Aspex Gallery, The Vulcan, PO1 3BF
Monday 01 October 2018 – Thursday 31 October 2019
OSR Projects, West Coker
21 September - 6 October 2013
Reviewed by: Nick Davies »
It’s Saturday 28 September and I’ve arrived in West Coker, just outside OSR Projects… I stand around, making sure to seem sociable but minding my own business. I wait, about 20 metres from a buzzing group of cub scouts. After about five or ten minutes, during which I pass time by playing with a just-bought pack of Murray Mints in my pocket, a flashy band-wagon rolls on up. At a distance (where all the cub scouts are stood) out pops a few guys in green t-shirts all intent on getting things underway. After some exchanges between Simon Lee Dicker (OSR curator/artist), the cub scouts, three of the BRG lads, and myself, Jason (one of the BRG Collective) takes us off on a walk. It seems pretty obvious from the get-go that this is improvised. Being an ex-postman I’m liking it, a nice early morning stroll, but I keep wondering - is this part of the art? As a reviewer, when do I start thinking about where the art is?
We reach a point in this little walk down a back alley where Jason makes it clear to the leading pack of cubs that he doesn’t have a clue where he is, “Which way is best to do a looped circuit back to OSR?” he asks. The cub who actually chose to wear his badged jumper (on his day off) decides to take the lead, directing Jason from behind on the route he thinks is best. Later on I find out the reason for this little improvised walk was to buy time whilst Chantelle (OSR Designer) rushes home to get the spare set of keys for OSR. Simon had locked his keys in the gallery after what sounds like a pretty raucous BRG quiz undertaken the night before. So that wasn’t part of the art, I tell myself, knowing that it’s not even a question I give two hoots about.
The Lobster Trap is an exhibition showcasing the work of an arts collective that’s been chosen following an open call. The aim is to extol the energy of an artist-led group within the region, offering them the chance to advance their work and engage new audiences. As the bright ones amongst you will have spotted, the chosen group was the BRG Collective.
For this show the BRG Collective (who coin themselves as a Non-Geo-Specific Art Collective) have chosen to create a show based around the question: If the BRG Collective were to have their own studio space, what would it look like?
The answer is (when not in use) a sleek, honestly produced space housing plywood work tables and benches elegantly designed to be flat-packed and easily transported, two blackboards, equally modular and simply executed, along with a bunch of walking sticks, custom board games, rope, mini chalkboards, and other odd balls for a gallery (literally, with the inclusion of four buckets of tennis balls). This is a space for activity, but when not in use it still has echoes of what has happened or what could happen. The colour palette seems to be green, black, and plywood beige. Even the disposable cameras the BRG guys have supplied to let anyone document their activity in the studio are green, this is either thoroughly thought out or heroic chance, either way it looks spot on. The green day-glo posters on one wall with quotes about collaboration are simple, but work. My favourite is by Brian Eno “Every collaboration helps you grow”, cheesy maybe, but in this context it works to affirm. The blackboards have scrawls on them and plenty of built up chalk dust from past use. One of them has a side menu that lists the activities that will and have taken place in the space, from the install, through the BRG quiz, all the way to the de-install. The exhibition laid bare in around eight lines.
When the BRG’s hypothetical studio is in use, it’s atmosphere is something completely different. The OSR exhibition handout describes the aesthetic of the studio as mimicking “the type of community consultation events taking place in village halls for presenting proposals for urban developments or fracking activity”. During the event I’m attending today it feels more like the aftermath or activity found outside a fracking meet housed here in the BRG studio (in a good way, that is).
Today is one of those days of activity - BRG are hosting the second of their Cub Scout workshops. These events bring in local Cub Scout groups to experience a day ‘working’ with BRG in their studio, the main aim of which is to develop a focus on notions of collaboration.
The workshop kicks off with each table (three in all) getting an A4 piece of green paper. Time to have a paper aeroplane competition. This loosens the teams up and gets the blood flowing (just to note, OSR wasn’t long enough to see who won in terms of distance, the two front runners both hit the end wall).
