We love the RWA in Bistol and were excited to be invited to an evening opening of the gallery’s latest exhibition, Fire: Flashes to Ashes in British Art 1692 – 2019.
It explores how artists have used fire over the last four centuries and is the third in a series of element-themed exhibitions which also included the Power of the Sea in 2014 (we reviewed it here).
Entering the RWA gallery it’s hard to ignore the magnificent Man on Fire sculpture by Tim Shaw at the far end.
The foam, steel and polyethene structure illustrates terror and is inspired by a visit to Pompeii, images from the Iraq War, the Glasgow Airport terrorist attack in 2007 and a street riot in Belfast.
On his website, Tim says: “Man on Fire is monumental in scale and captures the dreadful moments of a person who is on fire.
“Caught in a place between life and death, consumed by flames, the body lunges uncontrollably forward as one horrifying mass.”
We couldn’t take our eyes off it and found ourselves looking at the sculpture several times during our visit.
Another highlight was Catherine Morland’s brilliant pieces, Roadtripping with my Favourite Allies and Treasure Island, which use smoke on glass to create beautiful images.
Jeremy Deller’s banner, Come friendly bombs and fall on Eton, a reworking of John Betjeman’s famous poem, also stands out, as does Joan the Woman – with Voice, a lightbox by Aura Satz with sounds by vocalist Maja Rathke which relate to cinematic representations of Joan of Arc in early colour film.
RWA always delivers with its exhibitions and once again, we really enjoyed this one.
Fire: Ashes to Flashes in British Art 1692 – 2019 is at RWA until 1 September.
Pollution as art
Before we left the gallery, we headed down to the basement to see Smutty Atoms, an installation by Rachael Nee, the curator of the exhibition, which was set up for the night.
Data was harvested from an air pollution monitor on the RWA balcony and with a software engineer, Nee translated it into sound and audio. The higher the pitch, the more pollution there is in the air and because it’s played in real-time, it illustrates how levels constantly change.
‘Air-ink’ made from air pollution collected from the exhausts of cars in Delhi is then made to vibrate with the visuals of the pattern created projected on to the wall.
The smell of the ink, the low light and vibrations from the speaker were highly effective. It was an uncomfortable but fascinating experience which is exactly the impact Nee wants to create.
You can see a video below. Turn on the sound!