Thursday, 28 September 2017

PLYMOUTH ART WEEKENDER 2017 - September 22-24 - Venues across Plymouth


ABOVE : Plymouth Art Weekender 2017 One of Peter Liversidge's Protest signs carried past one of Elmgreen and Dragset's 'A Good Neighbour' billboards

Last weekend the annual Plymouth Art Weekender unfurled in venues across the city, bringing together art lovers and artists from outside and inside the city in a celebration of creativity that focused attention on a vital sector of the regions cultural, economic and educational portfolio. The PAW has been invigorating Plymouth with an eclectic and exuberant display of innovative vitality for three years now, with specially commissioned and curated pieces from established national and International artists, rubbing shoulders with work from local artists, students and community groups. In an effort to create a lasting dialogue between the arts and people, the citywide arts show has pioneered an attitude of openness in presenting work that is truly engaging with the public.

From garden sheds to the cities own Council House and Civic Centre, in Devonport Park and Plymouth University, on buses and in tunnels at the Royal William Yard and the Barbican , the work could be found in every corner of Plymouth. 

ABOVE : Plymouth Art Weekender venue sign outside Plymouth School of Creative Arts (The Red House)


JOJO the cities own mononymous character photographer, exhibited 'U + Me = Us' a show adorning one wall on the Royal William Yards Ocean Studios. It was a lesson in affection. Laid out like a Victorian photo album the portraits of soul mates and Single mums reveals an easy intimacy with his sitters that years of practice cannot but fail to hone. The pictures are not grouped into two camps, so the effect is much like a wall in somebodies home. It invites you in, and encourages you to peer at the people featured, eager to learn more about them and what may be portrayed by the subtle choice of location, clothes or props that surround them. 

ABOVE : Plymouth Photographer JOJO's Exhibition 'U + Me = Us' at Ocean Studios

It is very easy to see the light touch of both Lange and Arbus in the selection and execution of this project, in which JOJO once again examines a panoply of people through the revealing lens of his camera. All presented with the same unjudgemental eye, they live and breathe, more than mere simulacrum , the sepia semblances presented as real people with complex lives and most importantly relationships, that are hinted at rather than overtly expressed in each portrait.

Effervescent's 'I am not a robot' presented at the Radiant Gallery is an immersive interactive show designed by local fostered children. The ground breaking dynamic arts company has been a glowing example of how to curate collaboratively for years now here in the city, and reminds many of us to look outward, demonstrating how to engage with the public by trusting them.

ABOVE : A Robot waiting to be cared for at Plymouth's Radiant Gallery

Radiant galleries amazing track record in standing alone as a child curated exhibition space is once again rewarded here with a strong show in which the roles played by foster carers are examined in a touching and beautiful display of sixty fluffy robots, all awaiting somebody to care for them. The sense of theatre , drama and playfulness is made all the more engaging by a brilliant set, and a fantastic score courtesy of Phil Innes and a volunteer choir. 

The show works because the need to be loved and looked after is subtly reinforced throughout. From the glowing touch sensors accessible to the public on the exterior of the gallery window, to the sofa provided for reading stories, and the messages on the floors and walls, the attention to detail reiterates the same message, and you can not help but be involved and empathetic to the plight of the doleful big eyed robots pleading for hugs.

'What Does Not Respect' based at The Athenaeum featured Louise R-Djukic's performance 'Eat me Eat You' , in which the artist makes bread dough and then after kneading it into a sizeable mattress then lies upon it using her bodies heat to activate the heat and aid it's rising. Whilst on the surface it may seem to be all about the distorted relationship between food and body image foisted on western females by a complicit and unrealistic media image of size zero femininity, it speaks also of the relationship between artists and material. 

It is not by accident (though a not a little pretentious) that the term 'artisan bread' has become part of the common vernacular. The are few more primal relationships than that between bread maker and dough. Beyond nutrition,the alchemy of combining simple everyday elements into pliable working dough is heavy with symbolism and potential. The hands here are never truly removed and are in fact still evident in the stretched elongated gouged finger channels that support Louise as she lies on the bed she has created. 

Artists have long been concerned with separating the creator and the created, but the moment in which the artist here arises after a couple of hours cultivating the yeast, extends the moment of separation and more than that, makes it visible. 

