Category Archives: Arts

Rauschenberg at the Tate Modern

Image by Katie Lips (flickr) used under Creative Commons Licence 

I admit, I hadn’t even heard of Robert Rauschenberg, let alone seen any of his work before visiting Tate Modern’s current exhibition (open until the 2nd of April). In fact, I wasn’t even planning to go to this one – I was just too lazy to walk across half the building to get to the exhibition I’d really come for. So, the guy with the funny name it was.

The first thing that struck me was a large work to the right of the entrance, which several people crowded around, heads tilted in that peculiar way you see only in galleries. Automobile Tire Print consists of pieces of white paper, fastened together at their narrowest point, with the track of a car tyre running down their length. With pieces like this, Rauschenberg’s intention was to create art that questioned and disrupted the link between artist and work, for example, by having his friend drive the car. This theme was common throughout many of the other collections; an inquisitive nature that derailed artistic convention.

Rauschenberg was revolutionary. His work interrogated traditional art to the point where to look at it, you sometimes question whether it is still art at all. But of course it is, and before anyone chips in, no, a five year old would not have been capable of producing any of it. Another common narrative in his work was the tendency to combine different forms of art, crossing the boundaries of regular conceptions of the various forms.

For instance his Combines deployed paint as well as sculpture, to create hybrid sculptural-paintings. They draw you into their midst, encouraging you to consider the placement of the ordinary objects he used, and the muted or vibrant colours. This was art that involved the audience because it touched them, made them wince slightly, perhaps even made them uncomfortable. One of my favourite aspects of the exhibition was a history of Rauschenberg’s work for his friend’s dance company. He created many sets and costumes for the dancers who would engage in contemporary and collective dance; from an artistic interpretation of everyday movements to engagement with the sets themselves. These dancers would have had to consider not only the art that they were performing (the dance) but also that which they were interacting with.

I’ll end this article on a rather brilliant decision of his, a perfect representation of Rauschenberg’s character. Upon realising that he had been accepted into a well-regarded art exhibition which had rejected work by both his wife and his friend, he decided to include both of their works into his own. This display of outright contempt towards accepted authorities on art is reminiscent of many previous artists and artistic movements that, like Rauschenberg, manipulated traditional standards of art and reacted against the cultural institutions of their day.

The Robert Rauschenberg exhibition continues at the Tate Modern until 2nd April 2017. Exhibition fees apply.

Places you need to try: Persephone Bookshop

Our intrepid correspondent seeks out the best places to eat, drink, read and relax within walking distance of the main campus. Avoid lousy lattes, escape the buzzing phones of the library, find somewhere inspiring!

This quaint little spot can be found just off Great Ormond Street on Lamb’s Conduit Street, where I once drank one of the best coffees in London (on the street, not in the hospital – but that’s another story). Walking in, one is transported by just how unlike any high street bookshop Persephone is. After trapezing through half of London on the prowl for textbooks (along with a thousand other equally-desperate people) this comes as a welcome distraction.

I’m struck by how almost everything has the same greyish-blue cover, recalling frosty winter mornings. Books without matching covers are placed on a table in the corner, which satisfies my slightly manic organisational tendencies. Persephone reprints every title in their 117-strong catalogue (hence the uniform style), selecting fiction and non-fiction from neglected mid-twentieth-century women writers.

Behind the identical bindings, each book reveals a new world to step into, from just a couple hours to a few days. Whilst I’ve not yet bought out the whole shop, I will promise, cross-my-heart-and-hope-to-die, that any volume you step out with will not leave you dissatisfied.

In case you’re wondering, I am in a fulfilling relationship, but he’ll never be able to penetrate my lifelong affair with books. Don’t ask, it’s complicated.

Apart from the obvious benefit that you can read snippets of books before you buy (it’s not the best place to try and read an entire book for free, as I have actually once done, albeit in a Waterstones), the staff are always helpful and willing to find something that suits you, as well as pointing out the shop’s most prized titles. And the best thing is, every one is by a woman. Literally women everywhere. All the books, most of them barely-known, are written only by women.



