One of the brilliant things about Rook Lane is that you don’t have to do very much to the gallery to make it look good. Light pours in romantically through the coloured glass, and the stone columns rise majestically to the high roof, adding drama and grandeur to the space. As such, the chapel is a popular exhibition venue for artists who favour the good lighting conditions and simple understated elegance of the walls. Since my arrival here I have helped install two exhibitions of painting and one of photography, all successful shows from established professionals.
Coming from a contemporary arts background, however, I was keen to see how the chapel would be used by a group showing a more diverse range of artwork. How could Rook Lane be used to compliment more contemporary art forms such as video and sculpture? Last week I had the chance to find out, as I helped install the end of year show from a group of applied arts students from Wiltshire College entitled “Urban Signatures” – a show which explored the aesthetics of the city. The exhibition itself, as well as the artworks, was under intense scrutiny from assessors. The students had been asked to carefully consider the architecture of Rook Lane Chapel and work with the dimensions and features of the space when creating their work.
The group were extremely particular in their planning, which was good to see – they considered all aspects of the gallery, café and foyer and worked together as a group to ensure that each art work was located properly within the space. Their hard work paid off, and the result was an interesting show, with striking pieces shown off to their best advantage.
On entering the chapel, visitors were faced with a huge, mesmerising oil painting, depicting a rusty found object which was suspended on invisible wires in the doorway to the chapel. On the far wall, another member of the group displayed a series of sculptural works based on deconstructed paintings. Moving through to the café, viewers encountered a large wall-mounted piece in black felt, embroidered with tiny delicate words which were almost hidden from view. Outside there was a concrete sculpture, depicting feet and cracked paving slabs. Other highlights included a video work which focused on the television reports from the 9/11 disaster, paintings and prints based on industrial landscapes as well as abstract and figurative works in paints, oils and pastels.
The artworks complimented the materials inherent in the chapel. Concrete went next to stone; white canvas sculptures leant against white walls – alluding to the usual use of the space; vast wall-based pieces made good use of the scale of the chapel, filling it up and consuming it. Visitors commented on how interesting it was to see the chapel used in this way, and what a thought-provoking show it had been.
The group had suffered a rather challenging year, due to structural changes in their course. In spite of this, they were supportive towards one another and very professional. We wish them well as they start their final assessments, and as they go on to their final year of study.