A Summer Solstice Evening in a Shopping Centre Basement
by Ian Cooke-Tapia
written one rainy morning on 25/6/2019
I walked down escalators that didn’t move, into a darkened basement with tall ceilings. A cave of mysteries, with tall concrete columns and a floor scarred from the plastic tiles that once made its floor. A former shop, a location that felt more like a blast site or a set for the Matrix, than a hub for experimentation and artistic growth.
Shift is a multi-disciplinary research and development space buried underneath the Capitol Shopping Centre in Cardiff’s City Centre. The last exhibition by their most recent crop of residents blew me away, in that most ethereal only great art seen in a dark room can do. And yet, if you pressed me for names I would only be able to answer with two names, both of them familiar to me outside of the exhibition. My not remembering any names says more about the experience of seeing art than the exhibition itself, which was delivered, I believe, understanding that it is the personal encounter with the artwork that truly matters. Information on the work small, printed on A4 cartridge paper, disposable, not as relevant. The grandeur of the cavern, dimmed so that only the illuminated works had any gravitas. I have to say that Shift is turning into something that Cardiff has been missing since the too-soon closure of The Abacus.
If I were to put one word to Shift as a space based on this one visit, I would use Ambitious. A prime City Centre location (perhaps a little too hidden from the general public, even in plain sight), bigger than some museums, and I wonder how much of an effect working in a space so spacious would have on an artists. It just feels like this basement wants to be filled, filled, filled! And so an artist working there might find themselves reaching for sizes previously impossible.
But I digress.
On that summer solstice evening, I saw grand displays of work, yes, big and imposing, but I also saw ambitious themes explored. Motherhood and the transposition of location from one place to the other (I think), material playfulness, gigantic pieces of gut-wrenching biological shapes and visual clutter in advertisement; from tactile womanhood, to a version of urban sketching I haven’t yet encountered, visceral in its portrayal of an artist’s practice, and even ziggurats in the sand. I do not have any photographs, and I do not have any names. In my impatience to be somewhere else I didn’t take the as much time to simply sit and enjoy the exhibition as I would’ve wanted.
I intended to come back next morning on Saturday, I really did, but the future doesn’t exist. I regret not going a second time. But this morning, it dawned on me that, sometimes, going to an exhibition isn’t done so much for the art, or the improbable feelings one might find therein, but because one simply wants “to go to an exhibition”. Like a checklist of things to do; like an achievement that must be unlocked and forgotten in a digital collection. So, perhaps it is for the best that I only went there once. The works felt like delicious cooking smells coming from a neighbour’s house as you’re just starting to hunger, and I had hoped to come back and sit in front of each piece with a notepad and document my feelings in situ.
By the time I got back to the surface, the experience had me feeling mellowed out and emotionally connected in a way I haven’t experienced in a long while. And it got gears moving in my head. Oh, did this exhibition engage my mind; intellectually and emotionally, through vision, touch, wonders, memories, and a little bit of jealously.
And, hey, if this is the sort of thing Shift is providing, I am more than happy to leave my pretence at art criticism in my bag, and simply exist and let the artist speak through a muted megaphone, through a tin-can-phone, and type on the inkless typewriter. I will get it, maybe. Or maybe I will completely miss the point the artist wanted to portray. Whatever the piece is saying, that’s between me and the artwork.
Communication idiosyncratic to great art found in the basement of a shopping centre, I guess.
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