Blog #14: Guest Blog by George Mind, HOUSE Beinnial

HOUSE Biennial invites audiences to reflect on “the age of Excess”

This year holds exciting new ventures for HOUSE, as it moves to an October slot and adopts a biennial format. For those that don’t know it, HOUSE is Brighton and Hove’s curated contemporary art event, running since 2008 and previously taking place in the May festival period. This year it runs from 30 September – 5 November. Responding in myriad ways to the theme of excess, five artists will present work across Brighton and Hove, alongside a programme of films and events.

The invited artist for this year’s Biennial is Laura Ford, a renowned British artist whose sculptures are held in important public collections internationally. Laura’s works have a fantastical, fairy-tale quality about them, luring audiences in with their magic and menace. For HOUSE Biennial Laura will reveal a new series of sculptural works for installation in Brighton Museum and Art Gallery, titled A King’s Appetite, responding to the museums’ collection holdings and the Regency period in British history. Inherent in the spectacle of this installation is a challenge to viewers to ruminate on the destructive effects of greed, the excesses of the elite being as much a concern for contemporary audiences as for the subjects of the eccentric and reckless Prince Regent, later King George IV.

In August, I visited Laura Ford’s studio to see how her work was progressing, along with the curator of the Royal Pavilion, Alexandra Loske, an expert on the Regency period who will be in conversation with Laura Ford on 30th September at Brighton Museum (see HOUSE website for details). Laura’s Kentish Town studio is a converted factory building that she shares with her husband, the artist Andrew Sabin. As you can imagine, it is like entering a cabinet of curiosities, full of intriguing, uncanny objects: hanging from a wall were two headless, spindly figures; on the floor, a fleshy, pink, plaster mould of a grotesque face and a stuffed, green velvet sack that could accommodate several people; a life-size, model giraffe lay prostrate, in the process of being clothed…

For the HOUSE commission, Laura has taken as inspiration satirical prints from the Regency period that mocked public figures, exposed social inequalities and highlighted pressing political concerns through humour. It is not hard to see why these cultural artefacts appeal to Laura’s own practice. As we discussed the political dimension of Laura’s work she explained how she often uses humour and playfulness to engage her audiences with weighty social issues. Resisting a didactic approach, she hopes her work “allows people to work it out for themselves”, ultimately changing perspectives “from inside, so as not to alienate or lecture people.”

Natasha Caruana, co-commissioned with Photoworks, is also developing politically engaged work for HOUSE, albeit through the prism of the personal, to be shown at the University of Brighton Gallery, Edward Street. Natasha’s mother, Penny, is the subject of Timely Tale, which addresses the tyranny of choice, that in our contemporary society can lead to decision-making paralysis and self-blame. In this new lens-based work, Natasha presents a portrait of the ‘age of excess’ through Penny, whose lifestyle might be characterised by various ‘excesses’. The viewer engages with the installation via 360-degree technology, transported to a medical waiting room to experience Penny’s story.

A candid, socially-engaged approach is also taken by Anthony Stevens, who is co-commissioned with Outside In, a charity that support artists who self-identify as experiencing barriers to the mainstream art world. Anthony produces reflective and confessional narrative-based work, a hybrid type of textile collage that resists categorization. Jointly co-commissioned with Outside In is Andrew Omoding, whose process-based, performative and intuitive practice produces sculptural pieces reminiscent of the visionary work of American artist Judith Scott, currently on show in the Pavilion of Colour at the Venice Biennale. Andrew and Anthony will be exhibiting their radical textile art at Phoenix Brighton under the title Common Threads. At set times in the exhibition period Andrew will be animating his work through performances in the gallery space.

Continuing the narrative, or common thread, is Crossover Point, a community project led by artist Becky Warnock, who has been working with a diverse group of participants from Brighton Table Tennis Club to explore the stories, memories and ideas that connect us. Brighton Table Tennis Club works with people of all ages, especially young people, to improve health, celebrate diversity and build a strong community. It runs sessions for young people of all ages and backgrounds, those aged 50+, adults with learning disabilities and children in care. It is the UK’s first Club of Sanctuary – welcoming Refugees & Asylum Seekers.

Starting from the stories found within Brighton Museum & Art Gallery’s Willett Collection of Popular Pottery, the project considers ideas around the HOUSE Biennial theme of Excess and the polarities that having too much or too little can foster. Crossover Point is a partnership between HOUSE Biennial, Brighton Table Tennis Club and Photoworks, supported by the Royal Pavilion and Museums and ONCA. It will culminate in a moving image collaborative work, screened in the Willett Collection Room at Brighton Museum. Accompanying this piece, an installation of photographs, collage and drawings from Brighton Table Tennis Club participants produced during the project will be displayed at ONCA Gallery (11 October and runs until 25 October).

HOUSE Biennial opens in various venues across the city of Brighton and Hove, on 30 September and runs until 5 November.
Visit http://housebiennial.art/ to find out more about the programme, and get in touch @HOUSE_Biennial

George Mind, HOUSE Beinnial Digital Communications Manager