ABOVE : Plymouth Art Weekender 2019 Opening event the private view of KARST's 'Bad Actors' exhibition
Plymouth Art Weekender 2019 | Devon and Cornwall Art and Event Photography
Edible Albatross, Invisible Fourth Walls, Dickie Attenborough appearing on a Dress worn by an Anteater, Water Everywhere, the Brexit Zoo, Asteroids and Pom Poms, More Water, People Howling, Landscape through the Eyes of Robots and The Excavation of Buried Canvases. This years three day arts festival, the 2019 Plymouth Art Weekender.,once again brought together artists and the public in a celebration of this city, and it's beating creative heart.
There was much to love, but not so many of the vibrant public engaging spectacles outside that had drawn people closer, from across the city, and further afield, over other weekenders. A combination of an emphasis on taking part in making, and the weather, meant that much happened inside.
Still there was still plenty of variety to enjoy, Art as Salvation, Christian Iconography, Facing the Apocalypse and Embracing Community by Making, were all strong themes this year, and with several of the exhibitions running on past this weekend, there is the opportunity to enjoy new work from local, national and international artists in Plymouth all year round.
The guide itself was a little confusing and harder to navigate than in previous years, and the publicity was not as prevalent, it rained, and then some, and so it was not surprising that numbers seemed down. It is a shame, because there were some great exhibitions and performances. So if you missed it, here is a quick round up of what I got to see. There is much that I have missed but there are still many opportunities to go and see stuff, along with new shows popping up all over the city, this October.
ABOVE : Howard Dyke Canvas at Karst on show during the 2019 Plymouth Art Weekender
The opening PAW event this year, was the private view of 'Bad Actors', an exhibition of paintings at KARST, that takes it's cue from Pirandellos absurdest play 'Six Characters in search of an Author'. The gallery was very full with art lovers and the artists engaged in conversation, (helped no doubt by the ubiquitous Becks available in abundance) and the atmosphere was convivial and friendly. It was everything an opening event should be.
Although some of the work was hung 'informally' and the scale was refreshing, it seemed a little bit more like a representation of flats, than work that was breaking down the fourth wall. Taken as a whole the show certainly works in redefining what is essentially just a white space, but some of the pieces viewed as the performance of a singular actor, seemed a little bit more soap opera like, than RSC, in it's ability to convey drama or tell a story.
ABOVE : Dominic Kennedy one of the exhibiting artists in 'Bad Actor' Plymouth 2019
Pamela Bartlett's huge pennant sail 'Shout' echoed maritime thoughts of her Brighton home and this city, a connection shared by much more than the football teams and the punk scene. Hung from ceiling to floor, it in itself acted much like a fourth wall in providing a curtain one could duck under to join the on-stage action. It faced a huge pink Howard Dyke work, tilting toward the ground in the centre of the room beneath the skylight. I don't think this is Dyke's first tilted piece, and one wonders if this angle originated in the simple inability of anything but a huge ceilinged warehouse, being able to provide enough space to raise it vertically. The paint seemed in a rush to run down it, outlining what felt to me like a messianic figure at it's centre.
There was a refreshing moment when the artist and Pamela and other helped him move the giant canvas . Refreshing because some struts were removed, a power drill came out, the chain attached to it was smacked against the galleries concrete floor and tiny chips of paint left the canvas scattering beneath it. The sense of meta-theatre that was missing returned to the room for a moment, and the actor revealed himself.I left passing Dominic Kennedy's Abstract orange and blue square canvas near the entrance, down the steps and past Stuart Robinson's pink arrowed 'I am Westward Ho!' A traveling installation I was passing not for the last time over the weekend.
ABOVE : Stuart Robinson's mobile installation outside the Karst Gallery in Plymouth
Across the road at Union Corner, a community space with an organic feel and a growing sense of belonging, I caught The Blessed Pangolin as part of the WestFordNeedles show. Blessed Pangolin connected at once with an expectant audience in a show that unfurled over and around her. Classic rushes and clips featuring largely British TV and Television Icons, projected onto her Dress. Icon like herself , Pangolin, A Brazilian statue brought to life, resplendent with a fairy light crown of thorns, led the assembled In a messianic dance, reclaiming nostalgia from the choking grip of the xenophobic and lazy. Those who would venerate a curious imaginary history that censors anything of real value, and mistake a parody or kitsch plastic flat copy for the real thing, would have found it hard not to be moved by the vellicating Arteater.
