MAY DAY, MAY DAY - THE DARK TIMES
To 28 June
45 Robertson Street, Hastings
DE LA WARR PAVILLION
On sea-front of Bexhill on Sea, Open daily 10am-6pm
Hastings, on the south-east coast was where I used to go as a kid and spend many happy hours trampolining, going up and down the cliff tram, eating ice creams and being scared to my wits’ end of the horrible big monster face of Dracula that would grace the outside of the ghost train ride in the amusement park. Then a few years later it would be the place I would drive to with my friends as an energetic rowdy teenager to go clubbing at Pier Pressure, dodging the bikers and boy-racers up and down the promenade. It was electric and fast, neon bright light. In stark contrast to Hastings, is neighbouring Bexhill only a few miles down the road. Here I would come with my parents and most fondly with my grandparents for a good dose of sea air, my Nan describing the feeling as ‘bracing’ and how exciting it was that we had managed to get from hometown Royal Tunbridge Wells to Bexhill sitting in First Class on the train without the guard checking our standard fare ticket. Bexhill was the more ‘upmarket, slower paced, gentile’ sister to Hastings. Despite the overbearing amount of retirement homes that adorn the sea front, Bexhill had a true gem up its sleeve. A gem even better than the Miramar Tea-rooms. This gem was the De La Warr Pavilion where Nan and Granddad would take me to see Val Doonican, Vera Lynn and Des O'Connor and catch a bit of sun in the deckchairs before and after endless amounts of wall to wall granny and grandpa bingo sessions. De La Warr was the height of un-cool, an old-folks palace of nostalgia and sloppy cream teas and I loved it.
Twenty years later these memories stay true but the area has undergone something of a re-invention for better or for worse. The De La Warr Pavilion is now a chic Arts-Council-funded tribute to its architect Eric Mendelssohn. Okay, so the revamp is minimal and sexy. The long-winding spiral staircase is beautiful and the place now promotes an air of serenity for deep thinking contemplation. The current exhibition by Susan Collins is triumphant in responding to the building’s mass hedonist appeal of gazing out to sea at the ever changing tide. Her photographic prints are stunning. Who out of us hasn't gazed out to sea and wondered what was on the other side? The De La Warr continues its series of contemporary art exhibitions from national and international artists and Susan's is one of those exhibitions which the general public can engage with on all sorts of levels, if only on purely visual aesthetic terms for the non conceptualists amongst us. Despite all this revamp, big funding and clinical white, I miss something of the brightly coloured deckchairs, the Chas n' Dave style posters attached to the promenade railings advertising shows of lost war veterans and Woolworths bargain bin popstars. Something lost and something gained I guess.
Hastings was never a place I considered to see art of any such merit until now that is. F-ISH in Robertson Street, Hastings is the brainchild of Simon Hedges and Peter Stonham. I met up with Simon who was more than happy to speak of the gallery's influence on Hastings and the surroundings. I was instantly struck by his passion and energy in the project. The gallery occupies a retail unit just off the main shopping strip. The gallery boasts a previous exhibition by text-based artist Mario Rossi and several acclaimed past events. The current show does not buck the trend, guest-curated by Paul Sakoilsky, entitled MAY DAY MAY DAY: THE DARK TIMES, an extension of his The Dark Times newspaper, featuring an array of local, national and international talents with artists such as Leigh Clarke, Laura Oldfield Ford, Marco, Rose Smith, Calum F. Kerr, Bob and Roberta Smith, Gavin Turk and Dallas Seitz and others. The gallery's mission is to respond to local audiences and engage the local public with their own idiosyncratic concerns. This show is no exception in allowing a wide range of audiences to be able to enter into a dialogue with the work of pagan and ritualistic beauty. Highlights include Sarah Spark's plywood coffin ‘You Are Here’ 2006 and Liam Scully's ‘Fertility Spell’. Mark Hammond presents an installation containing a placard with the words SAY NO TO JERWOOD, in response to the announcement of a new Jerwood gallery to the region. Laura Oldfield-Ford displays a copy of her Savage Messiah paperzine with its intricate details of architectural deprivation in a highly entertaining comic book graphic mode. Lee Maelzer exhibits ‘Scale’, a painting of both living in beauty and ugliness. Despite the space being much of a white cube outfit architecturally, much of the work has a grungy anarchic populist aesthetic enough to please the fine art connoisseurs and Joe Bloggs coming in off the street. It’s populist pagan poetry and thought-provoking. Simon vigorously spoke of his desire to project onto the streets of Hastings for Friday/Saturday night booze brigade massive. I like this ‘site responsive’ aesthetic that Simon seems so enthused by. The booze brigade boys and girls may, just for one moment in their binge-drinking, see beyond the faded pier paint and the dilapidated domes that Hastings is or was so equally cursed and blessed for.