On Friday 1st of December (the start of the real Christmas countdown) local school children and their parents were invited to join the GCP to create Christmas crafts with LOTS of glitter. They came along to make Christmas cards and decorations provided with a bit of inspiration from festive tunes and pinterest crafts.
The event was really well attended despite the snow and very chilly weather; probably the sweets and biscuits on offer helped people to brave the artic conditions? For many of the local residents it was their first time in the community room and meeting the GCP team, an experience that was 100% positive for all involved and one that we hope has helped form relationships with the community forever.
Special thanks to the volunteers from the teams who turned up on the day, especially the ones who helped to clear up the epic amount of glitter that covered everything (we are very sorry, but not really who doesn’t love glitter?) and the Café des Arts team who helped to promote the event – you did a really good job! We hope this event will happen again, maybe for Easter as it was very popular with those who came along. Looking back it would be hard to tell who was having more fun with the Christmas crafts the children or the GCP scholars! All in all everyone had a really good time and got into the Christmas spirit. Success!
Last week, Café des Arts and Café Politique co-hosted a screening of the documentary “Has Political Correctness Gone Mad?” (2017), featuring British writer, broadcaster, and former politician Trevor Phillips. Speaking from his experience in the field of politics, Phillips explores the suppression of free speech by politically undesirable elements of the population and its connection to the rise of far-right populist politicians in the United States and Europe. He presents an overview from the cut-and-dry cases of free speech that should not be accepted (a man who writes online threats of sexual assault to a woman who petitioned for Jane Austen to be featured on the £10 bank note) to more complex cases (a case of an anti-immigrant protest in London that city authorities restricted to an isolated part of the city in order not to be in the public eye). Phillips’ argument, entirely unrelated to the actual substance of these figures, was simply that there should be no control to free speech, even from more conservative members of society. A truly liberal state, he argued, should not be repressing any voices or alienating people from the public sphere, but rather encouraging dialogue over differences.
The discussion afterwards was particularly interesting. Students brought up topics such as the fine line between the adoption of other cultural styles and cultural appropriation, as well as the position of authority on mediating between contesting views, such as presented in the case of a feminist speaker who student groups attempted to ban from speaking at Cardiff due to her controversial opinions about transgender women. Even among the students attending the discussion, there were heated debates around cultural sensitivity and admissibility of offending comments, such as the case of UCL Professor Tim Hunt’s resignation due to a sexist joke. The only point of agreement seemed to be that threats of violence may not be tolerated in the public sphere. It confirmed Trevor Phillips’ message and highlighted the challenges of encouraging conversation from different political and social perspectives, and focusing on the topic of discussion objectively without discrediting the opposition. It is a topic to which all facets of society should focus their attention, as globalization and urbanization bring ongoing tensions, and so far, the only respite for the unheard voices – the anti-immigrant groups, the supporters of traditional gender norms, the population reeling from the economic consequences of the shutdown of traditional industries – seems to be the glimmering beacon of the far right and its promises to serve as the ‘voice of the people’.
Alan O’Cain, Artist Exhibition at Ushaw College (Article by James O’Neill, Café des Arts lead)
“If there was a means to picture my inner self, picture my thoughts and traumatised sensibilities, picture the suffocation caused by lack of freedom, then this is it” (subject to artist – 31.08.15)
The fragility and perseverance of humanity is most observable in the extremities of life, something usually un-confronted in Britain. On June 22nd, the Café des Arts organised a trip to Ushaw College to give postgraduate students and the public the chance to see the opening night of local artist Alan O’Cain’s most recent work. However, this was not the usual exhibition for a U.K. audience. Instead, attendees experienced a modern-day Shakespearean narrative of desolate tragedy tucked away in an unassuming collegiate chapel.
The evening began slowly, as people filtered through to a large and well-lit lounge within Ushaw. As-per-usual at these events, drinks were freely offered, and people began to sip wine and mingle with one another in a civilised fashion. This was, however, a fleeting moment of niceties, for as Alan began discussing the exhibition it soon became clear that it was created neither for nor from any courteous pleasantry.
The paintings originate from an ongoing collaboration between Alan and a British former banker who pled guilty to securities fraud in 2008 (which was backdropped by the world’s banking crisis). The anonymous subject of these paintings is currently in his sixties, and is serving a sixteen-year prison sentence in a United States jail. He is a university graduate, a father, a former art collector and previously a successful corporate banker, who has no opportunity for parole before serving a minimum sentence of fourteen years.
Alan’s project is to create a painting for every year his subject remains incarcerated. Each four-foot square work (interestingly, Andy Warhol’s preferred sized canvas) is inspired by the emotional and intellectual content of their correspondences. A single photograph taken of the subject and his wife in their beautiful garden, a symbol of the joy he once experienced, is repeated, again and again, in each year’s painting. This poignantly references both the inner-life of the inmate’s relationship to the external world and his fading place within this existence.
