Friday Arts Diary

Our cultural picks for the week ahead.

Ideas

Institute of Contemporary Arts: Debate on ‘The Trouble with Counter Culture’, July 24th 6:45 pm

Using history as its guide, the debate will assess the place of counter-culture in society today; does it exist, and if so, in what form? Using empirical evidence from previous cultural movements such as the Beats and Punks, the conversation will explore the relationship between subcultures and counter-cultural movements. Invited speakers include Dan Hancox, a Guardian writer who specialises in youth culture, music and politics, and Simon Warner, whose latest book looks at the links between the US Beat writers and subsequent rock artists from Bob Dylan to Patti Smith and Kurt Cobain.

Film

Haifaa Al Mansour’s ‘Wadjda’, in cinemas nationwide

Not only is Wadjda the first film ever to have been entirely filmed within Saudi Arabia, it is also a product of the country’s first female director, Haifaa Al Mansour. Wadjda is the story of a vivacious young girl whose only desire is to ride her bike around her town with the boy who lives next door. However, the religious restrictions and societal pressures placed on women living in Saudi Arabia makes navigating this most simple of pleasures, a particularly complex task. Critics have said that while much of Wadjda is “very funny”, the picture also allows viewers to “get an acute sense of the little everyday frustrations and burdens that Saudi women have to shoulder”. Writing for the New Statesman, Steve Yates called Wadjdapowerful” and said that despite its “clear political intent…Wadjda is a very human film.”

Art

Flowers Gallery, Kingsland Road, E2: ‘Stranger – An Exhibition of Self-portraits’, 5th July – 31st August

The Stranger exhibition sheds light on the significance of self-portraiture and is testament to the artistic and aesthetic breadth of the field, given the huge variety of interpretations seen in each artist’s different approach to self-representation. Each work displays the intimate and disparate relationships the artists have with themselves and the canvas. In works that have been completed over the past year, Tom Phillips’ Doppelganger depicts a long figure accompanied by his other self, whereas Ishbel Myerscough panits her body as obscured by her young daughter, representing their unity. The freedom the topic bestows upon the artists makes for an incredibly diverse and inventive collection.

Exhibition

Somerset House: Miles Aldridge’s ‘I Only Want You To Love Me’, 10th July – 29th September

Although Aldridge is first and foremost a fashion photographer, his work has both political and social undertones, often portraying women intensely bored with their glamorous but monotonous domestic lives. Within his photographs, Aldridge saturates colour to the point of fluorescence, which contrasts heavily with the grey-blonde locks and porcelain faces of his models. This striking contrast and the models’ vacant expressions are used to portray the idea that living in stereotypical domestic bliss and committing oneself to brazen, high-fashion consumerism are not sufficient tools for achieving happiness. Every photograph in I Only Want You To Love Me is heavily constructed, precisely posed and entirely premeditated helping to further the feeling of boredom present in the women’s lives. The exhibition contains large prints of Aldridge’s photography from throughout his career as well as previously unpublished material. It also features some of the story-boards, artwork, Polaroid photos, and magazine cuttings he has used to develop his ideas. With critics calling I Only Want You to Love Me an “exhilarating adventure” and “eerily glamorous”, it is not to be missed.

Dance

The Lowry Theatre, Manchester, M50: An evening with the National Youth Dance Company and talent from the Lowry’s CAT programme, Sunday 21st July 2013 at 19:30, Tickets from £6.00.

Under a new initiative funded by the Arts Council England and the Department for Education, a cast of 30 dancers aged 16-19 perform work specially commissioned by NYDC’s Guest Artistic Director, Jasmin Vardimon, winner of the 2013 International Theatre Institute Award for Excellence in Dance. The evening promises to reflect the youthful, vibrant spirit of the dancers involved combined with Vardimon’s renowned and unique style of physical theatre.

The Trouble with Counter Culture at the ICA: Johnny Rotten of the Sex Pistols screams into a microphone.
BBC
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Would the BBC's Nazi drama SS-GB have felt half so resonant a year ago?

