ZSL London Zoo

This week our class was taken to the London Zoo for a creative trip. While in there, we were asked to think about our position towards the zoo and what opinions we have regarding this subject.

For me, zoos have always been in a sort of grey area. Of course, they do keep animals in captivity, caged in relatively small spaces, in climates often very different from their natural habitat. However, on the other hand, it is thanks to the zoos that some endangered species are able to survive; and that we are able to see and study these animals up close.

My experience in the London Zoo has not changed my position. In fact, I still believe that zoos are important to preserve and help some species. The difference between finding a zoo bad or good, for me, is how they treat their animals. This is the key aspect that made feel disappointed with the London Zoo. Since I have been to a handful of different zoos across Portugal, Spain and now London, I am able to compare and distinguish these institutions from one another.

While the London Zoo provides an amazing experience for visitors, taking time and effort to make people feel they are in the same habitat as the animals themselves, the actual space they reserve for animals is not that much. This is why I prefer the Lisbon Zoo. Although the space where visitors walk is not that exciting – it looks just like a regular street – , we can see that the animals have a lot of space and are very well taken care of.

To summarize, the London Zoo makes people feel their are in the animals’ habitats, while the Lisbon Zoo makes animals feel their are in their own original habitats. One focus on people, the other on the animals.

One thing I did like about the London Zoo was all the art, specially illustrations, they had across the venue:

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Picasso: Linocuts

Photo by my friend, Erika Ivanova

Picasso: Linocuts from the British Museum is an exhibition developed by the The Herbert Art Gallery & Museum, which explores the artist’s expressive and experimental works with linocut techniques. Produced when Picasso was over eighty years old, “Still Life under the Lamp”, “Jacqueline Reading” and “Nude Woman at the Spring” highlight his skilful yet risky approach.

Picasso being one of my favourite artists of the 20th century, I knew I would very much like this exhibition. However, I was disappointed to notice how limited the display was, consisting of pretty much only three examples of this artist’s linocuts experiments. There was simply not much to see there.

Apart from that, the space where the linocuts were displayed did not do them great justice, in my opinion. Instead of an art gallery, I rather felt I was in a Science museum, learning the steps to achieve a certain outcome. Perhaps that was exactly what the curator intended; but however interesting it was, as a student, to understand the processes behind each piece, the way in which they were presented didn’t feel very inspiring.

Coventry Biennial

What can Coventry offer the world? What can the world offer Coventry?
And how does the international centre of peace and reconciliation respond to rising injustice, fear, misundertanding and hatred around the world?” 

The inaugural Coventry Biennial intends to answer these questions through contemporary art, in the form of artworks, exhibitions and activities. Local artists, their colleagues from the wider region and some of the leading international practitioners contemplate the future in its many possible shapes, sizes and perspectives through a dual lens – that of this historic phoenix of a city, and the works of artists from other cultures, times and walks of life.

According to the artist and festival director Ryan Hughes, Coventry needs the biennial to bring the visual arts to the forefront of the city’s cultural offer.“The city has a rich history of visual art but perhaps in recent times there has been more focus on performance and music.” This is particularly important at the moment, as Coventry is one of the cities shortlisted for City of Culture 2021, and the city council has published a new 10 year strategy for cultural growth and support.

The biennial aims to be a vehicle for driving that support towards visual artists in the city and region, and for educating audiences in Coventry around their own visual heritage through engagement with contemporary practices.

Photo of The Herbert Art Gallery & Museum by my friend Erika Ivanova

As for my own experience of the festival, I have a lot of mixed feelings. I will be posting reviews of some of the exhibitions we visited later on. For now, I must say we found the whole thing a bit frustrating  – although most spaces were meant to be open until 6pm, we found many closed before that time, making it impossible for us to visit all the exhibitions we intended to.

Week 5: Exhibition Review

Teenage Bedrooms:

‘Like a house inside of a house’

Entering a world of low-quality, home printed photos and posters on the walls; dirty laundry on the floor; bits and bobs of something unidentifiable scattered all over the place. A mother’s nightmare or a metaphor for something deeper?

