Suffolk is not known as a contemporary art hot spot. But this year, a new exhibition has been set up in conjunction with the Aldeburgh Music Festival at the Snape Maltings site. Entitled ‘SNAP’, the show includes 12 contemporary artists. but is only on view up to and including this Sunday, 26 June, the end of the second week of the music festival. Luckily though, not all of the art will be disappearing this weekend.
The Aldeburgh Music Festival was founded by Benjamin Britten and Peter Pears in 1948, and has always aimed to bring together emerging and established musical talent. In 1967, Britten and Pears found the perfect site for the festival at Snape Maltings, a Victorian malting barn. They converted the barn into an 832-seat concert venue, now renowned for its musical programme. Pears was a passionate collector of contemporary art so it is appropriate that new work should be shown during the festival he joint founded.
‘SNAP’ grew out of artist Sarah Lucas's friendship with festival director Jonathan Reekie. Lucas lives and works in Aldeburgh, coincidentally, in Benjamin Britten’s old house, and Abigail Lane, an artist and the show’s organiser moved nearby a few years ago. ‘This show has been in the pipeline for years, and it just suddenly came together,’ Lane says. 'All the artists have a link to East Anglia, whether they work, live, or originated from the area.
It's more like a contemporary art treasure hunt than an exhibition, with a map handed to visitors to help them find the artworks interspersed among the historic buildings. Lane was adamant that she ‘didn’t want the show to feel provincial, but I also didn’t want the art to irritate people just for the sake of it. Darren Almond's metal plaques in the concert hall look like they've been there forever, and I think they’ll stay there for a while.’
Restaurant customers might glance out of the window and see Gary Hume RA’s elegant white sculpture, Liberty Grip, which appears to be constructed from two legs and an arm. ‘Gary’s work was the first one we commited to showing. I walked around the site with him, and it became clear that we couldn’t possibly put one of his paintings up, nor one of his stone sculptures because it would be lost in amongst the different surfaces there. Then he mentioned this sculpture,’ Lane told me.
All the artists have been equally ambitious with their work, for example, Johnnie Shand Kydd displays enlarged photographs around a derelict part of the site. Lane even says that famous fashion photographer Juergen Teller has ‘been coming here specifically to make photographs for his book for the show, and he's been really enjoying it.’ Lane’s own video Forever Always Somewhere, 2011, is installed in the derelict brick barn. A bouncy drum beat leads the viewer to a video projection showing animated bones of a human skeleton flying across the sky, some ricocheting off one another. It sounds bizarre but it actually makes you smile. Lane didn’t want the video to alienate people: ‘I wanted something that felt light and humorous on one level.’
As Lane puts it, ‘Some of the artists in SNAP show in the best international museums, so why should they put their all into a show at Snape?' Clearly they feel passionately about the project and the area. While sadly the show closes this Sunday, some pieces will stay up through the summer, including Gary Hume’s Liberty Grip, Darren Almond’s plaques in the concert hall, Blood and Custard, and his text A Part of Speech written on steps, as well as Mark Fuller’s sculptures, Solaris and 787, Simon Liddiment’s billboard, Logo and Abigail Lane’s Natures Way image. The sculpture of a Suffolk Punch horse and cart, Perceval, by Sarah Lucas will also stay up for a little longer.
This show is a small but perfectly formed slice out of what’s happening in contemporary art now. It’s predominantly non-commercial, though a print portfolio has been made by the artists involved to help fund any further shows there. 'Why go all the way to Venice?' Lane asks cheekily.