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Scenes from the City

Thursday, 12 August, 2010

Words and Pictures

Scenes from the City is a collaboration of visual and written art.  Eight stories are told through the written word, illustrations and photographs.  Projected images, sound recordings and suspended snippets of words and sketches complete the multi-sensorial impact of the exhibition.

The works are displayed in a small windowless, dimly lit room.  The concrete floor is painted dark grey and the walls are painted with that textured lumpy-effect paint that was once popular.  The walls of the room are adorned with A3 unframed cards of printed words, simple glass framed sketches and similarly framed black and white photographs ranging in size from c 20cm x 27cm to c 36cm x 54cm.  There is a white wooden chair in the centre of the room.  There are three stacks of old televisions against three walls, one stack of 4, another with 3 and the last a single television resting on the floor.  The fourth wall supports a basic freestanding wooden structure (c 1.5m  x  0.5m  x  0.5m).  The empty space between the wooden beams is criss-crossed with nylon fishing wire used to suspend snippets from the illustrations and words which make up the exhibition.  Portions of illustrations are projected onto an alcove in one of the walls.  The characters depicted in the printed stories around the walls are given voices in a 25 minute radio recordings, set on repeat.

The stories delve in and out of relationships, conversations and seemingly random moments in the lives of ordinary people.  Each scene takes place in a public setting; public transport, a bench overlooking a council owned duck pond, in a supermarket, in a hospital. The characters featured are by all appearances as typical and ordinary as their surroundings; couples, both youthful and elderly, a tattooed youth with nowhere to go, an eccentric old lady, a suited business man and a nattering lady with an oversized handbag, an uncle visiting his nephew in the A&E.

Each story, like each sketch and photograph, can stand alone. Yet there are several interconnecting lines flowing through almost every piece in the collection. Characters make multiple appearances, demonstrating the different roles a person can play in the various relationships of their lives.  The grumpy old husband in one story reappears as the caring uncle in another.  Words and phrases uttered in one story are given an entirely different meaning in the next: ‘a cliché…but a true one’ are the words uttered by one character to describe playing Foucault in D minor to pigeons (‘Reading to the Pigeons’).  The same words are uttered by the female half of a young couple to describe a phrase she has heard repeated in pop songs (‘By the Duckpond’).  Imagery is repeated in the written word (pigeons feature in several of the stories; sponges, in their various forms, come up more than once) and in the visual artwork.  Repeated images are especially noticeable in the illustrations where frequently one large sketch will be broken down into two separate smaller close-up sketches of individual characters or features.  This method of presenting a complex, multi-layered illustration accompanied by two smaller close-up pictures of a character, or a set of eyes, has the effect of subtly leading the spectator through the interplay of ideas contained in the visual and written art.

The illustrations themselves are primarily simple pencil-type sketches in black on white paper.  The images are far from simple. The scenes are complex and surreal. The characters have a dream (or more aptly, nightmare)-like quality, many portraying cross breeds of humans and animals. The regularity of the settings for the stories is juxtaposed with the surreal quality of the sketches.  The relevance of the photography can be less evident at times.

The exhibition as a whole has the power to draw the spectator in, forcing them to forget ‘the world beyond the carriage’ (quotation from story: On the Train).  The subtle yet effective repetition and links between otherwise unconnected stories consumes the spectator’s attention, leaving them hungry to spot all of the threads.

Scenes from the City is at Nolias Gallery, 60 Great Suffolk Street, SE1 0BL. 5 – 10 August 2010.

Credits:

Illustrator – Ben Lambert. Writer – Vicky Flood. Photography – Laura Scott. The Scenes from the City Radio Recordings – Adapted by Vicky Flood. Images – Ben Lambert. Directors – Alex Buckingham and Vicky Flood. Actor’s voices: Daniel Binham,  Alex Buckingham,  Louisa Coward,  Vicky Flood, Imogen Goodman, Steve King,  Anna Rap,  Miriam Scully,  Luke Surl,  Tom Ward. Adapted by Vicky Flood. Website: www.scenesfromthecity.wordpress.com

(c) Leanne O’Loughlin

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