“Kindness”,“the ability to change” and “my beard” are written in large chalk lettering; a man has glitter make-up lovingly applied to his face; on the other side of the room a pair of pink, nippled bean bags invite you to “get comfy and consider how you view breasts”. Over the weekend of the 9th and 10th of February, the “What Are You Looking At?” exhibition at the Sidney Cooper Gallery in Canterbury invited members of the public to love themselves, build perfection, dress up and distort their body image through play as work by young artists from Astor College for the Arts, Dover, presented a fascinating exploration of exploitation, marginalisation and social class.
The exhibition officially launched phase 2 of Canterbury Christ Church University’s contribution to the Tate Exchange project with a provocative and thoroughly enjoyable weekend of live art. The theme for this year’s Tate Exchange is “production” and the project has developed around the themes of otherness and abjection. The young artists, FE students from Astor College, have put together a show with six pieces which confronted visitors to the gallery with questions of how we view ourselves and how others view us. Autonomous spaces were created to explore if make-up culture is an oppressive ideology. One young artist created a provocative piece where visitors are invited to make themselves comfortable on large beanbags shaped like breasts and debate the commodification of women’s bodies. A particularly arresting piece confronted visitors with a life-size image of themselves and challenged them to ‘spot one fault and many positives’, which were then literally chalked up on the surrounding walls.
The show was a great success, bringing in a range of visitors including members of the public, academics and students from the Canterbury Universities, and even a visit from the Rhondda valley in Wales. The response from the public was positive and helped in the development of the pieces. The project has been developed by Christ Church Director of Politics and International Relations Dr David Bates; Live Artist Kelly Green; Dr Licia Cianetti, Royal Holloway, and the young people of Astor College, Dover, led by June Bates. The project develops work from Canterbury Christ Church University’s Activism ResearchNetwork.
The show will move up to the Tate Modern in London in May and will be joined by contributions from partner groups People United (Kent), University of Kent and Valleys Kids (Rhondda Valley). Building on last year’s show Fairground, which attracted over 4,500 visitors at the Tate Modern, the work produced for the Sidney Cooper will continue to evolve with more hard work from the young people at Astor and creative assistance from Kelly and June.
Reflecting on the success of the weekend live artist Kelly said: ‘I had a fantastic weekend at the Sidney Cooper Gallery for our exhibition “What Are You Looking At?”. The artists from Astor College have worked incredibly hard to create their thought-provoking and challenging pieces commenting on gender and class. I couldn’t be prouder of them and our team.’