Head Over Heels: A Triumph for British Film by AHA alum Katie Campbell

As with the beginning of every new year (granted no so new now we’re well into February), the international press has been filled with the latest updates on the film industry’s award season. The nominations for the Critics Choice awards, Golden Globes, SAG awards, BAFTA, and finally the Academy Awards (aka Oscars) have been hotly discussed, by both press and public. William Hill’s website has a dedicated section for the Oscars and Vogue has been offering us almost instant images of the fashions of the film stars.   This year’s talk has been dominated by British champion Les Miserables, Spielberg’s much anticipated epic Lincoln, Ben Affleck’s second-time in the director’s chair Argo, and Bradley Cooper’s distinct character change from the Hangover series in Silver Linings Playbook, to name a few.  The awards season is not just something for the film industry, it’s become a global phenomenon; public support and involvement is immense.

As this month’s BAFTAs showed, film stars from all over braved the delights of Britain’s freezing cold weather and rain and were rewarded with the perennially British and now-bearded Stephen Fry.  The awards ceremony as always celebrated the brilliance of British film; we finally saw the Bond franchise picking up its first and much-deserved major award (Best British Film) in 50 years as well as the award for Best Original Film Music and Les Miserables, the champion of British film this award season went home with 4 BAFTAs (Best Supporting Actress, Hair and Makeup, Production Design, Sound) having been nominated for 9 overall.

However whilst the focus on such titans of the British film industry will be considerable at the culminating point of the award season – the Oscars.  A little-known short British animated film, ‘Head Over Heels’ is gaining ground in the Press.

‘Head Over Heels’ is impressive for a number of reasons, firstly it’s a short British film that’s been nominated for an Oscar, no mean feat given the international competition and prestige that denotes an Oscar nomination.  However perhaps what is most astounding about the film is the fact that it was created as the final year film of 11 students from NFTS – the prestigious National Film and Television School located in Beaconsfield.  NFTS is well-known in the film industry as a leading centre for film education, and although you may not have heard of it, you’d recognize names of it’s alumni.   In the case of animation, one of it’s most celebrated alumni is Nick Park, the man behind the much-loved ‘Wallace and Gromit.‘

‘Head Over Heels‘ tells the story of a married coupled who have grown apart both literally and metaphorically; the husband (Walter) lives on the floor whilst his estranged wife (Madge) lives on the ceiling.  Walter’s attempts to re-connect with his wife lead to interesting consequences and the film plays with the notion of their lives been turned up side down and of quite literally falling ‘head over heels’ in love.

It is beautifully done and deserves the recognition it has gained so far.  It won Best Student Film at the Annie Awards (animation’s answer to the Oscars) earlier this month and is up against Disney’s short ‘Paperman’ that has proved very popular over social media sites like Facebook. As well as ‘Maggie Simpson in “The Longest Daycare”, ‘Adam and Dog’ and ‘Fresh Guacamole.’ Take a look at the Oscar page if you want to know more behind the interesting sounding titles!

So fingers crossed for February 24th, and listen out for the lesser-known category of Short Film (Animated)!

If you want to watch the 10mins film, it’s up on Youtube for a limited time. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KHs3Pe32b8Q&feature=youtu.be

Art that takes your breath away…AHA alum Catriona Grant on her favourite things

Excuse the cliche, but there are undeniably some geniuses in the history of art who have produced the most truly breathtaking objects ever to have existed.

These are by no means universal, and are rightly subject to each and every person’s individual opinions. What causes this reaction of course varies; it can be the smallest detail, the broadest concept, the emotion or idea it triggers, the person you share it with … the list goes on.

Anyway, to while away a rainy day, here are a few of the works of art and architecture that I find particularly inspiring, I hope you enjoy them too:

The passion of Rodin’s The Kiss.

The intensity of gesture and impasto brushstrokes of Van Gogh’s Starry Night.

Starry Night

The staggering photorealism of Luigi Benedicenti’s paintings.

The tangible flesh of Bernini’s sculpture of the The Rape of Proserpina.


The elevating character of the Andrea Pozzo’s ceiling frescoes in the Sant’Ignazio Church in Rome.

The thrilling design and stunning setting of Frank Lloyd Wright’s Falling Water.

