Open Frequency 2008: Thomas Ranahan selected by Andrew Hunt
Thomas Ranahan, Bang Bang, 2007
Andrew Hunt selects the work of Thomas Ranahan
Tom Ranahan's recent photographs of Great Yarmouth address the excessive culture contained within certain parts of our contemporary environment. Yarmouth has become a caricature of itself, and the place has a double-edged identity that clings to a strange semblance of reality. One could say that Ranahan's pictures reveal the town's particularly British split personality, or that they render any easy journey into pure fantasy farcical, as they hover in an edgy no-man's land.
Perhaps the real beauty in Ranahan's images is their incidental banality: there are no over-played theatrics, no social anthropology or distant documentary style. These pictures simply describe extraordinary places. Joyland I and Joyland II (both 2005), for instance, present straightforward images of a fun fair. Joyland II shows a cartoon fibreglass landscape populated by spooks and ghouls, as well as clowns and soft animals. The most successful of these elements is a rocket that's somehow embedded itself in the roof of the building – or in the grass bank of the fictional landscape. This spaceship also appears in Joyland I, which is perhaps the more unusual of the two pictures. The amusement park's gates stand at the centre of the frame, as does a modern Toyota van – and it's this inappropriate invasion of normality, or unnatural jump, that gives the picture its strange form of pathos. What's this vehicle doing in the picture, corrupting the already implausible nature of its subject matter?
As a native of Birmingham, it might seem surprising that Ranahan shows empathy with the diverse abandon of seaside culture. Yet, because his city in the Midlands is the only major landlocked metropolis in the country without a natural centre point or a river running through it, one can see that it is as equally fragmented as Yarmouth. Until recently – before massive redevelopment took place – Birmingham seemed beautifully without direction. The last few years have seen a massive change in the city's landscape and fortunes; the old Bull Ring's gone, and a lot of the more unusual local character has been thrown out with it. Ranahan has had his studio in the city centre's adjoining area of Digbeth for the past fifteen years, and he's been documenting the renovation of factories, the wholesale demolition of buildings, as well as the stubborn refusal of certain parts of the area to give up the ghost. So one can begin to see that, in this sense, both Birmingham and Yarmouth occupy a similar grey area of perception: at one moment depressed and highly strung, at another, elated and at one with the world.
Ranahan's latest works push this division between wonder and alienation further. They continue to evade any overbearing interpretation, and reveal more magical, disturbing and honest views of the artificial culture that lies at the heart of our contemporary world.
Andrew Hunt, April 2008
Tom Ranahan lives and works in Birmingham. He studied Fine Art at North Staffordshire Polytechnic (1982-1985).
Selected exhibitions include: Colony at Zoo Art Fair, Royal Academy, London, 2007; New Generation Arts Festival, Birmingham, 2007; Pilot 3, Chelsea School of Art, 2007; Chinese Whispers, The Event, Birmingham, 2007; Winter Exhibition, Contemporary Art Projects, London, 2007; Photography show, Contemporary Art Projects, London, 2007; Bill Brandt and others, IPS Gallery, UCE Birmingham, 2006; East International 06, Norwich Gallery, 2006; Across the Waves, Birmingham International Airport and Shannon Airport, Ireland (solo), 2005; A Tale of Two Houses, Haden Hill House Museum, Cradley Heath (solo), 2005; Heritage Sites - Window Space Project, Birmingham (solo), 2004.
About Andrew Hunt
Andrew Hunt is Director of the Focal Point Gallery, Southend-on-Sea, UK. He was previously curator of International Project Space, Birmingham, UK and assistant curator at Norwich Gallery, UK. He regularly organises independent projects.
Freelance exhibitions include The Affirmation, Chelsea Space, (2007), Writing in Strobe, Dicksmith Gallery (2006) and Like Beads on an Abacus Designed to Calculate Infinity, Rockwell (2004).
Publishing activities include the imprint Slimvolume, produced on a yearly basis since 2001. He is also reviews editor at Untitled, a regular contributor to Frieze, Art Monthly and a number of other journals.
Hunt is currently editing three books about contemporary art criticism collectively titled Laboratory of Synthesis with the critic Robert Garnett, to be published by Book Works during 2008 and 2009.
Open Frequency keeps you in touch with new developments in contemporary art practice from across the UK. The artists are selected and profiled by leading curators, artists and writers, presenting the work of significant emergent and mid-career artists.