For Art’s Sake

29 September 2020

Originally Published in Oxford Times, 24 September 29020

IF Oxford opens this week (1 October) as a digital Festival with over a hundred online events to enjoy. Alongside its usual mix of activity, the Festival presents an artistic series drawing on themes that surfaced during this unprecedented COVID pandemic – loss, isolation and alternative connections. It offers a reflection on science, from physiology to physics, in ways and that’s exciting and quietly personal.

On Saturday 3rd October, we release an ambitious short film, Digital Body, an exploratory performance created during lockdown. This mesmerising piece uses motion-capture CGI animation to convey all the feeling and drama of human 3D movement at microscopic and human scales viewed in two-dimensions on a computer screen. Teenagers from Oxford’s Parasol Dance Group, both disabled and non-disabled, created individual choreography guided by the world-class Alexander Whitley Dance Company. These sequences were captured digitally and transformed into a light and sound show of shape-shifting silhouettes, music, colour and intrigue.

Also, our new theatre commission, small hours, co-produced with the Oxford Playhouse (Mon 19th-Sun 25th, 7.30pm) and written by playwright Ava Wong Davies in response to the rise in sleep problems that people have experienced during the pandemic. It tells the unsettling story of four characters imprisoned in their own worlds and is performed by Mandala Theatre, a company based in Oxford that nurtures young talent from diverse backgrounds into the creative industry. Our four very different characters are concerned with sleep and perhaps not getting enough, a hot research topic for neuroscientists in Oxford: how do people get a good night’s sleep? This dark thought-provoking show, a video play, explores isolation, being alone and waiting for the unknown.

There are more questions of connection in a new poem for the Festival by poet-astrophysicist Sunayana Bhargava, which finds connection across poetry and physics, using metaphor to muse about how energy changes form over time. Her words are inspired by thermodynamics, yet also resonate with what we lose and gain from one another in strained times, touching on #BlackLivesMatter and protest, and the value of coming together.