Through A Lens…Everyone is Equal

Mash, Haydock Street, St Helens
7th-20th October 2010

Reviewed by Sebastian Gahan

If I say St Helens, what is the first thing that enters your mind? Depending on your interests, that could be one of a multitude of answers. For me, it didn’t say a lot until last Wednesday, when I went to the opening of an exhibition in local café and gallery, Mash. It was the first time I had ever been to St Helens, not having had a reason to do so before now, and it was an illuminating introduction to one aspect of an area arguably often dwarfed by Liverpool’s grand mass. The moment I arrived at Mash, pushing open the door in that newcomer style, I was struck by the creative atmosphere and masses of art present on the walls and even on the counter!

When I went through to the main gallery area, accessed by some inviting looking doors situated next to the counter, I was greeted with the ensemble of Art From a Bag’s and St Helens Coalition of Disabled People’s exhibition of pieces from artists with disabilities. It was a small space, but filled with the feeling of inspiration and creativity. Pieces that echoed Art from a Bag’s name were present and these pieces - some of which I had seen before at The Gallery - were shots of the inside of a crisp bag after it had been emptied of its contents, digitally edited in various styles at the local multi-media studio iLearn. Seen en masse, these images are striking in their ‘why didn’t I think of that?’ manner. The artists had many positive comments on these images, and they are undoubtedly deserved when you see the change in both environmental and physical terns that they have had. The artists were showing off their pieces, mostly unmarked with the artist’s name to facilitate such face-to-face introductions, and every face in the small but appreciative crowd of people gathered was showing appreciation of the work at hand.

Standout pieces for this reviewer include - but are not exclusive to - the full length version of the piece lea by environmental artist Dom Wilson that I first saw at The Gallery, of a chain of drinks bottles crafted from the results of a six month long collection of plastic bottles that were attached to each other to form four separate pieces of the chain of bottles that spread over three-quarters of the space of the walls. Speaking to the artist, I learned that the piece was an attempt “to create something that extends the life of what is normally thrown away in the bin. People just drink from the bottle and throw it away, they rarely look inside and see what’s there and this piece is an extension of the life of the bottles from commercial objects to art.” Indeed, the piece is impressive and taken with the many manipulations of the inside of a crisp bag makes a good combination with a good message. In old terms, one could say “Waste not, want not”, but in modern terms it means more than that. It is the key to reusing objects to a greater purpose of educating and changing people’s lives.

For the artists involved this is definitely the case, and the messages continued with the return of Pauline Heyes’ evocative piece Restricted Movement, a wheelchair with a car clamp on its wheel and a sticker announcing a fine for the user. To contrast this with the rest of the pieces is to realise that many views on disability exist, and not all of them are palatable. Such social commentary is revelatory for able-bodied persons such as myself and should be seen as a good thing for the community in general! In fact, taken as a whole, Through A Lens…Everyone is Equal is a compelling collection of pieces as socially valuable as they are artistically. So if you’ve ever needed a reason to visit St Helens, live in St Helens or generally appreciate thought-provoking art, head on down to Mash and appreciate the fine pieces on offer here.

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