Film Review: Café Society

Café Society screened in the Plymouth Arts Centre from 7th-13th October.

A new film by Woody Allen comes loaded with expectation; and Cafe Society is no exception. A period piece set in the 1930’s, it tells a simple story. Bobby Dorfman (played by Jesse Eisenberg) moves from his family home in the Bronx, and travels to Hollywood to work for his Uncle Phil. His uncle (played with relish by Steve Carell) is a big-time Hollywood agent. Bobby’s world is transformed into a series of star-studded parties, where he encounters the most influential players in town. But it isn’t until he meets Vonnie, Phil’s assistant, that life really begins to change. He quickly falls in love with the cool and stylish actress-turned-PA. There’s just one problem – she’s already in love with somebody else.

The film takes off, with comic misfires galore as Bobby tries to navigate his way through the Hollywood jungle. He gets the girl, and then he doesn’t. It’s a comedy of errors, and by making the most of his accomplished cast, Woody Allen has created a film that dances and sparkles. But Cafe Society doesn’t just leave you on a high; its bittersweet ending cuts through to the quick, cleanly and sharply. It’s a film that leaves you in no doubt about the cost of love.

In fact, my only issue with the film may seem quite minor, but once you notice it, there’s no escaping it. Cafe Society makes use of a narrator throughout the film. The voice-over is a New York, born-and-bred wise-guy, commenting on the action. It’s a stock character used many times over in the movies, but here’s the problem: Cafe Society isn’t your average gangster flick.  It’s a beautifully-nuanced film about lost love. The voice doesn’t fit – more than that – it’s grating, over-bearing and heavy-handed; entirely the wrong voice for such a delicate drama.

If you’re still not convinced about the importance of getting a voice-over right, just try to imagine Barry Lyndon without the exemplary performance from Michael Hordern. The world-weary, jaded narrator is pitch-perfect, and it makes an already great film even better.

The narrator in Cafe Society needs to be able to move between acerbic wit and mournful loss – the film is written so much in Woody’s voice, (indeed, Eisenberg’s mannerisms are so like Allen’s as to be uncanny) you can’t help but wonder why Allen didn’t take up the role of narrator himself. It may be a small detail, but when the rest of the film works so hard to get it right, it’s a shame that the narrator is so obviously mis-cast.

But where Cafe Society does excel is in its on-screen casting.  Eclectic casting is what Woody Allen is justly famous for; he collects and assembles talent from stage and screen with such aplomb that the cast feels organic every time – and that’s not easy to achieve. In the casting of the lead characters, Eisenberg and Stewart not only gel on-screen; they look like a couple brought together by fate, rather than design. Kristen Stewart is delightful as cool, clever Vonnie, while Jesse Eisenberg makes hapless Bobby immensely likeable.

The supporting actors, as you would expect with Allen’s films, are as satisfying to watch as the leads. Ken Stott as Bobby’s father (currently wooing theatre audiences in a UK tour of The Dresser), is one of Allen’s aces – taking us from kitchen-table comedy to wordless grief. Another stand-out is Corey Stoll who plays Ben, Bobby’s hoodlum brother.  Allen clearly rates Stoll – he also starred as the rambunctious, brawling Ernest Hemingway in Midnight in Paris.

From the opening bars of clarinet, Allen’s brand can border on formulaic, but a sense of the familiar is overridden by the enthusiasm Allen clearly retains for film-making. The reason why Allen’s films are so hotly anticipated is because the next film could be his best – he is by no means treading water here. He has recently proved himself capable of reaching new heights with both his popular hits and his more serious work: Midnight in Paris was his most commercially-successful film to date, whilst Blue Jasmine wowed the critics and gave Cate Blanchett her third Oscar. While Café Society sits somewhere between the two, this return to form hints that Allen’s best work may yet emerge.