ABOVE : Louise R-Djukic's performance 'Eat me Eat You' in the tunnel at The Plymouth Athenaeum

Not only is the hard work of creation exposed but the old adage of removing the artists hand from the work is turned on it's head, as the artist herself has to remove the work from herself. The sticky dough clinging to her hair and arms, as she extrudes herself from the bed loaf.

Friday also saw the official launch of 'We The People Are The Work', a major visual arts project exploring ideas of power, protest and the public in a collaboration between five internationally renowned artists and the people of Plymouth.

ABOVE : Plymouth College of Art host venue for Matt Stoke's (UK) 'More than a Pony' show
Matt Stokes ' UK multi-screen film 'More than a Pony' opened at the gallery of Plymouth College of Art. The work documents five Plymouth bands from the PUNK DIY scene, in five different locations, supposedly “poignantly exploring punks legacy of protest and resistance”. The problem with the work is just how distant and uninvolved Stokes seems to be with the project. For an artist whose process is built on immersing himself in the culture and social structures out of which his subjects emerge, it is sad that his engagement here seems so utterly fleeting and without apperception.

The whole collaborative nature of the work is suffocated by a misguided belief that a single take, or reliance on stripping away a subtle sheen that is not there, by using 16 mm film or preserving the acoustic signature of the performance spaces themselves, is somehow enlightening. This is a vibrant living scene that has continued to evolve, not some relic that needs memorialising in such a condescending and formulaic manner. The last thing you should be asking yourself at a punk gig is 'Where is the passion?'

There is something almost apologetic in the freak show nature of the final piece, shown as it is within the sanitised and over used dark room gallery that so much video and film art has to hide within. Make no mistake this is not Bill Viola or Nam June Paik, and the precious handling of a genre that by it's very nature should be reflective, vibrant and out in the open, disparate and diffused on many types of media, renders it as lifeless as the stuffed mammals lounging behind the walls of the nearby museum undergoing a rebirth.

It is a shame. There is much to recommend, in the choice of bands and venues, the spotlight thrown onto a vital and visceral piece of what makes Plymouth's music scene refuse to die. There is though no trace of protest, no confrontation , and even the yearning there in Darren Johns aching voice, for a venue and scene that helped shape his remarkable evolution, is almost voided by poor handling and execution. The Bus Station Loonies also are presented as anything but the riotous unpredictable camp bastards that have populated their live shows for 20+ years. You just can't hear it properly and the film and sound dispersal is incredibly flat and lacking in innovation. There is nothing here to differentiate it and the work of a student film maker. No interactivity, no gravitas, no impact.

It is the promoters and landlords, (often band members themselves), that keep the flame alive. Yet there is no trace of them or the most vital ingredient of all, the fans, here. In a city blessed with virtual Punk Historians like Mark Mcillvanney and spectacular characters with an almost religious devotion and zeal for the bands, it is indicative of somebody dipping their toe in, rather than getting wet , that they, the zines, the memorabilia etc are not included. With bands as epic and demonstrative as Damerels and compact, chaotic and divisive as Piss Midget, it is strange how uninspiring, tepid and safe the films manage to be. Here in a place where the Punk scene can piss like a race horse, the pony is rendered danger free and mouse like, as if it would barely register a tinkle on blotting paper.


ABOVE : The WonderZoo Bus tour of Plymouth. Part of the Art Weekender Bus Sessions

The Wonder Zoo bus tour of Plymouth saw members of the Fantasy Orchestra Plymouth, the comedy Avengers, Nick Ingram MC and Peter Davey join art lovers and confused commuters on a irreverent charabanc ride around the city. The works outing started with a lively rendition of the Sound of Music as we left Royal Parade, and though many of us never quite hit the right notes, the laughs were more frequent than a lot of the services . I know I will hear what I have heard before , but the juxtaposition of a band on a bus with comedy and poetry is remarkably successful , reminiscent as it is, of a time when such public group interactions were common place, and people were not so prone to suspicion and the safety of their own headphone imposed partition and seclusion.

ABOVE : Plymouth Fantasy Orchestra playing on the PAW WonderZoo Bus Tour

The highlight as travelling up Crownhill Road through West Park, Honicknowle and passing the pedestrian bridge that links to my childhood estate of Whitleigh, was Marion Claire's amazing poem “Whales”. Performed with great craft, wit and nuance, and embellished by a handy megaphone for the giant mammalian punch lined chorus, she held a captivated audience, that had they been out shopping, would no doubt have missed their stop.

