Sunday, 5 December 2010

Lift The Lid: Do You Abstract?

"Find shapes, colours and textures that you like in the exhibition and the building. Use pencils, collage, photography and whatever else you can think of to make an ABSTRACT picture".

The snow and ice were gone and it was a great day to get out of the house, but Bexhill was very, very quiet and so was the Pavilion. The car park outside the De La Warr was free for this pre-Christmas weekend but strangely emptier than usual.

Maybe sensing that they almost had the place to themselves, our compact Lift The Lid group developed an anarchic edge.

Children, of course, take naturally to abstraction (they often just don't know that's a name for it) so I was expecting a smooth ride. Maybe it was some grown ups drawing cartoon figures or quietly doing a little origami, or maybe it was Max's robot that began the shift from making abstract art to throwing paper aeroplanes around the room.

There must be very few people on Earth who have never made and launched a paper aeroplane, it's a universal experience. To do this with children is a lovely reconnection and had the great side effect of making everyone in the room focus on the same thing as watching them fly and commenting on flight style/design/launch technique is irresistible.

Towards the end of the afternoon a gentleman came in who'd been in the RAF in the 1950's. We got into conversation about early jet bombers and abstraction was completely out of the window.

Thanks to everyone for an excellent afternoon. Volunteers were Corin Smith (her last session as part of a Duke of Edinburgh Award) & Ben Wade (who, in a quiet act of resistance to the brief, made an elegantly engineered paper Christmas tree).

Lift The Lid is the De La Warr Pavilion's free drop in session for families on the first Sunday of every month from 2-5pm.

A Journey through Memory and Music 4th December by Irene Mensah

The disruptive weather was not conducive to a busy attendance of the gallery, but today's public although much reduced, were extremely open to responding to my request to conduct a small experiment with their way of seeing. I decided to remain with my theme of seeing through listening, but open to taking unforeseen routes where possible.

My conversation with Matthew John was one such experience. We discussed the value of finding ways of connecting with the person behind the lens. Matthew put his thoughts very succinctly; "People stir up memories, which stir up music". As a collector and artist himself he was interested in knowing more about the mind which created the image, and what their story might be.

Through the personal connections with details within an image, such as William Christenberry's rabbit pen, we agreed that our own memories then evoked a new journey,
which will cause the original image to remain with us long afterwards as a legacy. Matthew's journey went from his childhood collection of postcards from holidays to appreciating his parent's wishes to give him the opportunity to broaden his experience and understanding of other countries, to his love of engaging with simplicity and integrity in art.

One young mother responded immediately to my request, as the music from the film "Deliverance" had already come to mind for her as she went round the exhibition.

A musician couple were delighted to think of the addition of sound, with music already an integral part of their lives. Their responses to the exhibition became more exploratory and questioning of the lives and experiences of the subjects and locations.
They were very interested in the juxtaposition of Walker Evans' work with that of Carrie Mae Weems, both of which were their personal favourites. Our discussion prompted them to observe that the work by Weems represented a true liberation from the time when the impossible injustice of slavery was a reality as documented by Evans.

I will share the different moments as they were presented to me, like stepping stones connecting the personal to communal interpretations of the photography.
A takeaway curry for Christmas day
Potential for a reminiscence exhibition from a carefully curated postcard collection
Keats poetry (to calm the anxiety provoking nature of Susan Lipper's photography)
Pulp fiction and John Travolta's dancing (to lighten the effects of Lipper's distressing portraits)
Feeling too young and British (struggling to connect with the unfamiliar nature of the American South)
Smelling burning smoke (cigarette smoke from Susan Lipper's portraits)
Madonna in Desperately Seeking Susan
Bright Eyes by Art Garfunkel
Like black and white photography
Don't like black and white photography
Sensory interaction.

Wednesday, 1 December 2010

The South is...?

A snow-bound pavilion, with beautiful ghostly views across the snow-topped rotundas to a thick, hanging seascape. Not a day to attract crowds of gallery-goers, except for cold weather enthusiasts (myself included). However, we welcomed over 50 visitors into the exhibition during the afternoon.

My question to the exhibition was: “What is the South?” – how does this pejorative concept emerge from the work on show? Does a “South” exist in all countries? Is it a myth in itself? I designed my interaction around William Christenberry’s “Red Building”, which I turned into a comment card, looking for definitions. Here are some of the diverse thoughts:

The South is…”a colourful, poor, cruel, historical, segregated, vast, messy, frontier.”

The South is…”a reminder that American culture isn’t as comfortably, tediously uniform as some might have you believe.”

