An Extra{ordinary} Exhibition | Living North

An Extra{ordinary} Exhibition

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The Caravan Gallery and extra{ordinary} exhibition
Jan Williams and Chris Teasdale have been touring Sunderland with their caravan to promote their ‘extra{ordinary}’ exhibition and get people involved in their Pride of Place Project
‘It’s all a bit carry on caravan. The idea is to go to places other galleries can’t go and can’t reach’
W Bruce Ship Painters, Fraserburgh
Free pot of cream, Liverpool, 2013

On a Saturday afternoon outside Bridges Shopping Centre in Sunderland, The Caravan Gallery was attracting the curiosity of passers-by. The 1969 mustard-yellow caravan has caught the attention of old and young alike, from people popping their head in to see what it was all about, to those stopping in the street simply to take pictures. 

The Caravan Gallery began as a project for a millennium arts festival, exploring the ‘British at leisure’. Chris and Jan saw the caravan as the perfect symbol for their gallery. ‘It’s all a bit carry on caravan,’ laughs Jan, ‘The idea is to go to places other galleries can’t go and can’t reach.’ Since then, The Caravan Gallery has been commissioned in cities across the country. It is now embarking on a national tour, beginning in Sunderland, and visiting Bradford, Cardiff, Middlesborough, Preston and Southampton over the next year and a half.

Running this rather unusual gallery are Jan Williams and Chris Teasdale, both artists and photographers, who are conducting citywide projects everywhere they visit. In Sunderland this project involves multiple elements, initially featuring their exhibition extra{ordinary} at the National Gallery for Contemporary Art and including photos from their ‘Is Britain Great?’ archive, a national project that has exhibited as far afield as Tokyo. Alongside this, new images from Sunderland, taken by Jan and Chris, will be displayed. 

Supporting this will be the Pride of Place Project – a participatory event that will be held in an empty shop space throughout April. It will display the winning entries from their recent photo competition on Sunderland, as well as inviting people to make their own contribution to the project. The idea is to ‘just get people talking and looking, reminiscing and fantasising, then we invite them to join in,’ explains Jan. Chris and Jan want people to bring something of their own to the gallery, whether that is through photography, arts and crafts, storytelling, music or even dance. ‘It’ll be like an alternative, reverse visitor information centre where it is the visitors who provide the information,’ says Jan. 

The project has another distinctive aim. Jan points to a photo of a sign advertising a ‘free pot of cream with every 12 mins before 1pm’. Laughing she explains, ‘This is really typical of the kind of thing we are interested in, just really absurd, bizarre things. The sort of stuff that people walk past and think, “What? What does it mean?”’ 

Through the extra{ordinary} exhibition Jan and Chris want to offer a more candid, realistic view of the city, which shows the good, alongside the bad and the ridiculous, celebrating how extraordinary ordinary, everyday life is. Their photographs show some strange and incredible scenes from the British cities they have already visited. ‘We want to be thought-provoking and get people to look at their environment and the world around them a bit more,’ she explains. 

This is a vast project, from displaying works to encouraging people to make their own. The tour with the caravan itself is designed to advertise this project. ‘The caravan works because it’s obviously a little bit of a gimmick, being a silly little yellow caravan, with people going “Oh what’s that?” Kids love it and older people remember caravan holidays from when they were kids,’ says Jan.

By using photography and a roving gallery Jan and Chris intend to make the project as accessible as possible. ‘Some people wouldn’t necessarily go to a normal art gallery because they think it’s not for them, so using a caravan means we can appeal to a whole range of people,’ Jan explains. A wide variety of intrigued people are constantly peering through the door. From the group of kids who wanted their picture taken, to friends out shopping and an elderly couple, all different kinds of people were gathering in the tiny gallery. As Jan says, ‘It’s like a little social club on wheels, and the good thing is people talk to each other in here, people who might not normally have much to do with each other. It works really well.’ 

Jan and Chris are both eager to see what the project will reveal about Sunderland, especially what has changed since their last visit. ‘It seems like Sunderland is such a creative place, it has a strong music scene, street artists, art groups and photographers, so we are just really keen to see what people do here,’ says Jan. As well as conducting a fun and alternative survey, the artists have interesting plans for their Pride of Place Project. ‘We are going to make a really big map outline and ask people who come in to tell us about what different places are like, where you get the best pease pudding, what their favourite view is, buildings they love and hate.’ The project does have an informative aspect too: ‘We want people who live here to find out stuff they never knew about their own city,’ says Jan. 

What do they want people to take from this? ‘Joy,’ laughs Chris, ‘We are just trying to put a bit of humour into things.’ The little caravan in the middle of the street has certainly made people smile, and the photos have inspired a lot of laughter. ‘It’s just a little exercise in communication,’ says Chris, ‘Its quite an involved project overall, and the caravan is in the centre of it all.’

extra{ordinary} exhibition
National Gallery for Contemporary Art, Sunderland
6th March–1st May. 

Sunderland Pride of Place Project
Fawcett Street, Mon–Sat, 2nd April–2nd May. 

For more information about The Caravan Gallery and extra{ordinary} exhibition check out their website www.thecaravangallery.photography. If you missed the gallery this time you can still see it in Middlesbrough in June 2016.

Published in: April 2015

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