In a partnership with Queen Mary University of London, the Geffrye Museum is currently displaying an exhibition curated by Carey Newson – a researcher at the Centre for Studies of Home – , who spent a year (2013-14) interviewing teenagers and their parents for her doctoral research into the material culture of the teenage bedroom, in collaboration with the photographer Kyna Gourley.

Georgia's room, aged 15
Georgia’s room, aged 15

In this curious and prominent exhibition, we are welcomed inside the bedrooms of 26 teenagers in London and able to explore, through interviews, photographs, a collection of objects and an installation piece, the modern reality of the meaning and significance of these complex spaces.

“Teenagers are here for such a short time; they’re changing constantly, putting up new things on their walls, and before you know it, they’ve gone,” says Newson. “These rooms are very transitory places. What they’re putting up in their rooms reflects what’s going on in their lives.”

In fact, most teenagers see their rooms as a reflection of themselves, a part of their identity and individuality. These are unique spaces where they can gather their thoughts, express their feelings and display their memories – openly, without the fear of being judged.
They are a sort of retreat, “especially important at times of stress; a place to simmer down or let rip; to shut the door with relief – or slam it in anger.”

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Flo’s room, aged 18

“Our whole way of thinking about teenage bedrooms from the 60’s onwards has been as this sort of moody, solitary retreat, but I think that’s changed,” Newson argues. According to her research, while bedrooms are still very propitious to reflection, they’re not quite as solitary. “Home is where the WiFi connects automatically now”, and so while teenagers in the 60’s and 70’s relied on the – rather exposed – family telephone to talk to their friends and conduct their personal life, their children are now able to manage their social affairs from the safety and privacy of their own bedrooms.

Another idea that has been demystified by this research is that of the teenagers’ bedrooms being forbidden areas for parents. Privacy is still important. However, parents – as well as other family members and, obviously, friends – are welcome to get involved in helping them creating their own individual space.
Perhaps, then, a teenager’s bedroom isn’t a clear, candid outburst of their personality onto the walls but rather the product of a sophisticated process that shapes their personality in relation to others as much as reflecting it.

Either way, we cannot argue that these spaces help teenagers expand their cultural interests and broaden their horizons outside their home – for there is no better place to prepare yourself for the world outside than in the safety and comfort of your own bedroom.

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Detail of Emily’s room, aged 17

Upon visiting this exhibition, I felt engaged. Some of the photographs and objects from the teenagers’ bedrooms reminded me of my own bedroom growing up and I could relate to some extent with the interviews being shown.
In one of the last panels, for instance, the curator presented some of the teenagers’ reasons for having “so much stuff” and I realised these were also some of the excuses for why I hold on to objects in my room that have no current practical utility.“…I honestly couldn’t remember where I got the shells from, but I knew if I collected them I must have wanted to hold on to them. So I think a lot of it was, if I threw this away, it would be a misdeed to my previous self.” (Pearl, 17) “… everything’s got meaning, everything, so it’s just really hard to eradicate meaning.” (Theo, 18)

Being a product of a research study, I found this exhibition to be very interesting and amusing. However, I would not consider it to be an art exhibit. The display is not art, but rather a collection of visuals to illustrate the research and conclusions of the study conducted by Newson. There are a scientifically process and logic behind it, and a concern for making her analysis more appealing.

That being said, ‘Teenage Bedrooms’ is, in my opinion, an accurate representation of the influence and meaning that bedrooms have to teenagers. It successfully portrays how these can play a critical part in social constructs, links to the past, and inspire self-realization and self-expression.
Be prepared to be transported back in time to your own teenage bedroom and ever-changing walls.

