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Norman Rea Gallery – The Circle, Arts Awareness Week 2013

The student-run Norman Rea gallery, in accordance with Arts Awareness Week invited York students and staff to submit their own work to be shown in the gallery’s final exhibition of the year.

As with any collaborative exhibition, it is difficult to have an overarching sense of coherence. As none of the artists created their works in discussion with eachother there is no linking factor other than the loose theme, ‘the Circle’. However, this meant that there was a large variety of work and the brilliant curation by Aily Trimble and Ayomide Sanwo brought often incompatible mediums together in an inspired way.

The stand-out work of the evening has got to be Emily Garthwaite’s ‘Hindu Gods’ series. The stunning trio of photographs contrasted dull, urban surroundings with the vibrant colours of the Hindu God figures. Having completed a Foundation year at Central Saint Martins, Garthwaite is now working towards a career in photography and is certainly one to watch.

Another beautiful photographic work was Jonathan Exon’s ‘Memoriale des Martyrs de la Deportation’. The simple black and white photograph of a flock of birds neatly encircling the composition contrasted with the bright colours of Suzanne Decker’s excellent glasswork pieces.

I was pleased to be introduced to the work of the University’s resident artist, Ann Decker. It is a shame that the University doesn’t provide more opportunities for students to see her work. Her small ceramic sculpture, ‘Gold Pool’ encouraged a number of visitors to tiptoe over the high shelf on which it was displayed in order to better see the intricate ‘pool’ of gold.

It was refreshing to see a number of video works exhibited, as the medium is often overlooked and has not been shown so far this year at the Norman Rea gallery. Jordan Licht’s ‘Nighthawks’ was an interesting study of Edward Hopper’s painting by the same name.

Tim Pierce’s unusual medium for his piece, ‘Spin Cycle’ of a washing machine door notably stimulated conversation. The bold colours and interesting shapes in the washing machine door attempted to imply movement, aided by our preconceptions of the washing machine and the title of the artwork.

The Outside space in the area between the gallery and Courtyard seemed oddly disparate from the rest of the gallery. However, the interactive artwork encouraged audience participation and a great opportunity for the gallery’s visitors become a part of the exhibition.

This interesting collection of mediums and artists proves to be a thought provoking and surprisingly high quality exhibition. This was an excellent celebration of the end of the year and hints towards what will hopefully be another successful year for the gallery.’


Norman Rea Gallery Summer Exhibition



Woman and Scripture

Jen Ward draws some surprising medieval parallels to the question of women bishops in the Church of England.

We live in an age in which the fast pace of progress is celebrated; technology is updated almost incessantly and social networking sites allow us minute by minute updates on the lives of others. International developments reach us almost instantaneously via 24-hour news channels. Change is, in many respects, now presented as a healthy and positive thing. However, on 20 November 2012, the General Synod of the Church of England voted against allowing women to become ordained as bishops. To me, this seems entirely incompatible with an age which professes to promote equal opportunities employment and is desperate to ensure it is as up-to-date as it possibly can be.

On that day, 20 November, I was frantically reading The Boke of Margery Kempe, in preparation for my ‘Late Medieval Literature’ seminar the following day. For those who haven’t come into contact with this obscure and utterly eccentric text, it follows the life of a fourteenth century female visionary who roamed the country trying to tell the word of God (which she heard from Jesus in her head) to priests and laity alike. Margery Kempe was, for many English Literature students, the straw that broke the camel’s back when it came to trying to access the Medieval period. However, when reading it, I couldn’t help but be forcibly reminded of the discussions going on in the Church of England  at the moment, a mere eight centuries later.

As a practising member of the Church of England myself, I am in no hurry to condemn it. Both churches which I attend have several female members of the clergy. However, I find it alarming that Margery’s struggle to be heard amongst the patriarchy of the fourteenth-century church has such a resonance with our situation today. One of the arguments cited against the installation of female bishops is a passage of scripture in which St Paul says “I do not permit a woman to teach or have authority over a man – she must be silent” (1 Timothy 2:12). St Paul is also cited in Margery Kempe, where (in York in fact) a “great cleric quickly produced a book and quoted St Paul for his part against her, that no woman should preach”. Here they are referring to 1 Corinthians 14: 34-35, which objects to a woman speaking in a church; ever-resourceful Margery evades this by spreading the word outside the realm of church and pulpit. Perhaps this is what the women of today should do.

