Arcade/Arcadia, 2012 (exterior)
Originally commissioned for the opening of the Turner Contemporary Gallery in Margate, U.K.
From the outside, the viewer sees an old-fashioned aluminum fairground sign spelling out the word “ARCADIA” in six foot high lights leaning against a 15 ft. x 33 ft. skeletal shack. Entering the shack, the viewer finds himself inside a mirrored panorama of a down-at-heels seaside resort. The 34 mirrors are mounted onto thin light boxes so that the engravings appear as lines of light floating on the mirrored surfaces and viewers see themselves inside an endlessly mirrored 360 degree drawing of contemporary Margate seen from the beach.
The shack is a ¾ scale replica of the gallery that J.M.W.Turner built to display his works in London and the dimensions and arrangement of the mirrors replicate those of the paintings that were in the gallery upon Turner’s death -- some hanging on the walls, some leaning casually on the floor. The font of the ARCADIA sign is based on the sign for Margate’s currently shuttered Dreamland amusement park.
The sign on the outside of the piece references not only Turner’s experience of Margate as an Arcadian site of escapist pleasure (where he lived happily in sin with his landlady and raved about the town’s light and natural beauties) but also the amusement arcade aesthetic that came to dominate the seaside experience – paradoxically destroying the very natural beauty that initially attracted visitors. Similarly the endlessly mirroring mirrors inside reference the fun-house mirror experience – viewers finds their reflections inserted in to a drawing in light of a present distorted by the use of past aesthetics. The mirrored panorama reinserts present-day Margate into the aesthetics of its more picturesque past at the same time that it stakes a claim for the melancholy beauty of its somewhat degraded present.
About Ellen Harvey
Ellen Harvey produces installations, illuminated engravings, paintings, and public projects that apply a critical lens to traditional forms of artmaking, art exhibitions, and art viewership. For her New York Beautification Project (1999-2001), the British-born, Brooklyn-based artist “tagged” over the city’s graffiti with small-scale, oil paintings of landscapes, working in the “utterly uncool and unthreatening” style of the Hudson River School painters. The project, which asks viewers to consider the difference between graffiti and public art is embedded with irony—especially because Harvey, whose images could be considered acts of vandalism, is also trained as an attorney.
British , b. 1967, Kent, United Kingdom, based in Brooklyn, New York