Review: Raphael – The Drawings at the Ashmolean Museum

16th June 2017, Oxford Culture Review


There is a something brooding about that face, probably the artist’s own. In The Portrait of a Youth (c. 1500-1) the application of the chalk on the paper is delicate, feathery, with only a few bold lines used to describe his face – handsome, innocent, with a slightly guarded gaze. This drawing, which greets visitors at the Ashmolean’s new exhibition, Raphael: The Drawings – reveals that already in his youth Raphael’s drawings were as sensational as his painted works.

Image 1
Portrait of a youth (self-portrait?), c. 1500–1
Black chalk on white heightening (now largely lost), 38 x 26.1 cm
© Ashmolean Museum, University of Oxford

Even in his own lifetime, Raphael’s serene, mathematically pure compositions were studied as the model of classical perfection. He was so admired that when he died on Good Friday, at the age of 37, his death was mourned as if it were a second passion. Giorgio Vasari captured this general sentiment in The Lives of the Artists (1568): ‘As he embellished the world with his talents, so […] does his soul adorn Heaven by its presence’.

To contemporary minds, Raphael’s paintings can appear staid and remote when compared to the works of the Michelangelo and Da Vinci. The formality betrays coldness, his idealisation a want of human emotion. The Ashmolean’s exhibition aims to shatter this image of an effortless genius, and to completely transform our understanding of the artist. By bringing together 120 of Raphael’s most accomplished drawings, the display brings us into direct contact not only with the products of his hand and eye, but also those of his mind as he refines his ideas, techniques, and modes of expression.

Walking into the display, we first encounter his earliest drawings, produced as he began to establish himself in Florence. In them he shows a preference for clear, exact drawing, usually with a pen and ink. They are often quick, experimental works, roughly conveying the figure in a few scratchy lines. His drawings for The Madonna of the Meadows (c. 1505-1506) show Mary twisting her body toward the Christ-child, restraining him, while he eagerly tries to escape her grasp. The idea here is further developed in a chalk drawing, The Virgin with the Pomegranate (c. 1504). Mary gazes down despondently at a pomegranate in her right-hand, a symbol of the resurrection; the child grabs the fruit, apparently intrigued.

Image 2
Raphael, The Virgin with the Pomegranate, 1504
Black chalk with compass indetantion for the halo, 41.2 x 29.4 cm
© Albertina Museum, Vienna

Raphael’s mind appears to have been animated by contrast. The juxtaposition of understanding and innocence in his Madonnas gives way later in his career to depictions of male violence and female grace. The most striking drawings on display are the studies for The Massacre of the Innocents (c. 1509-10), a composition never realised as a painting. Here the restrained formality of Raphael’s composition serves to heighten the impact of the violence. One woman is turning away, an audible scream of despair on her face, as a man bears down upon her and her child with a sword. At the centre of it all, another woman is looking the viewers straight in the eye as she runs towards them – her mouth open, but speechless . The men are all mass and muscle, their eyes black pits, devoid of empathy as they carry out their bloody task.

Image 4.jpg
Raphael, Study for the Massacre of the Innocents, 1509–10
Pen and brown ink over red chalk and geometrical indications in stylus, selectively pricked for transfer, 23.2 x
37.7 cm
© Trustees of the British Museum

Moving through the galleries, we watch as Raphael begins to experiment with new ideas and media for drawing. The most striking development from around the period in which he moved to Rome – where he would produce his most sublime work – is in his use of chalk.  This material drew him to a less precise, though more expressive style, lending itself to a more tonal view of humanity. A belief in the fundamental goodness of humanity is recognisable in his sketches for The Fire in the Borgo (c. 1513-1514). As fire ravages the city, the people of Rome band together to save their own. In one sketch, a muscular young man carries an old one away from the flames; that dark menacing bulk used in service of charity as well as destruction.

Image 3
Raphael, A man carrying an older man on his back, 1513–14
Red chalk, 30 x 17.3 cm
© Albertina Museum, Vienna

The final gallery houses the drawings produced in the years before his untimely death, some of the most productive of his career. There is a tenderness, honesty, and passion in these images, which never quite translated into his painting. The Three Graces (c. 1517-1518) is a conceptually brilliant study of the nude from three different angles. Bending forwards to peer into the water are not figures of idealised perfection: they have a certain human sensuality about them. Raphael’s lust for life is apparent at every stroke.

