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ART REVIEW: ‘Spotlight’ Ed Briggs & Suzanne O’Haire @ Phoenix, 12/03/18

The Verses’s Jake Evans reviews this months’ Spotlight at Phoenix, showcasing Ed Briggs and Suzanne O’Haire, March 12th 2018

‘The artist’s talk’: three words that can inspire both joy and terror in the hearts of many. It is an event where the recipient is half hopeful for words of creativity, confidence, and inspiration. But it is also a potential platform for frustration, heavy eyelids, and dreaded word vomit. Or ‘umming and aahing’, as I like to call it.

Despite this admittedly cynical and incredibly British bias to such events, I attempt to enter Phoenix studios with a sense of receptiveness. Reassuring myself that, at the very least, it will make me feel better about my own work and/or presentation skills (again, a very cynical and British viewpoint). To my pleasant surprise, however, the two talks that were presented during this months ‘Spotlight’ did not offer such opportunity. Instead, an interesting backstory into each individuals practice and personal history was offered by the boat-load.

Suzanne O’Haire began this Spotlight session. A seasoned artist and teacher, she refuses to hide the truths of being an aspiring Creative in culture today. She recollects her undeniable successes and achievements, fresh off the ground from art school. O’Haire however wholeheartedly reflects on the feeling of ‘whoring’ oneself out for commercial opportunities in post-education career. This endearing bluntness continues throughout her talk as she speaks of moving to a new city, maintaining relationships and the inevitable juggle of career and personal development. She refers to her practice as one of ‘magpie-like tendencies’. O’Haire states confidently that ‘when I make work, I never go in knowing exactly what I’m doing’, echoing her finished hybrids’ intentional lack of justification and ambiguity.

By using ever-present objects of both daily and aesthetic life, O’Haire is perhaps best described as an intellectual hoarder. Not too dissimilar to those on ITV who have every copy of the Daily Express since 1954. But looking past the craziness and implied kookiness we find the undeniable fascination, insatiable commitment and semi-poetic qualities of seemingly random assemblage. A sense of clarity hangs over O’Haire’s work, and she says:‘make of it what you will’.

What Suzanne O’Haire offers in truths, Ed Briggs matches in energy. He vibrates around the makeshift stage with spades of kinetic expression, even before he pronounces himself as ‘a fun artist’. Having a background in musical theatre and scientific experimentation, Briggs embodies the bewildering concoction of the skilled jester. Part-performance, part-nitty-gritty, Briggs admits that he loves the laborious task of going to ridiculous lengths for small gains. And the endearment of this is so present. Whether it’s reverse 3D printing walnuts or using £1,000,000 equipment to create a ‘gravity sword’, Briggs is the human embodiment of our childhood fantasies. To be a knight at the round table, and an astronaut exploring Mars all within the space of an afternoon.

Briggs reminds us that no matter what profession we may find ourselves in, there is still the child inside us that screams ‘what if…?’. And is keen to explore the fickle for a bit of fun. One of the most impressive explorations that Briggs presents is his ‘Drop Tower’: a homemade zero-gravity contraption that allows a number of objects to turn, collide, and float for up to a second. It is surely no coincidence it resembles a cardboard box: the magic transporter to mystical lands; a shiny sports car; a den. It encompasses youth.

Briggs proved just 40 minutes that even in your mid-20s there can still be a fascination with the every day. All it takes is the initiative and an uncompromising sense of fun.

Although I entered ‘Spotlight’ with uncomfortable optimism, the presentations made were uplifting and certainly not boring. Although the work may not be to your taste, the commitment and level of engagement between audience and speaker are palpable. Leaving you with a feeling of awe and inspiration (perhaps even jealousy) in equal measure.

At the very least, ‘Spotlight’ at Phoenix offers something new to experience. And a much needed night away from the tedium of Emmerdale and other such nonsense – after all, where else will you be treated to a ditty of bagpipes made from old carrier bags and cardboard tubing?

‘Spotlight’ is hosted at Phoenix Centre every 5-6 weeks, the next one will include presentations from Sophie Abbot and Becky Blaire on the 16th of April. Admission is free, but booking in advance is advisable via Eventbrite. Information is available on the Phoenix Centre website. https://www.phoenixbrighton.org/

Featured photograph © Ed Briggs

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