Dark wit glows brightly in this group show curated by Laura Brady and Benjamin Davies. A new temporary space founded by Abingdon Studios’ Garth Gratrix in collaboration with East Street Arts, ICW (In Collaboration With) occupies a former retail unit on Church Street in the centre of Blackpool. Here, under the shadow of Blackpool Tower, visual art and humour combine, illuminating common experiences, beliefs and sensations, sharing a collective delight in the hope that someone else might face the world in much the same way.
The exhibition title riffs on a quote lifted from Peter Schjeldahl’s 1985 text ‘Ed Ruscha: Traffic and Laughter’, with the place of focus shifting from a Los Angeles where ‘one laughs to survive, enjoys oneself not to enhance life but to live at all’, to the Fylde Coast seaside town where laughter is ramified and refined and where ‘only with time and effort, does a visitor learn its language.’ Rejecting elaborate or convoluted theoretical musings in favour of more concrete, matter-of-fact reflections, the pieces use comedy as their vehicle to confront the trepidation and anxieties of an increasingly unknown lived experience.
Inspired in part by the doodles of children, Craig Atkinson’s drawings reconsider the banality of daily encounters. Presenting various character observations of people on the fringes of social communities alongside imagined creatures and forms, Atkinson’s brightly coloured, big-bearded men share space with pyramidal monsters, moustachioed vaudeville strongmen and keen-eyed fluff-balls. Drawn on torn out pages of exercise books and tacked to the white walls of ICW, these daydreams take on a new solidity; strange pin-ups indeed, unspoken stories of voiceless protagonists.
Michael Lacey’s paintings and sculptures speak too of weird little fictions, articulating succinctly the dark moods and anxieties of an unsettled movement through the everyday. Above a pair of curled concrete, two-headed ‘faeces-slugs’ hangs a painted nest filled with hungry chicks, open-mouthed and expectant, forever waiting. Lacey reduces the world to varying degrees of absurdity while expanding the dark, tragicomic melancholy of the internal through external forms. On the ground, a grotesque clay-headed toy pigeon with shiny 5p eyes glares blankly outwards, part pier arcade game, part scavenging street bird. Oliver Bradley-Baker’s glazed ceramic chocolate éclairs and/or human stools (as either or both they are a sustained source of revulsion and mirth) and vomit mounds echo the pavement detritus of a town filled with entertainment and expectation and the abject after-shocks of thrill and excess.
In Kieran Healy’s video piece ‘My Career is Killing Me’ (2016), the artist, channelling Jane Fonda in bodysuit and leggings, seeks to land his dream job by following a home workout practice. Healy screens the constructed rituals of self-improvement and wellness by satirising and externalising the deeper insecurities exacerbated by lifestyle industries, social media and the cycles of consumerist consumption. All the while, the flashing neon light of the chip shop across the road outside tempts and siren calls to indulge.
Claire Dorsett’s new site-specific wall piece enacts a silent homage to Blackpool both past and present. With its vast ‘Etch-A-Sketch red’ frame, ‘Showy’ (2017), with its over-arching shooting stars nods to both the multi-bulb surrounds of backstage dressing room mirrors and the excitement of the town promenade’s annual light show spectacular. Yet the frame remains empty, opaque, reflecting nothing, but instead making a space for dreaming, adventure and play. By contrast, on the wall’s reverse hangs an all too familiar form. ‘You’re All Front’ (2016), is occupied by a foreboding, painted, sword-wielding monument-man mounted atop a frozen steed. Empty of features, with the exception of the stark, white St. George Cross emblazoned across the torso, the bold form charges forward but advances nowhere.
‘One laughs to survive’, writes Schjeldahl. Humour, being first and foremost a social behaviour, these artworks laugh together, determined not to be afraid.
The Sound of Adult Children Determined Not To Be Afraid, ICW, Blackpool.
21 June – 11 August 2017.
Open by appointment, please contact Garth Gratrix to arrange a visit.
Alison Criddle is a writer based in Manchester.