Falling Water

The wistful nostalgia of Constable’s The Hay Wain.

The Haywain

The quietude of Turner’s Swiss watercolour, The Bay of Uri Above Brunnen.

The simplicity of Durer’s Turf of Grass.

The enigmatic context of Edward Hopper’s Nighthawks.

The colossal embrace of the Pantheon in Rome.

Oh, and its just started snowing, even more excuse to don a onesie and have a self-indulgent evening looking up beautiful images and sunny places…

(Photos courtesy of Google Images).

On Postmodernism: by AHA tutor Andy MacKay

To the Postmodern thinker anything is worthy of consideration; in artistic terms the sweet wrapper or the graffiti on the walls of a public loo are equally as ‘worthy’ of attention as a Rembrandt or a Leonardo masterpiece. Postmodernism was and is symptomatic of dissatisfaction with the ‘Grand Narratives’ which have guided the Western world for past five hundred years or more. Its genesis is difficult to locate, but its manifestation in both theory and practice emerges just after the Second World War. It is, rather like German ‘Dada’ of the 1920s, an anti-movement. It is an attitude more than anything else – a performative position, a way of seeing the world, at turns both endlessly liberating and soullessly sterile.

Jeff Koons 'Louis XIV' (1986)

What interests me is what others might describe as the ‘sterile’ bit – Postmodernism’s philosophical and critical flipside which necessitates a negation, for example, of the very concepts of ‘good’ ‘bad’, ‘worth’, ‘value’,  ‘masterpiece’ or even ‘art’ itself. Realistically ‘everything’ may mean – or signify – absolutely ‘nothing’ at all. It’s this aspect, the giddy ‘levelling’ implicit in Postmodernism – its intellectual ‘death wish’ if you like – which I find most intriguing. It is liberating to question things. The rigour of the questioning forces us to challenge and defend conventionally held assumptions and beliefs, and nothing is worth believing – in and of its self – unless it has been scrutinised.

'Indeterminate Fascade' for the Best showroom in Houston, USA (1975)

The philosophical and scientific ‘revolts’ of the 19th century (emerging directly out of 18th  century Enlightenment patterns of thinking) had a profound impact on the 20th century. During the inter-war period, French Existentialism – finding so much initial nourishment in the work of Nietzsche for example – brought European intellectuals to the garden gate of a Postmodern condition.

Leigh Bowery

The Second World War was like a full stop at the end of the Old World sentence. Modernism itself was of course a necessary break with the past, but Modernism wasn’t conscious that it had in fact internalised a Euro-centric, pseudo-Christian, post-Romantic teleology thereby sowing the seeds of its eventual demise. Just as if one believes in good, one must also believe in ‘bad’; if one believes in ‘progress’ one is stalked by a fear of ‘regress’. Recognising that in essence Modernism was just another great European fallacy, by the 1960s thinkers and creative-types began to revel in the ‘regress’: to question the very concepts of ‘good’ ‘bad’/’progress’ and ‘regress’. Postmodernism is really the end of ‘style’ as traditionally conceived – in fact it is difficult even to describe it as a coherent artistic or philosophical ‘movement’. It is an attitude. Through this final ironic severance from the past and with an ‘end time’ attitude curiously its own, new and divergent potentialities were created. Postmodernism’s greatest legacy is the internet itself: we live with it every day and ultimately it makes our lives better.  It is odd then that Postmodernism began to lose its critical potency just before the invention of the internet and very soon after Francis Fukuyama famously announced we’d reached ‘the end of history’ itself.

Let’s Dig Up Some Dirt: Great Archaeological finds by AHA alum Maddie Brown

 

Word on the street, a carpark in Leicester…the site of one of the most exciting British archaeological discoveries in the 21st century? Really? Who would have thought it? On Monday 4th February 2013, scientists confirmed that they have indeed uncovered the grave of Richard III, the English king killed at the battle of Bosworth in 1485.

 

In response, I was asked to write this blogpost about some of the most extraordinary archaeological finds ever. I’m a history student and as such I can appreciate the role of the archaeologist and their importance to the study of material culture. This should be easy…

I start chatting away to my friend who is studying archaeology and anthropology and ask her to give me some inspiration.

‘mitochonrial analysis…bipedalism…encephalisation’

I was lost… Quite honestly, I just had Indiana Jones in mind.

