Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Communism and the Christmas Formal

I will probably put a few of the photographs I took at the King's Graduate Christmas Formal on this blog soon (both because I'm pleased with them and because I like the idea that this can serve as a online portfolio), but I'm flying South for winter in less than two days and have a long list of errands to run.

For the meantime, this is one of my favourite photographs from the evening. It reminds me of one of the things I like best about photography, which is the way in which cameras can poeticise things, amplify the aura and magic of moments. This was a really fun night, but it has a beauty in photographs that I'm not sure parties often have as they're happening. This might be partially to do with time, and the way photographs trap time while parties make time pass quickly, all music and movement and few pauses.

I took this photo, though, so in this case my aesthetics aren't exactly untangled from my self.

Unfortunately, though, it may capture time in another way. The painting in the background is arguably as much part of the college identity as the chapel, but the undergraduates at King's voted recently to remove it from the bar . People have said for years that it's inappropriate to have this image on the wall, but I think I agree with what another art historian said in an open meeting on the subject a few years ago, which was that to remove it would be a "rewriting of history [and an] attempt to pervert the pure stream of radicalism at King's College". I suppose this is a case where sentiment disrupts semiology – this image has its own history here, and I don't think it's read the same way in the King's bar as elsewhere.

I see it, here, as a symbol of King's own idealism, and the removal seems to stem from a somewhat reductive view of things and, well, a desire for a tamer, less radical and disruptive socialism than King's has had in the past. I suppose the meeting about the flag in 2010 was held at a more charged, politically engaged moment, just after the occupation of the law school and before the fee protests. The vote, this time, passed seemingly without controversy or comment. So why has the student body stopped being quite so engaged? 

My own attachment to the hammer and sickle in its gilded frame, and to King's in 2010,  undoubtedly plays a role in my reading of this moment. It's hard to be objective when it comes to symbols and memory, and I'm not sure it's even advantageous. History is layered; I hate to see this layer stripped away. 

But I'm glad I have this photo.

Update (January 25th, 2014): this decision has been reversed! Yay!


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    1. Well written Anna, a great post. I have to say when you mentioned to me that the work had been removed I felt a profound sadness, anger and despair. Sadness for the reasons you state relating to the the layer of history now visibly removed (though it's true never symbolically removed), anger for the naivety of the current study body - so pathetic not to discuss the reason for it being there in the first place and instead giving the vote on emotive and narrow grounds, and despair at the sly nature of conservatism in the college I love so much for diversity and open mindedness. As a member of King's I am considering requesting a revote to include all King's members.
      I will send you my manifesto against the removal from 2010.
      Yours (notably outraged), Olivia

    2. I meant to reply to this a while ago, sorry; I didn't have much internet while in New Zealand and didn't have much time while in Australia! I would very much like to read your manifesto from 2010, though. I'd also support a revote to include all King's members.