Review: In The Offing at Turner Contemporary

In The Offing Photo Dan Thompson

By Dan Thompson

Turner Contemporary’s latest exhibition of film, music, and paintings really isn’t quite like anything the gallery has shown before.

With In The Offing, Mark Leckey has been inspired by Margate. And he has made something not far away from a modern, visual reading of TS Eliot’s The Waste Land, the epic poem written over a hundred years ago which was started in Margate.

Like Eliot, Leckey has woven together the Thames and the sea, music and song, and the excitement of the seaside. In The Offing has the same fragmentary feel as The Waste Land, and as the viewer you get a sense of things being overheard, half-seen, or glimpsed from afar. Like The Waste Land, In The Offing moves in an out of the modern world, tripping across past, present, and future, while its narrative moves from first to third person.

Photo Dan Thompson

Leckey has created an exhibition that turns Turner’s usual bright white galleries into a network of black-walled, intimate spaces. They’re filled with film, music, photography and paintings, much of it commissioned by Leckey from younger artists, musicians, and film-makers who’ve not made work for a place like Turner Contemporary before. The individual works, all made to a brief that mentioned the horizon and Dreamland, each less than six minutes long, tumble from small screen to giant projection, looped and mixed into endless different combinations.

Photo Dan Thompson

The sound drifts from space to space, often disconnected but occasionally building into a unified song or soundscape. When all the galleries fill with the sound of Lucy Duncombe’s song Sean R 1 Yr Ago, and the screens go dark, it almost all makes sense but then it drifts apart again.

Some of it is fairly straightforward, dramatic seascapes or photographs of plastic found on beaches. But then, there are glimpses of other realities, Mark Leckey’s own slightly fantastical Dreamland at night or Theo Ellison’s castle that floats in the sky or a sudden breathtaking dive beneath waves. Again, it’s impossible not to think of Eliot’s weaving together of myth and modern life.

Mark Leckey, DazzleDark, 2023, (production still). Commissioned by Turner Contemporary, Margate, UK. Courtesy Cabinet, London, Galerie Buchholz Berlin/Cologne/New York and Gladstone Gallery, New York. © Mark Leckey

Connecting the multiple spaces is a vast painting by Ramsgate airbrush artist Darren Horton, more usually found painting cars and motorbikes. Even this painting of neon lights reflected in puddles shifts – at times, it is lit only by UV, revealing a different world underneath the surface.

And perhaps that’s why In The Offing is so successful in capturing the spirit of Margate. This is a place that has always shifted and changed, for three hundred years using the razzmatazz it shows to daytrippers and DFLs to obscure another darker, more mysterious side.

Margate has never really been just the sequins on the costumes at Sanger’s Circus or the fibreglass and neon of Dreamland: it’s an ancient landscape full of burial mounds, a place more riddled with caves, tunnels, and cellars than anywhere else in England, a landscape lived on by a collection of people with complex and often difficult lives.

TS Eliot was here to recover from a mental breakdown after the First World War and the Spanish Flu that followed it, and Leckey conceived this exhibition while coming to terms with a world shaken by the Covid pandemic and a country split by Brexit.

Like Turner’s loose paintings or Eliot’s modernist masterpiece, In The Offing tells us something about the times we are living in. The exhibition is complex and layered, broken and fragmented, but on another level – like the town that inspired it – noisy, colourful, and simply enjoyable.

Photo Dan Thompson

In The Offing is at Turner Contemporary from 7th October 2023 -14 January 2024. Alongside Leckey’s exhibition, a group of Emerging Producers have creates Oh Dreamland! in the gallery’s learning studio, which will host a programme of workshops, performances, and talks.

6 Comments

  1. I would’ve liked to hear more about the ‘Oh Dreamland!’ exhibition, and the group of young Emerging Producers that have planned and curated the work based around seaside themes. These young people are local and they represent Thanet. Mark Leckey is the ‘down-from-somewhere’ sideshow as far as I’m concerned!

  2. As usual just random junk stuck in a room. Only reason the cleaners haven’t mistaken it for garbage left after a party & chucked it out is it is too heavy or high for them.

  3. We took the kids to see this exhibition yesterday, and they were ‘NOT’ interested in the main event ‘In The Offing’, but they loved the ‘Oh! Dreamland’ room. The children enjoyed the play kiosk, with the ‘Mouth of Truth’ (as per Roman Holiday), handheld viewfinders, craft table, carnival mirrors, library corner, soft noodle seating, and the balloon installation. I would recommend the ‘Oh! Dreamland’ exhibition-room to everyone with children or grandchildren. Also, the gallery staff at Turner were very helpful and friendly.

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