Public House at the Dirty Old Gallery
The canvas of carpet. The heaven of slots. The Khaos of blackboard. And one of the more depressing football games you’ve seen in years. England v. Germany 2010. We lost 4-1.
The Public House.
Observe from an appropriately rickety bench. Do not cross the tape lest you become part of the pub scene, succumbing to its unnatural gravitational pull and sheer, sour, yellow-toothed charm. Already wherever you may go, to smoke out in West Street, to admire the art shop’s supplies and paintings, in search of fish and chips, you will always hear the dire display crowned by a German commentator, speaking in German, occasionally saying the word “England” in a mix of patronising and polite mockery, no doubt very clever if you’re among the winning audience. The bright stadium lights. The garish advertisements. The tiny figures suddenly reminiscent of gladiators butchered at the crowd’s desperate pleasure.
You recover, sinking into the background of the background, something like jazz (it’d have to be 80s I suppose) calming, bringing us back to that second home, where everybody knows your name and everyone leaves you to your drink. That feeling of exhaustion as you slump on a sofa; condensed into a bar stool. It doesn’t matter why the floor is sticky anymore.
Joe Fawcett graduated from Chelsea College of Art having studied sculpture, working with installation and performance. He went on to study film in Paris and has since made a number of much-praised experimental films. It’s this eye for visual detail and its meaning that really shines in his installation at that Dirty Old Gallery on West Street.
The idea for a carefully curated mock-up of a pub came in two parts: one from the desire to break-down and contemplate our strange national obsession with this community hub that floats so easily into a den of iniquity; the other part, well, like many of us he’d say “the pub is where I spend too much of my time”.
The key elements of the installation are as above, but when you’re sitting on the bench in DOG you see it top-down. You’re looking from God’s eye through a transparent roof. Straight ahead there’s a carefully “aged” carpet, of that classic autumnal not-paisley design we can probably all recognise – a key feature of many a pub. I’ll let you ask Joe what went into the ageing, but here’s a hint – this carpet sits in the place between bar and bog. All sorts on the soles of the shoes that pass that way.
You’ve also got the omnipresent football game on a widescreen, the slot machine that definitely wasn’t stolen to get it here, the blackboard of hope, despair, scrutable and inscrutable, and lastly the gate to the gents. Well, door to the toilets. But it’s a door imbued with a lot of meaning.
I love Joe’s work here just for giving me a moment of pause to actually think about what it is to be in a pub. It’s so much a background normally, a reference point, always there but not often fully recognised. You drift in and drift out. Well, I do, often much less steady on the way out. It’s fascinating to think about the heavy symbolic meaning on all these ordinary components of drinking life. And this pub is more of the drinking life, less of your gastro countryside retreat. Once put through the grinder of regular use by drunks, these objects say so much about us, who we are, what we value, particularly in our more vulnerable moments. If I’m not taking it too far…they also put a bit of a mirror up to men especially. Once we have a think about it, we’re asking “what are we doing in these places night after night?” And then as we remember it all, we have to go and buy another drink.
This is the last weekend to see it, open 11-4 Sat&Sun, address on the website. Go! Public House at the Dirty Old Gallery, website: www.thedirtyoldgallery.com.
Normal opening hours Thurs-Sun 11:00 to 16:00. The gallery also sells art supplies and various artworks. Please respect social distancing, wear a facemask, and check that it’s not too busy before entering.
The next show Work About Work will open on October the 9th, on which the DOG will stay open until 9pm. Remember all the opening nights we used to have before covid? Well, if you don’t, this will help you recall.
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