Ikon Gallery's Slow Boat from Birmingham arrives in London for Chisenhale show

By Mark Sheerin | 07 August 2012
Colour photo of young people sitting in the prow of a narrowboat
Shot from the Birmingham launch of Slow Boat© all rights reserved. Courtesy Ikon Gallery
Exhibition: Slow Boat Summer 2012 with Propeller and Benedict Drew, Chisenhale Gallery, London, until August 26 2012

There is something purposeful about a slow journey, and the narrowboat moored on an East London canalside took its own sweet time to get here. The sun is out. The dragonflies hover back and forth. A sound installation burbles from the vessel's colourful interior. It is as if this new arrival was always meant to be.

Slow Boat, aka The Aaron Munby, is on a three-year loan to Ikon Gallery in Birmingham. From there it has just cruised down to Chisenhale Gallery. And in so doing it has brought together young people from both the Ikon Youth Programme and Propeller, the local equivalent.

This weekend the participants were hanging out, making art, cooking together and sleeping in the studio space. They got to work with artists Benedict Drew and Sam Belinfante. And with Drew’s help, Propeller has staged an impressive exhibition in Chisenhale’s white cube space.

Colour photo of an origami boat on a sunlit table
Working scale model of Slow Boat by IVP members© Culture24
Only three pieces are on show, but less really is more. An eight-minute film loops on a recycled cinema projection screen. All footage has been gathered in the neighbourhood by Propeller themselves, and bound together by a soundtrack composed and played by talented member Ruth Elliot.

Meanwhile, a mural on the far wall shows an aerial view of Reiss Akuwudike’s home turf in the Isle of Dogs. It has an intensity and a level of detail which hold up well now his drawing has been blown up to the size of a barn door.

The final piece is a sound recording from the boat itself and reflects artist Drew’s work with field mics and hydrophones. The engines rumble, the boat creaks, and the water boatmen click around in the swell. It is strangely peaceful, but if you thought canals were quiet places, think again.

Colour photo of a projected film showing ripples on water with a green sculptural ring in the foreground
Film by Propeller and Benedict Drew in progress© Culture24
Next door, in the education room, participants from IYP are up to their elbows in coloured paper, engineering boats which might emulate the stately passage of Slow Boat. There is serious ingenuity on display with designs incorporating masts, sails, and below deck areas.

Hearing from them leaves you in no doubt as to the value of projects like this. “I think I’ve learned so much about art due to IYP. I’ve got to learn about artistic process,” says Polly. This is echoed by Maryam, who calls it "a different kind of learning from GCSE. It’s art from life.”

Back in the studio, two of the Propeller crew are exploring sound editing software. The group have brainstormed a number of onomatopoeic words and now the exuberant Reiss is laying down the lexicon with a broadcast quality mic, while Mischa sits behind a laptop capturing it all with industry level software. Artist Belinfante is on hand with technical advice.

Colour photo of a cartographic mural of the Isle of Dogs
Reiss Akuwudike, Map of the Isle of Dogs (2012), installation view© Culture24
Considering the Team GB medal rush is taking place just down the road, it is remarkable that art is competing on this hot summer’s day.

Slow Boat at Chisenhale is a reminder that not all urban youths are in chronic need of positive role models, and that not all role models need be sportspeople. Exhibition spaces can be just as inspiring as stadiums.

Asked if he wants to become an artist, IYP project assistant Simon offers this mature reply: “I’d like to work in a gallery. Artists come and go. Galleries are around forever.”

And if IYP and Propeller represent our future custodians then, for the time being, he is spot on.

Visit Mark Sheerin's contemporary art blog and follow him on Twitter.
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