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Review: As Seen on Screen, Walker Art Gallery

As Seen on Screen – Walker Art Gallery
31 May – 18 August 2019

Words, Leyla Gurr
Images, Gareth Jones

Cinema, and the many adornments that come with it, held an important place in my childhood. I remember the seemingly endless drive from my small village to the local picture house, a seven mile trip that took a lifetime through my childish eyes. I remember the ritual of lining up for tickets and picking one snack each at the counter, of handing over my ticket to a bored looking teenager with a flash light and being guided down the rows of other excited children to my seat. The scale of the room and pull of the screen was always such an experience for me. Our local cinema was where I first tasted Ben & Jerry’s ice cream, where a boy first held my hand and the first place I visited when I passed my driving test, friends spilling from the back of my ancient Citroen AX.

The movies changed along with me, as they do for everyone, and I think this is what can be so endearingly inspiring about cinema. Aside from the obvious visual take aways, it is hard not to be influenced by the ritual of moving pictures. This is where a lot of the exhibition ‘As seen on Screen’ currently featuring at the Walker Gallery lands for me, more in the abstract sense of the medium itself rather than with obvious homages to popular films. There are some wonderfully striking pieces that pull directly from immediately recognisable works, Stuart Pearson Wright’s ‘Woman surprised by Werewolf’ is a real highlight and excellent example of this which, as an ‘American Werewolf in London’ fan, I was instantly drawn to. A must see movie with some groundbreaking special effects work, if you haven’t seen it then pop it on a list. It is in the minority though, with the majority of the works on display here sitting much more comfortably as an indirect tribute to the pieces that inspire them. Fiona Banner’s ‘Desert’ is impressive in scale, sitting at the end of the first room like a cinema screen. It’s dimensional similarities drawing me back to the feeling of anticipation that I had as a child, when the lights dimmed and the screen lit up in front of me to play the latest trailers. You can easily lose yourself in the text here, and it is fascinating to listen to people murmur about which lines are immediately jumping out at them on approach.

Another particularly well thought out part of the exhibition as a whole is the splitting of it into two rooms, one bathed in light and the other in complete darkness. The first room features framed pieces and in the second some film pieces play on projectors. I enjoyed the nod to a traditional picture house layout, lobby and screening room. The heavy blackout curtains leading to the second room acting as a barrier against the light whilst the muffled sounds of the main film playing entice you in.

The balance here certainly tips towards the more obscure corners of cinematic history, which could leave some visitors that are looking for more mainstream cinema references a little out in the cold. It is clear that a lot of care has been taken in the placement and curation of the works, and I have a real appreciation of the use of light in affecting a picture house style set up, it can be little things like this that really elevate a small themed exhibition.

The question that ‘As seen on Screen’ is asking, ‘what inspires artists?’ has an incredibly complex and varied answer. This exhibition goes a few steps in one direction towards answering it with it’s cinematic tributes and it would be fascinating to see a larger collection with the same theme. But for now this tantalising little glimpse into the creative mind is a lovely appetiser for a rainy afternoon at The Walker.

Words, Leyla Gurr