Friday, 7 October 2016

MOCA (Museum of Contemporary Art) London

MOCA Project Space
113 Bellenden Rd
London SE15 4QY

Thursday October 6 2016

MOCA London is – after the Horniman Museum and the Dulwich Picture Gallery  – the third closest place on the project masterlist to Linda’s home, so it seemed like a good place to visit on a rather frustrating day.  (It had originally set aside for some work in the house, which then got postponed, but an early afternoon appointment for a flu injection removed any prospect of more distant travel.)  So, somewhere local then, accompanied by fellow-injectee and partner Roger, who has written the following…

MOCA , as its website will tell you, was founded in 1994, initially as a ‘project based’ museum, meaning that it was to function without any formal premises, instead offering a series of international exhibitions in a wide range of media at a variety of virtual or ‘pop-up’ sites.  Then in January 2004 MOCA, following a small change of mind, opened its project space in the Bellenden Renewal Area in Peckham to give itself a small space for exhibitions that were to be ‘locally based but global in focus’.

Bellenden Road has over the last 10+ years been getting increasingly trendy and gentrified, and some surviving old-style cafés and food shops now rub shoulders with artisan butchers, grocers, craft shops, eateries and the very excellent Review bookshop.  The road also boasts artist-designed bollards (Anthony Gormley) and mosaics and street lamps (Tom Phillips).  

MOCA is a former corner shop at the junction of Bellenden and Chadwick Roads with a ghost sign for an old printers on the Chadwick Road side.  The old shop provides the exhibition space and shelves of reference books; the hinterland houses we don’t quite know what, apart from quite a loud black dog (safely held back by a stairgate) and a helpful man who explained what we were looking at and pointed us to some additional printed material about the current exhibition and the artist responsible.

The current exhibition – running from 2 - 29 October – is Relation-Ships (Existence Doubtful) by the artist Janet Bellotto.  This  takes a look at Sable Island, which is actually little more than a sandspit, 109 miles southeast of Nova Scotia in the Atlantic Ocean – the uncertainty of some cartographers about whether there was really anything there is quoted in the exhibition title.  The island is inhabited only by seals and horses – the latter feral descendants of beasts left behind after one of several unsuccessful attempts to create some kind of permanent settlement there – and is (in)famous for the very large number of ships that have been wrecked there over the centuries.

The exhibition basically has three elements: a panorama of the island on the outside of MOCA (a still photograph when we visited mid-afternoon, though the website talks of projections), and, inside the shop, a screen showing a short video loop of the island and its animal population and a list occupying two full walls naming and categorising (ship, brig, brigantine etc) the hundreds of ships that have been wrecked there from the 16th to the 20th centuries.  At least two of them, we noticed, had been called ‘Hope’!

As people who had never heard of Sable Island, we were interested to have made its acquaintance and agreed that Bellotto had managed to produce from her material something greater than the sum of its nature film and shipping list parts.  Possibly not worth making a long trip for a specific visit, but definitely a worthwhile add-on if you were thinking of exploring contemporary Peckham anyway. 

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