This alternate history is freighted with meaning now we're facing the wurst-case scenario. 

Would SS-GB have felt half so resonant a year ago? Though the clever-after-the-fact Nostradamus types out there might disagree, I can’t believe that it would. When it comes to the Second World War, after all, the present has helpfully stepped in where memory is just beginning to leave off. The EU, in the process of fragmenting, is now more than ever powerless to act in the matter of rogue states, even among its own membership. In case you hadn’t noticed, Hungary, for instance, is already operating as a kind of proto-fascist state, led by Viktor Orbán, a man whom Jean-Claude Juncker, the president of the European Commission, jokingly likes to call “the dictator” – and where it goes, doubtless others will soon follow.

The series (Sundays, 9pm), adapted from Len Deighton’s novel, is set in 1941 in a Britain under Nazi occupation; Winston Churchill has been executed and the resistance is struggling to hold on to its last strongholds in the countryside. Sam Riley plays Douglas Archer, a detective at Scotland Yard, now under the control of the SS, and a character who appears in almost every scene. Riley has, for an actor, a somewhat unexpressive face, beautiful but unreadable. Here, however, his downturned mouth and impassive cheekbones are perfect: Archer, after all, operates (by which I mean, barely operates) in a world in which no one wants to give their true feelings away, whether to their landlady, their lover, or their boss, newly arrived from Himmler’s office and as Protestant as all hell (he hasn’t used the word “degenerate” yet, but he will, he will).

Archer is, of course, an ambiguous figure, neither (at present) a member of the resistance nor (we gather) a fully committed collaborator. He is – or so he tells himself – merely doing his job, biding his time until those braver or more foolhardy do something to restore the old order. Widowed, he has a small boy to bring up. Yet how long he can inhabit this dubious middle ground remains to be seen. Oskar Huth (Lars Eidinger), the new boss, is keen to finish off the resistance; the resistance, in turn, is determined to persuade Archer to join its cause.

It’s hard to find fault with the series; for the next month, I am going to look forward to Sunday nights mightily. I would, I suppose, have hoped for a slightly more charismatic actress than Kate Bosworth to play Barbara Barga, the American journalist who may or may not be involved with the British resistance. But everything else seems pretty perfect to me. London looks suitably dirty and its inhabitants’ meals suitably exiguous. Happiness is an extra egg for tea, smoking is practically a profession, and
the likes of Archer wear thick, white vests.

Swastikas adorn everything from the Palace of Westminster to Trafalgar Square, Buckingham Palace is half ruined, a memorial to what the Germans regard as Churchill’s folly, and the CGI is good enough for the sight of all these things to induce your heart to ache briefly. Nazi brutality is depicted here as almost quotidian – and doubtless it once was to some. Huth’s determination to have four new telephone lines installed in his office within the hour is at one end of this horrible ordinariness. At the other is the box in which Archer’s mutinous secretary Sylvia (Maeve Dermody) furiously stubs out her fag, full to the brim with yellow stars.

When I first heard about The Kettering Incident (Tuesdays, 12.20am; repeated Wednesdays, 10pm) I thought someone must have found out about that thing that happened one time I was driving north on the M1 with a more-than-usually terrible hangover. Turns out it’s a new Australian drama, which comes to us on Sky Atlantic. Anna (Elizabeth Debicki), a doctor working in London, pitches up back in Tasmania many years after her teenage friend Gillian disappeared into its Kettering forest, having seen a load of mysterious bright lights. Was Gillian abducted by aliens or was she, as some local people believe, murdered by Anna? To be honest, she could be working as a roadie for Kylie, for all I care. This ponderous, derivative show is what happens when a writer sacrifices character on the altar of plot. The more the plot thickens, the more jaw-achingly tedious it becomes.

Rachel Cooke trained as a reporter on The Sunday Times. She is now a writer at The Observer. In the 2006 British Press Awards, she was named Interviewer of the Year.

This article first appeared in the 24 February 2017 issue of the New Statesman, The world after Brexit