Allen and his films may divide cinema-goers and critics, but at his best, the neurotic charm can be hard to resist. What gives Allen longevity beyond that surface charm is his willingness to create films with bite. Heartbreak, emotional collapse and a startling confession – these are moments in his films that Woody has allowed to be felt at their deepest. For all their cosmopolitan glamour, Allen’s films refuse to shy away from the ugliness of life. There is an emotional reality that punctures the knowing winks and witty asides. Allen, like all great comedians, understands that comedy and pain are two sides of the same coin. To exploit one, you first have to deploy the other.

In summarising Allen’s recent work, while Blue Jasmine remains the high water-mark for the time being, Café Society’s warmth and wit has a lot to recommend it. Where the film succeeds is in its understanding that it is not the earth-shattering moments, but the near-misses, that resonate with us the most. There’s no happily ever after, but as Allen has been telling us since Manhattan – find the pain, and you’ve found your film.

Helen Tope


Film Review: Born To Be Blue

Film Review: Born To Be Blue

Born To Be Blue screened in the Plymouth Arts Centre from 30th Sept– 08 Oct 2016.

Music biopics can often be a mixed bag. Whilst they are almost always entertaining only a few are truly great. For every 24 Hour Party People you get The Doors. The former is a true one off, hilarious and plays fast and loose with the truth but proudly admits this. The latter is an interesting and occasionally enjoyable watch, but is a bit by-the-numbers as it goes through Jim Morrison’s life in chronological order.

Born To Be Blue on the other hand has been described as an ‘anti-biopic’ and tells the story of legendary Jazz musician, Chet Baker. Baker made it big in the 1950’s thanks to albums like Chet Baker Sings which includes the very famous version of ‘My Funny Valentine’. He was at the forefront of West Coast Jazz but his descent into heroin made him notorious and he was in and out of jail during the 1960’s.

Instead of a usual biopic which would start at his childhood, this film starts from Baker’s lowest point (at least in terms of the story) where he is in prison in Italy going cold turkey. There is a particularly arresting hallucination of a tarantula crawling out of a trumpet, which was just terrifying. Baker is then brought out of prison and cast in his own biopic. There are sequences of his ‘heyday’ shot in shades of blue that overtly glamorises that era of American history. It is on the set of the film where he meets the fictionalized actress Jane (who is playing his ex-wife in the film). A romance develops between the two and the rest of the film reveals more facets to Chet Baker’s life and career told through this relationship.

It is the performances from the two leads which elevate this film. Ethan Hawke is sensational as Baker and throughout the film he bears the burden of his past misgivings. His performance is very moving as he tries to make his musical comeback despite almost everyone going against him. Over the past few years Hawke has started to become of my favourite actors and seems to be starring in both big budget horror films like Sinister whilst still giving A-class performances in indie films such as this one and Boyhood. Carmen Ejogo is also a revelation as Jane and is more than a match for Ethan Hawke. Her character is a representation of the different women in Baker’s life and is very active in bringing him back from the brink of destruction. In essence she is our guide into the world of Chet Baker. We learn more and more about the Jazz legend through the growth of their relationship and it is this aspect that makes this biopic fresher and more open without the confines of re-telling real life events.

For a film about a jazz musician you don’t have to enjoy the genre to appreciate the film. I enjoy the odd bit of jazz but am not exactly a massive fan; however this film says less about jazz and more about the vice-like grip of drug addiction. Almost all of Baker’s past, present and future troubles are as a result of his addiction. Whether it is the fans who are trying to give him heroin or the torture of having to take methadone, it is a constant struggle for Baker. In addition, from a musical standpoint Chet Baker’s talent is second to none and despite his notorious behaviour a lot of characters still respect him as one of the greatest trumpet players to have ever lived. It makes it all the more tragic that his addiction ultimately killed him in 1988. This film is a fitting tribute to a jazz icon.

Benjamin Cherry


Film Review: Weiner-Dog

Film Review: Weiner-Dog

Weiner-Dog screened in the Plymouth Arts Centre from 20th – 22nd September.


Since streaming services became available and more widely used, there has always been a relatively healthy rivalry between Netflix and Amazon Studios. When it comes to their original film projects it appears that Netflix is gunning for a broad audience by producing Adam Sandler films. Amazon Studios, (more refreshingly) seem to be embracing interesting and unique independent films such as Love and Friendship and the fantastic film showing at the Arts Centre this week; Weiner Dog.

