Twas a dark and dreary evening as I ventured up the dreaded A470 from Junction 32 all the way up to Tttreefffooorest. I was driving mother’s large pea-coloured camper van up to the end of year art exhibition along with my brother-in-law and reasonably pregnant sister.
We arrived at the university only for me to be berated by an angry and un-umbrellad sister for parking so far away. Nevertheless as keen rookies of the art world we battled on through the torrent of falling water and made it to the gallery space.
Now you’ve got to mind these arty types because they’re a bit funny at times, which is why I had to refrain from making a joke about the pile of wet coats and umbrellas in the hallway being someone’s installation.
The place was rammed. Now I’ve been to some art galleries in my time but never one that was as densely population as the Rammstein Mosh pit I found myself in some years ago.
Despite being totally rammers it wasn’t impossible to venture around and check out the displays. So with note book in hand and my journalist hat on, I embarked on a rather cultured journey that marked the start of something big for the recently degreed artists.
The first thing I do is check out the response from patrons regaring my mother’s display there. Obviously I could be really bias at the moment but I will just tell it as it is, you’ll just have to believe me.
Also note I have had just over a year of her telling me every little detail about her work so I’ve had some extra revision time! Wendy Powell’s project depicts the modern symbolic representative symbolism of the British sea-side and how it has declined over the last hundred years. Her work is satirical on the surface but portrays a strong message about the changes to how people relate to the British Sea-side towns such as Blackpool and how they create an illusion that lets them appreciate these declining towns because ‘they are on holiday’. I hope that’s an adequate summary of her work, I could go on about it a lot more but I don’t want to get it wrong!
I caught up briefly with Suzanne Zeppillini, a student from the fine art course who was there as a viewer. Sue remarked on how good the quality of the work was and was pleased that the effort put into the show had paid off with the high number of visitors on the opening night.
One of the installations that has really caught my attention was that of a student who I have noted down as being called Tiff. Apologies for not writing a surname but I guess I may have been a tad awe-struck with your work.
Being a fan of anything which acts as a social commentary or high-lights some sort of social, hierarchical or political issue is a winner in my books and Tiff’s ‘exclusive private party’ really focuses on some of my favourite points regarding the aforementioned subjects.
Her installation consisted of a nineteen fifties style speak-easy bar being built into a spare room in the gallery. A number of people had been told that they were invited to this party and that they were on the list, however were turned down entry by the door-men who had decided that these guests were not exclusive enough. However some lucky people walking past this club were granted access purely for the way they look.
I, along with my sister and mother were allowed in as we were dressed smartly in the eyes of the doormen however my brother-in-law was made to wait outside. The three of us felt very privileged as we brushed past the suited security and through the velvet rope. The room took us back in time to an era where the importance of aristocracy and class was shown as more prominent particularly in films, which is why I think we as guests felt a greater impact having been let in. the sense of gratification was powerful but short-lived as I soon reminded myself that I wasn’t a crowd person. Also I wasn’t drinking which is a serious issue when free Champagne is offered. I refreshed my new found social status by throwing a couple of insults through the door at my now somewhat livid brother-in-law who stood there in jeans and T-shirt watching us suited and booted walking between this new found subculture of high class.
Looking back I almost feel ashamed for feeling like such a snob for ten minutes. I mean, I was in a room that only certain people could get into, was that such a big deal? It happens every day, especially if you’re in work but I don’t see that anyone would stand in the storeroom and look out at customers and gloat about their high class power status because they can go through ‘the door’.
And then I got thinking, what makes a social status? It can’t be money because I’m broke. However I felt comfortable that if I spoke to the other guests in a certain way I could probably at least ‘seem’ wealthy. As someone who sleeps on a pile of cushions in the box room of my mother’s council house I knew that my history and circumstances don’t represent anything to that of someone from the higher class. Yet as I stood there, in that room surrounded by all of these exclusive people, watching all of the unexclusive people wander around outside and wish that they had what I had I felt like a King.