The final work in the show, The Heads and Hands of Two Apostles (c. 1519-1520)balances chiaroscuro to capture every crease on the face, every muscle in the hands, ultimately to draw out the antithesis between young and old. It has been called the most beautiful drawing in the world, more beautiful than the finished painting. These are not just preparatory sketches, but fully realised works of art. Only when we see them in their own right can we recognize the artist in all his beauty and boldness.

Image 6
Raphael, The heads and hands of two apostles, 1519–20
Black chalk with over-pounced underdrawing with some white heightening, 49.9 x 36.4 cm
© Ashmolean Museum, University of Oxford

Charlotte Taylor


‘Raphael: The Drawings’ runs at the Ashmolean, until 3rd September. To read more about the exhibition and to buy tickets, please visit the museum website.


Review: Which Jane Austen?

9th July 2017, Oxford Culture Review


Almost immediately after her death in Winchester on 18 July 1817, Jane Austen’s family set about transforming the author into a fictional heroine of their own devising.
Her sister, and closest confidante, Cassandra, destroyed most of Jane’s letters — incinerating many thousands in the fire, and cutting holes into those she kept — apparently afraid of the response that they might receive. Worse yet were the publications of Henry Austen’s ‘Memoir of Miss Austen’ and The Memoir of Jane Austen(1869) by her nephew James Edward Austen Leigh; these two works firmly established the conventional image of ‘dear Aunt Jane’ as the quiet country spinster for whom ‘neither the hope of fame nor profit mixed’ with her motives for writing.

It is this elaborately laid fiction which the Weston Library’s new exhibition, ‘Which Jane Austen?’, aims to dispel once and for all. The exhibit brings together a collection of objects — leather bound books, hand-written letters, political cartoons and one fabulous silk pelisse — which work to unlock the elegance, decadence, violence and scandal of the regency age which informed the writer. Instead of the staid domestic wit, they attempt to establish a Jane who was a business-like woman, politically and socially ambitious — anything but the retiring country mouse.

Austen Leigh’s memoir forms the first exhibit on display, the point from which nearly all our understanding of Jane Austen derives. From there the show traces a clear line through the first popular reprints of the novels, featuring covers illustrated with the most lurid scenes from her novels to the irony of current day mash-ups, like Fanny Price facing down the dragon Smaug. It builds up the comforting image of ‘Austenland’, with its country balls, tea drinking and genteel English summer, only to shatter it the moment you turn around.

Here stands one of the few remaining letters of Jane’s. It is addressed to her brother, Henry; written mere days before her death, she displays good humour and expresses her very real hope of recovery. Next to it is the unfinished manuscript of Austen’s novel Sanditon, open on the final page of writing. Ironically, it was her own final illness which forced Austen to abandon the novel in which she mocked the new-found fashion for hypochondria in the seaside resorts. Together these items form the most affecting part of the exhibition: they remind you that there was a real Jane Austen after all, a woman who died painfully before her time.

Moving along the cabinets around the edge of the room there are several touching family relics likely to delight any Janeite — her petite dark oak writing desk, a book case carved for her by her brother Francis, and a recipe book from Chawton house, which she almost certainly tried to avoid ever having to use. Far more striking are the letters and early manuscripts on display. One letter, written to John Stainer Clarke (the librarian to the Prince Regent) who dared to suggest she write a historical romance on the house of Saxe-Coburg Gothe, shows an Austen who is confident about the value of her own ‘pictures of domestic Life in Country Villages’ and unwilling to compromise on her own vision.

As you progress through the displays, back into Austen’s early life and influences, Cassandra Austen’s malevolent handiwork becomes apparent. The objects selected to examine Austen as a war time writer, influenced by the adventures of her sailor brothers are particularly weak. The captions around the exhibits resort to speculative ‘what ifs, ‘perhaps’ and ‘maybes’, which somehow works to obscure what Jane Austen’s opinions and attitudes towards the war even were. Perhaps it will always be the case with authors that if you want to understand what influences an author, you are better off reading their works.

