Exhibitions Archive

  •  / 
  • Milly Thompson 'Savoir Faire'
    Milly Thompson 'Savoir Faire'
  • Milly Thompson 'Savoir Faire'
    Milly Thompson 'Savoir Faire'
  • Milly Thompson 'Savoir Faire'
    Milly Thompson 'Savoir Faire'
  • Milly Thompson 'Savoir Faire'
    Milly Thompson 'Savoir Faire'
  • Milly Thompson 'Savoir Faire'
    Milly Thompson 'Savoir Faire'
  • Milly Thompson 'Savoir Faire'
    Milly Thompson 'Savoir Faire'
  • Milly Thompson 'Savoir Faire'
    Milly Thompson 'Savoir Faire'
  • Milly Thompson 'Savoir Faire'
    Milly Thompson 'Savoir Faire'
  • Milly Thompson 'Savoir Faire'
    Milly Thompson 'Savoir Faire'
  • Milly Thompson 'Savoir Faire'
    Milly Thompson 'Savoir Faire'
  • Milly Thompson 'Savoir Faire'
    Milly Thompson 'Savoir Faire'
  • Milly Thompson 'Savoir Faire'
    Milly Thompson 'Savoir Faire'
  • Milly Thompson 'Savoir Faire'
    Milly Thompson 'Savoir Faire'
  • Milly Thompson 'Savoir Faire'
    Milly Thompson 'Savoir Faire'
  • Milly Thompson 'Savoir Faire'
    Milly Thompson 'Savoir Faire'
  • Milly Thompson 'Savoir Faire'
    Milly Thompson 'Savoir Faire'
  • Milly Thompson 'Savoir Faire'
  • 4 July to 15 August 2009
  • Milly Thompson, Savoir Faire
  • Digital image, 2009. Courtesy the artist.

‘Savoir Faire’ will be Milly Thompson’s first regional solo exhibition in the UK. Thompson has gained a reputation for a self-deprecating approach to her work, and for a more formal aesthetic than the directly critical approach that she employed while working as a member of the group BANK in London during the 1990s. Interested in aspiration and self-consciousness, the artist’s exhibition for Focal Point Gallery references the culture of Southend and interacts directly with the physical characteristics of the gallery space, which is situated on the second floor of Southend Central Library, a classic example of early 1970s civic Modernist architecture.

If we fast-forward from her project ‘Late Entry’ at Peer in London last year – which dealt with a melancholy rumination on the artist’s late solo emergence after a decade of collaborative work – the current exhibition ‘Savoir Faire’, works with a deliberately more romantic, luxurious, sentimental yet optimistic subject matter. Replete with a set of large plinths, this installation is painted in colours that

include a variety of flesh tones. Placed on these supports are works the artist calls Anxiety Knots; soft-shaped sculptures rendered in exotic, brightly coloured sari and kimono silks. The amorphous substances that surround their ends resemble bodily fluids, loose and formless, they give a nod towards the pop-sculptures of Claes Oldenburg, or Jonathan Monk’s recent deflated homage to the virulent work of Jeff Koons.

Another body of work in the exhibition, entitled Dumb, hard, consists of pages taken from the high lifestyle magazine W. Pasted onto each plinth or laid out onto gold lame supports, they intersperse advertisments for luxury goods, designer clothes and jewels in a manner that implies their equivalence: artists’ projects for the publication by, amongst others, John Baldessari, Matthew Barney and Richard Prince, together with articles on Joan Jonas and Martha Rosler.<br/> <br/> A new film, Aroma Venus takes this sense of disjunctive collision further, by conflating sections of dialogue from Daphne du Maurier’s Frenchman’s Creek

(1941) and Jean Rhys’ Wide Sargasso Sea (1966). Drawn from these two tales of romance and exoticism, Thompson constructs an overlapping narrative created from intertwined voices: breathless dialogue, a ‘Carribbean’ sea and soundscape, and seductive imagery. The cumulative effect of this fragmented mood piece is, as Thompson has observed, ‘guiltily erotic.’