Weiner Dog is directed by Todd Solondz and focuses on a very cute Dachshund who throughout the course of the film, is owned by four different sets of characters who all have their own story to tell. Although the film is feature length, it is really four short films linked by one dog that has a varied impact on the owner’s lives. The starry ensemble cast is impressive and the four stories told are very entertaining and each has their own unique themes.

The first story involves a family who buy a Weiner Dog for their cancer surviving Son. The Son develops a strong bond with the dog and is rarely a part from his pet. This story’s unique theme is parenting and Julie Delpy (who plays the Mother) offers some very ‘dark’ but humorous reasons as to why Weiner Dog needs to be spayed. It’s this first story which is much more ‘dog-oriented’ compared with the rest of the film and there is some excellent ‘black’ comedy which would likely divide most audiences. Luckily the audience I watched it seemed to thoroughly enjoy the ‘dark’ humour.

The second story involves a mini-road trip with Greta Gerwig and Kieran Culkin (who has had a vastly healthier career than his older brother Macaulay) and focuses on drug abuse and alcoholism in an America where opportunity is a scarce commodity. In some ways it sounds depressing but there are parts of the story which are very funny, especially when the two potential love interests pick up three Mexican hitchhikers who miss their home and share their negative opinions on the USA.

After a short but amusing intermission with the catchiest song not on the Radio, titled ‘Weiner Dog’, the story is then told from the point of view of Danny DeVito’s College professor and aspiring screen writer. This was probably my favourite segment of the film (although I am biased as I do love Danny DeVito) but he was very good in this film. He definitely played ‘against type’ and the themes surrounding the story were loneliness, depression and the ‘fakeness’ of mainstream Hollywood. His conversations on the phone with his various ‘Agents’ are painful as it is clear that they do not have his best interests at heart. Although DeVito’s role is short (like everyone’s in the film) he delivers one of his most heart-breaking performances and one that is worth the price ticket alone.

The fourth and final story stars Ellen Burstyn, who has had a late in the day career resurgence by starring in House of Cards earlier this year but will forever be remembered as Chris MacNeil in The Exorcist. Her story is quite short but a stronger offering than the first two stories. Her Granddaughter (played by Zosia Mamet) pays a visit with her angry but pretentious artist boyfriend called Fantasy (played by Michael Shaw). Ellen Burstyn is brilliant in her story and does so much with a surprisingly little amount of dialogue. The main highlight of the story is towards the end when she is faced with various forms of her younger self who tell her what they represent if she had done things differently, for example ‘if you’d married the man you loved’ or ‘if you had been kinder to your daughter’. Like the rest of the film it is both funny and starkly depressing. One of the themes dealt with in this story is ‘Choice’ and Burstyn’s character has to deal with the choices she has made in her life at the end of the film.

I wasn’t a big fan of the very end and some of the humour is a bit ‘on the nose’ but I was surprised by how much I enjoyed it, considering the director’s work is known for being divisive. Going back to the Amazon and Netflix rivalry, it appears Amazon is more than a worthy rival to Netflix by choosing to work with innovative and thought provoking film makers.

Benjamin Cherry


Film Review: The Wave

The Wave – a review from Helen Tope

The Wave is screening in the Plymouth Arts Centre cinema until the 29th September.


The Wave can claim the unique honour of being “Norway’s first disaster movie”. A box-office smash on home turf, The Wave was also submitted as Norway’s entry for Best Foreign Language Film at the 2016 Academy Awards.

The film takes its inspiration from real-life events. The village of Tafjord was destroyed in 1934 by a tsunami, triggered by a rock-slide. Norway, thanks to its singular geography, is not only prone to such events – they are inevitable. The Wave asks the question- if such an event were to happen tomorrow, who would be ready?

The film’s screenwriters (John Kare Raake and Harald Rosenlow-Eeg) set the film in Geiranger Fjord, an idyllically beautiful part of the Norway Fjords. At the end of the fjord, is the small village of Geiranger; a favourite spot with tourists.

