Ruthie Collins, founder of Cambridge Art Salon, gives her arty picks of the month
May brings that first flush of summer; the perfect time to stroll the city, taking in the season’s cultural blooms.
Head to Espresso Library for new show, Classical Remix Volume 1, from Brendan Young, Vanessa Battaglia and Vincenzo Sgaramella. Young and Battaglia (pictured below) are the fabulous, creative minds behind contemporary design studio Mineheart. Known for their savvy blend of aristo-chic, flamboyant excess cut with elegance and whimsical glamour, think Marie Antoinette popping up in your living room, blowing pink bubblegum at your cushions and you might be halfway there. This is an impressive collection of shimmering abstracts and mixed media, giving new meaning to old, with fresh energy and refined textures throughout. It runs until 7 June.
Espresso Library’s neighbourhood used to be known as the Kite, back in the 1970s. It’s now heavily gentrified, but in the era of Syd Barrett – who went to Cambridge School of Art across the road – this was full of bohemia, radical bookshops and squats. Run-down, yes, but a hotbed for experimentation. Fast forward 40 years, and Cambridge art is frequently lambasted as ‘too safe’. Skyrocketing rents, house prices and the mass commercialisation of the city are ongoing assailants on the kind of risky sense of experimentation that many (perpetually) yearn for.
Short of starting a revolution encouraging landlords to offer up normally-very-expensive space or homes to artists, I’m not sure what the answer to the issue of Cambridge being ‘too safe’ is. You could throw millions at building new space for artists: much needed, yes. Or hold transient, experimental interventions, sure. But the ownership of infrastructure predominantly by older, privileged demographics, plus the ongoing need for affordable housing in Cambridge, will perpetually stifle the vitality of any art scene, unless these issues are called out for what they are. As Grayson Perry pointed out, ‘rich people on the whole don’t make culture’. There’s the rub, in one of the most affluent cities in the country. Revolution, anyone?
The truth is, anyone can go out there and shake things up. At any age. All you need is a maverick sense of wanting to take risks and upset the ‘safe’, which may ruffle a few feathers, and the drive to do it. The Untold History Museum Tours, as mentioned in the New York Times, are a new(ish) venture from three female Cambridge University graduates, first launched as part of the Festival of Ideas programme, with a goal of disrupting the dominant narratives of collections. The tours are now on offer all the year round, discussing the at times awkward histories of museum objects, of how they came to be in Cambridge, exposing colonialism and conflict as well as the impact of racism and sexism. It’s excellent to see these tours making leaps and bounds, igniting discussion and critique.
It’s excellent to see these tours igniting discussion
“As the title suggests, we talk about the untold histories that museum labels won’t tell you, and believe we are contributing to an important – if sometimes uncomfortable – conversation,” says Danika Parikh. “We research and run the tours independently as a team of three women graduate students at the University of Cambridge. We love museums, but became frustrated by what we feel is a huge gap in the stories museums are telling. We wanted to talk about the people from whom museum objects were collected, and be honest about how these objects were collected. So many of them were acquired during conflict or under colonialism, and erasing these stories amounts to whitewashing history.
“What we offer is a nuanced perspective on this history, supported by extensive research, that aims to tell the kinds of stories you rarely hear in museums. We were inspired by the work of other alternative museum tour trailblazers, like Alice Procter’s Uncomfortable Art tours in London,
and Dan Vo’s LGBTQ+ tours at the V&A. We think they are something completely new on the Cambridge arts scene. We call it a tour of questions instead of a tour of answers!”
Finally, the Eastern Bloco Arts Area at free festival Strawberry Fair, which is on 1 June, has an exciting open call for volunteers to get involved and help make the area extra fabulous this year. Whether you can help set up or take down, help with signage or with décor, do get involved and lend a hand with making it amazing. This is a fantastic space, full of experimentation – with music, poetry, activism and all sorts of colour and Strawberry Fair magic. One of my happiest Strawberry Fair moments last year was watching a tiny little girl while away her afternoon in an Eco Glitter Bath art installation in this area. Glitter, glitter, glitter. Contact firstname.lastname@example.org for info. As Brazilian writer Clarice Lispector once said, “don’t forget, that in the meantime, this is the season for strawberries.” Have a gorgeous May, all.