Plan 9

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Wig Wam Bam! / 15 July - 17 September 2006

Richard Box, Laurence Chalk, Nicola Donovan, Karen Di Franco, Colin Higginson, Marcus Jefferies, Annabel Other, Daniel Rush, Sophie Warren & Jonathan Mosley, Finn Watkins, Simon Webb, Emily Wood.

Plan 9 presents an exhibition of Bristol based artists at The Red lodge Museum, Bristol, running alongside the British Art Show 6. Selected by Claire Barclay and Marcus Coates (British Art Show 6 artists) and Geoff Molyneux (Bristol Savage).

Responding to the building, the selected artists take on board sensitivities of politics past, ongoing preservation, and today's nervy ambiguities. The works contrast and compliment the architecture and decoration of the Red Lodge but none sit too comfortably, and the friction they create subtly transforms this Elizabethan house.

Wig Wam BAM!

When large touring exhibitions come to town, events often spring up (or more commonly nowadays, are encouraged to spring up) either alongside or in opposition to them, with local artists and curators aiming to reach the new audiences brought in by the main event. The resulting fringe events are often sidelined by the mainstream art world, dismissed as less significant and harder to access than the more easily negotiated central attraction.

As a Bristol-based artist-led initiative, the arrival of the British Art Show (BAS) meant we had to consider our position carefully. Should we walk away, scuffing our parochial feet as we went, because there were no ‘local’ artists in the exhibition? Should we stage an oppositional exhibition in one of the many contemporary art spaces in the city showing Bristol artists’ work (ie the local café and the odd empty shop unit now and then). Or should we, like others, simply jump on the BAS bandwagon?

The idea formed to use a building already open to the public, and consequently we settled on the Red Lodge – an Elizabethan house managed by the city and open to the public as an example of a period house. And what sealed the deal were the Bristol Savages. The Bristol Savages - perhaps the Plan 9 of the 1890’s? A male-only artists’ group in existence since the late 19th century, modeled on the Pre-Raphaelites notion of brotherhood. After witnessing Wild Bill Hiccup’s Wild West Show on the Bristol Downs in 1894, the group took the name the ‘Savages’ and interpreted aspects of Native American culture to delineate the hierarchies within their group. Artists at the top (red feathers), musicians & actors in the middle (blue feathers) and paying supporters at the bottom (green feathers). They still meet today, in their ‘wigwam’ in the grounds of the Red Lodge (which they own), holding weekly painting and theatrical evenings.

We invited Claire Barclay and Marcus Coates to form part of the selection panel, and, thinking we were throwing the selection process a curve ball, we asked Geoff Molyneux, chair of the Bristol Savages, to be the third member of the selection panel. What arguments would ensue! We imaged all sorts of artistic tussles and tantrums, with the old harrumphing new, and the contemporary exasperating the traditional. But they got on famously, with Geoff pricking our prejudices by displaying a wide-ranging knowledge of contemporary artists in Bristol.

Of the selected artists, four have been chosen on the basis of existing work (Laurence Chalk, Nicola Donovan, Emily Wood and Finn Watkins) and the others have produced new work relating to the site.

Richard Box, Daniel Rush, Emily Wood, Finn Watkins and Nicola Donovan unravel methods of display and what is and isn’t permissible in the hushed museum atmosphere. Watkin’s tiny ceramic figures hug the nooks and crannies of the Oak Room, ‘Daedo Lan’ seems to be simultaneously part of the bath stone mantelpiece and a foreign body. Placed in such a way as to never be wholly visible, it frustrates the museum visitor in their expectation of having everything on display and over explained. Box’s ‘Cord’ fetishsizes museum codes of practice with the neon roping of an ornately carved oak chair. More fragile than the antique it is protecting, the glowing red rope acts as both a warning and an invitation.

Richard Box 'Cord' Finn Watkins 'Daedo Lan'

Beautiful and grotesque, Nicola Donovan’s bonnets appear to belong to the museum yet on closer inspection the ‘hairy’ reality of this outsized headgear disturbs this assumption. Donovan plays with the often unquestioning gaze of those viewing historic artifacts.

