Saturday 01 October 2016 – Sunday 01 October 2017
Image: Walk Hands Eyes (Plymouth), Myriam Lefkowitz, 2016. Courtesy Situations, photo Paul Blakemore.
For the uninitiated, the first day of the Plymouth Art Weekender was a quiet Friday morning, with Plymouth’s populace largely unaware that a citywide arts event was unfolding before their eyes. You would have been forgiven for thinking this until you took a closer look at the city. Projects like Reactor’s ‘The Golden Ones’ were slowly being erected in the centre of town and the Weekender began to slowly gather speed.
This Weekender consisted of over 90 events with contributions by over 500 artists. By the time the ‘Launch of Plymouth’s New Public Art and Visual Art Plans’ had finished, the optimism and momentum of Plymouth’s art scene seemed palpable. News had broken that Plymouth would be receiving a sizeable amount of funding for the arts and this created a buzz in the air. There was excitement for the future of the Plymouth arts scene, one led by a small but determined group of individuals.
I wandered around the streets, knowing the city but in no great detail. Small pop-up exhibitions had sprung up in unusual places, transforming a walk past abandoned shop fronts into a treasure hunt for culture. Where there were once cardboard covered windows, there were now intriguing installations and galleries that were being subconsciously absorbed by the minds of the Plymouth residents. The Weekender had a ‘blink and you’ll miss it’ feel. I found myself clutching my pink Weekender map and stumbling around the residential streets behind the train station in search of a charity shop that boasted a window display I liked the sound of. These hidden events filled the nooks and crannies of the city. Projects like ‘Innercity 16’ took the idea further, wanting passersby to catch glimpses, shapes and impressions of the obscured and disjointed exhibition on their daily commutes – this was art taken out of the gallery and put on the street for everyone to see. It’s these events that made the Weekender special to Plymouth and its unique cityscape.
Walking too fast past some events meant you missed them, forcing an engagement with the city that most would be unaccustomed to. I soon learnt to follow the garish pink posters and signposts that beckoned interested parties into events. On one excursion out of the city towards the Royal William Shipyard, I found myself exploring the living room of some participants whose exhibition ‘Uncanny World of Interiors’ felt like an outpost in the wilderness, serving up some much needed art for travellers braving the walk.
My sporadic approach instilled the day with a distinct lack of mood. I felt isolated and alone, far from the collective spirit that had formed at the launch event. I couldn’t help but think that the citizens of Plymouth moved in different circles to that of the Weekender attendees. I began to wonder: who exactly will these events and exhibitions attract? As the days went on I noticed small pockets of groups, some the general public but most local art enthusiasts who I had seen a fair amount of already. This presented a serious problem in my mind as to the function of the Weekender. Is it bridging the gap between the art community and the larger community of Plymouth?
Rambling across the Hoe and down the cobbled streets of the Barbican, I bumped into a painter capturing the early morning street life. The Barbican area hosted artists that the public could interact with, have a conversation with and learn from, something that didn’t seem to translate to the city centre.
Over the weekend various events struck me as special, with ‘Walk, Hands, Eyes’ making a particular impression on many of the attendees. In gatherings we talked about our experiences as we were singularly led round the city, assisted yet blinded. It was a show that forced the practitioners and audience to go out on to the streets of the city rather than being confined into a theatre space. After my experience, I had a chance to sit down with the creator Myriam Lefkowitz and we talked about taking art out of designated spaces. “There is an interest in taking it from the theatre... For me it’s playing with the idea that everything is already there. Maybe there is no need to add theatre on theatre that is already there. You slide into a state that you think that everything is made on purpose...It’s like a big symphony. The city is really big, it’s not me inventing it.”
The galleries and traditional art spaces were filled with impressive work from international artists and collections, yet to me this art felt unobtainable. These events felt distant compared to the art that I had seen across the city and people I had been able to interact with across the Barbican area.
The Weekender afforded me the opportunity to explore streets and areas of a city I know but I wouldn't think to visit or explore. Divisions between spaces dissolved, with the Weekender taking away the barriers which stifle the relationship between the art world and a community. It broke the regular routine that one follows when visiting Plymouth, showing me new spaces where art could be cultivated and new ways in which to do so. My biggest hope is that it was able to do so for others outside of the artistic community as well.
Working towards a South West where talented artists thrive, and a resilient and connected visual arts ecology that inspires more engaged and diverse audiences to value and advocate for its work.
Part of the Contemporary Visual Arts Network