I walk the length of what I am reluctant to call a pier. I am reluctant because the man behind the gallery visitor desk informed me that it is not a pier. It is ‘the idea of a pier’. It may also be a painting, he hasn’t decided yet.
What may (or may not) be a pier or a painting is also an exhibition: The Way Things Are, one of two by Roy Voss on display at The Grundy Art Gallery in Blackpool. I follow the structure between two rooms, beginning with the end-of-the-idea-of-the-pier in room one. This adjoins a long narrow platform which comes to rest against a stud wall, which has been erected at the rear of room two.
The structure is big and delicate looking. A wall text warns the viewer not to touch the idea of a pier as it is extremely fragile.
It has been fabricated from poplar wood and painted the colour grey. I close in to investigate the paintwork and claims regarding it also being a painting. The artist has used a wash that lends it a cloudy quality; evoking overcast skies which in turn evoke ‘the Great British seaside’. There is a lightness in touch, suggesting uncertainty. There is a vagueness to it.
I make a connection between the structure in the gallery and the pleasure piers on Blackpool’s promenade. This is misguided, I learn from reading the explanatory gallery handout, as the structure does not reference any specific pier. It is based on “Victorian lithographs, contemporary architects’ drawings and the artist’s own recollections.” The connection however may serve as a convenient bridge for someone wishing to explore the exhibition in relation to ‘the decline of the British seaside resort’ or ‘the role of arts and culture in the regeneration of towns and cities’.
In a room to the side of room two, we find All the World’s a Sunny Day: a collection gathered by Voss of postcards sent by holidaymakers from holiday destinations during the 1960s-80s, presented in attractive plywood frames and hung in a line along the four walls.
From each card a word has been excised from the handwritten text on the reverse and flipped over so that it now appears in the image. Sometimes the word draws our attention to a compositional element inside the image. Sometimes it reveals a narrative that was not present before, which is then developed in the next postcard artwork.
This is the case in ON and OFF (ii). The two pieces are presented side by side, the photographs on the front of each are of the same picturesque view of Beachy Head, Eastbourne, taken from a slightly different angle. From the back of one, Voss has revealed the word ‘on’. From the back of the other, he has revealed the word ‘off’. In the first postcard, the cut-out word sits ‘on’ the edge of the cliff. In the second, we discover it has fallen ‘off’ the cliff into the sea.
We are now thinking about the relationship between the two images. We are forming a narrative. We are recalling tabloid stories featuring the notorious Sussex suicide spot. We are wondering if the work is perhaps too slapstick for the subject matter, too slight. Then we are taken back to the subtlety of the intervention. We are reminded that the artist has only cut little bits of card from bigger bits of card, has only revealed what was already there. And the pier gives way under foot.