I was suddenly aware of my newfound status and I was aware of the effect that it was having on me. I instantly thought less of those who were not able to step into the room, but why? What difference did it really make? As soon as I stood out of the bar surely I would be the same as them? And what would happen if I left and wasn’t allowed back in? I shuddered at the thought of being trapped out there with ‘them’.
This was about the time that I had to remind myself that I was in an art gallery and that this installation was what was effecting me. I also took the time to appreciate what I’d consider to be a rather fitting irony in that the bar which I found myself to be stood in with all of these people was nothing more than an old office about two weeks ago. The power of wallpaper! Seriously, it makes you wonder…
Anyway, I decided to brave my social fears and step out of the bar. I didn’t try and get back in because I was worried that I would be declined. Scary thought!
The next artist I went to check out was Laura Harrison who according to my mother ‘only lives up the road’. Laura had successfully attempted to change the common perception of a still life painting. In all of my artful ignorance a still life painting to me is usually of a bowl of fruit or a vase of flowers or some boring old shit that never really appeals to me. However I found myself drawn into her work. First of all the colours attracted me as she had used bright tones of blues and pinks which triggered in my head a sense of combined gender based connotations. Laura had painted the everyday items around her from her studio and explained that she felt that they could be taken for granted, she wanted to see past what they were as inanimate objects and really take a look at them. The bold and vibrant colours were her way of changing the typical construction of a still life painting. The blues and pinks really brought in the adage of life into the painting. It took me a while to figure out what I was looking at, at first I thought I saw perfume bottles and items you’d find on a dressing table, but when I really looked I saw that it was paint bottles and brushes and other art based implements. I began to appreciate then that the tools that had been painted were also the tools that would have created the painting in the first place. This paradox had me standing there for a good twenty minutes before someone came and poked me with a sharp stick.
Now I had been hearing a lot about this Al chap on the odd and reluctant occasion that I would go into school with mother to help her with someone. “Oh he’s so talented” they’d all say in that typical swoony woman type way. (That’s how I remember it) and well, bugger me the lad is talented. Don’t get me wrong, they’re all bloody talented! Especially in my eyes as I can’t draw a stick man or colour between the lines. Al however can do both of these things and he had created some incredible pieces which said a lot about modern society.
He had produced a whopping great painting of a lad trying to hold back his mate from starting a fight. The colour of the Special Brew can in contrast to the grey and desolate background of a street really reminded me of my old life in Newport.
I did scout around to have a chat with him but with no luck as I had no idea what he looked like. There must have been about three guys who could have claimed credit to his work as I approached them saying ‘Are you Al?’ Maybe I scared them. Anyway, good work Al.
I caught up with Dorcas Pennyfather whose installation reflected her moods and state of mind across a period of (I think six months, sorry!). Dorcas had knitted panels together, each with different stitch work. The stitch work would reflect perhaps her mood, each panel reflected a different day. Each panel then had a snippet of her diary entries pinned to it. It sounds a little less intricate than it’s meant to but the concept is fantastic. (IT IS) Being what doctor’s refer to as a ‘mental person’ I felt a connection with this piece of work.
So to summarise, because I don’t seem to have made anymore notes on the evening other than ‘ceramics are incredible’ and ‘Robin looks good in a suit’ the night was what I would consider a success. There was a brilliant turn out and it all looked very professional. Some art work does it for me and some of it doesn’t but that doesn’t mean to say that any of it is more or less good than the rest. People see and interpret it differently which is what’s amazing about it all. Perhaps not so much ‘modern art’ that stuff is wellllll boring. You know like balancing a glass of water on top of a monkey sculpture made out of old ironing boards and calling it ‘A reflection of the Decline of the Textile Industry’. That stuff is rubbish. But luckily there was none of it to be found at this exhibition. It stimulated my mind, broadened my horizons and kept my short attention span going. Also there were some good looking broads there which is ALWAYS a good thing. Good job I was sober and on the clock!
Right, I’m off to Centre Parks with Jackson Pollock and Pablo Picasso. Cultured as Ya Nan!