It’s a tried trope in criticism of visual arts to encourage slowness, but artists rarely give reason or device to linger. Upon receiving the second £5,000 Wal Pawb Commission at Tŷ Pawb, artist Kevin Hunt gives said reason and device, diligently, with a multi-faceted intervention, Face-Ade. Bob Gelsthorpe takes a look.
The exterior of Tŷ Pawb is punctuated with a number of flat topped ellipses – concrete reliefs, which were kept following the National Eisteddfod’s ‘Gold Medal for Architecture’ winning refurbishment of Wrexham’s former ‘People’s Market’ by Architects Featherstone Young. These civic ornamentations are relatively small in comparison to the scale of this ‘cultural community resource’, but are an important starting point for the graphic language that unravels in Liverpool-based Kevin Hunt’s revolving tri-vision billboards.
On the first square billboard, the black and white shapes change every 30 seconds or so, on a mechanised timer. The movement and pacing is critical to experiencing the commission in full. This first design could be the shadow for the ok emoji, hidden in front of those flat topped ellipses, with sun spots littering the spaces around them. Before you get chance to think too much, it changes to another design – a microscope slide exploring the cell structure of a botanical specimen? It changes again – three huge skateboards as if looking from underneath a glass roof, skating around car tyres? Any thoughts on what the patterns actually might refer to becomes completely arbitrary as they rapidly change. Their suggestive (if not a little vague) design functions to best represent the ‘pareidolic’ image – such as the Rorschach test(1), or seeing Christ in a piece of toast or a camel in a cloud – this same phenomenon that causes the mind to connect the abstract to the real. Perception is absolutely half of the game here.
Around the corner, a longer rectangular billboard takes up the entire ply-clad wall and although its three images play with perception all the same, things are taken a step further to suggest the representation of language through repeated marks and motifs:
////////////;/;/;;/;;;;/;/. ‘ ‘’ “”’ ‘ ‘ ‘
.. .. , , ,.;;;;;;;;;|||||||}}}}}};;;;;;;////
– ‘ “”” . . . . \\\\/////////
This crude, typed pastiche of the larger billboard reveals the pareidolia inherent within the everyday written form, highlighting the move from seeing to reading that is crucial for changing interpretation of images into interpretation of language.
From seeing, to reading, to tasting and smelling, the ’face-ade’ commission also surprisingly incorporates a fizzy drink. During this particularly warm summer, I was handed a recycled paper cup, with the distinguishable aesthetic of black pseudo-motifs emblazoned onto its printed surface. Filled with a rosemary, vanilla and lemon syrup, topped up with soda water and served over ice, the ingredients that flavour ’face-ade’, surprisingly, come from above.
A rooftop volunteer-driven garden, working out of the adjoining car park, (known locally as ‘Clwb Garddio’) is where all manner of edible seedlings, sprouts and blossoms of potential future drinks are generated, through collective community-led endeavour and autonomous interaction. In conversation with Tŷ Pawb’s Curator, he reveals the drink is evolving and a beetroot flavour, pink fizz lemonade will soon be available for the remainder of the summer, delicious.
Hospitality is a critical device for offering slowness. Six billboard images, a rooftop garden, a community group of gardeners, the drink and its compostable cup printed with vegan inks to recycle and return, all demonstrate the holistic movement of materials. This addresses the changing politics of arts production. “The art of the past no longer exists as it once did. Its authority is lost. In its place there is a language of images. What matters now is who uses that language for what purpose.”(2) Thank god the days of monumental bronzes and macho steel structures are dying off – commissions with slightness, but generosity are surely where this ‘language of images’ in the broadest sense, will engage and build common civic sites as spaces of care.
’face-ade’ has a slow usefulness. With everything from refreshing drinks, to advertising hoardings, to empowering communities through collective action – it’s a doorstop issue that Wal Pawb communicates through presenting this layered, diligent commission.
Tŷ Pawb’s annual Wal Pawb commission is currently open to applications until 20th August: ’face-ade’ by Kevin Hunt continues until March 2020.
Bob Gelsthorpe is a regular contributor for Wales Arts Review.