Roll Up, Roll Up for the Circus Themed Exhibition at the Grundy Art Gallery

It’s a grave taboo within circus circles to copy the design of another clown’s face. To claim their face as their intellectual property, clowns have historically had their personal pattern of make-up and hairstyle painted in miniature onto an egg. These were painstakingly archived in an informal clown-copyright library by the secretary of the International Circus Clowns Club.

These eggs are just one striking revelation of life behind the big top from the five exhibitions, united by the theme of circus, which make up the Grundy Gallery’s summer programme. The eggs themselves, completed with tufts of hair and tiny cardboard hats, are displayed primarily through huge close-up photographs in the candyfloss-pink first gallery. Presenting the eggs as large painted portraits – and omitting an actual photograph of the clown behind it – challenges the viewer to imagine for themselves the real-life performer etched onto the curves of calcium carbonate. Some of the original eggs, varnished, are displayed too.

This exhibit complements a contribution by Blackpool Museum Project at the back of the gallery, which shows historical footage from British Pathe of clowns preparing for their performances – including sitting for their egg-portraits. Visitors can also see giant clown shoes and other props. The ways that the exhibits interact with each other is a real strength of this programme.

Finnish artist Pilvi Takala’s work is not explicitly connected to the circus, but encompasses themes of disguise. In the video “Real Snow White”, we see the artist, dressed in a full Disney costume, barred entry from Disneyland. Children crowd her for autographs and pictures, while sceptical parents ask, “Is she the real one?”. A French security guard informs her in broken English that “adults have not the right to be disguised in the park”. It’s funny, but it also asks interesting questions about performance and authenticity.

Finally, the Rotunda gallery with its big-top style circular ceiling makes a fantastic setting for Claire Griffiths’ “Retired Performers” exhibition. Called “The Interval”, this show marks the halfway point of a year-long project in which the artist has interviewed and photographed some of Blackpool’s veteran entertainers. The informal, lively interviews are played through wireless headsets which can be worn whilst wandering around the space, which feels intimate and chatty. Part art, part history – this is a great summer show that celebrates a vibrant tradition in its historical heydey and contemporary incarnations.

The exhibition runs from till 8th September 2018


Claire Walmsey Griffiths Retired Performers Project


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