Monthly Archives: August 2012

Home is where the art is

Gallery, n. An apartment or building dedicated to the exhibition of works of art.

If you’re looking for art, this is where most of us would head to find it. A trip to a purpose created enclosure certainly showcases the art, but leaves the spectator, well, myself at least, with a case of aching feet and depleted blood sugar. Surely, for the artwork to come to life its recipient needs to feel alive too?

Thankfully, the relationship between art and its viewer is constantly evolving. Our interest is nourished by the diverse ways we can enjoy it. Street art. Marketplace caricatures. Palatial national galleries scented like dust and velvet and warm wood. Websites that allow you to zoom in forensically on a painting’s colour and texture without the watchful eye of the curator. Prehistoric caves with their charcoal frescos. Pop up exhibitions. The Antiques Roadshow. A private house. These more unusual exhibitions should be celebrated and encouraged as a means to propel art into the deepest, darkest corners of the world of the Playstation generation.

Living in Cambridge places me at the heart of the divide between old and new ways of looking at art. The Fitzwilliam Museum showcases a traditional British art gallery at its finest. The building itself is a masterpiece of gilt, mosaic and marble and the range of pieces, from a Han dynasty jade burial suit to works of the Venetian Renaissance, makes this gallery an excellent way in to the world of art. However, has the static gallery experience become stale in our age of flux?


The entrance to the Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge

In contrast, Kettle’s Yard, whilst technically being a gallery, offers the spectator an innovative and definitely more natural means of enjoying art. Formerly owned by Jim Ede, curator of the Tate Gallery in London in the 20s and 30s, Kettle’s Yard is a private house holding a distinctive collection of 20th century artwork dispersed throughout a comfortable living space, complete with squishy sofas, ramshackle bookshelves, trailing houseplants, bars of soap and intimate bedrooms. Everything in the house has been positioned precisely to create the single and complete vision of a particular collector in his living environment. As my guide showed me, a butter yellow disc in the corner of a Miro piece was mirrored across the room by a lone lemon embellishing the window sill, whose slightly greenish hue reflected diagonally across to an impressionistic picture of apples. From then on, I noticed connections between works throughout the house; the pieces in one room had similar lines and shapes that metamorphosed into new forms as I passed into the next space. Once given the opportunity simply to sit, spectate, and discover, the merits of the experience began to extend beyond beating the aching feet and escaping the clutter of the audio guides and handbooks.


A typical, quiet corner in Kettle’s Yard

I couldn’t help but reflect upon the fact that decoration and artwork around the home and hearth is a practice that stretches back to the earliest humans. Family visits to Pech Merle and Font du Gaume caves let me glimpse some of the earliest forms of art. Pech Merle’s horse gallery, around 25 000 years old, acts today as a breathtaking mural. But the cave is undeniably and almost eerily a very human space- in the midst of the paintings the lone footprint of an adolescent male can be seen calcified in the mud as the cave was sealed off during the thawing of the last ice age. The artists who sheltered in the mouths of the caves and the surrounding environs used these spaces as a canvas to express themselves. We cannot help embellishing our surroundings as some form of primal instinct.


The Pech Merle horses

It is unsurprising, therefore, that Ede curated Kettle’s Yard to encapsulate a sense of continuity. Rather than curating a static catalogue Ede’s vision was to represent “a continuing way of life… in which stray objects, stones, glass, pictures, sculpture, in light and in space, have been used to make manifest the underlying stability.” But given the acceleration of change in our society during the years since Ede’s death is this stability being disrupted?

Perhaps. And this is why spaces like Kettle’s Yard need to be seen by everyone, if not just to explore different ways of enjoying art, but to reflect on our basic human nature. In parallel, we should commend, publicise, and develop projects such as Own Art, who make collecting art more accessible with the provision of interest free loans from £100-£2000. Art should not limit itself to a contrived, agoraphobic and sterile row of squares on a whitewashed purpose-built wall, but work with and transform everyday spaces, just as the caves did for early humans and as Kettle’s Yard is doing for its visitors. Why do I feel that it is so important to celebrate and promote this more homely way of viewing art? It is because I would like to see more art dispersed and displayed within our day-to-day life.  It is the art that my parents have collected that help to transform the cold bricks of my house into the warm walls of my home. That way, home is where the art is.



