I Set my Spirit to Dance in Any Colour, as Long as it's Orange
‘There are no black skins, there are no white skins. Human skins are just different shades of orange.’
The British artist Neil Harbisson has a rare form of colour blindness that prompted him to develop an appendage which is placed inside his skull and enables him to hear colour. This strange phenomenon became the starting point for the exhibition Any Colour as Long as it’s Orange. So intrigued was I by the perceptual experience of the UK’s only official cyborg he immediately sprang to mind when I was approached by the Photohastings Collective about creating an exhibition for the upcoming photography season. Andrew Moran suggested the use of a public space in order to reach more people and soon after I was in discussion with Hastings Council regarding the use of the newly refurbished 1930’s promenade Bottle Alley.
Neil, his appendage and an orange.
Orange, the colour on the spectrum of light between red and yellow is a fascinating way in which to perceive the people around you and was inspirational in terms of creating the project. Working with such an off the wall subject gave the chance to do more experimental work and push the boundaries of what is seen to be photography, consequently only artists who were driven by the concept engaged with the idea and it was a pleasure to curate such a unique and diverse body of work.
‘When you are a little weird you aspire to be normal when you are very weird you aspire to be recognised for it’
While hanging the work with fellow collaborators Robin Hutt and Martin Everett people acted with genuine surprise and pleasure on the first encounter in an area often associated with addicts and people down on their luck. A passing foreign student shouted ‘Bueno’ ‘Bueno’ in appreciation and a couple who were vulnerable addicts were genuinely interested and excited to see the work in what could be seen as their space and spoke to me about it.
Random members of the public were observed stopping dead and starring at certain images such as a young buck on an electric scooter who was rooted to the spot when presented with a portrait of a young woman against a background of very large poppies. The image was also struck a chord with those undertaking rehab and street people causing them to mutter something that sounded like Gertcha and curse, still, it was engagement from a forgotten group of people who live tough lives without the luxury of art
Unfortunately, the artwork became a target but despite the area having a bad reputation, the majority of people were happy to have the work displayed. So as is usually the case the destruction fell into the hands of a few although the work was only temporary it was disappointing to have to deal with a high level of negativity as it seemed so pointless. No doubt the weather played a part which was expected but the severing of cables, tyre tracks and smearing of excrement were not accidental or performance art! The notion of taking art onto the streets to people who do not normally engage with it is worthwhile but is not without risk for although we received some very positive feedback from people who would never enter an art gallery there were those who were clearly angry and those that merely saw it as an opportunity for personal gain and destruction. Fortunately, this was counterbalanced by the kindness of some local people who looked out for the work such as Steve, owner of the Kayak shop and protector of photographic art who called out to us as we were re-hanging work ‘you’ve got no chance down ‘ere Luv, no chance’ we’re going to keep trying’ shouted back Marybeth as Steve weaved his bike through the piles of dog mess ‘bloody minefield’ he laughed ‘no chance’
Overall the work made an impact which resulted in direct response and action and I like to think in some way answered the plea of this graffiti artist lifting their spirits from desolation and making them dance.
‘And lift my spirits in the desolation’ – Grafitti under exhibition at Bottle Alley St Leonards UK.
images Et exultant graffiti, Alex, long shot of work, Neil Harbisson
Maiden Publishing UK © Teresa Neal 2016 may not be reproduced without permission
About the Author
Teresa Neal is an artist photographer, writer and the founder of Maiden Publishing UK.