Slots are commonplace on Blackpool’s Promenade – those mechanical in the penny-pushing machines dotted across the South, Central and North Piers, and the human in cottages. On LGBTQ+ guide Pink UK, an anonymous user gives directions to Middle Walk, a cottage on the Promenade: “Head down Talbot Road, which itself can be quite a cruising area, through Talbot Square and cross the road to the seafront. Turn right and follow the path behind the War Memorial. You may need to walk a fair way before meeting anyone”. Like penny-pushing, success in cottaging is down to chance.
Five minutes from Middle Walk is Abingdon Studios. Exposed pipes from the building’s radiators lead the visitor from the entrance, weaving upstairs and through walls to ‘Slot’, the first solo presentation by artist Rafał Zajko in the North of England, comprised of five wall-based sculptures and accompanying hand-painted murals.
The artist’s previous work draws from the operations and architecture of factories across his native Poland, where industry fell into decline with the collapse of the USSR. Zajko succeeds in echoing local architectural motifs, like the cladding that covered a Wilko supermarket built in 1979 and demolished in 2020. The cladding was salvaged by local enthusiasts and since stored in the collection of the Grundy Art Gallery. A stalwart of an area home to many of the town’s gay venues, the claddings’ reference offers a nuanced mediation of Blackpool, whose buildings echo a tired but resilient tourist industry.
The reliquary – a container for holy relics that often houses the body parts of saints – remains an important reference. In ‘Prick’ (2022) a single latex finger protrudes and connects to wires which weave across a green mass and impact a single snooker ball. Though still, the works retain an animated quality. In another, ‘Currency’ (2021), a single copper coin enters the slot and transforms into skin-toned latex moulds – a compound as much concerned with industry as it is pleasure – imitating mechanical operations.
‘Slot’ fuses labour and pleasure – the finger both apparatus and stimulant.