Working with porcelain, the artist Rachel Kneebone makes whiteness reverberate to the depths. Shining, delicate and visceral, transcendent and perturbing, her work looks back to origins and forward to ends.
‘Can you speak Russian? No? So why go to the theatre when you can’t understand a word?’ My challenger (English) was incredulous that I’d asked one of the Russian helpers on the British Council tour, whose mother had been a principal dancer with the Kirov, to find me, if at all possible, a ticket to a play. There was a performance of Anna Akhmatova’s poetry, she’d told me. The legendary Alla Demidova would be performing; the director was Kirill Serebrennikov, a daring force in the Russian avant-garde; and it would be taking place in the Gogol Centre, a former warehouse designed in industrial cool with gorgeous Constructivist lettering that makes the word Гоголь look like the limbs of an Alexandra Exter puppet.
The Museum of Islamic art is closed on Tuesdays, the taxi driver tells us. En route to the Melbourne Writers Festival, Mary-Kay Wilmers, Jacqueline Rose and I, soon to be joined by Andrew O’Hagan, have stopped for the night in Doha for this collection, to see the medieval lamps, the carpets, the emeralds, the Kaaba curtains, the manuscripts of the Quran, the maps of the world – maybe the map of Qatar when it was a pearl fishing port and an infamous haven for pirates. After all my browsing on the museum’s site, how could I have missed the opening times? We resolve to find a way: personnel must be on duty even during closing hours. Guards present. Temperature controls purring. Lighting on to protect against stealthy intruders. We email and text anyone who might have an entrée. I am a little embarrassed.
The Wilding Festival, organised by mostly young artists, teachers and activists, took place earlier this month in St George’s Bloombury, the Hawksmoor church which is crowned by a ziggurat and backs on to Little Russell Street, opposite the offices of the LRB. Emily Wilding Davison’s funeral took place there a hundred years ago, the magazine was collaborating with the festival, and I was asked to give a talk about female heroism.