The Greenwich Series: Part 1 – Open House

Alyssa Julian’s Wirewove - contents page shows off gorgeous layout
Alyssa Julian’s Wirewove - contents page shows off gorgeous layout

Over the coming weeks, Livvy J Hooper will be exploring the array of talent to come out of the University of Greenwich, including poets, filmmakers, and photographers. In this first article of the series, she gives us the inside track at the opening of an exhibition of undergraduate work at the Stephen Lawrence Gallery, and reflects on a successful three years for many.

For many undergraduate students at the University of Greenwich three years of hard work came to a close on the 28th of May with the opening of a public exhibition of their work in the Stephen Lawrence Gallery on the University campus. A showcase of talented students’final-year creative projects, the day included screenings of undergraduate short films alongside an open exhibition of poetry, illustrations, photography and mixed-media installations. The showcase of talent is designed to show off the potential that the University nurtures, and to highlight the workings of the many different programmes that will be moving into the new University building in Stockwell Street, Greenwich, which will house new conglomerate departments of architecture, design, and technology.

Poetry & Photography - (l-R) Livvy J Hooper, Candace Buck, and Abigail Hattersley
Poetry & Photography – (l-R) Livvy J Hooper, Candace Buck, and Abigail Hattersley

To lay all my cards on the table, I was attending in a personal capacity as well as a journalistic one, as my own poetry and illustrations are included in the exhibit. However, it was also a fantastic opportunity to view the creative output of some of the brightest future talents the university has to offer, who I have been lucky enough to study and work alongside. A selection of work will remain on display until the 7th June, and I encourage you all to pop along to the Stephen Lawrence gallery situated in the gorgeous University of Greenwich campus, to get a look at some of the brightest and most innovative artworks created by these students. But enough ego-stroking (for now) and publicising: what was in the exhibition?

On entering the gallery one’s eye is immediately drawn to far wall where the flickering image of a woman’s face partially submerged in water is borne out on one of many screens in the gallery. The wet woman exists as a video installation by Shayman Akhamrich, complete with headphones for the consumption of the audio element. It is an immersive piece (no pun intended) which I must confess I did not get to see enough of, as we were soon called into the film screenings (more on that later) and afterwards the gallery was so very busy, with so much to see, that I rather missed my chance to see it. The themes of life, death, and the midway point of both, is continued on the same wall with Amrita Seehra’s photography project; painting grainy foregrounds over posed portraits and layering Dias de los Muertos-style sugar skulls and X-Ray negatives, the series of stills works to distill the notion of death within us. The muted colours and passionless stares of the portrait sitters create an unsettling atmosphere when set against the creepy death-visage of los Muertos, that cannot fail to intrigue.

Abigail Hattersley’s Truntlements of Tresh
Abigail Hattersley’s Truntlements of Tresh

The poetry section of the exhibition includes a project by poet Abigail Hattersley, a fascinating exploration of language, dialect, and the North-South divide. Her poetry collection Truntlements of Tresh – which translates roughly as “bits and bobs of human spirit”- traverses the Yorkshire moors and scales the height of Kinder Edge with inventive linguistic aplomb and informed positional accuracy, to pleasantly baffle and intrigue the reader. Accompanying her written collection is a video installation based around the physical act of reading Truntlements of Tresh, and presents contrasting recitals of the poems by Northern and Southern readers. The rawness of the video comes from its’ capturing first encounters with the poetry and the problems that dialect presents to some readers, against the comfortable familiarity for others; while the Northern contingent recites the poems with a soft, reassuring Yorkshire burr, some of the Southern readers don’t fare so well. The pairing of the video and book creates an opportunity for the reader-viewer to embark on a mission of immediate interpretation and translation: as unfamiliar words crash and tumble, images alight and phrases catch fire, and as the interspersed footage of rolling Yorkshire moors and road-trip journeys carry us through, you find yourself dazzled by language – even if you don’t necessarily know what a ‘barm-pot bessum’ actually is, you certainly want to hear more of these fantastical phrases and barmy ‘piggyjack’ exultations.

