Transpennine culture: December 10th, 2009

Cultural conflict in Leeds

by Helen Gavaghan, Leeds.

Science or art: before life began or an artist's view of eclipse? Just two inexpensive cultural events on offer in Leeds on 8th December for anyone within easy reach of the city.

Regretfully I had to miss Pavel Buchler, director of of the Whitworth art gallery in Manchester, talking about his own work, entitled eclipse and entered for the Northern Art Prize. Instead, in the afternoon I explored the exhibition (ends 21st February 2010) at Leeds Art Gallery of all the work competing for the prize.

What did I with a background as a journalist, science writer, history researcher and reader of what I have read see and experience?

First I saw Mr Buchler's work. I could not miss it. An array of projectors casting circles and shadows onto the wall. The mechanical projectors looked like the audience of their own work. I looked at how they were arranged. To my eye pleasingly. They were orderly. I was comfortable and at ease with them. The circles and eclipses were attractive. Then I began to notice how they had accomplished their effect, noting the differently sized balls that contributed to image construction. That was as far as my mind and intellect allowed me to get for a first viewing. I left with no questions, and do not know how long I will need nor how many times I will need to see his work before I do have questions.

I walked around the corner. There was a cascade of paper flowing down the wall, carrying drawings of hands. I stared at the hands, holding mine up alongside them, noting how few lines are needed to make an accurate drawing of a hand. In my notebook I forgot to write down the artist's name.

Perhaps because to my left I heard a low menacing growl that spoke of dark places. I followed the sound. Then I came to a full stop, looking into pitch blackness. The kind of darkness within which the ground might fall away. Not until later did I think that the unknown sound was dominating my interpretation of what I saw. I approached the darkness cautiously. My actions reminding me of a drama school improvisation. I ordered my brain to be rational, citing to myself where I was and that the Art Gallery would not have installed a trap behind the door.

By the time my hand had connected with the door jamb I was reinterpreting what I was looking at and saw that it was a matt black curtain. Moving the curtain side I walked into the darkened room beyond.

Opposite the image of the two heads. Bewitching. Eclipse was fascinating. This was bewitching.

It was time to move on to the last of a series of talks sponsored by the astronomy department to mark The International Year of Astronomy. Liane Benning, a professor from the University's earth and environment department, talked of her work in Svalbard looking in ice cores for signatures of bacterial life. Disappointingly the talk was not as well attended as The Bolton Lecture a few weeks earlier.

Professor Benning had an interesting story to tell, but I was longing for a little more of the pazazz that accompanies a Royal Institution Christmas lecture.

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A solidarity meeting for Palestinians followed professor Benning's lecture.

The main speaker was Omar Barghouti from the committee calling for boycott, divestment and sanctions to pressurise Israel to end racial discrimination and ethnic cleansing of Palestinians from The West Bank and The Negev Desert.

He spoke of Islamophobia, the prevalence of hate imagery and of the apartheid inherent in the fact that a Palestinian born in Israel can be a citizen but not a national of the land.

I asked Mr Barghouti if there was redress via race discrimination laws, but he said no. I asked about cross border legal structures and he said there were none.

He told another questioner that twinning relationships with Palestinian academic institutions as well as BDS would help.

Words, layout code and illustration, Helen Gavaghan©. All rights reserved.