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Various sites, Frome, Somerset  10th May - 21st June 2008


From the 10th of May to 21st of June Frome was host to Intervention/Decoration an ambitious contemporary art exhibition that responded to the local context of the town and played with the themes embedded in the exhibition title.

The title suggested both a light hearted aesthetic with the art historical connotations of decoration being a frivolous, fashion and very much craft orientated arena; combined with the social and political connotations of intervention that we have come to expect from rigorous public and site based work. These seemingly opposing positions were united through the exhibited artworks, where the decorative is used as both an aesthetic and a means of interrupting the everyday life of the town, prompting a reassessment and reconsideration of the surrounding site, and initiating discussion on the nature of the artworks positioning within the public domain.

The majority of artists who participated in Intervention/Decoration used decorative means as a central part of their practice, playing with the high art divide. The ability for pattern to be both a signifier of various histories and to produce a critical dialogue with its placement in the public domain was most evident in the work of Jim Isermann. For Intervention/Decoration Isermann developed a poster of vibrant pattern taken from traditional weaving designs produced in Frome in the 1950s. Pasted across building hoardings and boarded up windows, the posters infused patches of colour throughout the townscape, enlivening the area and bringing into contemporary life a motif from the town’s history; transforming the present and referencing the past. The use of the vibrant motif to cover-up disused buildings and broken windows further carries with it a utopian vision of the potential for bold colour and careful design to regenerate the public arena.

The intervention of the decorative within the public domain was further seen in the work of Eva Berendes. In the interior of a disused Silk Mill building Berendes installed a snaking curtain of patterned fabric. The geometric design drew on the use of abstract motifs throughout the 20th century, from traditional hand crafted textiles to the Bauhaus aesthetic. Installed in the Silk Mill the curtain rested on the boundary between domestic decoration and architectural intervention. The large dimensions of the fabric cut through the Mill space, dominating the audience and manipulating their experience of the building whilst simultaneously surrounding them in a decorative design. Berendes played with the constructed critical divide between intervention and simple decoration.

Alongside the decorative, text was employed as both a visual interruption in the town and a subtle mediation on the pervasive and powerful use of language in the public domain. Bright orange letters were written across the high building of the Old Silk Mill easily visible from the town centre spelling out ‘AT A DISTANCE TO THE FOREGROUND’. The painted text was the work of American artist Lawrence Weiner. The lettering played with its own positioning and simultaneously suggested the subtle hierarchies of public space with the dominant position of the Mill visible throughout the local area.

Text further took a central role in the work of Cornelia Parker. For Intervention/Decoration, Parker responded to Frome’s strong history of non-conformist worship and the recent death of her parents to produce a challenging ornamental memorial. Parker appropriated Philip Larkin’s most infamous poem This Be The Verse and fused its confrontational but incisive analysis of British society with traditional craftsmanship to produce a ledger stone that she describes as, a ‘non-conformist epitaph’. Situated opposite a Wesleyan Church and graveyard the positioning of the work intensified its mediation on remembrance and the tradition of commemoration. Parker’s use of the provocative yet highly poetic language of Larkin alluded to the ability of text to trigger cultural metaphors and personal associations, relocating aspects of the everyday into compelling and extraordinary sentiments.



In another facet of text-based work the artist Ruth Ewan has enlisted the town crier to make a series of proclamations. Short, abstract and somehow prophetic, the cries marked a rupture in the momentum of the day, initiating contemplation of the immediate space and infusing new narratives within the existing dialogues of the town. Crying out the phrase “unrecorded future tell us what broods there” the town crier commanded attention as the words hung in the silenced air before moving with the surrounding pubic back into the momentum of the day. Subsequently written in poster format and displayed in the Black Swan, a former tavern, the text called by the town crier formed an evolving script throughout the duration of the exhibition. Ruth Ewan’s practice explores the use of language within the public domain investigating the circulation of radical ideas within popular culture. Taking texts from the writings of Gustav Spiller a leading figure in the transatlantic pacifist, humanitarian and ethical movements in Britain producing the publication, Poems of Human Service (The Utopia Press, London 1927) Ewan used the traditional performance of the town crier to infuse subtle mediations on humanitarian ideals within the daily fabric of Frome, temporarily re-activating historical aspirations towards a more egalitarian society.



Further works in the exhibition included Michael Dean’s intricate sculpture garden and Richard Wood’s vibrant installation of coloured flooring in a former non-conformist Chapel.

The diversity of artworks within the exhibition were united through their shared contemplations on the definition and use of public space, and the role of intervention and decoration within the public and artistic domain. Unexpected instances of pattern and text intervened with the everyday structure of the town, producing discourses upon the various histories and narratives of each site.

Intervention/Decoration was a highly successful exhibition that positioned contemporary art in an unexpected rural location and effectively engaged with the locality producing an intriguing and refreshing aesthetic whilst simultaneously igniting discussion on the use of decorative and text based work as a rigorous from of contemporary art practice.

Laura Mansfield 25/7/08




Intervention/Decoration was the inaugural project by Foreground, a new contemporary art commissioning organisation based in Frome, Somerset.