Friday Arts Diary

Our cultural picks for the week ahead.

Literature

Manchester Literary Festival, until 23 October

Over the coming week Michael Chabon will be reading from his new novel Telegraph Avenue at the beautiful Whitworth Gallery, poet laureate and patron of the MLF Carol Ann Duffy will perform a selection of poems culled from her extensive back catalogue at the grand City Hall, and Pulitzer Prize-winning American author Richard Ford will discuss his first novel since 2006, Canada. Next week’s line-up also includes Amiri Baraka, David Constantine, Patrick Gale, Penelope Lively, Iain M Banks and evenings curated by Faber and local presses Comma and Carcanet. Full details of venues, prices, dates and times are available in the festival brochure.

Art

RA Now, Royal Academy of Arts, Piccadilly W1J 0BD, 11 October – 11 November

An open studio of grand proportions, RA Now offers a snapshot of the work being produced by living Royal Academicians, who will exhibit side by side for the first time. A total of eighty artists working across multiple disciples from sculpture to architecture will feature, including Antony Gormley, David Hocknet, Allen Jones, Tracey Emin, Richard Long, Jenny Saville, Norman Foster, Richard Rogers and Grayson Perry. If you have a bob or two, all the work will be auctioned by Sotherby’s on Tuesday (9), two days before the exhibition opens to the public. Funds are being raised to support the Academy’s Burlington development project. Christopher Le Brun, President of the RA, said: “This is a unique opportunity to view and buy significant works donated by renowned artists. The Burlington Project’s aim is to make the Academy the leading international centre for visual culture for the twenty-first century, offering an independent voice for art and artists.”

Festival

Ether Festival, Southbank Centre, Oct 5 – 19

Tonight the Southbank’s annual festival of innovation, art, technology and cross-arts experimentation opens with the Brant Brauer Frick Ensemble, who blend the electronically-roduced minimalism of techno with the virtuosity and complex theory of classic music. With a twist of soul groove thrown in. Here’s a video of them in rehearsal in Berlin. The festival will include a John Cage centenary celebration, plus new and established producers, artists and conductors including Ghost Poet, Jonathan Harvey and former Battles frontman Tyondai Braxton performing with the London Sinfonietta. A number of the concerts and events are free. Also at the Southbank this week the Booker Prize shortlist will come to life as authors read and discuss their work with Radio 4 presenter James Naughtie.

Music

Radiohead, 02 Arena, 8, 9 Oct

Radiohead and their impressive stage and light technicians will fill the 02 arena with a wall of music and visual effects next week as the band play songs from their most recent album “King of Limbs” alongside choice selections from every album since 1993’s “Pablo Honey”. Quite a leap from the Jericho Tavern in Oxford where the band played their first gig in 1986. The 02 dates will be the band’s first in the UK since 2008, Rolling Stone had this to say about their return to the stage in Miami earlier this year: “Radiohead began the opening night of their first US tour in four years with a perfect description of their new state of rhythmic and creative elation; a silvery rushing momentum and exultation that set the pace of virtually everything that followed. Radiohead are one of the greatest touring bands of the modern rock era. They have also been one of the most reluctant. But, in Miami, everything in the drive, shine and delight said they were glad to be back.”

Film

The 56th BFI London Film Festival, cinemas across London, 10 – 19 October

This year’s London Film Festival opens on Thursday, clogging up a good number of the capital’s cinemas with back-to-back premieres, talks, restored classics and red carpet divas. Beyond the disappointing bookends of Tim Burton’s Frankenweenie and Mike Newell’s Great Expectations, both of which look mediocre (I could be wrong...), there lies a wealth of cinema waiting to be discovered. Check out Beasts of the Southern Wild, The Sapphires, Amour and The Stoning of St Stephen for art house excellence from the US, Australia and France. The BFI website and Time Out are two of the best place to search for leftover tickets.

Christopher Le Brun, Grason Perry and Allen Jones. Photo: Getty Images.
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Charlottesville: a town haunted by the far right

Locals fear a bitter far right will return.

On 12 August, a car ploughed down pedestrians in the street where I used to buy my pecan pies. I had recently returned to London from Charlottesville, Virginia – the scene of what appears to have been an act of white supremacist terrorism – having worked and taught at the university there for four years. While I unpacked boxes of books, the streets I knew so well were full of hate and fire.

The horror began on the evening of Friday 11 August, when thugs with torches marched across the “Lawn”. Running through the heart of the university, this is where, each Halloween, children don ghoulish costumes and trick-or-treat delighted and generous fourth-year undergraduates.