The South is…”being able to walk freely across the beaches and the countryside, through the towns and cities – whoever you are…”

The South is…”in search of amusement…”

The South is…”stark, colourful, barren, lush”.

The South is…”not the North. Bruised, beat-up and abandoned – “this land is condemned at the way from New Orleans to Jerusalem” (Dylan).”

Three of the most interesting conversations I had during the afternoon were with visitors who are either American or who have lived in the United States for a while. They all separately expressed the view that the sense of hopelessness and melancholia they read from the photographs are only one facet of the “South”, and that the exhibition (although they all liked it very much) reinforces the myths we tend to believe about the place. While other powerful elements, such as the dynamism of the cities and the genteel elegance of the manner of the people (in all walks of life) are invisible.

As with the other days when I have been interacting in the gallery, there were a number of visitors who were enthralled to see original prints by their photographic heroes. In particular, William Eggleston’s highly saturated surfaces are so rich it looks as if the colour could bleed on to the floor. This intensity is a vital component of his vision and cannot be replicated in books about the artist’s work.

Thank you to everyone who participated. It is always a pleasure to turn a gallery space into an environment where people can share impassioned views, rather than feeling they have to whisper.

Sunday, 21 November 2010

Gallery Interaction, 20th November: Adding Information

I wanted to see what visitors could add to the exhibition by way of facts and observations. I added information myself by laying out printouts as a catalyst for conversation. These were Interviews with the photographers, reviews of previous shows and articles about print processes, Federal Writers' Project and the Farm Security Administration.

There was a lot of interest in print processes. All the images in the exhibition are made on film but then printed using either analogue (C-Type, Dye Transfer) or digital processes affecting the image in subtle but relevant ways. I had an interesting chat about the Walker Evans prints with a visitor from London whose most treasured possession is a print by W. Eugene Smith.

Some of the observations and facts from visitors:

There are no trailer parks/homes in this exhibition

The cloud that looks like an angel - Alec Soth's Bonnie (with a photograph of an angel), Port Gibson, Mississippi, 2000 - is called a simulacra... but also a 'slyth' or a 'slyfth' I think - common on webpages, also thinking about 'chemtrails'.

The tree in the Alec Soth picture (Holt cemetery, New Orleans , Louisiana 2002) - they're also in Florida, we call them 'spooky trees'. The light bulbs in his pictures are all switched on (even outside Johnny Cash's boyhood home in daylight).

Eggleston's pictures have been used on albums by Big Star (Red Ceiling, Greenwood, Mississippi) and Primal Scream.

Federal Writers' Project slave narrative collection - more people are in slavery worldwide now than then (heard on radio 4 but not written down as washing up).

From a Walker Evans photograph - there was 7up in the thirties.

Susan Lipper - there's a pistol in the belt of the 'blowback man'. Hanging a deer - seen that in Robertsbridge.

William Christenberry (green barn photographed over 31 years) - no graffiti at all!

Everyone I spoke to over a 3 hour period was very positive about this exhibition. The disapproval that greeted Eggleston's work in the 1970's would seem to be unusual now. People do really enjoy thoughtful, often quiet, photographs of everyday life.

Thursday, 18 November 2010

Seeing Through Listening Part II 13th November

The flow of viewing public was at first less responsive to my invitation to experiment
with the idea of an additional way of engaging with an image through imagining sounds or music. However as the gallery became busier over the afternoon, this changed dramatically. There were some fabulous dialogues and wider discussions to be had.
An elderly gentleman considered that Carrie Mae Weems images would be improved
by removing her out of them.
Another lady, very stimulated by her audio journey concluded that Susan Lipper's work
caused her to see the entire exhibition as 'Lynchy', ie through a 'David Lynch' filter.
As before, choices of music when more abstract, rather than direct responses to the
location of the American South, illustrated that this stimulus conjured forth a wealth of personal memories and reflections.
Numerous people expressed the effects of viewing the kind of poverty of an earlier era,
as a sobering experience, but that the exhibition itself had such a quality of focus that
they felt enriched by it rather than depressed.
Two young american photographers had made a special journey from Edinburgh to see the exhibition and were impressed by what they found. They were surprised at how little information was available in Brighton regarding this exhibition.
They were very sorry not to have found a ready response with a soundtrack, but through further discussion revealing their understanding of both the Appalachian community
as well as Susan Lipper's work were able to explain away the mysterious nature that the hanging of a deer in Lipper's iconic image, is a common practice to drain its blood.
Younger children enjoyed considering in great detail the kind of sounds which they might hear.
Several individuals found that films were also brought to mind as connections with
hidden memories and could be an easier thread to follow than a soundtrack.
Almost all who responded were intrigued by the addition of an extra dimension
through sound, finding that it encouraged them to enter more intensely into a moment depicted within an image, which had the ability to subtly reveal so much
about the invisible individuals who left traces of their presence.
For instance, one man was intrigued when he noticed the small detail in a William Christenberry image, of what appears to be a wooden hut is in fact made from redbrick.
Three friends concluded the day with their refreshingly different ideas about music to accompany Susan Lipper from Motorhead, Depeche Mode to Blondie.
Another fascinating day.

