Please tell me how wrong I am….

I really hate to say this but I appear to have a problem with first site which I think says more about me than anything else!

It makes me feel stupid – and that’s not a great starting place for a visual arts experience. I’m desperate to like – and feel part of -the organisation that has the potential to be a key part of Colchester’s re-emergence as a cultural town.

But wondering around the private view of Anthea Hamilton’s Sorry I’m Late it happened again. I found myself feeling thick.

So much of last night I was trying to work out why.

Part of the problem I know is I’m not a visual arts afficianado. I’m not a Brian Sewell kind of guy – more an enthusiastic attender. Technically though that means I wouldn’t know my arse from my elbow and therefore I need a little guidance. First Sites exhibitions so far have been demanding (or ‘off the wall’ as another punter I spoke to last night put it) – and there’s no harm in that. I usually love that kind of thing. But what I hate – really hate – is standing in front of something not being sure what I’m looking at!

The labeling doesn’t help. Work seems to be labelled in clusters at the corners of the spaces. As a result your’re not often quite sure what you are looking at, which then also renders your exhibition guide useless. Is that pair of glossy high heeled boots really called ‘Please don’t touch’? No of course not – but pertinent that the negative label is far more prominent than the works actual title (which incidentally I never found). Worse still – as happened to me last night – you decide a work is one thing only then to find out its actually something else. Then I really did feel stupid.

It’s probably fair to say the building’s design here doesn’t help much eiher. The actual exhibition floor space being both unusual and, relative to the buildings footprint, small. So in the main spaces of Sorry I’m late each work literally fights for your attention. Visually it’s an explosion of colour and ideas – so much so there is little room to breathe and I have no sense of where to start, or to find my way in. I find myself checking with a gallery assistant which gallery I’m in so I can refer back to my guide. I am quite literally lost.

There were things I enjoyed. The ‘giant heads’ of John Travolta (Portraits of John) which make great use of the entrance curve and are neatly reflected in the upper windows. I did respond to the overall sense of theatricality (there is no doubting the exhibition has a strong look) and I will be reading round it a bit more before going back in the hope that I too can be immersed in a ‘sensuous experience’.

Which is fair enough – great works of any form of art should stand up to second, third and fourth viewings. But the nagging doubt with firstsite’s programme so far is does it give enough to enhance a general audience back for that second, third, fourth viewing?

I don’t think this is about dumbing down – but about finding more ways in to the work for the man off the street. And I’d love to go to an exhibition and get something out of it – other than feeling stupid!

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