5 x 5 No. 4: Todd’s list

1st January 2016

For the end of 2015, when this blog has been less than it should have been, and for the start of 2016, when it will be more than it has been, we offer five short lists of five cultural highlights from the past year. Each of the five of us at Illuminations is contributing five things, whether movies, television series, books, exhibitions or whatever, that have meant something significant to us during the year. Today’s choice is Todd MacDonald‘s, again offered in no particular order.

Soundscapes, National Gallery

Listening to paintings, looking at a beautiful image and hearing it sing, wandering around an artwork and soaking up its story, ‘hear’ the painting and ’see’ the sound. The NG commissioned six musicians and sound artists to select and respond to a painting from their collection, creating an airy and celestial immersive exhibit that allowed for you to focus on specific works for longer than you might do normally. Through Chris Watson’s sweeping natural atmosphere amongst Gallen-Kallela’s Lake Keitele, Nico Muhly’s chiming flood surrounding The Wilton Diptych and Jamie XX’s shimmering pulses dancing with Van Rysselberghe’s Coastal Scene we watched these paintings come to life.

More: a YouTube playlist of five short films from the exhibition; Martin Coomer for Time Out was one of the few critics who liked the show.

• Dustin Kensrue, Union Chapel

This man made his way into my musical mainstay as the front man of punk rock band Thrice. Two years ago when that band broke up, I wrote their farewell London gig into my top moments of 2013. This however was a totally different experience of the sound and musicality that has defined Thrice since my early teenage years. Just him and an acoustic guitar in the expanse of Union Chapel where his raspy voice echoed around the space like a frisbee made of china had the air of a very privileged moment.

Oresteia, Almeida Theatre

Rob Icke’s new version of Oresteia was easily the most exhilarating theatre I saw this year. We were whipped through a tale of love, sacrifice, betrayal, loss, revenge and justice by the seat of our pants. Agamemnon does the unthinkable and the stage right doors fly open and a fierce gale blasts across the stage. The once so solid family life and home now flailing debris in a blinding beam of light. We watch their ultimately futile attempt to chase after the pieces.

• Basement Tapes at Kansas Smitty’s

I know virtually nothing about jazz but it’s not hard to notice outstanding musicianship. Basement Tapes lead by Fergus Ireland on double bass were technically unbelievable and having re-watched both Birdman and Whiplash coincidentally in the run up to this gig (films with a heavy jazz presence on the soundtrack) made it an even more hypnotising encounter.

• Ai Weiwei, Royal Academy of Arts

This show was massive in so many ways: for the artist being allowed to travel to London after being held in China under house arrest for over four years, for the RA the scale of the work filled all of their 11 galleries and the volume of people coming through the doors to see it was unwavering in its three months on show, but also for me as our Illuminations documentary for Sky Arts about the exhibition became the first piece of television that I directed. It was an honour to encounter this man and his work so intimately.

Note that the video is part of our Sky Arts documentary directed by Todd and Aneil Karia.

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