A Review of 'Communal Spaces'

Updated: Aug 2, 2019

'This article, written by Liuka Jonynaite, a guest writer for the blog, a member of the Gallery and part of the curatorial team for our most recent exhibition, 'Communal Spaces. During the article, Jonynaite, a History of Art undergraduate at York, writes vividly on its meaning and concepts, exploring her perceptions of the exhibition, particularly exploring the social and political consequences which define past and contemporary spaces, in light of the future.'

Matilda Bentley

Head of Blog



A Review of 'Communal Spaces'

Liuka Jonynaite

Entering ...

The Norman Rea Gallery’s most recent  film and photography exhibition, ‘Communal Spaces’, is exceptional and moving because it offers a broad and diverse insight into the narrative of spaces inherited by communities. The displayed works examine a wide range of issues linked to both private and public spaces, viewed through aesthetic, economic and political lenses. The photographs reflect upon places capturing the local suburbs of our university campus in York, the Iranian complexes, Tokyo parks and urban Los Angeles. The viewer is invited not only to rethink and question the status quo of familiar spaces, but also to explore the unexpected and beautiful aspects of remote lands and ethnicities.

In the proposal of ‘Communal Spaces’ exhibition, a question of the community’s changing role in the digital age was raised. From this, it could be deduced that the aim of the exhibition was to illuminate current spaces, some like a catalyst, connecting people with the same, or different, interests, outlooks or nationalities. Places that we inherit can not only be seen as an indicator of those who once lived there, but also as something that shapes the current behaviour and identity. In addition to the tracing of expanding communal life forms, the exhibition also explores questions of tradition and its development throughout society over time.

Challenged by the current lifestyle ...

Several artists in this exhibition, through their works, think about the challenges that are being faced by communities in the contemporary world. Summer Moore, in her project British-Ish, explores the Sikh community within Sheffield; she illustrates hardships, urbanisation and the compromises that have to made. Tatyana Rutherston looks for a new conception of community in the busy park of Tokyo, by capturing different people sitting on the same benches throughout the course of the same day. In her Park Bench series, Rutherston contemplates how the same activity – the enjoyment of cherry blossoms in the park – unifies the community visitors. Phillip Butler’s photographs of Art Deco cinemas, however, suggests to the viewer the evolvement and adaptation of past spaces into the present, providing an alternative interpretation of community, empowered with a nostalgia for the past, a slight feeling of loss, and yet, the emphasis of change which permeates the communal space. His photographs ask the question to what extent are the original spaces intact, pointing out their decay, and yet, their regeneration in light of interaction with the modern space. Such ideas, by tangent, are also explored in Alec Aarons series of urban Los Angeles; nature and culture collide by means of man’s building of structures which permeate the environment, and in particular, Aarons captures the boundaries in which communal spaces are being reclaimed by nature.  

Run-down …

The works in the exhibition also introduce various political and social issues that are deeply concerned with the public concern. For instance, in the photographic series Paridaeza, which was photographed in Iran, Leonardo Magrelli explores the country’s declining economy in light of its troubled political climate; the isolated nature of the run-down industrial buildings is haunting. In juxtaposition, Michaela McGuinness’s series of Leeds’ Kirkgate market and surrounding areas, tells of the positives of construction and modernisation, touching on core questions of ownership and the regeneration of spaces which have come to define the surrounding area. However, McGuinness’s photographs also show how the reconstruction process has, and will, affect the future of the Leeds market and its business, encouraging viewers to question the extent to which lives are controlled by political decisions. Finally, Ricky Adams’ photographic narratives of Ireland in the 1990s, highlights the grittiness of contemporary culture and its influence from the political movements of the time. The photos capture the life in youth centre ‘warzone’, a political shelter for those seeking refuge from a divided religious society.

Purpose ...

The exhibition ‘Communal Spaces’ invited the viewer to think about the importance of the communal life in the digital age. Through the diverse art works, it illuminated how communities affirm themselves within spaces, in addition to being distinct. Crucially, the exhibition drew our attention, unforgettably, to the places we inhabit, an aspect of our life that is often taken for granted; we tend to forget our relationship that we have with it, and this exhibition sought to challenge this perception, vigorously.


'Communal Spaces' was exhibited at the Norman Rea Gallery from the 19th to the 27th November. For upcoming exhibition news, please visit our website, at www.normanreagallery.com . Thank you for taking the time to read this article.

For contact: please visit our contact page on the blog or email editor.normanrea@gmail.co.uk

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