The exhibition closes where it all theoretically began. A young girl’s neat hand marks ‘Volume the First’ on a collection of short stories, mini-plays and verses, written between the ages of twelve and eighteen. The notebook in which it is written was made by her especially for her writing. It is in these personal objects that bear her voice that the Weston Library gets it right. It is only her letters and the evidence of her careful produced early notebooks which produce the fleeting glimpse we get of Jane Austen in this exhibition — the rest is mere noise.

Charlotte Taylor

‘Which Jane Austen?’ runs at the Weston Library until 29th October. Free admission. To read more about the exhibition, please visit the library website.

Art Preview: David Hockney – Original Prints


Published on page 34 in the February edition of Buzz Magazine

David Hockney – Original Prints

Ceri Richards Gallery, Taliesin Arts Centre

24 February – 1 April 2017

Without question, David Hockney has been one of the most prolific and experimental artists of the 20th century. Over the course of his career his work as a painter, set designer, draftesman and photographer has been well documented, but somehow his work as a printmaker has rarely gained the spotlight. However, an exhibition starting later this month is aiming to change all that.

In collaboration with the Goldmark Gallery, the Ceri Richards Gallery at the heart of Swansea’s Taliesin centre is to display some of Hockney’s most influential work in his 60 years as a printmaker. The works contain many characteristics qualities of his art – an economy of technique, a pre-occupation with storytelling and human interaction – but they are also some of Hockney’s most personally revealing creations The exhibition seeks to establish as Hockney as one of the most skilled, innovative and challenging printmakers alive.

Among the images on display are a number of etchings from his Grimm’s Fairytale series. These sparse, almost ugly, depictions of the Grimms’ stories stand in contrast to the luscious illustrations that one would typically expect to adorn the pages of the fairytales; where those colourful pictures seek to create beauty and magic, Hockney’s unassuming black and white stark etchings bring back to mind J.R.R. Tolkein’s remark that the fairytales were not written ‘for children’.

Alongside this work this series there will sit works from his Cavafy suite, a series of illustrations that were inspired by the Hellenistc homoerotic poetry of C.F. Cavafy. Hockney first discovered Cavafy’s poetry in the 1950s, when he stole a copy of his poems for the local library in Bradford. The series marks Hockney’s first artistic interaction Cavafy, a source which informed much of subquent work. His simple ink line drawings shocked audiences when they were first released in 1967 with their shockingly realistic depiction of gay men in bed.

The exhibition will run for five weeks, finishing on the 1st April.

Image: Supplied by Ceri Richards Gallery

Art Preview: Nowhere Less Now: Lindsay Seers

Published in Dec/Jan Buzz Magazine, page 38 & online

Glynn Vivian Gallery, Swansea

Until 19 March 2017

Inside the atrium of the Glynn Vivian gallery sits a leviathan. Once you round the corner and approach the great grey mass, it becomes clear that this is not some beast from the depths but merely an upturned ship, albeit with some strange looking tentacles trapped in its propeller.

Within the body of vessel sits Nowhere Less Now, Lindsay Seers video installation, which is currently being exhibited as part of programme examining journeys at the gallery. It is as black as pitch in there. Fumbling to find a seat in the darkness, the only source of light emerges from two rounded screen – one flat, one convex – two lenses gazing out of the darkness. A stream of images – some real, some faked – are projected onto the screen: Zanzibar, a woman dressed in masonic symbols and the inside of the gallery.

The narrative is a slippery beast: it is neither past nor future, rather a suspended present somewhere between fiction and fact. One narrative tells of the artist’s journey in search after her great, great uncle, another is a dystopia where a blind man who illegally ‘collects imagines’ and seems to commune with this dead relative, reflecting the history of the gallery’s founder. Behind the excess of narrative, the confusion of imagery, seems to be a coherent idea: through memory we construct our truth and find meaning in our lives.

