This is my return to Warrington Contemporary Arts Festival using the excuse of the ‘Encounters’ live art/performance event. On arriving on or near the location of the event looking for a indication of what’s happening. I spot a figure laying leafs along the edge of the Golden Square covered market thing.
“Would you like to turn over a new leaf?”
Ask the chirpy invigilator, I do, is that it? Well kind of I ask the in invigilator who informs my that many of the artists have pulled out due to illness or in response to the weather. Hmmmm, at least it gives me the chance to look at the stuff that was unavailable to me on my first visit.
Starting with the Birmingham Pavilion and the Shaun Ryder Beer Mat Show. Which I don’t know what to make of, I try to enter the spirit of the thing. Which I think is fun, though as the majority of the beermats are locked on the other side of a cashier counter.
Next is the Middlesbrough/Newcastle Pavilion. Which maybe my favourite. After meeting another cheery invigilator I head up to the third floor. Where I’m greeted by a grid of White squares. In the centre of each square is the guts of a electronic clock, the hands of these clocks have been transformed into a different kind of measurement device.
This is Nick Kennedy’s Timecaster from each hand hangs pieces of graphite which make marks on the white squares, a record of the passage of the hands and graphite. There’s a strange hypnotic satisfaction in watching these clocks undertake their measurements. In seeing the process and the result in one go.
On the floor below there is the work of three artists, though it took me a few moments to figure the out, the artist being Narbi Price, Michael Mulvihill and Alison Unsworth.
Price presents us with painted images of memorial flowers on barriers and empty spaces. Similar to the work of George Shaw. They touch on a certain sense of entropy the difference between the experience of the now and the knowledge of the passage of time. With these paintings there are also the drawings of Michael Mulvihill they are sketches of mushroom clouds, philosophers and cosmonauts. Thumbnail sketches of places all look like a attempt to come to terms with the 20th century in purely visual terms.
As if the act of physical, artist reproduction will render history a sense of tangibility.
The third artist on the floor is Alison Unsworth, who is showing drawings and ‘sculptures’. The sculptures are in fact those Pudding Lane ornaments, only they have appeared to have suffered some kind of cultural apocalypse. Developers have moved in a stripped and sheared everything away the only evidence of life are a skip or a cordoned off monument.
These are funny depictions of the English attitude to landscape and architecture. Somewhere in the remains of these signs of a unremembered England there is something about the fallacy of the idea that are culture is forever.
The mistaken belief that another generation won’t smash your buildings down or mark a monument with graffiti. The only real sense of eternity comes from the cycle of life as presented in her Pedestal drawing featuring a Seagull using a lamppost as stage and toilet. The biological winning over the cultural.
Then onto the second Leeds Pavilion, situated in Hatter’s Row a strange collection of shops and salons mostly empty now used by artists.
I lot of the stuff in there I find difficult to like. In the first room I find a disembodied head on the floor from which spews out what sounds like free jazz, this is surrounded by large banners featuring arrow heads.
On the second floor there are more artists whose work I find hard to decode or to different one artist from another. The artists use materials, images in a way that doesn’t quite solidify into something. I can speculate that it is something about the relationship between material, form and experience.
I have to speculate as there’s no further imagination of how to navigate my way through these pieces.
While I was in the space of Hatter’s Row I wondered why it hadn’t been used as a alternative venue or main venue for the performance event. Or why the other spaces hadn’t been employed or fully exploited.
Which is how I feel about the WCAF in general. In this form it feels like its not truly taking advantage of the North West art scene or the locations it’s secured. The festival feels like it’s not aware of its potential. Or where it fits in, whether it is a extra to the Liverpool and Manchester or its equal. This will become clear as the festival grows in confidence and scale.