Image courtesy of flickr user Derya

A Museum of Everyday Life: Cinephilia and Collecting

Image courtesy of PublicDomainPictures


The French New Wave adored film to the point of obsession. The post-war accessibility of motion pictures, hitherto restricted, spawned a generation that devoured the medium in all its forms, and elevated cinephilia to cult status. The Peltz Gallery‘s current exhibition, A Museum of Everyday Life: Cinephilia and Collecting,  wonderfully evokes the obsessive nature cinema can inspire.

Within the unremarkable space are works on loan from the Cinema Museum, a former workhouse in Lambeth where Charlie Chaplin spent some of his impoverished childhood. The site now houses collections covering the full breadth of cinema.

The joy of this exhibition is the insight it offers on collectors, whose labours of love reveal obsessive natures compelled to collect and catalogue. The number of items present here is staggering, and must be in excess of 100,000, including index cards, scrapbooks cuttings and celluloid samples. The time-span begins around the Second World War and continues to the present, but some of the collected items edge close to the first talkies. The effort taken by the curator to assemble this exhibition is testament to the spirit of the collectors themselves.

Envelopes in large metal index cabinets hold fragile celluloid movie frames, and are scattershot and lack the fastidiousness of other files, which are meticulously compiled and alphabetised. Some collections are tiny, such as the 183 cards kept within one small box; others are crammed into tightly-filled rows. A tall chest of drawers built from reclaimed wood stands proudly next to a wall adorned with index cards.

Collecting inspires a love for the subject matter and opens up the possibility to consider each aspect equally, from famous names to the less glamorous characters, scattered across time. One cannot omit as a true collector. To omit is to deny a contributor’s presence within the medium, and thereby undermine the collection itself. It is perhaps this spirit that the unstoppable nature of the hobby exposes. Vic Kinson is one such dedicated collector, who amassed over 36,000 index cards, which provide the centre-piece of the exhibition.

The level of detail etched on these index cards appear limitless. Interesting morsels are sprinkled through otherwise perfunctory information on actors’ careers: Al Pacino’s card states he was once a dancer and a stand up comedian; Fatty Arbuckle was accused of manslaughter; Groucho Marx filed for bankruptcy after the Wall Street Crash; Buster Keaton was an alcoholic; Anthony Quinn’s family escaped the Mexican revolution; Lana Turner married eight times. Descriptions are enlivened by personal reflections; Susan Sarandon was a, “Sexy and sassy American leading lady”; Burt Lancaster a “muscular actor with a flashing smile tinged with menace”.

Clear throughout the exhibition is an urge to collect and collate for oneself, a record to replace a fragile and fading memory. A yellowing scrapbook of Peter Ewing lists the Academy Awards honour-roll of 1939, written with elegant penmanship, citing The Citadel as the best-acted and best-directed picture of the year. The Citadel in fact won its award the previous year, and such mistakes remind the observer that this was a human endeavour, so error was inevitable.

One finds oneself wanting to read each card, to browse each scrapbook, and to hold each strip of celluloid up to the light, but the sheer numbers are overwhelming. To do the exhibition justice would take a lifetime, as surely as the collections it comprises took lifetimes to assemble.


A Museum of Everyday Life: Cinephilia and Collecting will be exhibited until the 27th of January in the Peltz Gallery, Birkbeck School of Arts, 43 Gordon Square

The Birkbeck Centre For Contemporary Theatre

Dr Fintan Walsh & Dr Louise Owen are the co-directors of The Birkbeck Centre For Contemporary Theatre.  Situated at 43 Gordon Square (The School of Arts), the BCCT is a thriving, multi-disciplinary platform where theatre professionals come together to create and research pieces on cultural politics and identity, new writing, contemporary theatre and early modern theatre and performance.  Here, Dr Walsh & Dr Owen explain some of the exciting developments which have evolved over 2016.

Please can you describe the structure of the BCCT programme?

