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11 Sep 2009

Picture This presents Down at the Bamboo Club

Image courtesy of Barby Asante and Picture This

Down at the Bamboo Club


12th September - 17th October
Thurday - Saturday 12-50.30

+44 (0) 117 925 7010

Sydney Row & Mardyke Ferry Road
Spike Island
Bristol BS1 6UU

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'Down at the Bamboo Club' was conceived in the context of Bristol's celebration of the bicentenary of the abolition of slavery. It coheres around a suite of three newly commissioned films by artists Barby Asante, Mandy McIntosh and Mark Wilsher. Selected by artist and curator Harold Offeh, the three works each revisit a particular aspect of Bristol's socio-political past through the device of filmic recreation. Three further works by Victor Alimpiev, Iain Forsyth & Jane Pollard and David Maljkovic expand on the principal ideas of the exhibition through an investigation of historiography itself, the writing and re-writing of history's scripts, and the continual repositioning of the past in relation to the present.

The title of the exhibition, 'Down at the Bamboo Club', refers to the legendary Bristol social club and music venue, the Bamboo Club. The club, which ran during the 1960s and 1970s in St Pauls, has acquired symbolic value today for its role in the social scene of the time. As a venue that encouraged social interaction between communities, it was unique at a time when racial prejudices still prevented the employment of non-white drivers or conductors on Bristol buses. The Bamboo Club closed in 1977, but continues to hold powerful resonance today for the ongoing friendships it fostered and the positive affirmation of community relations it represented.

The scene having been set in a decidedly local environment then, the three new commissions each recreate a scenario from Bristol's past. Asante's Bamboo Memories, deals directly with the history of the Bamboo Club; McIntosh's Session (Sugar Version) reaches further back into history to focus on the legacy of Bristol's position in the eighteenth-century Slave Trade; while Wilsher concentrates on the history of Bristol's Methodist community. Rather than focusing on verisimilitude or an accurate reconstruction of an historical event, however, the works each create a vision of the past through the prism of the present moment, acknowledging that to 're-member' (to re-assemble, to re-construct) history is to engage in a creative act of personal interpretation.

The works do this primarily through the involvement of individuals and communities whose connection with the issues at hand is real and direct. Asante, for example, arranged a reunion with those who frequented the Bamboo Club during the 1970s. Scenes from the reunion are shown alongside a theatrical recreation of the club staged with the use of props and costumes and actors hired for the occasion. McIntosh invited participants from The Two Way Street, a Bristol-based black and minority ethnic mental health advocacy service, to undertake art therapy sessions, setting their present-day experiences against those of 'Pero', a slave brought to Bristol in 1783 from the Caribbean Islands. Wilsher's The Use of Money, takes its title from the Methodist preacher John Wesley's famous eighteenth-century speech of the same name, in which he decries the excesses of materialism. In this work, members of Bristol's Methodist community stand in rows ordered by the pews of Bristol's New Room chapel, the oldest Methodist chapel in the world. The silent congregation implies a eulogy for lost values that is both incongruous and poignant, standing as it does against the backdrop of Cabot Circus, Bristol's primary shopping precinct. Wilsher overlays the film with the ambient sounds of birdsong and traffic recorded on Hanham mount, the site of Wesley's open-air sermons.

What links the three works, then, is the way each uses the past as a trigger to rethink the present moment, prompting fresh perspectives and new meanings from the narratives of the past. McIntosh's work does this through an act of catharsis, an engagement with the past that attempts a coming to terms with repressed histories and their ongoing repercussions in the present. Asante and Wilsher's works, on the other hand, modulate between critique and nostalgia: nostalgia for – or perhaps homage to – a past moment of conciliation and harmony whilst critically assessing the situation in the present.

'Down at the Bamboo Club' expands on the principal ideas of the exhibition with three further works that open out beyond the context of Bristol and its particular socio-political histories. In Russian artist Victor Alimpiev's work, Summer Lightnings, 2004, reenactment takes on private meanings and personal significance in a scene in which schoolgirls drum rhythmically on wooden desks, bringing to mind the intimate sound of summer rain pounding on a roof. For File under Sacred Music, 2003, British artists Iain Forsyth & Jane Pollard recreated a legendary 1978 performance by The Cramps for the patients at Napa Mental Institute, California. A meticulous recreation of the video documentation of this performance – rather than the original performance itself – the work puts into question the possibility of an authentic 'lived' experience in today's media-saturated environment.

Working against a tendency to fix the events of the past, Croatian artist David Maljkovic's Scenes for a New Heritage, 2004/6, offers an apt note on which to conclude. The films, conceived in a set of three, follow a group of heritage-seekers to Petrova Gora, an historical monument from Communist-era Yugoslavia. Whilst retaining the historical location, Maljkovic sets the year decades in the future, constructing a temporal overlay that shakes down and rearranges an understanding of past events in the creation of a 'new heritage', a new historical narrative. In the creation of mythical legacies for a future age, the artist renders the past an impermanent and uncertain terrain, one that may be endlessly remade, and as a consequence holds infinite potentiality.

Following the exhibition at Picture This, the three new commissions will each temporarily be screened in locations that bear direct relation to the scenarios they reference. McIntosh's Session (Sugar Version) will be exhibited at the Two Way Street; Wilsher's The Use of Money at the The New Room; and Asante's Bamboo Memories at Circomedia, a circus school housed at St Pauls church in Portland Square, the street on which the Bamboo Club once stood.

Picture This would like to thank the following individuals and organisations without whom 'Down at the Bamboo Club' would not have been possible: Harold Offeh; Kat Anderson; all those who took part in the filming; staff at the Two Way Street; the Georgian House and the New Room; the artists; Audiences South West; and Heritage Lottery Fund.