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11 November 2012

Street Life - Volkhardt Muller at The Brewhouse

Well, it’s been an exceptionally good week following on from last week’s high of visiting the BHAAM artists; this week has seen free fireworks, free books and free booze topped off by sharing the above in the company of great friends and watching the stage version of, ‘The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner’ (based on the short story by Sillitoe and what would be one of the top books in my own ‘life enhancing books of all time’ list) all of which certainly helping towards keeping my faith in the arts restored where it should be. Wonderful stuff! Completing this most humbling and momentous week has to be the Volkhardt Muller exhibition at The Brewhouse.    

    I’d heard rumours of people paying to have sections of a woodcut printed as part of a kind-of interactive project at The Brewhouse and that the idea was that you could pay for different sizes to be printed and if enough people bought enough pieces it would reveal an even bigger picture....Curious...I zipped down to the Brew one lunchtime to go have a look...

Impressive! Three large block woodcuts leaning against the walls in the gallery each depicting scenes from a high street; shops, lamp posts, bus stops, litter, babies in pushchairs, people on phones, waiting, walking, carrying shopping or reading newspapers, it was all very recognisably familiar stuff. That’s also why I liked it! Each woodcut had areas that had been marked out, printed and then placed onto a light box directly above it. Except the images on the light boxes were fragmented and only told parts of the scene depicted in the woodcut itself. The reason? The rumours I’d heard about people buying parts of prints was correct making the exhibition an interactive one based on people paying for an area (and they can choose how big or small) of their choosing to be printed of which they get a copy to take home and keep and the same area is printed to add to the light box in the gallery. A lucrative idea in terms of making money but more importantly also a very poignant and apt one given the subject matter of the work, the high street. I think the idea of having an interactive piece that is made up of the fragments of different people’s decisions and participation is a good echo of the lives of our own high street as a place of ‘toing and froing’ and interaction; perhaps even more hauntingly appropriate if you take the idea that people and engagement are needed in order for the image to exist/be revealed being the same as the real-life situation many high streets face that without people, without customers they too may become more fragmented and non-existent. That was my reading into it anyway, although I preferred visually the more fragmented images than the whole on the woodcut, perhaps the fragmenting of the image could reflect the constant changing nature of high streets as public spaces. I don’t really mind, I just enjoy thinking about work in this multiple meanings sort-of way. I also thought there was something shop window-like about the illuminated images on their light boxes reflecting the narratives of familiar scenes some more banal, some humorous and others bordering on the slightly disturbing or with a threat of menace in the air. Interesting as well to see what parts of the images people choose to get printed, mostly all the figures were picked out (the exhibition had been up since October) and crushed drinks cans, shop signs and dustbins all being taken (the artist does however, do up to four prints of a given area) all of which leaving fairly large amounts of areas of pavement and road unclaimed. Unless someone was to buy a print of the entire block then I’m guessing that there’ll always be areas like the pavement in the image that are incomplete. This is again another uncanny metaphor for the concept of people having to invest in their high streets in order to keep them. I’m reminded of the excellent book, ‘Embracing the Ordinary’ that I reviewed a while back this year on this blog and the writer Georges Perec who recorded almost forensically the everyday details happening on a street in Saint Sulpice, Paris. Muller has obviously spent a lot of time himself looking at towns and their high streets and a film projected as part of this exhibition acts as a demonstration of source material recorded to make the prints in the exhibition. The work was in fact originally commissioned by Exeter’s Royal Albert Museum and Art Gallery for Exeter High Street. Glad it has made its way to Taunton and that the interactivity continues with a third piece in the exhibition made of twenty or so (I didn’t count, ok!) wind-up children’s TVs, you know the kind that have a screen with an image that goes around and around whilst playing a nursery rhyme (see image below). Anyway, these require the viewer to wind them up in order to play the images which have been replaced with Muller’s prints of high street scenes and are like watching a very slow animation or mimicking of driving through a town in a car as it pans across a scene of people queueing at a bus stop or row of shop fronts. There’s a creepy sort-of nostalgia with this piece that I didn’t get with the large woodcuts, maybe it’s due to the wind-up plinkety-plink nursery rhyme music that the boxes emanate as the image goes around or maybe again this is meant to act as a warning of what fate awaits our high streets should we continue to lose shops and their identities they have within our towns until all that is left of them is images in children’s toys and ladybird books. Ha ha, SCARY! On the other hand, maybe there’s also something quite funny and childlike to it that I’ve missed (I’ve only offered up my own interpretation of the work). All in all it’s a great idea to have an exhibition that is dependent on the people who visit it to both make and contribute to the work as well in a way being the subject matter for it. I can imagine would have been equally interesting to watch it as it grew and hope that out of all this participation it just might make people look at their own high streets a little differently if at the very least feel that in our own individual ways we have a role to play in animating these public spaces whether that’s feeding the pigeons, shopping, skating or just walking through that is the mandate of the honest hardworking people.

‘Since 2010 Volkhardt Müller has been chronicling public life in British cities through drawing, wood/linocut, print objects and moving image. Following his solo exhibition at RAMM in Exeter, Müller’s work in The Brewhouse puts in focus the relationships between the generic and the locale, often drawing on the British High Street as a petri dish for observation and a source of ideas.’
Catch Volkhardt Muller’s exhibition, ‘Mandate from the honest hard working people’ at The Brewhouse until November 17th:

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