To me, it seems that the more the voice of a woman is denied in a church, or anywhere, the more power is attributed to it, ironically. Given that in many other walks of life women now do ‘teach or have authority over men’, it comes across as backwards, even archaic, that women’s career prospects are still limited in this way by such a large institution as the Church. However, because it is a religious institution, it is not required to follow ‘equalities and employment’ legislation.

To give the Church of England its due, the measure only failed by a narrow margin, needing a mere six more votes to get it passed. Let us hope that at the next General Synod they find those all-important votes. Did I mention this will be in 2015? What’s three years after eight-hundred?


Column A or Column B?

Supportive ———————————- >



If you were planning a trillion-pound, sixteen-year indoctrination program to turn out the next generation of our society, which column would you build it around?

The present school system is built on fear. Fear of exams. Fear of Ofsted. Fear of failure.

All this fear can only output blank generations capable of being obedient.

Yet the world has changed since the modern school was conceived in an industrial Britain. Then the economy needed homogenised, obedient workers and pliant, eager consumers. Today the mass-customisable planet demands innovation.

Education policy must, then, topple Column B. Only then can students be free from the fear of failure.


Jean de…Mordovia?

Gerard Depardieu lumbered around the stage of a provincial Russian town, brandishing his new Russian passport, before being bundled into a traditional regional smock. Hours earlier, he had dined with President Putin. Russia was embracing an exile, driven to their country by punitive state legislation. Or so they would like to have us believe. The arrival of Depardieu was undoubtedly a coup for the government, a sign of the new appeal of Russia to those disillusioned with the West, a sign of their legitimacy as a world power. Eighty years earlier, a series of Western intellectuals had come to fete the Soviet Union and engender it with a similar validity. Yet the gulf between the visits is more than simply chronological. The “fellow-travellers” saw the USSR as an attempt to create a new civilisation; Depardieu and the modern celebrities who fawn on dictators around the world see low taxes and the loosening of an oligarch’s purse-strings.

The collapse of the Soviet Union at the beginning of the 1990s was heralded as a triumph of democracy, free markets and free elections liberating the long-suffering people. In reality, the chaotic nature of the decade led to many countries returning to more authoritarian leadership, or merely retaining Soviet-era apparatchiks in power. They invariably became incredibly wealthy and ran corrupt and abusive states. The Turkmen leader, Saparmurat Niyazov, renamed himself Turkmenbashi, Father of the Turkmen, and became known for his personality cult – he had a gold-plated statue of himself erected in the capital, Ashgabat. It revolved to always face the sun.

If Turkmenbashi was the apotheosis of venal Central Asian dictatorship, he set an example for others. Islam Kamirov has ruled Uzbekistan since 1989, becoming notorious for a series of alleged human rights abuses, as has Ramzan Kadyrov, the Chechen warlord who ascended to the presidency from the ruin of the wars there. Kamirov and Kadyrov, as well as the Putin-Medvedev duumvirate, have played host to a number of American and European celebrities, often singers performing at exclusive concerts. Their defence when questioned about the allegations against their patrons is often ignorance, a sense that politics interferes with artistic freedom, and therefore can be overlooked. The irony of citing such rights to perform as an excuse for appeasing governments such as Putin’s is evident in the aftermath of the Pussy Riot case. However, the artists represent a new global citizenry, an elite whose fame has transcended national boundaries, and are therefore free to do the same. The supranational nature of football is an example: the Dagestani club Anzhi Makhachkala has persuaded world-class players to join them, despite their location in a volatile region of the country that requires the players to make a thousand mile commute from Moscow to play, through the wealth of a local oligarch.

It is now far simpler for wealthy individuals to choose their nationality and residence. However, the contrast between this and the intellectuals who pledged their support to Stalin’s Soviet Union is noticeable. Authors may have been flattered – their books were placed in libraries and scholars discussed them in public – but this was merely securing the bargain. Those who lent their support to the USSR saw it as the future, a new civilization in the process of attaining enlightenment and perfection. They invested a secular faith into the project; modern fellow travellers are more likely to pay lip service to an individual for their personal gain. Apologies are forthcoming when their actions are noticed – Hilary Swank donated her fee to charity after appearing in Chechnya for Kadyrov’s birthday – but the motivation is plainly financial. Russia has a flat income tax rate of just 13%, and Depardieu moved there shortly after President Hollande announced a new 75% top rate for France. Many also seek the privacy of a new nationality, away from prying media attention.