Thursday, 11 November 2010

Warhol is Here exhibition announced

Warhol Is Here
ARTIST ROOMS On Tour with the Art Fund
24 September 2011 – 8 January 2012

Warhol is Here at the De La Warr Pavilion will present and explore the work of Andy Warhol in the context of his beliefs, lifestyle and above all, his legacy for the 21st century.

Emphasis will be placed on Warhol’s importance to audiences, and particularly to young people, who have been exposed more to the myth of Warhol rather than the content and context of his work.

The exhibition will include early drawings, stitched photographs, self-portraits, very large screenprint canvases and a number of posters. They will be taken from a selection of works from ARTIST ROOMS, (a new collection of modern and contemporary art held by Tate and National Galleries of Scotland for the nation,) as well as those sourced from other private and UK collections.

The Pavilion will also show a programme of films made by Warhol and will publish a small handbook of essays by artists, curators, writers and musicians commenting upon the memory, influence and impact of Warhol.

Following the critical and popular success of Beuys Is Here which attracted over 45,000 visitors in summer 2009, the De La Warr Pavilion is delighted to take part in the second ARTIST ROOMS tour where 21 museums and galleries across the UK (including 17 venues outside of London and Edinburgh) in 2011 will be showing ARTIST ROOMS, exhibitions and displays from the collection assembled by the art collector and curator, Anthony d’Offay.

For further information about Warhol Is Here, please contact Sally Ann Lycett on 01424 229137 or

To find out more information about ARTIST ROOMS On Tour please visit

To see the full ARTIST ROOMS collection please visit and

De La Warr Pavilion
Bexhill on Sea
TN40 1DP
Information: 01424 229111

Monday, 8 November 2010

Interaction Day 30th October.

Better late than never. Sorry for the delay in posting chaps. The interaction day on the 30th October perhaps could have run a little more smoothly. I was planning to do a tour for this session with some interaction projects for the wee ones, but we were slightly hijacked by a Walk & Talk with curators Celia Davies from Photoworks and the De La Warr’s Jane Won. The gallery was extremely busy and their tour was brilliant. For my next session on the 11th December I promise I will factor a discussion and tour for those that felt they missed out. Any how, we had another fun afternoon with lots to think about. The brief I set was slightly different from my previous one, looking at objects and scenes that evoked a personal memory and then reflecting on that through drawing and text. This was instinctive for some and harder for others. It was interesting to observe how diverse and disparate the viewing process is. Connecting images to your own experience is not familiar to everyone and is by no means a guarantee of a good gallery experience either! Some felt it irrelevant and a distraction and others were inspired by the new insight. One lady wrote 3 pages of her own memory of her first visit to Sri Lanka which was connected to a photograph by Walker Evans. I particularly liked the story from a boy who found a snake skin in the corner of a shower in Australia. This memory was evoked by William Eggleston's image of a trailer park in 1974. Well done to all who participated. Fascinating.

Sunday, 7 November 2010

Lift The Lid

Another busy Lift The Lid family session with more photography in it this time. Titled “Remix 2” and building on the previous session, participants were asked to take a clipboard into the exhibition or go around the building and sketch or write down objects and colours that appealed to them. They could then make these elements into an original picture using pencils and collage.

They could also go off with one of the Pavilion's digital cameras (but not into the gallery as photography is not allowed in Myth, Manners and Memory). Children aged from about 6 to 10 proved very adept at producing well composed pictures then critically editing them down to the four they were allowed to print out (so the queue for the laptop didn't get too long and the thirsty printer didn't run dry).

Our youngest artist was a very fast crawler and chose performance art as her medium, using masking tape and scrunched up balls of paper and chewing pencils to great effect.

Here are some of the works produced in the three hour session.

Thanks to all who took part and to our excellent volunteers Corin Smith, Nik Medhurst and Ben Wade.

Thanks also to the anonymous angry person who began his/her comment on the last Lift The Lid of 3rd October “I think that this is not art, if it was art it would need skill, this is not skill, a five year old could do better!!!” (Please add your own comment using the link below).

