image by Paul Granjon

A Summer Solstice Evening in a Shopping Centre Basement

by Ian Cooke-Tapia
written one rainy morning on 25/6/2019

I walked down escalators that didn’t move, into a darkened
basement with tall ceilings. A cave of mysteries, with tall concrete columns
and a floor scarred from the plastic tiles that once made its floor. A former
shop, a location that felt more like a blast site or a set for the Matrix, than
a hub for experimentation and artistic growth.

Shift is a multi-disciplinary
research and development space
buried underneath the Capitol Shopping
Centre in Cardiff’s City Centre. The last exhibition by their most recent crop
of residents blew me away, in that most ethereal only great art seen in a dark
room can do. And yet, if you pressed me for names I would only be able to answer
with two names, both of them familiar to me outside of the exhibition. My not
remembering any names says more about the experience of seeing art than the
exhibition itself, which was delivered, I believe, understanding that it is the
personal encounter with the artwork that truly matters. Information on the work
small, printed on A4 cartridge paper, disposable, not as relevant. The grandeur
of the cavern, dimmed so that only the illuminated works had any gravitas. I
have to say that Shift is turning into something that Cardiff has been missing
since the too-soon
closure of The Abacus

If I were to put one word to Shift as a space based on this
one visit, I would use Ambitious. A prime City Centre location (perhaps a
little too hidden from the general public, even in plain sight), bigger than
some museums, and I wonder how much of an effect working in a space so spacious
would have on an artists. It just feels like this basement wants to be filled,
filled, filled! And so an artist working there might find themselves reaching
for sizes previously impossible.

But I digress.

artwork by Jorge Lizalde. Image by SHIFT

On that summer solstice evening, I saw grand displays of
work, yes, big and imposing, but I also saw ambitious themes explored. Motherhood
and the transposition of location from one place to the other (I think),
material playfulness, gigantic pieces of gut-wrenching biological shapes and
visual clutter in advertisement; from tactile womanhood, to a version of urban
sketching I haven’t yet encountered, visceral in its portrayal of an artist’s practice,
and even ziggurats in the sand. I do not have any photographs, and I do not
have any names. In my impatience to be somewhere else I didn’t take the as much
time to simply sit and enjoy the exhibition as I would’ve wanted.

I intended to come back next morning on Saturday, I really
did, but the future doesn’t exist. I regret not going a second time. But this
morning, it dawned on me that, sometimes, going to an exhibition isn’t done so
much for the art, or the improbable feelings one might find therein, but
because one simply wants “to go to an exhibition”. Like a checklist of things
to do; like an achievement that must be unlocked and forgotten in a digital collection.
So, perhaps it is for the best that I only went there once. The works felt like
delicious cooking smells coming from a neighbour’s house as you’re just
starting to hunger, and I had hoped to come back and sit in front of each piece
with a notepad and document my feelings in situ.

By the time I got back to the surface, the experience had me
feeling mellowed out and emotionally connected in a way I haven’t experienced in
a long while. And it got gears moving in my head. Oh, did this exhibition engage
my mind; intellectually and emotionally, through vision, touch, wonders,
memories, and a little bit of jealously.

And, hey, if this is the sort of thing Shift is providing, I am more than happy to leave my pretence at art criticism in my bag, and simply exist and let the artist speak through a muted megaphone, through a tin-can-phone, and type on the inkless typewriter. I will get it, maybe. Or maybe I will completely miss the point the artist wanted to portray. Whatever the piece is saying, that’s between me and the artwork.

Communication idiosyncratic to great art found in the basement of a shopping centre, I guess.

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