Now they’re all limbered up, a roll of drawing paper is laid out along the table and it’s time for some drawing. Each table is now a drawing machine, with timed sessions on drawing aliens, portraits of each other, and a landscape (on top of a BRG squiggled line). During each session the cubs are asked to swap places and continue on top of the previous drawing. This is dynamic drawing practice, the type of which I didn’t experience until Foundation Degree level (how malnourished I was).
With the results of the drawing session strewn around the space, they all move on to the next task: a scrabble like sentence formation. The results of this activity look like obscure song titles from some gothic-post-punk pub band. All of this before a break and some lemonade.
After the break the studio comes into it’s own. The tennis ball buckets are brought out and creative anarchy ensues. The aim of this final part of the day is for each team to form games using any of the structures and materials in the space. This includes the benches, walking sticks, the tennis balls, rope, and even the handheld chalkboards. At points a newcomer to the studio may well be scared for their own safety. Benches are upended and tennis balls sail around like wasps on their last flight. Throughout this whole experience I should add, I have been the passive observer. Mostly through choice, but it’s pretty damn obvious to anyone with self-awareness that I was always already implicated in the workshop, the tennis ball war makes this mighty clear. To say I didn’t flinch would be a lie. This is my favourite part of the workshop. It’s flow is unstoppable, the three teams are constantly transforming their game structures and each are completely unique. The complexity develops as time passes; simple actions such as bouncing a ball along the table grow into a clear game with set rules. The three teams then start to graft themselves together with a long rope, this is another game forming, something reminiscent of Mouse Trap. The results of the team game making are brilliant, they leave me feeling inspired and impressed. Throughout all of this the BRG guys are immersed, each in tandem with one of the three teams. I dip in and out of each and it’s clear that although they’re central to the activity, they’re far from dictating.
One thing I pick up from the way BRG work with the people around them is that people’s intentions merge, and the boundaries between them blur, the outcome of which is that things happen. Conversations turn into works in progress; Curators become part of the practice. I ask Simon what role he feels he’s played in the development of this show; his response is that he feels he’s been the provocateur. Although this is definitely true in the way he mischievously describes BRG as ‘arty cub scouts’ themselves, it’s clear to me that Simon has almost become a member of BRG in the development of this show.
The artistic/curatorial boundary further blurs in finding out the link that brought about the Cub Scout workshops is Simon Lee Dicker’s friendship with the hut leader (and also a lot of the families the cubs are a part of). But building up from this, BRG Jason also mentions the BRG’s emergent, incidental aim that has developed through doing these workshops. They hope to use the drawings produced towards getting the young lads their Art Badge. Now if that ain’t an effective bit of social engagement then I dunno what is. Whether all the ideas produced for the exhibition are BRG’s, or whether Jason takes directions from a 10 year old, or whether the curator/artist relationship is blurred to the point of a new collaboration (never a bad thing in my book), all that matters is the experience and the outcome, both of which in this case, are enjoyable and constructive. It wasn’t just me that thought this either as at the close of the workshop, all the cubs gave one loud, forceful “BRAVO”.
Whatever comes of it, I’m on board with Simon in his view of the BRG guys - they’re like arty cub scouts. Not just Be Prepared, but Be Prepared to Stay Prepared… For Anything and Anyone.
BRG Collective are a non-geo specific practical investigation and research group focusing on collaborative processes. They are based in both Wales and South West Endgland.
OSR Projects is an evolving curatorial project that creates a platform for engagement with the world through artist–led activity. The OSR Project Space, located in rural Somerset, is a place for incubation, exhibition and engagement, delivering artist-led projects that place people at the centre of artistic activity.
Nick Davies is an artist and curator based in Exeter, Devon. He has recently been selected as a participant on The Cornwall Workshop lead by Hamish Fulton and Simon Starling
OSR Projects Old School Room Church Street West Coker Somerset BA22 9BD
Working towards a South West where talented artists thrive, and a resilient and connected visual arts ecology that inspires more engaged and diverse audiences to value and advocate for its work.
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