Michael Andrews, Lights II: The Ship Engulfed, 1972, acrylic on canvas, 183 x 152.5cm. Arts Council Collection, Southbank Centre, London © The Estate of Michael Andrews, Courtesy of James Hyman Fine Art.

Norwich Castle is delighted to be working with the Arts Council Collection to present The World We Live In: Art and the Urban Environment, an exhibition of painting, sculpture, photography and film that explores urban life.

Featuring over 35 works created between 1950 and 2020, as well as photographs from the Collection’s rich archive of documentary photography, the exhibition arrives at Norwich Castle on Saturday 21 May, running until 4 September 2022. For its Norwich presentation, the exhibition includes further works from private lenders as well as Norfolk Museums Service’s own collections.

The World We Live In is part of this year’s Norfolk & Norwich Festival programme.

Cities around the world have developed and diversified more rapidly in the last ten years than ever before and today over half of the world’s population lives in an urban environment. The many facets of urban life – architecture, migration, commuting, crowds, noise, lights – have long been a rich source of inspiration to artists. The World We Live In, which takes its title from an artwork by Carel Weight, brings together twentieth century and contemporary works to explore these issues, while offering a space to contemplate the role of the city, especially in light of events of the last two years.

Exploring themes from urban development – such as in works by Victor Pasmore and Toby Paterson – to migration and the relationship between inner cities and suburbia, the artists presented in this exhibition respond to a variety of places across the world. George Shaw’s The End of Time depicts the area of Coventry where he grew up, while Melanie Smith’s Parres shows the de-personalised outskirts of Mexico City, the place she has lived and worked in since 1989.

The sensory experience of living in urban environments is also addressed in the exhibition, with works such as Norwich-born Michael Andrews’ Lights II: The Ship Engulfed depicting glittering cityscapes and neon signs and Rut Blees Luxemburg’s Meet Me in Arcadia capturing the artificial lights from a block of East End London flats.

Video works include Lawrence Abu Hamdan’s The All-Hearing, a film reflecting on the high levels of noise pollution in Cairo, Egypt; Helen Cammock’s There’s a Hole in the Sky Part II: Listening to James Baldwin, which considers migrations, forced or voluntary, by Black American writers and dancers; and Andrea Luka Zimmerman’s Estate, a Reverie, an intimate portrayal of residents from the now demolished Haggerston Estate in London.

While some artists have sought inspiration from real life surroundings, others have drawn on failed utopias of the past and imagined structures for the future, opening up conversation about how cities have served and failed the needs of their inhabitants. Mark Lewis’s film Children’s Games, Heygate Estate, highlights the gap between utopian views and everyday realities as his camera glides around a complex of empty walkways in a now demolished South London estate.

Alongside the exhibition’s broad range of works, The World We Live In also includes some of the Arts Council Collection’s outstanding collection of documentary photographs from the 1960s and 1970s which present an unparalleled view of inner city life across the UK.

Deborah Smith, Director, Arts Council Collection, says: “We look forward to working with our touring partners on this exhibition in which artists bring many different ways of looking at our urban environment and, through art, raise questions and encourage people to keep interrogating the world we live in”.

Margaret Dewsbury, Cabinet Member for Communities, Norfolk County Council, added: “Norwich’s long association with art and artists, from the Norwich School of Painters to today’s graduates of the Norwich University of the Arts, makes it an ideal location for this timely exhibition. Through this fascinating exhibition, we look forward to engaging audiences in questions about what our cities are for and how they might develop in the future.”

Dr Rosy Gray, Curator of Modern and Contemporary Art at Norwich Castle, says: “We’re delighted to be working with Arts Council Collection to bring this important exhibition to Norwich. The works reveal both our unique and shared experiences of urban life, and what it means to be part of these environments – past, present and future.”

The exhibition’s display at Norwich Castle will be accompanied by a full events programme including workshops with poets, summer holiday family activities, a facilitated reading group, as well as a special screening of Andrea Luka Zimmerman’s film Estate, a Reverie with the artist. A selection of reading material accompanies the exhibition.

For more information about The World We Live In: Art and the Urban Environment, visit the Arts Council Collection’s website.

Listen to Dr Rosy Gray talking about the new exhibition in the latest episode of our Norfolk & Good podcast.

Suzanne Treister, Barcelona in Outer Space, 1986, oil on canvas, 25.4 x 25.5cm. Arts Council Collection, Southbank Centre, London © the artist.

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