Treating the senses

Light Blue, The Royal Standard, until 24th March, free (open Friday-Sunday 12-5 or by appointment)

I’m always going on about how I don’t really understand art in anything but an emotional way. It’s been funny on my MA course, communicating with people who’s main appreciation of art is formal: is it technically good? I guess this relates a little to my last post about Da Vinci: I can appreciate it, but it’s really almost my secondary concern with art. The first is its emotional impact – only then do I turn to why it makes me feel this way.

Hannah Bitowski

Usually when we’re talking about art, these questions refer to visuals. Light Blue at The Royal Standard asks its audience to use more of their senses. I know how colours and lines set my senses going: what about smells, sounds etc? You might be thinking: why do I need an art exhibition to cover this? But the gallery context actually helps when it comes to making judgements away from other subjective stimuli.

Take smells, which are known to be strongly associative. Hannah Bitowski’s rather fab woven-brain-esque balaclavas, however, take away almost all stimuli except for colour and scent. You put them on and get to focus on the different smells. And I was surprised by how each one really did make me feel so different. One of them smelled of that artificial sugary-ness of children’s sweets, a smell that it turns out I have very strong colour and place associations with.

Michael Lacey has made music, and I liked what I heard. I consider myself very bad at music writing because I find it really hard to explain why I like or don’t like certain things. So I’ll just say that it put me in a good place, quite atmospheric and spacious.

Alex Margo Arden

Probably my highlight was Kitty Jones’ rings (featured image) – I don’t quite know what to call them. They’re like toys, filled with magnetic beads. There’s a ring on either side of the space which you can use to pull the beads around the circle, or you can do what I enjoyed and just lightly touch on the hoops to move them around. I could have stayed using these for hours in a space of focus. Touch is actually a sense that can provoke very extreme reactions and this is such a satisfying way of exploring it, also one which I can imagine working for pretty much anyone.

Everything I’ve described so far sounds like it’s about creative positive, calm moods. So, in fact, does the title Light Blue, so chosen for being a deliberately calming colour. But Alex Margo Arden’s visual pieces provide a counterpoint as something noticeably different. They’re red – a more alarming colour – and they’re disconcerting. Puppets lie collapsed on the floor, while swords dangle from ribbons. I’ve only thought when I’m writing this that it’s the part of the show I spent the least time with. I can’t say for certain, but maybe it’s because I had some sort of aversion in comparison to the other ‘nice’ things?

Despite this, I left Light Blue feeling happy. I’m usually a fan of interactive installations anyway, and here the point is playful, not laboured. But the emotion of happiness was primarily triggered by thinking about how much I’d felt. It’s one thing to say that art can affect your emotions, another to actually notice it happening with such consistency.

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