Lunar Lullabies, David Lock and Concrete Dreams Three Shows To See At Firstsite

Lunar Lullabies SATURDAY 08 JUNE - SUNDAY 06 OCTOBER 2024

‘Lunar Lullabies’ is an exemplary exhibition that showcases inspiration, design, community engagement, and accessibility. It uses the opportunity of a locally significant anniversary to fashion an exhibition of wider interest and significance while also involving a broad demographic such as exhibitors, participants, and visitors. The involvement of children, especially those coping with a degree of deprivation, is impressive and informs every aspect of this exhibition. Firstsite makes the claim that community is at the heart of all they do, and Lunar Lullabies would seem to bear that out.

The exhibition project began through feedback from those attending the Holiday Fun Programme, which provides free meals and art activities to those experiencing economic challenges. It features toys, video games, and science fiction in response to requests from local people. Art engagement activities have encouraged young people to explore science, and displays are shown at different heights to support the wide needs of their audiences. Members of the Firstsite Youth Programme and Holiday Fun families have made their own work, producing collaborative artworks with commissioned artists.

Commemorating the 200th anniversary of the death of local writer Jane Taylor provides an opportunity not only to trace the artistic journey of Taylor’s most well-known work, the nursery rhyme ‘Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star’ including its influence on contemporary media through comics, video games, and pop culture hits like Will Smith’s ‘I’m Not a Star’ and Nicki Minaj’s ‘Starships’, but also to transform the gallery into an immersive playscape of imagination and discovery, featuring interactive space objects, immersive extraterrestrial landscapes, and robot sculptures.

‘Lunar Lullabies’ shows how science, art and imagination have intertwined over the centuries to shape culture and our collective fascination with distant galaxies. Matthew Turner – whose drawing of Ellen Ochoa, the first Hispanic woman to travel into space, is included in the exhibition – has written of his excitement when first seeing a rocket: ‘Standing there excited, in awe, overwhelmed by power, scale and raw materials, I felt small.’ It is this sense of awe and wonder that the exhibition principally communicates, feelings also clearly generated by Turner’s ‘Saturn V 1’ and ‘Vostock I’.

Turner is one of several artists included here who are members of the International Association of Astronomical Artists (IAAA) the world’s only guild of artists dedicated to creating images of space. Essex-based IAAA artist Jackie Burns aims to inspire people with the awe and beauty of space and astronomy. She led some of the workshops to develop the exhibition and has just become President of the IAAA. Her depiction of one of the most iconic spaceships in human history ‘Saturn V, Apollo 11, on Crawler to Launchpad 39A’ consists of different-sized circles of various colours that slowly reveal the image the longer you look. The art of Simon Cattlin, another IAAA artist, explores the colours, shades and hues of solar systems, galaxies, nebulas, star systems and exoplanets.

The work of the Colchester-based illustrator Peter Elson takes us into the realm of science fiction. He spent his career bridging childhood wonder of space with explorations of the future. Decades of science fiction paperbacks from the 20th century have his illustrations on the cover, featuring planets, spaceships and star systems. He has been widely credited for providing the visual aesthetic to early video game productions in the 1990s.

We stay in the realm of science fiction with Larry Achiampong’s ‘The Relic Travellers’ Alliance: Assembly 1’. Achiampong’s Relic Travellers come from a future where Western countries are in decline and the Pan-African Union has entered a period of prosperity, harmony, and independence. In this positive period, Achiampong envisages initiatives to build a future where justice can be achieved through healing and, in one such initiative, The Relic Travellers’ Alliance, Relic Travellers are dispatched on missions around the world to respectfully listen to and collect the oral histories of people from the past, especially those in the African diaspora who have been exploited and oppressed by political systems such as colonization, capitalism, and globalization. ‘The Relic Travellers’ Alliance: Assembly 1’ is on just such a mission.

Grayson Perry created 12 ‘Alien Babies’ while filming his Channel 4 series ‘Rites of Passage’ in 2018. When visiting the maternity ward at Broomfield Hospital in Essex he likened it to a spaceship ‘drifting through inner space’ on its way to the time when the babies should come. The experience inspired his ceramic babies that ‘represent the spirit of all the little lives brought into the earth by the nursing team’. Mark Garlick, by contrast, creates fantastical futuristic spaceship animations which, in the case of ‘O’Neill Colony Comp YT’ and ‘O’Neill Colony Interior – V3’, are visualisations of human colonies in space.

With Clifton Wright’s ‘Outer Space Portraits’, the artist plays with the meaning of space, referencing science fiction, astronomy and ancient iconography while simultaneously testing the limits of pictorial space.

Several artists whose practices have developed at Firstsite are also featured. These include a futuristic Colchester landscape by local artist and Level Best alumni Henry Linstead, as well as work by the artist known as ‘S’ whose room installation featuring over 1000 models immerses visitors into a world of dinosaurs and creatures whose fate was changed by an asteroid from space.

Firstsite Director Sally Shaw says, ‘Lunar Lullabies shows the true power of art and creativity—charting the journey from Jane Taylor’s imagination in 1806 to the realities of scientific exploration today.’ Thus, the exhibition explores our need for discovery, from the dreaming and wonderings of poets to the reality of scientific endeavour.

David Lock Firstsite Installation View
David Lock Firstsite Installation View

Alongside ‘Lunar Lullabies’ are two other exhibitions ‘David Lock: In-between Us’ and ‘Concrete Dreams: Just Can’t Get Enough’ which are also well worth viewing. Cutting photographs from fashion magazines, London-based artist David Lock creates collages upon which to base paintings that examine identity and masculinities, challenging social constructs and stereotypes by weaving connections between the past and present.

Concrete Dreams: Just Can’t Get Enough
Concrete Dreams: Just Can’t Get Enough

‘Concrete Dreams: Just Can’t Get Enough’ brings together East Anglian artists who have reflected on the influence of the Britain’s post-war new town movement on cultural identity, and the impact of policy decisions on individual lives. The paintings, photography, poetry and drawings included take us on a unique journey through stories around place and memory, migration, and belonging, to reveal the complexities of our relationships to class and housing planning.

Words: Revd Jonathan Evens © Artlyst 2024

‘Lunar Lullabies’, Saturday 08 June – Sunday 06 October 2024

‘David Lock: In-between Us’, Saturday 23 March – Sunday 23 June 2024 (LAST WEEK)

‘Concrete Dreams: Just Can’t Get Enough’, Saturday 20 April – Sunday 10 November 2024

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