The entrance to the Ashmolean’s Xu Bing exhibition
First off I popped into the Ashmolean to catch the Xu Bing exhibition before it closed. I had glimpsed the banners and mistakenly thought it was on traditional Chinese landscapes. The exhibition actually charted contemporary artist Xu Bing’s negotiation of socialist realism, pop art, French impressionist landscape painting, community art projects and calligraphy. His landscripts took centre stage. These are landscapes which use Chinese characters as marks to depict features in the landscape e.g. the character for rock to depict a rock. Maybe I’m weird but the early sketches made during the Cultural Revolution were my favourites. If you missed it there is a lot of highly quality online content still available via Eastern Art Online.
A Case for ‘Natural Histories’ at the Oxford Museum of History of Science
Then it was off to the Oxford Museum of History of Science. They only have a small temporary exhibition space which they always use to great effect. Their ‘Natural Histories’ exhibition used items from the currently closed Oxford Natural History Museum. It explored the use of these collections for scientific research. The items which stuck with me were initially unassuming preparations signed by Darwin and Linnaeus. The display of the taxidermy really captured the romance of these collections and seems to have inspired the Blackwell art shop next door in their window displays.
Taxidermy in the Blackwells Art Shop Oxford
Quick lunch in the Ashmolean and then what I thought was going to be the boring part of the day: hitting the books. Turns out reading is a lot more fun when you can pretend to be one of the X-men as you move from historic building to secret underground facility. The Gladstone annexe is in an old book tunnel between the Bodleian and the Radcliffe Camera. I don’t think it’s open to the public but here is a sneak peek.
The tunnel to the Gladstone Annexe
Rounded off the day listening to the wonderful Jon Whiteley talk about the history of the Ashmolean for Museums at Night. The event also celebrated the launch of the new book about the history of the museum ‘Dodos and Dark Lanterns’ (Berry 2013). I had a train to catch so I only caught glimpses of what was on offer: live music, historic costume, lantern making with families. I then ran to the Pitt Rivers Museum to see it in darkness (again for for Museums at Night). The sight of the shrunken heads by torch light was particularly uncanny. It was worth the run and I only wish I could have stayed longer.
Best photo I could get with no flash while balancing a torch of Pitt Rivers Museum in darkness
Lisa Dwan looking at script for ‘Not I’ (UniRdg Communications)
I’ve had quite a ‘cultural week’ which gave me the idea for a series of blog posts. Being so close to Oxford and London, Reading can sometimes feel a bit like a cultural ‘Narnia’. However, this week reminded me that there are lots of committed and talented people doing things in the local area. These blog posts will highlight some of the stuff that’s available to the culture vulture. NB there will be no attempt to be comprehensive – just things I hear about/go to. That being said, if you tell me about things then I am more likely to attend and talk about it. Also these are not intended to be artsy critiques, just some info and musings.
Lisa Dwan performed Samuel Beckett’s rarely staged ‘Not I’ in the Minghella Building at the University of Reading last Friday. We got a chance to see the original manuscript and I would recommend following Lisa on Twitter, she’s got some interesting behind the scenes photos. The play was just under 10 minutes long but it was really hard to get a sense of time or space in the darkness as ‘Mouth’ talked incessantly from 8 feet above the stage. I came out feeling shellshocked but in awe of Lisa Dwan’s performance. It’s something I would never have thought of going to see before I came to Reading, which is why it’s so great to have the Beckett Collection on campus.
The other event was the ‘Are You Listening?’ Festival. For £10 (which went to Mencap) you could listen to local bands at a range of venues around the town. Of what I saw I can recommend The 3.1419 Wonders, Quiet Quiet Band, and Tail Feather. Damien a Passmore and the Loveable Fraudsters’ ‘garage-country’ or ‘CowPunk’ take on Warren G’s Regulate was brilliant. I also listened to and liked, but did not see, Sophie Henderson through the floorboards of the excellent cafe Milk while munching on my chocolate and banana cake downstairs. The festival was a bit ‘men with guitars’ heavy so it was nice to have a talented female singer songwriter on the programme.
Image of Reading Gaol’s Aliens and Irish ledger (Berkshire Record Office)
And finally last night I went to something organised by the University of Reading Department of English Literature and the Berkshire Record Office last night. Oscar Wilde made Reading Gaol famous but this exhibition and event looked at the internment of Irish detainees following the 1916 Uprising. The ‘Enemies of the State’ Project is an interesting example of how research, collections and public engagement can come together. There was also nice veggie food and a live Irish band which is always a good thing.
This weekend there’s the Reading Beer Festival. Which is CAMRA so I’m counting it as ‘cultural’. I am also going to try to make it to Aunt Elsie’s Spring Fling which is a kind of pop-up art/vintage market – usually with tea and cake. And in case you start to suspect that I am in any way highbrow I should mention that tonight at the cinema it’s ‘Iron Man 3’