Simon Patterson: Safari: an exhibition as expedition

Installation shot of Simon Patterson: Safari: an exhibition as expedition. Photo: Nigel Green. Courtesy De La Warr Pavilion
Installation shot of Simon Patterson: Safari: an exhibition as expedition. Photo: Nigel Green. Courtesy De La Warr Pavilion

Encompassing works from the last 25 years of Simon Patterson’s career, Safari: an exhibition as expedition combines a wide range of artistic mediums with a selection of artifacts from the Hastings and Bexhill Museums’ collections and a performance at sea to create an exciting new show at the De La Warr Pavilion.

At the heart of the exhibition is a playful riff on the ‘cabinet of curiosities’, displaying unusual items from Patterson’s own collection (think Penguin/furry critter taxidermy hybrid) alongside the notorious Piltdown man and other members of local legend. In glass cabinets, these exciting ‘discoveries’ play with our imagination making us doubt what is real and what is indeed ‘fake news’. The expedition the viewer is taken on is both tumultuous and exhilarating.

The themes of travel and exploration run through the show and Patterson’s interpretation of them is unique – from his performance entitled Seascape in collaboration with the Bexhill Sailing Club which incorporates coloured smoke grenades in a makeshift ‘sea battle’, to Monkey Business (1993) adorning the gallery walls. Though Patterson’s most well known work, The Great Bear (1992) underground map, takes on the task of depicting urban travel, in this new exhibition he tackles a more volatile form of transport – that which takes place at sea.

words fly up...,, 1996 (detail) © Simon Patterson, by courtesy of the artist
…words fly up…,, 1996 (detail) © Simon Patterson, by courtesy of the artist

Complementing the nautical landscape of Bexhill-on-Sea are two highlights: …words fly up…,, (1996) and Manned Flight 1999 (1999), both featuring kites installed within the gallery. Manned Flight is inscribed with the name of the first person in space – Russian astronaut Yuri Gagarin – bringing the excitement of the space race to East Sussex. Worlds fly up sees a colourful installation of kites adorn the gallery ceiling, reminiscent of childhood beach delights and kite festivals. Nostalgia not only for Patterson’s works that were produced early on in his career but also for childhood seaside days out – apt given Bexhill’s tourism regeneration – make the exhibition an intimate and personal experience. The magic of flying a kite or of myths and legends resonate throughout the show and bring a sense of youthful wonder.?

In contrast, the darker humour of the video work Escape Routine (2002), which first greets the viewer upon entering the exhibition space, offers a welcome change of pace. Air travel is the basis for this work, with flight attendants demonstrating safety procedures as well as feats of escapology while a voiceover in English and Japanese reads extracts from Houdini’s writings on magic and stagecraft, thus creating a brand new way of coping with unexpected events whilst travelling by air. As a nervous flier, the absurdity of this piece is an added highlight. The work has a notable travel history of its own, having originally been shown as part of the 2002 Sydney Biennale.

Safari: an exhibition as expedition takes the viewer on a playful and thought provoking journey around Patterson’s practice, bringing the elegant De La Warr space to vibrant and humorous life. 

Safari: an exhibition as expedition is on at De La Warr Pavilion, Bexhill-on-Sea until 3 September.

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