Moreover, the status of those who are able to transform their national identity, and move freely, is notable. If one has sufficient wealth, it is possible. If not, one is stranded, no matter their need. When the Russian businessman Boris Berezovsky claimed political asylum in Britain, there was no detention centre and debate over status. He was accommodated, his wealth and position overriding any concerns. For your average asylum seeker, the flight for their lives could hardly be different. A two-speed system has been created, whereby national borders are erased to ease the lives of the wealthy, whilst limiting the opportunities of the global poor. Russia’s tax rate benefits only a tiny minority of the population; Depardieu’s citizenship lends needed credibility to Vladimir Putin’s regime. Either way, as in the 1930s, we all suffer from the transcendence of social norms by a global elite.



Is fear an aid or hindrance to radical political change? Josh Allen surveys the evidence.

Few subjects are supposed to provoke more fear in the hearts of the ruling class than the spectre of radical change wrought through revolution. However need this be so?

The premier revolution of the modern era occurred in the Russian Empire in late 1917 – an event  which in turn shaped much of the 20th century. And yet, after the initial spasms, did much really change internally within Russia? Need the bourgeois have trembled?

The first decade of the USSR’s existence was a game of 2 halves. First came fear engendered by the Civil War. Then in more settled circumstances, came the creativity that characterised mid-’20s Russia, giving us constructivism, method acting and cut-up film-making. All within an atmosphere that was punk 50 years before The Pistols.

After this creative interregnum however, returned an intensification of fear, as the advent of Stalin’s leadership instigated a climate of terror: the NKVD, GULAG and show trial, all came to sustain and legitimate the regime-lubricating the wheels of industrialisation with blood. Was this fear and tightening of the state’s grip really a logical stage in the evolution of the revolution or a counter-revolution?

On the social front, the draconian Stalinist legal code re-criminalised homosexuality, abortion and divorce. In the class room, the regime returned Russian educational praxis to a version of the traditional tsarist model. The virtual ban on changing job, place of employment or residence meant that serfdom was back in style, only this time with no hope of “redemption” after paying an additional tax for 25 or 30 years.

By the close of the 1930s the official ideology of state with its iconographic portraits of striving workers, buxom women and fetishisation of electricity and tractors as symbols of modernity appeared to have restored orthodoxy. The entire Soviet people toiled for their red tsar under the benevolent gaze of the holy trinity: Marx, Lenin, Stalin. The father, the son and the omnipresent holy ghost. Order had returned to the Russian Empire.

Switching our focus from the tundra to Tuscany in the late 1370s, and fear is sweeping through the oligarchic mercantile elites of Europe. In Florence, the Manchester or Shenzhen of the 14th Century, members of the minor craft guilds not recognised by the municipality seized control of the guildhall and raised their banners over the means of production, distribution and exchange. They proceeded to nationalise the grain industry, raise welfare benefits by 300% and to abolish all personal titles other than “citizen”. By the middle of 1382 however, all of their changes had been rolled back.

Following the seizure of power, the leaders of the minor guilds – like Stalin and his supine cadres 550 years later – found it both expedient to maintain and indeed reinforce some of the traditions of the old magnate class. Coming to power during an economic slump is never easy, however the government of the minor guilds compounded this problem by trying to meet the debt obligations of the previous regime and instituting draconian punishments for those who did not work. The lesser artisans of Florence were left wondering what had changed, so did not ride to their nominal representatives rescue when in 1382 the Butcher’s Guild, loyal to the old regime, seized the guildhall and massacred most members of the revolutionary government, securing the rapid restoration of the old regime and in time, the emergence of the Medici family as a bulwark against future disorder and challenges to the status quo.

The fear amongst radicals that revolutionary change might prove short-lived is frequently addressed as a topic of concern in radical left-wing circles. However, it also concerns those on the right. Marx famously wrote of Napoleon the III’s destruction of the Second Republic in 1852, ‘history repeats itself first as tragedy then as farce’. He was referring to the grotesque parody of the First Empire’s (brief) achievements reflected in the ineffective and ill-thought out vanity projects and serious dubious plebiscites, focus groups and assemblies, that compromised Louis Napoleon’s ever more tenuous grip upon both France and reality.

