Sunday, 24 November 2013

'Convergence and Space' at the Brunel Goods Shed

I enjoyed this exhibition so much that I went twice, as did my wife. My Bristol and Singaporean relatives were also enthralled on their visit. Everything about it all seemed so perfect: the exhibits and the space seemed made for each other. Brunel’s goods shed (incidentally, Isambard Kingdom Brunel was one of the first steam engine numbers I ever underlined in my train spotter’s book) was built in 1845, when the Great Western Railway’s 7 feet and a quarter inch broad gauge met the more ubiquitous 4 feet 8 and a half inch gauge at Gloucester: this historic and numinous presence of convergence and space echoed fittingly in the atmospheric half light of the goods shed on the cold Sunday afternoon when we visited. As the Paris Situationists almost said: ‘Underneath the concrete, the 1892 week-end tearing up of the broad gauge track.’ 
Such a palimpsest and such an exhibition also suggested part of the motto of the old GWR: ‘Virtute et Industria’. We saw how an empathetic industrial archaeological sensitivity and a playful artistic perspicuity enabled rusting metal to be converted from singular utility to multiple ambiguity. Thus, the serpentine line of chain link stretched across the floor evoked, for me, that iconic image of Isambard Kingdom Brunel standing by the chains of the Great Eastern steam ship; others in our party were more preoccupied by the interplay of shape and shadow and light and the philosophical relationship between substance, presence and evanescence.
The exhibit ‘Lightness and Gravity’ similarly worked in both a literal and metaphorical sense: some of our party saw an orrery and planetary associations of Jupiter and the Moon; some saw Power and Strength; some J Arthur Rank; some ‘The King and I’; some Alignment and Connection; some the tyranny of the factory hooter and the Clock. The great thing about all this is that the deliberate omission of explanatory text for the sculptures creates a welter of definition and discussion.
So thank you very much sculptors Paul Grellier and Ann-Margreth Bohl for this marvellous exhibition. Mathematicians develop equations for time space convergence and I wouldn't stand a snowball's chance of understanding a thing about any of that. But your divergent sculptural and artistic sensibilities allowed our group to chat about our divergent thoughts, definitions and justifications in cheerful and unabashed colloquy. 
We left, in consequence, the richer, the wiser and the happier. (Although I have never written pseudier.)

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