Review - Antarctica by Chris Dobrowolski, Colchester Arts Centre, November 2nd 2016

Colchester-based artist Chris Dobrowolski performed his Antarctica show, recounting his time as artist-in-residence in our southernmost continent, to a packed Arts Centre last week. Colchester Life was in the crowd.

As many of you will know the Arts Centre's 'pay what you can afford' Wednesdays offer a chance for the less financially lubricated among us to see emerging and established artists’ exhilarating, intriguing or just plain bonkers performances we may not otherwise be able to access. Occasionally you might see something life-affirming. Chris Dobrowolski's Antarctica is just that, but uncommonly without any sense of piousness - indeed, quite the opposite.

While Chris opens the show with some though-provoking nods to the concept of art as process, the subsequent first half - a high-speed ramble through Chris’ mum’s love of the Ladybird ‘How It Works’ book series, his attempts to escape Hull University, and his early career in management training as a ‘professional failure’ - is light-hearted, relatable and yes, funny.

It is when the audience arrives in Antarctica with Chris that we, along with him, begin to question everything. His work, he says, occupies the territory between the real and the artificial, and with his careful placing of Antarctic Action Man, plastic penguins and toy Tucker Sno-Cats alongside their ‘real-life’ counterparts he creates dioramas which crisscross boundaries of authenticity, banality and vulnerability. By insisting on using analogue film to capture his ‘full-on artist’ moment of ‘going with the nothingness’, and rejecting the copycat nature of digital film, he plays with notions of what is real and unreal, all the time keenly aware that he is surrounded, not by like-minded, sympathetic souls, but hard-bitten colleagues who give him spontaneous feedback of the “You’re shite” variety. Which camp, the audience wonders, do we fall in?

Chris is charmingly self-deprecating, but somehow manages to wring laughs from his history of 'failure' without undermining his own talent – the audience never loses confidence in him. When he reveals the circular nature of the fate of old sleds, it seems fitting, comforting even. And when the final film rolls, to the haunting Sinfonia Antartica, and the picture-frame sledge disappears into the snowy wasteland it’s almost unbearably poignant.

If art is the lie that reveals the truth then Chris Dobrowolski is a very good fibber.

Catch the show, if you possibly can, in Reading on November 22nd ( as the next performance in Brighton on the 15th is already sold out.

And keep an eye on Chris’ webpage for more news of his Selfie Slot Car Racing antics too: