Mostly books, sometimes other bits.

North Islington Exhibits, 15th-17th July: Summer Salon at Islington Arts Factory

The annual Summer Salon at Islington Arts Factory will come to a close next Friday after three weeks of exhibition.

There are currently around a hundred artists showcasing their work in the converted former church on Parkhurst Road, and over 140 pieces of artwork, the majority of which are paintings or photography.

Islington Arts Factory’s Director of Visual Arts Eleanor Pearce recruited local artists for the showcase by contacting arts venues in the Islington area, including Crouch End Open Studio.

The artworks hang in the main room at the Arts Factory, and will be on display until the 29th of July.

Although it is primarily a showcase of the work of local artists, Eleanor has had submissions from artists from as far away as Edinburgh and last year even Boston in the US – although the American artist was unable to submit for this year’s Salon due to the cost of delivering his work.

Other artists have returned to the Salon year on year.

The Arts Factory offers a wide variety of other activities alongside the exhibition of artwork – on Sunday afternoon local people attended band rehearsals and pottery classes, allowing a variety of people to browse the artwork as they passed through the building. School children also regularly use the Factory for workshops.

The artwork commissioned by the Summer Salon has various themes, from those that suggest haunting (Danielle Leach’s ‘Preparatory work Illustrating Franz Kafka’s Metamorphosis’ ) to those depicting more light-hearted subjects – for example the oil on canvas ‘Lanzorote Pool’ by student Tara Early.

Sound was used in the installation ‘Chairman Elvis’ by Janitzio Moreno, in a piece that embodied ‘political suggestion and reference to historical events.’

Mixed media was used extensively, one example being the offering from Weibke Dreyer, whose work ‘Cracks’ represented nature through painting.

Artist Amy Abbott sought to challenge gender and age stereotypes in her charcoal sketch ‘Home Comforts’, which depicted a old woman masturbating whilst watching television.

Another potentially shocking piece was the oil and emulsion on canvas by Hannah Habidi-Hopkin, which brought the often mysterious world of the Middle East into a western pop art discourse. It depicted a burka clad female below a speech bubble that read ‘Made you Look’. Habidi-Hopkin’s work has been called ‘immensely refreshing’ by Arabist Magazine.  

Next week will see the Arts Factory being used as a base for the Platform Festival, a scheme that attempts to engage 13 to 19 year olds who might previously not have been interested in art. The aim is to raise money to open a community centre on Hornsey Road, and a cardboard gondola will be seen parading through the streets during the weekend of 23rd and 24th of July. The Platform Festival has been running since Friday 15th July and will finish on the 31st.

The Arts Factory has recently had its government funding cut, meaning less money has been available for marketing the events and showcases that are offered. Anyone interested in the arts is being encouraged to get involved in the running of the centre.

North Islington Exhibits, 15th-17th July: Leo Asemota, 'Mapping a City'

Witness appeal signs by the Metropolitan Police might not immediately spring to mind when most people consider subjects for photographic exhibition.
            Artist Leo Asemota, however, highlighted them in his project entitled ‘Mapping the City’ ten years ago –and they are now on display in Islington.
            For the whole of 2001 Asemota captured photographs of the signs, which are put in place by the Metropolitan Police in the hope of finding witnesses to criminal acts. By the end of the year he had around 3000 photographs.
The project has never exhibited but is now in place in Asemota’s studio to mark its tenth anniversary, with the possibility that it could be commissioned by a gallery.
            Signs photographed include appeals after a suspicious death at Regents Canal, a petrol bombing on an Islamic centre in Maida Vale, and a rape in Ealing. Captured in the background of the photographs, Londoners pass the signs without a glance.
            One photograph, projected onto the bare wall of Asemota’s studio on
Hornsey Road
, shows a sign that has been half destroyed –the details of the appeal disappearing with it.
            On another wall in the studio, a video interview describes how Asemota would make his way around the city, taking photographs –he would ‘get on the first bus that comes along, and travel.’ Signs discovered in various areas of the city are shown in the film.
The project uses mixed media, with projection, video, newspaper clippings and photography all taking precedence. A ‘presentation’ of ideas is how Asemota describes the work.
            He stresses that the boards themselves should remain the most important aspect in the viewer’s mind, rather than any notions of race, sexuality or anything else that might come from them. He does point out a racial issue that is presented by the collection, however –that if a black person was suspected of a crime or was a victim, this was always made clear. Any other ethnicity was not mentioned, even in the hunt for suspects. Originally from the Midwest of Nigeria, Asemota believes that where crime is concerned, the general consensus is often that it will concern the black community in some way.
            Black History Month ran in autumn 2001, when Asemota was in the midst of photographing the signs. Letters showing both negative and positive reaction to Camden’s involvement in the month are displayed alongside Asemota’s work, along with a mock-up witness appeal sign calling for witnesses to the ‘mis-appropriation of black history.’ Letters criticising Camden’s treatment of black history month too show the depth of feeling about the stereotypical link between crime and the black community.
The photographs and related materials collected now are not intended for the public, Asemota says, but for galleries –thus the reason why the collection has never exhibited before. On display at the Contemporary Rooms for the next two days, the project is currently available to be viewed for future exhibitions.
Asemota can be contacted through his website –

