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The Vacuum - Issue 18 - Waste spacer The Vacuum - Issue 18 - Waste
Bar Art: Wetherspoons
by Richard West
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It is evident from the way Wetherspoons creates the atmosphere of the departure lounge of a regional airport that a professional has been involved in its interior decoration. This is confirmed by the panels at the back, near the stairs, which reproduce old photographs of Bedford Street where the bar is situated. Someone has gone to the trouble to take a library book down to a local print shop and get a picture blown up! Most patrons will know the bar opened in 2002 so these panels do not really pretend it has been there longer than that; what they do is rouse the desire for history, a desire that can be satisfied further up the stairs on the way to the toilets. These 'collage' panels positively swim with pictures and information from old Belfast, I read something about the establishment of the Harbour Corporation. It is astonishing just how meaningless historical information can be in skilled hands.
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All this history is but a stimulant to prepare the visitor for the full blown art on display. This comes in a number of seemingly unconnected varieties, united perhaps in that they all present easily wiped surfaces. In the corner nearest the window are a pair of Howard Hodgkin prints. Hodgkin's art lends itself perfectly to this kind of setting being abstract and brightly coloured yet also suggesting there is some kind of scene to be discerned in each picture 'is that a hand and there's the sky...'. In fact, in this environment, these paintings suggest nothing so much as the experience of being nearly-blind-drunk; though misleadingly on a Tuscan hillside during the day rather than a Belfast street in the dark (be warned). One of the characteristics of Hodgkin's paintings is that he daubs all over the frame so it is really a continuation of the picture surface. This should create a question in the viewer's mind as to where the picture and the world meet. In their Wetherspoon's installation however these pictures are enclosed in a conventional wooden frame and glass preventing any such troubling questions arising.
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Some time in the 1950s when Henry Moore and Barbara Hepworth ruled the roost of British sculpture there arose a debate as to which of these artists had invented the sculpture with a hole in the middle (this is roughly contemporaneous with the first polo mint). It is funny to think of it all ending up with Evolve by Ben Wronvik, half way between a Barbara Hepworth and the play facilities on a Stena SeaCat. Unlike a Hepworth or Moore hole, Wronvik's produces a strong urge to test one's skill and throw something, perhaps a packet of crisps, through it. Maybe that is what he means by the title, Evolve: that acting is more progressive than mere aesthetic contemplation, the prefered response for those British Modernists. In any event it would be nice to see some traditional pub sports like quoits or dominos available in Belfast, perhaps this sculpture will provoke the stimulus to see they are provided.
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Nearby, at the entrance, another Wronvik entitled Nurture is to be seen, here attached to the wall and perhaps offering something closer to darts or basketball, this time with two holes, a big one and a small one. For some reason this piece of metal is vaguely suggestive of a fish, though I'm sure this would pass with time.
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Elsewhere on the ground floor there are some swirly pictures whose name tags have come off the wall and what look like 18th century prints, blown up and presented in thick gold frames. These prints mostly include picturesque, prehistoric burial sites like the Giant's Ring enlivened by the odd bucolic looking native and a cow or two. There are a few nice details such as the unusual scale of the natives in relation to the cows, suggesting either exotic pygmy or giant varieties were to be found here in those days. There is also a splendid view from Cave Hill over the lough to the south shore where there are mountains more suggestive of volcanic Polynesia than Cultra and Holywood.
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In their different ways the works of art on display all offer some variety of escapism. None of them may be that successful but they are at least well judged because this is surely what you need if you have found yourself in Wetherspoons in first place.
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