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reviews

In the Midst of Things

In the Midst of Things • Bourneville, England

It is a beautiful sunny day when I travel to Bournville for the first and only time. As I step off the train and into the village I know I am going to enjoy the show even before I've seen a single piece of work. Which is a great feeling.

After getting my bearings, I venture up a side avenue that leads to the pond with fountain. The handout states that Cornford and Cross have restored the water feature "as a direct parallel to the perceived historical benevolence of the establishment of the Bournville 'Factory in a Garden' by George Cadbury". It also says something about purple water. Well, the water isn't purple, so the artists have probably not intervened at all. In other words it's a piss-take of the "perceived historical benevolence," etcetera, etcetera . . . However, a few purplish stains on the stones flanking the pond mean that I reserve judgement.

Along from the pond is a two-story building with work by Richard Wright. Upstairs is a delicate wall-drawing of red and blue basically-horizontal lines. Downstairs is a vertical piece drawn on a pillar with gold and blue. There's an invigilator sitting outside the building. I ask him why he has to be there and he answers that he's looking after the gold leaf. "Oh, yes," I tell him. "I picked off some of that." Apparently I'm his first visitor of the day (it's 11:45 and the show's been open since 11:00). I tell him not to worry—I'll be writing a piece on the show for The Independent on Sunday which will appear next week. People will be flocking to Bournville after that. "Good," he says. He's doing a thesis on "In the Midst of Things" and doesn't want to write about something that was a complete non-event.

The work is mostly fun. I'm still high by the time I come across another invigilator. He's sitting in Atrelier van Lieshout's lime green shipping container that's kitted out as a canteen with long table, functional cooker and giant frying pan. The invigilator is going to be writing about the show also–for Untitled. So that's three people writing about the show and not a single non-writing visitor so far. Something wrong, surely. He wants advice as to how to write about group shows. I start to give him some, then pull myself together. "I'm not giving you any advice, mate. Why don't you give me some?" Before I go, I mention that I've written a book on contemporary art. Apparently he's read it, or seen the cover. "Which is it, then? Have you read it or just seen the cover?" Now that he's put on the spot, he tells me he has seen the cover in a shop and has read photocopied chapters. He explains that Dave Batchelor at the Royal College is using Personal Delivery as course material. That's a breach of copyright, but who cares. It's great that an academic, or a lecturer, is using PD. I think it's Gavin Wade, one of the curators of this show, that I'm talking to, though I'm not sure. Mark (it's not Gavin) says he will definitely read all of my book. But I don't want him to feel obliged to do that, and tell him as much and in such a way that he smiles. It's funny that meeting invigilators in open spaces, in a semi-rural setting, is so much friendlier and chattier than in city galleries.

I sit on the wide balcony under a multi-colored canopy installed by Kathrin Bohm on the exterior of a large brick edifice. I look at the broad stripes above, but my mind is on what's happening in the building behind me. I've already caught a glimpse of people dressed in white overalls, with white nets on their heads, carrying trays of food. So I guess this is the real Cadbury chocolate factory canteen. But I'd like to make sure. So I stand up, put my face to the semi-reflective glass, and peer in. It's a bit like looking into Dan Graham's sculptural pavilion that I can see faintly reflected. I cup my hands round the side of my eyes to cut down the glare. Sure enough, the ghostly figures are eating lunch. A man digs into a plate filled with a chip-orientated main course. Beside him is a bowl filled to the brim with a custard-topped pudding. 2000 calories, minimum, I'd guess. Accidentally, I catch the worker's eye, but is this enough to make him seriously cut his intake of carbohydrates? Elsewhere, workers who have finished both courses lie spreadeagled over the table, sleeping off their heavy-duty meals. Haven't they been told about the AvL canteen? No stodge there. Instead, a nutritious snack, a can of Quaker-approved Becks, networking with fellow workers, and then straight back to work.

In a vacant porters' lodge at an entrance to the Cadbury factory, Nina Saunders has installed a pink carpet and a rose-patterned sofa. The sofa has collapsed in the middle, and the upholstery has flowed like a liquid (chocolate, say) to make a huge puddle on the carpet, a smaller flow managing to make it out of the room's closed door to form an Easter egg-sized drip on the road. The molten rose-pool and the black shadows cast over the pink-carpeted floor turns the building into a wonderful summer house. The kind of place that would surely have excited Lewis Carroll's imagination. Apparently the children's writer force-fed Cadbury's Roses to Alice Liddell until she was as fat–and as heavy–as an oyster-stuffed walrus. I see a few more exhibits, then I have another rest, this time leaning on Keith Wilson's white plastic L-shaped railing that extends for 50+ feet of meeting-cum-contemplation place. Leaning against it, a visitor can chat with locals, mull over the show, or listen to the strange church bells, which have been ringing in my ears–on and off–all afternoon. Carillons, I think they're called. I scribble down a few paragraphs towards my IoS review: