Monday, 4 July 2016

Closing the circle

The older I get, the more spontaneous I become.  This is odd because I have more responsibilities than ever, but recently I seem to be spending more time doing things off the cuff and generally having adventures.  This week I booked a trip to Denmark and then decided to go to Margate. Neither place had crossed my mind before Monday, but by (very) early Saturday morning I found myself heading to Kent, so-called Garden of England and home to the Turner Contemporary.

Margate seems an unlikely place for a national gallery, until you make the connection between the town and J.M.W Turner (he spent many years there, and the town is the subject of a number of his paintings).   It looms over the far end of the bay, just behind a jellied eel stall which was probably there in Turner's days too.

Platforma Arts exhibition 'Welcome' was the main reason for my impromptu visit.  Since my visit to Utrecht last year I have (literally) looked at art in a whole new way.  I've always been able to appreciate it, but never felt particularly moved or stirred.  It was only when we looked as art being a thing 'that does', rather than something 'that is', that I made the connection.  Art doesn't have to be a passive thing, a piece of history - instead it can be something that brings people together, that builds empathy, makes social change happen.   This is in fact the vision of the Turner Contemporary, 'Art Inspiring Change.' The whole place spoke of action and connection.

'Welcome' brings together art created by, with and about refugees. The first piece is the beautiful 'New Union Flag' by Gil Mualem Doron,which was created before Brexit as part of a project to design a new UK flag (it feels especially poignant now).  The great thing about modern art is that you can interact with the artists; Doron told me it is a celebratory symbol of diversity, reflecting on the UK's colonial past, bringing together individual stories of difference and acceptance of difference.  It is made up of a variety of materials, from Scottish tartan to Indian silks, overlaid with images of refugee boats. I was left pondering the question, what might change for this country, if we adopted this new flag?

The possibility of a new way of interacting with the world continues in Hong Dam's 'The Butterfly's Dream'. Childhood dreams are written on scraps of paper and placed into a Vietnamese refugee boat; the boat is on scales, as the question is asked - how heavy are your dreams?  Will yours tip the balance?  Hong was herself a refugee, who fled Vietnam by boat in 1979 at the age of eight. Her art has been partly inspired by her desire to explain the experience to her own children, who are immersed i(as all children are) in the familiar demands for new gadgets. By connecting the dreams of different children (and adults) the universality of hopes and aspirations becomes apparent.  Once again the commonalities of humanity are revealed; it is often said that humans share hundreds of 'universals' (traits,patterns and behaviours that replicate through time and across the globe); dreaming is just one of these.  This important piece reminds us of the stories that lie behind the journeys of refugees and the capacity for hope that we all share.

Although the other main exhibition, Seeing Round Corners seemed at first unrelated, there were many connections to be found with the refugee art downstairs.  This installation aimed to explore the role of the circle in art, and moved through different eras, forms and media from 3000 BC to the present day, by artists including Barbara Hepworth, Leonardo Da Vinci, Lindsay Seers, Anish Kapoor and of course JMW Turner.  My favourite piece was Seers' 'Nowhere less now', a film that arcs through various narrative spaces, showing simultaneously on two satellite dishes. Different stories are told by speakers, although it is unclear what is fact and what is fiction; it takes you into a dream-like state where the veracity of what you see, or what you are told is immaterial.

Seers work is inspired by Giles Deleuze; a philosopher whose work was introduced to me in Utrecht and has so far been incomprehensible; however the use of two lenses and presentation of multiple truths has helped me begin to understand his writing a little.  I never thought my Margate trip would be the place where I began to let go of the linear and feel free to move more freely between posthuman ideas, but it was - and in this way I have begun to close my own circle.

'Welcome' is in Margate until 11th July, and Seeing Round Corners until 25th September.

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