Yimeng Liu’s stop-motion animation Parallel charts the journey of a single drop of water through a charming visual landscape of shapes and pastel colours, all set to a classical music score – Shazam failed me here and the creator was not available to question on the music choice, so it remains a mystery, but it certainly was a beautiful, haunting, and wholly appropriate score. With images of the solar system preceding the water droplet’s transformation into a clam as it reaches the seabed among the fishes, Parallel is an elegant and enchanting short film that deserves to be seen. The endearing subject and even more endearing form combine to produce an entirely charming piece that evokes wonder at the water-cycle (there’s a term you probably haven’t heard since high-school geography), the universe, and our place within it.

Parallel - Yimeng Liu
Parallel – Yimeng Liu

Alongside Liu’s animation is Vaida Varnagirtye’s documentary, Sound of Silence, which explores The Midi Music Company’s Deaf Rave programme, a music production course tailored to those with impaired hearing. It charts a Deaf Rave session at the Watson Street studios in London, and gives a fascinating insight not only into the technologies available now, but to how these technologies support the creative process of music production by those who cannot hear. It shows a solid grasp of documentary techniques, intercutting to-camera interviews with staff and participants, candid situ-shots in the studio and rehearsal spaces, and arresting tableaus of the students/course participants in the process of musical creation. It contains interesting and informative sections of the technologies involved in such a process, and extolls the virtues of a couple of very intriguing gadgets, such as the Wowee, a vibrating pad that is plugged into the audio output and placed, typically, on the chest in order to feel the vibrations of the music. Interviews with the users show that such equipment is invaluable to the emotional connection that music provides, and enables the “artistic outlet”to be accessed by all. DJ software that creates visualisations of the beats and melodies means that the music can be seen in such a way as to create a deeper understanding of what it means to create and consume music, and to understand it. With clear subtitling – vital in a production about the audio-impaired – and well recorded audio for those who wish to listen, the documentary is engaging, emotive, and inspiring, showing that there is no obstacle to those who love the “vast realm”of music.

Candace Buck’s photojournalism/poetry hybrid project Where I Can Breathe: Photojournaling the London City Farm is a project that does exactly what it says on the tin, to rather intriguing effect. Focussing on the inherent dichotomy of a farm in London and the sanctuary it possesses, the series of images emblazoned on the walls and contained in the hard-back book – which is interspersed with text, both prose and poetry – highlight the consumerist greed of capitalist London with raw, gruelling close-ups of pig snouts, cow muzzles, and slimy tongues. The photographs themselves seem slightly technically under-par in places, perhaps owing the paper on which they are printed, but the compositions are rarely disappointing; the tall towers of Canary Wharf plucking out the sky behind the foreground foul and fauna remind us of the ever-present metropolis and the lengths to which we go to find peace in our city.

Sam Obigbesan’s audio short story
Sam Obigbesan’s audio short story

Another instalment that uses technology to level the playing field in the creation and consumption of media is Sam Obigbesan’s audio recordings of a short story in segments. As a visually-impaired student, Obigbesan utilises recording capabilities and new media forms of access – a QR code linked to the Soundcloud which contains the recordings is emblazoned on sheets of paper in the gallery for visitors to try out themselves, and also appears on his business cards. The stories themselves are fantastic, immersive affairs, but where this piece shines is in it’s use of different narrators and dissonant aspects that sustain tension. [Take a listen to his work on the Soundcloud link at the bottom of this article.]