In Geiranger, a team of geologists monitor any seismic activity from the surrounding mountains. Their job is to monitor any movement that might suggest a rockslide is imminent. Any movement can trigger a tsunami; a catastrophic event for a town situated just above sea level. If the rockslide occurs, the geologists have the unenviable task of pressing an alarm, giving Grainger residents just ten minutes to get to higher ground.

At the centre of the film are Kristian and his family. Kristian is a 40-year-old geologist, who has worked with the geology team at the local monitoring station. Played by Kristoffer Joner (recently seen in The Revenant), Kristian is an expert in his field, with an encyclopaedic knowledge of his subject. Performed with great élan, a geologist may not seem the most obvious choice for leading man; but trust me – geologists: they’re the new sexy.

We meet Kristian’s family on the evening before they are due to move out of Geiranger. Kristian has a new job in the City, and it means big changes for the entire family. An uncomplicated village life will be swapped for the hustle and bustle of the urban landscape. The apartment they are about to move into is so fancy it doesn’t even need keys – just a smartphone app.

Kristian’s wife Idun (Ane Dahl Torp), and children Sondre (Jonas Hoff Oftebro and Julia (Edith Haagenrud-Sande), all have different takes on the move. While Idun is bursting with pride at Kristian’s new job, Julia is less enthusiastic. As night descends, Idun goes to finish her last shift, working at the local hotel. Taking Sondre with her, Kristian and Julia decide to spend one last night in their old house.

At his last day at the monitoring station, Kristian witnesses anomalies in the recording equipment. Unsure whether it’s a glitch or suggestive of something more sinister, his colleagues assure him it’s nothing. His former boss Arvid (played brilliantly by Fridtjov Saheim) dismisses Kristian’s fears. But as Kristian settles in for the night, he cannot sleep. Going back to check his research notes, his fears are confirmed. The anomalies are not from an expansion in the rocks, but a contraction – and a contraction indicates an avalanche. The residents at Geiranger have ten minutes to escape a monstrous 80 metre-high tsunami.

The build-up is underplayed so skilfully, that the horror, as the scale of the disaster unfolds, takes your breath away. It’s genuinely hair raising stuff. No gimmicks or cheap thrills: Hollywood, take note.

The denouement is achieved through solid characterisation; here the female lead is not an accessory, but a fully-fledged hero. Ane Dahl Torp plays her role to the hilt, and you will be cheering her on as she makes it clear that there’s no force of nature stronger than mother love. The Wave isn’t just a triumph of CGI; it works because it concentrates on the human aspect of the tragedy. The quality of the acting lifts the film, taking it to another level – and it makes for truly powerful drama.

In researching this film, it did become evident that not every critic loved it – but I’ll back the film that divides opinion over an out-and-out hit any day. The Wave isn’t a full-on Scandinavian angst-fest. It does borrow a little from the blockbuster rule-book, but it’s far from brainless. The feats of quiet heroism have the power to genuinely move; and the film’s resolution is left ambiguous. Not everyone gets their happy ending.

The idea that a film can entertain without patronising its audience still seems to be up for debate. But serious intent and heart-thumping action can co-exist on the screen; it just requires a strong grip on editorial balance. The Wave succeeds where other films have failed because it handles its subject matter with respect – it’s easy to scare cinema-goers, but making them care? Much trickier. Director Roar Uthang not only nails that balancing act, he proves that action movies can – and should – have a moral centre. It makes them far more interesting and crucially, it makes them relevant. The Wave is a disaster film that’s emphatically 21st century – and it’s a stunning achievement.