Admission: free. Info:

Image: WikiCommons

Preview: Italian Film Festival


18 November 2016, Buzz Cardiff Features

The Italian Film Festival (IFFC) in Cardiff began last year with the simple aim of moving beyond La Dolce Vita. Aware that many people knew nothing more about Italian cinema than Anita Ekberg dancing in a fountain or Federico Fellini suffering from severe writer’s block, the Italian Cultural Centre Wales set out to blast their ignorance; they decided to illustrate the daring, innovation and originality of contemporary Italian film in a week-long festival across two Cardiff area venues – the Chapter Arts Centre and the Penarth Pier Cinema. The festival premiered films ranging in themes from poetry to gender and migration, and focused on productions with a strong emphasis on new narrative forms and cinematography.

The result was better than they could even have hoped:  all the screenings sold out (a rare thing for any film festival) and the daily Q&As had a strong turnout. Building on this success, the Italian Cultural Centre have partnered with a number of other Italian Film Festivals – including the Maratea Film Festival and the VART in Cagliari – to return the IFFC this November with an even bigger programme.

The festival will launch on with a screening of the latest film from legendary Italian director, Ermanno Olmi, who is famous for his work examining the business world and later films exploring religious and social themes. The festival also offers a preview of an upcoming exhibition of the work of artist and illustrator Silvano Beggio, featuring his character Melanzasca – a toy inspired by the Italian punk scene and legendary bandit, Vallanzasca.

This year’s festival also aims to showcase the work of a new generation of Italian filmmakers by presenting some of their most recently celebrated pieces of Italian cinema. Across the five day event, there will be eleven films screened across two different venues in Cardiff, and a number of actors and directors will speak at their daily Q&As. The Sardegna Film Commission and Lucania Film Commission will also be present at the festival to showcase their films to the festival goers. The festival promises cinephiles an unrivalled opportunity to sample the best of Italian film.

Image: WikiCommons

Preview: Messiaen Festival


11 November 2016, Buzz Cardiff Features

Olivier Messiaen once called his faith ‘the great drama’ of his life. It was the core of his whole existence, the internal reassurance which provided him with the endurance to suffer grief and the atrocities of war, and yet still see the hand of God in all things – the beauty of birds and colour – and then transpose that into music.

His works are vast passionate things; they veer dangerously between dissonant and melodic, and yet retain a transcendence, delicacy and visceral power. It’s ambitious, often disconcerting, and very contemporary, and it is this music that the Royal Welsh College of Music will undertake to perform in November, during a short festival devoted to Messiaen. Over the course of three days, the college will put on five performances and recitals of some of his most innovative works to bring into focus the work and the man.

At the centre of the ambitious event will be a performance of Vingt Regards sur l’enfant Jesus. Often cited as Messiaen’s greatest composition, he himself called the piece “the triumph of love and tears of joy – all the passion of our arms around the invisible”. Pianist Cordelia Williams – who devised a year-long series of concerts centred around the composition in 2015 – will return to this work for the performance on Thurs 17 Nov.

The festival will also feature a performance of the Catalogue d’Oiseaux by Peter Hill, of whom Messiaen himself said he was “a passionate admirer of his playing”, presenting an unrivalled opportunity to hear the compositions as Messiaen wished them to be heard. His little birds will flit through, parading their plumage in a performance of Oiseaux Exotique and other excerpts from the Catalogue d’Oiseaux.

The eerie Quartet for the End of Time, which according to legend was composed when Messiaen himself was a prisoner of war and found a broken cello, an old piano, a cellist and violinist, will also be a highlight of the event, before the festival ends on a more peaceful note with a recital including the Trois Melodies and Poemes pour Mi.

Image: WikiCommons

Art Preview: Clear Cut


4 October 2016, Buzz Cardiff Online Features

Clear Cut has always worked to showcase the very best of avant-garde performance art in the UK and developing work that is genuinely groundbreaking and resolutely cutting edge. Having produced dance, music and theatre as well as film, visual art and spoken art, Clear Cut are now looking to ramp it up in their new home base. In their brand new initiative, ‘Clear Cut-Out’, SVJdance and CardiffMADE have taken the platform out there and put them into residence at Cardiff’s renowned music venue, the Globe.

