Fantastic Cities: Penny Woolcock’s intimate portrayals of social inequality

Penny Woolcock, Fantastic Cities (2018). Photo by Sarah Ainslie. Image courtesy the artist.

“I am haunted by the way our city, any city, is experienced in such different ways. We all have our individual lives and stories that follow us onto the pavement but we inhabit shared public spaces in radically different ways. For some the city is a playground, for others a battlefield, but humour and acts of kindness burst through the cracks to give us hope.” Penny Woolcock.

Award-winning visual artist Penny Woolcock’s intimate and uncompromising portrayals of social inequality in cities is being showcased in Fantastic Cities, her first major solo exhibition.

From gentrification and poverty, to inner-city gang culture and homelessness, Penny’s work confronts systemic inequalities in contemporary society. Centred on personal stories, and created in close collaboration with her subjects, her narratives offer a powerful, honest and often humorous insight into the complex reality of life on the margins.

As well as bringing together pivotal works from the artist's career since 2015, the exhibition will also present three new commissions.

When the Same Road is a Different Road (2018) is a compelling new film installation capturing the dramatically contrasting responses of the artist and a neighbouring young gang member as they take separate walks down the same local streets in London. While Woolcock muses freely on her journey, the young man travels in mortal fear of losing his life to a rival gang.

When I First Saw A Gun (2018) is a series of short, direct verbal responses responding to a single question about when they first saw and handled a weapon.

The final work, Fantastic Cities (2018), is a major film and audio installation interrogating the mythology of Oxford and Los Angeles - two cities represented by fictional narratives created in film and literature.

Having fled her conservative expat community in Argentina in her late teens, Woolcock began her artistic practice in Oxford in the 1970s. Over the last forty years she has built a hugely diverse and critically-acclaimed body of work, spanning street-cast fiction film, documentary, opera and major arts projects.

Fantastic Cities will be on view at Modern Art Oxford from 17 November, 2018 to 3 March, 2019.

Penny  Woolcock,  Fantastic  Cities (2018).  Photo  by  Sarah  Ainslie.  Image  courtesy  the  artist.

Penny Woolcock, Fantastic Cities (2018). Photo by Sarah Ainslie. Image courtesy the artist.

Penny  Woolcock,  Fantastic  Cities (2018).  Photo  by  Sarah  Ainslie.  Image  courtesy  the  artist.

Penny Woolcock, Fantastic Cities (2018). Photo by Sarah Ainslie. Image courtesy the artist.

Penny  Woolcock,  Behind  the  scenes  photofrom  When  the  Same  Road  is  a  Different  Road(2018).  Photo  by  Ravi  Lloyd.Image  courtesy  the  artist.

Penny Woolcock, Behind the scenes photofrom When the Same Road is a Different Road(2018). Photo by Ravi Lloyd.Image courtesy the artist.