A DAY IN THE BELLY OF DYLAN SHIPTON ‘S OVERPOWERING MOTHER
A couple of Saturdays past, I spent the day in the belly of the overbearing mother. Perhaps that is too abstract, rather I spent the day in the belly of a shipping container. Perhaps still too vague, I feel I should step backwards and address this from a place that bears a greater background!
I was lucky enough to meet one of the co-founders and curators of LIDO, a gallery space in St Leonards adjoining a set of artist studios. From what might appear a modest establishment from the outside, LIDO has an impressively ambitious program of exhibitions, events and commissioned art works which puts pay to the ‘I’d never get the funding’ attitude of the rest of us.
The man in question was Dan Howard-Birt, a painter and curator who – as coincidence would have it, was born in the fair town of Aylesbury where I myself hail from (but we won’t dwell on that as I haven’t yet had a chance to bemoan the delights of the town with Dan himself). The story of our meeting is also irrelevant, apart from to say I was surprised but delighted when I received a call from him asking if I would be able to invigilate part of a show he was involved in as part of Hastings annual Coastal Currents festival.
The project in question very much appealed to my sensibilities and so, without much further of a do, I found myself one Saturday morning in a rather blustery September, walking along the seafront of St Leonards to LIDO and was soon confronted by the structure that would be my home for the day.
The structure in question was the first outdoor sculptural commission by LIDO, created by artist Dylan Shipton and entitled ‘The Overbearing Mother’. LIDO itself is so named because it fronts onto the site of the now grassed over outdoor swimming pool that once proudly boasted its way onto the seafront site. At its conception the original Lido was massive – on a scale only matched by Blackpool’s and sadly, this grandeur was also it’s demise as the eyes of Hastings & St Leonards council were sadly much bigger than the belly of the public prepared to visited.
So now what was once an epic mass of water and bathers is now a large grassed area used mainly by dog walkers and Sunday Strollers. Without the honor of a gallery space now named after it – it would to many, pass completely unnoticed. What remains of the structure are two large concrete platforms, which rise up unannounced from their now inconspicuous surroundings. It is on one of these platforms that The Overbearing Mother sat through the lion share of September.
The sculpture consists of a beached shipping container that is encased in a Day-Glo protuberance on each side. On the west face this forms a sort of veranda that appears as if it has something to announce or present. To the East, a large advertising hoarding reaches up above the container shouting its message to the onlookers of Hastings and the sea beyond. Shipton commissioned Ben Fitton to create the sign for the location, which in barely legible font reads: “The gap that has been left by the departure of / will soon enough make itself felt”. Interestingly and I think intentionally, the banner was loosely fitted and so when a particularly aggressive gust of coastal breeze came along, the words came free of their tetherings and flew out to sea, perhaps to be one day to take on new meaning as they are found by a confused fisherman.
The sculpture is perhaps a comment on the changing use of space and surroundings. The whole structure emerging from one of the few remaining aspects of the Lido to still exist and the advertising hoarding itself paying testament to considerations on how, as our landscape changes, and perhaps when things that were once important are removed or replaced, we only then become fully aware of their impact, resonance and relevance in our environment.
And so Shiptons Overbearing Mother takes on these metaphors – with its bright nu-rave coloured and complex shapes being spun out of a shipping container as if it had always been there but stood unnoticed. How apt also that the sign that ties the piece together with its surroundings was eventually lost to the winds.
This work is very much a continuation of his previous incarnations – where his sculptural pieces seem to be a comment on the properties and limitations of space by constructing architectural shapes
and frames. Whilst sometimes standalone, they often appear site specific and take inspiration and message from their surroundings. Especially interesting are his tape works whereby large bodies of form, colour and shape are made entirely from an assortment of different tapes (see them online here). Looking at previous works in context, it is almost as if Shipton is exploring and investigating the possibilities of a potential futuristic landscape with strange developments and structures emerging from their surroundings – both challenging and accepting the expected norms at the same time.
But, I know what is going on behind those slightly glazed eyes – your mind is questioning how I ended up spending a day inside the mother. Very well (you are saying), we are interested in hearing about this sculpture (you continue), but your title drew us in and now you are leaving us dangling with curiosity (you finish).
