Tuesday, 25 June 2013

Review: my highlights from Fringe Arts Bath 2013

35 Stall Street in Bath has morphed into a commercial space again but here’s a chance to reminisce on the kaleidoscope of artwork that was on display a few weeks ago as part of FAB 2013. The multi-storey gallery utilised all available spaces to display some truly unique work. Here are three that left the biggest impression on me.

Grey and Dismal Green

At the back of the first floor, Stephen Spicer tried to articulate the feelings experienced by individuals suffering from depression, based on his own and the experiences of others. It is no doubt a tough subject to tackle for a number of reasons. One of these is the emotional impact on the artist, trying to bring out into open exhibition space those corners of the mind which are usually plagued by grey shadows and, indeed, dismal greens. However, Stephen seems to have done it justice. His pieces combined text, reflecting the state of mind of a depressed individual (The realisation that hope has died and only existence remains ), simple drawings and installation. Each was a step further into the feelings depression could bring about. What started as fairly structural, visually pleasing images, turned into chaotic installations - the line of booths normally used as fitting rooms mirrored the retrieval into the darkest corners of one’s mind. Approaching the last, darkest lit booth, made me fearful of what would wait around the corner, the impact vividly showing the anxieties and despair of a depressed individual. I dwelled on these feelings for a moment, rethinking my attitude towards such individuals. There is a planned a book of Stephen’s drawings to be published in 2014 that will explore and discuss these matters further.

In This Space

Even the transition between the ground and first floor needn’t be boring. Each step provided a new angle to take in the work of two artists Susannah Critchley and Gillian McFarland, both of whom are based in Bath. Susannah’s photographs from different seasons and settings, explored the patterns, texture and urban decay found around us, with an interest in the patterns made by trees. A particular image stood out – the reflection of a tree and the landscape around it in the front booth of a car, almost as crisp as if it were a real mirror, captured by Susannah before it turns to disorderly rain water again.
Gillian’s free-flowing experimental pieces in watercolour technique were an appropriate backdrop to Susannah’s structural works. The artist seemed to have an interest in the boldest kind of purple, like ink spilling from a bottle over a crisp blank page; and the impression of different lines and shades which was created by many punched dots of varying textures. Looking back  from the top of the stairs, the arrangement of her contrasting pieces, made it look a lot more structured, as if the free-flowing paintings would only create an orderly pattern in this combination.

 In Other Words

On the second floor, I felt transformed back into a time before computers where only text and typewriters existed. However, In Other Words, was actually interested in exploring the future of language. The breadth of artwork was incredible and the following is only a small selection of the work on display. The exhibition showed text as a visual entity, a surprisingly enticing one. The exhibition was very interactive, with performative writing, speaking and reading events on the 1st and 8th of June. There was also art designed to be taken home. One such piece was a pile of double-printed paper sheets, one side arguing why this piece is the best piece of art ever made, the other counter-arguing why it is the worst. As well as exploring the boundaries of the persuasive power of writing, this piece seemed to objectively outline a number of arguments over what is art in our modern age. A beautiful addition were Dreamboxes by Frances Bloomfield. It showed the 3D value of words, making up intricate scenes with trees, stairs, people, and a number of other things hanging in suspense in Frances’s boxes. It evoked that same magical feeling as I remember having when looking at pop-up books in childhood. 

Several artists also toyed with the technological advancements to text in the future. A Nokia user manual discussed the creation of poetry and other writing, noted down in a text message rather than a notebook. Viewers could take a away one such spur of an idea from an ‘outbox’ pile, but only if they deposited a text from their phones in an ‘inbox’ pile. The artist had left a message to the public “go for a walk. write down what you see and hear and text it to me: 07843724207”.

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