Standing on the harbour arm of the historic town of Margate is a large, cube-like and very modern building. This is the Turner Contemporary gallery, which opened in 2011 and is a focal point of the cultural ‘Old Town’ area of Margate.
Students sometimes visit this gallery for a taste of modern British art. It is named after the artist J. W. M Turner who often used the dramatic skyscapes of the Margate coast as the subject of his work in the 19th century. Indeed, Turner would often stay at a guest-house that was located on the site where the gallery building now stands. The gallery will always have some examples of his work on display, which changes frequently.
Many well-known names in the world of modern art have had their works displayed at the gallery over the years, including Grayson Perry, Gilbert & George, Damien Hurst and David Hockney.
The opening of the gallery was supported and partly funded by the well-known and controversial artist, Tracey Emin, who grew up in Margate. She is probably most famous for her ‘Unmade Bed’ piece: a mock-up of her messy, rubbish-filled bed, which was sold in 2014 for an eye-watering £2.2 million.
It is probably appropriate that a controversial figure such as Emin should be the name people associate with the Turner Contemporary. The gallery itself has faced criticism and controversy of its own. Some people argue that the gallery is part of an unwelcome ‘gentrification’ process of seaside towns – that it is more interested in big names in art and ‘cosmopolitan’ culture, rather than local artists and local people. Similar negative feedback can be found in places such as Whitstable or Brighton. Perhaps individual visitors can judge that for themselves.
However, visiting the gallery and looking thoughtfully at its contents is always an interesting experience. We often find that students engage very well with what they see there, and are often quite surprised by it – there is a lot of visual style that perhaps they’ve never seen before. Some of the art work on display is challenging and some of it can be totally mystifying! Ultimately, it’s a unique cultural experience for all ages; the gallery makes great efforts to engage younger people and inspire them with interactive elements to their visit.
Bonfire night, November the 5th, was enjoyed once again in Britain last night. It’s an important date in British culture because of the Gunpowder Plot. Let’s look at a bit of history about this event and the traditions we follow today.
When the topic of ‘The Gunpowder Plot’ is discussed, people usually think of one man: Guy Fawkes. Over the centuries he has become an icon of rebellion – his black hat and thin moustache inspired the infamous ‘Anonymous mask’ worn by modern-day protesters around the world.
Fawkes, however, was not the principal conspirator. That was a man called Robert Catesby, a Catholic whose ambition was to make Catholicism the main religion of England again. He asked Guy Fawkes, and four others, to join him in his murderous plans.
So what was so bad about King James that Catesby wanted to blow him up with 35 barrels of gunpowder? King James wanted a peaceful nation where Catholics were allowed to exist but, on the other hand, they should not grow so large in number that they might return to power. This was unacceptable to Catesby – the only answer for him was to kill the king, and other important people in politics, and destroy the Houses of Parliament.
Why, then, is it Guy Fawkes that everyone remembers? That is simply because Fawkes was the man who was caught in the act. He was an expert with gunpowder and his job was to guard the barrels hidden under parliament overnight and light them the next day. November 5th was the opening of Parliament; the king and every other important person would be there. The 35 barrels of gunpowder would turn the building into dust.
Of course, the plan failed. Guy Fawkes was arrested and, by torture, gave the names of the other people involved. You are free to read the unpleasant details of their executions elsewhere, but I don’t recommend it!
Bonfire Night is officially a celebration of Catesby’s failure to kill the king. However, like Christmas, it has become a chance for families to do something fun in the colder winter months. Fireworks and large bonfires are lit and special food is prepared.
Many towns and other communities or organisations host a bonfire for anyone to attend. A model of Guy Fawkes is usually placed on top of the fire. Hot drinks are served and firework displays are set up. Popular foods include toffee apples (apples dipped in toffee, then cooled and eaten from a stick) and hot jacket potatoes.
In more recent times, some official bonfire parties have replaced the traditional Guy Fawkes effigy (model) with someone controversial in the media who has recently divided opinion. The town of Edenbridge is most famous for this new tradition and this year burned a 30ft high effigy of Boris Johnson, the politician.
For many generations, the expression ‘Penny for the Guy’ was heard in the High Streets of every town in Britain on November 5th. This is because children would make their own model of Guy Fawkes using a mask and old clothes; people walking by would give the children a bit of money. However, this tradition has become very rare in the last couple of decades.
Because they are quite close together on the calendar, Bonfire night and Halloween often become part of one celebration, with fireworks being lit from late October onwards – to some people’s annoyance!
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