May 2019. I wouldn’t have put the English city of Colchester down as any kind of art Mecca. But then I’d never heard of Firstsite Art Gallery until I started researching the town’s key attractions. I do love a free art exhibition and after the artistic void of Ruian, China, I was rubbing my hands at the prospect of a quiet hour or two lost in some thought-provoking art. With a long history in the town, Firstsite’s current home dates back to 2011 when the organisation moved into this impressive golden crescent building at Lewis Gardens. It’s quite the dramatic first impression as you approach the seemingly floating structure, which was built on a giant concrete raft above the ground. This was to protect the land beneath, which has been listed as an ancient monument containing archaeological artefacts.
May 2019. Firstsite Art Gallery’s mission is to “inspire people through innovative art and culture”. A visit here begins in this massive main hall, home to a stylish gift shop and the We Walk the Line Café. I can personally vouch for the tea and cake. A team of friendly receptionists are on hand to give you an overview of the current shows.
May 2019. My Firstsite stop (d’ya see what I did there?) that day was a poster exhibition called Problems with Modern Life by the British artist Magda Archer.
May 2019. Startlingly colourful and brash, Problems with Modern Life juxtaposes nostalgic, enthusiastic imagery with cynical commentary on the world we live in today. Packed full of sceptical phrases and online theme mimickry, Archer created the installation from her own personal life experiences with a bit of pop culture and vintage poster advertising thrown in.
May 2019. A lot of Archer’s posters hint at the perceived evils of mass consumerism, social media and the chaotic political times Britain finds itself in. I like the way that she only deals in broad statements, leaving the true meaning of her posters to the minds of her audience.
The main exhibition at Firstsite Art Gallery that day was Courage Calls to Courage Everywhere: The Making of the Millicent Fawcett Statue for Parliament Square by Gillian Wearing. Try saying that after a few beers. So who was Millicent Fawcett? Basically she was a highly influential suffragist and campaigner for women’s equal rights. She led the world’s biggest suffrage organisation, a non-violent movement called the NUWSS from 1890-1919. She was also a key player in gaining British women the right to vote.
The exhibition at Firstsite documents the efforts of artist Gillian Wearing, who created the amazing Millicent Fawcett Statue, which was added to Parliament Square in 2018. This was of particular interest to me, as I’d actually seen the statue myself in person just a week before during my London adventures.
The exhibition is basically a behind-the-scenes look at how Wearing made the statue, with photographs, diary notes, research info, 3D prints and even a mock up of the statue itself. There are also a few original items from Fawcett’s life, along with a broader look at other influential suffragists of the time, many of whom made their way onto the statue’s plinth.
Firstsite obviously gets a fair amount of school group traffic. And it was cool to see that having been through the Millicent Fawcett exhibition, kids are then asked to sit down and have a think about what they would campaign for in today’s muddled political climate. Oh boy, I’d love to see some of the entries made at this table!
Firstsite Art Gallery is free to enter, though I think it’s only right to support them with either a stop in the cafe, or a knick knack from the gift shop. If you’re in Colchester come and see what’s going on, they’re open seven days a week from 10:00-17:00. Here’s their website: https://www.firstsite.uk
To read about my visit to The Millicent Fawcett Statue, take a peek at my travel report from Parliament Square in London.
For more on my adventure in this pretty English town, check out my other travel reports from Colchester.
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