CHIARA MAURINO analyses the representation of the environment in Seamus Heaney’s poems ‘Act of Union’ and ‘The Bog Queen’. The landscape has always been a vital theme in poetry. Artists of all ages have looked to their environment, be it natural or social, as inspiration for their works. But all too quickly we tend to associate natural imagery with romanticism, and with the sublime, the spiritual and the healing. We forget, perhaps, how the natural environment tells a story of its own, how it combines and couples with history to give its inhabitants a sense of national identity. Northern Irish poet Seamus Heaney portrays the Irish landscape as a victim and an aggressor in his poems, thus exploring the connections between history, violence and the natural environment. Conforming to ancient Irish poetic traditions, Heaney creates an unbreakable bond between women and nature, which critics have taken to be a reference…Continue Reading

Violent landscapes: poetry and identity

ENERZAYA GUNDALAI reviews Space Shifters at Southbank Centre’s Hayward Gallery. Beaded curtains, mirrors, translucent columns, and shining stainless steel orbs: these are the forms that inhabit Space Shifters. The Hayward Gallery’s recent group exhibition consists of a haphazard circus of repurposed objects. Unified by refined curatorial work, the artworks challenge preconceived notions of form and identity. Featuring 20 artists, almost all of the pieces in this exhibition relate to two major American art movements in the 1960s known as ‘Optical Art’ (or ‘Op Art’), and the Los Angeles-based era of art production, ‘West-Coast Minimalism.’ Artworks from these movements often explore ways of capturing objectivity. Space is warped to subvert the artist’s presence. This manipulation of form and space produces an ambiguity of shape that ultimately gives the viewer the agency to conceive and interpret the artwork. The exhibition spaces are constructed to transform the physical art object into an immersive…Continue Reading

Mirror, Mirror

BEATRICE KANIKA TECHAWATANASUK reviews Birds of Passage, a postcolonial take on the South American drug trade. Going beyond drug warfare and blood splattering, Birds of Passage is a true story about the Colombian narcotics trade that refuses to follow the established formula of the mafia genre. Unlike Narcos (the hit Netflix show on the same subject), the film does not employ glitzy caricatures, artificially fast-paced rhythm nor contrived dialogue. Instead, Oscar-nominated director Ciro Guerra and co-director Cristina Gallego have crafted a nuanced portrayal of the indigenous Wayúu people as they grapple with the challenges of the drug trade. The resulting product is a distinctly postcolonial story – it is refreshing, intriguing, and will not be easily replicated. Birds of Passage is foremost about family and bloodlines. At the start of the film, the Wayúu people chant: ‘if there is family, there is respect. If there is respect, there is honour.…Continue Reading

Birds of Passage

SAYEH YOUSEFI reviews an event at the British Library delving into Sylvia Plath’s personal letters and the light they shed on her as a writer. Decades after her untimely death, the life and works of Sylvia Plath are regarded as one of the pinnacles of literary curiosity. One of the most acclaimed poets of her generation and a pioneer for women writers, Plath’s personal life is often overshadowed by her grave, her public reputation and her, at times, tragic work. In an effort to gain a greater understanding into the life and thoughts of Plath, editors Karen V. Kukil and Peter K. Steinburg have curated The Letters of Sylvia Plath Volume II: 1956–1963. Published by Faber and Faber, this new volume consists of a collection of letters from the later years of Plath’s life, providing readers and scholars insight into her work and personal life. They give a new look…Continue Reading

Triple-Threat Woman

A poem by XARA ZABIHI DUTTON. (for the boy who goes to the gym after his lecture) His soles step worn pavements, Jumping recognisable cracks Building the palace of the body His soles pad inside the grey obelisk Seeking amber-lit convocation Engineering the palace of the mind One holds a protein shake before his torso The other clutches a leather satchel at his side   Both share a grim demeanor instead of a smile, Lips pinned by unpronounced cases.   Monochromatic concepts strike the lines of his brow Engorge the folds of his eyes,   Yet they are one in inflections which concord: deconstructing Demonstratives by hand Spines exhorted to curvature, by their labour they are hardened. Repeated patterns wear paths into trenches, Intensity transmutes into dogma. Seeking to establish a stable identity, They sacrifice their porousness; calcify. As brittle as they are dog-eared, They close in on themselves, Drawing…Continue Reading

How Old English Works

JADE BURROUGHES explores the noise of protest art by neo-conceptual artist Jenny Holzer. In a 2017 survey, Spanish visual media artist Daniel G. Andújar claimed that ‘democracy has become an aesthetic matter’. He is not alone in this analysis. He is one of many to recognise art’s political potential. To me, Andújar’s mantra starkly resonates with the work of neo-conceptual artist Jenny Holzer. Since the 1980s feminist wave, Holzer has demonstrated an unrivalled capacity in tearing through dominant socio-political narratives which stifled critical democratic conversation and pacified populations. Noise is vital in intercepting these top-down induced unilateral discourses: one can think of no noisier art genre than protest art. Holzer stands as a frontline proponent of this. In the current political climate, silence is utilised as a weapon to repress the propagation of justice noted most overtly in the use of gag orders to silence #MeToo victims. It is necessary…Continue Reading

