It has made its reputation with its near legendary soiree-style openings, its large array of studios, as well as being a first-class project and performance space. But after almost thirteen years at the centre of the Welsh art scene, tactileBOSCH is changing. Spurred on by a series of leaks and missing roof tiles, the team behind the gallery are on the hunt for new premises. Though the charming 200 year-old laundry house which has housed the gallery thus far may very well be a block of flats before long, the project initiated in this eccentric yet beguiling building will continue. Following their last show, Unchartered Perspectives [BLOWBACK] at the end of October, the gallery will leave its current home in Llandaff North for pastures new.
Until then, there is still time to visit the gallery to see this last show – especially as it is such an enjoyable sojourn to the gallery along the Taff Trail from the city centre. And despite the freezing autumn temperatures, there is always Rawley Clay‘s hand built yurt-sauna to warm up in, which was always sufficiently full of naked visitors sat in near darkness when I visited to warrant it being a shocking spectacle, were it not for the sauna’s typically musty smell. But while wandering from room to room in the Georgian Warehouse which houses the gallery, you soon discover that there is always a surprise around every corner. The thing that makes tactileBOSCH so great is the way that everything is on top of everything else. Even in the rafters of the building or in rooms packed to the ceiling with artist’s tools and materials, there is always something to walk into, such as curator Kim Fielding’s lightbox of a cross-legged man with his head bowed, and his hands presumably tied behind his back. Propped in the corner of a low-lit room towards the back of the gallery, the man’s position is juxtaposed with his magnificent knuckled torso, which shows him in a state of submission – it is hard to tell if this tying down was done by force or by choice, adding to the mystery of the piece.
Another mystery I encountered was the names of the pieces in the show, and the artists who made them. As only a few were tagged with a name or had business cards nearby, I had to go off the artists I knew from previous shows to work out what was what. It was not hard to recognise John Abell’s memorable ‘Woman with Mantis’ series of woodcut prints at the top of the stairs or Sarah Younan doing a particularly creepy performance piece where a distorted face is projected back onto her own masked face, but other works will forever remain a mystery to me.
One that will not however is Richard Gravelle’s startling demonic money-covered figure, which is sat in a leather-bound business chair similar to the maroon one that famously seated Gordon Gekko. Gravelle’s devil looks ready to pounce from the chair onto passers-by, yet its feet are stuck to the ground, being that more notes are spread from its feet onto the floor, chaining it to its location. A nice touch on the notes is the figures commemorated on both sides. There is no head of state displayed for this demon: the notes instead are covered in pictures of David Cameron and George Osborne with Margaret Thatcher’s iconic hairstyle, and Damien Hirst as Michael Faraday on the reverse – taking a poke at capitalism in general and its role in the art world in particular.
It is however a pity that the footfall from the public meant the destruction of these notes splurged onto the gallery floor. While this is to the gallery’s credit (between 400-450 people turned up to the opening, a fantastic number by anyone’s standards), it will take the artist some time to rectify his installation for the visitors due in over the course of the exhibition’s run.
One thing that may not be seen by anyone again is the performance art that was shown on the gallery’s opening night. This has always been one of tactileBOSCH’s strong points and they lived up to expectations. The only ones really in keeping with the theme of All Hallows Eve, which falls within the timescale of the show, were in the Elysium Gallery’s dedicated room. Their first performance consisted of three women cutting oranges before covering each segment in some type of white liquid (which very well could have been yoghurt, such was its consistency), all the while chanting an ethereal spell. I feel the performance could have been stronger had the lead ‘witch’ (so to speak) not kept her lines in front of her on a piece of paper – this omission would have given her far more authority in my eyes – but this is a minor complaint. Elysium’s other piece, which was again curated by Jonathan Powell, was in their main room. Seven figures wearing hoods and masks stand spread out around the space. Enticing people in is a collection of paintings on the walls. But when the visitor steps in, the hooded figures proceed to push them around the room as if they are in a pinball machine, totally disorientating and intimidating them at the same time. By the time the performance was over, a large collection of people were gathered around all silently waiting for their next unsuspecting victim, such was the voyeuristic nature of the spectacle.
But perhaps my favourite piece of performance art was the last piece, performed by one of the original members of the tactileBOSCH team, Simon Mitchell. The artist poured four pints of bitter and placed them down the long hallway on the first floor. Attaching himself to a bungee cord in the nearside wall, he attempted to grab each pint before the tension in the bungee cord brought him back. When he failed, he was sent sliding across the floor back to his original position. When he succeeded, he was rewarded with a pint which he duly downed.
And this was not one of those contemplative avant garde pieces that demanded silence. Indeed the audience was rooting for him at every attempt, and the artist received quite a few wolf whistles when he took off an item of clothing after each failure. Audience participation was at the core of this piece, as everyone cheered whenever a pint was downed, and doubly so after the third pint when the empty glass was accidentally thrown flush onto my right kneecap (owing to 400 faces looking at me, all I could manage was a smile to match their mirth, despite the pain).
But the biggest cheer of all came at the end, just after the biggest groan when the artist spilt the last pint on his return over the gallery floor. Not to be defeated, he grabbed two champagne flutes and filled them with more bitter, before offering a glass to Kim Fielding, to be drunk in both commiseration and celebration. The idea being that not all was lost, and the show will continue – much like the gallery itself.