South Hill Park Arts Centre
South East England

Occasionally an arts venue delivers an experience that amounts to more than the sum of its parts. A current crop of exhibitions at major arts centre South Hill Park in Bracknell taps into the national zeitgeist with themed exhibitions around the subject of heritage. It seems that, as interest in the subject grows in our collective consciousness, so artists respond with new work based on related aspects. At the same time curators choose this moment to show new and established art that makes us review those two key components of heritage – identity and environment.

Take for instance Frank Auerbach’s paintings in London Building Sites 1952-62 now showing at London’s Courtauld Gallery. These portray a ravaged, post-war city in a chaotic drama of stark construction site wastelands as London is rebuilt.

At South Hill Park, in Observations on a Town, Janet Curley Cannon’s digital print and mixed media exhibition focuses on the utopian vision of this same era. This time, in the form of brutalist 1950s Bracknell architecture, now on the cusp of destruction or regeneration.

And, in common with Auerbach’s paintings, Curley Cannon’s depiction of stark, angular urban landscapes gives way to a humanist beauty. This forces the viewer to re-evaluate his/her surroundings and acknowledge the everyday beauty that so often goes unnoticed as we hurriedly go about our business.

In a companion exhibition to Curley Cannon’s at South Hill Park – community artist and silversmith Jane Tadrist’s Bracknell re:views takes a dual approach that also explores identity and environment. In this – the 60th year of Bracknell new town’s existence – she invited locals of all ages to create their very own Bracknell postcard and in so doing, have their say about their hometown. The result is a giant paper sculpture of surprising and diverse views that made the participant – and now make the viewer – reflect on and rediscover their surroundings. In tandem with this paper sculpture is Tadrist’s own response to the shapes, patterns and textures of Bracknell in the form of finely crafted souvenir items. “Bracknell may not be immediately appealing but just scratch the surface,” she says, “and you’ll find hidden gems.”

Curley Cannon’s and Tadrist’s exhibitions are accompanied up by three exhibitions that take differing bites at the same heritage cherry. In We English, Simon Roberts’s enquiry into the character of Englishness results in a gentle and quirky body of photographic works that has achieved many accolades. Well travelled, Simon’s work has been shown recently in New York’s Klompching Gallery and the Museum of Modern Art in Shanghai.

Patrick MacKinnon-Day and Beverley Carpenter’s Rainforest Walk: an Act to Follow is an exploration of Bracknell through the moving image by the artists and the residents of a supported housing project for young people. This poetic and colourful trip uses 32 cameras and offers a fascinating glimpse of young British life.

To conclude this feast on heritage, in Britishness, Bracknell Camera Club take an idiosyncratic look at what makes us British today, via culture, leisure, sports and favourite foods, as well as references to British law and order.

You can catch the rare synergy of Season of Englishness and New Towns at South Hill Park Arts Centre, Bracknell, RG12 7PA (10344 484123) until Sunday 24th January and admission is free. Don’t forget to check opening times before setting out.