Alan completed his speech by playing an eight-minute-long cello recital of torturous and emotionally evocative sounds whilst he read out one letter by the inmate. In this letter the audience discerned both the complexity of the subject and his involvement in Alan’s work, referencing a recent example that he had seen: “Then there is the black. Is the space growing or shrinking? We must think positively because rather than a suffocating vacuum the space contains a hint of colour. That means life, surely.” A discernible mood of emotional unrest and unease was felt, and at this point we were taken into the chapel where the cello recital continued, enhancing an atmosphere of both heightened concentration and discomfort.
In his style the series draws comparison to Robert Rauschenberg’s work. You see a faint depiction of the subject fading into an often compartmentalised background, either neutral or colourful, roughly applied in broad strokes of unmodulated colour. The everyday types of multi-media incorporated upon the canvas (such as screws, hinges, zips) also pays homage to Rauschenberg in Alan’s simpler, perhaps more focused style:
The cycle itself begins with a painting of two halves, connected by a zip in the centre of the panel. Already the subject is visible only faintly, a ghostly apparition compared to the strong outlines of his wife; faceless features serve to heighten the de-humanising process, accentuated by usually unseen-every-day objects placed externally to reference the interior-life ripped out externally. In the fourth year’s panel the tone turns to a sombre black. Here, the use of a bin liner wrapped around the subject’s face emphasises the sensation of his interior suffocation during a two-year state of intense depression wherein no letters or communication occurred.
Alan manages to create with this evocative exhibition a real sense of emotional desolation, depression and imprisonment. Fortunately for us, the exit was ready for when we wished to withdraw. Unlike the subject of this painting cycle we were, thankfully, not trapped in this unsettling world, but free to depart and enjoy normality once again. For those who would like to visit and experience this exhibition themselves, however, it is on until August 31st.
I was unfashionably keen to be part of the Café des Arts team this year, and thrilled when I was successful! I’d attended most of their events the previous two years that I’d been at Ustinov, and, as an arts student and enthusiast myself, had often thought about what events I’d love to put on if I were a part of this project.
Over the course of this year, my fellow team members and I have aimed to make our events as broad and encompassing as possible, since the concept of ‘the arts’ leaves so much for interpretation and exploration! Our events this year have sought to cover numerous aspects of arts and culture, to be as international as possible, and far-reaching in terms of both event content and type—including academic talks, crowd-sourced talks, workshops, and musical performances.
We’ve succeeded in covering ‘art’, ‘film’, ‘music’ (both performance and theory), and are working on ‘literature’ even as I type this. So far this year, we’ve arranged: a meet-and-greet of contemporary Japanese artists whose work was on display at the Oriental Museum, with a discussion of their work; a film and discussion evening about mental illness, creativity, and the arts, featuring the film Frida (2002); a rug-making workshop with the Durham Rug Makers; a talk on trauma and musical modernism; and a crowd-sourced talk from our very own Ustinovians about inspirational women for International Women’s Day.
Café des Arts also comprises the Ustinov College Choir, a small, un-auditioned choir filled with individuals who enjoy singing. We’ve put on two events starring the choir—an ‘alternative’ Christmas concert and a Spring concert—which both also featured poetry and prose readings, including international examples. The success of the Christmas concert in particular was a proud moment, featuring as it did both a fascinating talk from a professor of music about the origin of the Christmas carol ‘O Come All Ye Faithful’, and a full repertoire of international carols and Christmas songs by the choir. Have you heard ‘Hark! The Herald Angels Sing’ sung in eight different languages before?
Of course, it’s not all plain sailing, and while I’m so proud of the events we’ve succeeded in putting on, I’d like to spare a moment for those events that were unfortunately not to be: an event about Lumiere, Durham’s biennial festival of light, featuring the organisers themselves; a talk about the cultural history and importance of tattooing; and a joint event with the Race, Crime, and Justice team featuring a play about domestic violence. Some ideas if you’re interested in taking over the position next year!
We have worked alongside the Ustinov Volunteering Team, hosting their bake sale at our events to raise money for the Ustinov Foundation, and hope to be working with Café Scientifique soon. Arts and culture, rather than being separate from science, politics, and indeed our everyday lives, are fundamentally intertwined with them—there is so much scope for events connecting these varying themes.
Café des Arts is valuable because it brings the world of the arts and the arts of the world into the temporary home of students who are studying incredibly diverse and often non-arts postgraduate degrees. Everyone, regardless of their academic interests, has at least some interest in art and culture—whether it’s music, theatre, dance, film, art, reading, television—and it is incredibly important to have this represented and promoted as part of college life. The arts, even if not your field or your lifestyle, can act as escapes and retreats, and learning more about them can only be a gain.
And aside from working as part of the individual project, I also work as part of the bigger team of Global Citizenship Programme scholars. We have regular meetings, often with home baking from our multi-talented members, and I’m lucky to have met such wonderful people during my time at Ustinov. The level of organisation, constant glow of enthusiasm, and genuine interest in such a wide array of topics and themes is staggering to witness. I’m honoured to have been a part of it.
