Ah, Blackpool; it’s a wonderland for visitors, with glitz and excitement at every turn. Unless they travel any further than King Street or Central Drive that is. But by and large the visitor experience of Blackpool is one of neon lights, alcoholic excess and cheap tat.
Cheap tat. That is a term that could be taken as negative, but not so. Since Blackpool began the market for cheap postcards, kiss me quick hats and such like, these have been one of the unalloyed joys of the town. From the inside we may wonder what is so attractive about a pair of rubber breasts or a tartan hat with ginger hair sticking out that it becomes a must-have item, but thousands of such gaudy gee-gaws are sold every week.
Tourist Information Centre is the first of a number of installation gallery shows at different venues in the town. The show takes the gaudy nick-knacks, removes them from the seafront stall and places them within an arts context. This allows us to see the tat in a new light, to experience the town with an eye to the culturally cheap yet vital objects that represent us to the masses who trawl their way to England’s playground every year in search of fun and frolics.
The Cookson Street gallery is transformed with shelves that carry a number of the iconic suitcase-stuffing ephemera that one can buy in the town. Severed rubber hands sit next to nasty looking towers while videos that show a little of the ‘other’ side of Blackpool play in the background. The films show pink cowboy hatted girls on drunken hen nights at play with shaven headed lads with pastel coloured shirts that make them look like a packet of Opal Fruits on a rampage. The fun and glamour is reduced to almost tribal aggression and cold faced apathy. They might want to be having the time of their lives but there seems to be a pall of desperation over the proceedings that speaks of the Blackpool that no amount of cute kids on the comedy carpet adverts could ever sell.
It’s a very strong show, visually full of impact and conceptually tied to all who live in the town. The opening night was as ever full of the usual chatter and discussions that make a Supercollider evening the highlight of the arts calendar for the month. After the show finished we all wandered off to a local cocktail bar where the neon glitz and cheap glamour is shoved into your face with unashamed abandon. As we sat drinking our ludicrously sexually named cocktails with more vegetation than Stanley Park sticking out of the top, it was hard not to feel the relevance of Tourist Information Centre’s skewed vision of Blackpool at work.
Tourist Information Centre is open now at the Cookson Street Gallery space and will be opening in a number of Blackpool locations over the autumn and winter.
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