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We shadows have offended? Has ‘accessible Shakespeare’ become inaccessible?

‘Accessible Shakespeare’ draws in the audiences. Be it through modern staging and costume, translations of Shakespearean English into ‘gangster chat’ or forays into multicultural interpretations such as King Lear performed at last year’s Edinburgh Fringe in Mandarin, the way that we watch Shakespeare is endlessly shifting.

It’s always said, is it not, that classical literature is applicable to all times and cultures? Shakespeare certainly fits this bill. The popularity of productions today proves that his plays can metamorphose to fit any audience type, any culture, any time, any fashion. There seem to be no limits.

Yet, mesmerising as these new interpretations can be, has the ‘accessible’ become ‘inaccessible’? The move out of stiff ruffs and men in tights to David Tennant’s parker jacket and beanie hat in the graveyard scene of the RSC’s Hamlet in 2008 may engage the audience’s empathy, yet this destabilising of stereotypical Shakespeare can leave us somewhat disorientated.

Whilst supervising University of California students on Pembroke College’s annual summer study programme I found that multicultural and deconstructed Shakespeare aiming to be ‘accessible’ can leave those wishing to find Shakespeare feeling totally lost. Travelling to Stratford, we enjoyed a performance of Dmitry Krymov’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream (As You Like It). Having seen multiple presentations of A Midsummer Night’s Dream, and having just studied the Shakespeare paper in my English degree, I was fascinated by the show’s premise. A performance involving five metre puppets, acrobatics, an on-stage audience, opera, fireworks and of course, Venya, the athletic and endearing Jack Russell. What’s more, the director chose to focus solely on the parts of the mechanics performing ‘Pyramus and Thisbe’ and claimed he wanted to dissolve the boundaries between Shakespeare’s different plays so that his audience left the theatre unsure quite what they had seen. And to top it all off, it was performed entirely in Russian. What cultures all around the world typify as quintessentially British had become nomadic, and I, as a veteran of performance watching, could not be more intrigued.

The doomed lovers’ story played out in a montage of cumbersome puppet dances, dog yaps, histrionic opera and primitive sexual overtures. To add to the disorientation a paper lion frolicked through clouds of sparks whilst Thisbe’s tears comically, and literally, flooded the stage. This blend of the elements and merging of the senses created for me an utterly unprecedented vision of the play. Yet the confused murmurs of my companions suggested that those most keen to access Shakespeare were feeling bewildered.

Our second opportunity to show off our Shakespearean heritage to our visitors was at the Fringe. If anything encapsulates ‘accessibility’, it is the Fringe in its diversity. There is something for all. So we ventured to watch C Venue’s Shit-faced Shakespeare, a performance of A Midsummer Night’s Dream almost literally hallucinogenic in that the actor who played Lysander was ‘shit-faced’ and the audience’s heckling kept him that way. Whilst I enjoyed the merriment, again, my students were craving that authentic ‘Shakespearience’.

Luckily, the Globe Theatre’s Henry V soothed their discontent. Compared to the haphazard cascades of sawdust and rough shorn wood of Krymov’s set, the Globe’s timber, thatch and the curls of paint embellishing the stage’s ceiling in true Renaissance style provided enough of the ‘actual Shakespeare’ they had all so yearned for. The contrast in their reactions left me to ponder the definition of ‘accessibility’ in conjunction with literature that lasts. Perhaps when we seek to modernise Shakespeare for audiences of diverse age, culture and taste, we lose those who are searching for his dramas the most. Puck’s candid epilogue suddenly smarts. Maybe the shadows of the ‘dream’ have offended, and their offense is made more overt by modern interpretations that seek intentionally to destabilise the themes of an already labyrinthine play. Yet, with themes of disguise, mistaken identity and feigned insanity, Shakespeare’s plays would suggest a regard for the world of theatre as one of artifice and illusion. Perhaps then he never sought to be truly ‘accessed’ by his audiences, however quirky the costumes.

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