Thursday, 25 September 2008

REVIEW: Ally Wallace 'Stuck Cities', Victoria Baths

Published: MANCHESTER CONFIDENTIAL, 25th September 2008
"Ally Wallace 'Stuck Cities' at Victoria Baths"
I don’t like to say it, but when visiting Stuck Cities I spent more time marvelling at the beautiful building of Victoria Baths than I did the works of art. That is not to say I wasn’t impressed by Wallace’s instillation, but rather that the opportunity to explore and wander around the beautiful and decaying baths at your leisure is far too good to miss.

Ornate green tiles reach up to the ceiling, while transient light pours through stained glass windows on to impressive stairways. Mosaic fish even swim around your feet. Victoria Baths is a wonderful and fun piece of architecture. Walking around the echoing swimming pools, with the wooden seats of the theatre above and the bright blue paint peeling off the cubicles that line the room, is like being in a sepia coloured dream that is ever so slightly haunted. The emptiness of such a large and delicious space holds sorrowful tints. A building designed to be full of life now catching the sounds of solitary footsteps.

Ally Wallace’s main artwork that accommodates the first class pool is aesthetically successful. The huge square panels of newspaper which hang from the tall glass ceiling utilises and complements the space very well. The columns of text and boxed images of the broadsheets merge into the tiles of the pool and bring out the structural lines of the room. The fragility of the paper, suspended and motionless, emphasises the stillness of the derelict building, once alive and busy with people.

All locally sourced, the newspapers fade and yellow in time - disintegrating and becoming dilapidated just as the building has done. The stories relevant to a precise date or time period have been ‘frozen in the final installation’, the contents turned in to a graphic pattern. All of these elements poignantly reflect the history of Victoria Baths and its own pause in time, unused, empty and awaiting final restoration. The building is in limbo, as are the stories suspended inside.

The simplicity of Wallace’s delicate grid wall creates a wonderful new element to the space, interacting and bringing out the colours and shapes of its crumbling surrounding. Stuck Cities realises the size and height of the room, changes perspectives as you walk around and creates unexpected viewpoints of forgotten corners of the room.

My enjoyment of Stuck Cities meant I wished the exhibition had ended in the swimming pool. Wallace’s other works, displayed in the smaller adjoining rooms, in many ways tainted the impact of the main instillation. His small watercolours and newspaper sculptures seemed void of purpose and ill-thought out. The subtle peaches of the decorative windows captured my attention far better than the rolls of newspaper stuck together with bulldog clips and sporadic daubs of paint. This exhibition survives because of its magnificent home.

You should head down to this rather illusive exhibition (only open this coming Saturday and Sunday) even if installation doesn’t really float your boat. Do it for the baths I tell you, those wonderful baths.

There is an interesting exhibition on the history and renovation of the building, equipped with dated swimwear, audio memories and photos to boot. A magnificent building to explore and an aeratone to marvel at, which with its narrow, deep metal cylinder and red operating dials looks like some form of science fiction nightmare, but is in fact a swish personal Jacuzzi first developed as a treatment for mining injures in Scotland. Excellent stuff, and when you think the developers suggested turning it into a car park.

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