With the move comes a special performance on the 6th of this month, with a line up which bends, breaks and straddles genres and promises to challenge their audience in completely new ways. You’ll witness Will Salter’s phonetic performance which hearkens back to the days of Dada, with a work that apparently straddles literature and music. Going even further back, Choregrams – an interactive dance and music collaboration – takes the baroque’s obsession with ornamentation and grandeur to produce an intricate web of dance, music and technology.

Perhaps the most daring new ventures are those performances which attempt to give form to the intangible. In ‘Poems from the Inside’ Rosie Bufton explores the experience of incarceration in prisons, both external and self-inflicted, through the written word. Gareth Chambers, a dancer, in collaboration with film maker Aaron Cooper, will deconstruct identity itself through an examination of the body. In short, they are back, bigger and bolder than before.

Image: Flickr

Art Preview: Models and Materialities Exhibition


7 October 2016, Buzz Cardiff Online Features

If historically still life painting was concerned with the depiction of familiar objects, then contemporary art is interested in something more abstract: the process by which things become transformed into ‘things’ through painting.

This is the process that Woodley has tried to explore in this exhibition of contemporary still life paintings – Models and Materialities: Confabulation and the Contemporary – the third project of a series of three exhibitions at BayArt. The exhibition, which runs throughout October, considers how contemporary painters approach still life through model making and materiality seems to ask several questions, like how do painters come to conceptualise the objects of their paintings and why?

In her introduction to the catalogue for the exhibition, Emma Geliot notes that we always describe our own objects as ‘things’; mere possession imbues them with a strange intangible quality. We often use the term to describe the unfamiliar, the objects we can’t quite describe. What this exhibition shines a light on is how modern still life manages to open up both aspects of ‘thingness’ to understanding.

Many of the paintings that Woodley has chosen to display seem to be taken up with producing unrecognisable, reconfigured things, simultaneously familiar and alien. Clare Chapman’s Suturedepicts a great red mass, with a deep cut down its centre; it’s not quite some displaced bodily organ, but something transmuted and created anew by the artist. Another artwork featured, Timothy Hon Hung Lee, takes a typical Dutch still life of flowers and transforms it, appearing to drag the paint up the canvas.

The result of these paintings of objects – both the new, and those transformed into something rich and strange – is often odd, but always interesting.

Image: WikiCommons

Copy: 10 Things to do this Week (4-9th Oct 2016)


4 October 2016, Buzz Cardiff Online Features

The Weir – Fri 7 – Sat 22 Oct

While the winds batter outside, four locals take refuge in a remote pub in rural Ireland where they drink, banter and trade in grim and ghostly stories. Hailed as one of the most significant plays of the 20th Century, the Sherman Theatre and Tobacco Factory Theatres present The Weir, a chilling play about Ireland, stories and salvation. There will also be Irish stew available before the performance for anyone not already sufficiently tempted!

Tickets are £6 – £20

Jean-Michel Jarre – Tue 4 Oct

The legendary Godfather of electronic music and performer extraordinaire, Jean-Michel Jarre is heading to the Motorpoint Arena as part of his first UK tour in six years. With his shows famed for their cutting-edge visuals, and Jarre set to perform music from his brand new LP, ‘Electronica’, this is a rare opportunity for any electronic music enthusiasts to see one of the scene’s most significant artists.

Tickets are £29.50 – £75

The Woman in Black – Wed 5 – Sat 22 Oct

Known as the ‘world’s most terrifying play’, the residents of Milford Haven can test that claim as The Woman in Black is coming to haunts the Torch Theatre for two-and-a-half weeks.  Fit to burst with ghosts and goalies, and things that go bang in the dark, the show promises to frighten anyone into the spirit of Halloween! This production is not recommended for anyone under the age of 14.

Tickets are £8 – £17.50

Marianas Trench – Thurs 6 Oct

Marianas Trench have had huge success in their native Canada since their 2006 debut, and now they are venturing to Cardiff’s Globe with their sold out European Vacation tour. Perhaps this may be a chance to get ahead of the curve with the next big thing.

Tickets are sold out.