Helen Tope


REVIEW: The Big Lebowski, Open Air Cinema

The Big Lewbowski – Open Air Cinema

A review from Ieuan Jones


Well it’s a sunny, balmy Thursday night, not unlike the sun as it sets over the old West in LA where Jeffrey Lebowski resides (and abides). All the dudes, dudettes, duders, and el duderinos (if you’re not into the whole brevity thing) of Plymouth and beyond have descended on the Royal William Yard. They’re forgoing a night out bowling, going through business papers, or hanging at the In-n-Out Burger on Camrose, in order to come and chill out on picnic rugs that really tie the Yard together. And why? Well, to watch an absolute solid gold classic – The Big Lebowski (1998) – where else? – but where it deserves to be seen, on the big screen. There was even a White Russian or three going round (careful, there’s a beverage here…) and maybe even something stronger in the air in tribute to the Dude himself. Far out, man.
What is it that makes the Coen brothers’ arguably most popular film endure after nearly two decades? Maybe it’s the phenomenal characters, the endlessly quotable screenplay, the twisty plot that makes as much sense as the average Jackie Treehorn production. Or maybe it’s because it shows how the whole human comedy keeps perpetuatin’ itself. All I know is I laughed as hard and as long as Karl Hungus in Logjammin’ (“you can only imagine where it goes from here…”) and I must have seen this movie in the hundreds by now, surely.
Not only do we get perhaps the perfect trio in the Dude, Walter and Donny at the epicentre of the madness. On top of that we get a group of nihilists, a video artist, a spinal, a Brother Seamus, a marmot, a pornographer (who, frankly, treats objects as women) and, ahem, Jesus to boot, making it truly the brainchild of Raymond Chandler if he hit the bongs pretty hard one night. Frankly, I did not watch my buddies die face down in the muck so that it could have turned out any other way.
Well, that just about does her, wraps her up. And as the credits roll and we all file out of the lanes chanting the dialogue into the night we are reminded (as if that needed doing) exactly why the Dude truly is the greatest – that is, after all, what we pay him for. And if you don’t agree, well, that’s just, like, your opinion, man.

Ieuan Jones

Art Review: Katya Sander – Publicness

Art Review: Katya Sander – Publicness 

Katya Sander’s Publicness is showing at Plymouth Arts Centre from 1 September – 29 October. Helen Tope reviews the exhibition.


Publicness is an exhibition that takes stock of Katya Sander’s career to date, with many of the pieces revisited and recreated by Sander especially for Plymouth Arts Centre. It lends the exhibition an immediacy that is sometimes lacking in traditionally-staged retrospectives, giving Sander’s ideas a freshness and vivacity.

Born in 1970, Katya Sander lives and works in Copenhagen and Berlin. Sander balances an impressive academic career with a busy exhibition schedule. Most recently showing in solo exhibitions at Tate Modern and MOMA, Sander’s work has travelled the world.


Indeed, in reviewing the details of Katya’s career, it becomes clear is just how much of her work is shown internationally. In an essay on the Danish contemporary art scene, critic Lisbeth Bonde discusses how ‘pluralistic’ young Danish artists’ work has become. Through the support of organisations such as the Royal Danish Academy of Fine Arts and the Danish Art Council, artists are encouraged to network – not just across Europe, but showing their work in creative hubs such as New York and Tokyo. As a result, Danish artists are creating work that speaks many languages. The Danish art scene itself has undergone a ‘golden age’ over the past 15 years, with artists such as Tal R, Elmgreen & Dragset and Olafur Eliasson building an international reputation.

Working in a variety of mediums, Sander’s work takes on a restless, roaming quality. The mind is never quiet – but always searching, always asking. Having participated in group and solo exhibitions, Sander has developed a singular voice. Questioning societal structures, patterns, obligations – and our place within them – Sander creates work beyond nationality. The work is everywhere and nowhere at the same time, and it soaks up influence from wherever it has been displayed. Sander’s work never stays still for too long – it is the consummate traveller and needs no translation.

There is a strong DIY aesthetic throughout the exhibition, with the production of the artwork (excepting the videos) taking place on-site. This gives a personalised, improvised quality to the exhibits. Sander’s choice to work quickly and within set contexts gives the artwork real specificity. Talking about her work at Plymouth Arts Centre earlier this month, Sander remarked that she tends to focus on ‘nerdy’ details – and it is the absolute focus on a question, or a supposition, that makes her work so individual.