Well, The Overbearing Mother had a double life and four weekends in a row, played host to a micro cinema, which nestled in its belly. This part of the instillation was organised by Christine Gist at Interface and was a brilliant complement to the sculpture itself and the concept a stroke of genius. The idea being that on each of the 8 days it was open, a different artist would be asked to curate a selection of films to be shown.
Stepping through the heavy blue doors of the container, the un-expecting visitor was confronted by a black curtain, which, upon opening revealed the secrets behind. A large screen at the far end onto which a projector beamed at full capacity. A set of wooden benches around the perimeter for film perusal and the usual ample selection of information and intrigue.
Over the different weekends, artists choose a huge array of different films – some showing just one long feature, others opting for numerous shorts. The day I was asked to be ringmaster to this celluloid cinema, it was the turn of painter and co-founder of Lido, Jacqui Hallum to be the selector. Jacqui selected three different films to show on rotation, all quite different from one another – but all equally brilliant.
As a quick and interesting (to me anyway) sideline – on quizzing Jacqui about her film selection, she told me that she had initially come across the films or their directors on Channel Four some years back. It turned out that this inspiration had emerged off the back of Channel Four’s long time deceased late night short film seasons, which until this point I had completely forgotten about. This sparked a string of memories for me of staying up to late obsessively watching the short films with my brother and being both amazed at how strange they were and wowed at the skill and variety of the film makers. For a memory I had until then forgotten, it seemed to resonate as having been an important part of my creative education!
Unlike Jacqui, I wasn’t wise enough to commit the names of the directors I liked to paper and my ailing memory was never going to retain such information – but perhaps with a bit of cunning research, I can be reacquainted with some of my favourites from this period.
The day in question was a windy and slightly gloomy one, the sort of day where the seafront comes alive and everything feels more dramatic than it perhaps is. So being in the trailer was no different, as the wind pounded the sides and flapped the curtain into a gentle sway, it sounded like there was a full blown gale outside the confines of the cosy cinema. Of course, being in a metal crate it sounded far worse than it was, but this added to the experience of feeling somewhere unique in a refuge against the harsh world outside.
This also complemented Jacqui’s choice of films delightfully, as each one was slightly edgy and uncanny in its own right, whilst maintaining enough of a vein of dark humour to keep them from the dangerous precipice of severe paranoid viewing.
First up was Jan Svankmajer’s Food. A brilliantly inventive film that uses stop motion animation using real actors and some cunning use of plasticine prosthetics. The film is split into 3 parts – Breakfast, Lunch and Dinner and follows the stories of sets of diners eating their meal and often much of their surroundings (including their co-eaters!). Dark, surreal and amusing (in a Czech sort of a way!) and expertly filmed and put together. I have seen some of his work before and would highly recommend checking it out. To get you started, here is part 1:
Next was Andreas Samland with Tag 26 which follows the fortunes of two lone survivors of an undisclosed biological world wrecking super hazard! Without giving too much away, the film touches on raw aspects of humanity and how people would deal with such a situation but again in a rather surreal fashion. Coming in at 18 minutes long – amazingly the film was put together for around 7000 Euro, which doesn’t show from the clever direction of Samland.
Last but not least on the triple bill was a film called Kitchen Sink by Alison Maclean. This is a kind of urban nightmare scenario with some loose overtones of Frankenstein influence. Essentially, a giant ball of hair and gunk from a woman’s kitchen sink gets transformed into a real life man! Imagine that. Well, watch the film and you don’t need to. Funny enough, I thought this film was quite amusing, but a few of the watching visitors said it was the most disturbing to them. Does that mean I am warped or they are wimps…who can say? Shot in black and white and filmed with an interesting sense of mystery and suspense, it is no wonder the film went on to win 8 awards at Cannes. Watch the full 14 minute film on Vimeo below…
All in all – a good day out was had by all and probably especially by me. The cinema proved popular with those who visited it and was rather snug once inside. The odd thing was how natural one felt sitting on a makeshift bench, in a shipping container, on a windy Saturday afternoon – watching strange films. One kind visitor even bequested me with a clutch of apples (later transformed into an Apple & Cider cake as well as a fine crumble) for being the guardian of her bike for the duration of her stay.
If you are in the area, check the LIDO website for their current exhibitions and projects and pay them a visit. www.lidoprojects.com