ARTicle by Adeola Warner, ARTiculation Ambassador (University of Sheffield)
22 January, a gloomy day in Manchester, rain pattering on the windows of the top hall of the Whitworth Art Gallery – a room of considerable grandeur and size. The dark day notwithstanding, the speakers for the ARTiculation North West Regional Final were not phased. The large room was soon filled with the ideas of the ten youthful, confident speakers. Within the short space of two-hours, an array of topics were discussed – ranging from the artistic techniques used by Degas in the making of his ‘Little Dancer Aged Fourteen’ (1879-1881) to the economic disparities between the eighteenth and twenty first centuries. Every one of the speakers put forward engaging and unique ideas; furthermore, great skill was shown by delving into bigger social issues. For example, Jonathan Osunde’s speech on ‘Someone Stole My Diamond’ (1998) went past the material importance of graphite, emphasising socioeconomic importance of graphite mining to the Cherokee tribe. This awareness of social issues was particularly highlighted by the day’s winner Charles Lee, whose talk on ‘The Proud Trust Centre’ (1988) did not only show profound knowledge on the purposes of the design and structure, but also highlighted its importance within the community of Manchester. To use Charles’s words the architecture ‘grew alongside its members.’
The topics touched upon by each of the speakers were all astoundingly profound, whether it was Georgia Watson’s topic on the fraud and foolery of Schliemann or Ellie Devic’s perception on feminism through her discussion of Waterhouse’s ‘Hylas and the Nymphs’ (1896) – concerns with contemporary issues were central to these speakers. The heavy theme of war was striking in Milly Allweis’s discussion of ‘House Beautiful (Bringing the war home)’ (1967-72). Milly observed the intertwining of war, everyday life and our disengagement from this violence through the various techniques of photography and editing. An equally insightful, but also humorous speech was given by our first runner-up Tess Bottomley on her analysis of Hogarth’s ‘Gin Lane’ (1751). She explored both the origins of gin and its disastrous effects on the poorer suburbs of eighteenth-century London; then went further in comparing Hogarth’s ‘Gin Lane’ (1751) and Thomas Moore’s ‘Gin Lane’ (2016) – showing an understanding of contemporary issues as well as a contemporary eye when analysing historical art.
Of course, as well as being socially aware, it was clear that the group of speakers were appreciative of the art itself. From Seth Powell’s ability to pick up on the tiniest of detail from Smith’s ‘Starmap’ (1980), to Charlotte Conniff’s detailed knowledge on Degas’ developmental process in creating ‘The Little Dancer Aged Fourteen’ (1879-1881) – as well as the critique he received for its ungraceful depiction of the ballerina. What was even more striking was the large range of art forms discussed. The speakers obviously sought to expand their horizons to encompass various forms of art media, showing maturity in their understanding of art. Saskia Kirk’s analysis of Warhol’s ‘Last Supper’ (1986), uncovered the complexity of the seemingly simple piece. Saskia’s explanation of the religiously symbolic labels covering the print instilled in the work an unexpected ambience of spirituality and suspense. The idea of ‘art’ was cleverly stretched and remoulded by our second runner-up, Rosy Akalawu-Ellman. Rosy rejected the typical thought associated with uniforms, instead arguing they induce individuality, creativity and a focus on the face.
A big congratulations has to be said for all of the speakers. Their confidence and in-depth knowledge of the arts, history and the present socioeconomic environment has to be reiterated. It is certain that these speakers will go far and thanks to ARTiculation all had a platform to begin their journey!