Review: Past, Present, Future at Bluecoat Display Centre

Bluecoat Display, Past Present Future (c) Daniel Payne

Past, Present, Future
Bluecoat Display Centre,

Words & Pictures, Daniel Payne

The Bluecoat Display Centre is a cozy space: half shop, half gallery. The current exhibition, Past, Present, Future, uses every bit of that space, taking visitors on a journey through time and consciousness in just a few square feet.

Curated by Emma Rodgers, the exhibition includes contributions from interdisciplinary artists at every stage of their career, including Jacob Chan, Peter Hayes, Gina Kirby, Emma Rodgers, and Ian Rylatt. Though they each bring individual styles to their work, the whole is a unified, moving piece.

When first approaching the exhibit, there are two dominant pieces: a sculpture of a large liver bird standing on a globe at the front of the gallery and a series of three photos of planetary spheres in succession in the back. The liver bird dominating the earth is impossible to miss. There are elements of invincibility of a culture and people that stand with the bird; it seems as though it has come off of an ancient building and has stood the test of time. Whether the thought of the bird as a symbol for dominant culture is a wonderful or terrifying thought isn’t important; it is only a starting place for the viewer’s journey.

Continuing through the exhibit, there are several other ceramic works and sculptures that evoke similar thoughts and feelings of pride and arrogance, but from different cultures. Diverse styles from all parts of the world display the glory of human culture, alongside its folly.


Walking forward, a larger paradigm is acquired, and it’s as if time has passed. Through history, human perspectives grow to recognize other cultures, only to realize they all share similar elements. The similarity pointed out in the central ceramic elements is the inevitable surrender to time. The pieces look worn, with small cracks and faded paint. Mirroring the theme of time overtaking the accomplishments of human society and beauty, stitching of iconic buildings is unraveled into loosely connected strands on textile. Time not only erodes the work of humanity, but undoes it from its core. The works highlight the beauty of human cultures in their plurality while inviting the viewer to continue walking forward in time into new paradigms to see the implications of time waring societies down.

It’s from this space in the gallery that the viewer can see the spheres that caught their eye at first. The first orb is coming into form, just blooming, but not in its fullness. The second is full, a planet that is whole and as we would imagine today. The last is more like the first, dying again, shrinking into itself.

Herein lies the title of the exhibition: Past, Present, Future. The planet we make our home on is only habitable for a season. The great realization lies here, at the back of the gallery and in the final paradigm. We find ourselves not only without our societies given enough time, but without a planet to inhabit.

Given this new paradigm, the viewer may feel trapped in their place in the universe. To represent this feeling, there are sculptures of humans trapped in nets in the corners of the room, just as we are trapped in our era and place in the vastness of space.

There’s another way to see this, though. One where humans can actually take hold of their small time and space in the universe and make the impact that they can.

In making the impact we can, we may find that we are able to transcend the timeframe of our short lives, as so many artists, thinkers, authors, and innovators have before. This is beautifully represented in another figure in another corner of the room, with rings extending out of its body, representing its impact on the future.

What are people to do with these new paradigms? The exhibition invites its viewers to sit, think, and reflect on its implications over tea. At the very back of the gallery is a tea set, symbolizing the stars and planets. The invitation is to sit in our place among the stars, to be what we can be, and enjoy it.