We usually have some kind of event – such as a workshop or conversation – planned each week. Some involve centre fellows (we appoint twenty who are attached for three years) pursuing research and development towards their projects.  Others include people working in the theatre industry, or with other academics.  Many events will be open to staff, students and the public, and will address some aspect of contemporary theatre. We also run a number of symposia a year, which arise from our research interests, and fellows sometimes host their own workshops or talks here too.

When did BCCT form, and what do you consider its key objectives?

The centre was founded in 2006 by Professor Rob Swain, who runs the MFA Theatre Directing, as a space for hosting conversations between academics and theatre artists. These objectives have evolved over the years depending on shifts in research focus and staff, and when we took over the Centre in 2014 we had a chance to refine them again ourselves, to reflect our own interests and ambitions.

Can you explain more about the work and involvement of BA, MA and PhD students in Theatre and Drama Studies, Directing, and Creative Writing? 

Theatre and performance lecturers are involved in teaching on the BA Theatre and Drama Studies and MA Text and Performance (run in conjunction with RADA). Rob Swain looks after the MFA Theatre Directing. Some of the Creative Writing lecturers are also professional theatre and screen writers, and students have the chance to take their courses too. A lot of our practical classes take place in G10 studio space in 43 Gordon Square, which is where we also stage final performance projects. Students are welcome to attend many of the events run within the Centre too. And last year, along with the University of Winchester and the University of Kent, we collaborated with Camden People’s Theatre on two festivals entitled Being European, exploring the moments before and after the EU referendum.

With fellows ranging from playwrights to theatre directors, can you please discuss some of the themes and highlights of 2016, and beyond into 2017?

We invite a wide range of people involved in theatre to participate in centre events as it’s such a diverse discipline. The centre’s goals shift slightly year- on-year depending on the research focus of academics and Fellows, and we try to integrate these by working to a research theme, which this year is ‘transmission’. We have many events coming up in 2017, but three symposia we’re currently working on include Politicians & Other Performers in January, Twofold: the Particularities of Working in Pairs in March, and Theatres of Contagion in May. When we can, we podcast our talks on the Centre for Contemporary Theatre website. The centre runs events every day during Arts Week – discussions, symposia, performances. In May 2016, we welcomed Tassos Stevens (Artistic Director of Coney), who talked about digital media and social life with Birkbeck academics Seda Ilter, Scott Rodgers and Joel McKim.  We run a Scratch Night every year for students at all levels to show work in progress.  The MFA Theatre Directing students will create an original piece of performance in collaboration with an academic.  Last year, they worked with Gill Woods to create a brilliant short interactive piece exploring ‘part scripts’, widely used in early modern theatre.  We also support artists to show longer pieces of work in progress in the context of Arts Week too (for example, the work of Theatre North).

What would you like to see introduced?

The Centre is ten years old this year, so we’re hoping to mark that by running a range of events that reflect upon its achievement next year.

What have been the challenges faced by the theatre?

Time! There is so much we would like to do, and with limited time…

Would you consider arranging a society through Birkbeck SU for Drama?

Students have expressed an interest in forming a Birkbeck drama society, and we would fully support the activities of such a group. As an SU activity it’s not for us to initiate it.

And finally, what do you consider the chief mission of the theatre?

The Centre’s mission is to host conversations between all those interested in theatre – academics, artists and audiences – and to be responsive to contemporary concerns and issues. This aim, above all else, informs the work we do, and will guide future developments


Images: Courtesy of The Birkbeck Centre For Contemporary Theatre

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The 13 questions: Dr Charlie Oughton

Charlie Oughton changed my opinion on so much that it’s difficult to know where to start. Teaching  media and culture-related subjects at both Regents and University of the Arts London, he combines the presenting styles of musical theatre and stand-up comedy with the informed discourse of a doctor of arts. It makes for a hell of a show.  He also writes for Real Crime, SciFi Now and Starburst (among many others), has contributed to several edited collections, and provided film commentary materials for entertainment distributors around the UK. He can often be found at international film and arts festivals.

What inspires you?
Weird things. I like things that help me see things in a different way or encourage creation. For example, in Poundland I’ll see cheap and cheerful lights that can be stripped down for use in a prop for one of my stage shows. (The most recent set ended up becoming part of a light-up dildo…all for educational purposes, you understand).

