George Orwell Studies: vol.3, #1

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George Orwell Studies:  volume 3, number 1  2018

ISSN 2399-1267

Includes the article; ‘Room 103’: Orwell’s Influence on Contemporary Visual Art -by Glenn Ibbitson.  p70-82

Adapted from a presentation as part of the third George Orwell Studies Conference, held at Goldsmiths, University of London on 30th May, 2018.

The issue is guest edited by Professor Tim Crook, who generously introduces my contribution as follows

Glenn Ibbitson, in presenting to the conference a paper titled ‘Room 103: Orwell’s Influence on Contemporary Visual Art’, argues that so many visual artists identify with Orwell because his work powerfully advances the principle of the freedom of the individual to think independently. Ibbitson curates an online platform ‘Room 103’ where artists engaged in visual media can present work inspired by ‘Orwellian’ themes. And his paper bristles with an Orwellian mischief: ‘Now you may justifiably label me as the artist who put the lie in artistic licence and to that charge I plead guilty, but only to the extent that Orwell himself ascribed fictional, nefarious activities to his room on that same corridor. We all crave a catchy title after all.’

Artists whose contributions to ‘Room 103’ were cited in the presentation are:

Tony Baker,

Paul Steffan Jones

Antoni Garcia Serrat

Kerry Baldry

Mary M. Mazziotti

Paul Salt and Sue Shaw

Alan Pergusey

Nigel Pugh

Liam Ainscough

Garry Barker

Dave Stephens

Dalton Desborough

Emma Saunders

Clare Ferguson Walker

Kath Wilkinson

Saul Hay Gallery, Manchester

 

The issue also includes contributions by

Tim Crook: Professor Departmentof Media, Communications and Culture at Goldsmiths, University of London

Len Platt: Professor of Modern Literatures, Goldsmiths, University of London

Richard Lance Keeble: Professor of Journalism, University of Lincoln

Douglas Kerr:  Hon. Professor of English, University of Hon Kong; Hon. Research Fellow at Birkbeck College, University of London

Nicola Rossi: Novelist. MA in Digital Media, Goldsmiths, University of London

Darcy Moore: Deputy Principal, Secondary School in New South Wales. Post-graduate teacher education at University of Wollongong

Martin Stollery:  Independent Scholar. ‘Alternative Empires: European Modernist Cinemas and Cultures of Imperialism’ [pub. 2000]

Book reviews by Elinor Taylor, Peter Stansky, John Newsinger, Paul Anderson, Nick Hubble

Grateful thanks to the editors of George Orwell Studies.

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Room 103 @Studio24 Mabgate, Leeds.

b vid1Room 103: Studio24 poster design by Tony Baker. video still Kath Wilkinson

Every Northerner knows that one should always balance attention paid to both Lancashire and Yorkshire equally!  After an inaugural and well received exhibition of Room 103 at Saul Hay Gallery in Manchester, a revised selection of work was presented for a White Rose audience at Studio 24 in Leeds. Tony Baker took the lead in organising this show, ensuring that the Yorkshire dates followed closely behind Saul Hay, so that I could bring all the selected work across the Pennines together, instead of sending the work back to the artists and then ask for it back in a month’s time or so. [Note to self: arrange more shows like this which run one immediately after the other!]b S2180016As a child, I spent a lot of time around Mabgate, as my maternal grandparents lived on the tenth floor of Cherry Court Tower at the north end of the street. At that time, the factory’s were huge; dark and glowering. They exhaled metallic odours and poured chemicals into the partially subterranean beck running parallel to the lane. Their interiors remained a mystery to me.b ceil4

b ceil2

b building1Studio 24 is housed in an industrial building of the type with which Orwell would have been familiar from his journeys through the North chronicled in “The Road to Wigan Pier”.  It retains its authentic working space. Bricks arc in shallow vaults to form a ceiling sparsely supported by cast iron columns. This is crossed by a grid of exposed conduit and strip lighting which illuminates the open, near-square space below.

