By Lucy Brown

You’ve got your head down, maybe your mask on; quick glance to the side as you walk down St John’s Road in St Leonards and an arrangement of cracked cement body parts catches your eye. A surreal overcrowded chess set perhaps, with faceless pawns; an unfinished building project with scaffolding warning of danger and infection in its centre. You look again, and then again as you begin to make sense of artist Brian Mander’s installation.

Respire:Suspire first appeared on Hastings beach as part of this year’s Coastal Currents.  Its Brighton creator was inspired by the story of the death of two men who, looking for survivors, searched a breached submarine opposite Harold Place, Hastings in 1919. The men subsequently choked on toxic gases amassed in the depths of the vessel. The now relocated installation in The Space, St Leonards depicts suffocation and drowning; protection and vulnerability, attachment and disconnection.

It’s made up of 42 pieces cast in Herculite that will weather and dissolve over time.  A composition of oversized pebbles trapping haunting human faces; grotesque sea horses, figures deformed and bent; it’s an alien and disturbing piece. The sheer weight of the cast tetrapods provides industrial size foundation for delicate cherub-like infants. Heads bowed; damaged arms snapped: these fragile creatures are pitiful.

Crated, hospital bed-like, the figures in the central scaffolding are half-formed, mangled bodies crudely melded to machine-part limbs to create an ugly but functional whole. Anchor tines form arms, ropes both secure and choke – they are cemented now, rooted by this union, wanted or not.

When creating his work, Mander considered Nellie Moore, the daughter of one of the men killed by the fumes he swallowed in the rescue attempt. He studied the horror of the deaths and the impact on the living. He thought of the separateness of those who are different. He captured the notions of belonging and attachment; foundation and grounding; protection and defence. As full-time carer to his profoundly disabled son, Mander particularly explored the fragility of life; the breaking and the mending.

Difficult subject matter considering the piece is adjacent to a play park, but no doubt, children being children, they will touch and clamber and mould the work to fit the story they are living that day.

The artist says, ultimately, Respire:Suspire is “a story of dislocation more than anything else, and my response to it”. For the viewer, whether that dislocation is recognised in the depiction of infection, choking and masks, or through the otherness of the broken, it is there to be understood.

Half living, half dead; secluded and public; still alongside the movement of play, Brian Mander’s installation is well placed. This weed filled, cracked flagged, near-derelict space now houses something unexpected – something different, something other.

Respire:Suspire by Brian Mander can be seen at The Space, St John’s Road,
St Leonards from now throughout November. Find out more at www.facebook.com/watch/CoastalCurrents


We hope you have enjoyed reading this article. The future of our volunteer led, non-profit publication would be far more secure with the aid of a small donation. You can also support local journalism by becoming a friend of HIP. It only takes a minute and we would be very grateful.