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  • Choreographer and performer Julie Cunningham

  • Exhibiting artist Noam Toran with Deputy Lord Mayor for Plymouth Sam Davey

Posted 08.05.17

Dehumanising labour practices & working class struggles in ‘The Jungle’

By Sarah Packer

Noam Toran collaborated with choreographer Julie Cunningham to bring performance into the space.

Until Wednesday 31 May 2017 The Gallery will host international artist Noam Toran’s solo exhibition The Jungle, the first in a series of immersive works drawing from the traditions of political theatre and performing arts from the first half of the 20th century.

From the Soviet Proletkult to the agitprops of pre-war Europe, through to the socialist, anarchist, and union-run troupes in the Americas and European colonies, Noam Toran’s new works reveal how cultural production, through the coalescing of fictional and factual material, has served to inform working-class political consciousness.

“I was drawn to Upton Sinclair’s novel because his depiction of working class struggles, corporate corruption, and the failures of capitalism are depressingly relevant to this day." — Noam Toran

The Jungle opened with a free public preview evening of artist talks with Toran and collaborators Alexa Pollmann and Nick Williamson, and a one-off inaugural performance by award-winning dancer and choreographer Julie Cunningham.

Throughout the evening the public were invited to interact with the installations and adorn themselves with political slogans.

Born in Las Cruces, New Mexico, and currently living in Rotterdam, Noam Toran’s work involves the creation of intricate narratives developed as a means to reflect upon the interrelations of history, memory, cinema and literature. Research-based, the works examine how fictions influence the collective consciousness, be it as history, myth or memory forming.

Toran’s The Jungle is a satirical, carnivalesque adaptation of the 1906 novel of the same name written by Upton Sinclair, considered to be a classic ‘muckraking’ exposé on the dehumanising labour practices of the Chicago meat-packing industry.

Sinclair’s novel is re-staged as a collection of performative objects which echo the artistic and political energies of the early 1900’s – a period of intense agitation, of extreme ideologies, of totalitarianism, but also of progressive legislation, of political pluralism and of grass-root actions. In short, a period eerily like our own.

Speaking of the new exhibition, Noam Toran said: “I was drawn to Upton Sinclair’s novel because his depiction of working class struggles, corporate corruption, and the failures of capitalism are depressingly relevant to this day.

“It’s an unsettling read that could have been written last week. Though a piece of fiction, it has a journalistic integrity and voices a heartfelt concern for the human condition.”

Toran has turned The Gallery into a theatrical space which invites interaction and participation from the audience. The collection of costumes, masks, props and historical materials in The Jungle are intended to be used, activated and imaginatively appropriated by the visiting public.

“Collaborators are critical to my practice. It’s consistently the case that I’m producing materials - be they installations, films or sculptures - that need to be made collectively..." — Noam Toran

Following the opening night performance by celebrated choreographer Julie Cunningham, the remaining programme for the exhibition has been given over to our students, so that they may exercise their own artistic and political voices within the thematic framework of the project.

The Jungle is made in collaboration with Alexa Pollmann, a founding member of the design platform Peut-Porter, and designer Nick Williamson.

Speaking about the collaborative process, Noam Toran said: “Collaborators are critical to my practice. It’s consistently the case that I’m producing materials - be they installations, films or sculptures - that need to be made collectively, often with people who have technical expertise (far) above my own. Alexa Pollmann and Nick Williamson are exceptional designers in their own fields.

“And Julie Cunningham is such an extraordinary choreographer and performer, it was a real gift that she accepted our invitation. By responding to the body of research, and the amazing costumes and masks that Alexa has produced, Julie created a completely new choreography for the opening night.”

The Jungle has been made possible through the grateful support of Het Nieuwe Instituut in Rotterdam, and Siobhan Davies Dance in London.

Photos by Dom Moore.