The first project for the Café des Arts took place last Tuesday, 25th October. We organised a walk led by Dr Ivan Hill on the History of Crime and Justice through the streets of Durham. The walk took an even portion of history from the medieval to the contemporary and included handouts which illustrated convicted persons, parades and portraits of a bygone city centre to the group. This enhanced the experience and brought to life the stories told by making visible those persons who were either imprisoned, lived, or were executed at a particular place and space in Ivan’s walking seminar.
Despite the awkward post-lunch timing of the walk, we had a tremendous turnout for our first event. We started with 22 persons arriving for the walk from three different colleges, composed of Undergraduate and Postgraduate students, as well as a lecturer in French Language. Members of the general public were also in attendance and their numbers, incidentally, appeared to grow as the walk went on!
The great success in the turnout can be given to the brilliantly interesting nature of the walking seminar. Credit must also be given to the publicity Café des Arts organised in the weeks before. These efforts helped relay the message out to Undergraduate and Postgraduate students, who had either an active interest in the History and Art History of Durham, the Socio-political nature of the seminar or who were using the walk as an orientation tool to better get to know the city that they had just moved to.
The success of the seminar can be measured by the degree in which the participants verbally engaged with one another, actively discussing certain aspects that appealed to them over the post- Q and A time coffee and cake, supplied by the excellent staff at The Dun Cow. These conversations went on for some time, with many students speaking privately to Ivan to discuss in greater detail those concepts, stories and comments that most appealed to them. For future walks, we hope the Race, Crime and Justice Team will be in attendance. They were unable to attend this event, but their presence always compliments Ivan’s walking seminar, creating great dialogue.
We at the Café des Arts look forward to an equally high turn-out for our next event, ‘Defining the Erotic in Art over the Ages’, on Tuesday 15th November (Fisher House from 6pm).
On Wednesday, 30 November 2016, Café des Arts hosted their second event of the Michaelmas term – the Erotic Art in Culture seminar. While some artistic depictions or descriptions of nudity and/or sexual intimacy may originally have been intended as ‘erotic,’ others may be mislabelled on the basis of contemporary mindsets. The ‘Erotic Art in Culture’ seminar brought together both postgraduate researchers and faculty from Durham University in order to explore the interpretations of erotic artwork from both modern and historical perspectives.
The idea for the seminar arose from an ongoing discussion between the graduate students and faculty at Brandeis University. As a student of Classics and Archaeology, I spent a lot of time engaged in courses related to the archaeology of the Bay of Naples. As a result of this, I encountered some fascinating scholarly arguments on Roman wall painting. From the scenes of daily life to mythology, we have been given a narrow glimpse into the lives of Romans in the first century BCE and CE. The wall paintings that illustrated scenes of bathing, nudity, and sexual intimacy, however, were of interest particularly. While some of the images were certainly once considered ‘erotic,’ others have been – and may still be – mislabelled as such due to the way in which archaeological materials are analysed. The theme from the earlier dialogue was expanded upon to allow a wider culture discussion about such artwork from different periods and cultures throughout history.
The ‘Erotic Art’ in Culture seminar brought together several speakers from Durham University to talk about their academic forays into the erotic – Professor Elizabeth Archibald, Dr. William McKenzie, and Ms. Iris Ordean. Professor Elizabeth Archibald, from the Department of English Studies, discussed the popular practice of bathing throughout Western Europe in the later Middle Ages. While our previous scholarly knowledge on bathing has been taken from literature, poems, and archaeological materials, the artwork of the time period has given us one of the best forms of evidence for the popularity of the practise. As exemplified by Professor Archibald, the scenes of bathing are “remarkably frank” and nudity did not seem scandalous or controversial, even in biblical depictions.
Dr. William McKenzie, from the School of Modern Languages and Cultures, explored the more recent productions of William Shakespeare’s Measure for Measure. The performance was originally published in the early seventeenth century, but some contemporary directors and set-designers have staged the play in a pornographic fashion. In his talk, Dr. McKenzie argued that Measure for Measure exposed the “liberated contemporary categories of the pornographic as catastrophically simplistic.” In addition, Measure for Measure brings together God, law, and sex in a way that “modern eroticism” cannot envision, illustrating “forms of passionate desire” that current cultures have forgotten and or have yet to discover.
Ms. Iris Ordean, a Durham Leverhulme Doctoral Scholar from the School of Modern Languages and Culture, discussed the history and cultural practice of shibari – Japanese Rope Bondage. The custom of shibari was originally intended as a method of torture, but has gradually transitioned into a form of erotic practice and performance over time. The nawashi, the “architect of the human installation,” ties and unties parts of a human body in order to keep a person in a constant state of movement. Ms. Ordean investigated the “spiritual experience” that the people involved in shibarishare and further inquired into the “performative nature” of the practice.
On behalf of Café des Arts, I would like to extend an appreciative thanks to the speakers who made the Erotic Art in Culture seminar possible – Professor Elizabeth Archibald, Dr. William McKenzie, and Ms. Iris Ordean. Some special thanks also to the other members of Café des Arts – James O’ Neill, Rafaella Brozou, and Nino Makasarashvili – as well as Jacqueline You, from the Ustinov Intercultural Forum, for the assistance provided during the Erotic Art in Culture seminar.