Saturday, 6 November 2010

Gallery interaction: Your questions please!

When I first saw Myth, Manners and Memory my head was filled with questions about how and why the pictures were made and how they fitted together to make this exhibition. So I asked visitors of all ages to write down questions that came into their heads whilst looking at the exhibition in order to compare my own reactions to theirs.

Here are transcriptions of many of the questions written on the clipboards that I placed around the gallery:

William Eggleston

What is the significance of the tricycle? Is its scale and condition a factor or is this just a moment in time?

Why questions not comments? Is there a great deal of meaning I'm not seeing because I'm not American? e.g would the design style of the 'Gulf' sign make me feel nostalgic if it were part of my cultural lexicon?

Red ceiling 1969-71: Is this the ceiling of a brothel? Does the colour red have a hidden meaning or symbolism?

William Eggleston portraits

Has it been photoshopped (the blue sky is so intense)?

Is that a scar on his face? (girl aged 8)

Who are these people?

Is his name Bubba?

Alec Soth

Overheard from 10? year old boy: What's so amazing about photographs? No-one answered him – a missed opportunity?

Is Alec Soth looking for idiosyncracy (or does it just find him)?

Walker Evans

Why are there posters on the building? (girl aged 8)

Why were the blacks treated so badly?

What are those boys holding?

Who were the FSA? What was their purpose? Why were they documenting the lives of the rural poor?

Federal Writers Project

Where can I find out more about the Federal Writers Project?

Carrie Mae Weems

Why is the lady standing on the railway track?

William Christenberry

Why is that house on stilts? (girl aged 8)

“Why were all the coloured people left to live in rack and ruin? (girl aged 12)

Susan Lipper

Who are these people?

Why are there not very nice subjects?

Why take photos?

To my surprise this exhibition does not seem to lend itself to easily verbalised questions but most definitely does encourage discussion. Over the afternoon I had many excellent conversations with visitors from as far afield as Devon and Sheffield. Many of them were very knowledgeable about photography (some were touring Brighton Photo Biennial and Photo Fringe venues). Many of the people who wanted to talk about the exhibition did not want to write down specific questions.

The answers to many of the questions are of course online, but I do recommend Sean O'Hagan's Q&A with Susan Lipper available at

All were very appreciative of the exhibition and the building that contains it. Above all, it was clear how much people (whether informed about the medium or not) love to look at photographs.

Tuesday, 26 October 2010

Pavilion plays a part in marriage proposal

The Pavilion played a vital role in a carefully put-together marriage proposal last weekend. After enjoying a delicious starter in the DLWP Restaurant, Alex Munro asked the kitchen staff to prepare the remainder of a delicious three-course meal to take to a beach hut in Cooden. They were happy to oblige, so Alex and his girlfriend Hannah Van Dijk set about enjoying their al fresco main courses of roast chicken and gnocchi, followed by mango creme brulee. Alex popped the question at the end of the meal, and against an unexpected backdrop of fireworks coming from the Cooden Beach Hotel, she said yes!

Alex said: "Thank you so much. Brilliant of you to do all that, it made such a difference. The food really was fantastic."

Sally Ann Lycett of the De La Warr Pavilion said: "We are so pleased to have helped make this such a special occasion for Alex and Hannah! So many couples have told us how they met their partners at the Pavilion and it is always good to know that we are part of their happiest memories."

Good luck Alex and Hannah, and congratulations from the De La Warr Pavilion.

Monday, 25 October 2010

Instructions for Seeing through Listening 23/10/10 posted by Irene Mensah

The objective in my first workshop interacting with the public, was to explore whether or not it was possible to find a new and enhanced relationship with the exhibition, or specific images, by responding to a short set of instructions and imagining that they could listen to a soundtrack of their choice. The responses from a busy and already engaged audience were richly varied, and almost all of the different people I approached with this invitation, were willing to include this extra activity. Even the few individuals who found the idea unappealing, then defined why they didn't need any other stimulus to engaging with the work.

To help with finding an appropriate track, a laptop with headphones was made available. One couple were very happy to use their own iPod and enjoyed making a long list of tracks to accompany all the different photographers. The dramatic quality of Susan Lipper's work was a good starting point for many, with the ambiguity of being both attracted and repelled by her subject matter proving to be a common response, and also stimulated ideas of sounds related to details present in an image, as a background rather than music.

Conversations therefore moved in many different directions, evoking a father's memory of his own father singing a favourite track, "Hang down your head Tom Dooley..." responding to two of Susan Lipper's photographs, to themes of unconscious prejudice and preconceptions. A more thoughtful choice in music was found to challenge one's own stereotypical associations with the American South.

