Our un-normal exhibition design for Happy Days

Our barn where we live is an intriguing space because like certain theaters, the Brixton Academy springs to mind, it has the scenery built in. At it’s centre is a large open space, which might be considered the village square, a set for Smetana’s Bartered Bride; that opera being an upbeat comedy with jolly peasants and ‘Happy Days’. In the depths of winter the central space is more like the set for Janacek’s Jenufa; a dark tale of brute individual and mob passion and child murder. The central space is a place of performance where we enact daily life but given its grand and extraordinary envelope we are given a tinge of the epic.

Feeringbury Farm

©James Brittain

At one end where the silos sit we have the set of the ‘castle’ where the Princess (how we view her) lives (or at least sleeps) with her parents the King and Queen (how she views us we hope). At the other end we have the back stage area which is our studios where the magic is spun in secret.

Part of what makes our barn such a wonderful place to live is it’s imaginative cast. You feel grand just walking into it, as though something important will happen and often it does. Our barn is not a neutral space. It could never be neutral nor would we want it to be. We have fought our whole lives against cliché and received wisdom – against ‘nice-i-fication’ as Freddie calls it. Cliché is a prison of lazy thought. It doesn’t help make things better, easier or safer. When we decided to hold an exhibition in the barn to have built white walls to pretend that the barn did not exist would have been to invoke cliché and diminish the barn and the work we wished to show.

Then I became ill, leaving David Howe to build most of the walls. I would start him off with a process, a set of rules, using bits of left over building material and he would follow that through. I would shuffle out in my slippers to check on progress and then go back to bed. The configuration of the walls and their number was a product of ‘see what we have’ then tweak it to work. We arrived at something not dissimilar to a street-scape, the interesting bit above the dreary transitory retail signage, with surfaces colliding and hopefully working together in a studied improvisation.

 60 red blocks

Then we put the art on the walls. For us the rich texture of the walls is normal. That is what we live with. We are used to disentangling one surface from another. Not for us the lazy uninterrupted glide of the eye across the walls of most galleries, with the artwork a gentle trip, the label the most eye-catching thing in the place. With us your eyes have to work, to disentangle. They have to learn to love surface and material again; to work things out, to see relationships. The point is we may not be right, we may do a disservice to the artwork. We may have closed the gap between wall and work too much. But you will have enjoyed making up your own mind about that. You will have enjoyed the puzzle we have set you and that will give enduring pleasure. Isn’t it good to see stuff again?


61 sara odds

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