Forwards, Backwards and Forwards Again – Exhibition

New exhibition at the Guernsey Arts Commission’s venue leaves me feeling slightly baffled and a bit disappointed.

So first off, this is my first ever attempt at reviewing a visual arts exhibition, but I have been to a few over the years so I’ll give this a go, and, as always, will be nothing if not honest in what I think of it.

I was surprised on my arrival at the greenhouse (the Guernsey Arts Commission’s exhibition space in the Guernsey Information Centre in St Peter Port) that the door was shut and the had blackout material over the glass, which had the effect of making the small gallery look shut, despite the signs outside saying otherwise.

None-the-less I ventured in to find all the windows blacked out and an automatic slide projector clacking away to itself in the middle of the room.

After my eyes adjusted from the bright sunlight outside to the darkness I found a copy of the exhibition flyer, and saw there were three large photographs on the wall opposite the slide projection and on the far wall a small screen with a film running on it and headphones attached.

Compared to previous exhibitions I have visited in the greenhouse, this one seemed somewhat sparse as along with the photos, film and projection in the main room, the small room at the back featured a simply arranged screening of another film.

This film in the back room was the most coherent part of the experience for me.

Entitled Firedive, and made by photographer and filmmaker Tim Bowditch, it was first screened in summer 2011 as part of a special swimming gala event at St Peter Port’s bathing pools to celebrate the galas of old, which featured the original firedive events.

Taking a look at a rarely celebrated element of Guernsey’s social history through the memories and voices of those involved, and culminating in a reenactment of the torch-fire-lit procession that was part of the event, it is a fascinating film that looks as good as the memories sound with visuals of the bathing pools used very well to accompany the voices.

Also interesting was the new short film Out of Vision by Sybella Perry, which explored the creation of Firedive and its initial screening – my only criticism of this being that the sound made it at times hard to listen to as it sounded like the audio was recorded in an echo chamber.

La Vallette: Three Exposures by Theo Niderost, was the name given to the series of three photographs hanging on the wall of the greenhouse. While the three were undeniably good photos that each captured something different of the bathing pools, I found it hard to work out what they were meant to add to the overall concept.

Reading the extensive explanatory notes in the exhibition flyer (which it was too dark to properly read in the exhibition) it became clearer that the intent was to provide a different view of the bathing pools – more remote than the film and in a different medium and, therefore, different mental space – however I didn’t get this from looking at them.

I would say though this may be due to the fact that, being a Guernseyman, the area is so familiar to me that seeing it through new eyes is a challenge and this piece may work better for visitors to the island.

Finally the centre of the room and one wall was taken up by a slide projector projecting what seemed to be images of the moon onto the white wall of the venue through a transparent piece of blue plastic.

Again without the explanation of the from the flyer this seemed hard to translate into the over arching concept, other than some relation to tides – I think it was also hampered by the light levels in the room, which, despite the blackouts, made the projection somewhat vague until my head got around what it was meant to be, by which point it was more a frustration to try to work out than anything else.

In the end, for me the exhibition felt disjointed and somewhat inaccessible without the extensive explanations in the accompanying flyer. However it was nice to see the greenhouse used for something slightly different than just pictures on the walls and in display cases and also the work having a relevance to Guernsey.

The other thing that seemed odd was the fact that for a gallery that previously had seemed to have a staunchly non-commercial outlook, there was a separate flyer advertising the sale of copies of Niderost’s photographs, though as a means of fundraising for the Guernsey Arts Commission, this seems like a nice new idea.

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