Made in Roath – Sun 9 Oct – Sun 16 Oct

Made in Roath began eight years ago as a way of showcasing of art in the diverse Roath district and has now become a major year round event. This year’s annual arts festival promises eight days of innovative, high quality art – from open galleries, workshops and theatre to mechanical moths, ice maidens and lute music, the offerings shall be varied to say the least.

Free Admission

Gower Cider Festival – Sat 8 – Sun 9 Oct

With the coming of the apple harvest comes, of course, the chance to ferment them and have some fun. Over the course of two days, this event at the Gower Heritage Centre offers you the opportunity to sample up some cider made in a 120-year old press, as well as local ciders and freshly pressed apple juice, and enjoy some live music from the likes of Soul Skunk and Coppertops.  There’s even a real ale bar and BBQ for those non-cider drinkers!

Standard Entry Applies

Aberfan – Sat 8 Oct

The Millennium Centre will play host to a performance commemorating the 50th anniversary of the Aberfan disaster. The performance will bring together some of Wales’ most celebrated musicians as well as the premiere of a specially commissioned piece by S4C from Welsh musical great, Karl Jenkins.

Tickets are £17 – £45

Aberystwyth Mon Amour – Wed 5 Oct

Welcome to the weird and wonderful world of Welsh Noir in this new stage version by Malcolm Pryce’s Aberystwyth Noir; think Brighton Rock by way of Gavin and Stacey. Schoolboys are disappearing from the mean streets of Aberystwyth, and it falls to Louie Knight, the town’s (only) private detective cum ice-cream seller and his sidekick, Calamity, to solve the crime and clean the streets. Lighthouse Theatre’s stage production promises thrills for both mystery lovers and those just looking for a laugh. Also in Cwmbran Thurs 6 and Pontardawe Sat 8.

Tickets are £9 – £11

Towards Abstraction? Art in South Wales Since 1960 – Until Fri 18 Nov

A rare chance for art aficionados to see artwork from the University of South Wales’s art collection, with works from Sarah Ball, David Nash, Robert Alwyn Hughes and many other artists put up on display at Oriel y Bont. Towards Abstraction showcases the art works of Welsh artists alongside those merely inspired by the epic south Wales landscape.

Free Entry

The Good Earth – Tues 4 Oct

The Good Earth is a thought-provoking new work that stages a loud, full throated protest against the power of big business, heartless development and the loss of community. Using physical theatre and Welsh folk music, this Motherlode production attempts to electrify the (somewhat unpromising) story of a Welsh valleys village which council develops threaten to tear apart. Also in Brecon Wed 5; Treorchy Fri 7 and Sat 8 Blackwood.

Tickets are £5 to £10

Image: WikiCommons

Culture: 10 Things to do this Week (10-16th Oct 16)


10 October 2016, Buzz Cardiff Online Features

Dead Sheep – Tue 11 – Sat 15 Oct

‘A tragedy with funny bits, apparently’ according to Margaret Thatcher, or at least that’s what it sounds like in the trailer for the New Theatre’s new drama Dead Sheep. Steve Nallon, the voice of Spitting Image’s Margaret Thatcher (and effectively the real one) reprises his role in this play which explores how the ‘dead sheep’, Geoffrey Howe – with the aid of his wife, Elspeth – was able to bring the Iron Lady down. Loyalty, comedy and revenge are promised. Let political intrigue and shoulder pads ensue!

Ron Jones ‘Aberfan: An Unspent Youth’ – Wed 5 – Fri 28 Oct

As the 50th anniversary of the Aberfan disaster approaches, The Gate in Cardiff presents the work of Ron Jones, an artist who grew up in the valleys village. His paintings portray a bright, optimistic view of village life in the 1930s, before the events of tragedy which would come to define, and then overshadow, Aberfan.

Free Admission

Alan Salisbury: A Retrospective – Until Sat 5 Nov

Around five-decade’s worth of the work of contemporary painter Alan Salisbury is currently on display in the Tenby Museum and Art Gallery for a little over a month. The travelling exhibition of Salisbury’s work – who has lived and worked in Wales for over forty years – is noted for its subversion of old masters. This exhibition offers an unparalleled opportunity to explore the work of one of Wales’s most important contemporary artists.

