Oxford, England’s Gothic architecture and ancient university have drawn students and tourists for centuries, and the city recently gained fame as the setting of the Harry Potter film series. But what’s it like to actually live in such a scenic and storied place?
Arturo Soto’s A Certain Logic of Expectations (the Eriskay Connection) is a sharply observed, decidedly less picturesque view of Oxford. In the book, Soto’s photos record the city’s less distinguished public spaces, while his short texts reflect on his encounters with Oxford’s unique traditions and social norms. Created over the course of four years while the Mexican photographer and writer studied at the graduate program of the Ruskin School of Art, A Certain Logic of Expectations evades, in Soto’s words, “the obvious charms of Oxford.” Instead, the book offers a critical but personal study of the city’s organization, and Soto’s place in it.
People are expressly absent from Soto’s pictures, which focus on what the artist calls the city’s “non-places” — makeshift street shelters, graffitied walls, and cramped apartment blocks — that “fall outside the ethos of ‘intellectualism’ most people associate with the city,” the artist wrote in a recent email to Hyperallergic. The photos appear to have been shot spontaneously, perhaps on daily walks, and capture lonely streets and cluttered shop windows in bleak, close detail. “Oxford has a complex social divide that tends to be ignored,” he said. His decaying, vernacular subjects contest Oxford’s mythic proportions, but they also convey a sense of sameness and even isolation connected to the artist’s own experience.
“I am interested in cities because they’re the environment where most of us live, the stage where our everyday lives play out,” Soto wrote. “As such, we are bound to develop feelings towards them, and I’m interested in capturing those feelings.”
The author’s sentiments show most clearly in his writing. Soto’s short texts collect his impressions of city folk, academics, and acquaintances as the tensions of Brexit and Oxford’s long-standing divisions between ‘town and gown’ simmer in the background. Soto’s measured writing is also tinged with humor and frankness that echoes influences like Ramón Gómez de la Serna, Georges Perec, and Augusto Monterroso. About a packed late night at the McDonald’s in town, he observes, “this is the only genuinely democratic place in Oxford, where young and old, rich and poor, town and gown, share a space in relative harmony.”
Soto’s writings move through many topics — urban experience, forgotten histories, social behaviors, and, in more tender moments, longing for a person or place that’s unattainable. His voice is diaristic, analytical, and exploratory. “The question of whether I could say anything meaningful about a city with such a rich history was on my mind,” Soto said by email. “This is, after all, the place where many great writers got their education and then went on to write about the city or include it in their books.” Now, Soto’s work gives a glimpse of Oxford through an alternative lens.
A Certain Logic of Expectations by Arturo Soto is published by the Eriskay Connection and is available online.
How does a selective competition fit with the contemporary art world’s aspirations toward greater inclusivity?
Critical race theory, which has been attacked by conservative lawmakers, is conspicuously absent, as are many contemporary and living Black artists.
“Dignity of Earth and Sky,” unveiled in 2016, raises questions about who should depict Native people and how they should be portrayed.
In this online exhibition, Indigenous artists reclaim realities long denied them by US and Canadian federal governments — including moments of collective reverie.
At this year’s Sundance International Film Festival, more than half the feature-length movies were made by directors who identify as women.
In her novel Tell Me I’m an Artist, Chelsea Martin questions whether art offers a refuge from the world.
Ten artists will receive studio space and access to faculty, staff, students, workshops, and programming at an arts institution in the heart of Philadelphia.
The US government has lifted a Trump-era ban that kept formerly imprisoned people from accessing their works.
A work of art will be on the line when the Philadelphia Eagles play the Kansas City Chiefs this Sunday.
With two exhibitions at SoFi Stadium, the Kinsey African American Art & History Collection seeks to engage a different art audience.
The works that best exemplify a uniquely German grotesque in Reexamining the Grotesque are those that reflect the war and Weimar years.