North Islington Exhibits, 15th-17th July: Performance Art at the Fire Station

The Old Fire Station on
Mayton Street
saw an eclectic range of performances taking place on the afternoon of Saturday 16th July, the second afternoon of North Islington Exhibits.
The afternoon’s performances began with a political spoof of the past year’s newspaper headlines from performance artists Sh!t Theatre, made up of the ‘half barber shop quartet’ of Rebecca Fuller and Louise Mothersole.
‘Sh!t Theatre Presents Sh!t Bits’ included satirical swipes at the controversial Fox News network and the meat dress worn by Lady Gaga at the MTV Video Music Awards in  September last year. A spoof version of Gaga’s hit Bad Romance included the lyrics ‘I want your dress, but I want it meat-free’.
High street chain Primark was also on the performers’ hit list, with a mock news bulletin revealing the company’s new ‘ethical’ campaign, in which customers could ‘sponsor the baby who made this t-shirt’ –receiving a picture of the baby who had made the t-shirt imprinted onto the garment.
The spate of foxes finding their way into people’s houses and the way the media portrayed them as dangerous was played upon, with the animals becoming a metaphor for everything that right wing news agencies disagree with: ‘They have aids! They want to marry each other!’ was a repeated line of the song, making a clear political point against newspapers that sensationalise these kinds of stories.
A song based on the breast milk that was for sale in Covent Garden was also performed, encouraging the audience to buy ‘Mile End’s MILF Milk’, the value for money version, instead of trekking all the way to the overpriced West End.
The second and third performances were from the Marisa Carnesky Cabaret Collective, made up of Dunja Kuhn and Sara Deberec. ‘Hawaiian Blood’ was the first piece, devised by Kuhn, and began with her dancing in a traditional grass skirt before drinking from a coconut and spilling what seemed to be blood all over herself. A nightmare-like vision ensued, with Kuhn smiling as she smeared the blood across her chest. The disturbing visual continued with the emergence of Deberec, dressed in a square, white body costume, and the ensuing close bodily interaction between the performers.
The final performance of the afternoon, entitled ‘Dali’s Eye’, saw Sara Deberec dressed as a literal ‘eye’ –lamenting the notion that it could only ever belong to someone else and thus never be recognised for itself. Dali, the eye made clear as it became angrier, raging at the sleeping artist on the floor (Kuhn, hidden underneath a blanket), would be nothing without his eye. The existentialist piece came to a close with a self destructive vision of the eye wishing cancer upon itself, in order to destroy the artist that it had no other way to escape from. 

A beast of a debate...

This Tuesday (5th July) marked the beginning of one of Spain’s major summer festivals –the world famous Running of the Bulls in Pamplona.

The bull running festival, with origins that go back around 700 years, is a cultural institution across Latin America, Spain, Portugal and even parts of southern France. But growing movements in animal rights in Spain over recent years, as well as a ban on bullfighting in the northern region of Catalonia, is threatening to derail the tradition that sees around a million people flock into Pamplona (general population just 200,000) every year.