It was a pleasure to see people opening up further to more personal discussions revealing their interest in the exhibition, because of this different way of "tuning" into seeing images. The feedback was that it added a new dimension to connecting with the exhibition and encouraged a more focused and personal relationship with individual photographs. For some it was a poignancy of the gaze, the subtlety of what might be taking place out of sight of the framed moment. For others, the very fact that despite trying they couldn't think of a natural soundtrack, stimulated an analysis of their preferred photographer's personal themes.

I had great discussions with a photography teacher, a local musician, families, groups of friends, and they themselves were encouraged to debate their choices of music and what they found of interest in their favourite images. I really enjoyed the process and the generosity of people willing to think more laterally.

Friday, 22 October 2010

16th October Interaction

After getting 80 fantastic contributions to my first interaction, we managed to go slightly better this weekend, with a further 85. So many people said how much they enjoyed the opportunity to participate in an exhibition, something they had not experienced before, noting that events like this are usually geared towards children rather than adults. Contributions ranged between the surreal, the humorous, the poetic and the poignant.
I had some very enjoyable conversations about aesthetics, social documentation, voyeurism and the state of the nation (both UK and USA) with groups of visitors, many of whom stayed in the exhibition for a long time. There was even a group of local photographers from my first interaction who came back again to really get to grips with work and contributed to the spirited atmosphere of the afternoon.Thanks for coming back folks - you were great fun.
The exhibition seems to be hitting the mark with everyone: from the photo-purists who are delighted to get close to original prints of work that has hardly been seen in the UK (if at all), to the less initiated visitors who are being introduced to photographers who have influenced the types of images we take for granted now.

Thursday, 21 October 2010

Talk that puts the psychological landscape of the American South "in context"

Richard Gray will be talking about what makes the American South different, special and even strange. He will be placing the photographs on display in the exhibition in the contexts of Southern history and mythology and, in particular, in the context of Southern literature - how writers from the region have created a place that seems to exist somewhere between the actual and the imagined.

Richard Gray is a Professor of Literature at the University of Essex, and the first specialist in American literature to be elected a Fellow of the British Academy.
Tickets just £5

To buy your ticket for this enlightening talk call the Box Office on 01424 229 111 or click here to book online

Susan Lipper, Untitled from the Grapevine Series, 1998-1992, Courtesy the Artist

Tuesday, 19 October 2010

Curator's Conversation

Photo: Alec Soth, Bonnie (with a photograph of an angel), Port Gibson, Mississippi, 2000, Courtesy the Artist/Magnum
Saturday 30th October, 2pm
Curator's Conversation

For a unique insight into the exhibition join a Walk & Talk with curators Celia Davies from Photoworks and the De La Warr’s Jane Won.
Tickets only £5
To book and for more information call the Box Office on 01424 229 111 or book online

Monday, 11 October 2010

Films this week at DLWP

Autumn Film Season
Free Documentaries and Feature Films

1 October 2010 – 3 January 2011

To accompany the exhibition Myth, Manners and Memory - Photographers of the American South, we present a film programme comprising documentaries and feature films that explore broad aspects of the American South.
Documentaries are Free, however the Feature Films carry a £3 charge. To Book a ticket please call the Box Office on 01424 229 111.

11am, free

10 - 16 October
William Eggleston in the Real World
2005 Dir. Michael Almereyda
An award-winning documentary revealing the deep connection between the photographer's personality, his groundbreaking work and passions as musician, draftsman and videographer.

3pm, tickets: £3

11,13,15 October
Cat on a Hot Tin Roof
1958 Dir. Richard Brookes 103min (15)
Starring Elizabeth Taylor, Paul Newman and Burl IvesBased on the Pulitzer Prize-winning play by Tennessee Williams.

10,12,14 October
O Brother Where Art Thou?
2000 Dir. Joel and Ethan Coen 108min (12)
Starring George Clooney, John Turturro and Tim Blake Nelson
Hilarious comedy in which three escaped convicts search for hidden treasure.

16 October
God and Generals
2003 Dir. Ronald F. Maxwell 231min (12A)
Starring Robert Duvall, Stephen Lang and Jeff DanielsAn unforgettable story of the Civil War following the rise and fall of legendary war hero "Stonewall Jackson".

Season tickets can be purchased for only £35 for the whole autumn film season. Click here to buy Season Ticket

Click here to see the Autumn Film Season

For information and bookings call the Box Office on 01424 229 111