Friday Arts Diary

Our cultural picks for the week ahead.

Festival

Battle of Ideas, Barbican, EC2, 20-21 October

The Battle of Ideas is a weekend of lectures, panel discussions and “conversations” on a wide range of subjects touching on morality, politics, art, science, gender and popular culture (to name a few). Claire Fox, director at the Institute of Ideas, states that the festival’s raison d’être is “to make virtues of free-thinking and dissent” and that its slogan is “FREE SPEECH ALLOWED”, urging attendees to hold their nerve, as no doubt “sensibilities will be offended”. The weekend kicks off first thing on Saturday morning with the question “What’s wrong with equality?” ending at 7:30pm the following evening with a panel discussing “No future: has pop lost its radical edge?” The line-up is too diverse to cover here and the speakers billed make for something of a battalion of potential In Our Time contributors, but you if you’re interested, click here for a full timetable of events.

Music

Grizzly Bear, Warwick Arts Centre, Coventry, Sunday 21

Jazz-camp graduates Grizzly Bear bring their egalitarian experimental pop music to the beautiful Butterworth Hall at Warwick Arts Centre this weekend, in celebration of their superb new album Shields. The former Mercury-nominated Brooklyn outfit have produced a fourth album Pitchfork refer to as their “most compositionally adventurous record”, a collection of “unvarnished shipwreck spirituals” that form an “excavation of loneliness, melancholy, and self-reliance”. The rest of the week is just as aurally adventurous, featuring the best in pop experimentation with Field Music, Efterkland (Danish rock trio performing with the Sage’s Northern Sinfonia) and singer-songwriter Joan Armatrading.

Television

The Thick of It Inquiry, BBC2/HD, 9:45pm

Mr Tickell is dead. All are culpable and Lord Leve-, I mean Goolding, wants answers. The opposition, everyone at DoSAC and the civil service are to be grilled one at a time during this one-hour special, the penultimate episode in the fourth series of The Thick of It. The listings report “Lord Goolding is reputedly a fair man, but he is not going to stand for any nonsense and neither is his team of expert inquisitors, so surely now the truth will come out. Unless someone lies, or creates a diversion of some kind, or simply pretends not to remember anything. Which they obviously would never do.”

Art

Everyday Encounters, William Morris Gallery, E17, 13 October – 3 February

This exhibition in Walthamstow’s newly refurbished William Morris Gallery pivots on Morris’s oft-quoted proclamation: “Have nothing in your house that you do not know to be useful or believe to be beautiful”. Members of the Society of Designer Craftsmen have been invited to create and display new work in response to Morris’s rallying call, exploring the possibilities for materials, decoration, narrative and the role of craft in contemporary life. The majority of the work is available for sale and entry to the exhibition is free.

Film

Beasts of the Southern Wild, cinemas nationwide, out today

Already this film has received an indecent amount of hype. Winner of the Camera d’Or at Cannes, the film has picked up awards and accolades like dead flies on a windshield, all of which will be splattered across billboards nationwide this weekend. It is the first film from director Behn Zeitlin, an adaptation of a one-act play calling upon the devastation of low-lying Louisiana to tell the story of Hushpuppy (played by Quevenzhané Wallis, only six years old when the film was shot) and her father Wink, who find their position increasingly desolate as the waters rise and Wink’s health begins to fail. “The Bathtub”, the bayou in which they live, is apocalyptic and mystical, and home to aurochs: boar-like ancestors unfrozen and released on the wilds by rising global temperatures. Tim Robey at the Telegraph produced this nifty little paragraph about the film’s protagonist: “Hush puppy is no holy innocent but a fizzy little sprite with a face like a clenched fist, facing everything that comes her way – principally the Katrina-like storm that threatens to obliterate her world – with the pugnacious instincts of a born survivor. She gets a voice-over, which applied the deliberately inarticulate lyricism of Terrence Malick to the Toni Morrison-like mantras recurring inside her head, whipping up fresh poetry from this cocktail of influences.”

