Essay, NUA 2017 graduate exhibition catalogue

The empty space is in fact full of … energy.

I am very pleased to have been invited to submit a piece for the 2017 catalogue of the degree show from Norwich University of the Arts. The catalogue is a collaborative publication produced  by BA Fine Art and BA Deslgn for Publishing students as part of their final year work. The theme of this year’s book is Artist as Agency.

My piece is a short revised version of an essay I wrote last year about anarchist artist Gee Vaucher. It opens:

A century ago this year, the Russian Revolution. Vladimir Mayakovsky proclaiming poems through a megaphone on factory floors. A century ago this year, the first jazz recording. The Original Dixieland Jazz Band, a group of white musicians playing (stealing? Discuss) African-American music, declaring themselves ‘musical anarchists’. New cultures for new worlds.

Altogether more parochially, 40 years ago this summer the Sex Pistols were top of the singles charts (these things mattered then) with ‘God Save the Queen’, during the monarch’s Silver Jubilee celebrations. ‘There is no future in England’s dreaming’, Johnny Rotten told us. (Quite a lot of people, including me, tweeted that line last summer, the day after Brexit.) 

Didn’t Walter Benjamin have a phrase about ‘critical nostalgia’?

The invitation to publish came via an old friend of mine, who I’ve been catching up with since I returned to Norwich, Ian Brownlie. We used to be in a band together, back in about 1984, The Last Blast, one of those one-gig wonders of obscure memory. Ian graduated from NUA with a First Class BA (Hons) Fine Art this week. Wonderful!

Extraordinarily, two other early Community Music East musicians from the late 1980s graduated also with Firsts from NUA this week—Steve Appleton (Illustration) and Paul Thompson (Film & Moving Image—see below). So congratulations to all three, each of whom has now not only a wealth (lifetime) of experience in creativity and social engagement, but a top-notch qualification and portfolio of practice. Artists as Agency, indeed. There’s a lovely touch in Paul’s film below: it includes within the café choreography both Ian and Steve (I think!).

The empty space that’s full of energy, mentioned at the end of Paul’s film, well, that’s Norwich, isn’t it? 

 The degree show is currently on at NUA, until 4 July. Further information and directions here. Highly recommended!