Also on display were a range of student-made magazines – some stronger in technical formation and visual design than others – covering a range of topics and themes. Jade Plocka’s Movement of Documentary, which examines the history of documentary film and the processes used, is a competent production, that is at times let down by formatting, but there are two standout magazines that hint at successful futures for two design and layout editors. The first, Andrew Hemeter’s Epigram, is a slick and elegant production that explores contemporary music, film, and fashion, with beautiful layouts and design elements marrying expertly with pitch-perfect content and composition. The second, Alyssa Julian’s Wirewove: Volume 1, is a lush and stylish “visual diary”encompassing modern styles, trades and leisure pursuits over full-page picture spreads – set on the perfect rough-grain paper for a publication such as this, with an earthly, homely feel that fits so well – pitched at those who “wish to make, see, and do.” As with Epigram, the stunning visual composition of Wirewove matches the chic and tempered content to create a substantial publication that I for one would certainly buy.

Alyssa Julian’s Wirewove - contents page shows off gorgeous layout
Alyssa Julian’s Wirewove – contents page shows off gorgeous layout

Another section of the exhibition was given over to students’ short films, ranging from the realist to the bizarre, which unfortunately were no longer on display when I went back for another visit to spend a little more time with the exhibition. A selection of these films were shown in a dedicated film screening during the day, which I will explore in more detail in the next in the series – so keep an eye out for a write up of up-and-coming filmmakers!

Now it’s time for a bit of ego stroking I’m afraid: I was thrilled when I was approached by the lecturer-curator with a view to exhibiting my work, so I jumped at the chance. Seeing my own illustrations up on a gallery wall, and my book on it’s own shelf with more of my illustrations, was a feeling I will never forget. Sure, it’s not a high-status, well known gallery, but it’s a gallery, so it was tremendously exciting for me. I had officially finished my studies just a few weeks prior – as had everyone else included in the exhibition – but things hadn’t felt wrapped up until the day of the exhibition and – a source of major apprehension (read: all-consuming stress) – the poetry reading I was hosting in the evening, as part of the day’s proceedings.

A few months ago I decided to set up one final poetry reading for us third years, who have been reading and performing alongside each other for the last three years, as a last hurrah and a chance to show off – to each other and to anyone else who wanted to come along and listen. Although I am a relatively regular reader and performer at poetry/spoken-word events I have never hosted or organised one before, so it was a new challenge to say the least. After liaising with staff to secure a venue, it then came down to securing a list of readers: fortunately, I know a lot of ‘em. I’ve been so incredibly fortunate to study and work alongside some fantastically talented poets and writers – some of whom will be featured and interviewed in later articles, so keep your eyes peeled for those too – so I knew I could count on them to perform, and boy did they. I garnered a fantastic roster of readers – and less of them cancelled than I expected! After much advertising by myself and by the University as part of the showcase day, I was so thrilled to see such a fantastic audience on the night. Poetry readings typically don’t get particularly massive turnouts, so I was pleasantly surprised and quite proud of just how many people did come along to listen to us wax poetical. With a few glasses of wine to help me on my way, my hosting duties were completed, so I was told, rather competently with minimal oh-dear-the-wine-has-mixed-with-adrenaline-and-gone-to-my-head-already induced ramblings. It was a fantastic experience that I certainly won’t forget, and one that I would love to repeat: I already have plans afoot to organise some more readings in the Greenwich area, building on the contacts I have at the University – both peers and staff – over the next year.

Consider my ego well and truly stroked
Consider my ego well and truly stroked

I have met so many incredibly talented people during my time at University, and it is vital that as writers we help each other out; create a platform for ourselves – no-one else will. If there’s one thing I’ve learnt at University (and throughout my life) it’s that you make your own luck. If you love to do something and others do too, there is no greater feeling than working together to create something truly special. I am so proud of what we students have achieved over the last 3 years, and seeing all that work in a gallery, on screens, being read aloud, really brought it home to me just how much we have achieved. There’s real talent out there today, so don’t let it go. (Here endeth the preachy ramblings.)

In the next portion of The Greenwich Series, Ill be turning my attentions to the filmmakers included in the exhibition and screenings, with reviews and information on their short films, plus some interviews with the filmmakers whose output I found most exciting: stay tuned.

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