All posts by Caterina Mirra

Caterina Mirra is a Birkbeck Alumni attending a Master's degree in Journalism. Caterina has a keen interest in writing about arts and sports, especially football. She's taking on a sports column for L&O.

Scarcity-Waste @SomersetHouse

‘How in a world that is so desperately short of resources can we ensure that there is enough land, food and water for everyone and for future generations?

The Syngenta Photography Award aims to inspire photographers from around the world to engage with the tension between scarcity and waste. Somerset House presented the incredible results, exploring some of the environmental and ethical issues that face our society: recycling, landfill, food waste, drought, population growth, and pollution. From over 2,000 submissions, the works of 42 photographers from 21 countries have been selected for exhibition across 10 rooms.

Exploring Global Challenge
Exploring global challenge

In the professional category, Mustafah Abdulaziz (USA) took first prize for his series of pictures about water, a natural resource in crisis. His next project will look at misuse of water in California, examining how it is determining our future: “What I began in West Africa by looking at the problems of water, sanitation and poor infrastructure will continue in my homeland as I examine how a place renowned for success and excess, beauty and potential, may be humbled by the challenge of scarcity and waste.

Dirty drinking water scratched from riverbed by M. Abdulaziz
Dirty drinking water scratched from riverbed by M. Abdulaziz

His Dirty drinking water scratched from riverbed is the final picture of the exhibition. The simple image evokes the extreme hardship suffered by the women and young girls in the Konso region of Ethiopia, who must queue for hours to scratch water from a dry riverbed.

In the open competition category, Stefano De Luigi (Italy) took 3rd prize for his series on drought in Kenya, which severely affects both people and animals. Stefano wrote of his work: “The series about Kenyan drought has affected me more than any other story I’ve done”. Opining a sense of shared responsibility in the use of the planet’s resources, he presents a series of touching images, including a giraffe that perished because of the drought.

Drought in Kenya

Each room presents a powerful response to the award’s criteria, approaching the issues with curiosity and reflection. Affecting environmental facts are dotted around the exhibition; for example, did you know the UK produces enough waste to fill the Albert Hall every two hours?

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The Syngenta Award, now in its second edition, aims to underline the stark fact that the world’s demand for natural resources has doubled in the last fifty years, and that to continue producing waste and consuming resources at this rate could provoke an environmental catastrophe in the near future.

Plastic waste in the ocean
Plastic waste in the ocean

The message from these surprising, often thought-provoking pictures is clear: something needs to change.

Post Pop: East meets West @Saatchi_Gallery

Unexpected, stimulating and original: The latest Saatchi Gallery’s exhibition encloses more than 250 pop-influenced works made in the past 40 years. 110 artists from five different countries – UK, USA, China, Taiwan, and Russia – propose a huge variety of works that stress different ideologies from the same influence.

Post Pop: East meets West brings not only artists but also three curators to create and play with imagery. Constructing an interesting way to look at the pop art movement, the curators organised the show into six themes, rather than dividing the works by country, to highlight how the East and West are different but also similar in some aspects.

It begins with the theme Habitat. Starting with ordinary mass-produced artifacts, you suddenly stumble into the chaos created by the Russian artists Iliya & Emilia Kabakov. Incident in the Corridor near the Kitchen (1989), composed by two paintings and fluttering pots and pans, reproduces a typical pop domestic space that leads us into another mad work by the duo: Unfinished Installation (1995). Reproducing an ordinary and real scene of unfinished building constructions, the artists want to underline how everyone is more interested in looking at things under construction rather than finished, in particular if we know the plan for the finished product.

Leaving the domestic habitat, the gallery next illustrates how advertising and consumerism influenced the post-war period. The typical American consumerist messages contrast with more politically engaged works by Russian and Chinese artists. Formed under Communist regimes, they surprisingly emphasize how their societies have been transformed by propaganda and marketing. These pop-inspired works are as colourful and powerful as is the line of blasphemy in the Ideology and Religion rooms.

A sense of confusion overcame me when I saw the installation by Sergey Shutov, Abacus (2001), where life-size women, knocking on the ground and covered in dark fabric, seem to move contemplating an unspecified religion. I proceeded ahead and my attention was captured by one of the most powerful works of the exhibition: Two Profiles (1989) by Leonid Sokov. It exemplifies perfectly the theme of contrast found throughout the gallery. The representation of a serious bronze Stalin’s profile next to a black and white photograph of a laughing Marilyn Monroe is the emblem of the exhibition, even if it lacks a significant characteristic of pop art: colour.

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Two Profiles (1989)

From there, the exhibition progresses through the Sex and the Body rooms. Taking into account that the majority of pop-artists have been young men, it is remarkable that sex and female bodies were a major topic of controversy in the pop art world in the 1960s. Unsurprisingly, the curators leaned towards graphic images to tell the story of sex in the last half-century.

