David Inshaw’s Gromit, ‘Bushed’, at the RWA in Bristol

David Inshaw is an RWA Academician. He works predominately in oil paint, producing paintings of significant size. His work can be found in many places including the Bristol Art Gallery and Museum and the Tate Collection. He is the painter of The Badminton Game, 1972-3, which is one of his most famous pieces, and the beautiful but less well-known painting The River Bank (Ophelia), 1980.

The Gromit that Inshaw has designed is called ‘Bushed’ and – before the exhibition of all eighty Gromits – was situated just inside the entrance to the RWA. ‘Bushed’ is an apt name considering the Gromit is covered in dark green details of English foliage and leaves. This makes it feel like one of the subtler Gromit designs that can be seen around the city. The design also exemplifies much of Inshaw’s work that is immersed in Englishness and a love of the English countryside. His representation of trees and shrubs is striking and so stylised that it is instantly recognisable as his work. It therefore seems appropriate that this is the design for his Gromit sculpture.

Inshaw’s paintings focus on particular detailed aspects of nature, which he uses to reflect and explore human emotions. In various interviews he admits that Thomas Hardy’s novels and poems, and particularly the novel Tess of the D’Urbervilles, heavily influence him. In this novel natural landscapes are used as metaphors for elements of the human psyche. The landscape influences the mind as well as reflecting or helping to translate it. This is suggested in Inshaw’s own work partly because landscapes dominate each composition (and even overshadow the few figures also included in the paintings) and emit feelings of tranquillity, melancholy, nostalgia or order, as appropriate to the circumstantial production of the painting and its title.  Continue reading

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‘Wadjda’, the first Saudi Arabian film created by a female Saudi film director

Wadjda, directed by Haifaa Al-Mansour, is a film that should immediately attract our attention. It is the first to be made entirely in Saudi Arabia. It is also the first of the nation’s films to be created by a female film director. These exciting breakthroughs of Arabian film traditions and taboos are mirrored in the subject matter. The exploration of the relationship between place, gender, and (self) expression plays a prominent part in negotiating barriers both within the script and within the real life making of the film.

Immediately, Wadjda is depicted as a rebellious schoolgirl, pushing at any boundaries that come her way. She has an entrepreneurial streak of selling homemade friendship bracelets and being apparently indispensable to those around her. Indeed, throughout the film she is seen carrying the messages of others’ in order to make money. However, she stands out not just because of her high spirits and enthusiasm for life, but because she is a high spirited and enthusiastic girl living in Saudi Arabia.

The other girls in her class all wear the appropriated black footwear and cover their heads with black scarves. Not Wadjda. She wears Converses to school, and is often seen trailing around the city with her scarf (if she actually has it with her) floating along behind in the breeze.

The film meanders through Wadjda’s life both at home and at school. This young girl negotiating a sense of place for herself within a domestic setting and social society each containing tensions between custom, tradition and religion. Two female characters, Wadjda’s mother and headmistress, embody and condone certain oppressive traditions. This is striking because it reminds us as viewers that women as well as men reinforce traditional values, and that women largely carry out the repression of other women. This indicates just how hard it is for young girls to break out of this constricting cycle, as likely role models are insisting on their ‘silence’ and submissiveness.  Continue reading

Gromit Unleashed, RWA Bristol

Published in Trebuchet Magazine

From the 18th to 22nd September a sensational exhibition entitled ‘The Greatest Dog Show on Earth’, will sweep into Bristol.

Inside the building that used to be Habitat on Queens Road, eighty larger than life Gromit statues will be displayed. They have been designed and decorated by artists, designers or companies (such as Peter Blake, The Beano, Pixar, and even Nick Park himself).

These Gromits were originally installed at various iconic landmarks as well as in more hidden places across Bristol. This was in a similar vein to the apes that were put up round the city last summer; the pig sculptures that appeared in Bath several years ago; and the original cows which punctuated various European cities during the 90s.

The Gromits are clearly more fun and accessible than the apes (which even managed to look sinister and slightly threatening).

But why have the Gromits been such a success? There are many possibilities. Gromit is a character we can all immediately recognize regardless of our generation. He could arguably be called a British icon. Specifically, Gromit also has roots in Bristol, as he was created by Nick Park at the Bristol Aardman Animation Studios.

