Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Review: Safer With Strangers

Review by Elaine Speight

Safer with Strangers is the final show in Preston’s PAD gallery before it relocates to a new venue in the city centre, yet it feels like a beginning. Since its opening in May 2006, the gallery has hosted a number of interesting and high quality shows. None, however, have approached the space and opportunity with the same energy, ambition and irreverence as artists Alex Baggaley, Maryjane Chapman, Martin Hamblen, Rachel Lowther, Mike Russell and Fritz Welch.

The concept for Safer with Strangers developed from a conversation between Hamblen, the show’s curator, and Baggaley who, after 15 years in London, was planning to return to Blackpool. Hamblen wanted to explore the reality of being a practising artist in a small town; how the lure of the big city seduces many emerging artists and what such migration means for those left behind. Each artist has, at some point, made a conscious decision to move from a small to a large place or, interestingly, vice versa and collectively the artists have lived in London, Preston, Blackpool, Birmingham and New York.

During a public discussion Welch referred to the process of making the show as a ‘mash up’; a fitting description for the five days in which the artists worked, ate and in some instances slept in the gallery. This intense experience is evident in the crossovers within the work and the sheer energy of the show which, unlike previous exhibitions in PAD, explodes out of the designated exhibition space, subverting the architecture and, most exciting of all, invading the shop which occupies half the venue.

The accompanying blurb promises to 'compare & contrast' the practice of these local, national and international artists, yet the show is less academic and more affecting than this. The exhibition explores the dreams and frustrations which, whether based in Preston or Paris, are surely familiar to every artist, and it is impossible not to relate to some aspect of the show; Chapman’s exquisite and worryingly obsessive drawings suggest spatial limitations, whilst Russell’s weird characters and sculptural dreamscapes form a world in which the artist can escape his increasing cynicism of the commercial world.

Surely, there are times when we all feel that we’re missing out and begin to dream of the bright lights of London, New York, or – let’s face it even Manchester. Yet, Safer with Strangers proves that you needn’t travel further than Preston to be inspired. It also hints at the reality behind the dream; Chapman’s model island, with its backdrop of romantic sunsets, suggests a miniature paradise, but as the artist admits, “being stranded on a desert island is a nice idea, but after a while you’re bound to go mad and start talking to coconuts’”. Be careful what you wish for.

Elaine Speight is an artist living and working in Preston.

A longer version of this review along with photos of the exhibition will be published in the May issue of a-n magazine.

No comments:

Post a Comment