Tickets are £4, £3 (concessions), £2 (children)

Layla’s Room – Tue 11 Oct

Poet and playwright Sabrina Mahfouz conducted over 1000 with teenage girls across the UK to devise this show at the Sherman theatre. Locked in her room one night, Layla ponders the objects of her life. What do they say about her, and do they say anything about the person she will become? A celebration of youthful righteousness, energy and ambition told through poetry comedy and music, Layla’s Room is an ode to the highs and lows of young women on the verge of adulthood.

Tickets are £15 (concessions £2 off; under 25s half price)

Ben Ottewell + Winter Mountain – Mon 10 Oct

A chance to catch Ben Ottewell, the former front man of the Mercury Prize winning indie band Gomez, in Clwb Ifor Bach as he embarks on his own solo career. His debut album and follow-up, Rattlebag, were critically praised and marked a definite shift towards a more lyrical and mature set. Apparently renowned for hi ‘gravelly baritone’ and bluesy, folksy but alternative sound, this may be an opportunity to catch a musician coming into his own.

Tickets are £14

Iris Prize 2016 – Wed 12 – Sun 16 Oct

Now identified as one of the top 50 film festivals in the world by Movie Maker magazine, the Iris Prize – Cardiff’s International LGBT Short Film Prize, and the largest of its kind in the world – is back, with a five day festival before the winner is announced on Sunday. Events include multiple short film screenings at Cineworld, an exhibition of Jon Pountney’s work at the Park Inn and an education day at the Chapter.

£80 weekend pass; £65 members

Tchaikovsky Symphony Orchestra – Sat 15 Oct

The renowned Russian Orchestra with Tchaikovsky in the blood is performing – you guessed it – Tchaikovsky, to form the grand finale to the 2016’s Swansea International Festival in Brangwyn Hall. With a reputation for big, bold performances, this should form a fitting end to the festival.

Tickets are £18 – £30

Lunchtime Talks: Gillian Clarke – Thurs 13 Oct

Gillian Clarke, the award-winning poet and current National Poet of Wales, will be giving a talk at the will be the subject of a lunchtime talk at the National Waterfront Museum in Swansea as part of the Swansea International Festival. In a rare opportunity to see the poet for free, Clarke will be discussing her work as the National Poet and will also be reading some of her poems.

Free Admission

Oktoberfest – Wed 12 – Sat 15 Oct

It’s October again, and so it’s time for Oktoberfest (in Cardiff at least). Touted by the Telegraph as one of ’11 great places to celebrate Oktoberfest in the UK’, the Chapter are pulled out all the stops, to offer the finest German beers all weekend. From Cologne kolschs to Saxony Schwarzibers, you’re bound to find something to suit (and drink yourself under the table).

Free Admission

Mamma Mia! – Tues 11 Oct – Sun 13 Nov

Mamma Mia, here we go again! Thinly plotted musical which is really nothing more than an excuse to listen to ABBA music for 90 minutes or so, and, frankly, it is best enjoyed as such. It’s at the Millennium Centre for over a month and will be probably be impossible to miss.

Tickets are £18.50 – £61.50

Image: WikiCommons

Culture: Chick Lit or Hit?


8 February 2013, Varsity Culture Section

The life and death of Sylvia Plath have always been cloaked in controversy. From her marriage to Ted Hughes, and her suicide at age 30, Plath has always been able to shock and stir the emotions of her public. But her work has always been more scandalous than her celebrity. The Bell Jar, which celebrated its 50th anniversary in January, is her most controversial work due to its stark depictions of modern psychiatric care and female sexuality in a repressive society. So, it is entirely consistent that this work should cause controversy this week, with accusations that Faber’s 50th Anniversary cover art for the novel is reminiscent of ‘Chick lit’ rather than ‘serious’ literature.

It is certainly hard to view Plath’s work as typical of the ‘chick lit’ genre. The tale of Esther Greenwood’s gradual loss of sanity upon entering a world of work, parties and hedonism is perhaps one Cambridge students are familiar with, but could hardly be classed in the same category as a Cecelia Ahern or Jilly Cooper novel.
However, I have taken little issue with the much derided-cover art; in fact, I believe it rather neatly sums up the message of the novel which is about the potency of female social norms, and the potential damage that can be done to the individual. What I found to be of interest in this debate was the derogatory use of the term ‘chick lit’.