'Benthic Caress' the one hour long eco-acoustic participatory performance piece by Laura Denning in collaboration with Take a Part and the artists featured, was set in Devil's Point tidal sea pool. The work saw 100 people stood, sat and walking around the pool, set as it is looking out to sea, with headphones on listening to a curated programme of sound works with the saline wilderness situated at the centre of the experience.

Bringing sound outside into the boundless wide open space that is the sea's edge seems to be an easy way of allowing the general public, whose experience of sonic work has been previously deferred due to a perception that it is a solitary and self indulgent, indoor intellectual exercise, a no brainer. In fact site specific work is not a new thing with electro acoustic music and sound art, where boundaries are often the subject of a piece. Though reflection and refraction are often the focus for sonic art practitioners, as obsessed with this basic building block of acoustic phenomenon, as visual artist are with the play of light, the great outdoors has often been an arena for sound dispersal.

There is though the interesting irony that the very building blocks of synthesis and sound manipulation, (effects), are present here in abundance, in the ever changing and frequency deep range of white noise that makes up the sound of the tide slapping against the sand. This granular building block, is so omnipresent on the edges of our island, that the sound which surrounds us, permeates in a quite unnoticed way and is not something upon which many of us reflect.

Benthic Caress negates a lot of the supposed inaccessibility of sound work in allowing the listeners the freedom to engage with the work on their own terms. There is nothing so friendly and familiar as a the British seaside and the inclusion of such easy listening classics as Ronald Binges “Sailing By”, triggered a beautiful moment in which a couple embraced, and dance along the sea wall. 

ABOVE : The tidal pool at Devil's point served as a venue for 'Benthic Caress'

The prelude to the shipping forecast, itself a powerful and populist piece of sound art, in which though people understand it to be a useful and necessary broadcast for those navigating the sometimes treacherous waters that surround us, is now cherished as a relic of a bygone age. A sonic monument, in which the cadence and timber of each location is loaded with much more meaning than the words geographic location. This is the heart of sonic art. A willingness to submit to the underlying ,and remove the surface, a process as simple as Pierre Schaeffer removing the attack of a violins bow to render an instrument anew, and an acknowledgement that sound itself has meaning, power and symbolism that operates within us in ways we are not in control of. It is the great manipulator, the most undercover and passive of senses in which an open eye, outstretched hand or inhaled scent is not necessary for us to be immersed into it's world.

Visible from the pool is the archway that looks into the Royal William Yard. This is where 'Compound' was situated, with a joint cinematic exploration of a Dartmoor pool in one small outhouse/store, both films running next to each other, and an installation featuring stacked TV screens (where have I seen that before?) and separate feeds, in the shed opposite.

The cities role as a prime educator is well represented at this festival, with not only the University and PCA hosting exhibitions from established artists, but also by providing a platform for emerging artists in shows across Plymouth . Masters students were represented in the Mills Bakery building at The Royal William Yard with their own graduation show open to the public.

The most striking of these pieces for me was that of Monica Shanta. In 'Death is a Place' the artist is sat on a white galley floor, plaiting what looks like black wool, into a long coiled rope laid out as a perfect circle on which she sits. Reminiscent of Hirst's 'Black Sun' , Shanta's work instead of focusing on stasis and the end of movement, reminds us that life is indeed a journey, and while the base of each hair follicle contains a matrix of cells that divide to make each strand longer, once death happens, contrary to popular belief the idea that hair continues to grow is a myth. (The gruesome truth is that the shrinking of a dead persons skin may makes this growth appear to happen). So we are all at the centre of our own big black dots, weaving the inevitability of our own demise with every seemingly meaningful interaction, twist and turn. However much hair or physical, spiritual and intellectual growth we feel like we manage to fit into a lifetime, in the grand scheme of things, the reality is, like the dots of hair after a grade 1 buzz cut, we are all mere punctuation marks, on the scalp of humanity.

