Culture Wars

Monday 30 December 2013

A hierarchy nevertheless

A Classless Society: Britain in the 1990s, by Alwyn W Turner, Aurum Press, 2013

Despite attempts by the centre-left to rebrand British values towards those held by what would eventually be described as the metropolitan elite, part of Britain yearned for old certainties, while a number of men relished the clear-cut masculinity displayed in nostalgia for the Second World War, and novels about the SAS (one wonders if that was true for some women, too).

An archaeology book to change your life

Time’s Anvil: England, Archaeology and the Imagination, by Richard Morris (Phoenix, 2013)

It takes courage to ask different questions, or accept that evidence may lead us into new paths and new ways of thinking. Time’s Anvil is a book that offers important insights into the processes that have shaped the history of England, and the processes that shape our own approach to the past.

Sunday 29 December 2013

The power of the playful

The EY Exhibition: Paul Klee - Making Visible, Tate Modern, London

As the varied and sometimes disturbing contents of this selection hints, there was more to Klee’s work than met the eye. He didn’t simply want to be some kind of amusing illustrator. Rather, he envisaged his work to be a reflection of transcendence and we can see him almost striving to get beyond the outward and visible to the inward —the essence of existence — in his ‘Static-Dynamic Gradation’ (1923) and ‘Steps’ (1929).

Saturday 28 December 2013

Something far less cautious than justice

Unapologetic: Why , despite everything, Christianity can still make surprising emotional sense, by Francis Spufford (Faber & Faber, 2012)

Unapologetic contains a fascinating précis of the story of that Hamlet-like figure Christ, and perhaps a less interesting apologia concerning the conservative politics of the Christian church, but it is Spufford’s examination of mercy that is key, since it opens up the philosophical area relating to truth, human values, and our sense of the infinite.

How Deeply the Fish Knife Cuts: Coloniality and its Discontents

A response to ‘Decolonial Aesthesis: From Singapore, To Cambridge, To Duke University’ by Walter Mignolo

We are not merely products of the sum of the societal forces which mould us; we have the ability to make out for ourselves the circumstances that surround us. We are will, and that is why we are more than them all.

Mixed visual messages

Facing the Modern: The Portrait in Vienna 1900, National Gallery, London

Perhaps the only lesson we can draw from the differing ideals summoned-up in these portraits - and the conflict which would destroy or change those ideals - is that neither presumption nor despair have a place in historical expectation. Human beings - either singly or socially - cannot exist without beliefs, and hopes for their fulfilment, but as to their outcomes; at the risk of suggesting a cliché, they must expect only the unexpected. But then, it is the best clichés that are true - usually.

Artists and gold-diggers

Sarah Lucas: SITUATIONS, Whitechapel Gallery, London

Looking at what’s on offer here, it’s easy to side with those who felt that, at the Momart fire - when, in 2004, a number of famous YBA works were destroyed by a conflagration whilst in storage - those artists got what they deserved for producing meretricious, attention-seeking work with which they could fool the public and make a lot of money whilst doing so. But the option of a simplistic put-down - attractive though it may be - is to be resisted in favour of a deeper analysis

Saturday 21 December 2013

Play ball

How sport brings people together and transcends competition itself

All fans of a sport are able to appreciate incredible athletic feats or truly classy displays of sportsmanship. Simply put, sports have a way of bringing people together. In a day in age when settling cultural differences is of utmost importance, turning more towards sports is a reasonably viable way to bring the world closer together.

Not everyone gets to the dance floor

Club to Catwalk; London Fashion in the1980s, V&A, London

1980s New Romantic clubbing was notoriously hierarchical: ‘would you let yourself in, dear?’ was the question every clubber feared as he or she awaited admittance, at the whim of a mirror-wielding club host, to their chosen place of pleasure.

Flamboyance and hard work

Blitz As Seen in BLITZ: Fashioning '80s Style, by lain R Webb, (ACC Editions, 2013)

One thing, probably not intended by Webb, stands out from examining what’s on offer: the way in which fashion had, by the eighties, succumbed to what some might see as Modernism’s two defining principles; ‘sod the public’, and ‘will this go down well with my peers?’.

Thursday 19 December 2013

The ghost of a L’Oreal advert

Coriolanus, Donmar Theatre, London

Scenes that should feel dangerous come across as funny or even harmless. This isn’t to take away from Hiddleston. He is a hugely talented actor, who can imprison the audience with just one confessional glace. But I never felt him roar. This is largely down to the still atmosphere that ‘engulfs’ Coriolanus.

Monday 16 December 2013

The splendid and fearful isolation of youth

Let the right one in, Royal Court Theatre, London

Eli (Rebecca Benson, in a mature and beautifully balanced performance), the vampire girl who is central to our blood-red romance, hovers between reality and fantasy. She looks fairly normal but sounds weirdly airy. It is as if her voice has no heat in it. She has an elastic way of moving – shimmering up and scaling climbing frames and trees - that gives her a feral and magical quality.

Saturday 14 December 2013

A king who holds his sceptre like a doll

Richard II, Barbican, London

There is a modest beauty to this classy production that forces us to take Richard seriously. This allows Tennant to push his interpretation as far as it will go and make his Richard as silly and petty and small as he dares.

Thursday 5 December 2013

Get married!

Once upon a Christmas, Covent Garden, London

If I’m being generous, I could say it’s charming that these shops agreed to take part. But it is also rather odd to be paraded around shops throughout the production, just at the height of the Christmas shopping season. Commercialism and theatricality nestle side by side in an uncomfortable fashion. 

The head boy is vanquished

There’s a vague weariness that clings to this show. It feels like Grandage is falling back on his greatest tricks so as to avoid offending this new, larger and richer, audience. Christopher Oram’s set encapsulates this elegant poise, which is just a whisker away from stagnancy. The

Culture Wars was included in creativetourists’ Top 25 UK Arts & Culture Blogs 2009.