Review: SOUND SCREEN

Friday night saw Brighton’s Unitarian Church transformed into the venue for Sound Screen, an evening of live music and video installation from Pop Up Brighton and F.L.A.

Pop Up Brighton was established in 2011 to exhibit work by up-and-coming artists in unusual and disused spaces. “I started it to take advantage of the ever growing empty shops,” explains Ashleigh Ward, the organisation’s founder, “and to give all artists a chance of exhibiting.” Ashleigh studied Illustration at Swansea Metropolitan University before relocating to Brighton, and organised numerous exhibitions throughout his degree, which kick-started what he calls his “passion for curating”. It is a passion that shines through in his latest exhibition.

Video art is a contentious area. It straddles the line between traditional art forms and more accessible narrative filmmaking. Sound Screen, however, builds a firm footing for the work to be appreciated in its own right. It is Pop Up Brighton’s fourth exhibition, produced in conjunction with F.L.A, who sourced the musicians for the night. It is perhaps this union, which saw the artists and musicians collaborate over a period of three months prior to the show, that saves the works from appearing too much like music videos. it’s a distinction that Ashleigh is keen to make, and he attributes some of its success to the venue: “the grand gesture of the building, the large mirrored visuals and the dimly lit room all helped make this different to just watching a band and seeing projections behind them”.

It’s true that there was something spiritual about Sound Screen. The Unitarian Church has an element of the American Deep South circa 1910 about it, with its white-washed walls, vaulted ceilings and stained glass windows. Ground level was bathed in darkness, and people sat on the floor and in pews, the band dimly lit by red lights, while high above, the videos shone brightly like some kind of deity of Art. I know, I know – I sound ridiculous. But in constructing an environment that showcased the works in such a way, any possibility of deeming them music videos was utterly shattered.

For while there was a uniting theme running throughout the evening’s music (ambient, electronic), the sheer diversity of the videos was impressive. There seemed a heavy focus on found-footage – which compliments Pop Up Brighton’s love of forgotten spaces – but it was well balanced with animation, CG work and film, and I detected strong influences from Stan Brakhage, Kenneth Anger and Jean Genet.

A personal favourite was Ashleigh’s own submission, exhibited under his artist’s moniker, FishBoy. The series of intricate hand-drawn animations accompanied a spoken word piece, and were more strongly and narratively influenced by the music than some of the other pieces. Ashleigh explains the relationship between his work and the music: “it reminded me of the American folk era, when the power of the people became strong and spoken word became popular”. A sonic and visual thread runs from the music, through the space and into Ashleigh’s work, unifying the three seamlessly.

All in all, Sound Screen proves that Pop Up Brighton is an important part of the city’s art scene. “Brighton is a creative city with so many creative people,” says Ashleigh, “it’s hard to exhibit. That’s why I started Pop Up Brighton. Being unprejudiced towards the artists is very important to me – I only judge on the artwork, which is what art should be all about, isn’t it?”

For more information on Pop Up Brighton and up-coming events, visit www.popupbrighton.com, or follow them on Twitter