How then does Thompson’s project aim to address the context of art set within a seaside-town’s library? As the curator and writer Nicholas Cullinan has noted in his essay in the publication that accompanies the exhibition: ‘From images of forbidden fruit from Barbados to a fictitious campaign to save a British local library – what could possibly link two such seeming non-sequiturs?’ Southend-on-Sea Central Library is a small gem amongst the admittedly specialist category of provincial English Brutalist architecture, circa 1970, or, more specifically, as Thompson puts forward in her poster, a pearl before swine. […] This [poster] is accompanied by a text declaiming the library’s praises: “It

is a design classic: Look at its spacious, light-filled atrium – its airy aisles, it’s a place to think and dream; reflect upon its clean Modernist lines – it’s not unlike those we aspire to in this bright, fresh world.” With the building due to be demolished and the site regenerated, Thompson’s project begs the question of who really benefits from such ruthless civic aspiration of amnesia and an “onwards and upwards” mobility. Thompson’s campaign, orchestrated to include the usual groups of the dispossessed and overlooked that seem to be on every worthy cause’s hit list for chasing funding (deprived teenagers, struggling single mothers, marginalised pensioners, [insert platitude here] etcetera, etcetera…), puts this reciprocity of desire and need into similarly stark relief as Dumb, hard. […]’

Cullinan goes on to point out that Focal Point Gallery is funded by Southend Borough Council, the organisation that wants to knock down the library (in which the gallery is contained) and re-site it. Therefore, through her work, the artist criticises the council

for the regeneration scheme, and rebukes the local college for trying to take over the town. With each organisation supporting her exhibition, the artist starts to enact a recalcitrant ‘biting the hand that feeds’, and a humorous form of institutional critique; if Thompson’s illusory campaign were successful in saving the current structure, it would stop Focal Point Gallery and Southend Central Library from getting their nice new building. In reality, this installation aims to open up an intelligent dialogue around plans for the ambitious relocation of the library and gallery, and communicates a genuine concern for the wellbeing of the local community. Through this, perhaps, Thompson points towards a philosophy in which people are more important than buildings.

Milly Thompson will present a series of films connected to her exhibition ‘Savoir Faire’ between 12pm and 2pm on Wednesday 15 July at South East Essex College. This short programme will include Woody Allen’s Interiors (1978), clips from Monty Python’s Flying Circus, and her own short DVD

Basking in the melodrama of my own self-consciousness (2008). In addition to this, to coincide with the opening week of EASTinternational 2009 – the international open submission exhibition at Norwich University College of the Arts – a video programme of contemporary works from this year’s selected artists will be screened between 3pm and 5pm. South East Essex College is situated directly opposite Southend Central Railway Station (fifty-five minutes from London Fenchurch Street). Free entry. Booking is essential on 01702 534108

A print has been produced especially for this exhibition. Save the library campaign, 250gsm Somerset Satin, decaled edges, 57cm x 76cm, 2009, is available in an edition of 20, signed and numbered by the artist. Price £75.

A catalogue Milly Thompson ‘Savoir Faire’ is also available. This includes an essay by Nicholas Cullinan and an interview with the artist by Andrew Hunt. Printed in an edition of 250, full colour, sixty-four pages, signed and numbered, with a soft cover. ISBN 978-1-907185-01-4. Price £6.00



Milly Thompson was born in 1964, and lives and works in London. Recent exhibitions include ‘Late Entry’, Peer, London 2008; ‘The Apartment’, Royal London House, London, 2008; ‘Norberg-Västmanland-Bergsladen-Sweden-Scandinavia 27 July, At Lunchtime’, organised by Hollybush Gardens for various sites in Norberg, Sweden, 2006; and ‘Voglio soldi di pi`u solo quando c’e gente ricca intorno’, Capella Angelo Mai, Rome, 2005. She was a member of the collaborative art group BANK between 1994 and 2003.

For further information and images on this exhibition, please contact Laura Bowen, Focal Point Gallery Exhibition and Marketing Officer on
01702 534 108 / laurabowen@southend.gov.uk.

Milly Thompson ‘Savoir Faire’ is generously supported by Goldsmiths University, Arts Council England and Southend Borough Council.