Since I last posted over a month ago, Britain has made the momentous decision to leave the EU, David Cameron has resigned, the Labour party is in disarray, hate crime has increased, the country will now have its second female conservative PM, and Nigel Farage has - and I quote – ‘got his life back.’ Meanwhile the USA continues to wave around its Trump card and behave like Black Lives don’t Matter.
It’s safe to say the world is going through increasingly uncertain times, but in the midst of the madness art remains. Both in the capital and my hometown of Kingston Upon Hull exciting things have been taking place, providing a welcome break from news otherwise dominated by all the signs of a fractured society.
In London, the new extension to Tate Modern flung open its doors last month, bringing ultra-contemporary art to the capital and striking new architecture. The new Switch House building fuses traditional brickwork and contemporary form, ensuring that it is woven into the existing fabric of the iconic Boiler House. The bricks form a lattice arrangement, stacking up to create a 10-storey tower in the form of a twisted pyramid. Tall ceilings, sweeping staircases and impressive panoramic views combine to make the new extension a real feat. With flexible spaces dedicated to live performance artists and temporary exhibitions, the Switch House undoubtedly helps to up London’s game, providing greater opportunities to showcase the most important artists working today from around the world.
The work of Parisian artist Louise Bourgeois drew intrigue on the fourth floor of the Switch House with her weird and wonderful collection of objects. Meanwhile in the main Tate building Palestinian artist (and British resident) Mona Hatoum shone like the star she really is, her distinctive style powerful as ever. Explorations of medium created work so tactile that the urge to touch was undeniable, and her use of assemblage to transform mundane items brought a new perspective to otherwise overlooked objects. Her works, which often play with industrial items, experimenting with light and shadow, were mesmerising. None seemed more relevant than her electrified globe, Hot Spot III.
Meanwhile in Yorkshire, in the place I identify as home, more than 3200 naked Hullensians took to the streets last weekend as part of Spencer Tunick’s Sea of Hull sculpture. All shapes, sizes and colours stripped down to the buff in the name of art and as a reference to the city’s maritime history ahead of next year’s City of Culture celebrations. Among the brave souls was a friend of mine, Hannah Savage. I asked her what is was like, and since she’s a wonderful wordsmith I’ll let her tell you in her own words:
'Sea of Hull was the most wonderfully liberating, empowering, life-affirming experience. In the post-Brexit world where the narrowest of victories appears to have somehow legitimised public expression of bigotry, stripping naked with more than 3,000 strangers proved a much-needed balm. The atmosphere of acceptance, kindness and joy in shared experience was palpable. People formed brand-new friendship groups, rubbed paint into each others' unreachable spots and checked for coverage. We spent three hours together nude on the streets of Hull and in delightfully British fashion - the Britain I love - amicably berated the artist for missteps like referring to pavements as 'sidewalks', launched Mexican waves, and did the Hokey Cokey. I have never been happier to be part of a group of humans.
Unsurprisingly, public nudity involved addressing issues around body acceptance. Despite being a ferocious advocate of body acceptance, supporter of #effyourbeautystandards and passionate believer that all bodies are beautiful and nobody has the right to tell anyone else otherwise, I've never quite managed to apply this to myself. On Saturday, something finally changed. In a crowd of thousands I finally saw what other people do; just another person. Not sexualised, not shamed, just a person. Ironic, that the moment I was most physically exposed was the moment my body suddenly became unimportant.
As a local, and someone who works within the Hull City Council press office, I am exposed on a daily basis to people's criticisms and dismissals of our city. The people who see the City of Culture title as a joke, ask how it could have been given to Hull, say we'll never be ready. This weekend - which generated news coverage around the world - showed the world that it's no joke. Not only will Hull be ready for 2017, we're ready now. We're doing it, and you're all welcome to join us.’
It is more important now than ever before for the UK to invest in spaces and projects which facilitate greater communication, sense of inclusion, and the sharing of ideas. Both British and international talent should be given a platform to inspire and engage the population. Above all it is crucial that cultural capital be accessed by the whole of the country, not just the capital. I am beyond proud that Hull is finally starting to have its turn.