No Vacancy – Reviewed

There may be no room at the inn, but on this evidence, we’ll always find space for a Young Pine or two…

In exhibition No Vacancy, the second project from arts and literature collective Young Pines, each part of the gallery is split into spaces, or ‘rooms’, rendering the narrative of an overcrowded and decaying hotel, acting as a sanctuary for survivors of a natural disaster. Entering Wolstenholme Creative Space is to arrive in the hotel’s lobby area.

Thom Isom’s beautifully hand printed, pristine signs declaring ‘Thank You’ and ‘Please Tip Generously’ hang neatly on the walls, with a large motel-style billboard declaring ‘No Vacancy’. Little A-boards sit on the floor displaying the first of Greg Gibson’s poetry, which is what you want it to be – attention-grabbing yet subtle, accessible for the non-poetry inclined, full of intrigue and pathos, becoming increasingly sinister as survivor stories unfold.

“She drifts absent over/ street signs, free branches / and shredded suitcases, / ricocheting from wall to wall, / graffitied Do Not Disturb, / her worn fingers, scrape down / coarse eggshell paint, / leaving her own four line / trail as she passes.”

These slices of poetic insight are dotted unobtrusively through the gallery, popping up to provide further context to the artwork on the walls. We found them to be like a detached record of the aftermath; so not of the hurricane itself, but the impact on individuals, relationships, family dynamics, and personal sanity that a disaster would wreak upon those it hit.

This is further explored in the Lioness Den, a nursery for those orphaned by the storm, their champion a Greek goddess of sorts, with Tesco bag and apron; a strong maternal woman tasked with protecting the children.

Children learn to read by leafing through old horoscopes in found newspapers:

“It’s a good time for the opportunistic Scorpio next month. Steal a bargain! Fight for a good deal! You’ll make a killing if you just follow your instincts. Don’t let morals get between you and what you need, don’t forget there are people depending on you.”

“Full of intrigue and pathos, it becomes increasingly sinister as survivor stories unfold”

Will Daw’s illustrations of derelict, abandoned rooms and corridors feature nearby; scattered rubbish, torn wallpaper and graffitied walls, furniture unused and covered; evidence of some preparation taken before the hotel is abandoned, in this case, too little too late.

One of our favourite pieces in the exhibition lies in the Honeymoon Suite. An unassuming box on a plinth with a peephole turns out to be an absolutely perfect, incredibly beautiful model of a decayed bedroom. An innocent peepshow, no less, crafted by Christine Gore and Lauren Avery. It’s in perfect contrast to the fractious relationships of You, a story of two men who knew and hated each other before the disaster, now ironically finding themselves having to share a room. Dining Room, Talking to Strangers, collects the reactions you would expect from your mum, an aunty, little cousins, after being made homeless following a natural disaster. Being injured, taken by surprise by the chaos, thinking about the laundry and home, before remembering you’ve lost all your possessions, your life. Not being able to return, waiting for help. A restaurant reused as a bedroom, children playing rescue. Adults stripping the bar:

“I’ve lost every bleeding thing I’ve ever worked for / except the family”

There is a lingering feeling that these characters are in purgatory, which leads nicely into the last space. Room 55 is set out like a church complete with pews and hymn sheets. Yet the sheets are imprinted with the venture into a sinister conclusion through Gibson’s poetry; a redundant bus driver turned preacher reads aloud about the flames of redemption as he sets fire to a crowded room:

“The door is chained / when the first people try to run, but most stay, / clamping arms on children or hands with lovers.”

As we leave the exhibition we are left wanting. It needs some other element, providing greater depth to the exhibition. We want to see the live performance again that opened the show; headphones are at the door on the way out playing the superb recordings made by Mark Greenwood and Jon Davies, evoking Max Richter. But it feels like an afterthought. It’d be great to hear this differently, perhaps as an installation? Coming across as a clinical, crisply designed record, rather than the probable reality of squalor, No Vacancy is almost too pristine in this sense.

So it’s not perfect, but as a second exhibition from this group, that’s hardly damning criticism, just that we want to see more. With baited breath, waiting for the succeeding projects, one senses they will only get better. Young Pines are doing some very exciting things indeed, shaking up the city and other more established galleries and art collectives with the quality, substance and emotional maturity of their output.

Exhibition continues until Sunday 25th March 12-4pm

Posted on 23/03/2012 by thedoublenegative