I was commissioned to write a piece about artSouth as a preview for Nom de Strip. Now I’ve written a review, which will be in full on their website very soon. Here’s a taster of quite a long article:
Witnessing artSOUTH, uncovering the narratives
Before artSOUTH opened, I discussed the exhibition in the context of cultural tourism and discovery, which some disagreed with, partly due to an embedded belief in the visual arts sector that if work relates to tourism, then it is unlikely to be good art. The works on show at artSOUTH certainly qualify as good art, the concepts behind them run deep and warm – many of the artworks are so engaged with the human condition that they are almost visceral in sensibility. I saw most of the works on show and also attended a couple of talks and events. Holding the concept of discovery in my mind, I visited Southampton City Art Gallery for the first time, to see Jeremy Millar and Bouke de Vries’ works. I saw Mel Brimfield’s film-works installed in the John Hansard Gallery, and her live performance on the SS Shieldhall. Graham Gussin showed in Winchester; Elpida Hadzi-Vasileva in Mottisfont and Jordan Baseman in Portsmouth. Of all those places, I had only previously been to the John Hansard Gallery, so the journey of discovery was heightened by visiting new cities.
Mel Brimfield’s works provided sweet humour peppered with deep irony, comedy and tragedy, laughter and toe-curling moments. But they demanded a level of prior knowledge about art and humour from the audience, and I am curious as to how audiences younger than myself might relate to it. Particularly the performance, An Audience with Willie Little, depended on the viewer recognizing the characters portrayed – well known comedians such as Morecambe and Wise, Tony Hancock, Frankie Howerd, Kenneth Williams and Harry Secombe. The video installations at John Hansard also made specific references to artists and theatre, including Lee Krasner, Jackson Pollock and Brecht.
In comedy, humour and deep sadness nestle very close together and Brimfield’s work positioned the viewer in an uncomfortable place alternating between laughter and empathy, creating just a slight edge of nervous anxiety. The tiny cinema on the boat where the performance took place was intimate, reminding the audience of how many comedians startup, and possibly end up, working on cruise ships. Leaving the performance at the end and looking back at the makeshift stage, the achievement of Dickie Beaux (aka Willie Little), the performer, was even more evident – his changing area the size of a phone box, just beyond the sight-line of the stage drapes.
…………the full article will be here soon too.
In the meantime, do go and see the works and if it’s not too late to encourage you, they have a conference tomorrow in Winchester.
Visit artSOUTH website for all the details for conference, opening times and venues. As I say at the end of my article:
I still question the overall viability of geographically spread exhibitions from an audience perspective – too far apart to constitute a ‘festival’ sensibility, yet close enough to take in one or two works in a day. Whilst the concept behind the project is ‘collaboration’, there is no other common thread between the commissioned artworks. The connection between the works wasn’t evident. When the artSOUTH catalogue is available we will see all of the works brought together in a publication – I am intrigued to see how that will interpret the show as a body of works.
For those that present these complex exhibitions with multiple partners I have nothing but admiration. I know how challenging it is and how much is learnt along the way. While the arts sector in the region explores questions about Biennials and Festivals, these things are hot potatoes. Go and see the work, get involved, see what happens in action, enjoy.