The Carnival of Monsters is a contemporary art exhibition currently showing in Beeston. Aimed at professional artists living and working in the East Midlands area, it is an opportunity for local artists to showcase work in any media, in a non-conventional space.
The first thing to note about the Carnival of Monsters is that it is certainly not a carnival. Nor, unfortunately, does it hold the sense of free-spirited extravagance its name suggests. Having no overarching theme, the exhibition is certainly eclectic, combining work from artists whose concerns include climate change, consumerism, war, the media and the natural world. However, rather than giving the exhibition a sense of unrestrained creativity, this lack of theme translates as a lack of focus, making it hard to transition smoothly from one work to another.
This difficulty is countered slightly by the exhibitors’ use of space. Set in a collection of industrial buildings, including a warehouse and a disused shop front, the exhibition makes good use of its unconventional location. We are led nicely through the space; starting at Simon Cook’s oil-on-canvas paintings, right through to Pedro Gasca’s Time and Relative Dimensions in Space (T.A.R.D.I.S) – essentially a mirrored, light-up, triangular cupboard. Indeed, the industrial setting provides an interesting backdrop to the broad selection of art on show, juxtaposing particularly nicely with the more conventional pieces. The layout also allows for a space near the back of the exhibition for ‘Wrong Pong’, three Ping-Pong tables whose playing surfaces have been tilted, narrowed and made uneven. The exhibitors have provided bats, balls and scoreboards and this interactive element, though strictly not in keeping with the rest of the exhibition, but it acts as a welcome relief for any not-quite-so-arty friends who you may have dragged along.
However, despite the unusual space, and the interactive back room, the exhibition still screams of conformism. If you are looking for something truly contemporary, this is probably not the place to look. Indeed, despite the breadth of style of the works on show, much of it seems to embrace the stereotypes of contemporary art. There is the minimalist piece, a series of lengths of string hung from the ceiling. There is the feminist piece, the feathered torso of a woman holding two eggs. There is the statement piece, a broken television lying on the floor with a cascade of drawn images pouring out of it. And there is the simplistic piece, rectangular blocks of colour, reminiscent of Yves Klein’s monochrome works.
This is not, of course, to say, that there is nothing worth seeing at the exhibition. Indeed, given the variety of work on show it is unlikely that any visitor will leave having not discovered at least one artist whose work has captured their attention. Here, at the risk of becoming too personal, I have to note that Joseph Kelly in particular, captured mine. Working with recycled materials, often liberated from skips, Kelly jokily comments that he has ‘been attempting to relive… the pressure on landfills and incinerators and save [himself] a few quid’. Led by the materials available to him, his art is diverse, yet tied together by a sort of natural, fluid appeal. His piece Octopie – a caged eight-legged creature, carved from wood – though neither large nor particularly striking on first glance, becomes particularly appealing. Stirring a consideration of man’s damaging effect on the natural world.
Justine Nettleton’s work is equally impressive, particularly her large paintings Waiting for Inspiration 1 and Waiting for Inspiration 2. In these, her concern with light and space is evident, and they fit very nicely into the large industrial exhibition space. The sinister figures of the artists are most arresting and, although this series is not exhibited at the Carnival of Monsters, are somewhat similar to her charcoal drawings inspired by the ‘dark mystery of [her] evening bike rides’. The subtlety of colour in both her exhibited and non-exhibited works is, in a way similar to Kelly’s, something which may not stop people in their tracks, but which is appealing in a far more elusive way.
Despite my reservations concerning the lack of thematic continuity and the conformist nature of the exhibition, the Carnival of Monsters is worth a visit if, like me, you are willing to really engage with an exhibition, rather than merely pass through it. After all, whether Sarah Barber’s subtle fabric instillations, or Mike Chapman’s bold circular paintings take your fancy, there is sure to be something to suit almost everyone’s tastes.
Grace Woods, with images by Magdalena Steflova