ is a whole different kettle of fish/meat/expansive vegetarian options. In the company’s most recent production, the preparing, cooking and eating of food as a group is at the centre of the whole performance- as well as the discussion that food and (good) wine brings with it.

Leo Kay’s production brings together a group of individuals; asks that each person brings along an raw ingredient, and invites them to share in the unique experience that is meeting and creating something to eat together as a collection of relative strangers.

Having umm-ed and ahh-ed about what ingredient to take for over a week, I plumped for plantain; a versatile ingredient used in many different cultures for many years…. and one I had never cooked with before. I did not even know how to identify a ripe one, to the wry amusement of the sales assistant in one of the grocer’s on Peckham Rye High Street. So, clutching a bag filled to the brim with strange fruit/veg that I had no idea what to do with I waited for the other members of the audience to arrive. They arrived in dribs and drabs of varying states of lateness (true to form with an arts event) and far from being intimidating and ultra-cool, everyone seemed excited, nervous and each clutching carrier bags with their own ingredients. A small amount of nosey-ing about each others choices went on, along with some laughter and raised eyebrows (I had no cause to be superior about my plantain… what even is it?!) until we were ushered upstairs into the Member’s Bar of the BAC. Here we were asked by Leo Kay and Unai Lopez de Armentia, who were leading the event, to queue up, introduce ourselves and each present the ingredient we had chosen for the evening’s performance.

Laid out before us was a huge table, complete with chairs that had clean white aprons laid over them, water jugs and glasses. On smaller tables dotted around the room were cooking stations with hobs and cooking equipment, and at the other end of the room was a table laden with basic ingredients: onions, garlic, tinned tomatoes, herbs, spices and different breads. This excited me instantly, having not been sure how much of the performance would be actually cooking- or to what degree the show was metaphorical when it spoke of cooking. I was not to be disappointed however…

The evening began with wine and several elaborate toasts to the evening ahead, happiness and general well-being. This was perfectly within everyone’s comfort zone, and there was much chinking of glass and swigging of surprisingly delectable wine. More ambivalent glances were exchanged when we were asked to stand, impersonate monkeys, shake our booties and catch the eye of other individuals in the room that you would mate with if you were a monkey with more primal instincts than cooking and toasting with wine! However, it could not be denied that these icebreaker techniques were a total success, as everyone was flushed and giggling afterwards, all pretence of aloof politeness shattered.

The group was subsequently asked to split into smaller groups of three or four, and given three minutes to examine all of the ingredients we had before us on the table, and come up with as many recipes as we could, using as many or as little of what we had available. After a flurry of tipsy group-forming we discussed food, our group deciding on guacamole, bruschetta, apsaragus and mint ristotto, and fried plantain with spicy salsa. All ideas were eventually brought together and Leo and Unai shocked us all by agreeing that we would try and cook every single dish the groups had come up with in forty minutes, adding to our list aubergine curry, sweet potato tagine, pan-fried chorizo, warm green salad,spicy kale, and cob nuts.

The next forty minutes were spent in a delightful rush of great smells, flavours, sounds from the mixed playlist that was playing while we cooked, and working as a united whole. Discussion ebbed and flowed as we concentrated on the task ahead but interest in each other’s cooking took over, with people drifting from station to station sampling one another’s dishes as they were created (my fried plantain being a popular choice as it was quick to cook and everyone was becoming ravenous!)

Finally, time was up and we all sat, sauce-splattered and very eager to eat the magnificent spread before us. Leo and Unai once again gently led discussion with another toast, and by asking us what we had named our dishes. (I went for Peckham Surprise, because I truly had not known what the outcome was going to be of my dish!) It was remarkable how quickly audience and performance directors relaxed into this unfamiliar ‘scene’, as after this initial encouragement from the members of the company, the group really began to talk to one another. As the tension subsided, a great deal of laughter, debate and flirting went on, as we really got to know one another- Leo and Unai acting as mediators to the discussions at hand. Food, relationships, family, friendship and politics were all covered in varying degrees, and the sharing of so many great dishes were a welcome accompaniment to the ebbs and flows of conversation.

I really admired the spirit of Leo’s work, because it is true that I as an individual don’t often get the chance to cook and share a meal with fifteen other people and bounce off their moods and spirits. Working a job with unsociable hours often leads to eating alone, in snatched moments between shifts or in the small hours of the morning after work. I don’t think one can appreciate the difference it makes to eat with others until you have that luxury, and then later do not. The next week, we had a lively dinner party with friends of the family for my mother’s birthday, who stated after the meal (and several times since) ‘That was just great, we should do it more often’ as the evening had been so elated and enjoyable. I hope the tradition will continue over the next coming weeks, and for years afterwards!

