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House Festival 2010 offers city-wide gallery in Brighton and Hove

Cities without an established home for contemporary art might well look with interest at a solution found by artists in Brighton and Hove this May.

House Festival 2010 is a temporary gallery with nine rooms spread around the twin coastal resorts, in venues as diverse as a Regency townhouse, a day centre and a garden shed.

Organisers Judy Stevens and Chris Lord have drafted in a handful of the region’s best known curators to support the project, which was piloted last year.

“There are a lot of artists here with national or international reputations who never show in Brighton, because there’s no gallery,” said printmaker Stevens.

And yet the South Coast is not short of spaces for art. Eastbourne, Chichester and Bexhill-on-Sea all boast newly developed, restored or redeveloped spaces for art.

“This is really our response to that,” adds Stevens. “I think that is because they received a lot of regeneration money, whereas Brighton isn’t seen as needing it.”

Room one of this virtual gallery will be The Regency Townhouse in Hove. First time visitors to 13 Brunswick Square should be impressed by the Grade I Listed terrace.

Painstaking work is underway to recreate the fashionable look and feel of the 1820s, and this will be the context for a group exhibition on the theme of regeneration.

Refired ceramics, collage and found objects all figure in the show of 21 artists, chosen by a team which includes Nicola Coleby from Brighton and Hove Museums, Simon Martin from Pallant House in Chichester and Woodrow Kernohan from Brighton Photo Fringe.

Across town at Preston Manor, three more curators have commissioned 12 artists and designer-makers to respond to the furnishings and history of an Edwardian home.

60 moulded bulldogs explore issues of nationalism, a peacock feather dress hints at the barriers of class, and a pair of glass pipes question the utility of stately homes.

This time it is Polly Harknett, craft curator at Hove Museum, Matt Smith, independent curator and ceramicist, and Caitlin Heffernan, artist, who pull together the show, with Smith and Heffernan both contributing pieces.

Grand surroundings then give way to a smaller setting for a third room of House, as a garden shed at 46 Buller Road plays host to a mini cinema.

Highlight of the horticultural themed bill promises to be extracts from a 1903 version of Alice in Wonderland, the first movie adaptation of Lewis Carroll’s enduringly popular tale.

At the time Britain’s longest film, this version of Alice was almost lost for good. It survives thanks to an incomplete print found in Hove, now restored by the BFI.

Meanwhile, Brighton’s answer to the white cube spaces found in neighbouring South Coast towns has, for the duration of the Festival, been given a domestic makeover.

Dream Home at Phoenix Gallery constructs a warren of lived-in rooms within the gallery, and showcases sculpture, installations and photography from local talents such as Ben Thomson, Gary Barber and Kim L. Pace.

But lesser known, marginalised artists are on show at Wellington House, a day centre for adults with learning disabilities. Curation is by award-winning outsider artist Carlo Keshishian, with support from Pallant House Gallery.

The remaining locations for House include smaller, local, independent galleries Permanent, Grey Area and Blank, together with a residential address in the city centre.

Brighton and Hove may be lacking in the funds to create a purpose built art gallery, but as can be seen from this festival alone, the area has no shortage of alternatives. It is just a shame alternatives are needed.

Review: Underwater at Towner

Exhibition: Underwater, Towner, Eastbourne, until June 20 2010

In the landscapes paintings of Eric Ravilious, the South Downs look like green waves in a rough sea, at least they do so after a visit to Underwater at Towner.

The Eastbourne gallery has a reputation for landscape art and the local painter is one of many whose downland works feature in the permanent collection.

Ravilious doesn’t qualify for the new show, which takes the boundaries of the landscape genre and drags them into the depths. But it might have pleased him that his hometown can now stake a place on the UK map of contemporary art.

The big name at the current show is Bill Viola, whose 2005 video Becoming Light turns a non-specific body of water into an inky blue starry night.

Floating just below and occasionally above the surface are an entwined couple whose struggle to remain buoyant resembles an improvised dance. They come up for air and look ecstatic. They sink away from the camera out of sight and end life as a luminous bubble of oxygen, or perhaps carbon dioxide.

In a second video, by Dorothy Cross, the artist films herself afloat among a swarm of jellyfish. This is a nude, as much as a landscape, and a scene of painful exposure. But the creatures appear not to harm her. They merely investigate, along with our gaze.

Klaus Osterwald also takes us below the surface of a lake, with a five speaker audio installation. Donatus Subaqua reveals a mysterious world of noisy fish, bubbling gases and overheard human calls. Space, depth and topography are rendered in sound.

Another subaquatic landscape is provided by Seunghyn Woo, whose plaster and wire mesh sculptures look both organic and alien. Dripped with acrylic the colour of exotic milkshakes, they get even more interesting close up, like coral.

