Fabrics and the crucifixion seems to collide in the Finnish artist’s exhibition at the Fabrica Gallery in Brighton
Sometimes you have to escape from the bubble. In the constant clatter of the London art scene, it’s dangerously possible to forget there are other cities and other galleries. This week, I went on a small misadventure to Brighton to see what kind of art language they speak down by the seaside. Turns out it’s very quiet.
The internet would have you believe there are a number of contemporary art galleries in Brighton, but a significant number are merely shops masquerading as galleries, or , rather, they’re galleries, but only in the sense that if you put up a few paintings in your VW van it would be a “gallery”. Despite the relative paucity of actual galleries, there were highlights. Closed though it was, One Eyed Jack’s on London Road at least made a game of being a contemporary photography space; but, if you’re going to Brighton and you can only see one show, it should be Kaarina Kaikkonen’s The Blue Route at Fabrica.
A native of Finland, Kaikkonen’s name rings out at a decent pitch internationally: she’s had work in the Venice and Liverpool Biennales,and this is her second work with Fabrica. The Blue Route consists of dozens of second-hand shirts donated by the good people of Brighton and Hove. The shirts are joined together and hang in layers of weary looking catenaries over the floor of the space and over the altar of the deconsecrated church that is Fabrica gallery.
It’s a very apposite work for the Easter holidays. Kaikkonen has worked with second-hand fabrics before, not least in her previous show at Fabrica which involved five hundred cast-off men’s jackets, but the intimacy, and the careworn quality of the shirts is particularly suited to our economic moment – indeed, wandering through the charity shops along North Road and London Road, it was hard not to feel that the old is the new new. Kaikkonen is, no doubt, in the suggestively spread arms of the shirts, also evoking the crucifixion. It might seem a bit glib at first to replace a crucifix in a church with discarded consumer products. Somehow the suggestion of throwing away old cultural and religious identities with the ease of last season’s stained shirts could be read as elegiac or ironic, but either reading belies a deeper possible significance.
Clothing plays a significant role in the Passion Plays of European history, soldiers playing dice for the second-hand clothes of Jesus, Veronica’s cloth which wipes his face on the way to the cross and it is miraculously emblazoned with his image; finally there is the regal purple cloth draped over crosses at Easter to denote the resurrection. Surely Kaikkonen is also writing these narratives into The Blue Route, and, I couldn’t help thinking there might be a commentary about the invisible suffering of the people who will have sewn many of the shirts on display. The poem Shirt by Robert Pinsky touches on those narratives and it came to mind as I looked at the waves of shirts reaching up into the intermittent light from the stained glass windows. Thousands of people seemed to be hovering there too, their narratives literally stitched into the fabric of the work but they are also absent and these blandly mass-produced artefacts are all we’ll know of them.
Kaarina Kaikkonen: The Blue Route runs until 27 May at Fabrica Gallery, 40 Duke Street, Brighton BN 1AG