Make sure you see the best exhibition in town before it finishes on 29 April… painfully topical, it is sure to make you think.
Read our Arts Foundry review, written as one of a series to emerge from recent art writing workshops at Wolverhampton Art Gallery…
Diaspora Pavilion | Venice to Wolverhampton
I always hold my breath before entering an art gallery. There are overwhelming memories of being marched mercilessly around them as a child by my mother who would order, “Hands in pockets.”
But now I’m an art student and on a new journey, so as I enter the Wolverhampton Art Gallery I defiantly take my hands out of my pockets and head to the first work in the Diaspora exhibition.
The first installation, a reformulation of MANNA: Machine Aided Neural Networking of Affect (2017), is in a small room resembling an empty traditional English parlour.
There is a television screen propped up at floor level. The soundtrack, like the video itself, is disjointed and jarring, causing confusion between alternating scenes which take you from Abbas Zahedi’s native Iran to the domesticity of family life, and a saffron drink he has brewed especially for the installation.
Upstairs in the Georgian and Victorian galleries I find an alternative telling of African history. Five large-scale paintings by Kimathi Donkor are bold in their choice of subject and in their size and use of colour. They have been set alongside the permanent collection and stand out and create conversations.
Also on this floor is a reflective piece The River Asked for a Kiss (To Pateh Sabally) by Paul Maheke. He uses water as a theme to explore issues of connection, migration and immigration.
Translucent green floor-length drapes capture the essence of flowing water, and are printed with the words of a poem written in response to the watery death of a refugee.
The gallery also contains two empty fish tanks. It must be my imagination that creates the smell reminiscent of the spring clean of the fish pond from my childhood days, but imaginary or not I can smell it. The piece leaves me feeling reflective, and a little melancholy.
These feelings are soon banished upon entering the Michael Forbes display, which is a riot of colour and texture. The works consist of sculptures and paintings: a mismatch of cultural artefacts, china ornaments, fake designer handbags and defunct computer parts held together with expandable foam and further decorated with spray paint in gold pink and black. These are in turn mounted on black plinths.
Like a child, I need to touch to understand this work – looking is not enough, but the works are fragile and so my hands stay firmly in my pockets.
In the room next door is The ‘Forgotten’ Weaver (RETURNS) by Erica Tan, which consists of an oversized weaving loom in a dimly lit room with video projected onto and through the threads. Standing at different angles alters how much of the image you can see.
There is more than one soundtrack playing and the noise and filtering of light through the loom is entrancing, the effect added to by the repetitive drum beat featured in the soundtrack, which reinforces the sounds of the loom.
Back on the ground floor is Susan Pui San Lok’s ‘Golden’, an installation of five slashed stage curtains manufactured from golden foil. At first glance this looks like a pound shop purchase or leftover Christmas decorations. At last there is a piece that I can touch.
I walk through the rows of shimmering gold, listening to a soundtrack reminiscent of cabaret. Whilst I am there a young child strays in to the room and runs gleefully through the installation. There is joy in that room.
The last exhibit is a video installation, ‘Sunday’s Best’ by Larry Achiampong. The only light in the room comes from the projection screen, and this makes for an immersive experience but also creates an atmosphere of stillness. Sitting on the hard bench is suggestive of wooden pews and I could be attending a Catholic church, except that the audio does not marry with the video at all. and instead concerns a Ghanaian church congregation. The artist narrates his experience of religion and the Sunday meetings in a community hall where there were no crosses, but where worship and family formed the church. It is a thought provoking piece which sits well in the space.
As I emerge from the gallery into the bright sunshine and yellow daffodils of St. Peter’s Gardens, I contemplate the very different pieces that form the exhibition. What I hadn’t anticipated is that a collection of works such as those in the Diaspora exhibition could be experienced by all of my senses, and not just touch.
Nat Jones is a final year student studying Fine Art at Wolverhampton, exploring aspects of public, political and community art. She is interested in nature and the environment and has become increasingly frustrated with commercialism and the effect of consumerism on our natural environments. She tries to reflect this frustration in her own art.
Banner image: Michael Forbes at the exhibition launch. The Diaspora exhibition runs until 29 April.