ABOVE : Blessed Pangolin performs in support of the WestFordNeedles show at Union Corner
Even better than the real thing, the hyper real light drenched venal swirling folds of fabric here, swayed in sympathy with a dancing hollering enthusiastic crowd, embracing perhaps not just the reclaiming of Britishness ,but also their own memories of rave culture and the great eclectic and diverse infuences whose seeds were planted deep within it . Here in the shadow of the Academy ,a theatre that housed it's own congregation of dancing new disciples , a building created to celebrate the fanciful and dramatic, the dreamers not the demagogues, shadows of Brexit began to be cast out like errant demons.
ABOVE : Projection from the Blessed Pangolin Show
In the garden outside I discussed with a fellow Amiga fan how that brilliant machine had by its very lo-fi restrictions and four channel limit , honed and sharpened an entire subculture from the 8-bit Commodore crew who coded early chip tunes and pulsing graphics, to the Amiga ravers who built on that foundation. In 2014 Lumos had projected onto the Palace theatre behind us,celebrating the 100th year anniversary of the three towns of Plymouth, East Stonehouse and Devonport, foreshadowing the Art weekender that followed in 2015, not by recreating a fantasy empire past, but by embracing the little things, the grubbiness, the entire spectrum that shaped the history of that building and the city.
It like the weekender never fell into binary choices of the brutalism of the Civic centre or the craft used in creating both the central and Devonport Guildhall. The community was served by all and it was at this point I had a weird premonition of a giant Maschinenmensch leaning over the top of the Union corner wall and plucking me out from the garden and then tossing me aside like a broken action man. The robots were indeed on their way, but nothing would be clear until Saturday evening at the earliest.
ABOVE : Blessed Pangolin at Union Corner for the Plymouth Art Weekender
St Saviours Hall built as a Sunday School in the 1880's housed over the weekend the works of the artist Louise Courtnell and sketches by her mentor and teacher, the cities own artist, Robert Lenkiewicz. It has been 40 years now since his 'Old Age Project' was shown in 1979 and sketches from that show were on display at the back of the hall. The main wall showed paintings from Louise Courtnell's own 'Project Lydos'. Together they were presented as 'The Coming of Age'.
ABOVE :'Project Lydos' part of 'Coming of Age' Portraits of Kingsand and Cawsands residents
Louise's original project consisted of 50 oil paintings, recording two generations born in Kingsand and Cawsands between 1910 and 1944. The remarkable thing about seeing the 20 odd paintings drawn from the collection here is how much of the painter herself is revealed, when seeing the faces of a community looking back at her. For me the painting of Phyliss Cooper is particularly powerful in the stillness and directness of her gaze. She holds you still ,and does not look past or behind you, matching the straightforward open enquiry of her archivist.
BELOW: Plymouth born Artist Louise Courtnell with her 'Losing Robert' self portrait from 2002
In tiny fragments you see the painter leave her telling marks, and like Robert, honouring the time she spends with sitters with unsentimental honesty. It is a timely reminder of how art both connects and confronts us, with the uncomfortable reality of our own mortality.Robert had said to Louise how he had lived the lives of 10 men and you get the sense that for her like Robert, there is nothing like painting that satiates and feeds that hunger for life, nothing as nourishing.
ABOVE : Laura Denning howling in rememberance for 'Go Rewild Youself' Plymouth 2019
Another artist involved with remembrance and the recording of loss is Laura Denning. Laura's work Bethnic Caress had moved me and opened minds and hearts of many on the shoreline at Devil's Point, with the power of sound in 2017. She had also made Hydrosapien, a BSL silent choir piece with two experimental voice artists last year, and returned again now in 2019, this time to the city centre with Go Rewild Yourself.
ABOVE : A rememberance ice slab from Laura Denning's work in Plymouth City Centre
Laura, whose relationship to water is a well she often returns to, is also involved with repeatedly confronting the reality of climate change. The mass extinction we are undergoing is a recurrent theme in much of her recent work. Go Rewild Yourself urged participants to engage directly with this species loss by creating an ice tombstone for a loss species. That ice block was then ceremonially placed next to others and allowed to melt over a day (after a simple ceremony that involved yellow roses and howling) to acknowledge not just the demise of so many animals, but also the emergency we all face.
