Walking in, there’s an unsettling energy in the air. The once bustling bar is deserted, the solid oak bar top gathering dust, beer taps cling filmed shut from the last service. Looking towards the back of the room is a low stage, the usually shimmering glitter curtains are static, they once swayed as if blown by the collective air of laugher generated by the performers power over the audience. The eerie quietness means the architecture is more prominent, our eyes dart to the corners of the room, where a spaghetti like tangle of wires connect speakers, security cameras and air-con to a huge multi plug adaptor.
Queer venues offer a safe space and a sense of belonging for the community. Walking into our favourite bar / pub when empty reminds us of what is lacking, that of the people and noise which usually animates it. The shift in London prior and post pandemic have pushed out more and more queer spaces at great loss to the community. Political and economic decisions have always marginalised queer people into the shade with safe spaces being relegated to the peripheries and nefarious parts of the city.
For Midnight Shadows, Ian J Brown’s debut solo exhibition, the gallery space has been transformed into a wallpapered facsimile of The Glory, a queer bar and performance venue on Kingsland Road, East London. The black and white recreation of the cavernous empty pub has a haunting quality as it lies devoid of human life. 8 large scale sculptural paintings are installed over the wallpaper breaking up the interior details with their bold colours suggestive of the vibrancy of the space when occupied.
Making a nod to Fontana’s series ‘Concetto Spaziale (Teatrino)’, Brown’s paintings sit within sculptural reliefs which extend the gestural movement of the brush marks, concealing and exposing the painting beneath in equal measure. Brown’s paintings explore the use of architecture as a symbol of class, sexuality and status through its use and misuse. When an already determined use of a building is taken and then perverted, the form and detail of the building are exposed.
Brown’s paintings use the function of a theatre set to separate the idea of self realisation from the physical world. In a society that is becoming more and more utilitarian and made for profit. Brown has created his own theatrical world, and invited the viewer to be an active participant. Through the simple action of standing, and looking at the works, our imagination is triggered so that we might become the bar staff, the drag star, DJ or simply the customer enjoying the surroundings with all its feverish stimulation.
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