But there were true monsters there that night. They took their stand on the steps of the neoclassical Rotunda – the site of graduation – to face down a congregation about to spill out of St Paul’s Episcopal opposite.

Then, on Saturday morning, a teeming mass of different groups gathered in Emancipation Park (formerly Lee Park), where my toddler ran through splash pads in the summer.

We knew it was coming. Some of the groups were at previous events in Charlottesville’s “summer of hate”. Ever since a permit was granted for the “Unite the Right” march, we feared that this would be a tipping point. I am unsure whether I should have been there, or whether I was wise to stay away.

The truth is that this had nothing to do with Charlottesville – and everything to do with it. From one perspective, our small, sleepy university town near the Blue Ridge Mountains was the victim of a showdown between out-of-towners. The fighting was largely not between local neo-Nazis and African Americans, or their white neighbours, for that matter. It was between neo-Nazis from far afield – James Alex Fields, Jr, accused of being the driver of the lethal Dodge Challenger, was born in Kentucky and lives in Ohio – and outside groups such as “Antifa” (anti-fascist). It was a foreign culture that was foisted upon the city.

Charlottesville is to the American east coast what Berkeley is to the west: a bastion of liberalism and political correctness, supportive of the kind of social change that the alt-right despises. Just off camera in the national newsfeeds was a banner hung from the public  library at the entrance of Emancipation Park, reading: “Proud of diversity”.

I heard more snippets of information as events unfolded. The counter-protesters began the day by drawing on the strength of the black church. A 6am prayer meeting at our local church, First Baptist on Main (the only church in Charlottesville where all races worshipped together before the Civil War), set the tone for the non-violent opposition.

The preacher told the congregation: “We can’t hate these brothers. They have a twisted ideology and they are deeply mistaken in their claim to follow Christ, but they are still our brothers.” Then he introduced the hymns. “The resistance of black people to oppression has only been kept alive through music.”

The congregation exited on to Main Street, opposite my old butcher JM Stock Provisions, and walked down to the statue of Meriwether Lewis and William Clark – the early 19th-century Bear Grylls types who explored the west. They went past Feast! – the delicacy market where we used to spend our Saturday mornings – and on to the dreamy downtown mall where my wife and I strolled on summer evenings and ate southern-fried chicken at the Whiskey Jar.

The permit for the “protest” was noon to 5pm but violence erupted earlier. Between 10.30am and 12pm, the white supremacists, protected by a paramilitary guard, attacked their opponents. As the skirmishes intensified, police were forced to encircle the clashing groups and created, in effect, a bizarre zone of “acceptable” violence. Until the governor declared a state of emergency, grown men threw bottles of piss at each other.

At noon, the crowd was dispersed and the protesters spilled out into the side streets. This was when the riot climaxed with the horrific death of the 32-year-old Heather Heyer. Throughout Saturday afternoon and evening, the far-right groups marauded the suburbs while residents locked their doors and closed their blinds.

I sat in London late into the night as information and prayer requests trickled through. “There are roughly 1,000 Nazis/KKK/alt-right/southern nationalists still around – in a city of 50,000 residents. If you’re the praying type, keep it up.”

No one in Charlottesville is in any doubt as to how this atrocity became possible. Donald Trump has brought these sects to group consciousness. They have risen above their infighting to articulate a common ground, transcending the bickering that mercifully held them back in the past.

In the immediate aftermath, there is clarity as well as fury. My colleague Charles Mathewes, a theologian and historian, remarked: “I still cannot believe we have to fight Nazis – real, actual, swastika-flag-waving, be-uniformed, gun-toting Nazis, along with armed, explicit racists, white supremacists and KKK members. I mean, was the 20th century simply forgotten?”

There is also a sense of foreboding, because the overwhelming feeling with which the enemy left was not triumph but bitterness. Their permit had been to protest from noon to 5pm. They terrorised a town with their chants of “Blood and soil!” but their free speech was apparently not heard. Their safe space, they claim, was not protected.

The next day, the organiser of the march, Jason Kessler, held a press conference to air his grievances. The fear is that the indignant white supremacists will be back in greater force to press their rights.

If that happens, there is one certainty. At one point during the dawn service at First Baptist, a black woman took the stand. “Our people have been oppressed for 400 years,” she said. “What we have learned is that the only weapon which wins the war is love.”

This article first appeared in the 17 August 2017 issue of the New Statesman, Trump goes nuclear