Exhibition review: ‘Get Fit’ at the TURF Gallery

By - Friday 11th March, 2016

Liz Sheppard-Jones gets physical in an art gallery

Photo author’s own.

Former Deputy Prime Minister Michael Heseltine had a rule when in government: all proposals presented to him must take up no more than one side of A4 paper. If it’s longer, declared the lusciously-locked one, it’s either too complicated or you’re not thinking about it clearly. (Or it’s proper rocket science: some things are necessarily complex and written for professionals and experts. But I never had the impression that Hezza was one of those.)

I’ve wanted to say this to the TURF Gallery crew whenever I’ve been there (and now I have done so!) because each time I’ve received a densely-worded sheet (or more) of paper about the exhibition and each time I’ve wanted to prune the verbiage. ‘Puzzled, a bit dim and like it’s not meant for you’ isn’t how people should feel when they see art. It absolutely is for you.

But this time I knew better than to be put off by the sheets. TURF’s a quirky and interesting outfit and so is this show. It’s all about gyms and fitness culture. So, what’s really going on in there?

The gym is the church of the modern world

Gyms are strange places. They’re a social ‘third space’: somewhere to hang out between workplace and home, to which we bring hopes and fears and of which we have enormous expectations. Coffee shops are a simpler example. But the gym is complex: ostensibly about self-love, it’s where many of us channel the most intense feelings of self-loathing. It’s the church of the modern world: a place to be judged for our profoundest failings, our greed, self-indulgence, lack of discipline, then to be absolved from them. Promoted by pictures of people beaming broadly whilst heaving weights (something that no-one has ever done in life, or ever will) it’s a place of acute social anxiety, painful comparison with others, confrontation with perceived physical inadequacy or where a sense of superiority is precariously maintained, at least until the next cupcake.

Then it’s a place of commerce: we’re here to buy that great body and its many meanings, forking out in cash and in sweat. It’s the strangest phenomenon: an experience we will pay for which makes us feel bad. And it’s also a sharply gendered space: men work out, on the whole, to expand or at least to solidify their bodies and to become more present. Women do so in order to shrink. Oddly, ‘Get Fit’ does not touch on this last point at all.

Photo author’s own.

It does, however, get energetically to grips with most of the rest. I loved ‘Quitters’ by David John Scarborough, who also co-curated the exhibition: the piece is almost a mini-gym in itself, with wet-looking (ew! please! wipe your sweat off when you’re done!) metal equipment more reminiscent of a school gymnasium than a modern day fitness palace and disjointed bodies made from fabric tubes pushed awkwardly against each other. Steven Mills’ representation of himself made from metal, protein powder, body jewellery and his own fluids and hair, with water dripping through, is a disturbing depiction of how gym culture objectifies us: it hangs like a carcass in an abattoir. And the Kim Kardashian work-out video in the room with the lit-up trainers makes you fear for our civilisation, but then any picture of Kim Kardashian does that to me.

Photo author’s own.

The Get Fit Family Activity Guide provided by the gallery is also worth a mention because it’s great. Opening things up to parents of young children by entertaining kids creatively is fantastic: slowly we build an accessible world in which people, by which I mean women, can participate in culture at all stages of their lives. Nice one, TURF.

I took my twelve-year-old along with me and on the way home we talked about how art isn’t just a room full of nice things to look at and the way it can unsettle and confuse us. Artists are asking questions, we decided: their work makes you look at the world again. Nothing finer can be said of any exhibition and ‘Get Fit’ does a proper job of it.

‘Get Fit’ is on at the TURF Gallery, Keeley Road, CR0 1TF, from Friday 4th March until Saturday 16th April. Entry is free and the gallery is open Tuesdays to Saturdays 11:00am until 17:00pm.

Liz Sheppard-Jones

Liz Sheppard-Jones

Writer and editor. Views personal, not representative of editorial policy.

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