Unlike the apes, the Gromits appeared to reflect certain characteristics, landmarks or areas of Bristol through the way they have been decorated. For example, there was an Elvis Gromit (The King) near the Bristol Old Vic, and a pirate Gromit (Salty Sea Dog) at The Cascade Steps by the Harbourside. In Millennium Square, an astronout Gromit (called Astro Gromit) reflected the stark modern design of the space and the ‘At Bristol’ centre, which focuses on science.  Continue reading

‘Curating Performance’ workshop at the Arnolfini

Published on the Arnolfini and Young Arnolfini blogs

Thursday 12th – Friday 13th September 2013

This two-day workshop on curating performance at the Arnolfini comprised of lectures and artists’ talks considering themes such as the relationship between social spaces, aesthetic experience and the audience, as well as similarities between curator and dramaturge. The opportunities and limitations associated with contextualising time-conscious work and live art were also considered. Additionally, notions of staging, movement, image and body were pertinent tropes throughout.

Jamie Eastman, the Arnolfini’s curator of performance, introduced the workshop and set the scene by asking the burning and complex question of what is a curator. He suggested a curator was a mediator of live moments, someone who is concerned with the production and presentation of narratives, and whose role links to theatre. Another memorable moment from the introduction was Eastman’s suggestion that the context for live performances is highly important as each event is made up of narratives told in social spaces.

Anja Dorn, a curator and guest professor for curatorial theory and dramaturgy at the University of Design Karlsruhe, began the first session with her workshop entitled ‘Curating the Audience’. She offered the notion that the increasing numbers of performance programmes were largely due to consumer culture and attempts to engage with, and even be dictated by, a wider consumer audience. Due to this, performance art takes place in what is called social spaces. (This breakdown of boundaries between art and the public dates back to the 1960s where de-bordering art was taken into new accessible places). From this observation, Dorn was keen for us to discuss how far these social spaces enable aesthetic experience and what implications this powerful consumer culture has for curatorial decisions.  Continue reading

Alexis Hunter and Jo Spence at Richard Saltoun Gallery, London

Published on Kaleidoscope Magazine’s website blog, September 2013

The Richard Saltoun Gallery, London, presents rarely seen, though highly influential, photographic portraits from the 1970s and 80s by feminist artists Alexis Hunter and Jo Spence. Tackling notions of female subjectivity, self-representation and the dominant (photographic) gaze, the exhibition reveals provocative insights into the empowerment of women. Hunter draws upon her training in painting to blur the boundaries between different media and uses this to subvert categories of political representation. Spence, however, uses photography to re-frame and re-enact her own subjective self, making ideas of erasure, creation and multiplicity fundamental to her practice and political agenda. Both artists explore the presentation of the female body, and through repetition of images and actions indicate there are multiple facets of the self. Some scenes retain the feel of amateur “snapshot” photography, suggesting these issues can be seen by and concern us all. Spence particularly draws upon personal subject matter, making themes of vulnerability, rawness and even tenderness surface in the initially confrontational-looking work. The self is bared almost explicitly in order to do away with cultural masks. This is a highly political and conceptual exhibition, concerned with defamiliarizing the image. Implicitly, it asks how can the female body be seen for what it is, as a self, rather than a set of cultural signifiers.

Alexis Hunter and Jo Spence’s exhibition curated by George Vasey at Richard Saltoun Gallery, London, will run through September 27.

Graze: A snack for summer

Published in The Boar, July 2013

Helen Cobby samples a Graze snack box and shares her thoughts…

Graze – the snack sensation sweeping the nation – is definitely the way to go. You can order and customize your own lunch box, filled with healthy and delicious snacks, and it will be delivered to you in a matter of days. It is a creative, quirky, and deliciously tasty collection of snacks guaranteed to put a smile on your face. It redefines mail as magnificent and modern. Who wouldn’t like a surprise present popped through their letterbox every now and again?

Graze is perfect for all of us busy people constantly on the go. And it is a saviour when you need something to keep you going during those long afternoons in the library.

But one of the most important things (and reason that I am such a fan) is that Graze is FUN. Continue reading