Students Staff

30 March 2017

Reviewing famous family photographs

Filed under: News — gemmachilds @ 10.31 am

Art History student Chisara Agor writes a fascinating review of Art Exchange‘s most recent exhibition, Order Out of Chaos by Richard Billingham. Have a read below

A true to life family snap-shot

By Chisara Agorlaunch

I cannot tell you how to judge Richard Billingham’s Order out of Chaos exhibition at Art Exchange. Some may find the cheap instamatic camera shots aesthetically displeasing, with their harsh flash and even harsher edges. But I would rather begin by asking you to think about how you would choose to capture your own family. Would you soften the edges?  Add an Instagram filter over the family feuds? Opt for a professional set up or would you try and be honest, even if it meant revealing the darkest aspects of the people closest to you?

Art Exchange’s latest exhibition brings together photographs and video from Richard Billingham’s iconic Ray’s a Laugh series which catapulted him to fame in the 1990s. All without the sheen of today’s constant re-branding and re-imagining of ourselves and the ones we choose to spend our intimate moments with. Billingham’s composition is a close-up of wrinkles, tattoos, lipstick application, inaudible mumbles, gasps and deep breathing. After a few moments in the gallery we begin to consume as much as we observe. We are brought in so close it seems intrusive for the viewer, who will surely be left mystified that the subjects appear to be seemingly unaware of the probing cameraman. Slowly gliding over these extremely intimate moments with ease. This intensity of closeness would be unthinkable for an outsider, so it is no surprise that hours of patience and practice enabled Billingham to truly personify what we could jokingly name a “(familiar)fly on the wall.”

This isn’t your average exposé of exploitation of a working-class family’s day to day. Rather it is a much more personal project. It is the journey of the artist; Richard who seeks to bridge the gap between himself and his family. The snapshots litter the gallery and take us directly into the lives of those for whom he cares about the most. They are a far cry from the aesthetically pleasing and epic photos of the last exhibition by Ori Gersht. Billingham does not shy away from the clutter filled, nicotine drenched, cramped confines of his council flat. Everything is photographed as it was; imperfect and chaotic. This exhibition is not remotely “attractive” or “pleasing to the eye” by commercial standards of beauty, therefore there is no pretence or frippery. But isn’t this the true essence of the everyday? An uncompromising attitude towards the reality of the subjects themselves as they are, without projecting any particular gaze or desire to beautify.

A short walk around the exhibition propagates the constant tension. A drunken Ray mid stumble, a closed fist mid argument. There is always just enough money, there are always bills to pay. The dog stares longingly at the door handle waiting to escape. But there is no escape. We witness the alcoholism, laughter, hate and ultimately love play out in a cyclical chaotic order. The often dizzying, half-blurry frantic film sequences are contrasted with times of stillness and intense observatory scenes. Ray in Bed and Liz Smoking provide us with moments of stillness in an otherwise constantly moving world. Giving us the impression that both husband and wife could find undisturbed moments of peace apart. Whereas, in Fish Tank we witness not only their arguments and daily routine but also moments of their togetherness.  One stand out moment for me is where Billingham captures the couple lying together in bed, with the mid-day sunlight streaming through the walls. We are overcome with this instance of their subtle and loving intimacy (Liz also burps throughout this scene, there is no idealised romanticism here!)

To conclude, Billingham offers no critical distance. He does not infuse the photographs or film with his own opinions or emotions, nor are they painted with the sensationalising gaze society often offers us in the forms of reality shows and social media. Rather, Art Exchange contains these fragments of time together, almost like a capsule in the gallery space. We enter Richard Billingham’s fish tank and observe the order of chaos. A must-see indeed.

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28 March 2017

It’s easy being green

Filed under: News, Southend — Heather Leathley @ 9.33 am
An image of a sustainable water bottle.

A sustainable water bottle.

Make an impact on Tuesday 25 April when you can learn all about being green from the University’s sustainability team.

From cycling to recycling, there will be plenty of valuable information and helpful hints available at both The Gateway Building reception and The Forum reception.  Learn about energy-saving initiatives, cutting down on food waste and sustainable living.

To celebrate the campaign, environmentally friendly Lemon Witch Crêperie, just along from University Square in Queens Road, has launched a special student offer. Get a free hot drink with every Breakfast Club pancake ordered. Just show your student ID to take advantage of this foodie feast which is available every morning Monday to Saturday from 10.30 am.

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17 March 2017

Knocking down walls – building inclusivity

Filed under: Colchester, News, What's on — Communications, CER @ 2.56 pm

PrintAs part of our One Essex campaign, our Students’ Union are holding a special launch event called:


  • Come along toSquare 5 on Thursday 23 March – anytime between 11am and 5pm.

Write something you hate on the wall, hateful words you have heard or negative actions you have experienced.

At the end of the day we will knock down the wall and with it, knock down the hate.

Join us to encourage peace understanding and inclusivity in our community.

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