We’d all appreciate our home-towns a lot more if we had guests to visit more often. I almost always have my most pleasurable weekends in Brighton when people from elsewhere come to visit. It makes me wonder at all the weekends I spend listlessly – having no-one to impress – instead of taking advantage of the fact that I live in this lovely place
Of course, at this time of year – the Brighton Festival has just started – I’m normally starting to get a little busier (and there are a bunch of local things happening over the next month or so which I’ll hopefully be blogging about), but my nice weekend over this Bank Holiday was less a consequence of that and more prompted by the arrival in town of friends. So I spent Saturday having a lovely lunch in the Dorset in the North Laine and relaxing down by the beach, and most of Sunday mooching around Town buying records, doing Festival stuff and sitting in the pub, pretending I’d been stabbed through the neck with a plastic straw (long story).
The highlight – well, the cultural highlight – was a trip to Brighton’s lovely Fabrica gallery, which for the duration of the Festival is hosting an exhibition by the season’s curator, Brian Eno. Rather misleadingly titled ’77 Million Paintings’, the show actually focuses on one piece – a large, evolving graphic up on a large screen at the far end of the dark church.
The same aesthetic which drives much of Eno’s music is apparent in the work; it is neither instantly rewarding nor demanding, but instead a kind of slow, transformative experience for which the term ‘ambient’ (traditionally used to characterise much of Eno’s music) remains the best descriptive term I can conjure up.
It’s essentially a series of locked geometric shapes which move through a range of patterns and colours in a sequence determined by ‘generative software’ which is capable – as the title of the piece suggests – of 77 million possible permutations (which would take, apparently, over a thousand years to unfold). The transformations are slow but remarkably evocative.
Sat concentrating for ten minutes I was only dimly aware of perceptible changes, but when a conversation with Deb and Will distracted me from the screen for no more than sixty seconds and I returned my gaze to the ‘painting’, I found it had changed hugely. Such is the effect of the slow process of gradual change – I thought of the face of someone you love and see every day, which seems unchanging, and the shock of encountering friends with whom you’ve lost touch, and who you find much altered (as altered, presumably, as you are).
It’s hard to describe a work of art without showing it, and pointless to show a still of a work of art without being able to demonstrate the very movement which gives it purpose. So here’s a proposal, instead.
Imagine yourself sat in a church, half-dozing, glancing down at the cobbled floor. As the sun progresses slowly across the sky outside, light catches panes of the stained glass windows high above, and casts a reflection down on the floor in front of you. The light shimmers and shines, ducks behind a cloud, comes up for air. The quality of light changes, and different parts of the window are alternately obscured and revealed. What plays out on the floor in front of you is the combination of chance, nature and design, and it is playing only for you.
If you can imagine that, you might be able to picture Eno’s work. If you like the sound of it, the exhibition is running until the 23rd May.
Co-incidentally, I spent much of the time in the Church sharing a seat with Toby, a mischievous toddler who ultimately ordered me onto the floor so he’d have more space. He told me – and I trust his opinion – that the exhibition was ‘lovely’. He also made me take his socks off and at one point handed his Dad an empty food wrapper and yelled ‘rubbish, rubbish’.
I hope Mr. Eno wasn’t around, mistaking him for a high-voiced critic.