The cold limestone appearance of Brunel’s imposing building and its former name ‘The Old Commonwealth Museum’ suggest that anything hidden within it will be a similarly expansive entity, designed to make the visitor feel small and in awe. Instead, We See Fireworks by Helen Cole is intimate. A terrible, sticky word that carries with it the faint whiff of feminine hygiene products, but apt none the less.
Rather than use the entire room, We See Fireworks is set in its own little bubble of domestic-sized space. For long periods, the room is entirely black and I walk into the thick darkness using that special walk reserved for advancing into the unknown when one is scared of falling over a sleeping dog or a childhood monster lurking in a corner.
There are five other people present when I first walk in – or so I am told by the guide who controls the most precious object: a torch. As lights come and go, I see the other visitors sitting in a group on the floor. I feel intrusive, like I have walked into a group therapy session and should now either leave or find something to confess myself. Silly thoughts like these are fleeting as the voices which make up the artwork rise up and mute the presence of the other visitors.
Each voice relays an experience of particular significance to them. Most of these are in relation to seeing a piece of art performed, whilst others take a more general outlook and speak of any little memory now wedged in the mind with a label of significance attached to it. Like a good film critic, I am obliged to not tell you what the specific stories are, even if I placed Spoiler Alert at the beginning of the sentence. Out of selfishness though, I will mention one, my favourite, but only because it has a title like a Donleavey novel and reminds me of the lampshade swinging above the bed I left too early this morning.
Sad Death on 12th Street. On his way to the Magnolia Bakery to buy ‘myself a treat’, the narrator comes across a little hummingbird dying on the pavement. Struck by its beauty and perhaps a sense that the dying should not be entirely left alone, he ends up sitting down with the ailing creature and vaguely tires to make it more comfortable, eventually placing it on a leaf at the foot of a tree. Whilst sitting there another passerby enquires what he is doing and, when told, says: ‘Ah, Sad Death on 12th Street.’ This confirms my suspicions that New Yorkers only ever talk in quotation marks, that Woody Allan works entirely from nature and that hummingbirds, like cherry blossom, have come to symbolize beauty in a way a blue tit never quite does.
Temple Meads Station, magnificent curving structure that it is, is so often the site of daily misery and drudgery. From personal experience, I know how the place is a dirty haven of obsessive clock-watching, delayed trains and another Starbucks. For the next few days though, one only has to walk 100 yards around the back to find a little globule of fireworks, hummingbirds and lightning in Plymouth.
Fuck getting the train. This is so much better.