Monday 25 September 2017

Day Three of the Plymouth Arts Weekender 2017: Barbican, Athenaeum, and Union Street

I'm writing this the night after the events in question because, just like this time last year, I was mentally exhausted, and couldn't have put in the amount of effort I have done nor done the various artists the justice they deserve. So here, at last, is the final installment for your delectation.

NB: as this article was written in collaboration with Plymouth University's SU: Media online magazine, some editing has been done which I have applied (in places).

In true Plymouthian spirit, the last day of the Arts Weekender was another damp one, but yours truly mustered the determination to don wellies and raincoat, and go forth.
First port of call was to the Plymouth Arts Centre’s small Batter Street space which artist Jules Varnedoe had transformed into a cocoon of natural awareness for his installation Anthrosoluble Dispersion. Invasive plant species hung vacuum-sealed from the walls, a small display case of plastic drawn from the sea stood opposite another of sheep’s wool and fertiliser, while a video shot beneath the waves revealed a shoal of plastic waste. The sound of the rain outside gently bled into those waves, turning this into a fully immersive, yet minimalist installation. I almost didn’t want to leave; I had found a place where art was doing what it did best: opening people’s eyes to the truth. Unfortunately, my expedition was not over so I had to leave in search of the curiously titled I Don’t Believe Birmingham Exists by Adrián Bishop at Studio 102. Based on a statement from the New Scientist Magazine that ‘Nine out of ten people hold a delusional belief’, the exhibition greeted me with several psychedelic faces, most were sporting inane grins and wild red eyes, and illustrating their own real-life delusional beliefs in indelible ink, as if to symbolise the permanence of such philosophies. Wandering the small space, each bold statement seemed more deranged than the last, encouraging me to see that Adrián’s work does what we should all be doing, which is challenging those beliefs.
Having had my eyes opened a little wider to the world, I took a brief hot-chocolate-based interlude at the Boston Tea Party before continuing, this time to the Athenaeum for What Does Not Respect. This three-piece installation led me into the secret disused tunnel beneath the building where I found some curious sights:
Indistinct faces and figures gazing out of the cracked walls, an allusion to the ephemerality of photography courtesy of Katie Upton.
A deflated pool of bread dough on which artist Louise Riou-Djukic had previously lain for her performance ‘Eat Me Eat You’, an homage to the media’s obsession with female dieting and how food consumes us.
A stark canvas creation sitting at the end of the tunnel, gradually dripping icy meltwater into a sling below, dreamed up by Lisa Davison to conceptualise the ‘liminal period experienced during a rite of passage’, this being motherhood. 
If these pieces were removed from the tunnel, they would not have had the same impact. They interacted with all the senses to create an unsettling state of limbo. It came as something of a relief then to ascend to the Athenaeum once again, if only to peer into Rhys Morgan’s Platform, an audio-visual collage dealing with the media and the ‘claustrophobic isolation’ that comes with misunderstanding it. After a brief period watching videos being searched and buffered and layered, everything suddenly cut out – I never discovered why. However, from one installation about exclusion, I found myself moving to one of inclusion: Night Light by Jack Carberry-Todd (part of Transitional Assemblage) at the nightclub The Factory. Inside the unassuming venue were hypnotic, disorienting spirals and diffuse, unsettling shapes on the walls, brought to life under UV lighting to create ‘the techno sublime’, an experience one could only fully appreciate while dancing in this space after dark. Regardless of the lack of sensory overload, I still felt a part of the installation as the pages of my notebook began to fluoresce.
Returning to the Athenaeum, I sat in on Mark Leahy’s Threaded Insert, part of the Tears in Rain installation. As I waited for activity on the stage before me, a disembodied voice spoke from above, counting out steps, spelling out words, and describing exact location. After a short while, the speaker himself appeared in the doorway, showing himself to be taking orders from an mp3 headset. His steps continued despite any obstacles which meant he would climb over chairs or off the stage, and the words were spelled by touching corresponding parts of his body. It was a bizarre spectacle, deriving its content from ‘proper’ speech and conduct guides, and often repeating itself or being stopped partway through by new instructions, as if to emphasise the control this system had over the artist. I realised that the Weekend was similarly taking control over me, my hunger for discovering art meant I neglected my hunger for food. I decided to search for something to eat before I could wrap things up at the Union Street Afterparty. 
Having refuelled at The Bank nearby – and unsuccessfully refused free cake at the Athenaeum – I made it to Union Corner. On the bill was:
Sam Richards: a London-born folk/jazz artist who wanted us to know that everything we do is, one way or another, political
Simon Travers: creator of the Stackhouse Jones Project, this local poet’s haunting tones served up a bizarre reminder of the real world
Lola Beal: The Mayflower 400 Young City Laureate took us through her thoughts on poetry and the work she did to gain her coveted position
Richard Thomas: a surrealistic beatnik poet who gave us a brief glimpse into the anxieties of fatherhood and what it’s like to never run out of soup
Thom Boulton and Daniel Morgan a.k.a. Blaidh and Sounde: a duo who’d give Tenacious D a run for their money brought folklore humorously to life, especially when dealing with one angry ogre’s seagull vendetta
And lastly, only just making it to the Afterparty in time from his slot at Tears in Rain, was Mo Bottomley: when someone walks on stage wearing false eyelashes and clutching a handful of paper strips which all begin with the word ‘pants’, you know there can be no better way to end the night. Or the entire Arts Weekender for that matter. I hope you enjoyed it too.

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