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Shock tactics? Challenging Shropshire art show prompts controversy

South Shropshire | News | Published:

It is designed to shock and challenge - and organisers of a controversial exhibition in Shropshire say they have no regrets even if it may offend some visitors.

The town hall art exhibition boasts bold imagery, with mannequins bound in ropes and material daubed with blood.

But supporters have defended the exhibition by Polish artist Eliza Glapinska, currently at Bishop's Castle Town Hall, as making a statement about freedom.

The controversial artwork by Eliza Glapinska

If you viewed mannequins bound in ropes and material daubed with blood, what "artistic" message do you think you would draw from it?

Unless we gave you a clue, you might plump for quite a few artistic messages before arriving at the correct one.

It is a statement about freedom. The display at Bishop's Castle Town Hall is called Freedom and Overcoming our Barriers and is the work of Polish-born artist Eliza Glapinska, who lives in the town.

Whatever you might think about this work of art, or think you might think – often with such things it's pretty pointless to try to make a judgment without going along to see for yourself the "statement" in context – it's nice to see that Bishop's Castle has the gumption, and some might say bravery, to put on such an art show.

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Being boring is easy, sticking your neck out means just that, taking a bit of a risk and creating a bit of a stir.

You can either harrumph and wax indignant, or admire the show.

You are unlikely to be indifferent. And, whether you like it or hate it, you will talk about it.

The installation Freedom and Overcoming our Barriers is currently on display in the old court room at the town hall. It involves mannequins, two naked and one in a specially-made dress that has then been made filthy, trussed up in ropes.

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Cloth used in the piece has been soaked with rusty chains and daubed with blood. There are also ropes hanging on the walls with mannequin parts and a large piece of paper in the centre of the room for people to write their thoughts.

Eliza Glapinska, a Polish-born artist who lives in the town, but is currently studying fine art at Aberystwyth University, said: "My art work is the creation of a space of freedom, a place for reflection for everyone who wishes to visit and would like to leave their own messages.

"I believe that often we do not possess real freedom because we build a prison for ourselves with attitudes that have been passed down to us, often without realisation. All messages and reflections will be used in my art work."

Jane Carroll, a town councillor and town hall trustee involved with putting the exhibition on, admitted there had been complaints from people who have visited the exhibition.

She said: "I think you could sum up the complaints by saying people think it's in bad taste. I think we're so used to galleries with nice pictures on the walls here, but not all art is like that.

"For a place like Bishop's Castle this is probably not what people expect when they go to see an exhibition, but that's not necessarily a bad thing.

"I don't think people should be worried or concerned about it, it's not threatening in any way.

"There is not intended to be anything sadistic or depressing about it - she's exhorting up to be more free than we are.

"The exhibition is exploring our ideas of freedom, not just in the form of oppressive regimes in other countries, but personal freedom, in particular for women.

"We often think we are free when we're not because we get into mind-sets that constrain us. Eliza is exploring these ideas in a very interesting way, it's all about being tied up.

"Art should be allowed to stretch the boundaries and make us think."

Robert Bates, an artist from Hopton Heath near Clungunford, is one of those defending the artwork.

He said he could understand people's reactions, but thought some had got the wrong end of the stick.

Mr Bates said: "If you didn't look at what she'd written about it you might think it was about bondage and fantasies - but I don't think it is about that at all.

"I think it is about how women are bound psychologically, and she has simply used that imagery.

"There have been strong reactions. From a visual perspective it would shock people. I am an artist myself and the idea about art being able to shock us is nothing new, but maybe that doesn't take into account the sensibilities of those in small towns like Bishop's Castle.

"I don't think Eliza set out to shock, but it is causing people to talk and think about it.

"It is probably a hard one for some of the locals to digest - but I have to say, at the opening people were just very interested in what it was about," he said.

Eliza will be talking about the exhibition at Bishop's Castle Town Hall at 7.30pm on Monday. The installation runs until January 3.

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