Before I heard about this exhibition and community-based artwork, Moulescoombe was just a destination on the front of the 49 bus, a neighbourhood so different from the middle-class bubbles in which I’ve lived, I had never gone there. And yet go there, properly, we did, myself and co-writer/co-photographer, 9-year-old Aysha, who enjoyed spotting the newly painted murals from the passenger side of a car driven, too slowly, by me, around the unfamiliar suburban streets.
I can only say we did experience a simple act of wonder to find bright geometric painting on the side of characteristically grey council housing. We found five such interventions, each resonating with the others, and each one a testament to the occupants, brave enough to foray into exhibiting contemporary art on the side of their traditional housing.
By this wondrous act, artists Walter and Zoniel have brought Moulescoombe and adjacent neighbourhood Bevendean into dialogue with city centre gallery Fabrica; in this central hub, the murals now relate to an immersive installation, all bright carpets and stretched plastic tape, which echo the loud colours and geometric forms deployed around the two estates on the edge of town. It was hoped that many Brighton residents, especially those who are often excluded from contemporary art spaces, might come and explore this show. But a global pandemic has meant that the gallery is closed to the general public.
Our family got access (a blogging perk) and we got to enjoy the space as light streamed into the colours here, on one of the last days of summer 2020. Liz Whitehead from Fabrica recounted the genesis of the project: the time the artists had spent on the two estates, the fact that a few of the houses will retain their new appearance, and also the origins of the show title; ‘A Simple Act of Wonder’ emerged from a conversation between the artists and a resident who apparently exclaimed “That’s it! That should be the title!”
Simple art, perhaps, but for people who are clearly never simple. A good few from these neighbourhoods have got to grips with a disruptive new artwork. And as for me, I got to navigate a new local environment, quite different to my usual haunts. And I got to share the wonder of Aysha; my daughter wrote, unaided, a review of the show at Fabrica. (She also took the photos for this post.)
“Me, Mark and Mummy went to this really amazing art exhibition. There were so many colours there. Later in this review I will show you some pictures of it. It was so colourful it made me want to run and jump around. We were told to take our shoes off before we went in, because there were so many different kinds of textures on the floor that they wanted us to feel them and it was really fun. The artists’ names were Walter and Zoniel. It was in town in Brighton. Some of the colours were red, orange, yellow, green, blue purple pink and grey.
Here are some photos:
A Simple Act of Wonder runs until, at least, the 10 September 2020 in various sites in Moulescoombe and Bevendean. A map trail can be found on the Fabrica website where you can also explore the gallery show, virtually,
In the late 90s, Diesel ran an ad campaign promoting tourism. It was the age of cultural missions in advertising, and the fashion brand encouraged you to “Be a tourist”. Diesel’s target audience were taking gap years and backpacking in the Far East with a dog eared copy of Alex Garland’s 1996 novel The Beach. They were self-avowed travellers not just sight seers. But hey, the ads were too funny.
20 years later, we are still falling over ourselves to eschew tourism. But why? For my PhD I’ve been reading a bit about tourism and discovered the theory that tourism is the quintessential human condition, for post-industrial westerners. Dean MacCannell, who founded the discipline of tourism studies, has argued that we assert our modernity by gazing on evidence of the past. We do this because we cannot allow ourselves to identify with our oft tyrannical ancestors.
Ironically, travel (not tourism) is one aspect of our premodern past. Tourism evolved from travel, and not vice versa. With roots in the 16th century notion one could complete one’s classical education with a Grand Tour of classical Europe. The world’s first travel package, from Thomas Cook as it happens, was a chartered train to a rally in support of temperance. Why would you want to go back to either of those travel propositions.
So I was stopped in my tracks, in my hometown, on the beach, where I was neither tourist nor traveller by the exhortation on the side of BTN Bike Share hire bikes. You can read it in the photograph above. Unlike the most iconic Diesel campaigns from the nineties, it was not clear to me who was being addressed here. Surely no one living in Brighton. Day trippers are most likely, but it’s incredibly pretentious to consider yourself a traveller in a town set up to cater for hedonistic Londoners.
