Art: HOUSE 2014 discusses immigration

HOUSE 2014

HOUSE, Brighton’s celebrated festival of visual art and domestic space, kicks-off today and was fortunate enough to preview all of the awesomeness on display before its doors opened to the public.

With an interest in the threshold between private and public space, HOUSE makes up part of the Brighton Festival season and commissions a series of new site-specific works in various locations around the city. The big name of HOUSE 2014 is Yinka Shonibare MBE, who is the invited artist for HOUSE’s sixth edition. Alongside his installation is new work from Leah Gordon, Phillip Hall-Patch, Tobias Revell and Ester Svensson & Rosanna Martin, artists from the South East region selected by Open Submission whose work responds to the themes in Shonibare’s commission. We’re talking themes of immigration, migration, displacement and refuge. All of which, of course, is a political hot potato at the moment.

Yinka Shonibare‘s The British Library is presented in the grand Edwardian surroundings of the former Reference Library in Brighton Museum and Art Gallery. It depicts the names of notable British immigrants who throughout history have made significant contributions to British culture and society.

Ten thousand books nestle in bookcases and upon their spines are the names of historical figures like Henry James, Queen Elizabeth II and Winston Churchill, alongside more contemporary ones such as Kate Bush and Something You Said’s chum Sienna Guillory. The books are bound in Shonibare’s trademark fabric and the bright explosion of colour juxtaposes the dusty old library aesthetic magnificently.

The celebrated artist told us, “Immigration is an anxiety for people. We have to think about our moral obligations and there is the question of infrastructure. It’s a debate that needs to be had… This is a hybrid nation, people have come from so many parts of the world.” He went on to explain, “Art is a means for transformation. An artist is not a politician, but they can capture the zeitgeist. They can transform that anxiety into a platform for debate.”

While Shonibare’s thought-provoking and fascinating commission is the big draw, there are several other attractions hidden away in spaces around the city. The highlight being No One Owns The Land in the basement of The Regency Town House. 

This is the debut collaboration between up-n-coming London-based artists Rosanna Martin and Ester Svensson (pictured, below), who use their beautifully delicate and intricate ceramic pieces to create an installation which delivers strong imagery of migration and its potential torment. No One Owns The Land deals with journeys, dreams of home, safety and danger, restlessness, identity and belonging.

The duo use the basement space imaginatively to weave a clear, coherent narrative. This is a must-see installation from two artists with a big future ahead of them. Check out the pictures below (and at the top of the page) to get an idea of the brilliance of their work.


Meanwhile, in the dining room, artist and curator Leah Gordon explores shared Haitian and British histories with photography project Caste / Cast. Her photographs look at the practice of grading skin colour in eighteenth century Haiti. In the same room plays a film of the journey along the Manchester Ship Canal to Liverpool. Despite the self-deprecating description she offered us (“It’s an hour-and-a-half long and nothing happens”), the film’s journey between a city born of the industrial revolution and another built upon the slave trade highlights the shared economic and political histories of Britain and Haiti and plays an integral role in the themes she is exploring.

Another installation simply not to be missed is Phillip Hall-Patch‘s investigation of the tensions between transience and stability. Salt Field looks into the historic and economic role of salt. It’s far more interesting than it sounds, by the way. The work is comprised of a kinda mattress-shaped forest of readymade industrial salt blocks, onto which water slowly drips. This dissolves substance, changing the shape of the piece throughout the course of the festival. The idea is that it mimics migration as the displaced mineral reforms as new crystalline growths. This makes it worth repeated visits, as it will never look the same on two different days.

Also worth taking note of is the venue itself. The building is a new low energy pre-fabricated house built entirely from recycled materials sited within the University of Brighton’s Grand Parade Campus. It’s literally a house made of rubbish, yet you’d never know it. The stairs are made from paper, old carpet is used to tile its exterior and the insulation? Video cassettes and toothbrushes! It’s an absolutely fascinating study of – and statement on – waste and recycling.

Elsewhere, critical designer and futurist, Tobias Revell offers up The Monopoly of Legitimate Use, which sees three individual vignettes look at near-future techno-political landscape. Each short film studies the control of citizenship, political identity and border definition.

HOUSE has once again provided an entertaining, visually arresting and thought-provoking programme which utilises space brilliantly. Take half-a-day out of your schedule to check it out for yourself.

And if you have more time to spare, then as well as everything HOUSE has on offer, there are heaps of other Brighton Festival visual arts projects on display too, such as Zimoun‘s amazing Sound in Motion, which sees platforms of sound created using functional components. Balls repeatedly hit cardboard boxes, wires tap against the wall. It’s a study of chaos and order. And a fun one. Similarly, William Forsythe‘s Nowhere and Everywhere at the Same Time, No, 2 looks at the same themes, using hundreds of pendulums swinging in timed sequences. It’s an interactive and somewhat mesmerising piece of work.

Check out loads more photos from HOUSE and The Brighton Festival on our facebook page.

If all this floats your boat, then head along to Brighton before the 25th May to check it out. Details of venues and artists at the House website.

bobby townsend


Words and pictures by Bobby Townsend.