The bull running, known in Spain as San Fermin Festival, is held in the northern town every year. The seven day event begins on the 6th of July with the launch of a ‘chupinazo’ rocket, and the first race takes place at 8am on the morning of the 7th. Six bulls and six oxen are released into the narrow streets, and thousands of festival goers pursue them towards the bullring, where a fight will then take place, culminating in the bull’s death from a single sword thrust. Races and fights then take place every morning at the same time until the 14th.

San Fermin is the most popular bull running event in Spain, with tickets for bullfighting in the town’s 12,500 seat arena selling out months in advance.

The tradition appears to be losing popularity with locals, however –the Canary Islands made it illegal as far back as 1991, and Catalonia’s ban on bullfighting will come into place in January 2012. Barcelona, the Catalonian capital, declared that it was an anti-bullfighting city in 2004. A 2002 poll showed that 68.8% of Spaniards surveyed had no interest in bullfighting at all.

Latin American is also falling out of love with one of its oldest traditions. In 2006 the city of San Miguel de Allende in Mexico cancelled its festival for good, and the practice has been outlawed in Cuba and Argentina.
The waning popularity of bullfighting has been capitalized on in recent years, with growing resistance from animal protection charities. Detractors call it a ‘blood sport’, and say it has no place in modern society –a claim that supporters deny. They say that because no competition is involved, there is no way the fighting can be called a sport –it is, in fact, art.
Those against the tradition cite dangers to those taking part as one of their main arguments. Although only the experienced are supposed to take part in the running, it is often the case that tourists find themselves running alongside 700KG bulls –leading, predictably, to injury. The amount of alcohol that is often consumed adds to the risk posed to everyone. In August 2010, 40 spectators at a bullfight were injured when an aggravated bull jumped into the crowd in the town of Tafalla, just outside Pamplona.

Supporters argue that the danger to humans is overexaggerated, since only professionally trained fighters are allowed in the bullring –and only fifteen people have been killed in Pamplona’s race since 1924. In the same amount of time, between 200 and 300 people have been superficially injured –although these injuries are said to mostly consist of trips as the competitors run through Pamplona’s narrows streets.   

Protests against bull running and fighting are becoming more and more frequent, with estimates saying that 40,000 bulls are killed every year in Spain alone.

Since 2002, a rival event to the Running of the Bulls has taken place. The Running of the Nudes, where hundreds of naked or semi-naked protestors take to Pamplona’s streets to run the same route as the bulls, happens two days before the traditional festival begins. The Running of the Nudes is supported by a wealth of animal charities, including PETA, and numbers of runners are growing year on year –starting with 25 runners in 2002, the event peaked in 2006 with approximately 1000 attending.

The ‘nude’ aspect is designed to highlight ‘the naked truth’ –that the event is cruel and should be banned. Often protestors don red scarves and plastic horns during their run through the town, and brandish banners that declare ‘Bulls die bloody death in Pamplona’ and ‘The naked truth: Bullfighting is cruel.’

Supporters of bull running and fighting cite history and preservation of their culture as their main justification. Bullfighting was presented in a positive light in Ernest Hemingway’s 1924 novel Fiesta: The Sun Also Rises –the novel that brought the tradition into the British and US consciousness. Bullfighting is depicted as an art by traditionalists –Goya, Picasso and Orson Welles and countless others have discussed it favourably.

Foreigners living in Spain are often also swayed towards bullfighting as being the epitome of the country’s culture: ‘I'm honestly completely fine with bullfighting,’ says Kathryn Shaw, a student from Lancaster University who has spent the past year living and working in Madrid. ‘It’s a tradition and I respect traditions. I’ve been to one full one bullfight and that was enough for me, but I don’t' mind that they are still happening.’

Organisers of the Running of the Nudes believe that history is no longer enough to justify the continuation of the practice: ‘People have always tried to use tradition to justify horrible things, such as child labour and slavery,’ their website states. ‘But tradition doesn’t make something right. Bullfighting is a cruel blood sport that should have been relegated to the history books a long time ago.

Catalonia’s imminent ban has been accused of being a political decision by some. It is well known that the region has a nationalist agenda, a legacy from the days of Franco, setting them apart from the rest of mainland Spain –although that this is the reason for Catalonia’s rejection of this particular part of Spanish culture is vehemently denied by Catalonians.

