Text by Alex Turkington
Travelling down to the exhibition on the tram, along the sea front, watching vast swathes of humanity snaking languorously along the promenade, it’s early afternoon on a Saturday in September. The bright sunlight illuminates shops, stalls and people, a number of each looking the worse for wear, promising and seeking entertainment, enlightenment, escapism …earthly pleasures.
The exhibition, I later find, includes a series of letters penned and illustrated magnificently by Albert Grass, the founder of The Coney Island Amateur Psychoanalytic Society and fairground ride engineer, relating his time spent in Blackpool. The juxtaposition of my visit today and his, 80 years ago, is surprisingly close as he describes a Blackpool so little changed; his humorous analysis and bawdy illustrations could be straight from the postcards for which Blackpool is so famous, his distinctly Freudian take on Blackpool’s favourite sweet Rock is a joy to behold.
It can be no co-incidence that on the gallery wall adjacent to these sits a further series of letters critically examining the postcards of the era, including a breakdown of occurrence of phallic symbols no less, and the depiction of a knowing society, pursuing it’s desires, layering entendre on entendre could not be clearer.
We move on to view the working model of Albert Grass’ re-imagination of Dreamland, the original Coney Island amusement park burned to the ground in 1911, Albert submitted a series of designs for rides centred on Freudian principles, that depict an at once terrifying and fascinating insight into the interpretation of dreams, with rides themed on libido, consciousness, desire and others. The sketches for the Park surround the models and can’t help but make one think that they tell more of Albert’s deeply hidden desires and feelings, than anything he learned in discussion with other members of the society. Unsurprisingly, if somewhat ironically, these dreams were not realised.
Further in to the exhibition is a display of films made by the Society depicting dreams of the members in an attempt to analyse and convey their messages of loss, dis-empowerment, desire. Accompanied again with a letter from Mr Grass stating rules and regulations for the production of these films, berating one member for filming with the lens cap still in place, and again showing his love of the fairground by suggesting that dreams of flying be filmed from a roller coaster. These films are also reproduced on DVD in the companion book of the exhibition.
The final work in this mixed media collection, upstairs in the gallery, is Albert’s attempt to bring psychoanalysis to the working classes through a graphic novel, The adventures of a dreamer. The pages are laid out to be read and followed around the walls and capture a wonderfully surreal trip through the dreams and adventures of the titular protagonist.
Zoe Beloff has created an entertaining, insightful and fascinating exhibition. The quality of writing, the discomfort of the films, and the surreal and often lewd illustrations make for a fascinating and wonderfully aligned look across Coney Island, Blackpool and the society that binds them.
Zoe Beloff: DREAMLAND is on display at the Grundy Art Gallery, Blackpool until 2 November 2013.
Alex Turkington is a writer and IT Manager based in Cleveleys, who escapes from the office to make and look at things of beauty.