Perhaps the underwater realm is, after all, unknowable. Detailed photographs of the sea bed here, taken by Daniel Gustav Cramer, show it as dark, murky and utterly impenetrable. Eric Ravilious would surely have been fascinated.

Interview: David Litchfield, Development Manager at Phoenix Brighton

How the new studios, gallery, café/bar and shop could look at night

The largest artist-led arts organisation in the South-East of England aims to get bigger, or at least better.

Phoenix Brighton, which currently provides studio space and a gallery for 100 artists, last week announced plans to revamp their city centre building at a projected cost of more than £2 million.

Development Manager David Litchfield hopes that a new entrance way, façade and lift will all help open up the building to wider audiences. A refurbished gallery, new café, shop, and workshops are also planned inside.

While the “core purpose” of Phoenix remains the provision of affordable studio space, Litchfield is pragmatic when it comes to finances, admitting the building needs to generate new income to ensure its long-term survival.

A recent programme of public events, including annual jumble sale Art Junky, one-night festival White Night and experimental evening Factory have allowed the energetic director and his team to road test their vision of developing a visual arts hub in Brighton.

He claims 90,000 cars pass Phoenix on their way into the city every day. “The building has a real opportunity not just to announce the fact that it’s a creative centre for the arts, but also to welcome people to Brighton, to be symbolic of the arts activity here,” he adds.

A slightly larger gallery with better specifications should attract high profile exhibitions with a focus on working process, reflecting the organisation’s main raison d’être.

“We want it to be a place where artists can come and explore and experiment,” says Litchfield.

“We want that to then extend out to the public so that they can come and engage with that working process to get insights into how artists think and work.”

The shop will be a place where artists can sell their work, with the adjacent café/bar a place where they can meet. Late openings are planned at weekends alongside an events programme including curated talks, visiting artists, performances, music, installations and a curated film programme.

Development will be tailored to the needs of the building’s studio users. “It’s very easy to take an architect’s drawing and get the builders to build you a café/bar,” says Litchfield.

“You could get something that looks like it’s come out of an airport or a hotel, and that’s kind of not evocative of the Phoenix spirit,” says Litchfield.

Instead he has involved the artists in choosing colours and materials and designs. This, he says, will not only provide both a feeling of “ownership” and a “sense of continuity about Phoenix and what it is.”

But because the organisation has a 17-year history of independence to maintain, they face a challenge in terms of financing most of the planned work themselves.

A sizeable chunk of funds could, pending the approval of Brighton and Hove City Council, come from an advertising hoarding on the building façade, raising £500,000 during the four-year course of the project.

More revenue could come from the ground floor redevelopment, in which the café, shop and workshops, together with a commercial letting space, could generate £50,000 a year over and above the rent from fully-booked studios.

For the rest of the funding, artist-led Phoenix will be looking for business partners. But the temptation to cash in on their real estate – the organisation bought the building with help from a Council grant in 1993 – would be “completely wrong”, argues Litchfield.

The motives behind starting Phoenix have informed every stage of the redevelopment. “It is a provider of affordable studio spaces, out of which flows a gallery, out of which flows a desire to engage with our audiences,” he reflects.

The building’s all-important residents range from painters and sculptors to filmmakers, wood and metal workers, curators and performance artists. They’re “generally extremely supportive”, according to Litchfield.

“It’s exactly where they want to see Phoenix going,” he says. “I suppose because of that, we actually might be able to make this happen.”

Written for Culture24.

Programme of events to explore diversity issues at Iniva


In coming weeks the Youth Advisory Board from the Institute of International Visual Arts (aka the Inivators from Iniva) have planned three events to focus on diversity in the arts.

Teaming up with artist Yara El-Sherbini, they have produced an alternative version of popular board game Guess Who? Visitors to the Education Space at Rivington Place, home of Iniva, can now play around with cultural difference and public perception.

Things get heavy on February 27 when the capital’s major art institutions go on trial in a Pop-Up Court. With the help of artist and former litigator Jack Tann, the Inivators will seek to enforce their 10 laws of diversity.

On March 4 they borrow a format from BBC’s Question Time to stage Questionnable Times. Yara El-Sherbini will be joined on the panel by artist and writer Sonya Dyer, Tony Panayiotou from the Arts Council and Prof. Sarat Maharaj, Director at Iniva.

Despite globalisation, the arts are still more homogenous than you might think. Between 2007-2009, US artists were twice as likely to crop up in London galleries than artists from India. Meanwhile only 22% of work shown at the Tate was by women.

All three events tie in with the Institute’s current exhibition. Progress Reports: Art in an Era of Diversity celebrates 15 years since Iniva was founded.

Written for Culture24.