Of course, Brighton does have its fair share of travellers. But most of those are parked up on the edge of Preston Park in converted horse trucks. I’m not sure they’re the corporate, app-driven, bike hire types.
Brighton Photo Biennial 2016 will look at the way photography fosters our understanding of style, the body, gender and subcultures. It is arguably the biggest visual art event on the city’s calendar, and this year the month-long festival issued a call out to BA students on Brighton Uni’s acclaimed photography course.
Four chosen artists, who appear to come from all walks of life, will feature in one of the busiest exhibition spaces in town. So if you’re passing Jubilee Square, do take some time to take in Our City, How Do We look? I spoke with the talented group at local music festival Together the People.
Interview: Chynna Guyate
It is at once a comfort and occasional source of alarm that Brighton’s sartorial flair extends to residents of all ages. So in putting together her show, Guyate has looked for “the elderly who defy age and disability and dress how they want to express themselves”.
Brighton may be thought of as a city for young people to see and be seen in, but Guyate is drawn to those who have seen it all before . “These people need a voice,” she says of her subjects, “Because they’re just as great. That’s why I picked up on the older generation”
While aware that it might sound like a cliché, the second year student was inspired by her own 91-year-old grandma, who was living with dementia. “Despite that she loved dressing up, styling; she had all these crazy clothes. I just thought, Good on you!”
Her show came together over three sun-drenched weeks this summer and Guyate recalls “going around and seeing who’s about, clicking away”. She staked out her subjects from cafes and soon learned how to get up the nerve to approach strangers in the street.
“These people were fairly rare,” she points out. “So when you see them it was, Right, just got to go and do it.” The result is a portfolio of straightforward portraits and glimpses such as you or I might catch of these older denizens one hesitates to call eccentric.
All the same, Guyate does report an encounter with a man festooned with keyrings, who was pushing his own wheelchair, and a woman on the beach playing a tambourine to the seagulls. “That was pretty interesting,” she tells me with wry understatement.
Old people clearly have to work hard to achieve visibility. But Guyate finds in their “crazy colourful clothes”, an intriguing reflection of our “crazy colourful city”. Expect a crazy and colourful display during BPB16.
Interview: Jennifer Jackson
After several moments talking with Jackson, it seems there’s more to gender than male, female, and trans-one-way-or-another. The third year photographer introduces me to the term non binary to describe a group of people who subscribe to neither gender norm.
“I use ‘them’ and ‘they’ pronouns rather than he or she,” they advise me and their portrait-based show is about making visible a diverse non binary community which was a lot larger than Jackson at first expected it to be, even in a city with a vibrant LGTB scene like Brighton.
Not that one can make assumptions about the sexuality of people who might simply be gender queer: “There’s a lot of people who identify very differently within it and express their non binary very differently,” says Jackson.
Although on the boyish side of feminine, this photographer looks fairly conventional. “A lot of people who are more openly non binary might present in a more radical way,” they say. So, the show is not short of telling details in clothing, modifications, tattoos, and hairstyle.
“But there are a lot of people who are non binary who are exactly like everyone else on the street,” Jackson tells me. “Maybe very feminine, or very masculine. Other people are androgynous. So I think it’s impossible to tell. It’s just a feeling really.”
Whatever the case, it is a feeling which is safer to express here in Brighton, as compared with the far flung northerly region where the photographer originates. “In Cumbria there are still difficulties in being accepted,” they tell me. “I can’t imagine anywhere being as accepting as Brighton is.”
Interview: Sophia Wöhleke
Although Brighton has its share of fashion chainstores, it does more than most cities to redress the ecological and ethical balance. Look no further than the North Laine and London Road, where second hand shops encapsulate something of the spirit of this city.
Now in her third year, Wöhleke came from Marseille to join the BA in Photography and having done so she brings an outsider’s eye to what seems to be a growing proliferation of thrift stores, upcycling workshops, leather workers and cobblers.
With an avowed interest in “sustainable fashion”, Wöhleke makes clear: “We live in a consumerist society where little emphasis is placed on the durability of items. Brighton is a city where there is a trend of people going against that”.
