Overlooked by Kentucky Fried Chicken and situated half way between Matalan and Fabric Land, the John Hansard Gallery Central may have appeared an out of place arty interloper in the world of commerce, but their swansong, the fabulous ‘I am the Warrior’ exhibition was
a clear statement that Southampton city centre is not just all about shopping. The exhibition, the brainchild of artists Ben Sadler and Phil Duckworth (aka The Juneau Projects) was conceived as an open exhibition like nothing you’ve seen before. Unlike many ‘open’ exhibitions, there was no selection committee poring over submitted work from ‘up and coming’ artists. Ben and Phil simply put out the request for anything anyone had made and would like to show. Be it a sculpture made from plastic milk bottles, or a ‘wonderful chutney’, as long it was suitable for a family audience, ‘I am the Warrior’ was truly open to all-comers.
So, they built it and the people came. By the end of the exhibition the tiny John Hansard Gallery Central had become an Aladdin’s Cave of local artwork. Over 130 local artists, writers and performers had contributed in what had become arguably the biggest participatory art event seen in Southampton. From my point of view, an opportunity too good to miss.
As a founder member of City Eye (over 25 years ago – how time flies) I have been interested in finding ways to engage people in creation and reflection for many years. When someone makes something they ask themselves questions – about the medium they choose to work in, about what it is they want to spend their time making, about their abilities – which can lead to wider reflections on how they work with others and the social purpose of their activity. You only have to look to the social phenomenon that is YouTube to see that when people share their ideas, reflections and practice, this can have a huge impact on the creative life of others.
This interest has led to the development of my Art Southampton video sharing project. This is where I regularly trawl the web for videos about arts and heritage in Southampton, post them on the site and spread the word via Twitter. The idea behind this is not simply to provide a ‘showcase’ for arts and heritage in the city, but also to encourage artists and those who work in arts and heritage to make videos that reflect on what they do.
In the two years I’ve been running this project I’ve discovered that while Southampton musicians, and to some extent actors, have embraced video and often use it to talk about what they’re doing, other artists in the city have yet to use the medium effectively. So when I saw what was happening at the John Hansard Gallery Central I was very keen to speak with the artists who had taken part. The best opportunity for this was the last day of the exhibition, where artists returned to the gallery to collect their work.
So, on 29 April this year I hung around the gallery with my camera ready to pounce on unsuspecting artists. I would very much like to thank (in order of appearance) Sarah-Louise Tanner, Lindsi Bluemel, Ann McGillivray, Andy Fidler, Eleanor Thomas, Alys Scott-Hawkins, Paul McKeown and Les Gibbons for graciously submitting themselves to my questioning, and to the Skipped Junk Band and Walter van Rijn for allowing me to record their performances. I hope the video gives a flavour of what was, to quote Les Gibbons, ‘probably the best’ exhibition the gallery has run.
Oh – and what about that title – “I am the Warrior”? It originates from an eighties power ballad performed by Patty Smyth and Scandal that was Phil and Ben’s inspirational soundtrack as they prepared for the exhibition. As Phil Duckworth says:
“Sometimes when you’re making creative things you might feel slightly on your own doing it, but it is something of a heroic thing to be doing. To be giving time to making these things that don’t necessarily make you any money or you’re not doing as part of job, but are things that are valuable to you and are part of your personality or character.”
Thanks to Val Drayton and all the gallery team. For further information on the exhibition see the John Hansard Gallery website.