Words and images : Olivia Wedderburn
First year students embarked on a trip to Blackpool last week to explore the seaside town off-season. Separated into three groups, ‘Appropriation and Ruins’, ‘Time as Memory’ and ‘Chance and The Everyday’, students were required to explore the town in search of an image that best expressed their chosen theme, with the backdrop of the slightly grey, miserable, garish piers.
In order to ease them into some ideas for the day’s activities, they began by viewing Dance Swine Dance by Matt Stokes at the Grundy Art Gallery, which explored musical subcultures in the north of England. Examining themes of Northern Soul, Acid House and Punk Rock, the exhibition captured through photography, film and ephemera the spirit of these subcultures, and gallery assistant Tom, explained the basis of Stokes work and the processes behind his research.
Afterwards, students were given time to find images of the town that they felt captured their themes. Blackpool off-season feels a little bleak, vast light displays no longer gleaming, reduced to a mere flicker, buildings missing lettering and desperately in need of a paint job, shops boarded up due to the lack of tourism in the winter season. Over enthusiastic game operators tried to lure everybody and anybody. Students felt that these experiences intertwined with their themes seamlessly, and were found huddled at the end of run down piers, being blown about on the beach, and examining the public artwork Comedy Carpet – a vast granite piece that highlighted quotes from comedy heroes of the last couple of centuries.
Engaging with a place like Blackpool offered students a chance to collaborate with one another through not only their scheduled groups, but the crossover that the trip offered. For example, ‘Appropriation and Ruins’ found themselves working alongside ‘Time and Memory’, as buildings that once were glorified establishments on the Blackpool pier now found themselves derelict and abandoned, sad memories of a once exciting time in the hearts of the many people who holiday in Blackpool each summer.
On the journey home, students discussed the interesting parallels between Blackpool’s infamous Pleasure Beach of south pier, that though hadn’t been open that day, was clearly cultivated and cared for, as opposed to north pier that felt distinctly less impressive and certainly more abandoned. This posed some interesting questions in relation to their own practice and themes that they were going to continue to explore as result of their independent research. The day showed the students the importance of finding something striking and interesting through the dark and dreary scenery, perhaps in an obvious way, but nonetheless a valuable aspect of the Unit X learning experience. It reflected the ethos of being able to create something exciting out of seemingly nothing.