Welcoming the World
Weather-wise it’s the worst summer here in England since the early 20th century….
It’s been raining like cats and dogs, like tent poles, bucketing down, or whatever. We British have many words for rain and they are being put to full use this summer.
But in the midst of the rain, culture has shone through in the build-up to the London Olympics. The finale of the Cultural Olympiad is in full swing, celebrating the wonders of culture and the excellence of artists from all over the world. 18 million people have experienced something in the Cultural Olympiad over the last four years, with many taking advantage of the 10 million free tickets on offer. It’s one of those great festivals where every day you probably miss more than you can see.
I’ve just come back from Ironbridge where 10 museums sit in a beautiful World Heritage site in the middle and west of England, marking the place where Iron Ore was first smelted using something akin to modern industrial processes. It’s a wonderful museum of industrial heritage and innovation, one that is now home to a major new artistic Commission – CORE by Austrian artist Kurt Hentschlӓger. Housed in a darkened room, CORE is shown on five huge screens, with pulsing music and beautiful human forms coalescing in ever changing groups. The human patterns reflect the living form of molten iron ore as it comes from the smelter - patterns that are never the same. It’s a beautiful work of art, with the images produced by a numeric algorithm at the heart of a computer programme. All a few miles away from Much Wenlock, the birthplace of the modern Olympic Games.
A few weeks ago millions of people thronged the Thames on another wet day to celebrate the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee. But just by the Thames, at the Globe Theatre in Southwark, something equally remarkable took place; a performance of Shakespeare’s Hamlet in Lithuanian by theatre company Meno Fortas. This was the penultimate play in the Globe to Globe Festival, another extraordinary part of the Cultural Olympiad. The festival has seen 37 Shakespeare plays (including a long poem, Venus and Adonis) from 37 different countries in 37 different languages, including sign language. Highlights have included a Yoruba Winters Tale and a Maori Troilus and Cressida alongside many, many others. You can watch all the performances in the festival, alongside much more exciting artistic content, on The Space (www.thespace.org), Arts Council England’s new digital arts service.
And over the last few weeks I’ve been attending an astonishing season of works by the late, great German choreographer Pina Bausch. Called World Cities, the season has seen two of our cultural institutions, the Barbican and Sadler’s Wells, working together to show 10 of Bausch’s works based on her visits to cities around the world. This is the first time the World Cities have been shown together, it’s a unique chance to encounter artistic responses to different cultures and different traditions through a particular language of theatre and dance. Rome, Santiago de Chile, Los Angeles, Tokyo, Hong Kong, Calcutta, Istanbul, Sao Paolo and Palermo have all been celebrated, with the last performance, focusing on Budapest, taking place next week.
The world is homing in on England and the rest of the UK at the moment, proving that culture really is a global language, one that can connect us to the world. And while everyone involved in the arts is facing economic and political as well as artistic challenges, when art from across the globe comes together, great and beautiful things can happen; things that embody the IFACCA motto that ‘the arts mean the world to us’. There is beauty to be found even in the English rain, as we look forward to passing the cultural baton to sunny Rio for 2016…
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