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Review: Rachal Bradley’s Im Blackpool at Supercollider

Rachel Bradley

It is perhaps the overarching question hanging over all artists who undertake work in Blackpool. How can you possibly compete? The town itself – its lifeblood steeped in the carnival smoke and mirrors of the entertainment hall – is so boisterously vocal, so brazen, so intoxicatingly glittering – as to be approaching the status of work of art itself.

The clue is in the title with this exhibition. Bradley is a Sandgrownun (for the uninitiated this is someone who has grown up in Blackpool and whose parents did the same – literally sand grown ‘un). It is as if she is saying: “I am you Blackpool, all your revelry, façade and fantasy – I know it, I understand it, I am it. And this is my response, the fruit of my return.”

And what is the response? One of almost total blotting out of the context of the town itself. But such efforts to envelop oneself in the comfort blanket of the white cube are not so easy. A fragment is offered back in return – a distilled concentration of resonance, perhaps personal, perhaps not: Vainilla. An image of a somewhat tatty cardboard box lid, severed from the rest of the box, bears this word together with some other Portuguese product blurb. The text sits on top of faded pink stripes, on the cardboard, that are reminiscent of Daniel Buren.  The lid is reproduced for the purposes of the exhibition on three landscape A4ish size prints, each mounted on one of three walls within the Supercollider project space. Prior to its reincarnation as an artist-run gallery, the commercial unit on Cookson Street functioned as a topless hairdressing salon and it feels significant that for Im Blackpool, the last remnant from its previous existence, its purple ceiling, has been pointedly whited-out.

Vainilla. I wondered if this was a reference to sex, vanilla being a byword for conventional sexual activity. Perhaps the ‘vain’ is significant: is this a comment on the town? On the artist, or the artwork’s function of being looked at? Perhaps it is simply a reference to ice cream. I later discovered the project space had handily printed a list of other words which could be used to expand the possible derivation and resonance of ‘Vainilla’ (it included such enigmatic lexicology as: Default, Slight, Reduction, Precipice, Direct-to-Substrate…). The focus on text brought me back to the title and its axiomatic role in the exhibition. The leaflet-cum-invitation for Im Blackpool uses what I learnt was a replica typeface of the Gutenberg Press. The Gutenberg Press was the world’s first printing press and the machine credited by Walter Benjamin (and here I defer to the artist’s knowledge) as being responsible for the birth of subjectivity.

This exhibition was in many respects brutally unresolved – deliberately so. This is frequently a quality I admire, however I found the myriad of complex tensions to which Im Blackpool referred were too faintly articulated and something was lost in doing so. In the act of reduction, it was as though something important was now missing, or had been removed.

A gallery can be a portal to cosmic possibility and to individual enlightenment, formative to the growth of an individual’s mind and imagination. Sometimes it can be one of very few such portals.  Visiting this exhibition I found myself returning to the thoughts of French semiotician Roland Barthes; that the death of the author is the birth of the reader.

Rachal Bradley‘s Im Blackpool is on at Supercollider from 20 February to 8 March 2014.

Reclaim Blackpool - Mapping Sexual Harrasment
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