Focal Point Gallery: Southend-on-Sea

Anticipating a busy September, I made the wise decision to extend my August bank holiday by taking an extra days’ annual leave yesterday. The proverbial cherry on the top was waking up to glorious sunshine, jumping on a train at Fenchurch Street, and forty-five minutes later arriving on the Essex coast at Leigh-on-Sea. With sun blazing, a still and glistening sea, cobbled streets through the old town with traditional cockles, whelks and eels being sold, I floated my way down the promenade to Southend and its Focal Point Gallery. The contemporary gallery currently has two main exhibitions on display; ‘#75’ and ‘CANWEYE{ }’ by Frances Scott. In an increasingly digital age ‘#75’ refreshingly champions the gallery’s own printed material produced between 2009 – 2016 showcasing posters and tea-towels along one wall alongside three display cabinets brimming with printed artefacts. The gallery also aims to continue producing one unique printed accompaniment to each exhibition, as they have with Dan Fox’s four page essay printed in nine different colours which visitors can take away with them. A corridor decorated with brightly coloured neon posters offering a tongue-in-cheek take on Arts Council demographics (including categories like ‘Bedroom DJ’s’ and ‘Time-Poor Dreamers’) leads you to the next gallery space. As you open the door to a darkened room with wooden scaffolding, a single picture draws you to the far end of the room… and this ink drawing by Derek Jarman entitled ‘Plague Street’ is the impetus for Frances Scott’s video installation. The film is played in a slightly uncomfortable setting and jumps between scenes filmed in Canvey Island (Essex) and Venice (Italy) – its constant shifting of location, use of both analogue and digital techniques as well as archival material make it deliberately difficult to settle as a visitor, whilst still managing to be an enjoyable and interesting experience. I’d certainly advise a visit before the Summer season finishes on 2nd October!

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A snapshot of ‘#75’ showcasing the gallery’s printed matter
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Some of the posters on display within the ‘#75’ exhibition
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A percentage breakdown of Southend’s audiences which have been used to decorate the walls in neon green, pink, yellow and orange posters!

For more information visit their website

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Rainham Hall & Gardens: Rainham, Essex

I rarely leave Zone 2, and with the exception of boarding a plane at Southend or Stanstead airport, I’ve never visited Essex! That changed this weekend with a trip to Rainham Hall and Gardens – a property within the National Trust portfolio which re-opened earlier this month following a two year £2.5 million conservation project. The Queen Anne-style house dates back to the early 18th century and fittingly its first exhibition tells the story of Captain John Harle, a shipping merchant from Durham who built the Hall and was its’ first inhabitant. Refreshingly, period furnishings and the traditional “frozen in time” approach to interpretation is nowhere to be seen… instead the Hall incorporates a six minute projection of Harle’s life at sea (so effective it left other visitors feeling sea-sick!), a soundscape of the Durham coastline playing in the background, uses the Georgian bath to vividly tell the tale of Harle’s ‘Lost Ship’ captured by the Spanish in the Caribbean in 1737, includes objects on loan from The National Maritime Museum, and displays Harle’s original will discovered by a local postmistress at a boot-sale and donated back to the Hall. Additional attractions include William Hogarth engravings, a room showcasing personal items found under floor-boards and behind skirting boards comprising coins, hair pins, buttons, playing cards, a shrivelled balloon and even 1940/50’s Disney tin toy plates, as well as textile installations by a collective of artists known as ‘The Material Girls’ hidden within the buildings’ cupboards. A miniature version of the Hall takes centre stage as you enter the property, and over time this will be filled with miniature versions of each exhibition. This is a house with many different layers, and I’m excited to see how it develops and which historical period and which fascinating prior tenant is chosen to focus on next.

Exterior
The Exterior
Entrance-way
The Entrance
Loan items
Objects on loan from The National Maritime Museum
Mary Tibbington replica dress
A replica of Mary Tibbington’s (John Harle’s wife) wedding dress
Bath
Innovative use of the bath to explain Harle’s ‘Lost Ship’
Material Girls installation
One of ‘The Material Girls’ textile installations

For more information visit their website