Art Wolstenholme Creative Space is a not-for-profit contemporary gallery, venue and artist studios and has always been one of the highlights of festivals past. It’s in the odd position of being listed in both the official Biennial booklet and the Independents. Is it an official venue? For the purposes of the this project I’ve assumed it is because it’s on the map key but there isn’t anything more about it in the official booklet and they haven’t been given one of the red a-boards, having created their own with a large computer printed (29) on both sides. Oh and it’s described as Wolstenholme Projects, which is I think what it was called years ago, but not now. Other than that, I was convinced I should be visiting. So I did.
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Step into the main entrance, past the leaflets, say hello to the volunteer on duty, walk behind the black curtain and then let your sense of reality fall away. That’s the experience of visiting the WCS’s Inhospitable Landscapes exhibition because behind the curtain is a forest. The bottom floor of the building has been turned into a forest. Trees and branches fill the space, the ground is covered in leaves and woodchip and the smell, the smell is just as a forest smells not long after a storm, damp but fragrant. Initially when I stepped in, I had to step out again because of everything I’d expected to find behind that curtain it wasn’t that.
This must be what it’s like to step through the wardrobe into Narnia or indeed out of the TARDIS when the randomiser’s on full but the scanner’s on the fritz. It’s probably worth nothing that I was experiencing this after the discombobulating of unexpectedly meeting an old friend outside the building (a friend who I coincidentally worked with at the Biennial in 2006). Step about a bit and notice towards the back there is a kitchen dining table or to the left into a more typical gallery space and we find a large video screen (which sticking to Doctor Who analogies is like stepping from the wood into the control room in Flesh and Stone).
As the literature describes, the piece is “visually focusing on the physical landscape with a large-scale installation that literally brings 'the outside, inside', Inhospitable Landscape toys with concepts of social and cultural landscapes; the uncomfortable and inhospitable aspects of humanity.” Not only is the space unexpected, but we’re the unexpected guest within it. Unless it’s for the The Inhospitable Supper Club, a joint venture with the Leaf Café in which a limited number of participants can pay £20 for a three course meal within the space which unless its in the room at the side, must be a picnic on the floor. That's quite something.
Dotted throughout the forest are portable televisions presenting unusual images like parts of the body and mysterious landscapes. Arguably these disrupt the illusion somewhat, but again they’re a reminder that we’re in a constructed space and we have simply wandered into a recreation of what might happen if the forests were to reclaim the cities ala I Am Legend or A Sound of Thunder. Zombies or mutant dinosaurs are unlikely to step out from shadows though a couple of people did randomly appear from seemingly nowhere and gave me a fright. It turned out they’d been upstairs. “We’re not ghosts.” They said. I wasn’t so sure.