Colchester Artist Comes in from the Cold

Colchester-based fine art maker Chris Dobrowolski returns to Colchester Arts Centre on 2 November with a re-edit of his performance lecture, Antarctica.

What’s a fine art maker? What exactly is a performance lecture? And how on earth did a Colchestrian find himself in the world’s southernmost continent and what did he do there?! So many questions came to mind when Colchester Life met up with Chris for a swift pint last week that we weren’t quite sure where to begin.

Braintree-born and Colchester-based Chris Dobrowolski, who is at once a conceptual artist, sculptor and teacher, confesses he describes himself in different ways according to his audience, but finally plumps for fine art maker when asked to loosely define his profession. He’s also a natural raconteur with an easy manner which lends itself perfectly to his unique kind of visually-aided story-telling - or as he puts it, talking while pointing at pictures with a stick. (Or in this case, a broom handle. We’re assured the choice of that particular implement is integral to the show, but you’ll have to see it to confirm that).

Chris spent 3 months in the icy wastelands of the Antarctic back in 2008/9 as artist-in-residence with the British Antarctic Survey, after his girlfriend saw an advertisement in an arts newsletter. His show takes the audience along on the journey that answering that ad took Chris – from the application process, through to building an intimate acquaintance with the ship’s toilets over six queasy weeks at sea; from encounters with the world’s only carnivorous duck and snarling fur seals, to building a twelve-foot sled from gold picture frames in sub-zero temperatures, all with accompanying pictures and videos.

Chris’s work has always referenced landscapes, and modes of transport have been a recurring theme – Chris has built a boat, hovercraft, even a functioning (for a very short maiden flight) aeroplane in the past – but it was Antarctica’s unenviable notoriety as the continent synonymous with disaster that convinced Chris this was the place for him. Shackleton’s misadventures, the doomed Captain Scott – landscape and failure meet in the Antarctic, and failure is something Chris has professional experience in. Alongside his artistic endeavours, that each have their own stories of failure attached, Chris relates how he was browbeaten by an ambitious consultant into working in management training sessions on ‘Re-evaluating Success’. His role, he discovered at the first session, was to provide a cautionary tale, as he was introduced as… an example of a failure.

While Chris jokes that he is relieved he doesn’t have to worry about becoming a sell-out, with armies of technicians setting up his work for him, he is proud of the ‘knocked up in a garden shed’ quality of many of his pieces, which, he believes, means there is more chance of the viewer identifying and believing in them. He is also keenly aware that contemporary art seems to have lost its relevance for a lot of people and so Chris uses his visual language to portray what many of us can’t put into words – a sense of seeking, even when you don’t know exactly what it is you’re looking for, an exploration of art’s purpose and philosophical notions of reality versus pretence.

Chris’ is keen to point out that the very word ‘art’ comes from ‘artificial’ and he plays with ideas of authenticity and banality in the series of pieces placing ‘pretend’ Antarctic objects (plastic penguins, rubber whales) next to their real-life counterparts. Does this action bestow some credibility on them which transforms them into ‘real’ Antarctic objects, Chris’ work seems to ask.

Currently running the Selfie Slot Car Championships at Firstsite as part of the Flipside Festival (http://www.visitessex.com/thedms.aspx?dms=3&venue=0650034&feature=2212 ), Chris will be performing Antarctica at his beloved Colchester Arts Centre for one night only on a ‘pay what you can afford’ Wednesday. It promises to be a humorous, exhilarating and thought provoking evening. Colchester Life looks forward to it!

Tickets available here: http://www.colchesterartscentre.com/events/performance/chris-dobrowolski-antarctica/