Ummm. Right. I suddenly realise that to pick a few of the greatest archaeological finds is going to be more of a challenge that I initially thought.

The possibilities are infinite. Just google it and you will see for yourself. After all, the study of the human past… there is quite a lot there.

So, to narrow things down, do I go with historical archaeology, ethnoarchaeology, biological archaeology, or do I stick with British finds? Browsing the Internet for just 10 minutes the discoveries I made were incredible. I have picked some of what I liked best.

Here are a few of the amazing finds that I have dug up (…sorry):

1) The Dead Sea Scrolls

 

A collection of 972 scrolls found on the shore of the Dead Sea between 1946-56. They consist of biblical as well as extra-biblical documents but are traditionally divided into three groups: ‘Biblical’ manuscripts (copies of texts that can be found in the Hebrew Bible), ‘Other’ manuscripts (known documents from the Second Temple Period that were not included in the Hebrew Bible) and ‘Sectarian’ manuscripts (previously unknown documents that outline the rules and beliefs of groups within greater Judaism).

The manuscripts themselves have been dated to a timespan between 408BC to 318 CE.

Without going to deeply into this, consider the creation and circulation of these documents around 1000 years ago… Wow.

 

 

 

2) The Terra Cotta Warriors

 

This terracotta army was buried with the first Emperor of China, Qin Shi Huan in 210-209BC in the hope that it would protect the emperor in the afterlife.
It was discovered in 1974 by local farmers in the Lintong District of Xi’an. Current estimates put the number of soldiers at over 8,000 and that doesn’t include the chariots and cavalry horses!

How long did it take to make all of these I wonder…?

3) The Mount Owen Moa

 

Found in the 1980s in New Zealand this is a complete foot of a Megalapteryx didinus. It was a form of flightless bird, native to New Zealand and it is thought that most, if not all, of the species had died out as a result of overhunting by the Maori by 1400.

This foot has been tested and is actually 3000 years old…. Yep. No need to say more. Amazing.

 

4) The Oldest Shoes

I love shoes. I look forward to the day when I have the money I can buy a pair of Christian Louboutins (keep dreaming Maddie).

Now it may not exude the style of some Louboutins but this 5,500-year-old moccasin-like shoe is extraordinary. Found in Armenia in 2010, it shows that even half a millennia ago, protecting the foot (and the importance of accessorising?!) was understood.

 

 

 

 

 

  1. 5. Oetzi the Ice man

 

Found in 1991, the whole genome sequencing of the human remain of Oetzi was completed in 2012. It is a mummified corpse of a man who was killed over 5,000 years ago in the Italian Alps. Analysis of his DNA provided not only a unique window into Oetzi’s own life, but more importantly into ancient European migration patterns.

How they glean this information from analysis of a 5000-year old corpse is beyond me but the fact that we have such remains in our hands today is mind-blowing. Just think- 5000 years ago Oetzi was walking around like me and you!

 
   


I have no idea whether these are considered to be the greatest archaeological finds of our time but in a field all about discovery, the research for this blog was just that for me.

Have a look for yourself and see what you can uncover…

LIGHT SHOW at The Hayward Gallery – AHA alum Annie Gregoire sees what it’s all about

Light Show is the Hayward Gallery’s latest exhibition, showcasing a fantastic selection of artworks all made from the power of electricity. The show displays sculpture and installation featuring bulbs, strip lights, strobe light, mirrors, projection and more to create a journey of sensory excitement through the gallery.

The journey begins with a Leo Villareal’s 2012 Cylinder II, a giant sculpture of LEDs orchestrated by complex computer programming so that they are constantly in flow, creating different patterns and shapes. The work is an engaging spectacle, for me evoking the beauty and movement of a waterfall or snowfall, whilst also suggestive of the millions of changing lights in a busy city.

The viewer is then lead around the space and presented with a number of instillations that occupy entire side rooms. Around every corner there is another piece of excitement, including a room of complete darkness surrounding a large cone of light inviting you to play with the effects of projection, an eery hospital-like space that surrounds the viewer in stark whiteness, and a series of 3 completely red, blue and green rooms that I got stuck in for most of my visit. The curation of the exhibition makes fantastic use of the Hayward’s exhibition halls, and I was struck by a new appreciation of the space whilst walking round.

