Stroud Museum in the Park prompted another visit this week with an incredible exhibition of Rodney Peppé’s handmade toys. I knew of Rodney Peppé’s history as the creator of Huxley Pig and Angelmouse and the author and illustrator of over 80 children’s books, but I was unaware of his role as a craftsman and his books on building toys and automata. Whilst I was initially unsure of whether I would enjoy this as much as previous exhibitions which related more directly to my practice, I was pleased to discover the colourful world of wooden mechanical toys, children’s illustrations and intricately converted mouse mobiles was both intriguing and beautiful. The exhibition provoked childhood memories and imagination, and the works touched on humour, fairytales, nursery rhymes and magic. As always with the Museum in the Park, a children’s workshop runs alongside the exhibition, which continues until 13th November, to help you make your very own mechanical toys.
Past exhibitions at Stroud Museum in the Park have never failed to spark my interest, and last months showing of the work of Kate Plumtree is no different. Inspired by British wildlife, the collection of 17 costumes also illustrated the evolution of period dress and offered a contemporary exploration into the history of fashion. The costumes were designed considering the movement, character, habitat and style of each animal, and included many birds and mammals which inhabited the surrounding park grounds.
Perhaps too predictably, my favourite was, of course, the fox. I think it was the colour: the orange-y-red practically made my mouth water. And the textures too, layers and layers of flowing thick cotton and linen and silk. But whilst I do find Victorian style quite beautiful, I was unsure of why it was decided that the Fox should be depicted by this era. With the badger, for example, with its strong black and white stripes reminiscent of Tudor architecture, there seemed no doubt that any other style could have sufficed. But aesthetically there seemed tentative links between the fox and the Victorian style, other than the stronger fabric dyes available for the upper classes which enabled such colours to be worn, so perhaps it was a social-political link regarding traditions of fox hunting or the adaption of foxes in city areas? Regardless, the result was something quite beautiful, for all the outfits exhibited. In the studio next to the exhibition families are given the chance to create their own animal-based masks with the workshop which runs alongside Kate Plumtree’s work.
Over the years I have often ogled over the exhibitions and workshops advertised in Prema’s four-monthly timetable, which somehow lingers around the kitchen table long after it is out of date. But the small art space in Uley seemed so out of the way and the workshops always seemed to conflict with either my finances or with my other commitments, and so I was never able to experience as much as I had wanted.
I heard about Tamany Baker’s exhibition in the newsletter several months ago and made a note to myself to visit. Living with Wolfie seemed such an exciting project, transforming the ‘gifts’ from her cat Wolfie into shrines which are reminiscent of the ways in which Victorians decorate photographs of loved ones with locks of hair or seasonal flowers. Encased in identical bronze painted frames and grouped in threes and fours along the corridors and seating area, the photographs provided a trail throughout the exhibition as if stalking a path of destruction. This collaboration between artist and feline results in some stunning imagery, featuring macabre corpses arranged and photographed with such delicate attention that they are transformed from something squeamish to something astonishingly beautiful.
During my visit I was also able to see the oversized paintings of Colossal Cats by Angela Lizon, a series of incredibly intense images based transforming posters of kitsch kittens into something substantial. The result is something not unlike unease. The humour of pedigree cats dressed in little wigs or headdresses lost, creating something quite disturbing and, perhaps overall, bizarre.
When I discovered Taurus Crafts was the temporary home of a luminarium this week I couldn’t help but approach apprehensively. Whilst filled with an ecstatic desire to lose myself in the wonder of a colourful inflatable structure, I was wary of safety following an incident several years ago where a similar structure wasn’t tied down properly and took to the skies causing several deaths and serious injuries. Logically, I knew this tragic event would have prompted a health and safety overhaul and now it would in fact be safer than ever, but I nevertheless armed myself with a pen knife and a compass in case the worst happened. And sure enough I was reassured once inside when I realised there appeared to be zips forming emergency exists every five metres or so, leaving me free to enjoy the experience.
In any case, the atmosphere inside this womblike structure is so comforting that any concerns were transformed into awe, the outside world forgotten and discarded as a dull, desaturated land. I was lucky enough to come at a time so I could enjoy the Luminarium in its mostly empty state, loosing myself in swaying corridors before larger crowds of bustling people joined. Barefoot, they wandered around like children, seemingly lost in a haze of colour, eyes wide and mouth agape with dreamy smiles.
Contexture is a coming together of various arts practitioners from different fields. The event was initially created to run parallel to the Dartington performance festival, with a focus on the work of contemporary fine art and writing students, but this year Contexture acts as a platform for interdisciplinary collaborations from both campuses, showcasing installations, video, performance, photography and sound works. The word ‘contexture’ refers to interweaving, and this is exactly how the Contexture exhibition works; interdisciplinary collaborations have been central to the event during its time at Dartington College of Arts, and continue with its first launch at University College Falmouth. Meanwhile the communal cafe space serving tea, coffee and cakes offers a relaxing place to digest and discuss the exhibition and the arts and experience readings, screenings, talks, performances and workshops.
Whilst Critical Arts Practices (CAP) work of Stage Three students forms the vast majority of work at Contexture, previous works and the work of Stage Two students are also given the chance to be re-installed/ performed.
Emma Louise Bass and Georg Klüver-Pfandtner