Visual art exhibitions and events with a platform for critical writing
Limbo and various locations, Margate
13 February - 28 March
Reviewed by: Rose-Marie O'Brien »
Modern Margate is famous for the building of Turner Contemporary, its spectacular sunsets, raucous arcades and empty boarded-up shops. Less well known is its burgeoning art scene - in the streets and on the beaches. Having worked in Margate for the past five years I have witnessed the growing optimism and enthusiasm bubbling up from the artist quarter both in the Old Town and around the town centre where caf' society culture is taking hold.
Margate is the largest of the Isle of Thanet's three main towns and has been home to two of the most famous of British artists - JMW Turner, the master craftsman of the painting of light, and Tracey Emin, possibly the most well known practising female artist in Britain today, pushing boundaries and embracing both high art and celebrity culture. Margate has straddled uneasily its rich romantic past and its brash present but, with the emergence of the Turner Contemporary building, rising steadily from the Harbour Arm, and designed by the award winning architect David Chipperfield, Margate is regaining its unique identity. With Turner Contemporary set to open early in 2011, the background work is already very much up and running. Creativity is at the heart of Margate's psyche - local artists are taking ownership of many of the boarded-up shops in a movement known as 'Windows of Opportunity'; for a time the old Marks and Spencer building offered itself as a project space for Turner Contemporary and ancient boat sheds on the Harbour Arm have been rented out to artists as studio spaces. Over the last couple of years I have seen some of the shabby, derelict buildings of the Old Town being transformed into sophisticated galleries and workspaces, home to film companies and designers.
At the hub of all this activity lies a disused electricity substation building, now known as Limbo. An artist-led organisation, Limbo's vision is to create a resource in Margate to complement other locally-based arts organisations, with studios on the first floor of the oddly welcoming industrial building and exhibition/project space at ground level. Limbo has been producing a vast array of contemporary art exhibitions for some years but they have just embarked on their most challenging and highly anticipated series of events so far, the aptly named Dead-Season Live-Art.
Running from 13 February until 28 March 2010, Limbo were presenting a specially commissioned programme of live art events and film screenings each weekend. It was about celebrating Margate's rich history, and bringing life to the seaside town's darkest months, the months where the colourful day trippers stay at home, the ice cream parlours display "Not Open till Easter" signs, the seagulls are blown screaming sideways under the grey skies and the knife-edged wind scythes across the beach straight off the North Sea. The programme aimed to celebrate the move from winter towards summer, from darkness towards light and from death towards rebirth. It is this essence that was captured in the first film screening night that showcased work by Jane Prophet, Franko B and Ann Course amongst others, challenging the viewer to observe their own mortality. I found these films curious - thought provoking and even slightly disturbing.
The first event that launched the series, To the Shelter by London-born artist Marcia Farquhar, kept me entertained and intrigued throughout her performance. Having visited Limbo Project Space for previous exhibitions, I had not expected to find the area transformed into a village hall/drop-in centre with tea and biscuits being handed out to all who entered. Far from the traditional atmosphere of exhibitions, the scene that greeted me was one of excitement, with individuals chatting animatedly to each other whilst sheltering from the strong winds outside. Marcia Farquhar was the perfect host, setting the scene with personal anecdotes from her time in the town, before leading us in a procession along Margate's seafront to the TS Eliot shelter. On route Farquhar pointed out areas of interest, and I noticed that our group grew larger as we made our way along, with interested pedestrians being welcomed to join in. I overheard a conversation during which a gentleman confided that he "saw something happening, so thought I'd tag along... Just found out it's an art piece. Well if this is art, I like it!" Farquhar's appealing nature had us all engrossed while she recited a piece from Eliot's famous Wasteland accompanied by the Wasters - a three piece band which included a toy piano amongst their musical instruments but still managed to produce a hauntingly beautiful musical background, mingling with the rush of waves on the beach and keening wind and the echoes of Eliot's bleak masterpiece.
The following weekend saw another highly entertaining performance act on the beach, Wrasslin' - this time in warm winter sunshine under high, blue, February skies. Billed as "For one day only he will be your human punchbag", Anthony Schrag, bravely dressed in a little gold top and red shorts number, invited spectators to step up and vent their frustrations in a wrestling bout held under a red and white striped tent - a homage to the old seaside favourite, Mr Punch. Although I declined his invitation, I was fascinated by the numbers who accepted and "went a round" with Schrag - girls, boys, men and women of all ages tussled with the brave Mr Schrag, who didn't always win!
Not to be outdone by its neighbours at Limbo, Crate, formerly an old printworks, has also been transformed into artists' studios and gallery space with the help of the Arts Council England South East. After watching, though cowardly not participating in Wrasslin', I trotted round the corner to Crate's History of a Time to Come and Zine Fair. Here artist S Mark Gubb was working with East Kent-based Fanzine Road Kill to rediscover his heavy metal and skateboarding teenage years in Margate in the form of a "walk-in magazine" and publication. The wall-sized pen and ink sketches and personal notes/reminiscences plastered on the walls evoked Margate billboards of the past, and dominating one wall was a huge picture of a boarded up Nayland Rock with the plangent legend - "The Nayland Rock is shut... It's not really somewhere we go anymore". The drawings were influenced by a tape he made whilst undergoing hypnotic regression, but the audience was a lively crowd, a mixture of old and young, many fans of the Zine culture and clearly enthusiastic about Gubb's work. I not only found the exhibition striking, but also learnt a lot about the Zine movement and their particular art appeal. The exhibition closed with a Zine fair where members of the public were encouraged to bring along their own fanzines to show and swap.
There is a great feeling of camaraderie amongst the artists and art organisations in Margate - working together along with local people to bring about the rebirth of the town. Limbo and Crate are forging the way forward, and with the landmark Turner Contemporary opening in less than a year, Margate should soon take its place as a recognised centre of creative culture.
LIMBO arts ltd »
42 Laleham Road, Clifftonville, MARGATE CT9 3QB
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