Sea, sand and subversive art: Can Bournemouth be reborn as a cultural hub? | Bornemouth
Wa culture of ants that sails as close as possible to the wind? Well, Bournemouth might not have been the obvious place to head to. Until now. This weekend, the English seaside destination more often associated with the sandcastles, retirement and ‘Costa packet’ villas of nearby Sandbanks has become home to some of Grande- Brittany.
A sprawling new gallery inside a former department store kicked off on Saturday with an exhibit featuring bronze suicide vests by controversial artists Jake and Dinos Chapman and the provocative work of other British conceptual and alternative artists, such as Jim Lambie, Banksy, Gavin Turk, Kacey Wong, Paul Fryer and Jeremy Deller.
This is the latest in a local effort to bring Bournemouth’s image closer to Santa Monica, California, with its blend of surfing, contemporary culture and new tech industries. Or at least to start competing with Margate and Hastings, those recent modern art destinations further along the south coast.
“I just put together the Jake and Dinos stuff and wonder what people here are going to think,” said Stuart Semple, the entrepreneurial artist behind the new 15,000 square foot gallery, named Giant. “I mean, these are bronze suicide vests. It is very powerful and very meaty.
Semple, who moved to his hometown of Bournemouth seven years ago, describes the area as “a cultural desert”. However, he says, “This is not the place people imagine. This is not about retirement and beach vacation. We have done a terrible service in explaining what is attractive in Bournemouth, as in many other places in Britain. Is it just laziness? Because I see it more as Santa Monica, with that stretch of beach and people from all over the world.
Millie Earl, a Lib Dem board member for Bournemouth, Christchurch and Poole, is already convinced. “I would not dispute that the region is a cultural desert, but I would like to point out that it is now germinating,” she said. “The region has enormous potential. I can see the comparison of Santa Monica that Semple and others are making because of the sea and the new tech and digital industries. We call our emerging business Silicon South. It is now a question of developing this attractive identity for the rest of the country and the world in general. “
Shadow Culture Council spokesperson Mark Howell also praised the initiative, which he said would help provide year-round tourism and complement the existing Lighthouse performing arts center.
Alongside the Chapman brothers’ vests, Semple’s first show, Great medicine, will feature a sanctioned recreation of a Damien Hirst medicine cabinet by Turk. Lambie exhibits one of his colorful tapestries and Deller’s filmed reconstruction in 2001 The Battle of Orgreave will also be on display. The gallery is housed in part of a building that was once Debenhams, and site owner Ashley Nicholson came with Semple to fund this multi-million pound independent venture – something the artist admitted could be a little risky.
This summer, he told an art journal that maybe now would be a good time to close a gallery rather than opening one. He’s even struggling, he said, sparking the interest of the local newspaper, the Bournemouth Echo.
But Semple and Nicholson believe that many residents of Bournemouth, Poole and Christchurch, which together form one metropolitan area, crave art. “There is a large population aged 35 to 45, a lot of new tech companies, and a university with great creative classes,” Semple said. “There is also a good sports and surf scene, and good music, and especially a lot of contemporary dance, although not much visual arts.
“When I told people I was coming back from Shoreditch, they all wondered why. The problem is, Bournemouth is famous for having eight miles of sandy beach and has rested on those laurels. But people need more than that.
Other arts organizations pushing for change include the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra, which won government awards and praise last year for its pioneering online work during the lockdown. In the first six months of its first live series, the Poole-based orchestra grew its audience by almost 30%, with 65,000 views of its performances.
Semple, 40, tested public appetites with a pop-up gallery earlier this year showcasing the work of fellow artists Ron Arad and Mark Titchner.
“I’m still a little worried that maybe people won’t come this time,” he admitted over the weekend. “But some of the world’s greatest artists are happy to show here. Fortunately, a lot of them are my friends. It’s part of a huge move away from capitals, possibly because of the pandemic. People can live and work wherever they want. They need culture, however. There is a desire. Just look at the effect of the Margate and Hastings galleries.
And Eastbourne, in what is cruelly called ‘Annuity Country’ along the Sussex coast, is making a similar effort for cultural status, emphasizing its Towner Gallery and its connection to artist Eric Ravilious. .
Semple will use the space, he said, to try to “prove that there is such a thing as the avant-garde” and to give people a place to relax and have ideas “at the opposite of Primark ”.
As an artist he is known for his positive emphasis, exemplified by his Happy cloud performances at Tate Modern, where he first flooded the London skyline with artificial eco-clouds shaped like smileys.
More recently, Semple waged what has been called an “art war” against artist Anish Kapoor, who had secured the exclusive rights to Vantablack, the world’s darkest substance. This prompted Semple to create an Internet performance involving the creation of the “Pinkest Pink,” available to everyone except Kapoor.