Strange Worlds, The Vision of Angela Carter, preview, photography Alice Hendy

Strange Worlds, The Vision of Angela Carter: Interview with the Curators

London Calling

Explore a world of anthropomorphic wolves, sinister toyshops and bloody chambers in Bristol this Winter. Angela Carter is one of Britain’s best-loved writers, known for her twisted reimagining of fairytales, pioneering of women’s writing and unmistakably defiant literary voice. She is celebrated for the first time in a landmark exhibition at The Royal West of England Academy: Strange Worlds, The Vision of Angela Carter. It focuses on her life and work as well as the influence of her richly gothic and disturbing imagery on contemporary artists. The masterminds behind this exhibition are Marie Mulvey-Roberts and Fiona Robinson - Roberts is a professor at The University of The West of England and leading Angela Carter expert, and Robinson is a South-West based artist, curator and journalist. We spoke to them about the exhibition, Carter’s legacy and her relationship with Bristol.

Culture Calling: How did the exhibition come about? 
Marie Mulvey-Roberts: I had wanted to commemorate the 25th anniversary of Angela Carter’s death by drawing attention to a forgotten decade of her life – the time she spent in Bristol.  I approached the Director of the RWA and to my delight she agreed saying that it would to be the first exhibition on a writer.  Carter had an extraordinary visual element to her writing, and she once said: “I always think first in images, then grope for the words”. She wrote about art and artists in her journalism as well as in her fiction, so it was ideal from that point of view.
CC: What are the most important recurring themes you explore in this exhibition?
MMR: Fairy tale, the circus, the woman artist and the Gothic.
Fiona Robinson: The contemporary work explores these themes as well as typical Carter’s ideas of displacement, the treatment of women and the way that they are sidelined into domestic roles.

Ana Maria Pacheco, Hades II, 2004. Oil pastel on paper, 146 x 170 cm, CMYK
Ana Maria Pacheco, Hades II, 2004. Oil pastel on paper, 146 x 170 cm, CMYK
CC: What do you think is Carter’s important lasting legacy?
MMR: Perhaps the most influential single work has been her collection of fairy tales, The Bloody Chamber which is a teaching text in schools and universities. It radicalises the way we look at gender roles, especially the position of women. Her writing is dark, unsettling, uncomfortable, confrontational and irreverent. She was ahead of her time then and even now.  She was a deeply political writer, though not in an obvious way because she wrote in such a fantastical, surrealist and poetical way.
CC: The exhibition explores Carter’s influence over contemporary artists – why do you think her work has resonated with other creators? 
FR: Angela Carter’s writing is extraordinary visual, reading her is almost like watching a movie.  She is a gift to artists because her work marries the visual with ideas that challenge accepted ideas, particularly about the role of women in society. She was deliberately provocative and for her time daringly subversive.
Curating the contemporary section of the exhibition I found that many of my chosen artists had not previously read Carter although some knew her work and had been influenced by it. For example Nicola Bealing’s vibrant painting, The Misfits references those split page children’s books which allow you to create strange hybrid creatures. It encapsulates the strange misfits who appear in Carter’s books, the gender changing and the world of Red Riding Hood - yet Nicola had never read any Carter and was not influenced by her.

Lisa Wright RWA, After The Masked Visitor, 2015 180x150cm
Lisa Wright RWA, After The Masked Visitor, 2015 180x150cm
CC: Did you try to include elements of her own personal life and biography within the exhibition?
MMR: Yes, for instance there is a memorial screen which was painted by her good friend and illustrator Corinna Sargood and built by her partner Richard Wallace for an event to commemorate her life following her death in 1992. This took place at the Ritzy Cinema in Brixton, a venue chosen by Carter’s husband, Mark Pearce, because of her love for cinema. The screen and the commemoration were themed around a planned Desert Island Discs programme which Carter was too ill to record for Radio 4. But she had already indicated what she would have taken to her desert island. After the music was played to her friends and family, her son and husband turned round the screen, revealing the luxury item to be a zebra painted on the back.
CC: Carter lived in Bristol for many years, was that a factor in exhibiting Strange Worlds here?
MMR: Absolutely. One thing that I have felt quite strongly about is that, especially after her death in 1992, she has been seen primarily as a London writer and it has been claimed that this is where her writing career really got under way.  But that simply isn’t the case.  In fact, her most productive period was when she was living in the West Country. Her writing career actually started in Bristol – this was where she wrote her first novel, Shadow Dance and two others, Several Perceptions and Love all set in the city, which have become known as the Bristol trilogy.

Forrest Assassins, Tessa Farmer. Photo Credit: Alice Hendy.
Forrest Assassins, Tessa Farmer. Photo Credit: Alice Hendy.
CC: What are your favourite pieces from the exhibition?
MMR: There are so many too choose from. Holman Hunt’s The Shadow of the Cross, Marc Chagall, The Blue Circus, Angela Carter’s fountain pen and the only known recording of her singing.
FR: Each work in the show holds a special place for me but I particularly like Wendy Mayer’s Not Waving but Drowning because it is so challenging and so outrageously shocking. 
Strange Worlds – The Vision of Angela Carter runs at the RWA in Bristol until 19 March 2017. Tickets are £6.95 and £4.95 concessions. Find out more here.

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