Inside Bristol’s Spike Island contemporary art and design centre

By September 15, 2015

Art & Photography. Bristol.

Spike Island is a contemporary art and design centre located in a peninsular (unfortunately not an actual island!) in south Bristol. It offers work spaces to artists, designers and creative companies as well as hosting public exhibitions, talks and activities. Although generally open to the public Tuesday-Sunday 12-5pm, the centre also took part in this year’s Bristol Doors Open Day on 12 September. This is the one day of the year where Bristol’s most interesting buildings open their doors and invite people to discover the treasures hidden within. Spike Island took part in the day by offering guided tours of its artists’ workspaces and exhibitions, giving us ordinary folk a glimpse into the creative process and what it means to be a practising artist.

Artists have used the space around Spike Island since the 1970s, when the buildings in the nearby docks were falling into disrepair due to the decline of industry in the area. These spaces were taken over, not always legally, to form communities of practising artists. When the area started getting trendy again and property prices rose, the artists moved into the current Spike Island building. The building used to be a tea packing factory in the 1950s and still retains some original features such as an overseer’s office which is now used to house very small exhibitions and was recently used as a DJ booth at a show’s opening party.

The current exhibition, Gewässerzeiten, is an impressive installation by self-taught artist Reto Pulfer. It depicts a fantasy landscape with painted sheets and rope hanging from the ceiling, centred around a rudimentary tent fashioned from yellow fabric. Food tins and ceramics are strewn across the floor, giving an impression of survival in a disaster scenario. Despite this, the overall feeling in the room is childlike and peaceful, with an impression of tranquillity amongst chaos. It will be open to the public until 20th September 2015.

Spike Island is also home to the Test Space, a project space showing both finished work and works in progress. Currently it is occupied by Young Artists’ Rising, an exhibition featuring work created by young artists aged 16-24 from Bristol and the surrounding areas. The theme of the show is ‘The politics of representation’ and it features artwork on the topics of gender, feminism, masculinity, power, and political change. One of the standout pieces of the show is ‘Viscera’, a series of wax and pigment sculptures displayed on the floor like sacks of overflowing guts that are both repulsive and compelling. Currently a work in progress, the show will be open to the public 5th–20th September, with a preview on 4th September, 6-9pm.

With exhibitions from both established and up-and-coming practitioners, Spike Island is a great example of Bristol’s dynamic artistic community. You’ll come away feeling inspired and buzzing to create.

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