Walking to the top floor, you finally arrive at the heart of the exhibit. After a series of pictures, sculptures and works inspired by Andy Warhol, the section ends with Rostislav Lebedev’s A Dream Comes True (2008). As Sokov’s previously mentioned work, it is truly a painting where East meets West. The top half is a typical American pop painting style reminiscent of Roy Lichtenstein‘s comic books, while the bottom depicts three bathers near the seaside in an unmistakably Russian style.

A Dream Comes True, 2014
A Dream Comes True (2008)

My journey through the exhibit ends in Mass Media, where the phenomenon of celebrity culture is portrayed. The variety of techniques found in these last works appears ambitious but effective. For instance, at the entrance you encounter a life-size female tennis player made entirely of wax by Oleg Kulik – a symbol of how mass media shows a version of reality.

Tennisplayer, 2002
Tennisplayer (2002)

Everything in the show is in contrast. The ability to create such proficient comparisons in style and ideologies in pop culture language is incredibly rare and the merit goes to curators. Even though I can’t say I liked everything, it is interesting to explore how a movement that emerged in the 1950s and 1960s in Western countries has influenced the other side of the world in provocative and powerful ways over the years.

 

Post Pop: East meets West, Saatchi Gallery, King’s Road, London SW3 4RY. Phone: 02078113070.

Free admission. Open through 3 March.

(Pictures by Caterina Mirra)

The sport for everyone

On 1st December the Birkbeck Sport Business Centre offered a special evening of discussion and debates about the inclusion for people from the lesbian, gay, bi-sexual and transgender (LGB&T) communities in the football field. The panel saw professional football figures arguing about how this sport takes its next steps on to be the game that is truly ‘for everyone’.

The event began with a brief presentation by Dr. Andy Harvey from Birkbeck, who introduced the argument and all senior figures who took part. The first who joined the debate was Roisin Wood, Chief Executive of the independent campaigning organization Kick it Out. The core aim of the organization is to tackle all forms of discrimination and in the meantime working with the football authorities, professional clubs, players, fans and communities to avoid this. She stressed how is important to report any kind of discrimination incidents and abusive language. For this reason, Kick It Out has just  launched a new mobile app that allows fans to report that. They also are working with the Gay Football Supporters Network (GFSN) and promote an important programme called “Fans for diversity” with the purpose of support LGB&T fans groups and their facilities.

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Fans for Diversity- Kick It Out

The seminar also involved an ex English professional footballer, Bobby Barnes, who now is Deputy Chief Executive of the Professional Footballers Association (PFA). Starting to talk about campaigns against racism, he highlighted that often the best people who promote the LGB&T community are those who realized that discrimination is wrong by own reflections. However, Barnes emphasized that work needs to be done, for this reason the PFA will run education sessions around these themes, underling also that ‘Football should be open to all, is the people’ sport.

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Mark Gonnella

Promoter of this philosophy is also Arsenal F. C. Communications Director Mark Gonnella who based his speech on how it is important promoting values and actions as a first class club. He noted that the only thing essential in football is the ability and the wish to perform in a club ‘Passports, race, sexuality or any other characteristic are unimportant in building a team.‘ Gonnella was keen to promote the ‘Arsenal way’ and the born of some campaigns as ‘Arsenal for everyone’. However, he added: ‘One of the thing I am more proud about was the conversation with one gay supporter in order to set up a group,’ he said. ‘Go on and do it, I told him. I have the responsibility to encourage them as club.’ The group, formed two years ago, grew up quickly (at present over 200 members) and had good responses from fans around the world. ‘Football has to open doors in any kind of support. From Arsenal point of view we know, we support,’ he concluded.

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Kelly Simmons

The last guest speaker, before an open debate with all people from the floor, was Kelly Simmons, Director of National Game and Women’s Football for the Football Association (FA). The FA worked next to Kick It Out for important events and will start the Football v Homophobia campaign in February, encouraging grass roots clubs to take part in it. Reminding the business sense to not exclude anybody from football, she reported also that football is not only a man’ sport, women’s football is presenting an impressive growth. She stressed the FA’s work in promoting and ensuring LGB&T inclusion at every level, especially organizing workshops for football clubs.

Thus, Dr. Harvey was keen to highlight by his blog how this event could be significant for our university: ‘From a Birkbeck perspective, the evening opens up possible avenues for research, especially into fan cultures and attitudes, as well as in evaluating the plethora of measures that are being taken to promote inclusion across football at every level.’ Overall, the seminar was really interesting, especially underling how much progress has been made and what still need to achieve and ensure more inclusion. Football is for everyone and everyone has to be responsible to tackle discrimination.

Surprising Sports Night @ Royal Albert Hall

Fellow tennis enthusiasts would agree: A Saturday evening dedicated entirely to sport and entertainment – who could ask for more?

The 18th year of the Statoil Masters Tennis tournament was simply amazing. The Royal Albert Hall, one of the most incredible venues in London, was the perfect setting for this event, which ran from 3rd to 7th of December.

