Where we live now

Jasmir Creed: Dystopolis, Victoria Gallery & Museum, until 21st April, free

Nowadays I rarely have time for it, but it used to be a favourite pastime: sitting in a coffee shop in a busy part of town, in a window seat, watching the world go past. It was the fun of imagining where they were going that used to get me. Dreaming up lives for these characters beyond the likely reality that they’d just come into Bromley either out of need, or lack of anything else to do in the town on a Saturday.

I was reminded of this feeling by Jasmir Creed’s paintings, currently occupying Gallery 2 of the Victoria Gallery. Creed is a people watcher, one who likes to observe life in spots of mass transit. She reads the crowd as a whole, and in doing so finds a way to connect them to something much bigger than the individual self.

At first glance, the scenes appear straightforward. Crowds of commuters rendered in muted greys and browns, surrounded by the natural world. The show is called Dystopolis, and so it’s unsurprising that there’s a feeling of unease or concern to some of these paintings. The crowds could be anyone, anywhere in the urban world. They appear oblivious to rather a lot of concerning events: the burning world of Funnel, the alien appearance of the Metropolitan Cathedral in Vessel.  The most critical work is Undercamp, where the focus is on the rows of tents that have become an all-too-common sight on city streets. The greenery creates a wall to shield the commuters, upside-down and unable to connect with the harsh world below.

But in other works, I personally found a lot more ambiguity than the title suggests. Yes, there’s the suggestion that these crowds have disconnected from each other – lots of looking down at phones. But her compositional structures suggest that Creed understands that people are capable of being far more.

It’s rarely clear what the precise relationship between the crowds and the colour is; whether space is being encroached upon, and by who. Are those brilliant flowers separate to the tower block landscape, or part of it? Nature borders her protagonists, often binding them together into small spaces – is it creating claustrophobia, or getting people to bond with those they are close to?

Then there’s that thing when a particular colour or pattern is used to represent a person’s ‘inner life’. It probably has a name that I don’t know. I remember learning about it in relation to Van Gogh portraits. Anyway, City Pads feels like that. Like the strands intervening into the centre of the work are symbols of an alternative connection that the people are involved in beyond this place.

I enjoyed Creed’s work rather a lot. It set me on different paths of thought about ways in which we can negotiate busyness. The main word I came out thinking was “potential”. We all have potential to be more than the lazy or unobservant people we all sometimes, inevitably let ourselves drift into being. There is critique here, but I also felt that there was more of a spirit of query. How can we stop ourselves slipping into this automaton mode and make space for the value of things?

For me, I know I feel more connected to places when I work harder to observe. From now on, I’m going to start looking around more closely.

P.S. if you go and see this, make sure you pop into the room next door to visit the Brendel flower models too. They’re definitely one of my favourite unusual things we’ve got in the city right now, and they’re only here until April so don’t miss out.

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