 

Dick 3Dick Durkin: Orgreave I &II

b gi GbGlenn Ibbitson: “England, Your England”.  Garry Barker: “Eye See You..”

b ap jtx3Alan Pergusey  &  Jonathan Turner

Saul Hay had been located in a similar post-industrial inner city area in Castlefields, the cradle of the industrial revolution by the Bridgewater Canal basin, but was rejuvenated as a refined white space gallery interior. Studio 24 was by contrast a run of clean white display panels across brick walls of peeling paint. I was interested to see the aesthetic effect of these surroundings on the artworks themselves.b amm tb beautyJoe Kelly Ormeshar     Aamta Tul Waheed    Tony Baker

b lb gi copyLiam Burke:          Glenn Ibbitson: Barcode/ Target series

imageJoe Kelly Ormeshar: “KO” series

Tony had created for his students on the Art Enterprise degree course at the Leeds City College University Centre a module designed to produce a visual response to the themes of dystopia, surveillance, identity and dictatorship that lie at the heart of much of Orwell’s writing. These students provided  work which had a directness which provided a satisfying counterpoint to perhaps more obscure or nuanced contributions from established artists. At the moment, the students involved share one entry on the project website, as the theme had been set as a college module. However, if any of them develop their chosen Orwellian theme in the future, they are free to submit subsequent works and they will be allocated their own page. I was very pleased to see students engage with Room 103; it confirmed that Orwell can still speak across time and across generations. 44110696_965006013700487_5512501094606962688_nAs a keen follower and participant in the Leeds music scene [his current musical incarnation is one half of guitar/mouth organ combo le POUM], Tony was able to deliver the centrepiece of the Leeds show -a set by the marvels that form the Commoners Choir. We had always referred to this pop-up exhibition as a gig as the Friday evening was designed around the C.C. performance. They did not disappoint. As an artist, I get my highs from painting, from producing something worth exhibiting. I enjoy organising art shows. That comes with the territory for an independent artist, but I hadn’t experienced a buzz as a curator -until the Choir sang “George Orwell Meets The Commoners On The Road To Wigan Pier” Specially composed by Boff Whalley for Room 103. Hearing it [performed here for its first, but hopefully not only time] it filled me with immense pride. These are people are full to the brim with wit, humanity and compassion; key elements they share with the great man himself. gen1b tb gbb defgenb giI was asked if  a] I considered the show a success and b] if a weekend exhibition was worth the effort? a]Yes, and b] most certainly. On Friday evening, there must have been more than a hundred people at Studio 24 and though many were fans of C.C. and had come specifically to hear them, they were an audience who also seemed to appreciate the visual art on offer. The venue provided a fine backdrop on which to document the work in both video and still photography. These will be used to entice another venue or gallery to exhibit our ongoing tribute to the writings and ideas of Eric Blair.

 

Watch a video of Room 103 @Studio24 here.  [Soundtrack “George Orwell meets the Commoners on the road to Wigan Pier”. Written by Boff Whalley. Performed by the Commoners Choir]

 

Double Negative: Review

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Review by Joe Fenn. Images courtesy of John James Lynch. Posted November 6th, 2018

Reviewed: Room 103 – A Tribute To George Orwell

 

In this group exhibition inspired by George Orwell’s always-relevant novel of dystopia, Joe Fenn finds artworks that prick our greatest fears, while warning against complacency…

Given the extensive liberties and luxuries likely available to readers of this article, it might be an objectionable, perhaps even offensive exaggeration to describe the modern Western society in which we live as dystopian. But it is true to say that our current popular culture is going through something of an age of dystopia; confirming such terrible futures are very much on our minds. Over the past few years, the genre has rocketed up bestseller lists and viewings tables, carried by a host of political and social concerns and carrying these concerns with it to prominence in the mainstream dialogue. Many of us clearly have grave concerns for our future.