Nicola Donovan Emily Wood 'Pump Piece'

Rush’s ‘Changing Rooms with Debbie Folan’ bounces with irreverent glee. A pastiche of contemporary make-over culture and a subversion of aspirational interior design, Linda Barker look-a-like Debbie Folan updates and ‘improves’ the tudor bedroom. Wood’s performance ‘Pump Piece’ cheekily ignores the sanctity of the site and literally blows at raspberry at where it’s at. A large upturned cardboard box is placed in the middle of the grand Oak Room. There is a small hole is in the top of the box, out of which pink balloons emerge. Some are pumped to full size, tied and float off into the room. Some burst with a loud bang, whilst others fly off – deflating flatulently.

Daniel Rush 'Changing Rooms with Debbie Folan' Daniel Rush 'Changing Rooms with Debbie Folan'

Karen Di Franco, Annabel Other and Marcus Jefferies have engaged with the inhabitants (past and present) and neighbours of the Red Lodge. Di Franco, taking inspiration from Victorian photographs of Native Americans, has worked with the Bristol Savages to produce a series of portraits of current members. They are shown wearing their ceremonial dress and feathers, representing their standing amongst the group. The photographs quietly unpick and challenge the Savages origins whilst engaging with who they are now.

Karen Di Franco Karen Di Franco, detail Karen Di Franco, detail

Wishing to develop a relationship between the Red Lodge staff and the staff in the neighbouring multi-storey car park, Other has hosted an afternoon tea to celebrate these two quite different public spaces, both run by the city council. To commemorate the event, Other produced a tea cup with views of the Red Lodge and the car-park for the staff to keep.

Annabel Other

Jefferies’s series of ghostly fibre-glass figures - ‘Phantasm 3’, ‘Phantasm 4’, and ‘Phantasm 5’ take their inspiration from photographs of the Reform School girls that used to live in the house in the early 1900’s. Tucked away in silent corners of the house, their odd stillness reminds us of quietly forgotten histories and the child-size cells in the Lodge’s basement.

Marcus Jefferies 'Phantasm 3' Marcus Jefferies 'Phantasm 4'

Laurence Chalk, Sophie Warren & Jonathan Mosley, Colin Higginson and Simon Webb share the commonality of examining the museums exhibits and architecture. Chalk’s ‘Wunderbar’, a series of three wonky kinetic sculptures, expresses a boyish glee in moving parts and wobbly mechanisms, and are at odds with the quiet grandeur of the Reception Room. The anthropomorphic armatures seem to be caught in time, engaged in repetitive and never ending idolising of the museums’ existing exhibits.

Laurance Chalk 'Wunderbar' Laurence Chalk 'Wunderbar'

Warren & Mosley’s installation 'Continuous Monument' in the Small Oak Room, connects the relatively unchanged architecture of the Red Lodge with the ever shifting Bristol skyline. A large and ungainly piece of concrete (carefully chosen from the Bristol & West building, glimpsed through the window) sits unreservedly on the oak floor, attached to the oak paneling by museum style burgundy cord. It disturbs the normal flow of museum visitors, and brings the outside world crashing in. The fragile oak sculpture on top of the cabinet at the same time echoes the Bristol & West building, and the grid pattern of the rooms paneling and windows, and is a delicate adjunct to the solid brutality of the concrete lump.

Jonathan Mosley & Sophie Warren 'Continuous Monument'

‘The Infinite Series’, an animated video loop by Simon Webb, fragments decorative elements from the Red Lodge, and splices them together with a monotonous and mesmeric soundtrack of the unnoticed creakings and groanings of the museum. The work jarringly draws attention to the potentially missed details when visitors too easily get caught up in the prescribed navigation of the house.

Simon Webb 'The Infinite Series'

Higginson’s scaled down model of the Reception Room, ‘Reorganising the Museum’ , highlights the precarious contrivances of recreating an imagined past. Envious in its construction, it’s a portable miniature for those who can’t realise the real thing.

Colin Higginson 'Reorganising the Museum'

Less hasty than its title suggests, but sometimes just as playful, Wig Wam Bam!, draws from the architecture and history of the Red Lodge, but none of the works sit too comfortably. The friction they create subtly alters our perception of supposed pasts and the presumptions of the present.

Sophie Mellor
Plan 9

>> Wig Wam Bam! Review - The Observer, 27 August 2006