At one point we queued for ten minutes to enter a dark room in which the viewer is invited to sit and experience the adaptation over 15 minutes of his or her eyes in front of a large light installation. I must admit that there was no revelation in front of my eyes, so either I was too inpatient, or the execution of this piece has not been so successful.

The exhibition is an investigation into how our psychology responds to light and colour, a display of captivating illusions that play with our perception, and a presentation of artworks that require the viewer’s time and interaction to completely reveal themselves.

Light Show is not only about visual experience - Conrad Shawcross's sculpture is 'a metaphor for the discipline of science'

 

Some reviews have criticised Light Show for offering little more than an entertainment, a comment that I agree with in-part, as the exhibition does not offer much that is deeply conceptual or philosophical (although a number of the pieces, such as Conrad Shawcross’s sculpture, do discuss interesting ideas). However, I think it positive that this is a rare example of an exhibition that doesn’t present any over-complex or inaccessible ideas, or claim to be something that it is not. Instead it simply presents every viewer with a chance to interact with, enjoy and be excited by contemporary art.

 Light Show continues at the Hayward Gallery until 28 April 2013

The Importance of being an Aesthete by AHA tutor and actor, Richard Stemp

I realised, rather late, that one of the great compliments that Robert Woodward could pay was when he turned to you, a slightly wicked glint in his eye, and say, ‘Richard, you seem to me to be living entirely for pleasure’. It is a quotation from The Importance of Being Earnest, which I am currently touring with London Classic Theatre, and for that matter from several other works by Oscar Wilde: the man who, on entering the United States said, ‘I have nothing to declare but my genius’, was fond of quoting, if not actively plagiarising, his own work. Robert, the founder of Art History Abroad, was devoted to Oscar Wilde, and I remember him enthusing about the play, pointing out that even in the second line Wilde subverts the niceties of social convention, and starts a game, playing with paradox, and using contradiction to find out deeper truths.  Robert had made what he considered an ill-judged investment in the Channel Tunnel, but that at least rewarded him with return tickets to Paris once a year, allowing an annual pilgrimage to Wilde’s Tomb in Père Lachaise Cemetery. There he would lay a green carnation – a flower ‘invented’, Wilde said, by himself, and worn by himself and others of his circle at the first ever performance of The Importance of Being Earnest at the now-defunct St James’s Theatre on 14 February 1895.

Jacob Epstein, Study for the Tomb of Oscar Wilde, 1909-11

Wilde’s genius was declared to the Americans on a lecture tour in 1882, a tour which had relatively little to do with Wilde himself, and more to do with Gilbert and Sullivan’s Patience, an operetta satirising the Aesthetic Movement. The main character, the poet Bunthorne, was a very shallowly disguised version of Wilde himself, and the producers thought it would be a good idea to introduce the original to the American public, so that they would understand what precisely was being satirised. You could almost see it as a 19th Century equivalent of those reality T.V. shows which are used to cast – and therefore publicize – West End musicals. That Wilde was well-known enough in England to be the subject of satire was in itself remarkable: he was 28 and had, as yet, achieved nothing except notoriety. His most important work would not be written until the last decade of his relatively short life:  he died in 1900 at the age of 46, with Earnest as his last, and arguably greatest, success. The play could also be seen as marking the pinnacle, and end, of the Aesthetic Movement itself.

The movement developed from the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood, that short-lived confraternity of young idealists whose work continued long after the initially tight grouping split and was diluted by newly introduced artists. These included Edward Burne-Jones and William Morris, who met at Exeter College, Oxford, and who remained friends and collaborators until Morris’s death in 1896. They left Oxford without graduating in 1856, having sought out Dante Gabriel Rossetti, whom they saw as the Brotherhood’s spiritual leader. By then Rossetti’s painting had moved away from the depiction of literary subjects, and from the inspiration which the Pre-Raphaelites had found in the works of Dante, Shakespeare and the Bible. No longer would art be the ‘handmaid of religion’, as John Ruskin would have had it, and Rossetti, together with Burne-Jones, and others including James MacNeill Whistler and Frederick Leighton, began to celebrate beauty, pure and simple, with no other aim: ‘Art for Art’s sake’. As Oscar Wilde said in his preface to The Picture of Dorian Grey, ‘All art is quite useless’.