The critics laid bare all the supposed obscenities of the genre in response to this cover art: it limits female ambition; it is anti-feminist and so on and so forth. Few critics noticed the subtle misogyny in these seemingly forward thinking reactions. Chick lit is derided due to the plots of its stories, which are frequently romantic relationships and female friendships: In short, the lives and interests of women. In this sense, Sylvia Plath is queen of chick lit. Her work puts the female subject to the fore as much as any Mills and Boon as well as their hopes and desires.

Chick lit, unlike its critics, suggests that the lives and lifestyle of women is as worthy of glorification as the lives of great generals, monarchs and, most importantly, men. Those who deride the chick lit market are actually deriding the lives of women. Esther Greenwood would probably laugh at the controversy. Perhaps her tale deals with more shocking issues, but it is nonetheless an illustration of a woman trying to establish her identity against the world.

Conversely, the queen of chick lit, Jane Austen, celebrated her 200th anniversary of Pride and Prejudice in January to much critical acclaim. Her portrayal of the lives and loves of her characters was applauded for its cleverness and much-loved heroines. Few would claim Austen was limiting female readers for having all her novels end in the marriage of her heroine to a wealthy handsome suitor. Chick lit may be seen in this light as the ultimate symbol of progressive, and Plath’s work is clearly worthy of the label.

Image: Flickr

Culture: For the Love of Radio Four


23 February 2013, Varsity Online Culture Section

With the hustle and bustle of lectures, essays and supervisions, every student needs an outlet. For me it comes in the form of Radio Four. After dumping my bag and books on the desk after a hectic morning, nothing is more welcome than a cup of tea and a twiddling of the dials to reach a programme on as varied a subject as slipped disks to a history of the unicorn. If that doesn’t take your mind off deadlines nothing will.

Radio Four is the eccentric of the airwaves. Whilst Radio 1 and all its cohorts play endless streams of music and adverts, Radio Four broadcasts comedy, political analysis, drama and documentaries, and that’s just in the morning. The channel, in its infinite variety, provides programmes of the highest quality: well researched, well performed and well presented. I can happily say that Radio Four has yet to broadcast anything below par, and even if they did it would be pretty swiftly dealt with. Yet Radio Four faces continual scrutiny from the belligerent press – by which I mean The Daily Mail. Radio Four is repeatedly subject to claims of broadcasting dull niche market products to middle class, middle England, and instead should focus on what the wider culture want.

It is certainly true that whilst the programmes Radio Four present on slipped disks are both informative and practical, they are certainly not the primary reason I tune in (yet). But why should this matter? It’s the focus on the niche market that we should celebrate. That these shows are even broadcast is a great sign for British culture. By giving the niche markets the same amount of air time as current events and comedy shows us to be an indiscriminate nation willing to give all interests the same equality, not merely those that produce the pound signs.

Nearly all other media is aimed at attracting younger viewers. These so called “young people” have a plethora of media to choose from, whereas the people who desire radio comedy and Gardner’s Question Time have just the one. The result of this media profiteering is an indistinguishable blur. Even the niche television channels are becoming increasing monotonous. The Discovery Channel seems to be a parade of Nazi programmes followed by repeats of Mythbusters. So, if we are to get quality and diversity, where can we go? Only Radio Four can afford to give the time to niche cultural products you didn’t realise existed or could be interested in. For instance, when was the last time you saw a documentary on 19th century hymn writers on ITV or heard a comedy panel show on Radio 1?

This recessional idea of efficiency in broadcasting and products for all is unreasonable and damaging. People primarily respond to quality rather than blatant attempts to appeal for their audience. Individuals are more complex than these demographic statistics tell us, and the diverse schedule of radio four at least enables interested viewers to pick from a range offered nowhere else. The BBC is there to reinforce the oft forgotten and overlooked cracks in our culture and fill them, at lunchtime, on radio four. Radio Four may not be for all, bit everyone has the potential to enjoy a programme on it. Besides, what are people meant to fall asleep to if not The Shipping Forecast?