Noam Toran's The Jungle

Dehumanising labour practices and working class struggles in Noam Toran’s new exhibition for The Gallery at Plymouth College of Art

The Gallery at Plymouth College of Art 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.

The Jungle opens in The Gallery on Wednesday 26 April with a free public preview evening of artist talks with Toran and collaborators Alexa Pollmann and Nick Williamson from 5pm until 6pm, and a one-off inaugural performance by award-winning dancer and choreographer Julie Cunningham from 5pm until 7.30pm. The Gallery has limited capacity and places at the free opening events will be allocated on a first come, first served basis.

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 adaption 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 will turn The Gallery at Plymouth College of Art 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.

Following the opening night performance by celebrated choreographer Julie Cunningham, the remaining programme for the exhibition has been given over to students of Plymouth College of Art, 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 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 is creating 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.


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(image: Noam Toran’s The Jungle)

(from a press release)