I was expecting tea and cake; I wasn't expecting 900 elves, all gathering in the town centre in an attempt to beat the world record for the most elves in one place. Fighting my way through the throng of small green and red hats I found the Town Hall's Minerva Cafe locked and bolted. A coroner's inquest was taking place in the Town Hall which meant the facilities had to be closed for the duration. That was a bit of a nuisance as the installation I'd come to see was inside. It was cold, I was hungry and no number of elves could make me feel festive....
Empty out Time, copyright Wendy Cottam 2013
Artist Wendy Cottam's first solo exhibition, Empty Out Time has been inspired by her life and family history which is inextricably tied to the town and the river. The installation combines photgraphs, water and light to create an environment in which images of the town are filtered, distorted and re-imagined to present a whole new and evocative version of Gravesend. The installation works by projecting slides of photographs, which Wendy has taken, through sheets of falling water. In the dark, the light creates a dynamic three dimensional scultpure, ever changing in shape and scale. The images themselves are seen beyond the water, deteriorated by it so that they are unclear and only suggest a narrative rather than shout one. It is an exciting piece of work and as an artist just starting out, Cottam demonstrates a strong ability to take the prosaic and create something magical.
However, I only know this because I've seen it working in her studio. How was I going to experience it from outside the closed cafe? Fortunately a very lovely man on the fruit and veg stall pointed out another very lovely man with some keys who unlocked and showed me in. Although I couldn't indulge in any of the cake, I could see the installation in place. The machinery which engines this piece is industriual in design, mixing plastics, copper and wiring. Even without the water running it is an intriguing sculpture. Obviously not working (and apparently it hasn't been running for much of the time which is one of the problems of putting a water feature in a first floor, wooden panelled room I guess) there are still a number of prints on display which are taken from the the projected images. These are very beautiful, espcially "Woven Industries" and "The Water Tower". For me, Empty Out Time suggests a dark, fairy tale version of Gravesend but I also think it fulfils an improtant role of art which is to ask questions rather than dictate answers. This asks, 'What is this town? How do we see it?" and that is always an important thing to ask about the places where we live.
There is so much going on in this exhibtion, so many different elements to it, that I feel there are years worth of work to be developed and drawn out by the artist. Although the cafe is a beaufitul room it would be good to see the piece exhibited somewhere more suitable, with more space and appropriate lighting. However, if you get a chance to see it before it closes this Friday (29th November), don't miss it.
(And yes, in case you didn't know, the elves did beat the world record.)
Wendy Cottam's website www.indigoeyes.me