Oxford – 27/05/15

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The jaw of a sperm whale, a creature which interests me to no small deal; possibly because of it’s sheer size and magnitude in comparison to humans

Yesterday, I continued my adventures around Britain by revisiting Oxford. A strange place, as if it’s culture has grown purely out of the university, and far removed from my own humble city of Cardiff. We did not spend much time in Oxford, but yet, I struggled to find things to do. The exhibition within Modern Art Oxford was closed for installation of the next two exhibitions, resulting in us descending into the small basement space in the back to look at a small exhibition entitled ‘Shifting Sands’, which I ended up being quite disappointed by. Nevertheless, I did see a few curiosities throughout my visit which were of some interest to me. The first was this Jaw, belonging to some long dead Sperm Whale. I’ve been fascinated with whales since a young age, and this interest was accelerated when I read ‘Moby Dick’ by Hermann Neville. An epic american story about life and death; obsession and vengeance;God, Humanity and everything in between. What’s not to love? Whenever I see anything related to these beasts, I am at once taken aback by the monolithic nature of their forms and remains; they are monumental in both scale and metaphor.

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The next area of the museum that grabbed my attention was a series of display cabinets housing a great deal of masks. The most interesting of these were a series of ‘Noh’ masks, a form of japanese theatre that focuses on mythological stories told through the medium of dance and music, rather than actual storytelling. Revered in Japan, it is never performed by women, purely men. The masks are eerie, almost uncanny in their demeanour. The final mask shown is a mask that I have often seen throughout my life, as if it is some form of recurring symbol in the matrix of my life. It is a ‘Hannya’, which is a woman that has changed into a demon through her desire for vengeance on a man that has wronged her. The image of the mask is something that I have seen many times throughout my time on the earth, and is one of the most recognisable symbols of Japan in my own visual language. There was also a series of Thai ‘Death masks’ in the uper cabinet, which appear as a large, grinning skull This image of the skull as a comedic character, almost humorous in appearance, is a strange tradition carried out throughout the world. From Day of the Dead celebrations in Mexico, to the image of Death in medieval imagery; the laughing skull, almost like a ‘softening’ of the harsh reality of death, is a strangely humorous figure.

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As I wandered around Oxford, there were interesting things to see, but not much to do. Although there was inspiration to be found in some of the museums, including a fascinating exhibition of chinese painting in the Ashmoleon, I was stopped from taking any photographs in lieu of ‘Copyright issues’, and was stopped a few times before I pushed their patience a little bit too far and was thrown out. the work was fascinating, it’s use of abstract form in their drawing styles unlike anything I had seen, it is a shame that the images are only held in my mind’s eye and are unable to be shown here, but that is a blessing as well. Nevertheless, I was able to take some photographs of these dramatic drawings of war heroes during the mid-19th century. what drew me to these drawings is the intense emotion displayed within the drawing style, as well as the story behind the images. As the figures depicted are war heroes or legends of mythology, such as a young warrior defeating a boar with his bare hands, or a war general shooting a cannon by hand, there is an intense storyline wihtin the imagery, and this is accentuated by the expressive line and colour utilised. They are bold, and appear at once powerful image, of powerful people. I also hold a soft spot for mythology and for heroism, both in western and eastern mythology and culture, so these paintings are a blessing.

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