This is a pretty rubbish photo taken in a basement exhibition with my phone – the best way of getting an idea of this piece is to visit Fiona Hingstons website.
We spent yesterday with friends, eating, drinking wine, gossiping and then later trying to visit as many of the Fringe Arts Bath venues as we could. It turned out to be a more challenging and exhilerating day than I could have anticipated, and somehow this piece (there are two from the same series on display) really fired up my imagination. It’s a bit unfair to pick just one piece from four whole galleries worth of work, but it was the last exhibition we visited, so I think what finally clicked in me was an almost euphoric sense that something quite unexpected is happening.
First, a small confession. Before I started to search online for some of the artists whose work I’d liked, I made the assumption that they were all young and post art-school at the beginnings of their journeys. It’s true there were quite a few in that category and I’ll say a bit more about that in a moment, but one of the ‘gallery minders’ gave me the answer in the first exhibition and it took 24 hours to mean anything to me. We’d been in the first gallery in Walcot Street and I’d been excited by the work I’d seen. Grasping for an explanation I said to her that it was good to see that some of the idealistic ethos of the seventies hadn’t been crushed by the grim apparatus of austerity, and she said ‘oh no, the hippy ethos is still alive and well!’
After decades of the dead hand of the Arts Council, now shrunk to the skeletal remains of a sponsorship agency for big business, we’re beginning to see the re-emergence of the ‘underground’, the ‘counterculture’ – both utterly tainted and compromised in the way they were co-opted to shift product, but regaining something of their old strength. All of which is a rather long way of saying that there were artists of all ages and dispositions being shown.
That’s absolutely not to say that the exhibitions were living in a world wholly detached from the way we ‘do things round here’. These artists didn’t seem to be in any sense separatists, dreaming of a better place somewhere unreachably beyond where we are now. In fact I kept thinking of Anne Frank, Charlotte Salomon, Louise Bourgeois and for some reason Francesca Woodman. Madame made a hugely perceptive remark when I mentioned this on our way around. She said that some of the exhibits reminded her of Francesca Woodman in the way that it seemed the artist had passed through the room and left a ghostly trace of herself. For instance there was one group of works gathered together under the title “Enshrine”. Many of the objects were very small, the kind of thing you might make when there’s not much space to work in, no grand studios for rent – maybe living with parents. So they were being shaped by the brutal economics of the artistic life, but also there was something poignant in the background. The tiniest hint that these precious objects, filled with recovered memories and imagined worlds , could be hidden at short notice, stuffed into a bag when the knock on the door came.
There was a pervasive sense of threat to the environment which was being challenged by intense engagement. I found Fiona Hingston’s website I laughed out loud to see the title of one of her postings – “Making = Remembering”. Making, in this case, means making by hand using wire and masking tape. Obsessive reflective, meditative and faintly disturbing, remembering becomes a subversive act when it points out what’s been lost.
I think I’d fallen into the sad conclusion that all the dreams, prophecies and visions of the past had dried up and that we are condemned to live (and in our case probably die) in the frozen steppes of corporate greed. “Not so soon” was the reply. The pervasive feeling was that these artists’ work was a challenge to the ‘way we do things round here’. A challenge with force, with heft.
It’s a shame so few politicians ever visit a gallery except to rub shoulders with the wealthy and powerful. Culture is a far bigger force than a gallery with some free wine, and if I were in public office right now, I’d be nervous. These gardeners of the imagination have been working away, against the odds, and they’re not going away any time soon.