Review: Threshold Festival of Music and Arts – Darkness & Light

Threshold Festival 2017, photo - Tony Knox

Threshold Festival of Music and Arts – Darkness & Light

Words, Kirsten Hawkins

Every year, the grassroots visual arts festival, Threshold, launches a new theme upon which aspiring applicants will cast their unique interpretations.

This year, five venues across the Baltic Triangle hosted the winning entries for Darkness & Light, a particularly broad theme which welcomed a plethora of corresponding works by 24 artists, makers and photographers.

The festival aims to attract regular art lovers, providing a platform for local practitioners who, generally speaking are not yet on the horizon of the wider creative community, going against the pattern of other local arts festivals which opt for established artists at the expense of promoting those closer to home who may benefit from a push.

Going back to the brief, interpretations ranged from the figurative and abstract versus the literal, the traditional versus the digital and started a conversation around the idea of experience design.

Black and white

The most obvious way to explore light and dark is through the spectral opposites: black and white.  Eimear Kavanagh, delivered ‘A Homage to Chelsea Manning’, an effective linear stitched paper portrait where the inky yarn spills off the page leaving a tearful trail on the wall beneath.

Jon Gregson‘s ‘An Elevated Place’, another portrait, this time screen printed, revealed the darkness and light with all the contours in between that accompany the journey of female empowerment, with the protagonist’s face half obscured, suggesting the incompleteness in the mission of gender equality.

Jonny Seven‘s ‘Rambo’s Trail of Death’ and ‘Victims Beyond Hell’ creates form through black and white lettering, serving the viewer with a chaotic newspaper front page.

STWilliams delighted us with black and white origami stars adorned with pen and ink and pencil designs, which decorated the Baltic Social’s Post Room ceiling. Introducing the written form into her composition, new takes on old expressions sought to invert darkness and light to challenge such a binary perception.

In ‘Darkness’, exhibition co-curator Jazamin Sinclair, provided us with a torn up paper and charcoal self-portrait with abstract features. Sinclair seemed to be hiding away from the superficial nature of portraits, perhaps because she is often the one concealed by the lens and wants to preserve the mystique.

Photography: the Essence of Darkness & Light

If you want to get literal about Darkness & Light, what better medium to opt for than the camera.

Anthony Lavender‘s ‘Elpis’ features a montage of black and white photographic prints. The narrow frames he employed juxtapose the open-mindedness of the subject matter. Serving to, in the words of Threshold Festival’s own promotional copy, explore “contrast, in society and the world around us”. Lavender presents models in fetish-style attire, which either represents suppression or reclaimed freedom over your sexual identity, thus redefining light and dark.

Ruth Dillon similarly opted for a collection of photographic prints in her ‘Light Study’, but this time playing with the spectrum of light. She captured and distorted what appear to be strands of thread, presenting contrast through infinite colour schemes.

Depth Perception and Fragments

The very fact we are able to distinguish colours and shades allows us to put one foot in front of the other safely. We are adequately able to gauge the ebbs and flows of the ground beneath us.

Jim Sharp played on this with his optical illusion ‘Where are you now?’ showing different words from different angles and positions.

Lee Booth took the theme to a metaphorical plane to represent the fragmented characteristics of life, encompassing the highs and lows, hopes, desires or plans made; all of which are created beautifully through this mixed media polyptych.

Digital enlightenment

Some artists took a multimedia approach to their craft, including Ian Constabile, exhibiting his love of music to curate an alternative viewer experience with his soundscapes in ‘Collage #1: Frozen Night’ and ‘Bi-Dimensional’.

Verisimilitude’ is a VR installation project by Pilar Cortés and Marcus Dyer. The piece combines traditional fine art methods using a set of oil paintings of a landscape which was replicated through a VR headset, providing the ultimate art-gaming experience.

The Space

Finally the main spaces do much to fuel an exhibition. It was interesting to see how Solstice at Northern Lights compared to The Gallery Liverpool. Where The Gallery felt like a traditional art space, a blank canvas which foregrounded a large volume of work in one small venue, Solstice seemed cavernous and even contributed its own compositions with the incidental, unidentified painted objects stamping a presence on the show.

The show was multi-faceted in that there was much to see, absorb and consider. In bringing art to the masses, it can be a difficult challenge negotiating the current artistic landscape to bring forth the zeitgeist to every day venues. When much of today’s untapped into audience has only the white room with hanging paintings as a reference for modern art, what is the right balance to draw between technology, design interaction and more traditional media? Curators, Jazamin Sinclair and Andy Minnis certainly had their work cut out to showcase such a diverse range of works in five distinctive venues. It was exciting to see art going more towards the direction of the intuitive experience whilst leaving just enough room for the audience to make the effort to engage with the displays. It will be interesting to see how this ratio develops in next year’s show.