Grundy Art Gallery, Blackpool, 22 January– 05 March 2011
The shift from Urban to outer urban, or even, the end of urban, is one that takes place in this exhibition throughout. The artists, have been selected for each representing a facet of survival, or rebellion, or resistance – either by romantically documenting social failure, or by suggesting alternatives, or some by making pretty pictures. The title ‘Orbitecture’ is misleading if you were hoping for an insight into the experimental living structures of Pim Conradi. It’s essentially a name check (with video and interview) that introduces the atmosphere of survivalist architecture, with maybe the only artist occupying that mode being Francis Thorburn. But it helped to fill the show with a sense of activist purpose. The paintings by Stephen Molyneux, lovingly executed in a naive style on found ply, are given a heightened sense of the artist negotiating the urban realm. It was good to see his signs-strokepaintings also included as they spell out the eco-garden concerns for his artist-run space in Deptford. Most artists scavenge, but Stephen does so with the utmost charm. Laura Oldfield Ford’s fly posters are compelling and skirt subject matter around the notional space between crumbling estates and ambitions of urban regeneration. She produces a comic book style account (ìSavage Messiahî) of disaffected teens in desolate inner cities/alter realities. The curators opted to show the original drawings from the posters in another room, which I found a shame since the posters are the radical object and to say ‘look, the original drawings from them are nice too’ just dissolves that sense of protest. Like-wise with the mural from Head Gallery; I liked it, with it’s kitsch taste references and nearly un-reasonable instructions emailed from their bat cave or staff room, but I had just wished it was outside on the street.
Of course this may have not been technically possible, but it could have addressed the idea of public mural as political strategy more directly. Instead, it is in the safety of the gallery where people can (of course) tell the difference between ‘bad painting’ and ‘bad painting on purpose’. So the work borders on patronising, but then, these are the gambles it is willing to take. Francis Thorburn does have a piece outside, a big wheel cart vehicle used in performances made with a Boy’s Own DIY enthusiasm. Most of Thorburn’s oeuvre is, rightly, outside the gallery, where it can actively fulfil its destiny as eco-art-performance-protest-sculpture. A new work addressed the gallery condition inside with a tailor-made structure and performance. A wood obelisk was slowly unfolded by men in monk-like robes to reveal different areas for playing chess, reading, and for making bacon sandwiches, which the artist duly did, offering them to the audience and finally filling the gallery with smoke setting off the alarms. The casualness of Thorburn chatting to the other monks with instructions for the structures assembly during the performance gave it a sense of the unrehearsed, that slickness wasn’t really the aim. I would have liked this to be taken further, to drop the monk’s habits – which are so familiar within our performance history as a default garment for prog rock to satanist ritual – and instead return to his former use of men in pants. By having men barely clad in Primark it shifts the work into lout culture, making the point that maybe the performers are pub chavs in tracksuit bottoms
trying to better themselves through DIY self education, rather than antagonising art speak figures re-enacting art ritual to artists. So in this sense that work put the orb back in orbitecture and took the work to the streets whilst pushing the institution internally in a more positive way than others. Anthony Gross