However, the same applies to the incredibly mediocre performance that was Thatcherite Britain. The Conservative Party’s mid-1970s conversion to to neo-liberal economics gave it a revolutionary agenda just as radical as that of Militant Tendency. Despite the best efforts of Keith Joseph to brand Thatcherism ‘neo-victorianism’, since that time there has been nothing conservative about the Conservative Party.

The appalling social effects of social, political and economic Thatcherism and the corrosive effect of life in a neo-liberal world upon individuals and their relationships with each other, are well-known, well-documented and well-lamented amongst left-wingers. What is considered less often is whether the Thatcherite revolution fundamentally changed anything. Or, in fact, whether British Thatcherism and the neo-liberal movement worldwide is merely an intensification and perfection of existing trends. Much as tsarist orthodoxy found its highest expression under the supposedly atheistic and socialistic Stalinist USSR.

Thatcher and her political fear she inculcated led to the waste, inefficiency and eventual collapse of state industries. However, let us consider three of Britain’s most successful companies: Serco, First Group and – before their collapse in 2002 – Jarvis Construction. All 3 have grown through extensive state support, which has enabled them to thrive. Serco and other outsourcing companies have come into existence solely because of government policies which favour private delivery of services, create a market, which has now gone global that did not exist before.

It’s hard to see how successive governments, both Labour and Conservative, have acted differently from their predecessors of the immediate Post-War era, who tried to encourage growth in the car or chemical industries. Likewise First Group’s business model, as we have seen in York, relies almost entirely upon exploiting state subsidies and extracting the maximum profit for the least return to service users. A model, so successful, that recent acquisitions have exported it as far as Australia and the USA. Jarvis Construction, prior to overreaching itself, made a killing from rail privatisation and public sector building contracts worldwide.

How does the policy of recent governments differ then from those prior to the late ’70s? Whereas once the government championed British Aerospace, the General Electric Corporation and the British Motor Company, firms which provided skilled, reasonably secure well paid jobs in good conditions for hundreds of thousands, now they encourage and subsidise service providers which seem to profit from the general atomisation of our population and society, under the white heat of capital.

Conservatives and indeed liberals should fear the pace of change that they have unleashed, because it is, by its very nature, destabilising. It is in this whirlwind that those of us who seek to challenge the status quo might be able to seek lasting change without falling into the mires that have ensnared radicals in the past. The essence of driving effective change must be to seek out organic variant of the change we want and encourage them to blossom.

At grassroots level we should seek to build through our students’ unions or our local authorities the sort of better world we want to see – be this through start our own letting agency to challenge ineffective privately run ones or getting the parish council to collectively buy energy for our town or village, so as to reduce bills for all. Such small acts are not a plea for introspective quietism, rather an assessment that if a revolutionary situation materialises then we shall be better placed to capitalise upon it if society already has the buds of a free and equal society.


Never Break The Chain

Suzanne Connolly analyses the intent behind the lyrics to Fleetwood Mac’s ‘The Chain’.

2013 marks the 35th anniversary of the recording of Fleetwood Mac’s generation-defining album “Rumours”, heralding the chance for them to return once again to the world stage on their upcoming 2013 tour. It is interesting, then, to consider just how “Rumours” revealed in the raw fragility of a band which would go on to have such unlikely longevity. Aspects of fear and change are apparent in almost every song featured on the album, revealing tensions and relationship breakdowns that were occurring within the band at the time the tracks were written and recorded.

Search “Fleetwood Mac The Chain 1982” on YouTube and you’ll come across what is, I find, one of the most emotionally charged live performances ever recorded. What you are watching is not simply a band performing a greatest hit, but a band performing a greatest hit in the midst of several personal crises and unapologetically showing it.

The resonance of the song’s lyrics with the band, especially in former romantic partners Stevie Nicks and Lindsey Buckingham, is evident as they showcase not only their musical talent but manifest within it their lingering tensions through brooding glares, animalistic howls and direct address from one to the other. “The Chain” happens to be the only song credited to all five members, Nicks, Buckingham, Fleetwood, McVie and McVie. Recognisable to many, partly due to the use of the bass solo on Formula 1 coverage, “The Chain” reveals the fears of a band which would profit hugely from the same internal breakdowns which threatened to end their collaboration before it had the chance to really begin.

