The past attractions of Plymouth’s Royal William Yard extended little further than outside the realm of luxury apartments and restaurants. With the launch of Ocean Studios, however, the area now possesses the transformative potential to become an integral hub of creativity within the city. The new initiative, offering a range of studios, workshop facilities, and an exhibition space, is open to both artists and the general public alike. ‘A Taste of Things to Come’, Ocean Studios’ inaugural exhibition, guarantees a future for Plymouth as a formidable force for arts and culture.
The show itself contains an eclectic mix of works by pioneering contemporary artists, from Grayson Perry to Mary Kelly, that both intrigues and fascinates. Most striking about the exhibition is the variety of the work, the broad spectrum of visual art communicated to the viewer. From the sculptural minimalism of Bill Woodrow to the vibrant and crowded world of Hew Locke, the diversity of ‘A Taste of Things to Come’ may, admittedly, demand the viewer to readjust and refocus in accordance with each individual artwork. The result, however, is an exhibition that can be explored repeatedly, allowing something new to be gleaned with each visit.
Perhaps the most immersive work is Grayson Perry’s ‘Map of Nowhere’ (2008), a labyrinthine etching in which the meticulous attention to detail is captivating. The artist, depicted at the centre of the piece, is encompassed by a quasi-medieval landscape in which Perry explores and interrogates his own belief-systems as well as those of surrounding society. Initially appearing as a delicate self portrait, ‘Map of Nowhere’ creates a charged social commentary and raises serious questions about the cornerstones upholding modern civilisation.
Similarly, Hew Locke’s contribution to the show carries much more force than first meets the eye. ‘Medusa’ (2008) contains a medley of kaleidoscopic found-objects, forming the highly recognisable portrait of Queen Elizabeth II. Initially appearing innocent and playful in its vibrancy, the work takes on a charged, political importance upon closer inspection. For all its clinquant and colourful qualities, the discussion provoked by ‘Medusa’ is much darker. Consisting of gaudy beads, plastic toys, and artificial flowers, the work forces us to think about important topics, from models of empirical power to forms of cheap labour.
More subtle are the series of inscribed slate by Mary Kelly, an artist known for exploring the questions surrounding identity. ‘Document VI: Pre-writing Alphabet, Exergue and Diary’ (1978) originally belonged to Kelly’s ‘Post-Partum Document’, a six-year project investigating the relationship between mother and son. The viewer is invited to explore a child’s developments in language, before writing becomes an instinctive and habitual act. Though a work parents may feel a higher affinity with, ‘Document VI’ investigates the links between language and independence and representations of maternity that every individual can inevitably relate to.
Despite their diversity, each artwork engages in and explores mutual discussions. Themes of identity, forms of communication, power, and belief all emerge recurrently throughout the exhibition, which contributes to a multifaceted and complex discussion of each. A thought-provoking display of contemporary talent, ‘A Taste of Things to Come’ is a promising appetiser to the future of Ocean Studios. The show does, however, work in terms of give-and-take; the more time you invest in exploring the exhibition, the more appreciation and understanding you will assuredly derive. Be warned, restless spirits.