This kind of reaction is what I believe Leo is trying to highlight through these performances, and his others like it; we as members of society thrive from these social gatherings, as it is in human nature to be around others, especially during times of creativity, exploration and when satisfying those primal instincts like feeding and interracting. ‘Only Wolves’ really taps into said issues, and the whole experience is both great fun and socially revealing. I am sure I am not the only one who is excited to see where these guys will take the project next after such a successful reaction in London.

From November, ‘Only Wolves and Lions’ will move to Reading where it will feature as part of the Sitelines Festival in the South Street Arts Centre.

http://thisisunfinished.wordpress.com/only-wolves-and-lions-2/

http://thisisunfinished.wordpress.com/

http://www.madrugada.info/

Interview with Leo Kay: eating, performance and community

Most recently, deputy editor Freya Gosling had the fantastic opportunity of being in contact with Unfinished Business, a theatre company established by Leo Kay and Anna Smith in 2010. Little Ghost were lucky enough to first interview Leo, then later in the week went to the first London performance of the company’s latest production ‘Only Wolves and Lions’, a project involving according to the company, ‘A meal, a conversation, a performance provocation….’
1.   How many people are invited to cook at the Only Wolves and Lions performances? Is it just the 16 diners, or is there any additional audience members too?

We have performed the show for 8 people and for up to 40 people. Those who participate as audience are also the cooks. These are the only people in the space alongside the company, who also join in as participants in the cooking experience.

2.       How do you go about choosing a recipe for the meal? How important is the recipe to the nature of the performance?

The process of choosing what we will cook is an exercise in guided democracy; in listening, honouring each other’s ideas and then making strong decisions.  Weaved in to this process are philosophical and psychological ideas surrounding choice, celebration of what we have and the letting go of that which we don’t in relation to the pursuit of psychological well being.

The final recipes chosen are not as important as the consensus arrived at and the commitment of the group to future execution of cooking tasks. The process reminds me a little of one that I came across when reading about the drama educationalist Dorothy Heathcote; very much about the need to elicit group commitment to the decided course of action, even if it is not your first choice.  Intention and commitment are everything.

3.       You have often used and referred to Brazilian culture in your work. How important do you find Brazilian culture to be (and/or other cultures) when discussing community? Do you, for example, compare Brazilian communities with British community- or the lack thereof?

Throughout the past 11 years I have been influenced greatly by my relationship to Brazil.  I first went out to train in capoeira, then was invited to teach physical performance for a company In Salvador and ended up staying, teaching and directing for a year.  During this time I met a woman and began a 6 year relationship. I have been back to run several projects and research Afro BrazilIan culture and religious ritual.  My understanding of possibilities of human interaction, creative expression and ritual are heavily influenced by my engagement with Brazilian culture.  I refer lightly to it in this event, but this project is very much about the relationship that myself, Unai, Anna and the participating audience have to community and isolation.

4.       How are topics of discussion brought forward to the ‘table’ during performances of Only Wolves and Lions? Is everyone encouraged to talk while they cook?  Is the discussion angled, to make sure everyone has a fair contribution?

We feed the audience with philosophical and ideological opinions and standpoints.  We have a moment of storytelling and then we invite conversation.  We attempt to keep a relaxed and open attitude which welcomes discourse and interruption. Once audience around the table start to join in the discourse we prompt and provoke, give opinion and space for others opinions to be heard. We attempt to be  subtle hosts who are constantly learning how best to allow space for the those who find it hard to articulate and those that are shy to express opinion.  Often it is these opinions that need to be heard.  It is the less self-assured, self satisfied whose voice I want to celebrate.
The piece was made due to  a personal revelation I had, that within contemporary urban living, community is fragile and can slip away. Before you know it, you are eating alone and have no one to share your thoughts and feelings with.  Precedence being given over to production and consumption, rather than the benefits of sharing time to promote well being.

5.       Do you keep in contact with the people that attend and contribute to your projects?

We don’t keep in contact with participants unless they want to be on our mailing list.  Though any suggestions on further post process contact would be welcomed! We are aware that with a project of this nature the experience begins before the event and ends well after the meal  therefor a consideration of how people can engage with it after they have been involved would be a wonderful development. But as of yet this hasn’t been integrated.

6.       Have you noted any strong differences between the reactions to your projects when you perform them in different cities? For example, how do Londoners come across in comparison to participants from Reading?

