Exhibitions Archive

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  • Tris Vonna-Michell
    'No more racing in circles — just pacing within lines of a rectangle'
  • 11 January to 20 March 2010

Tris Vonna-Michell
‘No more racing in circles — just pacing within lines of a rectangle’
11 January to 20 March 2010

Tris Vonna-Michell has recently risen to prominence for his photo-installations and story-telling actions, and it is fair to say that he is now regarded as one of the leading performance artists of his generation. Originally hailing from the greater Southend-on-Sea conurbation (Vonna-Michell was born in Rochford and brought up on the border of Westcliff-on-Sea and Leigh-on-Sea) much of the artist’s work refers to the social and political histories of Detroit, Berlin, Leipzig or the Cold War, yet also contain cognitive relapses back into his formative years in Essex. One could say that this new project in Southend questions the nature of periphery, margin and centre, and effectively maps important events in world history onto ideas of the personal within a local framework. Aside from this reflective sense of regionalism, ideas around travelogue, the recording of experience and memory, and its re-contextualisation in the gallery and library

in Southend as a context for articulation and archival processing, are all relevant to this project. Internal aspects to journeying, including machinery and communication tools such as international telephone cards, also become spatial and temporal parameters that relate to ideas around frontiers, while notions of personal history are re-worked and abstracted further away from the setting of Essex and formulated into new codes of materiality, time and space.

This exhibition is the artist’s first regional solo outing in the UK, and the result of a three-month residency period in Southend, which has been nurtured within the context of Focal Point Gallery and developed within the eastern region since 2008. The work it contains aims to extend Vonna-Michell’s set of narratives around the east coast (geographical connections abound between WG Sebald’s writing and the artist’s preoccupation with the political history of Germany, for instance), to become a rumination on the recent history of a town that’s currently undergoing a radical transformation through dramatic regeneration

plans. Through a mixed media installation that combines photography, film, sound, performance and concrete poetry, Vonna-Michell scrambles his memory of various local landmark sites. During a recent journey in the Vonna-Michell family’s old black 1983 Mercedes 230E, the artist took photographic images of these places, and the semi-derelict modern classic car – which had previously been lying dormant in a garden for five years – re-emerges as the vehicle for the artist’s research trip around his early days.

Leading on from this, Vonna-Michell’s adolescent travels to Japan also become relevant to this exhibition. With the artist leaving Southend-on-Sea to the Far East in 2008 to re-photograph the sites where he slept rough on park benches and in stairwells during a six-week period seven years earlier, he was reunited with Matt, an old workmate from the B&Q hardware store in Southend-on-Sea, who previously gave the artist a book on Apollinaire in 2001 before he left on this ill-fated trip. Matt, now resident in the country, translates, transcribes and performs a verbal

score and speech composition with his Japanese wife Kyoko in English and Japanese. This detached-yet-animated soundtrack – remembered sounds from Japan performed and documented as audio poems – entitled Wasteful Illuminations, runs alongside the artist’s archive of slides, and both sets of evidence are layered in an attempt to chronicle and displace the places he encountered and documented. Set alongside additional narrative voice effects, an edited selection of these sound fragments will be broadcast on Southend Central Library’s public address system at various points during each day of the exhibition.

The title of this exhibition ‘No more racing in circles — just pacing within lines of a rectangle’ relates to the nature of certain urban fixtures, and how these contextualise a new form of solitude, whether it be depicted through the fabric of homeless living or contemporary transient non-places. Within the gallery – which has been stripped of its false ceiling to reveal its original Brutalist concrete structure – we find a rectangular light fixture

situated above a large marble clock; this attempts to evoke an appropriated and accelerated urban environment and translate temporal and personal history, or the interior world of the artist, into the present; a comment on change, urban history, as well as the politics of local regeneration.

A book page has been produced on a Heidelberg GTO printing press by the artist especially for this project, while the text it contains forms chapter five of an ongoing narrative by Vonna-Michell. This printed material will be distributed to the gallery’s audience, while its narrative will also expand the installed works and inform a finissage performance that will take place between 7.00pm and 9.30pm on Monday 15 March 2010. The venue for this action is the home of the newly refurbished building that houses East 15 Acting School – a site that the artist visited as a child for martial arts lessons – at Clifftown Studios, Nelson Street, Southend-on-Sea SS1 1EF, UK. This event is free, however booking is essential. Please call 01702 534108.

In addition, a second section of

this exhibition is planned, and a fully illustrated publication designed by Manuel Raeder documenting the genesis of the project will be published in 2011.

For further information and images, please contact Laura Bowen, Focal Point Gallery Exhibition and Marketing Officer on 01702 534 108 / laurabowen@southend.gov.uk.

Tris Vonna-Michell ‘No more racing in circles — just pacing within lines of a rectangle’ is generously supported by Arts Council England, Southend Borough Council, Esmée Fairbairn Foundation, Metal Culture, University of Essex, and South East Essex College.