The exhibition takes in several pieces from Sander’s career so far, and one of the most accessible pieces (especially for film buffs) is The 100 Most Watched. Originally created in 1998, the artwork is based on IMDB’s list of films in order of their global ticket sales. Painted in bold black letters on the ground floor wall, the graffiti-style, rambling narrative is allowed to drip and run into the line below it.


For this exhibition, Sander has gone back to the list and updated her artwork – which is why we see films such as Avatar (2009), next to films such as Star Wars and Titanic, which would have been featured in the original.

In looking at the box-office appeal of Hollywood’s leading men, Sander decides to investigate the power of the narrative by inverting the gender roles in each film, meaning that every male character becomes female, and vice versa. By taking the films out of their original context, Sander re-tells familiar stories. Not only does the narrative seem to change, but how we read it appears to change also. It neatly explores how we graft certain personality traits onto gender (bravery, heroism, a sense of adventure = must be male). Located next to the Arts Centre cinema, it’s a great, thought-provoking piece and the perfect place to start exploring the exhibition.

Sander’s work stretches over several mediums, from light, quick sketches to edited film. In the first of two videos featured in the exhibition, Exterior City (2005) shows a woman putting up posters – ‘a manuscript’ she calls it in one scene – around a city. The posters are lists of names – addressing groups such as ‘Dear workers, bosses, tenants, landlords…”

Sander presents this city as an imagined state – sat ideologically somewhere between Vienna and Malmo (Sweden’s third largest city). Sander’s references are deliberate – both Sweden and Vienna have a long history of providing social housing. For Sander, it raises questions around what happens when the residential (personal) and political coincide.

In a group exhibition Home Sweet Home (Sweden, 2011) Sander’s contribution was a lecture titled ‘The usefulness of inadequate models’. In the lecture, Sander discusses how social dictations are created by society, and in turn how they influence individual thoughts and actions. In Exterior City, Sander creates a tension between real and staged actions. The woman in the video often looks off-camera, questioning where she should go next. Interspersed with this are real interactions between the woman and people who see her putting up the posters. Some ask questions, others simply read the poster as she tapes it up. When asked by one of the bystanders if she is acting, the woman replies that the process of putting up the posters is an act. The bystander pretends to understand and walks away.

What I found particularly interesting, and it’s a thread running through many of Sander’s works, is just how vocal the pieces are. Words are everywhere in this exhibition – written and spoken. Rather than dictating terms, I found that the constant presence of words and sentences provoked me to ask questions. In Exterior City, there are subtitles: some reflect what is literally being said, others provide commentary on what is implied by the action on-screen.

The video’s narration jumps about, from 1st person to 3rd person, with male and female narrators. ‘I’ moves to ‘she’ with alarming ease; “She imagines a catastrophe”. Sander keeps the viewer engaged with questions, spoken or inferred. It is a singular motif that you can identify in the works featured in the Publicness exhibition. Sander questions the politicisation of architecture and our place within it, and as we move through the exhibition, it becomes evident that Sander’s interests move between the political and the individual, producing work that questions the social constructs we take for granted.

You can see in this exhibition how Sander’s exploration of social constructs is informed by her interest in commerce. In Statements in Relation to a Bank, Sander fills an entire wall with rainbow blocks of colour. Handwritten across those blocks of colour are excerpts from interviews Sander held with investment bankers.


The original piece was produced in 2008 in collaboration with Nykredit, one of Denmark’s largest banks. Sander gained access to this world by asking unexpected questions as a ‘way in’ (eg: asking during a tour of a bank’s premises, if she could touch the server) It was an attempt to throw the interviewees off-guard, to get beyond the well-practised, corporate patter.

The excerpts from the interviews, taken out of context, become highly revealing – Sander’s attempt to throw the bankers off-balance makes for interesting reading. The colour blue, we learn, is a shade favoured for outlining corporate identity in the banking world – quite literally “blue-chip”. One interviewee reveals that Pantone 280 is their institution’s corporate shade – a very sober shade of blue. They talk a lot about imbuing trust in their customers, their clients. Is blue an honest colour? Barclays certainly seem to think so.