What informs you?
I spend a lot of time trying to balance the ambition of my ideas (enormous set pieces of audience involvement with handmade props for everyone, complex poetry, projections and probably an alien or two) with what is appropriate and feasible. If I am using a clapping exercise to help students understand a film-editing process, I need to check their reactions to make sure the point’s understood rather than it just being a basic involvement mechanism.

Intellectually, I get a lot of my basic topic ideas from Facebook. I prefer it to academia as it has a far wider reach and there’s increasingly crossover anyway.

Where is your favourite place?
Easily accessible? The churchyard we live next to. It’s a gorgeous building and is incredibly peaceful with the added spice that it’s frequented by lots of different people.

Alternatively, the darkened side streets of just about any city. I love the different snapshots of life you see as well as a bit of danger.

Finally, Brussels’ central square. The buildings are incredible, it’s incredibly diverse and at night everyone just sits on the floor in the square and has a good-natured drink together.

Where do you go to learn?
My flat. I tend to learn most when I can take whatever I’ve picked up and experiment with it on my own at home with the internet at hand and a bit of room to bounce around in to let off excess energy. My front room has all my books, props and a fair bit of random stuff that I can just play with.

When do you watch?
Generally at night. I tend to watch just before bed as when your eyes get droopy it can get a bit more immersive. It’s also when I’m most likely to be alone and can watch what I want…

When do you dream?
All the time. Years ago I was part of an experimental group that used dream diaries where you had to train yourself to remember and write everything down so that you could learn from it. I have very good recall and can still lucid dream if I want to.

Who is your biggest critic?
Primarily my other half. I am very populist, he is very highbrow. If I can impress him, there’s a chance my work (whether written or performed) will cover both bases. That said, I have started going back over my finished work to see what editors have tweaked and learn from it (as I tend to cover very controversial areas and sail very, very near the edge) and if I see a rhyme that could have worked better if I’d altered a word, I kick myself. It has really helped me to develop my style as I know they’re not just letting me write anything but are more than willing for me to experiment. I’ve been able to get away with paragraphs on murder written in rhyming couplets to replicate gun fire before now.

Charlie Q picWhen do you write?
I tried to get in to a normal pattern of writing between the working hours of 9 to 5. In reality I will stare at the screen and sod about on my mobile until about one in the morning when all the sudden my brain will come alive and the idea will flow. It recently took me 4 days to do a basic article I just wasn’t feeling, then about half an hour to do a really complex bit somewhere else that just came. To me, writing is less about conveying information (that’s what Wiki is for) than giving that info in a way that the scenario is truthfully dramatised in a way that gets the reader to question what they know. I use everything from technical rhetoric and poetic devices to sight gags hidden for those who read the article that little bit more carefully.  When you get a little bit tired your imagination works and it’s amazing the peculiar connections it will pick up on.

What are the best ways to make people engage?
The amygdala. The best way to engage people is to appeal to their fear or their desire. In one of my historical performance pieces on censorship I dress as a Victorian sex pest and it makes a point through its visual perversity and the fact people get off on that despite themselves.

Why must we talk about controversial subjects?
Because we live in a globalised world where we are going to come across other people who have different opinions to us. We have to live together and this gives us the opportunity to refine all of our viewpoints.

Why are people still challenged by sexuality in the arts?
Because sexual drive is so powerful. Being attracted to people can fundamentally change our behaviour, make us do daft things and completely alter power dynamics. It challenges the status quo because sometimes it goes against what was traditionally thought to be ‘the way things were done’, and science is increasingly showing that things that were previously considered as fads may have scientific backing (such as identities beyond gender norms) which may lead to a re-evaluation of a whole lot more. The arts is, after all, a sphere that is traditionally very heteronormative.

What is the greatest thing fandom can do for art?
Fandom encourages people to think about media and their relationship to what it represents. In doing so, they can begin to decide what kind of world they want to live in and what values they want to see within it. They can create their own. From there, you can begin to change the world.