It is these concerns which are the seed of Room 103, a thoughtful and thought-provoking new show in Manchester’s Saul Hay Gallery.  In this arena, there is one author whose vision has imprinted itself most lastingly on the public imagination, shaping myriad later visions, and lending his name to a unique adjective synonymous with the word. In his seminal Nineteen Eighty-Four, George Orwell (1949) painted a vision of the world coloured by themes which resonate just as strongly today as they did in his. Room 103 is a collection of responses to these themes, along with many others found in Orwell’s work, by a diverse group of seventeen international artists.

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Such serious subjects as totalitarianism, war, class, and propaganda, however, are not at the forefront of the mind as one approaches Saul Hay. From the outside, the quaint, cottage-like building hardly brings to mind brainwashing centres buried deep in the enigmatic headquarters of ruthless totalitarian oligarchies. Indeed, the structure seems almost too pleasant even for the characterful old industrial area of Castlefield in which it is tucked away. A world away from urban dystopia, Saul Hay is reminiscent of idyllic English countryside, as though airlifted straight from the grounds of a Cheshire manor house and shoe-horned in between the redbrick railway bridges and industrial canals.

“Soviet Union-esque propaganda hangs from the ceiling”

But such pleasant images are quickly swept away upon entering the gallery. Stepping through the doorway one immediately comes up against a large, haggard face looking out from a canvas; a blown-up book cover design for Orwell’s study in social class, The Road to Wigan Pier (1937). Under these watching eyes one walks through the corridor and out into a bright, calm gallery space filled with macabre expressions of personal, public, and political angst. Canvasses on the wall portray naked individuals trapped against stone walls by cross-hairs; Soviet Union-esque propaganda hangs from the ceiling; and along the far wall stand unsettling sculptures of distorted human figures, all creating a tense, unusual atmosphere in what one feels should ordinarily be a perfectly relaxing space.

While these works and all others in the exhibition are centred around Orwell, Room 103 did not, in fact, grow directly from his work. Rather, the show grew from artists finding themselves drawn to those same subjects which have become so prominent in our popular culture. British painter and artist Glenn Ibbitson, progenitor of Room 103, recognised the overlap between his own work and Orwell’s as, over a number of years, he pulled at the thematic threads of his art and found they often turned out to be of the same fabric woven through Orwell’s writing. As Ibbitson’s awareness of this connection grew, conversations with other artists revealed that many had the same experience, often finding themselves compared to Orwell without having consciously approached his writing in their art. Just as dystopia has seeped up through our popular culture, so too did these artists find their own work laced with dystopian visions. It is testament to the breadth and lucidity of Orwell’s writing that these artists found that so much of the author’s work had influenced various elements of their own.

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From these realisations, Room 103 was born, initially as an online forum for artists to share work influenced by and overlapping with Orwell. It was when Ibbitson met Ian Hay, founder and director of Saul Hay Gallery, that Room 103 became a physical space. It was some time since it had last been so; the name is taken, as is Room 101, from the layout of the original BBC broadcasting house. The original Room 101 was the room from which Orwell sent out his wartime correspondence. Room 103, just next door, sent out broadcasts relating to the arts.

Of the pieces in this new realisation of Room 103, Ibbitson’s own work provides some of the starkest examinations of the darkest and most truly Orwellian themes. His two paintings, Target: Dark Room and Target: Pinned to Wall, portray graphically realistic human figures trapped by great circular targets, as though caught in a searchlight or facing a firing squad. Ibbitson portrays the naked and defenceless human individual caught in the violent gaze of some much greater power. One is inevitably reminded of Winston Smith, immobile in the basement of the Ministry of Love.

“We are forced to consider how susceptible we are to accepting outrageous, inconsistent, even impossible propositions”

American textile artist Mary Mazziotti explores closely related themes through Needling the Regime, a series of propaganda tapestries for her imagined country of Amurka which hang from the ceiling of Saul Hay. In Mazziotti’s work Soviet imagery and lettering play against the American ideologies which are her target, while the painstaking nature of the medium of needlework clash with the crass, offhanded slogans of “the press needs to shut up” and “just don’t worry about it”. The juxtapositions and contradictions running through her work inspire uncomfortable reflection on her themes, the effect being that we are forced to consider how susceptible we are to accepting outrageous, inconsistent, even impossible propositions if presented to us through rousing propaganda or conveyed by a confident and convincing politician in a sharp suit. The slogan on the workers’ caps – “Make Amurka Great Again” – leave little room for doubt about the true target of her work.

