A man carrying a shopping bag weaves in childlike wonder through the arches of Roy Voss’ richly evocative installation, his eyes catch mine and he smiles in delight. All around the gallery, people huddle and chat, bewitched as they peer through holes in the structure to gain different perspectives; this sculpture has so much to give. My head has created its own soundtrack and I am accompanied by the sing-song melodies of a funfair organ as I explore.
The room is dominated by an intricately constructed impression of a pier, created from machined and push-jointed poplar wood and covered in a gentle grey wash. Inspired by Victorian lithographs and contemporary architects’ drawings, the sculpture is both an impressive piece of workmanship and a romantic gesture. Visually, there is so much to explore, whether it is the complex patterns of the criss-cross diagonal struts, the symmetry of the lines, the juxtaposition of gentle curves and right-angles or the ellipses sitting pretty on the supporting columns. From certain angles the arc of the wood creates a heart, and whether incidental or intentional, this only serves to highlight the emotional response the piece evokes.
On the day I visit, the sky is grey and heavy, full of the mizzle that clings to you and covers you in a fine sheen of moisture. The gallery is completely unlit, relying only on natural light to illuminate the sculpture within. A conversation with Voss revealed that in a previous incarnation at the De La Warr Pavilion in Bexhill, the pier was almost twice the length and positioned in very different surroundings that allowed light to flood in and looked out at a blue sea. The Gymnasium Gallery offers a very different home for the installation, with high windows and the North Sea hidden behind the ramparts, yet there is a symbiosis between the painted metal beams on the ceiling and the lines of the pier. Voss shows me images of the longer construction in bright sunlight, intricate shadows cast on the wall behind, but he tells me he quite likes it getting lost in the North East gloom, describing the piece as a friend he grew apart from and has returned to in a different space.
Wandering to the far end of the sculpture, I feel the loneliness and freedom that accompanies standing at the end of a pier, the world stretching out before you. This piece aims to demonstrate the ‘impulse to reach the end but with the reassuring certainty of returning’, but I think there is more of an edge to it, a sense of danger as it disappears into the sea.
There is something hopeful about this sculpture, it creates a feeling of community and shared experience amongst its audience in a way that art should, but doesn’t always achieve. Eyes meet, conversations start, souls warm and smiles cast a light on this emotive piece of art.
The Way Things Are, The Gymnasium Gallery, Berwick-upon-Tweed, 6 April 2019 – 2 June 2019.
Caro Fentiman is a writer and musician living in Northumberland.