‘Power is not an institution, and not a structure; neither is it a certain strength we are endowed with; it is the name that one attributes to a complex strategical situation in a particular society.’
– Michael Foucalt
I visited Chris Steele Perkins: ‘England, My England’ at the gallery in Aberystwyth Arts Centre. It is a photographical collection that he has compiled over four decades. The photographs outline how England has changed in his eyes, but not through major technological developments or significant points in history, but through the under-privileged; who they are and why and how the make England who it is.
The photographs were chosen by the curator, because they record the small changes in community rather than large societal changes. They address minorities, but from an impartial view. For example, a black youth club in Wolverhampton (1978), an elderly couple at home (1975) to a party girl in the 1990’s and a girl with cerebral palsy in 2009. Things like this are similar to a personal memory bank; nationally you might remember the ‘teddy boys’ but personally you remember seeing a boy too young to be one yet. Society remembers the old summer fêtes, but you remember the man climbing to the top of a lamppost dress in a bald wig and geeky glasses.
The exhibition reflects on how some things in a community that were once accepted are now rejected, whereas some things remain a part of life – despite perhaps being unhealthy. The children doing PE in their underwear in 1976 is acceptable then because they were poor and could not afford uniforms, but now this would be unacceptable and seen as an outcry whereas the old lady struggling to heat her home on a coal fire in 1975, which really is an outcry and rather inhumane seems to still exist today – the rising cost of heating bills and no rises in pensions. The ‘adults only’ sex show at a fair in the 1980’s would not happen today, yet the party girl in the 1990’s stumbling around drunk still occurs today and it arguable which is the most harmful.
Despite these, there are images that show England for who is it; the crowd celebrating the Queen’s Jubilee, a scene on the beach of a typical British holiday, a family portrait; mum and three girls, one of which looks rather cheeky!; an English picnic, a farmer in a field, a handful of men in a stand supporting their local team. So many things that show England for what it is; a place of community and spirit, support and love. Chris Steele Perkins felt that it was these memories that should be captured; these are the types of memories that are precious to people.
In regards to the gallery itself, I feel quite at ease there. Since I worked in the Arts Centre, I feel comfortable in there. The gallery is there for everyone, so it is there for me, but I would not say it reflects me. The Arts Centre does, but not the gallery; galleries have never really been something I was interested in or particularly valued. However I would say that I value the gallery at the Arts Centre, since it is part of the building and is for everyone. All types of people go there and due to it being right next to the theatre hall, patrons visit the exhibitions in the intervals of shows.
A gallery has a position of authority to display whatever exhibitions it chooses by whichever artists they want. However, they can be limited by how experimental a collection is, or if it may be by a controversial curator. Often galleries do not allow for up-and-coming artists as they need a well-known name to attract visitors. If I were to create my own collection, I would be able to use new techniques/equipment that a gallery may not risk investing in, and I could be as experimental as I wished. I could also make my collection a digital one for display online which would allow people all over the world from different walks of life to access it without any great effort. It would also allow for online sharing; probably through social networks and blogs; but I would be unable to charge unlike a gallery had the authority to.