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Cathy Lomax's Whitstable Biennial blog
Cathy Lomax blogs about the run up to and showing of her project at Whitstable Biennial.
It’s the final weekend of the Whitstable Biennale and it feels like a good point to reflect on the event. Generally the weather has been really good which has meant that there have been lots of visitors, which is fantastic as this is one of the main motivations behind being here – to reach a new audience. My favourite star spot so far has been Harry Hill (although unfortunately I wasn’t in the space at the time to see him!)
It is quite hard to measure the long-term effect of being part of the Biennale. It hasn’t really been the kind of event where lots of work is sold (I suspect this is because the main Biennale programme is very much performance based), although we have sold plenty of the Entertainment issue of Arty. We have however introduced the That’s Entertainment artists and Transition Gallery to new people. I have been reflecting a bit on how to measure success as an artist, and how hard it is to quantify it. I think that ultimately success is about creating new opportunities and often these aren’t immediately apparent. I don’t know exactly who has seen the show, what they thought of my work as an artist and curator and consequently if I’ll be offered anything else as a result of being here, but opportunities may arise in the future. I also think that it is always useful to show work outside of your usual comfort zone as it means those outside of your normal circle see it and judge it on its own merits without necessarily having any preconceptions about the artists and the gallery.
So it’s time to pack all the work up (with the exception of Cathie Pilkington’s Mr Punch who is being collected later by his own art handler) and regretfully leave the seaside for the reality of the city. I only hope that Mr Punch is easier to get out of the space than he was to get in!
The Whitstable Biennale has kicked off and That’s Entertainment is finally up and running. It seems like a long time since I first thought about putting a show together about seaside entertainment and I have been thinking about the artists that I selected and why they are relevant to the show’s concept.
I have been told a few times recently that Transition shows a certain kind of work – and although different people have said slightly different things it seems to be a low-fi, contemporary folk aesthetic that we have become known for. This is of course because it is the kind of work that I am drawn to but when it is defined and quoted back at me it makes me feel a little too hemmed in and I am always keen to push boundaries. I have been thinking a lot about challenging concepts of nostalgia and this means busting the folksie look and introducing modern elements into the Transition mix. So the work I have made for That’s Entertainment mixes ‘postcard’ paintings with a video piece made up of stills of the seaside taken from British movies. The video is shown on a very modern small dvd player and the whole piece is installed on a Ikea glass shelf to inject an ironic ‘chuck out your chintz’ feeling.
The other artists that I have selected all add different elements to the show and most importantly the themes in their work integrate with the That’s Entertainment concept. They are also not all London based which I thought was quite important as I didn’t want to just foist a bunch of London based artists on Whitstable. The complete list of participating artists is, John Butterworth, Tamara Dubnyckyj, Olli Vainamo, Cathy Lomax, Keara Stewart, Cathie Pilkington, Rosemary Shirley, Alex Michon ,and Caitlin Heffernan.
Polly Read the satellite curator introduced me to Whitstable based painter John Butterworth. His work focuses on the way that people make their own entertainment in a small town, his small canvases depict karaoke, bus shelters and other such low-key things. He also contributes a most vital component to the project – he has let us convert his studio into a gallery for the duration of the Biennale.
Tamara Dubnyckyj is another painter – I saw her work at the RCA last year and immediately loved her depictions of empty theatres, microphones and bunting. Her new paintings in That’s Entertainment are like a souvenir collection of seaside signs and sights that she has gathered from excursions to the coast. My favourite is a painting of a poster for a Sex Pistols tribute band called Star-Spotted in Threashers – it has just the right amount of pathos, humour and of course that all important do-it-yourself entertainment initiative.
I first came across Brighton based Caitlin Heffernen’s work when I did an ARC advice session with her at Aspex gallery in Portsmouth around three years ago. Her work about caravans really stuck in my mind and I thought it would be perfect for this show because of the way it combines hobby-ish aesthetics with that down beat holiday signifier - the caravan. Her Caravan Park Revisited looks great in the show installed on a set of shelves that I asked John to leave when he cleared out the space.
