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Common Culture in Conversation, and NAE’s 5th Birthday

Taking great pride in the cultural diversity it channels as a British gallery in the Hyson Green area of Nottingham, the NAE continues to prove that art and society do not exist in separate bubbles. On Thursday evening, the New Art Exchange celebrated five years in ‘the black brick box’.

When this distinctive gallery in Hyson Green opened its doors in 2008, it seemed a particularly risky venture, given the financial situation of the UK which was (and is) badly affecting the arts. Despite these adverse conditions, there is much to celebrate. Eddy Maxwell, Chair of the NAE, and Skinder Hundal, CEO, gave a brief account of the numerous achievements of the NAE, both national and international, which range from community projects and the promotion of local artists and performers, to winning internationally recognised awards. Running alongside these events has been a consistently inspirational series of gallery exhibitions that truly support the NAE’s ‘glocal’ vision.

‘Glocal’, as defined by Hundal, means rooted in the local community while exploring global issues, which enables the gallery to reach out to a universal audience. By embracing the resulting paradox in linking ‘local’ and ‘global’, the NAE provides a space for original and stimulating encounters – between art and audience, artist and audience and every other combination. If you think about it, the limitless possibilities provided by such encounters is one of the greater gifts of life itself. Weighty stuff, but it shows just how inspiring the NAE is. In celebrating cultural diversity and reflecting the vibrant community of Hyson Green in particular, its programme is full and exciting and offers something for everyone – they even feature guest chefs from the local community in their café menu. If you’ve never been, what are you waiting for?!

So let’s talk about Common Culture’s latest installation, Not Necessarily in the Right Order, which is the 50th exhibition to be launched at NAE. Common Culture is a collective of ‘two and a half’ university professors, who are also interested in the tensions and energies that result in the meeting of contradictory ideas, such as that of global and local art, or ‘high’ and ‘low’ culture. They were commissioned by NAE to explore the act of festival and carnival as a place where cultural identity is publically celebrated, where the opportunity to subvert social conditions and norms is contained paradoxically within an ‘allowed’ space. Their investigation into festivalism was inspired by events that are particularly special to Hyson Green and the surrounding area: Carnival, Mela and Goose Fair.

This has resulted in an immersive video installation of two parts, featuring a number of local dancers and musicians responding to a particular beat or note with the myriad sounds and movements of various folk traditions from around the world. This fusion of sound, colour, language and mood fluctuates so between harmony and discord that it can’t really be expressed in words. You’ll just have to go and see it; move through the space and absorb the energy that is created when cultures collide.

Why am I singing all the wrong words?
I’m singing all the right words
But not necessarily in the right order.

Common Culture, as an all-male, all-white collective of British intellectuals, are honest about the natural bias of their position in relation to their work. Their own sense of displacement and awkwardness – which is another paradoxical consequence of diversity and the meeting of different cultures – can be perceived in the tone of their work. It is the acceptance and critical investigation of these emotions that maintains the integrity of the piece, and even adds a little humour. From my own position, I couldn’t help noticing that of all the performers contributing to the piece, only one woman could be heard. She sings in Farsi and English, interpreting a male quotation. The other women were dancers, and were outnumbered by the men. This made me think about the female silence that characterises much of history and seems to span cultures. Why are there relatively few renowned women folk musicians? Why do women traditionally wear bright clothes and jewellery and dance, while those who are celebrated for expressing themselves through sound and words are more often men? How do these different forms of expression compare? This is not to undermine NNITRO – I think it’s a wonderful, vibrant piece. The best sort of art is that which shows you there are always more questions to ask.

Rosy has moved to Nottingham after three years away, and is really happy to be back. She’s particularly enjoying the charity shops, the new record stores and exploring the area by bike. Follow her on Twitter @HowManyRoses