William Morris, The Strawberry Thief, 1883

In this, Wilde was at odds with William Morris, who famously encouraged the beauty of functionality: ‘Have nothing in your house that you do not know to be useful, or believe to be beautiful’. Nevertheless, the Aesthetic Movement and the Arts and Crafts Movement, fostered by Morris, go hand in hand. ‘The House Beautiful’ was one of the major concerns of both – and indeed the title of one of Wilde’s lectures during his 1882 tour of America. It was this which led Kerry Bradley, designer of London Classic’s Earnest, to use Morris fabrics for the furniture used by the ‘younger generation’ in our production. For example Jack’s chair is upholstered with a print called The Strawberry Thief designed by Morris in 1883. The cushion on Algernon’s chair has the same pattern, in a different colourway (the technical term used to describe the fact that the design is the same, but with a different combination of colours). I would like to think that there is a reason within the play why the same design is used for cushion and chair, but it may just be coincidence. And another coincidence: we are currently playing The Everyman, Cork (we opened on 29 January to a full house and rapturous applause!) and the auditorium is hung with Morris’s Windrush wallpaper. Like The Strawberry Thief this was also designed in 1883. It was first printed at Merton Abbey Mills, where I once performed in A Midsummer Night’s Dream, and which is only half a mile or so from our rehearsal room for Earnest in Colliers Wood. I’d like to think there is beauty even in coincidence…

William Morris, Windrush, 1883

Remembering Robert’s eulogy on the opening of The Importance of Being Earnest as we started rehearsals – I now get to say that second line – I regret not having had the chance to take the conversation further and talk about the rest of the play: there was never enough time to spend with Robert.  He was such a great enthusiast, and had, in his own way, learnt to see Beauty in everything. I remember him saying, shortly before he died, ‘I can’t find it in myself to dislike anything any more’.

It is a wonderful play – do come along! We are in Cork until 9 February, in Ireland until 3 March and then touring Britain until June 15 – the full schedule is on the London Classic Theatre website:

http://www.londonclassictheatre.co.uk/index.php/2012/07/the-importance-of-being-earnest/

And if you come, stay for a drink, say ‘Hello’. It seems to me we will be living entirely for pleasure.

Manet: Painting Life. A review by AHA alum Emma Greenlees

“Painting begins with Manet” is the proclamation that faces the entrance to a jam-packed Manet: Painting Life on a cold winter Saturday. The hype so often a prerequisite for top London exhibitions is evident even before we reach that stage; the queue for tickets stretches the whole length of the square at Burlington House. But is the hype correctly directed? Is this an exhibition which looks to the successes of Manet as an homage to him, or as a historical map of his achievements and of the role of painting in his contemporary Paris?

Split into 8 rooms –  The Artist and His Family, Music in the Tuileries Garden, Manet’s World, Manet’s Cultural Circle (I  and II), Manet’s Status Portraits, Manet’s Models and Victorine Meurent – we get a very clear idea of that it is that is meant by ‘Painting Life’: it is Manet’s life and not everyman’s. Born to a wealth Parisian family in 1832 and mixing with Paris’ elite later in life, Manet was, far from painting the lives of the proletariat, depicting his own surroundings and his own friends. Dedicating an entire room to “Music in the Tuileries Gardens” (1862) underlines the variety and number of Manet’s influential circle. Not only that, but it makes clear the influence that the painting of his wife’s heritage had upon his work. By painting a group portrait of many around him who shared his values, Manet is engaging with a 17th Century Dutch tradition, as well as mirroring Baudelaire’s belief that music is the highest form of art.

By painting such a clear image of those who surround the artist, the exhibition echoes Manet’s own reluctance to paint self-portraits. What we see here is what he saw and the way that he saw it. It’s extremely easy to forget (and just as important to remember) how rapidly that world was changing. Manet lived in a moment of transition; the time of Modernity. He was born just seven years before the invention of the first photographs (Daguerreotypes) and yet grew up in a culture which still observed the tradition of the Paris Salon. He lived in a Paris of change; from Second Republic to Third Republic, through Prussian Occupation; a Paris of modernity but which still held the Salon up as the pinnacle of artistic achievement. It was a world of contradictions, which was simultaneously clinging onto the past and running tirelessly into the future. What Manet did so expertly was to navigate and pioneer his way through this moment of transition into the full swing of modernity. He fused the genre painting with the portrait at the same time as marrying modernism and realism. He was echoing his contemporary surroundings in his work: his portraits coincided with the photographic portrait’s growing popularity, and the curator has placed a number of Cartes de Visite alongside Manet’s work to make this clearer.

