IN BRIGHTON (AND LB?), PART OF THE ART IS FIGURING OUT WHERE TO PRESENT ITBy Victoria Bryan
[Sixth in a series looking at the similarities between Long Beach and Brighton, England. Both are diverse waterfront cities that are home to many artists, but Brighton leverages the circumstances every year with a month of major arts festivals and events that reach into every part of the community. Could Long Beach do the same?]
Among their many similarities, the cities of Long Beach and Brighton and Hove share a commonly perceived lack of arts presentation and performance spaces. To say Brighton is densely populated is a major understatement. In a city that originated before 1086, when the Domesday book provides the earliest surviving public record, it is not easy to create new, dedicated arts spaces.
A limitation can, of course, become a catalyst for innovation, and the festival season offers many instances of creative use of non-traditional space for arts events.
When an historical building is renovated, it stands empty as craftspeople lovingly restore it to its original grandeur. In Brunswick Square, Brighton, a five-story Regency Town House and nearby basement are being brought back to their 1824-1828 heyday; during the years of transformation, these spaces become temporary homes to visual and performing arts projects. Not only does this increase the usable venue capital in a densely packed city, but the echoes and ghosts in such spaces offer a rich foil to artistic vision.
The Regency Town House is the center of HOUSE, a curated visual arts festival now in its fourth year. HOUSE, initiated and run by the Artists Open Houses organization, is a counterpoint to the wealth of uncurated art by 1,300 artists in 250 open houses throughout the city.
In the first floor Regency living room, David Bachelor’s Brighton Palermo Remix lights up the space. The wood and light construction is based on a traditional form of street festival illumination found in Palermo, Italy, and the artist’s working drawing and models are displayed in nearby cases.
The basement of a nearby house is part of the same renovation project, and Batchelor’s work weaves in and out of the kitchen and servants’ areas.
As HOUSE moves outside into Brighton’s public spaces, Batchelor has outlined a skip (dumpster) in neon and placed this enhanced everyday object in front of the Brighton Town Hall. Meanwhile, in Paper Trail, HOUSE artist Deb Bowness has placed wallpapered representations of furniture and other indoor objects into outdoor urban nooks and crannies.
Pubs offer a wealth of usable spaces for art events, and the room above the Marlborough Pub is one of Brighton’s best-known small theatres. Among the many Fringe Festival events scheduled at the 60-seat Marlborough this year, Something Fishy, a one-woman show written and performed by Ginny Davies, found a full production home for its four-night run. After she registered to perform, Ginny chose the space from a list provided by the Fringe. A masterpiece of possibility thinking, this list offers spaces including bars, tents, hotels, parks, homes, yoga studios, taxis, living rooms, markets, schools, charity shops, and yes, even theatres and galleries! People who have space add it to the list and artists who need space rent or borrow it from them.
Also on the Fringe venue list, 2 Brunswick Terrace, a 1820’s house, was snapped up by ReStage, a York-based theatre company. The group’s retelling of a local story marks the first use of this home for a Fringe event, and the upstairs living room of 2 Brunswick Terrace fits Sanctuary like a glove.
Early in May, I met Sanctuary producer, Phillip Taylor, at the Fringe Box Office as he studied walls lined with event posters and worried, “How do you get attention with all of the events on offer? It’s a challenge when no one has heard of the play or the company. This is a new venture for me.”
In his day job, Brighton resident Taylor is a software company director. ReStage playwright, Chris Green, also from Brighton, has long wanted to bring a show down from York. The company weaves original productions from historical narrative and stages them in non-theatre spaces. When they found an intriguing local story of idealism and ancient evil set in the time of 1920’s financial market collapse, they were ready to embark on their first Brighton Fringe production. Fortunately, Philip’s worry was unfounded; ReStage had full houses for the four-night run, which ended with Green and actor David Peel saying goodnight to members of the audience as they descended the stairs from the performance space.
It’s not only the Fringe that uses nontraditional venues. Brighton Festival events spill out of concert halls, galleries, and theatres into odd corners of the city. French theatre company, Générik Vapeur, staged Waterlitz at Black Rock, an area of seafront wasteland. After the spectacle, a 30-ton metal figure is left towering above the sea. This figure, constructed from stacked containers, stands sentinel, gazing back to the city center.
As well as programmed events, Waste of Space takes place in Brighton and Hove locations through a series of pop-up exhibitions, music, workshops, and performances. The event runs for the whole of Brighton Fringe in May and is organized by five local collectives: C’LECTIVE, Collate Presents, compARTment, Little Episodes and Pop Up Brighton. Each collective hosts and curates events in vacant commercial buildings, giving life to dead space., in similar projects to those undertaken by Phantom Galleries in Long Beach.
In spatially-challenged Brighton and Hove, May’s explosion of arts activity in non-traditional spaces certainly increases the numbers of arts events. The effect reaches beyond quantity, however, to affect the way in which the art is received. Artists and audience members are brought closer when the interaction is moved out of a formal, traditional space and into the everyday world of school, public square or pub.
When you see a play in a living room or listen as parents try to answer their offspring’s “why?” as they encounter the unexpected, there is an experience of disequilibrium—that brief perceptual shake up that precedes thinking about things in new ways. As lines are blurred between art and environment, the city is animated in unusual ways and we have the chance to see it again with fresh eyes.
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Blogger Bio: Victoria Bryan is an artist, curator, teacher and has been a Long Beach resident since 1985. Originally from London, Victoria lived in Brighton during school holidays with her grandmother, and later at her parents’ house after they settled there. During the past nine years, Victoria has taught in the Art and Theatre Departments at CSULB, and the Arts Management program at Claremont Graduate University. Currently, she is very pleased to be teaching the Arts Capstone class for future elementary teachers, in the CSULB Liberal Studies Department.