Beasts of the Southern Wild's Quevenzhané Wallis at Cannes. Photo: Getty Images.
Ben Whishaw as Hamlet by Derry Moore, 2004 © Derry Moore
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The art of coming out: how the National Portrait Gallery depicts the big reveal

Portraits of gay celebrities, politicians and sports stars line the walls in a new exhibition called Speak Its Name!, marking 50 years of advances in gay rights.

I have a million questions for the doctor friend I’ve brought with me to the National Portrait Gallery. A million questions that, if I really think about it, boil down to: “Why were the Tudors so godforsakenly ugly?”

Inbreeding? Lead makeup? An all-peacock diet?

I don’t know why I assume she’ll know. She’s a neonatologist, not a historian. But I’m desperate for some of the science behind why these 500-year-old royals look, if these imposing paintings of them are anything to go by, like the sorts of creatures that – having spent millennia in pitch black caves – have evolved into off-white, scrotal blobs.

My friend talks about the importance of clean drinking water and the invention of hygiene. We move onto an extremely highbrow game I’ve invented, where – in rooms lined with paintings of bug-eyed, raw sausage-skinned men – we have to choose which one we’d bang. The fact we’re both gay women lends us a certain amount of objectivity, I think.


Alexander McQueen and Isabella Blow by David LaChapelle, 1996 © David LaChapelle Courtesy Fred Torres Collaborations

Our gayness, weirdly, is also the reason we’re at the gallery in the first place. We’re here to see the NPG’s Speak its Name! display; photographic portraits of a selection of out-and-proud celebrities, accompanied by inspirational quotes about coming out as gay or bi. The kind of thing irritating people share on Facebook as a substitute for having an opinion.

Managing to tear ourselves away from walls and walls of TILFs (Tudors I’d… you know the rest), we arrive at the recently more Angela Eagle-ish part of the gallery. Eagle, the second ever British MP to come out as lesbian, occupies a wall in the NPG, along with Will Young, Tom Daley, Jackie Kay, Ben Whishaw, Saffron Burrows and Alexander McQueen.

Speak its Name!, referring to what was described by Oscar Wilde’s lover Lord Alfred Douglas as “the love that dare not speak its name”, commemorates 50 years (in 2017) since the partial decriminalisation of male homosexuality in England and Wales.

“Exhibition” is maybe a grandiose term for a little queer wall in an old building full, for the most part, of paintings of probably bigoted straight white guys who are turning like skeletal rotisserie chickens in their graves at the thought of their portraits inhabiting the same space as known homosexual diver Tom Daley.


Tom Daley By Bettina von Zwehl, 2010 © Bettina von Zwehl

When you’re gay, or LBTQ, you make little pilgrimages to “exhibitions” like this. You probably don’t expect anything mind-blowing or world-changing, but you appreciate the effort. Unless you’re one of those “fuck The Establishment and literally everything to do with it” queers. In which case, fair. Don’t come to this exhibition. You’ll hate it. But you probably know that already.

But I think I like having Tudors and known homosexuals in the same hallowed space. Of course, Angela Eagle et al aren’t the NPG’s first queer inhabitants. Being non-hetero, you see, isn’t a modern invention. From David Hockney to Radclyffe Hall, the NPG’s collection is not entirely devoid of Gay. But sometimes context is important. Albeit one rather tiny wall dedicated to the bravery of coming out is – I hate to say it – sort of heart-warming.


Angela Eagle by Victoria Carew Hunt, 1998 © Victoria Carew Hunt / National Portrait Gallery, London

Plus, look at Eagle up there on the “yay for gay” wall. All smiley like that whole “running for Labour leader and getting called a treacherous dyke by zealots” thing never happened.

I can’t say I feel particularly inspired. The quotes are mostly the usual “coming out was scary”-type fare, which people like me have read, lived and continue to live almost every day. This is all quite mundane to queers, but you can pretty much guarantee that some straight visitors to the NPG will be scandalised by Speak its Name! And I guess that’s the whole point.

Eleanor Margolis is a freelance journalist, whose "Lez Miserable" column appears weekly on the New Statesman website.