The tournament saw some of the greatest tennis legends of all time, including John McEnroe, Pat Cash, and Henri Leconte.  Also playing in doubles or exhibition matches were Wayne Ferreira, Jamie Murray, Peter McNamara, Mansour Bahrami, Andrew Castle, and Ross Hutchins, making his debut at the event.

Players Tim Henman, Andy Roddick, Fernando Gonzalez, Greg Rusedski, Xavier Malisse, Sergi Bruguera, and Thomas Enqvist contended in an ATP Champions Tour field, where were eligible only athletes who ranked number one in the world, played in a Grand Slam singles final, or played singles for the winning team in a Davis Cup Final could compete.

Expectations for the event were far exceeded, as the event enjoyed record ticket-sales this year. The veteran McEnroe affirms:

I’ve played the Statoil Masters Tennis at the Royal Albert Hall almost every year since it began in 1997. That’s because it’s one of the most beautiful places in the world to play tennis, the acoustics are incredible, and I’ve won it a number of times. I’m already looking forward to getting back there in front of the great crowds they have, and to try to win it again.

Malisse vs Roddick
Malisse vs Roddick

The wonderful entertainment of 6th December’s evening began with a single match between Roddick and Malisse. Roddick returns to London for the first time after a 2009 Wimbledon Final against Roger Federer. This time he defeated Belgian player Malisse 6-4, 6-2, to move on to the final against Gonzalez. The atmosphere for this match was wild, as the players laughed while showing off their personal tricks. “I never had so much fun losing,” admitted Malisse.

Continuing on with the night, Cash, Castle, Ferreira, and Leconte joined the court. From the onset, this double match was hilarious – a real show – especially thanks to the French player Leconte, who entertained the crowd with funny gags.  While everyone kept smiling and enjoying it, the players didn’t miss the chance to perform great hits.

Cash/Castle vs Ferreira/ Leconte
Cash/Castle vs Ferreira/ Leconte

On Sunday 7th December, the 34-year-old Chilean player, Fernando Gonzalez, who also had his debut in this competition, became the new Statoil Masters Tennis Champion. He won 6-4, 2-6, 10-4 against Roddick. “This is great to win this tournament. This week has been amazing and I enjoyed this match against Andy a lot. It was very tough, we had very long points, and my body will feel bad tomorrow,” Gonzalez said, adding, “This is so fun because after you retire you never think you are going to be back on a court like this. I have enjoyed it really a lot.”

To relive a great event with the greatest legends of tennis, I have marked my calendar for next year. My advice for everyone is to join the experience for at least one night of the event. Let’s relax, drink a beer, and enjoy this surprising sports show!

Hope @Royal Court Theatre

After a successful run of the hit Let the Right One In, expectations were high when Jack Thorne (writer) and John Tiffany (director) teamed up once again for the production of Hope. The BAFTA-winning writer Thorne delivered a story of austerity with surprising levity and wry humour.

Hope tells the story of a Labour council in an unnamed working-class town. The play centres on the various schemes local council leaders make after being told they must make £64 million savings over a three-year period through budget cuts.

One council leader, Hilary, (played by Stella Gonet) with her strict and pragmatic approach, proposes important cuts to urban facilities such as libraries, museums, and street lighting. The second council leader, Mark (Paul Higgins), tries to defend Hilary’s decisions. Still short of making their goal the cuts eventually hit a centre for adults with learning difficulties. This decision becomes national news and the small working-class council is left humiliated.

Hope's cast.
Hope’s cast.

Through Mark’s character (Paul Higgins), a man who is struggling with the consequences of his divorce and suffering from alcoholism, Thorne manages to juxtapose complex decisions of political life with obstacles and anxieties in private life. This juxtaposition exposes how there is little difference, in some ways, in how politicians make decisions publicly and privately. In both spheres, we fear we will fail to achieve our goals or live up to expectations, on the one hand, and on the other, we find the strength to fight for our goals.

Paul Higgins (as Mark)
Paul Higgins (as Mark)

 

The conversation between Mark and the ex-leader George (Tom Georgeson) is where Throne wants us to reflect on the Labour party’s role in the recent past and how today there is a lost sense of solidarity. Throne demonstrated a dynamic ability by portraying both negative and positive aspects of the party. He concluded this scene with a pinch of optimism and strong sense of purpose, driving the message that one should make good decisions not for the Party, not for the country, not for the working class, but for the town.

Tommy Knight and Tom Georgeson
Tommy Knight and Tom Georgeson

The play ends with an informal chat between an elderly George and the young Jake (Tommy Knight). This is an encounter between different worlds and different experiences, yet ends on a point of agreement in their understanding of Dickens’ book Great Expectations. Hilarious and intense, this conversation’s common ground also summarises the play: it’s sort of pointless not trying. I admire Thorne’s sense of lightness and humour and Tiffany’s ability to convey this fully whilst leaving us with a sense of hope, especially in life itself.

Hope runs until 10 January. Tickets: (£12- £32; Mondays all seats £10)

Venue: Royal Court Theatre (Jerwood Theatre Downstairs), London