BELOW : The Ice tombstones from Laura Denning's 'Go Rewild Yourself' artwork 2019
Facing the imminent collapse of the model of capitalism that is neo-liberalism, Aaron Bastani is interested in looking back to the works of Marx as tools to enlighten us. Not just for alternative ways to address the system that has accelerated climate change so rapidly in our live times, but to make it clear that there really is another way to live and work together. He is not alone in finding that looking behind us into the past, is often the best way to project new shapes onto the future.
ABOVE : Aaron Bastini at Ocean Studios discussing his book as part of Plymouth Social Club
Aaron Bastani came at the invitation of Plymouth Social Club to discuss ideas from his book 'Fully Automated Luxury Communism' at Ocean Studios in The Royal William Yard. The accompanying exhibition, Chris Drake's 'New Economic Models (Luxury, abundance and living the good life versus climate breakdown and resource depletion)' returned to the Messianic themes of redemption in a weekend rightly concerned with all thing apocalyptic.
ABOVE : Chris Drake's 'Saviour Machine'
With his piece 'Saviour Machine' Drake looks toward Robots, and inspired by the chapter 'Full Automation' from Bastani's book. The exhibtion is full of futurism, but this image is concerned with robots and their depiction. The religious like mantra to obey their human masters, with the pertinent warning of war robots created in the image of their masters, (who like their religious counterparts can be programmed to forget the commandment 'Thou shalt not kill') provided a fitting backdrop, alongside Drakes other digital work, to Bastanis talk.
ABOVE : 'Fully Automated Luxury Communism' at The Royal William Yard
Mining Asteroids on a windy and wet September night was for me interestingly juxtaposed with Holly Martin and Emmy Palmer's 'Project Pom Pom'. An installation in a weekend in which making and taking part was prominent, the pom poms were made,displayed ,and then raffled to raise awareness and funds for local charity Friends and families of Special Children. The Pom Poms gave welcome relief through what at times was quite a heavy talk. Blowing across the windows like willow blossom, and brushing away the rain drops, like tears removed by the sight of children, unburdened with the heavy weight of adulthood, smiling.
ABOVE : 'Project Pom Pom' outside Ocean Studios Gallery PAW 2019
Like Laura Denning, Kate Thorn has a relationship with the sea and water that ties much of her work together. As well as the live sea painting she finished with the help of 12 visitors , there are canvases of beaches and a view of Albert Bridge that draws on her many journeys underneath it sailing up the Tamar, informed also from the view above it, up on the Tamar Road Suspension bridge.
ABOVE : Kate Thorn with her paintings at what was the Customs house on the Barbican
Like Louise Courtnell whose 50 sitters had all come from the community at Cawsands, Kate too has a great affinity with community and place.Her work is very approachable, maybe in part due to her previous work teaching and working in a CIC cafe. That natural empathy is demonstrated wonderfully in her interpretation of her cousin Joe's poem “Rivervibes”.
As with Paul Klee in his depictions of music, you can get a real sense of rhythm from Kate's canvas, but also amongst the abstract brush work, there are small hard edged vignettes. These more regular lines at right angles, anchor the landscapes that may have fuelled those dreams and helped lay down memories. Even here water is ever present, one of those vignettes calling to mind Loch Lomond for me, something Kate herself recognised having visited the beautiful lake herself in Scotland.
ABOVE : 'Rivervibes' Kate Thorn (Spindrift) Plymouth Art Weekender 2019
Generously opening his home and studio to PAW, Myles Coker moved from London to Penzance before coming to Plymouth. He exhibited some paintings of Richmond pond using the same parts of the colour spectrum as the Mars Rover did when looking for mineral deposits. Less Super Luxury Communism , more community and courses and more Monet than money, the Hands on Art hub (HOAH) he houses here provides art courses for those with Dyslexia.