While Nineteen Eighty-Four may dominate Room 103, many of Orwell’s other works also feature in the artists’ pieces. Several explore the theme of war through responses to Homage to Catalonia, Orwell’s memoir of fighting in the Spanish civil war. The subject is arguably as relevant to current times as Orwell’s, given the dramatic ongoing independence struggles in the region which have flared up recently in such ugly fashion. Images from Tony Baker’s book Homage to Homage to Catalonia adorn one wall, comparing and contrasting Orwell’s Catalonia with the aftermath of the 2017 independence referendum, while Sonia Boué uses poetry and painting to explore the work of the little-known British artist and activist Felicia Browne. An almost exact contemporary of Orwell’s, Browne too found herself in Barcelona when the civil war broke out. While Orwell fought in the war and just about survived when shot through the neck, Browne became the first Briton to die in the conflict when, running to the aid of a fallen fighter, she was shot and killed. Boué’s work speaks to the callous indifference of war; for the sake of a few seconds or inches, it may instead have been Orwell who perished, and Browne who became a figurehead of British culture and history.

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Other pieces tackle various other of Orwell’s themes, from class to language to industry and modernity. However, it is those pieces which are most difficult to understand which capture most accurately the lasting allure of Orwell’s most famous work, and dystopian fiction more generally. Clare Ferguson-Walker’s strange and unnerving sculptures – her tentacled violinists, clockwork hearts, and faceless horror – do not yield easily to interpretation, nor to comparisons with Orwell. They are more a representation of a personal angst to which Orwell’s work has spoken in some private and unknowable fashion. And it is these self-created and self-inflicted horrors that draw us to dystopian fiction. The worlds created by authors such as Orwell are not sincere predictions for the future; rather, they are grotesque caricatures of the world in which they live, built on their creators’ fears. Their true power is in providing us ground on which we can then run wild. Just as in horror it is often that which never appears on camera which scares us most, the power here lies in exciting our own paranoias, justifying our own fears and giving us the tools to craft our own private worst-case scenarios.

It is also this ability to provoke thought which makes our dystopian nightmares so important, even in times of peace and freedom, and makes artistic expressions such as Room 103 essential to wider political participation. Life, in the modern West at least, is as good as it has perhaps ever been, and our political and social freedoms extend further than they have for the majority of humanity which has gone before us. Yet it would be unwise to take this for granted. As Orwell was so keenly aware, totalitarian oppression does not arrive fully formed; it creeps upon a society, all smiles and soothing soundbites, until it encircles it on all sides. Only through constant vigilance can we ensure we retain our freedoms. Being exposed to a range of artists’ worst fears and conceptions of the darkest kinds of political oppression is one way to ensure we remain vigilant enough to protect our most important freedoms.

Joe Fenn

Room 103 – a tribute to George Orwell continues at Saul Hay Gallery, Manchester, until 11 November 2018

Images courtesy John James Lynch

Room 103: Nov. 16th and 17th @ Studio 24, Leeds

Tony Baker has been liaising with Kirsty and Claire at Studio 24 in Leeds to prepare for  a special weekend showing of a selection from “Room 103”. As well as a selection of visual artwork, there will be performances by “The Commoners Choir” and “Le POUM” of Orwell-inspired compositions.

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Alongside the work of established artists, there will also be a selection of work created by students from the Art Enterprise degree course at the University Centre of Leeds City College.

This may be the only time that Room 103 comes to Leeds, so, make sure  you don’t miss it.

