Image Credit: Kyle Head
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To celebrate the end of a great year for culture, both in the UK and abroad, we’ve decided to share some of our personal highlights. For this entry, we turn our gaze to art and theatre.
One of the most significant cultural events of 2015 was the awarding of The Turner Prize to ASSEMBLE, a collective of artists and designers based in East London who we mentioned as ‘one to watch’ last year. This event is doubly amazing because these are not artists in the conventional sense and the work for which they won is a social enterprise based in a housing estate in Toxteth, Liverpool - a studio in which Assemble work with local people to make and sell furniture.
There is not enough space in this blog to express the admiration which BOP has for Assemble. Think of moments in history where artistic imagination, political awareness and popular sentiment come together to drive social progress: the Levellers, Arts and Crafts, Bauhaus, the birth of rock and roll, the London 2012 Opening Ceremony. Assemble represent a trend and an opportunity on a similar scale. They are genuine subversives whose work and practice, as Granby Workshops in Toxteth amply demonstrates, have powerful political force. But they are also craftspeople and designers of the highest order. What they create is beautiful in its simplicity and functionality – all the more so when it is ‘assembled’ from local materials working with local communities.
Assemble are an example and an inspiration to us all in these troubled and confusing times. Watch this space!
Although not all strictly art, three exhibitions particularly stood out for us at BOP - the first, Cosmonauts at the Science Museum. With technological artefacts large and small, and an imaginative selection of memorabilia, the unexpectedly moving exhibition beautifully recounts the idealism and drive behind the Soviet space missions. Starting barely ten years after the country had thrown off feudalism, the heroism (and sacrifice) of key figures in the cosmonaut programme – both human and animal – stands out, as does the ability of humanity’s dreams of space to transcend and outlive more transient political divide.
Next up is the record breaking Savage Beauty at the V&A. A testimony to the late fashion designer, Alexander McQueen, it proved a true showcase of his exquisite tailoring, the depth of his understanding of both female form and spirit, as well as his erudite explorations of complex political and social change. Then finally we have the hugely popular Ai Weiwei residency at the Royal Academy. Widely admired for his spirit and creativity, this resonated particularly with the team for his subtle but effective way of showing beauty in the painful commemoration of the schoolchildren who lost their lives in the 2008 Sichuan earthquake.
The arts in the UK are undergoing huge change at present – brought on by shifting audience demands, technological change and a chillier public funding environment. BOP’s forthcoming research for Arts Council England in 2016 will examine how all this plays out for theatre in particular, and the experience of organisations like The Tricycle Theatre will be hugely insightful to the research. As ever, throughout 2015 this perennial BOP favourite strove to produce and present new work that also has popular appeal and resounds with its regular and local audiences. The Autumn season has been particularly strong, with the world premiere of Marcus Gardley’s A Wolf in Snakeskin Shoes, a re-boot of Moliere’s Tartuffe translated to the American deep South of mega churches and fast food millionaires, and the very silly and hugely enjoyable Ben Hur (‘4 actors take on the might of the Roman Empire’). With luck, the latter will be a breakout commercial hit to rival writer Patrick Barlow’s previous adaptation of The 39 Steps.
2015 was also a great year Scottish theatre, with one particular highlight shared amongst the team being Lanark. A stage production of Alasdair Gray’s epic Scottish novel by the Citizens Theatre as part of the Edinburgh International Festival, David Greig’s adaptation was faithful to the original, while at the same time constructing a pace that made the four hours fly by. Sandy Grierson was very impressive as the eponymous lead, with the design subtle but powerful - the author’s identity and vision thoroughly imbued.
Turning to the all more unusual; Barbu. Irreverent and unexpected, Barbu was a stand out performance at Edinburgh Fringe Festival. The Barbu Electro Trad Cabaret took inspiration from 19th century Montreal circus acts and then completely remade it. Set to the frenetic beat of a live electro-tradition, the roller-skating, speedo wearing act will be one not to be forgotten, or missed.
BOP's Best of 2015: Art and Theatre
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Richard is a world leading expert in research methodologies for the culture and the creative industries, having been an early innovator in the development of frameworks for measuring the economic and social impacts of cultural activities.
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