The little marks continue in Laura Edmunds explorations of energy at Ocean Studios. 'A Soft Introduction' examines residual effect through drawing and sound. This study attempts to capture energy through space, and the intricate but zoetic marks are here presented, often along tiny lines, like a vastly expanded stave on which the excitable notes are given free reign to express their progress through time. There is a delighted child spinning in-between the installed sound work nearby, as if to certify the presence of velocity in the room. There is though no sense of progression or true randomness in the order of works on the wall, and they do somewhat impose their own boundaries on a study which seems to be seeking to free them from the page.

ABOVE : Emerge held a show entitled 'Together' showing work from some of the cities Reugee population
Further along the studios, in the Emerge space, is the work of some of the cities refugees. The photographs produced in conjunction with Fotonow CIC and Devon and Cornwall Refugee support is inspired by the theme of artists Elmgreen and Dragset .(' A Good Neighbour' works, that are up on billboards around the civic centre).

The photographs are representative of a way of exploring not only the city, but the place of these new arrivals within it and the way they respond to it. There are also Jenny Mellings simple but touching and effective paintings of the 'Jungle' camp in Calais in a tent, situated somewhat incongruously on the opulent green at the entrance to the Royal William Yard, to mirror both sides of the conversation. A way in which the strands that link many works from the PAW across locations, seems to be a unified theme, in a city of separate groups, that radiate across the municipal expanse.

Through happen stance, rather than design, the theme of communities and places that symbolise Plymouth as a place to depart from, continues in Sam Akroyd and Christian Gales 'Bretonside'. Comprised of paintings, and sound again, the home to the same vibrant culture that is touched upon in Matt Stokes film of the Bus Station Loonies (PUNK ), is remarked upon here, by two of the cities citizens of Rave Culture. (Some of the sound itself arriving from stems of Soundcube's ground breaking Stochastic Bizarre premiered in the then vacant RWY Cooperage building 10 years ago).

The piece is a little hemmed, in within this small room, but serves as a precursor to a much bigger installation planned for the future, where Bretonside and the communities that thrived in and around the clubs and icnonic building that was the Bus Station, will be explored and celebrated.

ABOVE :Open Studios were a part of the Plymouth Art Weekender at Ocean Studios in The Royal William Yard

There is an invitation here in the Royal William Yard to explore the artists studios, and a crocheted, or knitted chain, leads you through the space in an inspired and inclusive nod to craftsmanship, and the hand skills of the artisans that once populated these buildings. There is also a plethora of events across the weekend for children and young people to get involved with making, with a fun screen printing workshop here in the ocean studios quadrangle, and a 'Made in Plymouth Maker Space Family Activitie' inside the galley, itself filled with children making prints and 3D stick figures. With the inclusion of a number of events in the Red House in Millbay, and the brilliant, important and moving 'I am not a Robot' at Radiant, it is nice to see young people catered for and recognised as future artists and audience members at this weekender.

Saturday night saw the Junction opened up for 'Feminist Fusion' a night of all female or female led bands with live poetry art and speeches and games. It is refreshing in a city like Plymouth to have such a strong representation within the arts of scene of women leading the way in innovation, leadership and creation with luminaries like Eloise Malone, Lucy Dafwyn, Hannah Rose, Rachel Dobbs, Dr Hannah Drayson, Julie Ellis, Vickie Fear, Jo Beer, etc arguably leading the resurgence of art in Plymouth from the front. So it was nice to see an evening where Feminism was addressed, and female musicians, again very well represented in the local scene (Devon and Cornwall), take front of stage.


Studio 102 showcased Adrien Bishop's 'I Don't Believe Birmingham Exists' , in which the artist seeks to provoke a critical response by presenting a series of beliefs and challenging them on their ridiculousness . The energised characters staring out from beneath the sloganized beliefs seem deranged,alien and uncertain, at times oddly symbiotic and at others, at odds with their own, often ludicrous, but firmly held beliefs. Bishop is here for a second time in Marcus Crandon's vibrant and ever changing gallery.

Further along the Barbican and secreted away in the cobbled alleyway of New Street is Paul Hillon and Liam Symes work 'Gestalt'. Both agreeing on the premise of working in monochrome and exploring the idea of Gestalt, the idea that something can be more than the sum of it's parts. Hillon's work here is three dimensional and sculptural with Symes small oil paintings hanging on the walls, working over and around found internet images.