Opening Times :                                                                                                                    Friday 16th November 6.00pm- 8.00pm                                                                          Saturday 17th November 10.30am – 5.30pm

Artists in the show include :  Tony Baker, Glenn Ibbitson, Dick Durkin, Garry Barker, Antoni Garcia Serrat, Tom Poultney, Jonathan Turner, Dave Stephens & Will Stephens, Aamta Tul Waheed, Eve Murphy, Nigel Robert Pugh, Paul Steffan Jones, Salt & Shaw, Alan Pergusey, Kath Wilkinson, Emma Saunders, Sonia Boué, Aran Jackson, Helen Hookins, Charlotte Ross, Charles McSaury, Lucy Thackray, Kerry Baldry, Jordan Hartley, Ellah Devlin, Vincent Courtney, Joe Kelly, Liam Burke

 

Read Tony baker’s full press release here.

https://www.leedsinspired.co.uk/events/room-103

Studio 24

https://www.studio24leeds.com

Gate 2 Unit 23a    66-70 Mabgate   Leeds  LS9 7DZ
info@studio24leeds.com

Glenn Ibbitson 1

Commoners Choir website

 

View from the LCCUC

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Charlotte Ross Painting

In conjunction with Room 103, students from the Art Enterprise degree course at the Leeds City College University Centre, were set the task to produce a visual response to the themes of dystopia, surveillance, identity and dictatorship that lie at the heart of much of Orwell’s writing.

Vincent Courtney

Being the seventieth anniversary of the completion of 1984, where the world of Oceania, Big Brother, Newspeak and the Thought Police seem to have become a virtual reality, the themes that these emerging artists and designers responded to, were informed as much by the world around them as by the original text of Orwell.

Tony Baker; October 2018

Saul Hay: Online Reviews

fb8Tony Baker and Dave and Will Stephens

fb7Kath Wilkinson and Salt+Shaw

Alfred Searl’s review of Room 103 for “Northern Soul”. https://www.northernsoul.me.uk/review-room-103-a-tribute-to-george-orwell-saul-hay-gallery-manchester/

Yvonne Goldsmith-Rybka writing for “I love Manchester”

https://ilovemanchester.com/2018/10/12/george-orwell-in-manchester-a-visual-tribute-to-the-author-of-1984-by-17-artists.aspx?fbclid=IwAR1tAQhftVbPgwtaaKbgACrvW7u3uJ-7FjWblQnB5v_GBat2zm3L8oY9Uqc

fb5Mary M. Mazziotti

fb3Nigel Pugh and Alan Pergusey

fb2Glenn Ibbitson and Sonia Boué

Video Reel: Room103 @SaulHay

9Emma Saunders: “Follow the Leader”

7Kath Wilkinson: “Do it to Julia”

1Sonia Boué:  “Retreat”

2Sonia Boué:  “The People is Divided”

9aGlenn ibbitson:  “Consignment”

5Kerry Baldry: “Boot”

4Dave and Will Stephens:  “Veil”

The showreel will be running throughout the preview at Saul Hay Gallery, Manchester on Thursday 11th October; 6pm -8.30pm

Gareth Bunting: Age of the Anthropocene

Nature+boundNature Bound   ink on silk

IMG_0226What Silence Brings   ink on paper

Gareth+Bunting-+All+for+a+shopping+mallAll for a Shopping Mall              ink on paper

the+fairest+of+them+allThe Fairest of them All  ink on paper

“George Orwell said that ‘Reality exists in the human mind, and nowhere else’. This poignant quote resonates through my work. My dreamlike landscapes with distorted perspectives and complex juxtapositions of symbols and objects in narrative challenge the viewer’s perception of reality. Much like Orwell I am fascinated by how humans act en masse, and make work based on my experiences in different places, I investigate my identity as a brit abroad much like Orwell, and have titled some of my works as a nod to Orwell, from ‘Burmese Daze’ to ‘Voyage to Kathmandu’ There is is a sense that you are not the only viewer when you are looking at my work, there are CCTV cameras, borders and barriers, illegitimate authority, people engrossed in their mobile phones and devices, and a world in which people are brainwashing themselves into conformity and ignorance without even realizing, doing the governments job so they don’t have to.  I try to visualize complex political systems and the social indoctrination of the masses by carefully positioning crowds of people within landscapes, often forming unnatural seeming forms and patterns which contrast with beautiful organic forms, I highlight political separation and the social angst and loneliness which comes with it, and the use of modern day technology in indoctrinating ourselves into an Orwellian dystopian world.”

