The Art Insider: June '17


This image: A picture by Martin Bond, who is exhibiting at Cambridge Contemporary Art

Ruthie Collins gives you the lowdown on arty happenings around Cambridge in June 

“And so with the sunshine and the great bursts of leaves growing on the trees, just as things grow in fast movies, I had that familiar conviction that life was beginning over again with the summer.” 

A beautiful quote from F. Scott Fitzgerald’s novel The Great Gatsby, which has to be one of the most celebrated literary themes for parties, ever. Importantly, now that summer’s here, there’s more light to read. Watch out for Wysing Art’s show – Mene Mene Tekel Parsin, curated by Jesse Darling – which brings together works by an excellent range of international artists using words and language. The show challenges the increasing use of words in everyday culture, covering propaganda, mass-marketing, and digital capitalism as surveillance (all that data we give in our written Facebook status updates gets viewed, used and monetised – but for whom?). 

It’s fascinating – the advent of ‘the word’ coincided with a shift towards monotheism and patriarchal religion, transforming our brains and perception of reality forever (according to Leonard Shlain’s The Alphabet vs The Goddess). In a post-truth world of fake news and propaganda, words don’t just inform, they influence our reality, our tribes, our loyalty and our labels. The title of the show, a biblical reference (Daniel 5:25–31), refers to the miraculous writing on the wall that prophesised the destruction of Belshazaar’s kingdom. But what happens when words that cement a fundamentalist reality stop being so concrete, so legible? When
they become sculptures, talismans, art? There’s magic in the mysterious. Check for information. 

Jesus Green is the ideal spot to relax under emerald leaves and blue skies with that perfect book – its lido has long been inspiring artists and writers in the city (and even inspired a film, directed by local filmmaker Brian Cox and featuring Cambridge painter Francis Jeanes). Not least, indomitable Cambridge photographer Martin Bond, who’s often spotted roaming along the river there, camera (or towel) in hand: his show at Cambridge Contemporary Art this month is one to watch. “I’m trying to take images that go beyond the established rhetoric for the city, which has held good for centuries. It holds a more secret majesty, and I am trying to capture that,” says Martin of this new show. “If it means crawling under bridges or climbing trees to get the pictures, then I will likely continue crawling and climbing until I drown or fall.” With Martin’s work, already ineffably stunning, with an eye for candid beauty, pushing past this ‘established rhetoric’, we are in for a real treat. Check out for more information.  

"Absolutely perfect for poolside reading at Jesus Green"

Cambridge’s ‘secret majesty’ is partly down to its character. Its eccentric diversity and eclectic, unpredictable elegance, shimmering, right now. Nowhere can you see this more than at Cambridge city’s answer to the May Balls – Strawberry Fair, on 3 June. One of Cambridge’s most-loved creations, it kicks off festival season for many and takes place on Midsummer Common. Head over to the arts area for community edge, love and colour – one of the most gorgeous examples of collaborative, anarchic fabulousness you’ll find anywhere. Watch out for Oblique Arts’ Pedal Powered Barbers at the Scarecrow Corner (closest to Victoria Avenue bridge): site-specific art installations, appearing throughout Cambridge and the UK this summer, raising awareness on clean energy. Cyclists generate 30-100 watts to enable the haircuts on stage. You can power a small home and add solar panels or even a wind turbine to the set-up! Go along  to learn how to do this yourselves. 

“I have only to break into the tightness of a strawberry, and I see Summer – its dust and lowering skies,” writes novelist Toni Morrison in The Bluest Eye, which sums up the allure of the strawberry with utter eloquence. Those after the high-octane (and pricey) glamour of Cambridge Univerity’s May Balls, try Emmanuel College’s ball on 18 June, themed The Story of Art – for a walk through creative history. 

I’m thrilled to bits to have recently been learning about writing from Sunjeev Sahota, winner of an EU prize for literature. His first two books, Ours Are The Streets and The Year of the Runaways are both brilliant – exploring the lives of illegal immigrants in the UK, plus the heart-wrenching story of a radicalised suicide bomber in Sheffield. In a climate that bombards us into judging rather than understanding, fiction like this takes on a new urgency. Check Arvon ( for the perfect literary getaway this summer (there are grants available, too, but apply early on, as they get snapped up). Other summer reads to crack open: try Isabelle Broom’s new novel, Then. Now. Always, dedicated to her sisters, including glorious Cambridge painter Heloise Toop. Promising ‘sun, sea and a few little secrets’ it sounds absolutely perfect for poolside reading at Jesus Green. Whatever book you read, as you are lying there, soaking in that gorgeous sky, remember to enjoy it. Maybe write your own. “If it could only be like this always – always summer,” as Evelyn Waugh wrote in Brideshead Revisited.