A couple of weeks ago, I went to see Albert Potrony’s exhibition Faith at Whitstable Museum. The exhibition brings together interviews with people and ministers from churches and the Humanist movement in Lagos and Whitstable. As well as not being into Freud, I’m not into God either so asking me to enjoy an exhibition that deals openly and reverently with people who believe in miracles, deliverance and the Church was, once again, a tall order.
Also, an order of equal stature is asking me to watch films in a gallery. However gripping, interesting and well made the films happen to be, if I’m required to stand on the spot to watch it, and if it’s of a lengthy duration, it has to compete with the weight of my bag on my shoulder and the aching feeling in the small of my back.
In the end, I didn’t mind either. The exhibition is shown across two rooms and there are six short films in the first and one 24 minute film in the second. The same people are in all six films, answering questions, with some humour and a surprising amount of ease. Their starting point is the same but their lives and their experiences are at times remarkably different, not just from Lagos to Whitstable but from Lagos to Lagos and Whitstable to Whitstable. A lot is said in the films by how they say it.
While the exhibition did not make me change my own opinion, it did make me realise how little I talk to anyone about faith and belief. I’ll blather on about Caravaggio and Michaelangelo, I’ll question why we have 26 bishops in the House of Lords and I still complain that what Michael Gove thinks every state school in the country needs, is a bible, but I avoid the personal bits, which are messy and contradictory and ultimately leads to hurt feelings. I asked Albert whether he told any of the people that he interviewed, that he is an atheist, and he said that during the 3 month fellowship in Nigeria and the time spent in Whitstable no-one asked him, so maybe this idea goes both ways.
It was unlikely, being a friend of mine and knowing his work, that I would have disliked this exhibition, but the thing that I really enjoyed about the show was that, unlike me, Albert didn’t avoid the personal. He went straight for it and he stays there, and so while it wasn’t always a comforting exhibition, it was very compelling.
On Friday night, I was at the National Portrait Gallery, and there is a new display of drawings and prints on the ground floor that includes three drawings by Michael Landy from the series Art World Portraits. This is a rather conceptual exercise that seems to hang on the relationship between seeing and drawing and repetition and which, when displayed on their own last year, were exactly the kinds of drawings that I like to look at. However, on Friday night, Landy’s drawings, hung opposite Auerbach’s heavily worked self portrait and across from Maggi Hamlbing’s loopily drawn portrait of Stephen Fry, were a little cold. When it came to showing something personal about himself, or his sitters, Landy just didn’t go there.