Aims and Objectives
Photographing the way we live today
The Caravan Gallery is a mobile exhibition venue and visual arts project we set up to document the ordinary and extraordinary details of everyday life. Eager to examine clichés and cultural trends, we are particularly drawn to the absurd anomalies and curious juxtapositions typical of places in transition and in the process of reinventing themselves as regeneration fever spreads.
Simultaneously seduced by and suspicious of the rose-tinted tones of tourist information brochures, and frustrated by their yawning omissions, we have set out to redress the balance by sidestepping the brown signs and interpretation boards to see what lies beyond. Our investigations into ‘sense of place’ and regional distinctiveness invariably lead to many places of interest and undesignated attractions that stick two fingers up to the language of marketing
The Caravan Gallery, a diminutive mustard model (circa 1969), with white walls and beech floor on the inside (like a ‘real’ gallery), provides the perfect setting for an evolving exhibition of wry, often tragicomic, photographic observations made in response to the areas we visit; our exhibitions might be place-specific or explore a particular theme, otherwise feature images from our substantial archive which constitutes a highly subjective survey-cum-tour guide to contemporary leisure, landscape and lifestyle.
We also create unique our own postcards that reveal the reality – and surreality – of the places we visit. Although not traditionally picturesque, (Caravan Gallery cards don’t airbrush out Portaloos and are as likely to feature tanning salons as thatched cottages) the appeal of these cards lies in the very familiarity of their subject matter and their celebration of overlooked details; we discover unexpected delights in the most unpromising situations – and, of course, the reverse is true.
The Caravan Gallery exhibits at an eclectic range of locations, rural, urban and suburban, from small-scale community events to prestigious contemporary galleries and international art and photography festivals. The scope for interaction with an extremely diverse audience is enormous and the inevitable feedback (including enthusiastic recommendations of places worthy of investigation) makes a valuable contribution to the project. In response to people’s eagerness to join in our explorations we have devised a concept called the Pride of Place Project, whereby local people help us co-create an exhibition about local identity. Pride of Place Projects might pop up in a marquee in a field or transform an empty high street shop into a dynamic gallery come reverse visitor information centre i.e. one where visitors give us the information.
Our travels have inspired a growing range of merchandise which now includes 4 books, Welcome to Britain – a celebration of real life, Is Britain Great? 1, 2 and 3, subversive Visitor Guides, postcards, greetings cards and gift wrap-cum-posters that show the world from a Caravan Gallery perspective. We produce limited edition prints and sometimes work in other media such as drawing and collage.
We also show work on a larger scale beyond the confines of the caravan in ‘proper’ venues in the UK and abroad; sometimes the caravan itself becomes the centrepiece of an exhibition e.g. during Is Britain Great?, a Caravan Gallery retrospective at Aspex gallery, Portsmouth. Afterwards the exhibition toured to fashion designer Paul Smith’s SPACE in Tokyo then to Fukuoka and Kyoto.
Other projects include a collaboration with Pilgrim Films and pop group St Etienne on The Other South Bank, a comparison between areas and communities of London and Middlesborough. ARC, the Architecture Centre in Hull commissioned us to produce a photo essay on Hullness, a psychogeographical quest for genius loci. We worked with pupils at Fulbridge School, Peterborough on a Creative Partnerships project exploring the seaside resort of Hunstanton. The school now has its own caravan gallery art space as a permanent fixture in the playground.
Our 2011 participation in Kunst&Zwalm, a contemporary art festival in rural Belgium, has led to an increase in international activity. Local people are always fascinated to see how we perceive their locality as we frequently unearth overlooked details – indeed we were accused of making the workaday town of Wetteren look interesting!
Much of 2013 will be devoted to Merseyside. Merseystyle: Photographs by The Caravan Gallery, our exhibition at the Museum of Liverpool, opens in May as part of Look 13 International Photography Festival. This will be complemented by Pride of Place Projects in Liverpool and Wirral.