Manchester Art Gallery

My memories of Rhyl stem from a single holiday at the age of nine. They include boredom, the smell of sewage and an ugly concrete sea wall. Tainted by my reaching an age where all family holidays seemed like a chore and the unfortunate location of our campsite next to an outflow pipe, I recount these memories not to disparage Rhyl. They prefigure what is a remarkable quality of Sophie MacCorquodale’s work; it makes even me feel an endearing nostalgia for this British seaside resort.

MacCorquodale has produced three films that function as portraits of Rhyl, each focusing on a different aspect of its persona. ‘Waiting for the day’ (2006) dominates the space because of its scale as a projection. The film is largely composed of static camera shots depicting locations including a caravan park, an amusement arcade and an indoor swimming pool. They are attractive images, well composed and brightly coloured. A still taken from the image track wouldn’t seem out of place in a holiday brochure and I find myself wondering if I didn’t have fun on the water chutes at the swimming pool after all. However the shots here are not stills; lights on slot machines flicker, a wave machine creates a swell. It is in these gentle movements and in the pacing of the shots that nostalgia, even a sense of pathos, is evoked. The film has ambient sound but no dialogue and, though people are present in some shots, the images have a certain sense of emptiness. They depict the resort out of season and encourage reflection on the general decline of Britain’s seaside resorts now that families can take a cheap hop across the channel. I wonder if, beyond the visual attractiveness of this work, its effect may resonate most strongly with my generation; people in their mid twenties and above.

MacCorquodale’s other two works are narrative films, shown on TV monitors with headphones. ‘The Rhyl and District Labour Club’ (2006) conveys a similar feeling of affection and loss as ‘Waiting for the day’. Set in a labour club, it depicts the club’s customers and day to day activities. On the soundtrack the club’s secretary tells us about the regulars, mostly older people who don’t fit in at Rhyl’s other bars and clubs, and how it is increasingly difficult for the club to stay afloat. Regulars, appearing on camera, smile awkwardly and nudge each other, showing the club as a place of conviviality. Yet the quality of the secretary’s voice – strong but restrained – echoes the overriding sense of the film as a lament for things lost.

Compared to the confident execution of the above works the third film – ‘Untitled’ (2006) – is awkward, owing to the unpolished performances of its teenage actors. This sits oddly with the other films but adds to the efficacy of this particular work. Set in a caravan, it depicts a conversation between two teenagers discussing the end of their holiday romance. The uneasy acting foregrounds the general uncomfortableness and acute self-consciousness of teenage, romantic encounters. It also highlights that the teenagers are acting; a fact made patent when the narrative repeats a second time with different actors. In contrast to the other two films, which very effectively construct nostalgia for a place, where it otherwise might not exist, this work actually begins to probe how personal experience itself is a construct based on narratives that come from both within and without ourselves. Like my childhood memories that can be altered by an external image, these characters are living experiences that are at once their own and somebody else’s.

Amelia Crouch is an artist based in Leeds.