Monday, 14 April 2014

I've got cabin fever

Where’s the work?...You’ll have to literally hunt for it as part of the ‘Palaces and Cabins’ exhibition at Salisbury Arts Centre between now and May 18th. Initiated by OSR Projects* collaborative group, the exhibition sees a site specific intervention around Salisbury and a series of miniature clay buildings (made by the artists) hidden around the arts centre exhibition space, bar and theatre. Visitors have the option of using a map to find the models and even then it’s still entertainingly tricky to find all thirty (disclaimer –no prizes will be awarded other than the satisfaction of finding them). The models, created from submitted ideas of people’s ‘palaces or cabins’ range from quirky-looking houses, to sheds, citadels, imagined structures and palace-like buildings are but one aspect of what is largely a fun and thoughtful exhibition.

“Palaces & Cabins explores the intersection of public and private space in Salisbury, revealing aspects of the City that are hidden in plain sight. The exhibition acts as an artists' guide to the City, encouraging viewers to revisit the spaces they inhabit from a different perspective.”

As part of the exhibition visitors are also invited to create their own digital palace or cabin on the OSR Projects Minecraft realm situated next to the Arts Centre bar (an irrelevant detail, but sort-of an oddly amusing place to have a videogame). You can pick up a ‘Palaces and Cabins’ map at the Arts Centre for an alternative look at places that are considered important by the creative team and on Sunday 27th April join, artist, Meg Calver as she performs live interventions in the various map-marked locations throughout the city (between 11am-3pm). This day also sees the unveiling of the ‘Palaces and Cabins’ board game, which if you are unfortunate to see at any other time, is displayed in the exhibition, out of touch, its pieces in bags and rules pinned on the wall. Aspects like this make what is a very playful exhibition at times appear a little bit pretentious and you can be left feeling distanced from the work which is equally the case with the series of models that look as though they were more fun to make than what they are to look at. As the exhibition blurb dictates, the work is an exploration into ‘public and private space’, so context in favour of content is possibly to be expected.  And it is fairly minimal, work wise, with Salisbury and Salisbury Arts Centre very much the stars of the show. Rightly so, the arts centre, former church, is a unique and fantastic space that retains its outside appearance of being a church but with a massive modern theatre space and lighting inside. An installed smoke machine within the exhibition picks out shafts of light coming through the building’s original church windows and draws attention to/emphasises the space. Similarly, an iron clock face (again from the church before it was converted) is installed as a work of art on the floor. These are thoughtful observations that reaffirm the importance of Salisbury Arts Centre as the context and catalyst for making some of the work.

If you are from or familiar with Salisbury then this exhibition goes someway to providing an alternative, enlightening perspective on its places and spaces. If, on the other hand, you are just visiting having never been before you may be left thinking it’s all a bit unnecessary and that Salisbury Arts Centre is still an impressive space that you’re going to notice regardless of what’s shown in it. Still, admittedly, I wouldn’t have been there if not for the exhibition... I just feel that the concept of palaces and cabins may have been explored a bit too literally, focusing more on types of structures/places looking to slightly blur their definitions when often it is less clear what defines these places i.e. the activity that goes on within the place, the people, the location etc that isn’t always as easily signified by a particular boundary of ‘the walls of my shed’ or ‘perimeter of the castle grounds’ (‘the woods are my palace’ being another example outside of the box). That idea is briefly alluded to as is the overriding message that a man’s cabin is his palace or that one man’s cabin is another man’s palace etc. However there is potential to explore some of the themes it raised in more depth which is why I suppose this felt more like a starter rather than a fully realised main course. Despite my criticisms, its strengths are that the concept is a thoughtful one and as usual with OSR Projects it has been put-together very elegantly and professionally, albeit minimally, in its presentation. I think the harshness of my review comes from the contrast of the publicity images/poster looking really intriguing and exciting but not, in my opinion, really lived up to in the work (that’s the power of good graphic design/photography for you?). It highlights a significant point on how we review/reflect on an exhibition based on our expectation of it. Whether we leave pleasantly surprised, inspired, underwhelmed or disappointed is often down to whether it was better or worse than what we had imagined from the poster/website/blurb. The more I think on it, the more tricky it must be to find an image that sells the exhibition without giving a false impression of the work/what to expect but is still intriguing enough. Does having an image give too much information, is it better to just have text, or is that not enough information? If you take a photo of the work that presents the work in a new way, i.e. creatively lit sculpture/close-up, does the photo then become the work/should be presented as the work?  I'm not presenting any answers to these questions, but it is food for thought.

Overall if you are in Salisbury on the 27th May and have children, take them with you and I’m convinced you’ll find enough to have a great time. I’d loved to have played the board game and wandered the streets which I’m sure would have given me a different impression of the whole thing. For now it’s back to Parsley Towers, until next time.   

Exhibition open Friday 11 April – Sunday 18 May
Salisbury Arts Centre is open Tuesday – Sunday, 10am – 3pm
Special Event Sunday 27 April  Including a live performance by Megan Calver,
the unveiling of Palaces & Cabins ‘the Game’, and a chance to build your own digital Palace or Cabin on the OSR Projects Minecraft realm.
Keep an eye on for times and information about additional events.

Images sourced from:

 *Who’s that? OSR Projects (Old School Room) is an evolving curatorial project that creates a platform for engagement with the world through artist–led activity. The OSR Project Space, located in rural Somerset, is a place for incubation, exhibition and engagement, delivering artist-led projects that place people at the centre of artistic activity. Established in 2011 by artist Simon Lee Dicker & graphic designer Chantelle Henocq the aim of the OSR Project Space is to enrich the local cultural landscape, engage new audiences and provide opportunities for creative practitioners.

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