Festivals/ Events (22)
This section contains previews, reviews etc. of arts and cultural festivals and similar special events.
'Meanwhile, what about Socialism?', a quote from Orwell's Road to Wigan Pier, was the question posed by the AV International Arts Festival 2016, held in North East England in March. Since 'socialism' was the most looked-for word in 2015, what more appropriate title for a progressive arts festival could there be?
Thematically linked by Orwell's road map of a democratic socialism based on equality and fairness, the events were all inspired by themes of socialist political struggle, and created by artists committed to the importance of cultural action in contributing to a progressive politics. Over the course of a month, a varied and wide-ranging programme was offered including 12 exhibitions, 48 films, many talks and discussions, and some special performances by artists.
The film screenings and discussions about British film maker Marc Karlin, whose work critiques both Thatcherism and Blairism, were highlights, as were the politically and aesthetically radical films from the Soviet Union.
The screening of Kevin Brownlow and Andrew Mollo's Winstanley was a reminder of the almost forgotten tradition of English communism, and the programme of British political documentaries from the 1930s to recent times exposing injustice and deprivation offered practical and utopian alternatives.
Why on earth, it made you wonder, aren't films like this being made any more?
The Festival ended with a live performance by Kris Canavan. Over 22 hours he pounded the pavement of Jarrow opposite derelict industrial land, crushing 200 concrete blocks, reflecting the number of proletarian protesters who marched to London, denouncing the crushing of their shipbuilding industry and their community by the capitalist system.
Thanks to the artists involved and the powerful, synergistic curating of the Festival Director, Rebecca Shatwell, all the events contributed to the sense of a developing manifesto, a collective challenge to the apolitical, self-referential mainstream art world, and to the harsh and corrupt consensus of the political world.
From different positions, in different art forms and geopolitical contexts, a common message emerged of international artists successfully removing progressive politics from the language of nostalgia and mourning and suggesting new and vibrant forms of resistance.
Neoliberal capitalism increasingly appears to be morally, culturally and politically bankrupt. It certainly has come close — and may come closer — to financial bankruptcy. Which is why the question AV poses: “What about socialism?” couldn't have been more timely.
Dan Perjovschi’s installations take the form of satirical newspaper cartoons or graffiti. Commenting on current political, social or cultural issues, ideas are extracted from international news stories and his own personal observations of everyday life. Working in an improvised and spontaneous way, Perjovschi sums up the current state of affairs we are confronted with on a daily basis, such as nationalism, protest, unemployment, consumerism, globalisation and neoliberal capitalism. Perjovschi acts like a present day Orwell, developing and expressing a critique of contemporary society. His work targets oppression, the pomposity of Western ideology and the failures of a socialist alternative. The installation for AV2016 includes drawings on the gallery walls and windows, creating a direct connection between the public, private and communal spaces of the street and the gallery.
Dan Perjovschi, Shenghen, 2015. Courtesy the artist.
Socialism was the most looked-for word in 2015, but how often do you get an arts festival focused on it? Mike Quille previews the International AV Festival in North East England.
In 1936 George Orwell was commissioned by the Left Book Club to write about the class divisions, poverty, unemployment and social injustice caused by the collapse of financial capitalism in 1929, and the subsequent economic depression in the North of England. The resulting book, The Road to Wigan Pier, is a classic of committed writing, a sympathetic account of working class life in the North and a vivid analysis of the state of socialism in England. Exactly 80 years later, and a few years after another major failure in the capitalist system, the biennial International AV Festival of visual art, film and music, based in North East England, takes a similarly committed stance towards socialism. The Festival mirrors the structure of the book with Part One this year, followed by Part Two in 2018.
Part One features works by established and emerging artists and film-makers who like Orwell situate themselves in direct relation to political argument, struggle and propaganda. Presented in partnership with 14 venues across the North East, the programme, curated by Festival director Rebecca Shatwell, includes a grouped exhibition of 12 installations, 48 film screenings and special events, including 17 UK premieres and one world premiere.
