It’s almost here again! The ever popular Pride returns to Blackpool to blaze a brightly coloured trail across the town. There are many events attached to one of the country’s largest LGBT festivals but the first one that altBlackpool attended is We’re Here; the Blackpool Pride art and archive exhibition in association with Leftcoast.

Using the newly refurbished Derham Lounge at the Winter Gardens, (is there any room in the Winter Gardens that isn’t being lovingly buffed back to its former glory?) We’re Here features a body of work from three artists from the LGBT community and a selection of vintage camp or related Blackpool posters, illumination designs and objects. There is also a community-based video project as well as various audio and video elements.  It’s a full room, which could have been an issue as the Derham Lounge is a BIG room; work could easily been lost in it. It’s a testament to the curator that some of the programmed art works are big, both visually and content-wise.

The Derham Lounge looks great.  Having been there to see its many guises over the years; Apple Annie’s bar, Champs bar and the recent collectors’ market, it’s a pleasant shock to see it in its current stage – ornate with its high ceiling and gold plaster. It is a perfect setting for the show.

The three artists are varied in their works which is a nice contrasting experience. Gigantic chalkboards sit with tender photographs and video works which almost defy description.

The artists involved are as follows:

Paul Harfleet

Paul’s work as the creator of the Pansy Project is a sensitive visual record of sites of homophobic abuse. At sites where someone has encountered violence, either physical or verbal abuse, Paul plants a pansy flower.  This marker has a resonance that both turns the spot into a mini testament to the event of violence and bigotry while raising the awareness of these actions. The work is recorded in lovingly photographed pictures that capture both the flower and the surrounding architecture. It’s a subtle and haunting record of an ugly and, sadly, ever-present aspect of society.

Jez Dolan

Manchester-based Jez Dolan’s work in the show explores and aims to create a structure for the primarily homosexual argot of Polari. A massive flow chart shows the origins of the ‘slanguage’ that found its most famous usage in the classic radio show Round The Horne. People of a certain age will fondly remember Julian and Sandy and their smut-laden sketches brought to life by Kenneth Williams and co. A huge chalkboard of Polari dominates the room and I was happy to see my beloved Morrissey represented through the lyrics of his cheeky romping song Piccadilly Polari. For me this work was ‘bona’…

Harry Clayton-Wright

Ah Harry, this was always going to be the hardest part of the review to write. Harry is a lovely chap but trying to define his work is like trying to herd cats; in theory fine but as soon as you begin, it all goes off in different directions. Performance artist, drag and fancy dress, avant-garde musical cabaret or just singing in the bath, the two video pieces are best seen for you to grasp what it is that Harry does, but you are guaranteed to never see crazy golf in the same light again. The table they are set on will increase in camp and odd objects over the show’s run so it will be even more of a spectacle as the days pass. One word to sum it up: fabulous.blackpool pride 2014

The work at the rear of the space is a series of films that explore the LGBT side of Blackpool and have a resonant personal touch. You should put a little time aside to watch and read the many statements on show and step into a side of Blackpool that is often touching and heartwarming and not just screaming camp and Eurobeat.

The personal aspect of LGBT is the overriding theme of the show for me. From the memorabilia on display to the films and photos, a sense of community is drawn but all with a voice that stems from individual experiences. It’s a happy show that references but doesn’t focus directly on the darker aspects of being LGBT in the resort. Artist/curator, and one third of Venn Projects, Garth Gratrix is at the helm of the show and he has found a nice balance between purely social archival work and the wider aspects of the LGBT community within the town. It would have been easy to have gone too far in the camp and glamour direction, but the exhibition is a very definite art show and not an exhibition of LGBT history; a tricky line to walk but one done well I feel.

Just a suggestion though for future shows, fruit in the sparkly wine does not count as nibbles, so perhaps invest in a jumbo bag of Twiglets.  A small niggle but I do like my free food. With Pride looming and The Pet Shop Boys among other festival events at the Winter Gardens, the show is pretty much guaranteed to find a large audience, which will not be disappointed.

We’re Here runs 12 to 17 June in the Derham Lounge at the Winter Gardens.  The Blackpool Pride Parade takes place this Satrday, 14 June.  It starts at 11am at Central Pier and finishes up at 12pm at the Winter Gardens.  Wear something colourful and turn up to enjoy the celebration of all things LGBT.

Reclaim Blackpool - Mapping Sexual Harrasment
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