Exercises of Democracy and Aesthetics

A poem by SOPHIA WALLS. I stumbled then fell, the water’s surface a door closing everything behind me. I banged, pulled, slammed, thudded, dialling numbers, numbers, numbers. But the surface was fading away. Answer, answer, answer, answer, please. Hannah, Amanda, Peter, Fred. Who would answer? Someone get me out of here, get me out: Drown out these voices drowning out me. Who will accept me into the world above? Bring me back to the surface? Who? Who? Who? Let me out. Beeps and ‘’sorry your call is not available right now’’. Why should anyone answer my desperate cries for acceptance when these worlds of mine, will not? Name after name and number and loud speaker and red, unhopeful hang-ups, glaring all the hope out of me. Where was my existence? Where the was it? Get me out of here so I can find it amidst the long, long chats, the…Continue Reading


NICK FERRIS interviews Aliza Ayaz, founder and president of UCL Climate Action Society, in anticipation of the society’s flagship event, The Sustainability Symposium, taking place on 16th November. It is September 2017. Students are returning to UCL, ready for a year of twelve-hour stints in the library, lectures in the Royal National Hotel and striking academics. Swarms of bright-eyed freshers flood the Bloomsbury Campus, hopelessly searching for Medawar and Rockefeller Buildings as they struggle to make it to 12pms following the previous night’s Freshers’ Week antics. Come the Freshers’ Fair, thousands eagerly sign up to everything from Chocolate society to Ultimate Frisbee, Muay Thai to UCL Marxists. Amongst this new cohort of undergraduates was one Aliza Ayaz, a half-Lebanese, half-Pakistani permanent resident of Dubai studying the tiny specialised course of Population Health. She was among the attendees the Freshers’ Fair, but unlike most, she left feeling uninspired. For Aliza was…Continue Reading

Interview: Aliza Ayaz

MAILI NEGI iterates the Swiss Passport Office art experience at Galerie Thaddeaus Ropac. Tom Sachs’ 24-hour live art installation, Swiss Passport Office, gave privileged art enthusiasts a watered-down experience of applying for citizenship to a foreign country. Sachs chose to imitate the issuing of Swiss passports because, to him, Swiss citizenship is ‘the ultimate status nationality, representing wealth, neutrality, and freedom.’ By handing out Swiss citizenship for 20€, Sachs symbolically sold the right to travel freely (without a visa) to many counties. When asked about the experiential installation he declared, ‘I am making the world not the way it is, but the way I want it to be. I want everyone to have the most prestigious passport in the world so they can travel and trade freely’. In today’s political climate this is a statement heavy with meaning. His installation alludes to major social and political issues such as the…Continue Reading

Tom Sachs: Worlds Without Borders

A poem by Iago Vendrell Kudos! Now it seems we have fulfilled our Technological dreams: a bright future Wrapped in plastic debree & drifting Along the sea. Does our madness See, hear, smell, feel or taste?   What a waste!   Right now, there it is… Guess what we’ve achieved With our lovely fast food dreams And this ‘superior’ human decency? Plastic sea doesn’t feel like paradise to me.       This content is published to coincide with UCL Climate Action Society’s flagship event The Sustainability Symposium. The Sustainability Symposium is taking place on 16 November 2018.  Featured image source: Real Salt. 

Toxic Dreams

FATIMA JAFAR reviews the poetry of Sandra Brown Springer and Remi-Lyn Brown, performed in an event celebrating black queer womanhood. DISRUPTION, an event marking the end of this year’s Black History Month, was held on campus last week. UCL library assistant and poet Sandra Brown Springer, and her daughter Remi-Lyn Brown read their poetry to an audience made up of UCL students, staff, and their close family and friends. Brown is a self-published poet, and part of the creative collective SXWKS, while Springer is doing her Masters degree in Creative Writing from Birkbeck, and is currently working on a short story and poetry anthology. This was the first time they had performed their poetry together, but, as they said, it will definitely not be the last. Their poetry focuses on the navigating of space and identity in today’s society as black women, and coming to terms with their queerness. Both…Continue Reading


ANNA VALL reviews the Waterstones event ‘Turning the Political Into Fiction’. When asked why he chose to engage so deeply with the political in his novel White Highlands, author John McGhie responded in his characteristically self-effacing manner: ‘if not us… well, who else?’ He reflected a sense of obligation, of necessity almost, for fiction to engage with politics. While fiction certainly is not required to mingle with politics, when it does so successfully it can yield remarkable results. In an evening of discussion at Waterstones Gower Street titled ‘Turning the Political Into Fiction,’ four authors shared insights into the role of the artist in politics, as well as the power political works of fiction can have in the modern world. While their novels and concerns were often dissimilar, they shared one common thread: the idea that political fiction can be used to promote understanding and unite people in turbulent times.…Continue Reading

Turning the Political into Fiction