Unlike for those who unhappily planned their weddings for last Saturday when it was howling with rain in the south of England, Saturday 5 June was a glorious day for a wedding. I caught a glimpse of one such happy couple with their nearest and dearest dressed for best. They were having their pictures taken in the gardens at the entrance to Southampton’s Palmerston Park , where I was headed I walked down towards the Ejectorseat Arts Festival.
As I was admiring Centric Collective’s Drawer Show of recontextualised bedroom furniture, I heard a bearded art lover posit “The question is, is that a real wedding being photographed in the park, or is it something staged by the organisers as a piece of art?”
Trust me children, it was a real wedding, and not one of pretentious beardy art lovers either.
Honestly some people should hear themselves. But it’s these varied perspectives and expectations that bring the community into these sorts of events.
“We’re trying to knit a tree… And get people thinking about knitting in different ways,” a member of Knitty Noras told the camera. Throughout the day anyone could step in and knit to wrap an enormous scarf around the tree under which they were all sitting. Any wool left over will be sent to Knit-A-Square in South Africa, where it will be made into blankets for children orphaned by AIDS. Seems a bit of a convoluted way to help orphans to me, but whatever gets you making I suppose.
Next I met two lovely mature lady artists; Jeanne Mills and Margart Lomer, who had hung pretty melted plastic creations and painted ships in plastic bags – goldfish-at-the-fair style from a tree, referencing Southampton’s naval heritage.
I’m just going to come clean, I don’t really get the current obsession with site specific community interaction art. To get funding for projects these days you seem to have to be responding to local history or seducing minority or underrepresented groups. True, some great art does come out of it (for example Rachael Pengilley’s fabulous stamp birds, inspired by little known local history facts about Henfield) but if your local history is dull, having some arty type make it into a mural, or an abstract sculpture is not going to make it any less boring (even unboring poets like Shelley can be used as the excuse for terrible public art if they happen to be from near somewhere like Horsham), and if you hold arty events and activities the only people who’re going to want to engage are people who are already into that sort of thing. You’re not going to get the chavs – and be honest with yourselves – you don’t actually want them.
But you know what’s a good thing on its own? Good art. And good activities for children. If you make something that’s attractive and interesting, everyone will get something out of it. And if you want to make paper aeroplanes with kids in the park, that’s a good thing, they’ll love it – and the chavs too. But you don’t have to tell them it’s because of the history of the Southampton Hall of Aviation (which by the way, is awesome) therefore art.
Bear in the style of amazing illustrator Emily Harper, who is responsible for designing the artwork for the festival’s branding
The prevailing aesthetic of the art and music areas of the festival was bunting. Can you call bunting of itself an aesthetic? I just decided you can.
There was a DIY bunting tent where visitors were invited to decorate a triangle to be added to the string (That’s community art again – but I’ll forgive it for being a genuinely fun family activity, and for being bunting); beautiful papercut style bunting around the print workshop tent; prints hung like bunting from string in the Johny Toaster tent, not to mention miles and miles of varied bunting besides, twined around the iconic bandstand and the vegan barbecue tent (delicious).
The art market displayed a modest selection of local talent; various local artists and print makers, small record labels, students, t-shirt designers and plenty of activities and workshops including amazing stencilling on skate board decks, lino printing and the unlikely How to set up a record label workshop which I am sad to have missed.
Bottom right you can see the very chill and awesome Gustav Balderdash (Tristan) starting off the collaborative painting that went on into the night.
Image sourced from Etsy
Standout for me was Tomoko Morimoto’s lovely jewellery using fragments of beautiful printed origami paper and glass beads (you can see them on her etsy page, and website she assured me coming soon), and the collaborative drawing on giant boards.
The art scene in Southampton exists at the intersection of what I perceive as the somewhat old-school-established fine art oriented organisations, such as A Space, behind the exciting ArtVaults projects, which house exhibitions in listed sites including parts of the old City Walls. The John Hansard Gallery and Southampton City Art Gallery always have an impressive selection of international shows and local initiatives. These all rub shoulders rather uncomfortably with the more graphic-oriented live art scene going on at events like monthly Turn Up and Draw – live music and illustration night Log Jam (they put the ART into PARTY). Secret Wars, now an international competitive art phenomenon (London site) where two artists draw live at each event in a sudden death league style competition started here in Southampton about 5 years ago at the same time as Kench, another live drawing event linked with live music performance at the Soul Cellar. Not long after the Art House came into being who organise events and exhibitions year round including the Southampton Zine Fair and who were the driving force behind the Ejectorseat Festival.
These guys are very much in touch with the student graphic art scene coming out of the illustration department at Solent University where there has long been a strong emphasis on drawing, printmaking and hands on activities like bookbinding, all of which were very present at Ejectorseat. Fine art, fashion and graphics students and a growing number of graduate-run local design initiatives were present, too – such as Johny Toaster who had a stall in the art market displaying amazing prints as well as hosting live drawing all day and bookbinding workshops.
Red Hot Press doing extreme lino printing using a road roller with help from Solent art Students, with the results above.
Johnny Toaster stall, Billy Mather in the yellow t-shirt also did live drawing during the performance by Baku Bankai
Haunted Stereo in the Bandstand – lovely art folk sounds.
The musical line-up performed in the Bandstand at the southern end of the park and included as array of local talent. I didn’t see any of the acts after 7pm as I had a prior engagement at a ska punk gig – the kids can’t fly single launch at which I channelled my inner 15 year old in my recently-brought-out-of-retirement Dr. Martens (they’re on trend, you know) and shared my sweat with dozens of half naked teenagers. But that’s another story.
I did manage to see (and draw) the earlier afternoon delights of Waking Aida and Baku Bankai, who, with a break in the middle for some amazingly energetic collaborative mass drumming performance, set a very atmospheric festival fell with their intense sounds. Baku Bankai performed in wrestling masks, hunched round their ironing boards of knobs and electronic bits whilst live drawing took place as part of the performance. I also enjoyed Haunted Stereo, who had a much more melodic indie thing going on, although I was feeling a bit drawn out by then, so sorry no sketches!
One other part of the evenings entertainment I’m sorry to have missed was the Paper Cinema performance in the film tent. I hear that it was amazing: a live theatre storytelling company using intricate papercut illustrations and a live soundtrack.
Events like Ejectorseat are crucial in bringing together disperate artistic populations in towns like Southampton where, as is often the case wherever you are, there is so much going on that people are unaware of. The festival atmosphere brings people together, like a summer fête. I think organisers would do better to allow some parts of this ideal to be what they are, and encourage participation from groups with less artistic credentials – schools for example – to organise more activities and stalls.
I hope the festival will come back next year on an even bigger scale, bringing with it more talent and interest. I have it on good authority from Megan at The Art House that next year there will be even more bunting. HOORAY!
All illustrations and photographs by Jenny Robins
- Wood Festival 2013 Review
- Lovebox Weekender – Sunday
- Festival Preview: Field Day
- Festival Review: Field Day 2010
- The Hay Festival of Literature and the Arts