Statements in Relation to a Bank plays with colour – its moods, tones and associations. As the questions get more serious, the handwriting strays into the more playful shades – pinks and yellows. The insecurity of the finance world is written on the wall for all to see. Sander asks about the physicality of this world? How solid is a banknote? Why is it considered more ‘real’ than numbers on a screen?

Servers are now storing information – huge servers – so money (even as electronic data) is taking up more physical space than ever before. But even this vastness is transitory –it will be replaced by another technology in time, and the servers will be defunct. The shuffling of numbers on a screen – profit and loss– is at once enormous and ephemeral. With the jargon tailored to the banking world, Sander illustrates how the people working within the system are literally speaking a different language.

In order to engage with the interviewees, Katya had to learn the lingo (words such as ‘derivatives’ and ‘futures’ have very specific meanings in the finance world). Definitions of these terms can be found on websites such as Investopedia – and just glancing through this website gives an insight into how differently the world is viewed through this particular lens. It’s both fascinating and unnerving, and I think this is why I found this piece to strike most clearly at the heart of Katya’s work.

Created just before the advent of the global financial crisis in 2008, this piece now, by necessity, is read differently. We cannot help but project experience onto it – and the tone changes. Gentle inquisitions take on a darker hue. Our value is a number on a screen, and it is this idea that Sander explores further in Financialisation.

It is a video taken from an earlier work where Sander interviewed statistician Emmanuel Didier about the role statistics have to play in the global financial markets. Here, Sander gives us the footage of the full interview with Didier.

In Financialisation, Sander muses on our relationship to money: how we ourselves are both debt and risk. Through student loans, credit cards, mortgages, we assimilate debt and through that debt, we become risk. A bank buys multiple high-risk debts and that risk then becomes diffused – any impact through loss becomes minimised. In this context, a person becomes merely a calculation of loss and risk – you are a standardised fragment of yourself.

Financialisation is one of the most open-ended pieces in the Publicness exhibition – it touches on many of the themes that have influenced Katya’s career. How notions of value, commerce and identity exist within a collective subconscious. It’s a space without limits and boundaries, as it’s constantly shifting and evolving. Publicness may be a summary of where Sander is now, but it’s clear from this exhibition that there will always more to examine.

While retrospectives remain highly popular with art galleries, exhibitions featuring mid-career reviews seem far thinner on the ground, and yet with Publicness, there’s a compelling case to be made for them.

What ties this collection together is how work changes over time. Even when created in a very specific context, we see here that artwork continues to evolve and adapt, because we imprint our experiences and thoughts onto it. Sander’s exploration of the financial world not only highlights its separateness, but its tendency to dehumanise. Learning that we are considered statistical fragments isn’t too much of a surprise, but it also explains why the financial markets are so eager to take risks. It’s a high-stakes game where the consequences are shouldered by someone else. The pain is deferred, and the game plays on.

It’s this dehumanising that Sander seems to be rallying against in much of her work. The hand-crafted, improvised technique that goes into creating many of her pieces, is a refreshing antidote to the glossy, industrialised productions associated with contemporary art. Her hand is visible in all of this work, and it makes the exhibition an intensely personal experience. Nothing is perfect in Sander’s world; the raw edges – physically and metaphorically – add to the sense that Katya is always revising, revisiting. Nothing is finished, and that’s entirely the point. No work is complete because its meanings will change and adapt as the world moves on. New obsessions and talking points will reveal themselves. In Publicness, art is never done. The artist looks back, then forward – and the work continues.

Helen Tope

Twitter: Scholar1977

Film Review: Childhood of a Leader

The Childhood of a Leader is showing in the Plymouth Arts Centre cinema from 23-29 September. Review by Ieuan Jones.

If you’ve seen Michael Haneke’s remake of his own Funny Games (2007), then you’ll remember Brady Corbet as one of the malicious pair that terrorise a wholesome family in that film. Now Corbet has carried over a quite a bit of what he learned from Haneke into his debut feature, The Childhood of a Leader. Continue reading