Not so much marked difference between the cities, but there are things that effect the work.  The nature of the space effects the work. The more broken and ramshackle the space is, the more free and wild the event can be. It feels like the events natural home is Stoke Newington International Airport. A live art warehouse space in North East London.  When we perform it in this chaotic environment the event has a very special energy.  Another thing that effects the work is cultural context.  We have performed it in Greece, The Basque Country, France and England and there are subtle difference in the way people interact with the making of food and the discussion of philosophical content.  The Basques all brought meat and were incredibly proud and accomplished cooks.  The Greek and international delegates at an art symposium in Greece were very creative and free, as were the London experimenters.  But I don’t see the differences in English geographical location delineating different reactions to the work too much.

7.       Do the participants of the projects generally relax into the atmosphere of the night, or do some feel they are only part of some social experiment?

The participants usually totay relax Into the atmosphere encouraged by the night and are surprised when it is over.  It’s the ambiguity about what exactly the event is, that both intrigues and enchants audiences.  Often they forget they are in a performance and engage in the very real activities presented and needed to be achieved for the performance event to continue. These undefined platforms of expression allow the audience to feel a sense of autonomy and a creative responsibility. This context of exploration really excites me.

8.       How different do you think the atmosphere of the dining room discussions would be if Great Britain was experiencing a boom in industry and economic prosperity?

I don’t think I would have felt it a vital piece of work to make were Great Britain experiencing a boom.  I think it is very much about the cracks that have been made in the wall of capitalist success that allow for the depth of discussion surrounding where we are and what actually promotes happiness and well being as opposed to what we are fed by the media and popular culture that surrounds us. It’s the cracks that let the light in!

9.       How do you think this project is different to the others you have run since establishing Unfinished Business? Does it push more boundaries/challenge its participants more?

I think that in relation to form this project is a development in my desire to explore authentic communication with audience. I love the idea of interactive  performance but it is seldom that I believe the character or performer that I am interacting with. This performance event is also about how far you can push audience interaction and responsibility within a clearly defined performance structure. I wanted to make a living example of the central discussion point  of community, sharing and the positive effects of physical and psychological well being. The show is an example of the philosophies that run throughout it.

10.   How does the next project you are running, Life: Making a Meal of It, differ to that of Only Wolves and Lions?

‘Life: Making A Meal Of It’ is a participatory intergenerational project, so we will create the performance with a group of under 18 and over 60 year olds. It is the second project of this kind in this trajectory of work and seems to be forming an interesting project structure.  In 2009/10 I created ‘It’s Like He’s Knocking’, an intimate performance about the men in my family and their journeys through life. It focused on ancestry, memory, migration and coincidence.  Alongside this piece we developed ‘The Remember Me Tea Dance’, an intergenerational interactive performance which explored shared histories through our relationship to dancing. The performers taught the audience couples dances, told stories, encouraged the audience to write down their own memories and finally shared tea and cakes with them.  

As with ‘The Remember Me Tea Dance’ for ‘Life: Making A Meal Of It’ we are working in partnership with South Street Arts Centre. This project will look at uncovering significant memories and recipes from the lives of the participants. They will teach each other recipes alongside developing new performance and storytelling methods, as we develop a live performance, which will take place around a dinner table.  A home cooked meal around a beautiful table, cooked by the performers will great the audience. Ideas surrounding community, the importance of the act of cooking and the celebration of memory are all themes that will be explored.  Like ‘Only Wolves And Lions’ this will be an interactive performance, however the audience will be a little more pampered and the performers a little more supported, each according to their ability!

Stay tuned for the review of the Only Wolves and Lions performance at the BAC!

Little Ghost in Pictures | September

Long time, no see. LGHQ took a small break for summer. We took a trip to the West Coast of England for some surfing and went to Paris for some art and shopping. It’s been a good few weeks! We’re still mooching around London desperately trying to avoid the Olympic mayhem and taking refuge at the National to see London Road and the Tate for the Munch. We’ve been given a glimpse of an Indian summer today but Autumn is definitely descending. Check out Kim’s beautiful autumnal-like photos of a recent masked ball style party.We’ll be battling with the wind and rain in no time….