The programme is wide-ranging and ambitious. Uniquely for an arts festival, it has been curated to address the challenges of global capitalism by deploying events, exhibitions and artworks with regional, national and international relevance. Thus there are several exhibitions with strong local historical roots, such as exhibitions about Thomas Spence, local arts collective Amber Films, and the Jarrow Crusade. There are several films by British film-maker Marc Karlin, who made influential radical films in the 80s and 90s, an exhibition and re-creation of Orwell's commissioners, the Left Book Club, and some fine documentaries from the 30s, 40s and 50s by film-makers sympathetic to the socialist project.
There is a tremendous range of international themes and artists, diverse but interlinked. One weekend of the month-long festival is focused on events, discussions and films from left wing Japanese artists, with themes of political hi-jacking, terrorism, and support for Palestinian resistance.
Another weekend focuses on Ukrainian documentary movements, and features the world premiere of a newly rediscovered early Soviet film masterpiece by Mikhail Kaufman, brother of Dziga Vertov, the famous Soviet film director who made ‘Man with a Movie Camera’. The film has a live soundtrack by Test Dept. and is one of several potential highlights of the festival.
In addition to 1936, the other main historical reference point for the festival is 1991, the collapse of the Soviet Union and artists' response to this moment and to the subsequent rise of capitalism. There are exhibitions by Ukrainian, Indian, Romanian, and Russian artists on this theme, including a Romanian cartoonist who will be making new drawings on a gallery wall, responding to national and international news.
The Road to Wigan Pier has some faults, but it persuasively argues that the basis of democratic socialism is equality and fairness, and that people of all classes need to understand about oppression and inequality in order to make socialism work. The festival is focused on achieving the same end. Dig out and re-read Orwell's book, then come along for an updated, globalised, multimedia – and potentially more progressive – version of it.
AV 2016 Part One: Meanwhile, What About Socialism? is on from 27 February to 27 March. The full programme is at www.avfestival.co.uk
Dw i’n Cymro pob dydd/ I’m a Welshman every day, says Mike Jenkins, outlining an atheist, socialist and republican take on St. David's Day, the annual celebration of the sixth century Welsh communist monk.
Ten years ago, on March 1st 2006, Mrs. Windsor opened the third Welsh Assembly in Cardiff Bay. The whole area was teeming with armed police and Special Branch. Machine-gunned troops were perched on rooftops to protect a monarch who epitomises British rule in Cymru : the ascendancy of wealth, privilege, and political power of an unelected Head of State.
I was doing a reading at the Glanfa (or foyer) of the Millennium Centre and began by commenting that Cardiff had been turned into a police state to accommodate the visit of a foreign monarch. Half the audience – expecting odes to Welsh cakes, rugby and male voice choirs – upped and walked out.
As an ardent atheist, socialist and republican, my attitude towards Dydd Gwyl Dewi (St. David’s Day) has always been ambiguous. Yes, I do relish a national day when we can express everything that’s great about Cymru. But no, I don’t want to laud a Christian saint and I loathe the way it’s been hi-jacked by the armed forces who parade through our capital city.
St. David's saintliness, for me, lies in his communist vision, as expressed in his Monastic Rule. The Rule forbids all forms of private property, and also exploitative and oppressive behaviour, not only between humans but between species: monks were obliged to pull ploughs rather than using animals.
I never wear a daff or eat a raw leek, I don’t worship at the shrine of namesakes Karl and Katherine, but prefer to praise our excellent and undervalued bands like The Joy Formidable and singer-songwriters such as Meic Stevens, who should be up there with Dylan and Cohen. Dw i’n Cymro pob dydd/ I’m a Welshman every day.
I love the way our festivals (Eisteddfodau) crown bards as queens or kings, yet live and thrive in a world of poetry which is far more about co-operation and support than competitions. I rile many Welsh nationalist romantics with a view of history which highlights the vital role of the working class, rather than King Llewelyn or Prince Glyndwr; workers who rose up in my home town of Merthyr in 1831, to raise the red flag for the first time in these Isles.