In one of 'We The People Are The Work' s most succesful iterations, Peter Liversidges 'Sign Paintings' , ( based in a Council House in which Protests are not usually so welcome ) have managed to disperse themselves around the city. I have photographed them myself in their subtle interactions with other work around the city during this show. It was nice to see them being created though, here by a team of skilled artists and volunteers including the talented and thought provoking artist Alan Qualtrough. Painted from a selection that visitors could browse a book to choose from, this form of democracy using locals own slogans again helped to really unify this show, in spreading a message across the miles that encompass our city.

Karst presents, as another part of 'We The People Are The Work' , Claire Fontaine's Neon sign ' Have Cake & Eat it' and a map of the British Isles built out of black match-book matches. Lit before the show, and representing the UK awaiting an uncertain future after Brexit, the whole thing doesn't quite work. There is always a danger of glibness when parodying slogans, phrases and sound bites, that the work actually ends up being, in and of itself, more shallow and superficial than that which it is commenting on. That feels to be the case here. Whilst Liveridge's signs are at least the result of canvassing the public , Fontaine's work seems to have little to do with the public at all and much like documenting the idea of something with which the art is in no way engaged. Matt Stokes 'More than a Pony Show' at least demonstrated an attempt to engage with the people, even if the resulting work managed to neuter and sanitise it's subject to the point of banality, and render a scene still vibrant and alive into a tepid mausoleum for the masses.

There is also something a little squalid and token about Karst's own contribution, 'Peepshow' . A show in which curiously the only charming thing to hold ones attention is the rather obvious, but graceful and witty appearance of a cavorting dancer, who at least seems to acknowledge that there will be somebody watching this vignette from the other side of the door. Much of the other peepholes are filled with work, which seems made for the artists themselves, all either curiously very quiet in their work or entirely absent in more ways than one. Not quite a disaster but you fear that even if Mitchell and Webb were to put in an appearance, Channel 4 would not be commissioning it.

ABOVE : Tony Hill, creator of 'Floor Film'

In stark contrast, Tony Hill's poetic remake of his own 1975, 'Floor Film', originally shot on 16mm and shown at Tate Britain in London and the George Pompidou Centre in Paris, now remade in high definition, is a triumph of unpretentious lyricism. It is billed as a film that can be enjoyed by audiences of all ages, and whilst I was in the tent, a father and his 18 month old daughter demonstrated this very clearly, taking advantage of the one of the pieces strokes of genius. A soft floor.

The little girl loved interacting with the ebbing tide, the giant vocalising mouth and anything else the film threw onto the malleable mattress. The other very simple device was the mounting of a camera above the floor film and a projector outside to replay in real time the interactions of audience members, with the film in a more conventional trajectory against a white wall. I was reminded of Barthes and the post modern surrealists in the very object defined deployment of a simple symbolic language. It is hard to make something appear as perfectly formed and effortless as this, and Tony Hill succeeds in creating an accessible aperture through which the unfamiliar can immerse themselves in art.

Far from being useless, Elefante Blanco, large though the giant inflated white tent is, proves an unwitting but very fitting tribute the pioneering spirit of the Red House in which the performance was staged. Three different artists, a dancer, designer and musician from Bristol, have created a performance/installation piece in which the obscured and silhouetted form of the dancer reacts to a sound track, which itself evolves and reflects a freedom and willingness to play with light, timbre and space, highlighted here with the simple use of first a red, and then green light.

ABOVE : Plymouth Athenaeum host to 'Cafe Concrete' part of Plymouth's Art Weekender 2017

The weekend for me ends with a return to the Athenaeum and an evening of experimental electronica under the considered and careful curation of Cafe Concrete's Matthew Coombe. The highlight of the evening is Koombe's own set of improvisations with bass, electronics and domestic objects. It is always nice when a little nervous energy is allowed to infect an electronic performance, and the per formative element of his loop layering, imbued the whole piece, particularly the final composition, with an elegant vulnerability with which the audience could empathise. Many of the weekends producers, performers, artists and musicians were present, and Neil Rose, the cities own sonic jewel (hovering in the background of, and helping to realise at least two other pieces over the weekend) did a sterling job of kneading our leaven heavy tired shoulders, and easing us all back into the real world in the evening before Monday morning's heralding the return to work.

Here is to next year, and another weekend of recognising, celebrating and indulging the senses in three days of art and creativity, that speaks to Plymouth and all that visit her over the duration.

Thanks to Greenbeanz Photography for the use of photographs