Corridors of Power #1

A Brief History of Broken Cricket Bats

Curated by: Ryan Blakeley, Feini Chen, ZiZhen Cheng, Gaia Giacomelli, Shu Chang Liu, Ksenia Stepanova, Xinjiang Zhuang.

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The curators with Syd Shelton (credit: Donald Smith)

Corridors of Power #1, the first in a series of exhibitions by curators on the MA Curating and Collections course at Chelsea College of Arts, displays multiple works from the Chelsea Space collection. It highlights the gallery’s ongoing relationship with and focus on popular culture and punk rock. The works displayed are from many different generations of exhibitions that Chelsea Space has created throughout its 11 year history, including its most recent exhibition on the photography of Sheila Rock – Sheila Rock: From Punk To The English Sea. The exhibited exhibition posters by Hatch Show Print, Frank Sidebottom, Mark Titchner and Mick Jones (also photographed by Syd Shelton with The Clash band member Paul Simonon on the second floor) highlight the diversity of the 66 exhibitions that Chelsea Space has produced so far.

This show was conceived in reference to the exhibition space’s unique history that resonates with the anti-establishment values that punk rock perpetuated. Once the Commandant’s headquarters, these corridors and the offices within them were re- appropriated as the offices for Margaret Thatcher’s Chancellor of the Exchequer, Sir Geoffrey Howe. It was in the now Pro Vice Chancellor’s office that Howe wrote his famous resignation speech about ‘playing with broken bats’ that would eventually lead to the end of Margaret Thatcher’s eleven year term in office.

The exhibition revolves around Howe’s statement as a fitting metaphor for the inadequate social structures that gave birth to the rebellion that punk was. This is perhaps most poignantly exhibited in Syd Shelton’s two Jubilee photographs. The two works juxtapose the celebratory nature of the Queen’s Jubilee with the anxious social reality of Great Britain at that time. The pairing of the 1977 and 2012 works brings focus to the question of how much has changed in the interim. Time and change are themes that punctuate this exhibition, and they are characteristic of punk’s evaluating, questioning nature. In Sheila Rock’s recent photograph of the punk muse Jordan (commissioned for Chelsea Space’s 66th exhibition), where the model wears an image of her younger self printed on her t-shirt, Rock brings these reflective themes to the foreground.

When the buildings of Chelsea College of Arts were home to Millbank Penitentiary they were the staging point from which prisoners were sent to Australia. Syd Shelton’s Redfern, therefore, holds a special relevance to its surroundings and their role within the context of British colonialism. The work also reflects the feelings of despondent isolationism felt amongst the marginalised within British society. These play a key role in understanding punk aspirations. It is a theme that Barney Bubbles’ work Frogs, Sprouts, Clogs and Krauts playfully meditates on within the context of Britain’s intercontinental relationships. The multiple cross references between Gilbert & George’s Hope Fear Life and Peter Blake’s work referencing their quotation of Flannagan and Allen’s song Underneath The Arches, which is about homeless men who would sleep underneath railway arches during the great depression, also respond to aspirations of the isolated and outcast.

A Brief History of Broken Cricket Bats pays tribute to the enduring relevance of punk rock values in popular culture and maintains that these are still valuable agents for contemporary political debate.

The curatorial team would like to thank Donald Smith for providing art objects from his personal collection and Mike Iveson for his support during the installation.

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