The art of Occupation - Occupy Bristol protest inspires students' show
David Clensy visits the art exhibition on College Green inspired by last year’s Occupy Bristol protests
FOR a moment it feels like I’ve been transported back a year and a bit – as I find myself standing at College Green amid a pile of broken furniture and a wall of old newspapers, surrounded by arty types with long hair.
But don’t panic. Nobody has “occupied” Bristol’s centrepiece garden again in some sort of protest against the banking system.
Those weird months of October 2011 to January 2012 are hopefully behind us, when we all slipped through the looking glass, and the lawns between the Council House (as it then was), and Bristol Cathedral (as it still is), were transformed into the set of a low-budget Mad Max sequel.
Business Cards From Only £10.95 Delivered www.myprint-247.co.ukView details
Our heavyweight cards have FREE UV silk coating, FREE next day delivery & VAT included. Choose from 1000's of pre-designed templates or upload your own artwork. Orders dispatched within 24hrs.
Terms: Visit our site for more products: Business Cards, Compliment Slips, Letterheads, Leaflets, Postcards, Posters & much more. All items are free next day delivery. www.myprint-247.co.uk
Contact: 01858 468192
Valid until: Wednesday, May 22 2013
A curious mix of ultra-liberals, religious zealots, muddy Green hippies, little old ladies who missed the camaraderie of the war years and Polish drunks congregated on College Green, set up camp for a quagmire Christmas, and started scratching their heads, wondering why they had failed to ignite a revolution.
But for a group of art foundation year students from Weston College, the three-month protest has been alive and well this week.
The youngsters were tasked by their lecturers to install themselves in an empty gallery overlooking College Green and create their own “works of art” inspired by the Occupy movement of 2011.
“We thought it would be good to create a sense of the context by working and exhibiting here in this space next to where it all happened,” explains photo-media lecturer Richard Edkins, as he leads the way through the art installations, which generally comprise of broken furniture and a central frame of wood and bits of newspaper – it definitely has something of the aesthetic of those halcyon Occupy days.
“So we installed ourselves in here last week, and the students set straight to work creating pieces on a theme of societal change and lost utopian dreams.”
Michael Sims, a lecturer in 3-d sculptor says the 2011 protest caught the imagination of students.
“It was interesting how the relationship between the protesters and the public changed over the weeks,” he says. “How it went from people broadly supporting their stance, to how the majority seemed to turn against them when they turned College Green into a scene like a gypsy encampment.”
For 19-year-old art student Joe Fowler, from Weston-super-Mare, the era of the Occupation movement was a landmark moment in his young life.
“I was still at sixth form college back then,” he recalls.
“But I remember a lot of the students left Weston and made the journey over to Bristol so they could come and see what was going on for themselves.
“I didn’t feel tempted to come at the time, but to be here now where it all happened, helped to inspire me artistically.
“I like to create sculpture that subverts the assumed role of an item, like a piece of furniture,” he says. “My work here is the chair hanging on the wall.”
I look to my right, and sure enough, a chair is hanging on the wall.
“I took the chair and I sawed it in half down the middle, removed a section, then glued it back together.
“I suppose the meaning behind it is that not everything is as it seems, and it also echoes those scenes of old wood and furniture piled up high to make barricades that we saw at the Occupy protest.”
It is more difficult to make the artistic leap of context between the protest and the work created by Saffron Creasey-Levine, which is set up as a walk-through installation in a back room of the gallery.
The 19-year-old has laid out a selection of broken pieces of mirror, and is projecting video of David Hasselhoff in Knight Rider on to them – the effect of the broken mirror is to refract the image of the Baywatch star in fragmented segments around the dark room.
“It’s all about self-image,” Saffron tells me earnestly. “How when we look in a mirror, for most people we are never entirely happy with what we see. But does David Hasselhoff feel the same way? Is he happy with his image?”
I concur these are questions without obvious answers. Unless you are David Hasselhoff.
“When they had the Occupy Bristol protest outside here,” Saffron goes on, “they made lists of their dreams and aspirations. I thought that was a similar idea – about never being happy with what you see in the mirror.”
I’m still trying to get my head around the whole Hoff and mirrors business, when I meet Jeremy Scully, an 18-year-old student who baffles me with science with the first thing he says.
“I created a cube with a QR code on each side, so that visitors could scan their iPhone and access the url for the show,” he says.
Then, noticing I’m old and frail – relatively speaking anyway – he slows down his speech, and tries to talk in terms of the technology that was around a generation ago.
“It’s like a bar code, but it looks blocky,” he says. “People can scan them with the camera on their mobile phone, and it will direct them straight to further details about the exhibition online.”
And the cube itself – representative of society, showing its different faces from different perspectives, I presume?
“Oh no not really,” Jeremy shrugs, quick in his honesty. “I always do cubes.”
Occupation is open to the public at the Parlour Showroom Gallery, 31 College Green, throughout today. For more details, visit www.photo media-weston.co.uk