 

Artist statement

                                  Gareth Bunting is an artist and keen traveler. He is interested in how places exist in the mind, and painstakingly draws dreamlike and sprawling landscapes from memory, with a kind of dry brush ink technique. His existential and personal ‘landscape portraits’ are his own world, which is used tell stories along lines, paths and roads and investigate his identity as a westerner abroad, as well as current social political and environmental issues. The lines are blurred between the real and the unreal putting into question many human-made concepts we live our lives by every day. His play on narrative, scale and perspective, and love of fractal patterns express the place of humanity among the fragile landscapes, and the responsibilities we have living on them. His work seems to highlight the

age of the Anthropocene

, and depicts the impact of humanity on the natural landscape, and our constant battle to try to go against the grain of nature, to our own failure. The landscapes seem dystopian at first, but they are fluid and constantly in flux, ever changing being destroyed and rebuilt, and offer hope for the future.
He has recently started working in VR, creating vast surreal 3D worlds, which he can use to immersive the viewer into 3D worlds of his artworks, to add more meaning, narrative and a sense of space into his work, and question the nature of reality itself.

https://www.garethbunting.com

Krasimira Butseva: Bulgaria; the shadow of Communism

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Krasimira butseva_1Krasimira_Butseva_3Krasimira_Butseva_4
“George Orwell’s practice influences my work to a very high extend, as I am interested in exploring traumatic events belonging to the past political system of my home country Bulgaria. Gazing to the events which my ancestors lived through, and remembering the memories with which my grandmother and parents raised me I see an inseparable link to Orwell’s writing. During my Master’s degree at the University of Portsmouth I began working on a project about the forced labour camps from the communist era in Bulgaria, this interested me because I have never knew previously of their existence – from school, popular tv, books or ordinary conversations. This was a part excluded from the history textbooks when I studied there and was not something to be talked to, or believed. I began visiting the locations where these tragedies took place, various landscapes untouched since the closure of the camps, left as they were and only changed from nature. I also met with survivors from the camps who shared the life they had back then and how they managed to survive, as well as they explained the reasons why they were initially sent. People used to be imprisoned for listening to western music, wearing jeans or telling a political joke, which made me think even more of 1984 and a specific quote by Orwell: “Freedom is the freedom to say that two plus two make four. If that is granted, all else follows.”.  Through my project Balkan Ours I study the effects of the Russian revolution and the idea to create a ”better place” on Earth but instead shifting to the opposite – dystopian reality of suffering, striving and controlling through fear. The propaganda was only capable of maintaining the false perception of normality, while terror and struggle ruled the everyday life.”
Biography:

Investigating politics, history and memory in her practice, Krasimira Butseva constructs narratives which aim to recount past events, trauma and justice, and human behaviour. Krasimira works with personal, found and archival imagery, text and video in the creation of multi-layered narratives which take form in installations and books. In her work ‘Slices of Red’, she studied personal and collective memory of the everyday life under the Iron Curtain and created collages from a found family album.
Krasimira completed both of her Master’s and Bachelor’s degrees in Photography at the University of Portsmouth with the highest grades in her class. She is one of the co-founders of Revolv Collective , as well as the exhibition organiser of London Independent Photography and is currently a part of the Lifeboat residency. She has been awarded the Santander Mobility Award, Ginnel Foto Fest Student Award and APHE Photo Meet Bursary, as well as shortlisted for The RPS International Photography Exhibition 161, Aspex Platform Graduate Award and Brighton Photo Fringe 2016. Her work has been shown in various spaces across London, Brighton, Portsmouth, Gosport, Ipswich, England; Sofia, Plovdiv, Lovech, Bulgaria; and Pingyao, China.

Links:

http://revolv.org.uk