Arts - Love at Firstsite

If next week is anything to go by the big golden gallery is pulling out all the stops to rekindle its fledgling romance with Colcestrians

You told us what you wanted from Firstsite and we believe next week's menage a trois of exhibitions will tick a lot of boxes. More community involvement? Check! More local works and pride in our heritage? Check! More art on those huge curved walls? Check, check and check.

On Thursday, March 9th, Firstsite will be the venue for a pop-up exhibition by Foundation Art and Design students from Colchester Institute. The project, titled ‘How Are You?’, is showing some love to those with mental health issues. The students have had only 3 weeks to research, develop and create an outcome that tackles the subject sensitively and with consideration and they will exhibit their work for one evening only. The exhibition forms part of the students' support of Mid and North Essex Mind, the college's charity of the year and will run from 5 to 8pm. 

On the following day, Friday, March 10th two more exciting, and very different exhibitions will share an opening from 6 to 8pm. Firstly Wunderkammer - literally a 'cabinet of curiosities'. Made up almost entirely of loans from the Colchester and Ipswich Museums, this will be a permanent collection, which will grow over time to surround the Berryfield Mosiac set in the floor of the gallery. The items include some gorgeous rare books, natural history artefacts, domestic items and paintings. All have been selected for the special resonance they have with our town and its history. One of the most arresting sights will be the magnificent painting of William Gilberd demonstrating static electricity to Queen Elizabeth I by Arthur Ackland Hunt. Whilst it has been in Colchester for over 100 years it has been somewhat secluded in the Town Hall. We just adore the fact that this stunning painting has so much intricate and historical context one could view it on many occasions and still spot a detail not noticed before each time.  At Firstsite we'll have the chance to do just that.

And the biggy - along with 13 works in oil, as part of his Gesture & Form show at Firstsite, running until 4 June, Chinese artist Zhang Enli has spent 16 days on his labour of love - Colchester's very own 'Space Painting' which covers 140 metres of the gallery's curving, sensuous walls and will remain in place for a whole year. Zhang’s tree paintings are taken from photographs of the trees that line the streets of Shanghai. His brushwork and glazes of diluted colour show influences of traditional Chinese brush painting but the sheer scale of the works and the heightened drama of the perspective alters the relationship between the viewer and the space and leaves one feeling almost encompassed.

Photo by Miranda Cichy

Photo by Frazer Merrick

Zhang started his Space Paintings series in 2007 and has completed similarly large-scale works in China, India, Italy and at the Institute of Contemporary Art in London in 2013. At that time he explained, "I paint them in order to invite people in—to let all people enter and become immersed in the atmosphere... the 'Space Paintings' mimic the body as it contains you, like a cocoon. But most of all, instead of what’s outside of myself, my paintings now reflect what’s in my heart." And what's not to love about an artist with their heart on their sleeve?

So there you have it. Three exhibitions all aiming to romance Colchester in unique ways. Let Firstsite back into your affections next week, and don't forget to let us know what you think!