Brighton Festival & House art preview


As a self-confessed luddite, I sometimes struggle with the language of art. I find it difficult to separate the genuine sentiment from the bullshit. So, usually, when an artist states something like, “Wallpaper is aspirational,” I don’t manage to maintain a straight face. However, when David Wightman expresses this while explaining his exhibit, Hero, at The Glass Pavilion, it makes absolute sense.

Such is the carefully curated nature of the the Brighton Festival and its contemporary visual arts strand, HOUSE, that you instantly know you are not going to be confronted with any nonsense, any pretence, any chancers. These artists, these bands, these productions are at the festival because they have been hand-picked due to their quality and their honesty.

P1070916The press jaunt I attended, one-day prior to the opening of Brighton Festival 2013, showcased the works which make up HOUSE 2013, a celebration of visual art and domestic space, as well as some of Brighton Festival’s other art projects.

The sun beat down upon the grateful south coast city, so long stuck in the throes of winter, as I ventured from one temporary art space to the next. First up on the HOUSE tour, which saw all the artists connect to the idea of unknowable/knowable landscapes in found spaces around Brighton, was Dylan Shipman and Ben Fitton’s Monument to the Excluded Middle at St Peter’s Church Gardens. This (pictured, left) took the form of a stricken airship whose central section has collapsed, permanently grounding the vehicle. It stands as a confusing construction; part statement, part building site, part curiosity in one of Brighton’s less salubrious parks.

P1070924The aforementioned Hero, by David Wightman, is a methodically and perfectly created large-scale wallpaper painting (pictured, right) of a mountainscape using a marquetry-like technique, and inspired by found images of landscapes. Next door stood Andrew Kotting and Anonymous Bosch’s Underland, Beyond The Mounting Fear, which was fascinating. Art from someone whose name is actually ‘Anonymous’ might sound a bit too Nathan Barley, but this exhibition was certainly one of the highlights of the day. A tale of creative evolution forced by a near tragic motorbike accident to Kotting (pictured below), its story is as impressive as its pinhole photography. Equally impressive is the fact that said motorbike accident happened only about one month ago and that the artist – with his arm in some kind of robot sling and with the biggest scar you’ve ever seen in your life on his left leg – still managed to put together this fine show.

P1070934Not part of HOUSE, but just up the road and unquestionably worth a look, is James Bridle’s Under The Shadow of the Drone (pictured, top). Commissioned by digital culture agency, Lighthouse, for the Brighton Festival, it is a site-specific installation on the seafront (between the Pier and The Concorde 2) which asks questions of our relationship with technology and its morality, invisibility and omnipotence (you can, and should, also head to Lighthouse to see a short film about the work). Looking like a drone shadow painted on the road in chromakey green, it looms ominously indeed. Bridle (who looks like a cleaner cut fourth member of The Cribs) gave an on-site explanation of the themes of “augmented death-dealing,” which greatly added to his work’s foreboding nature.

Emma CritchleyIn a deep blue shipping container on the seafront near the pretty shell of the poor ol’ West Pier, I found Emma Critchley’s Aria. A beautiful audio/visual experience of a female figure moving within the depths of an underwater landscape to the strains of a female soprano, it made the journalists in attendance want to shed their clothes on this sweltering day and skinny dip into the ocean. None did though, journos are way too square for those kind of shenanigans. Emma (pictured, right) was on hand outside her toasty shipping container, explaining the concept of her lovely work and how only three people can view it at a time, in order to fully appreciate its intimacy.

Making up the last stop on this horseshoe shaped HOUSE trail along Brighton seafront was Mariele Neudecker’s Heterotopias and Other Domestic Landscapes in the shell of the city’s atmospheric Regency Town House, which is still, interminably, being refurbished. Its bare, stark beauty made was the perfect setting for Neudecker’s most ambitious installation to date, a multi-layered body of connecting works P1070962combining sculpture, video and photography. Arctic suns with hand-drawn vapour trails; an iceberg sculpture inspired by Neudecker’s circumnavigation of an Arctic iceberg, shown with films, light boxes illuminating simultaneous sunrises and sunsets in the Azores and Australia and, most interestingly of all, soundtracked video works from 2000 fathoms into deep sea space.

Meanwhile, back in the hub of the city, in the same Lighthouse space as James Bridle’s Under The Shadow of the Drone video, is another Neudecker exhibition, The Air Itself Is One Vast Library, which makes up part of the main festival. Here, like Bridle, she explores the disturbing and often invisible technologies of war.

Whether you are a refined connoisseur or a head-scratching luddite like me, HOUSE and The Brighton Festival have delivered an art programme that you will find inclusive, interesting and appealing. Even if you don’t quite grasp the metalanguages of the artworld, the clever use of location alone, from a shipping container to the bohemian Regency Town House, makes it worth a visit.

The 2013 Brighton Festival kicks off today. Find details here and find out all about HOUSE here.

bobby townsend


Words and pictures by Bobby Townsend. See more pictures on our Facebook page.