This Image: Daisy and the Dark's new EP Circus was launched in July
July was quite a month for many of us in the UK. We’ve woken up to a different world; a divided country. Our city, one of the most cosmopolitan, and one of the most famous British cities in the world, hit the national headlines with a naked protest from leading University of Cambridge economist Victoria Bateman, whose portrait by Anthony Connolly has forever earned her the nickname the ‘naked don’.
Bateman sat through an entire meeting, naked, with ‘Brexit leaves Britain naked’ written across her body. Such boldness reminds me of hearing novelist Kate Mosse talk about the inspiration behind launching the Orange Prize for Fiction (for women’s literature) earlier this Summer at the Emerald Street Literary Festival, when she said: “if you see something not working, sit around and moan or do something.” But looking at the reactions to Bateman’s posing naked for her portrait by Connolly last year, it’s remarkable that women’s bodies can still provoke such controversy in art. “It’s all right if the woman in the painting is anonymous, absent and thus under control, but not if she has a voice and uses it,” she spoke out in The Telegraph last November.
"Women's bodies can still provoke such controversy"
Whatever your beliefs on the EU, after the referendum, the fragile nature of our shared identity – be it national, or even just people coming together – has never been felt more. There are powerful openings here for new creative expressions inspiring pride, inclusive pride – for everyone – crossing class and cultural divides. Cambridge Junction’s arts producer Daniel Pitt was spot on when he recently commented that ‘being together is becoming radical’ right now. You only need to look at social media for your fix of fallings-out between friends and within families, as well as the country, for a taste of the impact of Brexit. But in times of crisis, this is when art, for many, starts to make sense. As politicians stage mass walkouts, or become embroiled in power struggles, we look to art for understanding and for proof that humanity is better than all this.
This month, Cambridge Junction hosts its annual cross-arts festival, Junkyard: Playground Antics, curated by their young creative apprentices on 6 August. Watch out for a performance from BiG HEATH (right), a Cambridge-born rapper whose debut EP, Christopher, met critical acclaim. With a grime-infused ‘big sound’ and blazing lyrics that reference everything from Gordon Ramsay to grieving the loss of his grandpa, here’s a new talent to watch.
But if you’ve had too many moments this summer where it’s all simply felt too much – the political uncertainty, the polarised extremes – lap up a gorgeous serving of dark, glittering sounds and lavish escapism from Daisy and the Dark, a synth-pop act with dazzling stage presence whose Circus EP launched at Relevant Records back in July. “I like to make music that has a sense of other-worldliness – a secret circus, a haunted house – to crawl beneath the skin of things,” says Daisy, whose vaudevillian-synth sound has been creating quite a stir. Think Florence and the Machine with neon wings on a trapeze, and you are halfway there. With much of her work treated as a visual arts project, the allure of both darkness and light sparkles as an inspiration – “the dance of light and dark inside each place or person is so fascinating,” she says.
"Lap up a gorgeous serving of dark, glittering sounds"
Meanwhile, for those looking for a day trip from Cambridge, British Art Show 8, held across Norwich this summer, is a must for your diaries. Taking place every five years, this is one of the most ambitious, influential shows in the UK, offering a benchmark for British art today that explores the UK’s role in the international art scene. Turner-prize shortlisted artist Anthea Hamilton brings a performance, Ant Farms (with actual ants) to her installations at Norwich University Arts – surreal, sculptural creations made from pasta, to pop-ephemera. Or watch out for Jessica Warboys’ stunning, new sea paintings, made with the sea as her ‘collaborator’, this is a perfect piece to visit on your way to the coast. Check out britishartshow8.com.
Finally, lovers of all things enchanted can also renew faith and take pride in sparkling, shared togetherness at Green Meadows Festival at the grounds of a stately home just outside Peterborough – BBC Radio Cambridge will be there, as will Utah Saints! We all need that sense that ‘something good’ is going to happen, and with four stages, a kids' area that includes a kids’ disco, graffiti workshops, birds of prey and a circus, that’s surely guaranteed. There’s also a fancy dress theme for the whole festival (yes, including you adults), of ‘enchanted woods and magical creatures’. Check www.greenmeadows.org.uk to find out more details.
Art can be a powerful mechanism for change, but as change sweeps across our country, why not make yours an August full of enchantment?
This Image: One of Jessica Warboys' sea paintings