Dan Graham, "In the Midst of Things"
"In the Midst of Things" is set in Bournvillea model village established near Birmingham at the end of the nineteenth century by chocolate manufacturer and philanthropist George Cadbury. It explores a utopian theme.
All around the village, on factory and community noticeboards, Jim Isermann has introduced a wallpaper motif of interlocking red, yellow, and blue bricks. This brings to mind Modernist facades as well as a Lego-like toytown, and could be interpreted as a critique of both '60s urban planning and Victorian paternalism. Yet the overall effect is warm.
Next to the cricket green is Dan Graham's sculptural pavilion made of two-way glass screens and similar-sized wooden trellises with climbing plants. When approached the pavilion bursts into a combination of real and illusional space, echoing the aspirationstowards creating an ideal place to live and workwith which Bournville was founded.
Lawrence Weiner's sign "A Pile in the Midst" is located above a loading bay set in the side of the enormous red-brick factory building, where the sign is dwarfed. But the words remind you that the wealth used to create Bournville village comes from a manufacturing plant which uses raw materials from third-world countries. Pile in the midst of POVERTY.
There are two white-tiled underpasses linking factory to recreation grounds. In most urban areas today these would be all-too-depressing spaces. The playful work installed by Nathan Coley in one, Martin Boyce in the other, makes sure this is not the case here. Coley's photo-poster includes a text which suggests that the Rest House on the village green is to be demolished, and shows architects wearing models of their proposed alternatives as hats. The windowless, circular concrete structure is an obvious non-starter in this contest.
On the village green the Rest House is still there. It is the white-painted shack that was put up specially for the show by Jaqueline Donachieas a mark of respect for both a Quaker tradition and Gospel Evangelismthat's been demolished by vandals. Oh, wellthe concrete bunker can just as well take this building's place. If that's what the people really want.
The visitor can lean on the white-plastic L-shaped railing that Keith Wilson has installed, and mull over issues raised by the show. The responsibility that comes with wealth: how can resources be harnessed for the good of the community? From the railing Cornford and Cross's "Utopa" can't be seen, but can certainly be considered. The artists have restored a pond with fountains, the circulating water dyed the purple-blue of Cadbury's advertising. The fact that the dye is no longer in evidence may be a technical problem with the piece, but it seems somehow symbolic of an absence of skepticism that is in tune with the show as a whole.'
That seems to hang together, more or less. So now I can relax. I look one way, admiring the lush grass and the non-babbling stream. Then I drop under the railing and lean on it from the other side, looking towards the church. But I preferred it the other way around, so I swop back. A man walks towards me, and leans against the railing a yard or so away. He adopts my position: arms crossed, forearms leaning on the plastic, legs crossed so that the weight not being taken by his forearms is being supported by one leg. He asks if I'd like a bar of chocolate, and holds out his hand towards me. It's a Crunchie, so of course I take it. Chomp, chomp, chomp; flutter. The wrapper looks great on the grass, its silver and orange contrasting with the green. He offers me something else. It's a Flake, so of course I take it. Chomp (crumble), chomp (crumble), chomp (crumble); flutter. The wrapper looks, if anything, yellower on the grass than it did when it was in my hand, and I tell this to my cool new friend. George has got one more present for me, and I can see it sticking out of his pocket. But I'm an art critic for God's sakeI can't stand here all day, accepting chocolate bars from a stranger.
I could do with a break by the time I arrive at the centre of the exhibition. But Nigel Princethe other curator of the showis there to meet me, and so I listen to what he has to say. We end up walking around the gallery spaces. He saying something about each of the works, me dipping in and out of consciousness. He tells me about the Julian Opie work (God, I feel strange). He tells me about the Ian Hamilton-Finlay (Christ, I'm hungry for real food). He tells me about the Liam Gillick conference platform (Lordy, I'm tired). At some stage he mentions that he's read the articles I've written for the last two issues of contemporary visual arts. This is a clever thing for him to do, because my attention bucks up after that. Actually, he pitches his remarks at about the right level, and I find myself responding more constructively. But there's no way the work in the galleries is as affecting as the stuff located in the village itself.