Protest and riot is turned into art

16/7/12_SM'The Kraken by Karen Brandon which features in the Portsmouth Calling exhibition at The Aspex Gallery in Gunwharf Quays.''Copy (122404-668)

16/7/12_SM'The Kraken by Karen Brandon which features in the Portsmouth Calling exhibition at The Aspex Gallery in Gunwharf Quays.''Copy (122404-668)

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Picture Ian Hargreaves  (170741-1)

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It’s one of those moments you’ll remember for the rest of your life – when mobs started rioting in London and other cities across the UK.

Violence swept the nation last year and for many in Hampshire there was a real fear it could spread to our towns and cities.

16/7/12_SM'Mr Kirk's Nightmare by Karen Brandon which features in the Portsmouth Calling exhibition at The Aspex Gallery in Gunwharf Quays.''Copy (122404-695)

16/7/12_SM'Mr Kirk's Nightmare by Karen Brandon which features in the Portsmouth Calling exhibition at The Aspex Gallery in Gunwharf Quays.''Copy (122404-695)

The images of fire and destruction that were played out on the 24 hour television news channels has now inspired art exhibition Portsmouth Calling at Aspex Gallery, in Gunwharf Quays.

The exhibition features the work of seven artists, all of whom live within an hour’s journey to Portsmouth.

Every piece in the showcase has been inspired by riots or protests in some way.

For new-media artist Mike Blackman, pictured, he came up with his latest piece, Bird on the Wire, after experiencing fears that riots had hit Southsea.

16/7/12_SM'A photograph  by Dominic Smith of the protests in London and Manchester against government austerity measures which features in the Portsmouth Calling exhibition at The Aspex Gallery in Gunwharf Quays.''Copy (122404-676)

16/7/12_SM'A photograph by Dominic Smith of the protests in London and Manchester against government austerity measures which features in the Portsmouth Calling exhibition at The Aspex Gallery in Gunwharf Quays.''Copy (122404-676)

As the 42-year-old, of Northcote Road, Southsea, walked home from his studio in Brown Street on the evening of August 9 last year he noticed huge plumes of smoke billowing into the sky from Southsea seafront.

Some people were rushing down to see what was happening while others retreated to the safety of their homes, locking their doors.

Rumours of riot spread quickly, but the smoke turned out to be coming from a large fire which destroyed former nightclub, Joanna’s.

‘Everyone was telling me there was a riot, even in the local shop,’ Mike remembers.

‘Youths on bikes were making their way to the scene, shouting to others to join them for a riot taking place on the seafront and that the pier had been set ablaze.

‘I didn’t think it was that, but I wanted to find out what was really going on.

‘So as soon as I got home I searched Twitter to find out, but there was just so much misinformation on there.

‘People were saying all sorts of things on there that weren’t true.

‘Everything I searched for was coming up with conflicting tweets and I just couldn’t find out what was going on.

‘In the end I had to phone one of my friends who lives near the seafront to find out.

‘It was very frustrating and I soon realised that Twitter, with all its potential for broadcasting breaking news, was a hotbed of confusion and entirely useless as a source information in such circumstances.’

Mike’s Bird on the Wire is a web-based artwork that searches Twitter for tweets in the Portsmouth area containing the word ‘protest’.

The whole tweet is then converted, character by character, into a nightingale song.

Visitors to the gallery can hear the tweet as bird song.

‘Realising that you can’t trust Twitter because it’s all nonsense gave me the idea to transform tweets into bird song – which no-one can understand anyway,’ Mike says.

‘I wanted to turn the nonsense into something beautiful.

‘Each character of the alphabet has its own piece of nightingale bird song assigned to it so every tweet is different and unique in its beauty.’

The piece was originally shown at an exhibition called Stuffed, at Gallery Art Space, Portsmouth, in August last year, and was also exhibited in the Pid Web Gallery, in Gothenburg, Sweden, in April and May 2012.

It was then selected for Portsmouth Calling by Aspex’s programme manager Clive Caswell and director Joanne Bushnell after they asked artists in the area to submit works inspired by riots or protests for possible inclusion in the exhibition.

Other artists showing their work are Karen Brandon, Rebecca King, Peta Lloyd, Matt Parsons, Dominic Smith, Lisa Traxler – who are all at varying stages of their careers or studies.

The works display a range of mass participation and individual protests, including apartheid in South Africa and coalition government austerity measures in Manchester and London, and range from paintings and photography to banners and video installations.

Another highlight includes Fiddler’s Lock by Matt Parsons, which is a video film of Morris Dancers performing their routine in the dark wearing hi-vis jackets.

The exhibition forms part of the gallery’s ongoing theme which asks people What’s Your Revolution?.

Clive said: ‘We received a huge number of submissions, all of which were to a very high standard, so we had the luxury of choosing what worked well together rather than having to select on quality. Each piece offers some food for thought as the artists draw on their inspiration from all over the world and they all work very well together.

‘But the exhibition doesn’t offer any answers to modern day issues, in fact I think it asks more questions that provides answers.’

n Portsmouth Calling is on at Aspex Gallery in Gunwharf Quays until August 26. The gallery is open daily from 11am to 4pm and entry is free.

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