Culture days in Britain Summer 2018.
I don’t usually write about culture on this website. But this Summer in Britain I’ve visited by chance or design several exhibitions that have been really impressive. The Grayson Perry exhibition in Bristol, Tolkien in Oxford, the Singh Twins in Wolverhampton, and Japanese culture in Cardiff have been highlights. I didn’t think I would enjoy the Grayson Perry but I really did. It is very impressive. And very similar but very different was the Singh Twins’ banners that I saw in Wolverhampton. Highly important series of works by the three artists. While the Kizuna (friendship) exhibition in Wales and the Chinese warriors in Liverpool brought these sometimes very familiar seeming Eastern cultures closer to us. Well done to all involved. And if you have a day off, or a free afternoon think about going to one of your local galleries or museums or take a bus or a train to the next town or city and you will usually find something that interests you.
Longer musings follow but that short review is what I really wanted to say.
Culture days in Britain Summer 2018. Long report.
I don’t usually write about culture. It is only as an advancing adult that I’ve made much of an effort when holidaying or working abroad to see at least one or two cultural things. A museum or two, a gallery, maybe two; I’ve quite gone off castles due to too much tragic or pathetic history but often a castle or two as well as they happen to be there. Normally I still love my European (city) breaks where you just soak up the atmosphere of the wonderful Hapsburg historic squares and the cityscapes. In Porto, Dnipro, Zaporizhzhya / Zaporizhia, Vasilivka (Ukraine – definitely not Hapsburg), Alicante, Villajoyosa I’ve visited various great museums or displays in the first half of this year and seen some impressive cultural celebrations. In Britain I’ve made a little bit of effort when in a new town or city, or on a short trip, to see some cultural sites. It took me a few years to realise this was a good way to make sure when you went somewhere you actually saw some of the town, and got a break from the bubble of political conferences, which I never did at political or academic conferences when I was younger and concentrated on being seen and drinking in the bar(s). Also a useful break from the drinking.
This Summer, 2018, I happen more by chance than design to have called in to several excellent exhibitions in Britain. In late June in Bristol I decided to call in to the Grayson Perry exhibition at the City Art Gallery, largely because I thought I should. I didn’t think I would enjoy it and I really did. I was very glad I walked in and paid the reasonable fee. One large busy room with fantastic banners. Insightful, full of imagery of modern Britain. Very deservedly highly important art of modern times. A week later in Oxford it was the small packed Tolkien exhibition at the Weston wing of the Bodleian library. Lots of interesting detail that I didn’t know, and classic illustrations. Next door in the ‘Treasures’ collection or ‘Treasury’ room I was able to see a copy of the Georgian epic tale ‘the Knight in the Panther’s Skin’ by Shota Rustaveli. Plus some of the translation notes by Marjory Wardrop – this remarkable woman being why the illustrated manuscript was placed in a celebration of remarkable women. Back in Liverpool, it was the Terracotta warriors. An incredibly packed exhibition (packed with people), a dozen figures – enough to make an impact – many artefacts, animation (by my friends at Draw and Code) and useful illustration and interpretation. Unlike most historical displays I see there was enough detail and factual information, although much of course was speculation. Grayson Perry (‘the Vanity of Small Differences’ tapestries), Tolkien, the Knight in the Panther’s Skin, Chinese men. This write up was going to end there but since then I’ve been for the first time to Wolverhampton. I stopped in Wolverhampton specifically to see the Singh Twins exhibition ‘Slaves of Fashion’ that I missed in Liverpool. I was very glad I did. The exhibition – large banners like the Grayson Perry – is like the Grayson Perry rich in colour, interesting details, thought provoking (I can also use the over used word challenging), and has impact. One large room with the electronic hangings and two side rooms with connected exhibits from the Wolverhampton Gallery and from National Museums Liverpool, and the story of how the artworks are made. That shows the work and thinking that has gone in to create these pieces which like the Perry are of great importance for 21Century art in Britain, and a real contribution of British (and Indian) art to the World.
I stopped in Wolverhampton en route to Cardiff where I found a city hosting a National Eisteddfod. (A celebration of the culture and language in Wales). With my father-in-law, bookseller Nick, we took in some of the atmosphere of the stands and exhibitions there and then went to see the Kizuna exhibition on Japanese culture and Wales. There are banners proclaiming KIZUNA all around the city centre but I had no idea what this meant. It means bonds of friendship, and the interesting display, two parts in one long room, charts the history of connections between Japan and Wales which is longer than you might think. 50 Japanese companies employ over 5,000 people in Wales. Many antique, some very historic, and modern pieces of Japanese culture, design and technology are on display. A Japanese lacquered coffer (chest) has been at Chirk Castle on the North Welsh border for four hundred years, while 50 Japanese companies employ over 5,000 people in Wales today. Another first for me on this trip was a first actual day out in Swansea. On probably the wettest day of the Summer I had an interesting walk through the different ages of town centre and dock / river front regeneration, and got to the Egypt Centre at Swansea University (a couple of miles from the city centre) this time. So several other cultural locations to see on a future visit.
There is so much on in Britain each Summer now that you can experience high quality culture everywhere. You could watch theatre, outdoor and amateur Shakespeare every night and multiple times at the weekends. As I’ve spent much of the Summer at home I’ve enjoyed seeing the great numbers of tourists. Foreign visitors from all around the World taking advantage of the weak pound perhaps to enjoy a trip to Britain. It’s great to see them here. As local residents in a town we often don’t see the things the tourists do, this is a reminder to also be a tourist in your own town from time to time. Or visit the next one.
I went to the Tolkien and the Terracotta Warriors with Frances and Judy respectively, and the Japanese displays with Nick. These are my views but they were also very impressed by these exhibitions. My father was fascinated with China (and ancient Egypt). My sister has awed us with her story of seeing the Terracotta Warriors at Xian in China in 2000. And she brought back mini clay figures for each of us that were a rare site in Britain then. Seeing the figures in my home city was a nice way to see a small party of the immense culture of China.
The Japan (Kizuna) exhibition in Cardiff is on until 9 September.
The China’s First Emperor and the Terracotta Warriors in Liverpool until 28 October.
The Singh Twins’ Slaves of Fashion at Wolverhampton until 16 September.