What exciting project are you working on next?
I often write for the magazine Real Crime which allows me to challenge readers to think about culture while being deliciously sleazy and hopefully entertaining  in the process. In terms of film, I am a co-organiser of film festivals including the Dark Mills Film Festival, am appearing at the Nine Worlds Geekfest and will be covering FrightFest again in August. I also have a few film projects I’ve acted in coming out, though I’m hesitant to say what they are until they’re on the shelves, so to speak.  That’s aside from teaching my regular courses in media, culture and film at a couple of different universities and a few bits of academic publishing.


The 13 questions : Tod Davies (Writer)

Tod Davies might be not be a familiar name to many of you reading this piece, but she is better known than you may think. Have you seen Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas? She wrote the script with Alex Cox (and they had to fight for their work to be recognised). Have you heard of the Arcadia series of books? Snotty Saves the Day and Lily the Silent? She wrote both, and they have made marks. Then of course you may have heard of the cooking memoir Jam Today? After being a fan for quite some time, I decided to launch my new series of artist profiles with the amazing Tod Davies…

What inspires you?
People telling new stories, ones I haven’t heard yet—or even thought of.

What informs you?
Oh, books, books, books. Which are the vehicles of story. But stories of all kinds, really. Fiction and nonfiction…news. Mostly though, Fairy tales. Legends. Myths. Fantasy that is content rich really informs me. I get more information about human desires, potential pitfalls and goals, from rereading Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings trilogy than I do from any collection of magazines and bestselling nonfiction. Although it would have been helpful if he’d included more women’s desires, potential pitfalls etc. Thank the goddess for Ursula K. Le Guin and Madeleine L’Engle.

Where is your favourite place?
My home in the mountain forests of Oregon.

Where do you go to write?
In the winter; the comfy chair by the woodstove. In the summer; a chair by the stream under the old trees in the National Forest behind my house. Otherwise, my study. I really have to write longhand for first drafts. And my handwriting is appalling, even without my balancing the clipboard on my knees.

When do you write?
All the time, actually. But my scheduled time is from about 2 pm to about 4 or 5 pm. That’s when all the machines are shut down. Unless I’m putting stuff into the computer, anyway.

When do you dream?
All the time. Awake. Asleep. Half awake. Half asleep. I do sometimes think I actually exist in some kind of borderland. It always astonishes me to find when other people don’t. Or they seem to say they don’t, anyway. I’d love to hear from others about this.

Who is your biggest critic?
My dear husband. Also my not so dear superego.

Who makes you angry?
People who use others to make themselves feel powerful, superior. As my hero/heroine says in Snotty Saves the Day, the strong need the weak to make themselves feel strong. But the weak don’t need the strong. So, really, who is the weaker?

Why are libraries important?
You want to talk about a softball question! My goodness: they are the repository of story, of course. The place you can go to read (and tell) stories of all kinds. They are the creative motor of culture. No lie.

Why must we talk about art?
Why must we talk about life? Art, truly engaged with, is about the questions that matter to us as humans: “Who am I?” “Who are we?” “Why are we here?” “What is it good for us to do?”

Do you feel that story telling is natural to human beings?
Not only is it natural, it can practically be said to be our actual biological function. As bees make honey, so do we make stories. Our entire world is a story that we have built over the aeons. It’s made up of the symbols coming from the within that we have applied to the without. There is no human path without the story. The story IS the path. And art of all kinds add to the story.

Can we discover and rediscover a story via its retelling?
Anyone who has reread a beloved book after a time away from it knows that you have a new experience…the older and more experience, the more one sees in beloved things (and people, one hopes). Any real work of art has so many facets that can’t be grasped in one reading, one seeing. It’s a living thing. Living things can be endlessly rediscovered. If we’re willing to open ourselves to them, anyway. Which is always a question.

Do we understand ourselves and our world via the stories we tell?
Yes. Yes. Yes. And we need to go on understanding it and interacting with the stories and with our world. It’s a dance. We ARE the stories, the world is the stories. Or, as Yeats says, “How can we tell the dancer from the dance?”