ABOVE : Myles Coker part of the Plymouth Art Weekender at his Studio in Plymouth
Lost without a studio space at the moment after recently moving house, PAW and the HOAH are giving glass artist ,Carole Rolfe from Smashing Glass that opportunity for engagement this weekend. Aimed at those with a visual impairment, but open to all, Carole asked the sitter who was there when I visited about the object and was amazed at her guessing the colour. In her hands was a glass jellyfish and it was fascinating to see how the person experiencing the object through touch felt that it was something solar but blue.
BELOW: The Glass Artist Carole Rolfe and a participant in 'Touching Sight' 2019
Underneath a now clear blue sky at the Ocean Studios exhibtion space upstairs before the pods, was the work of mother and daughter. Beverley Roach often works with the fabrics and materials outside 'en plein air' and then continues to work on them in her studio. She uses things like Rabbit glue on canvas to stiffen and add a dimension for when fabrics are hung and twisted. I remarked how much like animal hides they seemed with the stitching and orchra hues, and she thought that subliminally she may have been conscious of that likeness, but that it was not a conscious intention. That raw primal interface with nature is there though, and extends to drawing and mark making, painting, colouring on rocks and submerging canvas in water etc. One canvas had been buried and now the decay is visible as an organic hole in one corner.
ABOVE :'Borderlands' Plymouth Art Weekender at Ocean Studios in The Royal William Yard
The sketches, many of which are anatomical, put me in mind of Leoanardo's anatomy studies. I wonder if this using time to mark an object, is there in all art, and lies at the heart of it's quest for true authenticity. As artists it is a constant struggle to get far away enough from the object to view it as another. Maybe a buried urge to link it into the work of great masters of the past, is there for us all, not because of ego or self importance, but because it is quite natural for works that resonate to last the longest, before fading into obscurity, and joining that pantheon is a secret dream of many. Just like a very earnest and independent musician, who of course desires both to be taken seriously as not superficially interested in fame for it's own sake, but not so disinterested that their work does not deserve recording and archiving like the heroes who inspired them.
BELOW: Beverley Roach at Ocean Studios
Bevereley exhibits alongside her daughter Mathilda Roach Osborne here whose own work is more concerned with the inner landscape of dreams and memory. There are elements of Christian iconography at work here among the objects and the the multifaceted luminous quality of stained glass sits well on her canvases of the unconscious, in a building blessed with floods of light that have replaced the downpours of Saturday.
BELOW: Plymouth Art Weekender 2019 Mathilda Roach Osborne's work
In Matthew Raw's Tactile Change at Plymouth College of Art his handmade ceramic work does very well in conveying it's message and themes, but is all a bit too shiny. In contrast to the white tiled maze, a terracotta toned 'Taking Back Control' panel on the white gallery wall, seems to cleverly cast us all as animals in a concrete hell over which domination needs to be exercised. Like some internal version of colonialism in which we as unruly wild citizens are tranquillized with propaganda, and then taken sleeping into an only slightly less static state of stupor and stasis, this endless new state between the conscious holding pens of inside and outside, we now call Brexit
ABOVE: Matthew Raw's 'Taking Back Control' tile, part of 'Tactile Change' 2019
It is all a bit polite for a work inspired by Plymouth's old Zoo ,which according to those who visited it, was little more than a mausoleum for mammals, and the children's illustrations of wellyphants kind of betray that in their naivety. It is ironic in an artist called Raw, that the the unwillingness to remind us of how truly horrible humans can be to other species, is lost in a solid long piece of work that properly engaged and worked with the community here.
We live now in a weird world were years of darkness from people voluntarily locking themselves in their own idealogical enclosures have led myopic leaders to think that 48% is now an irrelevant and soon to be extinct minority. Like Zoos trumpeted by rather sad thick skinned pachyderms, they remind us like dinosaurs, how blind they can be to their own conservation. We are all guilty at times of lacking the Elephants own giant empathy and should be careful to not trample over habitat, physical and cultural,further endangering us all.
BELOW: Plymouth College of Art showing Matthew Raw's 'Tactile Change' exhibition
Much like the journeying Elephant in Raw's piece, the 'MARINER : A painted ship upon a painted ocean' exhibition at The Levinsky Gallery, also tackles migration, transience, hidden histories and the vulnerabilities of isolation.
