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Arnolfini opens Rise Early, Be Industrious

Arnolfini presents Rise Early. Be Industrious, a survey exhibition by British artist Olivia Plender, on view 14 July – 9 Sept 2012. Incorporating a selection of her past projects and new work, the exhibition explores key aspects of Plender’s practice, such as her on-going research into historical and contemporary forms of communication and education, and the social function of games, exhibitions, television and the internet. The exhibition is the second episode in a series of three exhibitions by Olivia Plender, in collaboration with MK Gallery, Milton Keynes and Centre for Contemporary Arts, Glasgow.

Rise Early, Be Industrious offers a series of colourful stage-like sets that invite investigation and playful interaction. Drawing on examples such as the educational remit of the BBC, the Modern Spiritualist movement in the early 20th century and World’s Exhibitions, Olivia Plender is interested in the specific ways in which societies imagine knowledge and its transmission. Other works investigate a contested side of participation – a contemporary culture of “self-improvement” and the neoliberal claim of “life-long learning”. The works include drawings, banners, models, games, books and videos, and investigate how historical narratives are constructed, looking at the hierarchies behind the “voice of authority” that are traditionally produced by educational and entertainment institutions.

The installation Words and Laws (Whose Shoulder to Which Wheel?), is a collection of games and posters. This room includes several toys encouraging public participation, such as the board game Set Sail for the Levant (based on a sixteenth century original) and an architectural toy, based on a nineteenth century model developed by German educational reformer Friedrich Froebel. It also presents a hanging mobile and various allegorical and satirical objects, including a wicker beehive (symbolic in the Victorian period of the perfect industrious society) and a Stockholm Duck House (a replica of a duck house which became the media’s symbol for the MPs’ expenses scandal in 2009). The installation, which itself looks like a cross between an enormous board game or medieval garden plan, uses the metaphor of “the game”, in order to challenge notions of “the role” and enable an understanding of “meaning” as social product.

Another installation, a 1970s style TV studio entitled Open Forum, focuses on Plender’s research into the role of TV for mass education and experimental arts education in the UK. While offering a platform for further discussion, the installation also considers mass education and the Reithian idea of television as a “common culture”, such as Open University’s controversial, interdisciplinary “Art and Environment course”. Initiated in 1976, the influential course’s chief agenda was to rethink the relation between art and society, leading to the “Art and Social Context” course at Dartington College (1978-85) and also influencing Environmental Arts at Glasgow School of Art.

The exhibition will feature several models made between 2009-12, which link the representation of specific social ideals with questions of their representation and mediation. A new model imagines the spaces of Arnolfini as an Entrepreneurial Garden, an anti-utopian vision in which work and recreation merge, pointing towards new roles of cultural institutions in post-fordist society.

As part of the exhibition, Olivia Plender will co-curate a special “show in the show” with documents and archive material from the “Art and Environment” course at the Open University. –

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