So the well-travelled photographer turned her lens on the retailers hitting back and stalked the city’s most bohemian streets to find alternatives to Top Shop etc: “I wanted to look at it from a grassroots perspective while focusing mostly on little shops in order to gain an understanding of how people make a living without succumbing to the consumerist culture that exists elsewhere in Brighton”.
Most businesses were open to participation in a student project. “The first place I photographed was an alterations place. The owner only opened the shop last year and she sometimes has to work nights to finish her orders on time,” says Wöhleke. “She was open about how she works and didn’t mind me photographing anywhere, she helped me out quite a lot.”
Her industrious subjects were also open about their working environments; “I wanted to bring the different layers of the shop into the pictures because I wanted to get a sense of the amount of manual work and time that go into running small businesses like these”.
Wöhleke uses a medium format camera to capture all that rich detail. Her only remaining challenge: finding room for a tripod.
Interview: Judith Ricketts
A show that combines fashion with the realities of Brexit may sound unlikely; the Leave campaign was marred by many things, not least the double-breasted blazers of its chief protagonist Nigel Farage. But third year Judith Ricketts is interested in both all the same.
Ricketts has responded to the referendum by finding EU nationals living in Brighton and taking their portraits in the city they have thus far called home. Subjects were invited to choose a location that had personal meaning and dress to represent themselves to the world.
The concerned photographer reports a general reaction of shock to the outcome. “People were saying they felt very much under the microscope,” she tells me. “Because the vote was most focussed on immigration and before that they were part of the landscape”.
Ricketts’ interests in home and displacement may stem from her African-Caribbean parentage: “I was wondering how that moment in time changes peoples sense of belonging in a city, because one of the things about this city is, I think, it’s always very, very multi-cultural.”
The resulting show brings documentary up flush against a conventonal fashion shoot. But the photographer in question sees fashion as political. “It’s a complete identity statement,” she tells me, before adding: “Our identities are fluid. They change depending on who we are, who we are with, and where we live”.
In the case of this show, subjects were persuaded to meet in town at seven or eight in the morning and talk about their experiences of the disaster known as Brexit. (“You have to make that connection really quickly!” Ricketts tells me.)
“Most people I photograph become my friends,” she adds. “They become part of my own identity, because I use it as an opportunity to get to know different kinds of culture.” This attitude, which realises we are in fact lucky to mix with different nationalities, is refreshing, even in Brighton.
Our City, How Do We Look? is a Photoworks/Together the People co-comission for Brighton Photo Biennial 2016. Work by all four photographers can be seen in Jubilee Square, Brighton, between 1-30 October 2016.
Saint Mark’s chapel in Kemptown has been throbbing for five days straight. That is what you get from this piece, a relentless pulse of skuzzy, kilowatt-heavy hum which envelops you.
Where’s the band? You might ask, if you are keen on music of this persuasion. Well, they’ve left behind some eight unmanned guitars leaning on a similar number of vintage amps.
Rather than a performer, we have a soundman, who is putting in these marathon stretches in which he orchestrates the oscillations. ‘Here come the waves,’ as Lou Reed himself once sang.
Yes, this is the much anticipated installation piece by artist and musician Laurie Anderson in which several of her late husband’s guitars are set to feedback in deafening harmony.
It’s a warm bath, which may explain why the crowd in here are dwelling for long minutes at a time. They sit on risers. They lie on the stone floor. One guy in shades has hands clasped in prayer.
But the stained glass cannot compete with the lighting rig and the spots of light which flit around the room like a murmuration of fireflies. Yes, there is a glitter ball. It hangs in the air like a quoted lyric.
This attempt to raise the dead, within the safe confines of an Anglican chapel, feels like a partial success. Lou Reed is surely working his caustic, sonic way into the heart of the assembled crowd.
We have dry ice instead of incense, to remind us that rock rituals have frequently been about the mysteries of faith and the incarnation of rebel angels.
To complain that this gig-like event is not Art, would be churlishness turned up to eleven on the volume dial. The categories hardly matter, because Reed deserves this encore.
Lou Reed Drones had its UK premier between May 13 and 17 as part of the Brighton Festival 2016, guest curated by Laurie Anderson.