Reading List – Penny Woolcock: Fantastic Cities

On the opening of her exhibition Fantastic Cities at Modern Art Oxford, we asked artist, filmmaker and award-winning director Penny Woolcock for a selection of books that have informed and influenced her work. This reading list includes the titles she gave us, along with recommendations from Modern Art Oxford’s curatorial team.

Selected titles are available to buy in the Modern Art Oxford shop during the exhibition.

Tales of Two Londons: Stories from a Fractured City (2018)
Edited by Claire Armistead
OR Books
In Tales of Two Londons, Claire Armistead draws together snippets of fiction, poetry and journalism to capture the schisms that define contemporary London. Featured in the book is City as a Warzone, a text consisting of two alternating narratives describing a journey through Islington, North London, one by artist and filmmaker Penny Woolcock, and the other by local youth worker, Stephen Griffith. The piece formed the basis for The Same Road is a Different Road (2018), Penny Woolcock’s new film installation for Modern Art Oxford.

Utopia (1516)
Thomas More [translated with an introduction by Paul Turner]
Penguin Classics
English lawyer, philosopher, author and noted humanist Sir Thomas More (1477 – 1535) was the first to write of ‘utopia’, the word used to describe an ideal human society. In Penny Woolcock’s film installation Utopia (2015) eight people from Camden, London, read extracts from More’s text unrehearsed and in their own style. Showing at Modern Art Oxford as part of Woolcock’s exhibition Fantastic Cities, the film work was originally created as part of a large theatrical installation at The Roundhouse, London.

Utopianism: A Very Short Introduction (2010)
Lyman Tower Sargent
Very Short Introductions
This pocket guide examines some of the key modern debates around utopia within literature, theology and social and political theory and discusses the differences between a utopia and an ideology.

Francis Alÿs (2007)
Francis Alÿs
Selected by Penny Woolcock, this publication explores the work of Belgian-born, Mexico-based artist, Francis Alÿs. Observing and reflecting upon the socio-political situations of each country he works in, Alÿs’ interventions in the public sphere directly engage with communities who occupy unstable urban spaces.

The Lord of the Rings (1954)
J. R. R. Tolkien
In Woolcock’s exhibition at Modern Art Oxford new films by Woolcock depict the two cities of Los Angeles and Oxford, both famed for their singular, mythical associations. One of these films Dreaming Spires (2018) is based around Oxford’s historical sense of privilege and features literacy extracts famously associated with the city, which include Oxford University professor J. R. R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings.

The City & The City (2011)
China Miéville
In The City & The City, Miéville’s fictional European cities of Besźel and Ul Qoma occupy the exact same geographical area, yet are ‘invisible’ to one another through a mysterious political threat and the volition of the citizens themselves. By law, from infancy the people in the cities are taught to recognise things that belong to the other city without actually seeing them. Within these conditions, to willfully or accidentally cross the border is a crime worse than murder.

Factfulness: Ten Reasons We’re Wrong About The World – And Why Things Are Better Than You Think (2018)
Hans Rosling, Ola Rosling & Anna Rosling Rönnlund
Hodder and Stoughton
This book explores why, when asked simple questions about global trends – what percentage of the world’s population live in poverty, why the world’s population is increasing – we consistently get the answers wrong. From the way we consume media, to our tendency to divide into notions of Us and Them, this book identifies the ten instincts that distort our perspective on the world.

Film Directing Shot by Shot (1991)
Steven D. Katz
Focal Press
A comprehensive catalogue of techniques for professional filmmakers, students and amateurs alike, this book concentrates on the storytelling school of filmmaking.

Paula Rego: The Complete Graphic Works
G. Rosenthal
Thames & Hudson
This monograph is dedicated to the etchings, aquatints and lithographs of Portuguese-born artist, Paula Rego (b. 1935), an artist better known for her dream-like paintings based on storybooks. The book provides particular insights into the artist’s staunch feminist views and often dark sense of humour.

Boris Mikhailov: Bücher Books
Boris Mikhailov [edited by Inka Schube]
Walther König
Photographer Boris Mikhail was born in 1938 in Kharkov, Ukraine and is well known for his stark documentation of people’s lives in the aftermath of the Soviet collapse. Created by the artist, this publication chronicles the history of his Ukrainian homeland through the everyday lives of its people.

Simulacra and Simulation (The Body in Theory: Histories of Cultural Materialism) (1994)
Jean Baudrillard [translated by Sheila Glaser]
University of Michigan
Jean Baudrillard (1929 – 2007) was a French sociologist, cultural theorist, philosopher, political commentator and photographer. Simulacra et Simulation (1981) marked his first important step toward theorising the postmodern, focusing on two terms; the simulacra – the copy without an original – and simulation, referring to a sign that does not refer to anything except itself.

The Wretched of the Earth (1961)
Frantz Fanon [preface by Jean-Paul Sartre]
Penguin Modern Classics
Written during the height of the Algerian war for independence from French colonial rule, Frantz Fanon’s classic text has motivated anti-colonial movements ever since in its exploration of the role of class, race and violence in the struggle for freedom

The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe (1950)
C. S. Lewis
Read-aloud extracts from this well-loved fantasy novel by Oxford-based author C. S. Lewis feature in Woolcock’s film, Dreaming Spires. The best known of the seven novels in The Chronicles of Narnia, the book follows the story of four young evacuees who are relocated to an old country house during wartime, from where they journey to the snowy land of Narnia through a magic wardrobe.

His Dark Materials (1995 – 2000)
Philip Pullman
Philip Pullman’s epic trilogy of fantasy novels follow the journey of Oxford-based child Lyra Belacqua as she wanders through a series of parallel universes. Extracts from the trilogy feature in Penny Woolcock’s work currently showing at Modern Art Oxford.

Read more about Penny Woolcock: Fantastic Cities here.

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