As the lyrics show, the song deals with a fear of breaking commitment both to a relationship, as was the case with the inter-band breakups of Nicks and Buckingham alongside the divorce of John and Christine McView, as well as the fear of the breakup of the musical collaboration, shown in the accusatory lines:

“And if you don’t love me now
You will never love me again
I can still hear you saying you would never break the chain”

The final chant-like repetition of the line “Chain… Keep us together” provides a sort of mantra for the band at a time of great uncertainty as to their staying together.

Although the history of Fleetwood Mac is much longer and more complex than just “Rumours”, the band itself having several line-up changes before and after, it is undoubtedly this album which established them as one of the greatest bands of the 20th Century and is finding a revived fan-base in the 21st. Lindsey Buckingham ends the intense 1982 live performance of “The Chain” with a few words to the crowd: “a lot of people were wondering what happened to us… Well we’re here to show you that we just refuse to go away”. True to his word, 35 years on Fleetwood Mac are living up to this statement, and “The Chain”, even if they have had more than a few bumps in the road along the way.


Hip-Hop That Matters

This is the hip-hop that matters, it is born out of poverty and discrimination, searches for justice with beats and rhyme. There is a growing scene of Muslim hip-hop in Europe, their music expresses their hostility towards being objectified as an enemy or as dangerous people, they feel marginalized. Farah Pandith, the US representative to Muslim communities in America, says hip-hop conveys a “different narrative” to counter foreign violent ideology, it is a form of peaceful protest, and suffering is best conveyed to the privileged through the arts of music, visual media, or written literature. However these forms of protest have been condemned by governments as “Muslim hate rap,” rappers have been prosecuted and the slogans like “Free Palestine” have been tuned out of Radio One Xtra to “ensure impartiality was maintained.”

Salah Edin, a Dutch rapper, speaks of racial dicrimination and islamophobia, in his music video ‘Het Land Van,’ (funded by the government and later condemned for its racialism) he is body searched and an old man is searched because he was praying, Salah Edin’s beard progressively becomes thicker as the video progresses and this leads him headlong into Guantanamo bay.

Kerry James is a French Haitian rapper born in Paris, he is widely known in France and popular among the large West Indies and Muslim population. He speaks out against the same problems of race and religion, he says the French government are:

“…pillagers of wealth, murderers of Africans, torturers of Algerians, the colonial past is yours, you chose to link your history to ours…”

In his video people are blindfolded, handcuffed, guns and barbed wire surround them. These symbols clearly show us the feelings of the marginalized populations in Europe, and it could replay the Civil Rights Movement in America during the 1960’s and 1970’s.

Six hours after writing this article the Narcicyst (Iraqi – Canadian hip-hop artist) declared on Facebook…

“Due to partnerships that have just been made clear to me, I have chosen to drop out of the CreativeTimeSummit tomorrow in Dubai. I stand in support of the Palestinian people and against the genocide of a people and am a firm supporter of the Palestinain BDS National Committee. I apologise to the organisers here, but it is my duty and role as an Arab artist to stand with the people of Palestine. To see the change we have to be the change.”



The history of folk music is often associated with an overt political stance and didactic intellectual sentiments. Yet its renaissance in recent years which has permeated mainstream charts with pseudo-folk music in a guise which is devoid of such tropes. The social protest songs of Woody Guthrie and Bob Dylan feel long done, and one wonders how such monolithic figures would view self-fashioned folk bands such as Mumford and Sons. Would they see them as contemptibly contrived, or somehow retaining the essence of their past music? Exploring such a question can have its merits.

Bob Dylan described his attraction to folk music, and what compelled him to write such songs, as being found in the fact that folk music was “more of a serious type of thing. The songs were filled with more despair, more sadness, more triumph, more faith in the supernatural, much deeper feelings”. He was drawn into it as he felt that it interacted with the listener on an sentimental and intellectual plain, rather than the rock ‘n’ roll of the time which he saw as simply Hedonism that held “great catch phrases and driving pulse rhythms” at its core. Through these “great catch phrases”, Dylan notes how the rock ‘n’ roll music of the 1960s was construed to capture public support, but actively revolted against such consumerism, and felt – or rather may have wanted  to feel – that “I had no songs in my repertoire for commercial radio”.

