Whitstable Biennale brings art to Bingo Hall and beyond

By Mark Sheerin | 22 June 2010
A flat screen television and speakers set up before a green screen background

(Avove) Phil Coy's video installation was set up in a shipping container

Festival: Whitstable Biennale 2010, Whitstable, Kent, until July 4 2010

A crowd gathers in the Oxford Bingo Hall and a sense of trespass hangs in the air. The décor is marvelled at. Cameras are flourished. No-one looks to be near the age of retirement.

Up by the fruit machines, a brass band is installed. It's hard not to look at them like an exhibit, but they take the attention in their stride. Once seats have been taken, they strike up Romeo and Juliet by Prokofiev.

This blustering tune, once the walk-on music for The Smiths, today heralds the arrival of unassuming artist Lucienne Cole. She appears in the centre aisle and tap dances as Heaven Knows I'm Miserable Now plays over the PA. Her bored manner delights the crowd.

A brass band play in a space surrounded by fruit machines

Brass band in performance during 67 Made in Heaven, Lucienne Cole's piece

Being the Whitstable Biennale 2010, it is time to see unusual things on the North Kent coast. Step inside a sea container parked on the quayside and you may be surprised to find a home-cinema rigged up along with a green-screen backdrop.

The 45-minute film is Façade by Phil Coy, which appears to be about architecture and glass, but turns into a powerful deconstruction of the way news and television mediate the reality of the world around us.

By the end of his film, Coy has stripped back proceedings to reveal autocue, tracking rails and narrator Julia Somerville in make up. As the credits roll, an invigilator lights up the freight box with a spotlight, drawing attention to the artifice of the screening.

Two flatscreen TVs side by side in a pub setting

Alex Pearl's film Call, installed in the Royal British Legion

Shipping containers are among the subjects of another film, which plays out in a back room of Whitstable Museum and Gallery. The Voyage of Nonsuch by Ruth Beale and Karen Mirza is a quote-filled visual essay, which also considers cold war architecture, the internet and nostalgia.

Most of it has been filmed behind the scenes at the British Film Institute Archive, where we find red fire extinguishers at the end of every aisle, as if the very canisters themselves contain hazardous material.

Up the road, at the Royal British Legion, is a two-channel video by Alex Pearl. On the left screen we see a bingo caller, while on the right screen a hand moves a dabber over a bingo sheet. It was, of course, filmed here in the town.

The low key patter of the Bingo Hall merges with the sleepy conversation in the club. And as the till rings, the glasses clink and the crisp packets rustle, it is hard to tell the foreground from the background. Before long, both absorb you.

Open 10am-6pm Tuesday-Sunday. Admission free. See the Biennale website for more details.

Images © Mark Sheerin

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