Sunday, 1 July 2018

Spike Island in the summer

Fountains and blown glass chandeliers at Spike Island, Bristol.

Zoë Paul, Land of the Lotus Eaters, 2018

It’s an uncomfortably humid day in Bristol when I set off for Spike Island, and as I heave myself across the harbour-front through throngs of clammy city-dwellers and tourists it’s hard not to dismiss the idea that this might be a day better suited to ice cream than contemporary art.

Nonetheless, Spike Island’s redbrick facade emerges from the haze, and its high warehouse-like ceilings always offer respite from the heavy air.

Zoë Paul, Sebil, 2018

Drawn by the sound of running water, I enter Zoë Paul’s exhibition (La Perma-Perla Kraal Emporium). The trickling is emanating from a gurning, multi-headed, ceramic fountain, which sits in the centre of the gallery space before an expansive beaded curtain.

The beads, raku-fired grey, terracotta and porcelain blue are assembled into figures, lounging, touching, pouting and perhaps arguing, and as the gallery light shines down across them, their outlines are echoed distinctly on the back wall.

Talking about an alternative to modernity’s constant drive for progress, the exhibition includes an immense banqueting table, and as visitors sit across from one another, leisurely, rolling clay beads, the same as those that make up the curtain, it feels that the work does bring people together; more a decorated courtyard of murals and fountains than a discrete exhibition.

The space is immensely refreshing; I would spend the rest of the day here, except I hear a distant wailing, and feel compelled to follow it. Drawn by a purple glow through a set of stripped wooden doors, which croak against piano wire as they open, into a blue-carpeted room, the wailing dies down to be replace by a plainsong, meditative and monk-like.

Alex Cecchetti, Singing Chandelier, 2018

Amongst the harmonies, which emanate from speakers placed about the room, there are short, spoken outbursts, “do you really want to awaken her?”

This is Alex Cecchetti’s installation Ceteceans. At the far end of the room a gallery attendant in a Patagonia t-shirt is standing, surrounded by a low-hanging chandelier that appears to be made from many lobster claws and parrot heads all constructed from blown glass.

Using a small mallet, the attendant is playing an instrument formed from miniature pipes, which hangs at the centre of the chandelier. It produces a sonorous metallic tone that resonates throughout the space and melds into the surrounding audio installation.

Visitors are spread on the floor leaned-up on scatter cushions, either taking in the scene or slowly drifting off to sleep.

The sound changes again, losing its melody, becoming instead a series of chattering voices, whispering, giggling, burbling, sighing and moaning, the playful, polyphonic vocalisations come as a contrast to the religious solemnity, but in the radiating, purple light, propped-up on the blue basin of carpet, these sounds too are dreamlike.

Alex Cecchetti, Singing line, 2018

In the spaces surrounding the installation are more of Cecchetti’s works, including a gravity-denying wave of fabric and copper, and a cabinet of loosely rendered erotic drawings, which as I pass them, are sometimes baring all, and sometimes hidden behind closed doors.

The show is poetic and playful and like Zoë Paul’s, transforms the gallery space into something more subtle and elusive, and which is ultimately far richer.

As I leave Spike Island, the clouds are rolling in, and a thunderstorm is on the way, sure to clear the air.

Travis Riley

Alex Cecchetti, Erotic Cabinet, 2016-17

Zoë Paul, La Perma-Perla Kraal Emporium, and
Alex Cecchetti, At the Gates of the Music Palace

5 May - 8 July 2018
Spike Island, 133 Cumberland Road, Bristol, BS1 6UX

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