Monday, 7 August 2017

We aren’t in Totnes anymore....

Having read a fair amount of reviews over the years I have come to the realisation that sometimes the best ‘review’ [of a film, book, music or exhibition] can be a bad one. Sometimes a review of something can portray it as being so awful, so extreme in the distain it has caused someone, that there are people who, perhaps sensibly and logically, will do everything they can to avoid it. Alternatively there will be those who do the exact opposite, spurred on by stubborn curiosity and their own sense of judgement to see if something really is as terrible as another person’s review. Let’s be clear; there is a definite distinction between writing an informed bad review and being ignorantly offensive, but if done well occasionally a bad review can reveal more passion, honesty and sharp observation than the persuasive language written in good reviews which have the danger of being ‘nice’ but as result can offer  little substance. It is all a matter of subjectivity, one man’s bad review is another’s idea of a good time! Though some experiences warrant no reviews, only warnings and are why we do not speak of that 2008 experience at the chocolate museum  in Prague!

Ahem! To illustrate my point this week’s post highlights reviews read in retrospect of a recent experience...
I read an abundance of glowing reviews on Trip Advisor for the TimeHouse Muzeum in Totnes and I agree with all of them that describe it as a wonderful, alternative, inventive, colourful, unique and surreal experience. However, it was through the bad reviews, with their intending to be negative, but highly honest and wittily disparaging descriptions that highlighted for me exactly the things that I thought made it so special and amazing!

 This has got to be the worse attraction that we have ever seen. I wish I could have gone back in time and never visited this dreadful place.
Precisely, so bad it is in fact, good as this post aims to prove! The Narnina of Totnes. The TimeHouse Muzeum located on the main street just below the historic Eachgate arch is a nostalgic, interactive and immersive art museum compressed across four floors and outside terrace the back of a vintage record store. If ‘small rooms filled with junk, josh stick [read as joss stick] fuelled sickening smog, a trolley with old fag packets on, polyester shredded quilts against the wall to resemble clouds,’ The Beatles and yet more areas, ‘full of junk that your parents or grandparents threw out because it wasn't worth keeping’ is of appeal then this is definitely the museum for you!

Extreme Art installation possibly sells the concept behind TimeHouse better, as from the moment you step in each area is visually bursting with curious objects; old typewriters, railways signs, telephones, tvs, fans, mirrors, keys, kitchen utensils, magazines, vinyl records and so much more!  Atmospheric lighting, creative use of materials, painted walls that serve as gallery space to equally colourful paintings, coloured windows and tiled floors make it feel more like the set of the Crystal Maze than a museum. Each room themed in some way from; a Moroccan cafe, to a spy room, South Asian treasure trove, Parisian lounge, 1940/50s kitchen and cinema room to name a few. In some ways none of it holds together other than sharing an eclectic passion for the naff, kitsch, tat, vintage and nostalgia, but it is the unexpected nature of the whole thing which understandably must make it so unbearably chaotic and nonconforming to what some may expect; but brilliant to those who thrive on stimulating arrangements of objects, unusual juxtapositions and unbridled creativity.  Much thought seems to have been put into creating different atmospheres for each room from varied music, smells and lighting down to the free mint tea in the Moroccan courtyard whose smell beckons as it permeates throughout the entire ‘experience’.
Maybe the mint tea is a powerful hallucinogenic as some of the bad reviews had warned, as the proceeding floors offer equal amounts of delight as they do mystery. The Cloud 9 room, proof, if needed that this is certainly not your average ‘museum’ experience (but will keep the surprise) A kitchen installation presented alongside a row of vintage cinema chairs showing a black and white scifi movie should be utterly bonkers but somehow it works, providing the source of much fun and amusement as one ventures into the unknown of the other rooms containing equal amounts of vintage furniture and technology. More often the whole thing felt lavishly theatrical; like being in a Jean-Pierre Jeunet film, quirky, nostalgic and all heightened by the mixture of saturated oranges, greens and reds from the light coming through stained-glass windows. I loved it!   
Art and reviews of it are always going be subjective. I’d probably be as confident to say that art which doesn’t divide opinion or which doesn’t stir a sense of feeling or spark debate is probably art not worth knowing. I am grateful that places that aren’t eveyone’s cup of ‘mint’ tea, such as this, still exist. I hope that I am not alone in thinking that it has become increasingly boring to walk into so many museums and art galleries that are desperate to ‘please everyone’ and in so doing have lost any sense of individuality or identity; becoming prescriptive, cold, sterile institutions or glorified vaults for the art they contain. If TimeHouse is to be seen as a museum then it is far more humorous and inventive in how it displays objects and warmer in its interactive exhibits than many actual museums I have been to.

I hasten I must end this review here, for it is rapidly in danger of this becoming one of those good reviews I so tried to avoid!  I close in saying that this place is an unexpected and gloriously naff in that opinion dividing way but also a genuine, enthusiastically assembled, transporting wonderland to whose owners I am appreciative that they made it and chose to share it with others. I am unsure whether it is genius or just plain madness, though the two often go together...I’d say you’d have to be mad to visit this place! Consider that a compliment.
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