Launching here and marking the 400th anniversary of the Mayflower leaving for America, the exhibition featuring work inspired by Samuel Taylor Coleridge's classic poem The Rime of the Ancient Mariner, will then sail on to The Andrew Brownsword Gallery, University of Bath and the John Hansard Gallery at the University of Southampton.
ABOVE: Lucy and Jorge Orta's 'The Raft of the Medusa' at the Roland Levinsky Gallery
Central is Lucy and Jorge Orta's elegant and multi-sensory installation The Raft of the Medusa. It is a lesson in how objects and space can be used poetically to tell their own stories, without waste and distraction. Referencing the French Romantic painting 'Le Radeau de la Méduse' by Théodore Géricault, (painted just a year after Coleridge's poem and part of the same Romantic movement) their preperation and attention to detail mirrors the painter and lithographers own work in its brilliant execution. Long concerned with, and award winning, in the fields of environmentally awareness and sustainability, the work dominates the gallery as an island around which everything else seems to float.
BELOW: Mariner : A painted ship upon a painted Ocean Plymouth Art Weekender 2019
The clothes that lie on the floor among the oversized rope bobbins, the rope of which seems to tie the installation together (on screen and through the objects) create the sense of a moving edge. Like waves lapping against a shore, the soft bundles contrast with the upright oars, divorced for the foam ontop of the hut, creating a real palpable tension. The act of discarding those clothes here has a political resonance that has less to do with nymphs/sirens, and more to do with the consumption of humans by those on the raft, through sweatshops and disposable fashion.
ABOVE: The Orta's installation part of MARINER: A painted ship upon a painted ocean
The entire island of waste is rather beautiful like a theatre set, and is in complete contrast to the abstract fourth wall breaking post modern Pirandello play that serves as the inspiration for KARST new show which opened the PAW 2019. Yes, the Orta's work is somewhat idealised from the perfectly proportioned symmetry that extends to the models, poised and exquisitely weighted, but it is using the same iconography of redemption the Coleridge does in Mariner.
ABOVE : Angela Cockayne's, 'Man and Bird and Beast' referencing Coleridges poem
The Orta's partnership work here, on so many levels, is representative of more that one island , including the one we are all living on. The Messianic Albatross, a messenger warning us all, is eaten in the rush to commodify nature, and like the crew of Coleridge and Géricault vessels we are as a society heading toward a point where
“... every tongue, through utter drought,
Was withered at the root
We could not speak, no more than if
We had been choked with soot.”
BELOW : Ocean Studios Open Studios Plymouth Art Weekender 2019
We would be closer to the shoreline if we did not ignore warnings and pointers in the shape of David Attenborough and Greta Thunberg and art too is often a political act.
Iris Murdoch who knew a thing or two about poetry once said herself about art
“Tyrants always fear art because tyrants want to mystify while art tends to clarify. The good artist is a vehicle of truth, he formulates ideas which would otherwise remain vague and focuses attention upon facts which can then no longer be ignored. The tyrant persecutes the artist by silencing him or by attempting to degrade or buy him. This has always been so. “
ABOVE : Notopia at The Warehouse in Rendle Street
ABOVE : Holly Erin Mcarthy's 'In Defence of a poor facade'
ABOVE : 'In defence of a poor facade' part of Plymouth's art Weekender 2019
Science and art are not two languages, they are both in search or truth, and so it is more important now than ever that we take care of the beating heart of this city along with the brains,the muscle and the spirit that must lead it. Art is not a luxury and the Plymouth Art Weekender is a way to focus on that and inspire the city to enjoy the same artisitic excercise all year round. In celebrating the resident and visiting artists that make work here, we can embrace our community, and while art may not be everyones salvation, it can not help but keep the lifeblood of this city moving.
ABOVE : Stuart Robinson's 'I'm Westward Ho! part of Plymouth's Art Weekender 2019
BELOW : Mathilda Roach Osbornes book part of Plymouth's Art Weekender 2019
ABOVE : Llyr Davies at Ocean Studios as they open their doors as part of Plymouth's Art Weekender 2019
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.
If you would like to book me to capture your opening night or other art events, you can contact me HERE
You can find more Plymouth Art Weekender photographs in the facebook gallery here
You also can find a review of the PAW 2017 here
ABOVE : Plymouth Barbican 'I am Westward Ho!' Art Weekender 2019