Yet this music which strived to forge a more private relationship with the listener, also paradoxically believed music to have the potential for important wide-reaching social change. Indeed, one of Dylan’s compatriots in the 1960s Greenwich Village folk scene, Joan Baez, fervently expressed her belief that “action is the antidote to despair”, through her music. At a march for civil rights in Washington in August 1963, the pair – Dylan’s reputation not yet cemented – performed in front of the thousands of protesters, and from henceforward were linked to the plights and protests of such Americans. A large number of their most seminal recordings are such ‘protest-songs’, and songs such as “The times they are a-changin’” and “Blowin’ in the Wind” are formative members of the western canon.

And here we come to those singers and groups that are branded ‘folk’ by sometimes themselves, sometimes critics, and sometimes by listeners, yet they precipitate a number of questions: have they redefined the genre? Or has the very term ‘folk’ been so bounded around that it retains only a semblance of what it previously defined?

Artists that fall under this ambiguous genre of ‘folk’ such as Noah and the Whale and Mumford and Sons, seem to have in many respects retrograded the tropes the genre has hitherto held dear. Instead of the reserved and often poignant songs of Neil Daimond or Dylan, these artists reveal at best contrived sentiment, and at worst unashamed frivolity. But the public devouring of such releases is clear in impressive chart sales.

In addition, songs by these artists – indeed, whole albums – are embarrassingly self-absorbent, a far cry from the aforementioned politically motivated singer-songwriters. Of course it can be posited that all art is self-absorbed, but these recent neo-folk releases seem to be entirely divorced from the social context they are written in. Sentimentalists will defend them as “timeless expressions of the human condition” or some other tosh, but they undeniably not in keeping with the socially minded folk music of the 1950’s/60’s/70’s.

The problem may lie in the critical mis-classification of these new artists, more than any damning criticisms of their artistic merits, or lack thereof. Yet my real contention rises from their elevating to a pedestal of what should be celebrated as some of the most powerful of twentieth century music. Donning an archaic waistcoat and growing a beard, or having a violin in one’s band does not constitute replicating one of peaks in popular music.


Preview on The Looking Glass Anthology (June 2013)

We are the children of Trash, by Trash I mean our culture of bright colours, bright lights, loud sounds and strong smells from the commercial products that allow us to bury our senses in. The Looking Glass Anthology is comprised of works of student poets, playwrights and storytellers from the University of York, with almost 60 of them available it is a vast literary achievement that is sorely missed in our university.

Reading these poems, scripts and stories has helped me figure-out the ‘zeitgeist’ of young people of today, I believe that we are divided. Our organic senses are divided, as we can see in Karl O’Hanon’sAutumn’s Heart, and in Christian Foley’s Farther. Our senses collide against each other and we see things change as certainly as machines function, but they do so as if made of skin and bone.

“a pink smear that slowly turned into an ocean churning blue black”

Metaphors of trash culture demonstrated by the students of the University of York reveal not only how they think but also how you and I think and feel. Our world is one of a constant collision of opposites, as is shown in Alexander Ulyet’s Gratitude,

“manufactured crashes and robotic hymns”

The age old traditions still do live on but now they look like robots and advertisements for a product to sell. This is where the beauty of the Looking Glass Anthology’s pieces reside; the mundane world becomes strange and ecstatically beautiful,

“moulding tumbledriers and clothes pegs”

“I think of the strangest place in melody and multiply it”

(Beth Curtis, There’s an old Funk in the Basement and The Resting)

This new way of looking at our mundane world is a solution to our youthful problem of boredom, in which we bluntly experience a dullness and plainness of a monotonous life (see Bethany Wilson’s The Average Life). We, the young generation, swing between boredom and ‘nausea’ and between confused and ecstatic emotions. Today, our metaphors and poems are like innocent dreams on cocaine, such as Alexander Ulyet’s Bambi on Ice where youth, joy and hedonism propel us to our own disaster and leaves our teeth scattered on the ground.

The Looking Glass Anthology demonstrates beautifully the way the young person thinks and feels, this anthology is not merely for individual artistic recognition of writerly talent, it can help us understand the consequences of living in this multifaceted world.