Angel Row, for nearly two decades Nottingham’s premiere contemporary art space, has closed its doors for the last time. With an afternoon of cake, music and conversation, friends to the gallery were afforded one last farewell to an institution that has delivered two hundred and fifty four exhibitions, spanning sixteen years.
In an act of creative generosity artist Alexander Stevenson invited visitors to eat his work; a commission by the gallery of some one thousand cup cakes, every one of which baked to denote an individual artist that has contributed to Angel Row’s past shows. For the sake of my own peace I decided to ignore the cannibalistic and possibly sexual connotations attached to eating someone, and endeavoured to enjoy Stevenson’s piece for what it is; unassuming and above all comforting.
The second of the closing party’s commissioned works saw one time human tally-chart Ellie Harrison adorn the afternoon with a layer of unexpected nostalgia. Harrison’s piece, a jukebox containing all the number one hits which coincided with the openings of each of Angel Row’s two hundred and fifty four exhibitions, provided a diverse soundtrack to the gallery’s final hours.
Visitors were invited to pinpoint the first exhibition they visited at the gallery, listed on the wall chronologically and assigned a jukebox code, and add the corresponding tune to the party’s play list. The often absurd roll call consistently delivered idiosyncratic juxtapositions; Britney Spears next to Jimmy Nail, Gina G paired with the Fugees. Equally uncomfortable was my faltering ability to understand unanticipated associations the work roused in me.
Trite attachments we forge between the material and the emotional are integral to our modern existences, and it is in this pursuit of congruity between our inner and outer selves that joy and despair circulate. Banality is a uniquely human endeavour; our clinging onto the abstract world of things and bygone events is what makes us exceptional within the animal kingdom. It was Henri Bergson who said that it is our consciousness of “the past devouring the future” that relegates all sensation to memory, and it is because of this inexplicability of existing, and the voracious toll of time that we cling on to the material; to anchor our inner selves to our lives.
Music is perhaps a uniquely gifted form of art that sits between the material and immaterial; the corporeal and the transient. It holds keys to sensation, both retrograde and present. It is the explicit poignancy of music that infects us, in its enigma that we reside.
We often associate songs to periods in our lives with gay abandon, ignorant to the whispers of love and despair that bind these unions between song and memory. What Harrison’s piece does is exemplify this inexplicability, by, more often than not, presenting the listener with a song that, though not consciously remembered until the moment of deliverance, relates obscurely to forgotten feelings and memories.
All potential for subjective selections of favoured songs is removed, with each piece of music listed anonymously; reduced to a code corresponding to an exhibition. In selecting their jukebox track the audience participant inadvertently compels themselves to engage with experiences that had dulled with years. Indeed, my given song, The Masses Against the Classes by The Manic Street Preachers, (number one during the Box Project exhibition in January/February 2000) excavated minute remembrances from my final months of comprehensive school and a kind of bubbly blanket of buried historical feelings.
As the song plays out the riddle of connections that tether emotions to the material remains... Why does Flying Without Wings by West Life remind me of an indeterminate birthday? Of course there are some songs that do no such thing. At the very least what each piece of music does is instigate laughter and conversation, debates and subtle hip waggles. This is a party after all, and there is cake.
Angel Row’s Closing Party took place on 22 September 2007
Angel Row Gallery