The largest work in the show (and yes there were a few traumas when it was hoisted in through the stable doors of the space) is by Cathie Pilkington. Her work combines collections of kitsch found objects with sinister figures. White Elephant is a kind of messed up shop mannequin featuring a rotating Mr Punch holding a platter of White Elephants. When Cathie proposed this work for That’s Entertainment I thought it would be a fantastic, attention grabbing, centrepiece and it certainly proved to be that during the private view as the revellers had to shift out of the way as Mr Punch rotated on his mirrored platform. More seriously it stands for a cultural obsolescence that is all too relevant when considering seaside entertainment.
Alex Michon is my co-director at Transition and the themes in her work often run in tandem to mine. For That’s Entertainment she has made a new piece called Billy Lee Roscoe Forms a Band which she calls a piece of ‘encrypted autobiography’. The work consists of a sketchbook, a tie and some small paintings and is a created archive about a character called Billy Lee Roscoe, a disaffected youth from Whitstable, who forms his own rockabilly band.
We were very pleased that a lot of the Biennale organisers were able to make the show’s private view and there are rumours of visits from the Contemporary Art Society etc. So fingers crossed that we will get some interesting feedback, sell a few pieces of work and most importantly get reviewed somewhere.
Its now getting very close to the opening of That’s Entertainment. The final two artists dropped their work off with me at Transition this weekend and I am putting the final touches to a video piece I am planning to show alongside some small paintings. Cathie Pilkington’s work for the show is called ‘White Elephant’ and could be described as an outsized disco Mr Punch. Because it is a large piece her gallery are delivering it directly to the venue on Thursday – hope it fits through the hatch at the top of the slightly rickety stairs!
I had planned to travel down to Whitstable on Thursday to meet Cathie and to set up the show for our Friday night opening, but the new issue of Arty is not now being delivered until Thursday and I need to wait for it as I really want to be able to launch it at the opening. So along with Alex Michon and Keara Stewart (both of whom work at Transition and are taking part in the show) I will travel from London to Whitstable very early on Friday morning.
Each issue of Arty has a theme and the new one is ‘Entertainment’ to accompany the show. I think it is a really good issue and has the usual Arty mix of eclectic contributions, including things to do on a rainy day, (James Payne’s Art Game, cut out and keep entertainment collectors cards and a set of artist designed tarot cards,) and some really nice pieces of writing. I commissioned over twenty artists to produce the tarot cards including Stella Vine, Lady Lucy and Emma Talbot and they look fab. The cards are the linking feature between the current show at Transition – Fan Fair – which brings the seaside to Hackney (my piece in the show Madame Sosotris is a fortune telling hut) and That’s Entertainment where Hackney goes to the seaside!
Last year Transition, the gallery I run in east London, staged a show down on the south coast of Kent near Dungeness called O Dreamland. It was the first off site Transition project and it went really well. So when Polly Read who is running the Whitstable Biennale Satellite Projects asked us if we would be interested in doing something I jumped at the chance.
The show we’re doing follows on from some of the O Dreamland ideas about escapist jaunts to the coast and failed ideas of modernism and is called That’s Entertainment. My initial idea was to do something about vernacular seaside entertainments… fortune telling and music hall and all that jazz. However I was very aware that Whitstable is not a seasidey, end of the pier type of place. It roots are in fishing and more particularly oysters and it has a gentrified, genteel air with not an amusement arcade in sight.
So That’s Entertainment takes this on board, its focus is about making your own entertainment. As the press release says: ‘The show takes a wry look not only at the concept of escapist pleasure domes but also at more lo-fi, hobby-craft worlds of leisure activities which have in many cases overtaken the garish seaside entertainments of the early twentieth century.’
After lots of thinking and planning and failed funding applications things are now really speeding up and the show quite unbelievably opens next week!
Everything is running to plan so far. The artists are selected (and I hope ready to go) and we have a venue in Whitstable (a great artist’s studio that used to be a net loft very close to the sea front). The flyers have been designed, printed and are in the process of being posted and we have some fab posters designed and screen printed by Olli Vainamo in a Victorian Music Hall style to put up around the town. So I managed to get the music hall in there after all.
Thats Entertainment, 21June - 6 July, Artist Studio, Back of 5 Harbour Street, Whitstable
Cathy Lomax is an artist and director of Transition Gallery
First published: a-n.co.uk June 2008
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