Economic considerations are possibly of most importance to those in support of bullfighting. With hotels filling up months in advance of San Fermin and revenues from bars, restaurants and shops sky-rocketing during the event, it would be difficult to find a replacement for this very lucrative business. Added to the fact that the majority of those involved are now tourists, as well as the livelihoods of those involved, and loss of the profits made from bullfighting seems highly likely to damage Spain’s already floundering economy.

Alexander Fiske-Harrison, writer of ‘Into The Arena: The World Of The Spanish Bullfight’ is split on the issue of bullfighting, but believes a ban would impair Spaniards’ choice over their own history: ‘Whether or not the artistic quality of the bullfight outweighs the moral question of the animals’ suffering is something that each person must decide for themselves.

Some commentators have voiced the opinion that there is no need for a ban on bullfighting, because of the growing lack of interest from Spanish and Latin American people in this piece of their cultural heritage. It appears in some quarters that the practice will soon die out of its own accord. But seeing photographs of the thousands of people flooding into Pamplona this week, it is clear that this most controversial of traditions is still as popular as ever in some quarters.  

Insulting her hair? Really?

This morning, The Huffington Post asked viewers of its Facebook page whether Rebekah Brooks should stand down as Chief Executive of News International.

The question led to a deluge of comments, the large majority of which pointed out the reasons why, in light of the recent phone hacking revelations, Brooks should be removed from her position. All fair, justified, and related to the ethical issues that are at hand.

And then the personal jibes started rolling in, including disparaging comments on Brooks’ hair. One reader posted, ‘Someone should at least send the fashion police after her, good LORD her hair is a crime against humanity!’ This delightful creature then went on to offer further words of wisdom on the situation, later in the morning: ‘You’d think that with all she makes she could afford a decent hair cut and some sort of anti-frizz product… She is a living breathing example of how ugly on the inside seeps out of your pores and even onto your hair.’

Clearly the state of Rebekah Brooks’ hair was vastly offensive to this Facebook user, much more offensive than the allegation that she hacked into the phone of a murdered teenager and led her parents to believe that there might still be some hope that she was alive. Rebekah Brooks’ hair is SO offensive, in fact, that she spent time considering it in what appears to be great depth… not a word on the actual politics behind the situation, though.

There were also a number of comparisons to the much parodied American comedian and Cartoon Network presenter Scott Thompson, better known as Carrot Top. One Facebook user pointlessly asked, ‘That’s a woman?’ Erm… yes?
Male commentators, if they mention on a female’s appearance, are unlikely to mean anything other than satire. Women, however, seem to view personal attacks on other females as their right. In the case of Rebekah Brooks, who it appears does deserve some virulent criticism, attacks on her character, ethics, the way she runs her newspapers, etc, are fair game.

But seriously attacking her over her looks? Really? Isn’t that a bit… playground?

This woman has potentially done a very, very bad thing. She has either failed in her job as an editor of a major paper by turning a blind eye to where the stories she is publishing have actually come from, which is bad enough, since information has clearly been gained by unethical and illegal means. Or, she has sanctioned an invasion of privacy that has used family tragedy for profit, over and over again. Sarah Payne, Milly Dowler, Holly and Jessica, victims of terrorism… where, and when, will it end?

A better question to pose may be IF it will end. It would be a na├»ve person who believed that this practice is contained just within News of the World, or even just within Rupert Murdoch’s News International, which also owns The Sun and The Times. The coming to light of Rebekah Brooks’ failings as editor are likely to lead to a storm of revelation that engulfs a large proportion of the newspaper industry in this country. News of the World has today lost major advertising contracts with Vauxhall, Ford, Virgin Holidays, Co-Operative and Halifax. There are calls across Twitter for Rupert Murdoch’s power to be stripped away and for News of the World to be dissolved as a company. These are serious matters, however unreasonable and unlikely the demands of het up tweeters might be.

Yet still, the preoccupation with feminine beauty and grooming rears its head and takes away the very seriousness of the situation.  Doesn’t insulting Rebekah Brooks’ appearance trivialize the very ethically important issues that have come to light over the past two days? Are there really people who have nothing more insightful in their minds than the ability to throw childish insults immediately at a situation?  

I don’t care about Rebekah Brooks’ hair. There are slightly bigger problems at hand.