Oh, what’s this next to Jamie’s Italian where Zavvi used to be? Why it’s some sort of unlikely exhibition, the like of which we’ve almost certainly never seen before.
Dave Webster’s The Real Meaning of Life is a themed exhibition of sculptures – evolution, brotherhood, TV, nukes – that has been given a lease of, er, life by the city council’s clever Shops Upfront programme that opens up retail spaces for alternative use when they’re closed.
That’s a good thing, for obvious reasons, but also because it’s hard to imagine where else Webster’s scupltures might find a venue. There’s a fairly unlikely mix of delicate wooden scupltures, much of it from reclaimed wood or downed trees, and mixed materials that have an altogether more sci-fi edge.
Look, there’s Charles Darwin and Alfred Wallace steering a boat. The mast is sprouting a number of various mammalian heads. The hair of the figurehead at the front twists into a double helix. At the fore is a brain, surrounded by barbed wire, that is periodically lit up in a lurid green colour.
What to make of this? Well, handily, Webster has provided his own curation to explain the meaning behind all the works on display. This is unfortunate.
Without context, the pieces could have been surreal curios. But the text that complements the various statues and scupltures and occasional painting is amateurish – strewn with typos, punctuation errors and weak writing – and smacking of a kind of po-faced sixth-form eulogising or spleen-venting that many an English tutor has wearily contemplated.
Nuclear fission, we learn, is bad because it makes bombs. But nuclear fusion, we are told is good because it means cheap energy. This rather ignores the fact the fact that fusion is a vital part of the process for exploding thermonuclear bombs. It’s trite and naff.
Inbetween there are uncanny maquettes; anguished souls facing off or staring into the eyes of another; prisons and conflict and war, but also rebirth and freedom. The theme of the exhibition aims for a kind of ‘war is bad, can’t we all get along’ vibe, seeing as we all climbed out of the same primordial slime. As such it’s gauche but entertaining.
What’s more, it works extremely well in attracting passing shoppers. The installations are large, eye-catching, remarkable things. There is skill to be admired here too, but it’s the accessibility and imagination that are drawing in the crowds. There are also clay modelling classes too for the young ‘uns.
All in all, then, a success. Pleasingly there are no attendants to tell people off for talking or touching or using mobile phones. Excited kids and bemused adults are wandering around having fun looking at art. Our more established galleries and museums should take note.
The Real Meaning of Life is open on Light Night between 7pm-9.30pm for clay head modelling sessions and a Philosophy in Pubs debate (7-9.30pm)
The Real Meaning of Life
Until 22 May