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First major solo exhibition of award-winning artist and director Penny Woolcock opens at Modern Art Oxford
Penny Woolcock, Fantastic Cities. Installation view by Ben Westoby.

OXFORD.- Modern Art Oxford is delighted to present Fantastic Cities, the first major solo exhibition of award-winning artist and director Penny Woolcock (b.1950, Buenos Aires).

As one of the UK’s most ground breaking visual artists, Penny Woolcock is widely celebrated for her intimate and uncompromising portrayals of social inequality in cities. Her pioneering work, both compassionate and challenging, spans street-cast fiction film, documentary, opera and major arts projects, such as Utopia (Roundhouse, 2015) and Exodus (Artangel, 2007).

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

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, including Tina Goes Shopping (1999), her breakthrough drama made in collaboration with the residents of a housing estate in Leeds; hip-hop musical 1 Day (2009), a unique portrayal of gang life in inner-city Birmingham; and One Mile Away (2012), a follow-up documentary shadowing an attempted truce between the two violent gangs in the city.

Building on many of the themes and ideas that underpin Woolcock’s work, Fantastic Cities will focus on the stark contrast of lived experiences in today’s cities, from magical fictions to violent realities. As well as bringing together pivotal works from the artist's career since 2015, including Out of the Rubble and Utopia, the exhibition will 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. An Oxford chapter of this work will be made with local participants from a diverse range of backgrounds, and later displayed as part of the exhibition. 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 famously represented by the fictional narratives created in film and literature, it wryly juxtaposes the imaginary portrayal of these world-renowned cities with the visible impact of inequality, and the reality that for many the lived experience of these cities is in sharp contrast to that seen in fiction.

Born in Buenos Aires in 1950, Woolcock is an artist and filmmaker whose expansive career has spanned narrative film, television, documentary and opera, and is characterised by an interest in giving a voice to marginalised groups and communities. Woolcock has won multiple awards: The Liberty Human Rights Arts Awards (Utopia, 2015), The Michael Powell Award (One Mile Away, 2012), The Grierson Trustees Award (2010), the Prix Italia (The Death of Klinghoffer, 2003), a Royal Television Society award (Ackley Bridge, 2018), the Sheffield DocFest Inspiration Award (2012) and the Women in Film and Television Achievement of the Year (2013). She has also won a Grammy (2003) and two BAFTAs (1995, 2000).

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