Perhaps you’ve just moved to York, or are settled here in your second year at University, or have lived here for years. Regardless, you’ve got to acknowledge that it’s a pretty amazing place, filled with thousands of years of history, and many amazing attractions to visit and/or get involved in. This upcoming series of articles aims to introduce, or re-introduce, to you ‘hidden gems’ that will inspire and shape your perception of this unique city.

This post, we’re discussing the York Mediale Festival, York’s newest cultural attraction which ‘takes a big risk on a radically different type of art festival’, where it brings to light the diverse range of talent both in and around York, and further afield. As the Creative Director Tom Higham expressed, the festival focuses on ‘media art and digital creative practice’ to explore its importance within our society, and personal lives. It’s a must see this fall.

The festival, which has been running for 10 days between 27th September and the 6th October, is based throughout the city, and incorporates art at all disciplines, including installations, performances, discussions and workshops. What makes York Mediale important is its diversity in programmes, which encourage city-wide engagement for maximum effect.

Why York? Firstly, as city which is literally ‘sitting on 2,000 years of greatness’, as described by the Chair of York Mediale 2018 Advisory Board, it provides a great basis from which to expand from and develop a fresh artistic presence within the city. Most importantly, York was awarded the title of UK UNESCO Creative City of Media Arts; we live in a city which is at the cutting edge of a defining part of contemporary art. During these ten days, York is playing host to nationally and internationally acclaimed artists in thirty -six separate events, helping introduce new artists to the art scene.

Walking through Kings Square, just off the Shambles, you might have noticed one of the many installations throughout the city. It’s Matthew Plummer Fernandes’ Token Homes which uses the 3D printing of the Fluxaxis group in its stacked miniature architectures to explore ideas of urbanisation, ‘burgeoning cities’ and the need to supply for the growing demand. It is, as described by the Festival, as a ‘collaboration (that)… ventures beyond creative and manufacturing boundaries’.

(Photograph taken by M.D Bentley, 06/10/18, of Matthew Plummer Fernandes’ Token Homes, York Mediale Festival)

In an alternate focus, there’s an installation at the York Art Gallery that’s entitled the Strata- Rock- Dust- Stars exhibition that ‘features moving image, new media and interactive artwork’. It entrances the spectator and encourages them to think deeper about Earth and our position within it, through William Smith’s ‘ground-breaking geological map, ‘Delineating Strata’’. In particular, there’s Isaac Julien’s Stones Against Diamonds; a mesmerising installation which combines video, sound, mirrors and contrasting light and darkness to produce a visual experience inspired by Brazilian architect Lina Bo Bardi. Sounds of wind and tribal music emanates from the speakers, juxtaposing the haloed lights and glacial grandeur of Icelandic caves.

(Photographs taken by M.D Bentley, 06/10/18, of Isaac Julien’s Stones Against Diamonds, York Mediale Festival at the York Art Gallery)

In the next door room to Strata- Rock- Dust- Stars, is Ulungile Magubane’s eMBIZENI. The installation is part of the Still We Rise project, which is inspired by Maya Angelou’s poetry. Magubane’s work, akin to the wider project seeks to give a voice to hardship, ‘oppression’ and ‘inequality’. Described as ’a visual EP featuring songs and moving image’, the work contains four main sections, each distinguished by a different song. In particular, ‘Kerosene’ struck me as particularly poignant, speaking on the Apartheid era in South Africa where ‘many homes… were systematically excluded from the national electricity grid’. The room itself is strikingly devoid of light, and I found myself squinting to properly see the newspaper adverts which are billboarded onto the walls. Strong themes of consumerism and commercialisation pervade the work, providing a social commentary on day-to-day living in Johannesburg.

(Photograph taken by M.D Bentley, 06/10/18, of Ulungile Magubane’s eMBIZENI, York Mediale Festival at the York Art Gallery)

Whilst the installation is certainly a contrast to the nature imagery found in Strata, I can’t help thinking how the juxtaposition between the two encourages the spectator to think about our presence on earth, and how our societies are positioned in the natural world.

(Disclaimer: All citations in this post are from public information leaflets from the York Mediale Festival and information provided in the York Art Gallery. Photographs taken by M.D Bentley at the York Art Gallery.)

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