Still Undead

Popular Culture in Britain Beyond the Bauhaus.


I always try to take a visit to the Nottingham Contemporary when they change over their exhibitions. Their current major exhibition is exploring the pioneering Bauhaus art school. I had not heard of the term, ‘Bauhaus’ before, therefore I was not sure what to expect when I entered the exhibition space. I now understand that Bauhaus combined the fine arts and other crafts. Not only is it famous for the approach to design that it publicised and taught, but it also has shaped British pop culture from 1920s to 1990s.


This influence was portrayed in a variety of unexpected ways with the show featuring approximately 50 artists, designers and musicians. Some of the influences and themes that I noticed were consumerism, commercial design, youth, DIY and theatre. 


I was amazed at the extent to which the Bauhaus ideas and teaching live on in Britain, via pop culture and art schools. Unlike some exhibitions with a clear narrative and theme throughout, this one very much had an eclectic and fragmented narrative to reflect the ways that the Bauhaus’s legacy has been transmitted and transformed. Having said this, it did make it easier to follow with the art works being presented in loose chronological groupings.


Still Undead departs from experiments in light and sound created by Bauhaus students and teachers. Combining music, costume and performance; these works were key to the school’s lively culture of parties and festivals. 


Some of the works that I particularly enjoyed observing were the pieces dated after World War II and which presented a new approach to artistic training known as Basic Design. These pieces emphasised intuition and experimentation, colour and material. One of my favourite works was one by Victor Pasmore, ‘Abtract in White, Green, Black, Blue, Red, Grey and Pink.’ The perspective and painted wood created a vast visual contrast as soon as I entered gallery 3; the horizontal and vertical intersection suspended from the ceiling grabbed attention immediately and gave the illusion of continuous movement. 


The most unexpected part of the exhibition for me was the section showcasing a collage of performance, music and graphic design, which invokes the spirit of Bauhaus parties and theatre. This for me was the most avant-garde display, referencing the 1970s and 80s youth culture, as well as DIY publishing and club nights.


A few of my other favourite pieces were Susan Collier and Sarah Campbell’s, ‘Bauhaus’ and Lilian’s Lijn’s ‘Videograohe’. The first was a magnificent screen-printed cotton installation roll which was originally designed for Liberty and showcases skillful tapestry and the ability to break from the rectilinear into free mosaic forms. The latter equally fascinated me; the two rotating powder-coated aluminium drums motored round in a cylindrical motion. This was apparently the artist’s first experiment with light and is made up of fixing Letraset lines onto motorised cylinders. It took me a couple of minutes to understand how the design works: the eye perceives the straight black lines as nearly colour vibrations, therefore creating an almost optical illusion.


I thought that the entire exhibition reflected the Still Undead title, which I learnt is borrowed from a 1982 song by the British band, Bauhaus, suggesting that these spirits linger on, neither dead nor alive. Every element and section delivered a great sense of energy and enthusiasm with no notion of static or stagnancy. 


ArtRachel Fox