And so, to see the exhibition as a retrospective of Manet’s work would be a mistake. If it were just an examination of his canon, then it would be missing certain very key pieces: Olympia is not here, for starters. Nor is the Dejeuner sur l’herbe (only a study hangs here). The sad thing about an exhibition of this type is that it does seem to be perceived by many of the gallery-goers as precisely this sort of retrospective. Manet is a well-known name, and so going to the exhibition at the RA has become a task to check off the list, while the Mariko Mori exhibition has been relegated to Burlington Gardens, around the corner.

What we do see is an impressive selection of Manet’s portraits, and particularly the blurred line between Manet’s portraits and the tradition of genre scenes, which is perfectly encapsulated in “The Luncheon” (1868). It is very effective in foregrounding the progress of Paris in the late 19th Century, and the changes in artistic trends (both photographically and in painting).

What this exhibition does is to map out the progress of modernity in late 19th Century Paris. As a history of modernising Paris, it is very successful; as an exhibition of Manet’s work, it is not.

Mackay Baillie Scott’s ‘Moving Walls’, by Andy MacKay

Eldest son of a wealthy Scottish landowner, Baillie Scott was born in 1865 at his parents’ house on the Kent coast. Sent away to school yet refusing to attend Cambridge, instead he studied ‘science and drawing’ at the Royal Agricultural College at Cirencester (1883-5) and trained in the Bath architectural practice of Major Charles Davis (1886-9). It was on his honeymoon to the Isle of Man in 1889 that he and his new wife Florence (descendant of the 18th century dandy Beau Nash) fell in love with the sleepy Celtic island and decided to stay – apparently “unable to leave” due to his seasickness! Although he later set up a fashionable practice of his own in London (designing for a German Grand Duke and a Romanian Princess), here at rural Douglas, Baillie Scott built the home he is perhaps best remembered for and where he and Florence would live until 1901.

M H Baillie Scott

The home he built in 1893 was named, significantly, ‘The Red House’. In many ways it was a deliberate homage to Philip Webb’s ground-breaking Arts & Crafts architectural ‘manifesto’, also called ‘The Red House’ (1859), at Bexleyheath in Kent – famously the home of the movement’s founder William Morris. Incorporating local vernacular styles with proletarian red-brick, Baillie Scott’s ‘Red House’ – on the surface a straightforward example of suburban architecture – is in fact one of the forgotten links between the 19th century’s English Arts & Crafts Movement and the 20th century’s International Modern Movement.

The Red House

Whilst the architecture of his contemporaries Charles Voysey and Charles Rennie Mackintosh are better known, Baillie Scott should be remembered for the very real and lasting design innovations he brought us. The most influential and long lasting of these are – prosaically – folding, retractable screen doors. Unlike his contemporaries, Baillie Scott sought to go further in his manipulation of interior space by actually ‘breaking’ walls. Anticipating 20th century changes in domestic routines he realised the need to discard with traditional delineations of function by creating ‘moving walls’. Here at his very own ‘Red House’ he provided a living manifesto for his own vision of the domestic future. With large dividing screen doors which folded away he allowed for the opening up of the interior space; both healthy and aesthetically pleasing. It is interesting that such a truly radical innovation – so intimately associated with the modernist urban architecture of Bauhaus, Le Corbusier, even Ikea – found its earliest manifestation in a suburban ‘cottage’ on a sleepy little island.

Chairs designed by Baillie Scott, 1900

During this period Baillie Scott built the extraordinary ‘Blackwell’ in The Lake District (1898-1900) for Sir Edward Holt and famously published his Houses and Gardens (1906), before going on to restore several ancient farmhouses of his own in Bedfordshire and Kent. As respected Fellow of the Royal Institute of British Architects, he died – half forgotten – in 1945 and was buried at Edenbridge in Kent close to his beloved home ‘Oakhams’.