Last month, Wolverhampton Art Gallery (WAG) and its subsidiary venues (WAVE) launched their Spring programme; a series of exhibitions and showcases that will run until May ’13.
Ed King went to the ‘after hours’ introduction at Wolverhampton Art Gallery, to give two of the main exhibits a Birmingham Review.
by David Hancock
“It is. It has to be. Look.”
“It isn’t. I don’t think. Or at least, it says here it shouldn’t be…”
Standing in WAG’s Contemporary Gallery, it’s easy to be sympathetic to this conversation. David Hancock’s ‘Cosplay’ contains a series of watercolours so vivid; from a distance of a few feet they appear photographic. And they ain’t small.
Painted in watercolour, these life like compositions sit amongst a further array of coloured pencil and crayon drawings; all depicting “a subculture of people dressing up as characters from computer games, Manga and both UK & US comics.”
Hancock’s exploration of “cosplayers” is quite a remarkable sight. A manifestation of fantasy culture, with undertones of sexual liberation and escapism; I am both intrigued and suspicious.
Figures from literature, film, and a world of computer games I know nothing about, are proudly assimilated by his subjects; reenacting scenes and locations from the world they appropriate.
At first it’s fun, then childish and odd. And finally I feel a mix of envy and pity; the subject’s disguises (for that’s what I read them to be) are both powerful and crippling, only free behind the mask of another.
I missed the talk Hancock gave on his ‘Cosplay’ exhibition, but would love to hear more about the people behind the pictures; each one a real portrait. I am left with only my experience for context. And I’ll say it again – I am both intrigued and suspicious.
‘Cosplay’ is exhibiting in WAG’s Contemporary Gallery until June 8th, with a talk from the artist, David Hancock, on March 20th. For further info visit http://www.wolverhamptonart.org.uk/events/david-hancock-cosplay
For more on David Hancock, visit http://www.david-hancock.com
By Zed Nelson
Deftly skipping past the picture of liposuction, with exposed innards and peeled back flesh, we come to something far more terrifying; a young girl, dressed up like a protégé ice queen with a fixed face. I can feel her mother, somewhere close behind the camera.
Zed Nelson‘s latest project ‘reflects on the cultural and commercial forces that drive a global obsession with youth and beauty.’
Appropriately titled ‘Love Me’, Nelson’s book/exhibition contains content from eighteen countries and took five years compile.
From the emaciation of anorexia, to the guru’s of plastic surgery, and the body dysmorphia of competitive body building; Nelson explores not just the subjects of beautification, but the industries and cultures that both promulgate and embrace it.
“I may die, but I’ll die with not wrinkles,” Nelson paraphrases a woman’s excuse of ‘cosmetic enhancement’, but explains the trend isn’t gender specific.
“Today’s footballers look like male models, the (cosmetic and beauty) industry is targeting a new market. It’s not just women.” And to cement the point further to a journalist, “Men’s Health magazine hasn’t had a hairy chest on its cover since 1995.”
I look through the seemingly jumbled collection: a body builder in Sri Lanka, a perfectly healthy looking 13 year old girl at Fat Camp in New York, Miss Essex in hysterical tears at the Miss World beauty pageant. And whilst dates and locations separate each image, there is an inescapable unity. And it’s frightening, to me; all so brutally unhinged.
“There’s nothing new to this,” explains Nelson, as we discuss the rhyme and reason behind such obsessive compulsions, “in the 17th century there was a chart compiled that related skin colour to intelligence”, referring to François Bernier’s ‘Nouvelle division de la terre’ – a text often cited as one of the first examples of scientific racism.
“In many countries today whiter skin is still seen as desirable, with the media and popular culture helping to support this notion. This (Love Me) is a warning to artists to wake up and realise the effects of their work.”
I look back at the faces on the wall, contorted and confused – struggling for acceptance. “After compiling this project, is there anything you’d want to change about your appearance?” I ask.
Neslon smiles, “I’ve had plastic surgeons say my nose is too big.” But I get the impression he’ll live with it.
‘Love Me’ is exhibiting at WAG’s Focus Gallery until June 8th – for further info visit http://www.wolverhamptonart.org.uk/events/zed-nelson-love-me
For more on Zed Nelson, visit http://www.zednelson.com
Other exhibitions in WAVE’s Spring Programme include:
Edwin Butler Bayliss: Poet of the Black Country @ Wolverhampton Art Gallery – runs until April 27th
‘Open All Hours’ @ Bantock House – runs until May 5th
For full details on all WAVE activity, including full listings of exhibitions, workshops and showcases, visit http://www.wolverhamptonart.org.uk