The Curious Incident… | National Theatre

God were we lucky to get tickets to the National Theatre’s adaptation of Mark Haddon’s best selling novel The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time. It’s difficult to actually convey how impressive the performance was. Besides Luke Treadaway‘s ability to capture the mental complexities of the main character, Christopher, perfectly, the stage was mind-blowing in its transformations and the supporting roles were beautifully constructed. We found this little review given by The Guardian (who rightly gave the performance 4stars) and we couldn’t agree more with it:

Simon Stephens, for a start, solves the problem confronting any adapter. First he has a teacher (Niamh Cusack) reading aloud the story that 15-year-old Christopher Boone has fashioned from his Holmes-like investigation into the killer of his neighbour’s dog; then, against Christopher’s wishes, the novel is turned into a play. This not only frames the action, but also sets up a rich tension between fiction’s invention and the obsession with facts, forensics and systemised data that is a symptom of Christopher’s autism. His mathematical mind is also brilliantly reflected in Bunny Christie’s design of glowing geometric grids, and in Paule Constable’s lighting, which conveys the hero’s love of the night sky.

A remarkable performance from Luke Treadaway captures all the hero’s zeal, obduracy and terror of tactile contact, and pins down behavioural qualities all of us, at some point, see in ourselves. The movement direction, from Frantic Assembly’s Scott Graham and Steven Hoggett, also conveys Christopher’s confusion when confronted by the bustle of London life. I flinch from manipulative touches such as miniaturised trains and a live dog: two things calculated to send audiences into swooning raptures. But this is a highly skilful adaptation, and Paul Ritter and Nicola Walker as Christopher’s parents movingly remind us of the messily contradictory human emotions that co-exist with their son’s world of perfect patterns.

The Curious Incident… on at the National Theatre until Oct 27th 2012.

Article adapted from Michael Billington for The Guardian.

Persephone | Heaven in a book store

Thonet chairs, a poster of Sonja by Christian Schad, books wrapped in brown paper and pink tissue, a basket of greetings cards, Sylvia Plath’s The Bell Jar, real flowers, a walnut wood desk and thousands and thousands of beautifully published books. This is my heaven.

Located on Lamb’s Conduit Street near Holborn, is the Persephone Books store and office. With the familial smell of furniture polish and new paper, the shop appears as though it has just popped out of a scene from a novel by Dorothy Whipple or Agnes Jekyll.

Persephone ‘prints mainly neglected fiction and non-fiction by women, for women and about women’. The words of each revived novel are enveloped between the folds of a dove-grey jacket and the ‘fabric’ endpaper that resembles something from the late William Morris era. Each book is accompanied by a decorated bookmark and a preface by well-known female writers.

Everything that I want to achieve is embodied within the store. A place without pretense and dedicated entirely to fabulous, female fiction. I urge you to visit!

Bold Tendencies | Sculpture (car)park

In the unlikely setting of a multistorey carpark on Rye Lane, Peckham, is the most amazing sculpture park you are ever likely to visit. I know, bold statement, right? But this is a bold statement for project that is successfully altering, if not changing, the way in which we view contemporary, public art. Bold Tendencies, now in its sixth and biggest year, is a non-profit, summer sculpture park that brings together emerging international artists and provides them with a platform that catapults into public consciousness.

The space is not glamorous, white walled and “fabulous dahhhling”. It’s shabby, worn down and the stairwell still retains that certain car park odour. However, it is also a location that can legitimately claim to have the best view of London. The panoramic horizon is one that has been carefully punctuated and fractured by the positioning of huge, beautiful installations such as Byobu from Laura Buckley and Fountain I by Peles Empire. From certain angles the plethora of new, contemporary work can seem to be standing alongside the Gherkin, the Shard and the Millennium Dome.

The location of the project is intrinsically connected with the artwork it includes. Speaking to the artist Mary Redmond, the industrial nature of the space is vital to the experience of her work. The piece, Seven Split Overglide, combines bamboo and plasticised organic shapes with scrap metal that appears to have been blown in from across the neighboring railroad. Redmond explains that the piece has been inspired by the Glaswegian tower blocks and Le Corbusier styled buildings she used to live near as a child. As we speak, a train rushes by and dust, grit and hot air is blown through the space forcing the scrap metal and fake flowers in her work to tremble. This wind tunnel effect, says Redmond, is akin to that created in the towerblock carparks she would walk through as a child.

Bold Tendencies opened earlier this month and welcomed over 1,000 guests to its launch party. To find anyone willing to drop the Del Boy/Rodney stereotype of Peckham can be difficult, so 1,000 people for a first night? It must be pretty damn good.

Check back for reviews of events held at Bold Tendencies this summer. For more information visit the website here

To be continued…

All images courtesy of Bold Tendencies: Byobu Laura Buckley, Fountain I Peles Empire, Seven Split Overglide Mary Redmond.