Bibliography:

  • Craig, Z. (2016) Peek Inside Teenagers’ Bedrooms at This New Exhibition. Available at: http://londonist.com/2016/09/teenagers-bedrooms-at-the-geffrye-museum (Accessed: 1st November 2016);
  • Davidson, L. (2016) The mess in your teenager’s bedroom? It’s art, apparently. Available at: http://telegraph.co.uk/property/news/the-mess-in-your-teenagers-bedroom-its-art-apparently/ (Accessed: 1st November 2016);
  • Sutton, J. (2016) Justin Bieber on the wall and ‘Keep Out’ signs in new teenage bedroom display. Avalaible at: http://islingtongazette.co.uk/ (Accessed: 1st November 2016);
  • Teenage Bedrooms: ‘Like a house inside of a house’ (2016) [Exhibition]. Geffrye Museum, London. 4 October 2016 – March 2017.

A Review on Kafka’s ‘Metamorphosis’

A couple of years ago I read a book by Franz Kafka called ‘Metamorphosis’. Since then, this book has inspired me in several projects and so I wanted to write a little bit about it for those of you who haven’t – yet – read it.

The ‘Metamorphosis’ – originally Die Verwandlung – is a fantasy novel written by Czech author Franz Kafka. It was written in 1912, two years before the First World War, and some authors point out the agony and pessimism present in Kafka’s words as a reflection of the environment and general feeling lived at the time.

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This is the story of Gregor Samsa, a man who lives with his parents (both unemployed for health reasons) and his little sister, Grete. He sees himself forced to take a job as a bagman in order to financially support his family. One morning, Gregor wakes up to a very unusual situation: overnight, he had turned into a giant god-awful insect with a hard back and several legs.

The book consists of three parts. In the first, we follow Gregor in his process of consciousness of having suffered a metamorphosis and we see how he is being approached by his family. In the second part, we observe the day-by-day of an isolated and rejected Gregor. Finally, in the third and last part, we watch the main character getting weaker, both physically and psychologically.

The ‘Metamorphosis’ is a story that plays as a wake-up call to its readers in regard to the society we live in and the human behaviours which Kafka considers as absurd. Even though this novel was written over 100 years ago, it is still very accurate and pertinent today.

Through this metaphorical narrative, Kafka reflects on social aspects like loneliness/ the feeling of exclusion/ rejection, helplessness, existencial crisis, the absurd of life, the disconnection between body and mind, alienation and the limits of empathy/ sympathy… and criticises the values of the capitalist society which narrows the human being to what they look like and produce.

Regarding my own critical opinion on the novel, this was a book that was difficult to read at first, as Kafka’s way of writing is different from what I am used to (more static and descriptive). However, once I got used to his writing, it became easy to immerse myself in the story. The same detailed description that I hadn’t quite liked at first became what really got me into it and one of the reasons I liked the ‘Metamorphosis’ so much.

There are a few aspects of this narrative I found rather interesting: one is the title – when I first started reading the book, I thought the ‘metamorphosis’ refered merely to the physical and psychological transformation suffered by Gregor; however, I later realised another metamorphosis had occured within the family, regarding the feelings of Gregor’s parents and sister for their son and brother: if at first it was Gregor who supported the family, he was now considered a burden and even though the family had loved him unconditionally, they now hated him for the difficulties he made them go through.

Another peculiarity I was interested in was the fact that, through the entire narrative, Kafka never specified which insect Gregor was and that Gregor himself was never fully aware of his transformation (in the sense that he didn’t quite realised how he had also changed psychologically – to him, he was still the exact same person, only in a different body).

We are never told why and how this metamorphosis occurs. What happens during that night or anything previous to the morning Gregor wakes up and finds out he is an insect is a complete mystery to us readers. This is something that intrigues me. That and the fact that Gregor didn’t seem to be revolted or angry when discovering he had been transformed into an insect; instead, he simply resigns to his new condition.

These aspects, as well as the many topics covered during the course of the narrative, make ‘Metamorphosis’ a book propitious to reflection, something I quite like. This is a story that, while being sad, prompts us to thinking; thus, more than any other book I have read before, it is the reflection that arises from the reading that keeps us interested, more than the narrative itself.