It is perhaps both a blessing and a curse that Flo Brooks‘ studio overlooks the local recreation ground, that verdant pinnacle of liminal communal space, accessible to the public but kept a watchful eye over by police or park services and controlled, sometimes incongruously, by the council. I’m sure many can recall those apocalyptic yet oddly provincial pandemic restrictions, the tame taping off of park benches, playgrounds and outdoor exercise equipment, the apathetic admonishments to those found overextending their allotted hour of outside time, the spiritless scoldings for sitting down on a grassy common. Brooks observed all of those abnormal encounters and took particular interest in our first tentative experiences of post-lockdown life, a time when outside spaces became the main, or sometimes sole, sites of social interaction.
In his latest solo exhibition, 'Be tru to your rec’ at Project Native Informant, Brooks documents those ephemeral outdoor events, unavoidable during the spring and summer months ahead, that attract a curious cross-section of society and evoke a quintessentially British combination of melancholic nostalgia and anxious excitement. Painted on wood panels that recall ill-proportioned puzzle pieces, each artwork serves as a puddle shaped peephole indicative of an expanded picture plane or a still snapshot of an evidently wider narrative, all set against a site-specific beige backdrop reminiscence of those frail, faded gazebos that imply impermanence and pop-up in abundance to provide shelter from a passing rain shower or shade from the midday sun.
To get ahead of the pack this summer season, prepare your improvised placards and hand-painted flags for the Pride rally, customise an outfit with customary rainbow clothing, patch together your portable sound systems, but beware of the omnipresent police patrolman and follow signs to the closest Covid test facility should a cough come on. Mind the flies at the first spring BBQ, and pass around burnt bangers, paper plates, plastic cutlery and fistfuls of blue roll before selecting squirts of ketchup or hand sanitiser from oversized cash and carry containers. If serving, employ extra caution by doubling down with both facemask and protective visor. While foraging for wild fruits along the hedgerows, avoid the discarded dog poo bags and jettisoned johnny wrappers, and don’t let a crying toddler mid-tantrum spoil all the fun at the fair, there is still plenty of plush prizes to be won and candyfloss to be consumed.
Alongside, collaged works on paper only previously presented for publication introduce an amalgamation of abstracted colour-field forms, depictions of street furniture - think lampposts, litter bins, bike racks and curbsides - and photographs of LGBTQ+ icons such as Stormé DeLarverie, a singer and activist often credited with igniting the Stonewall riots and the American actor and drag queen Divine. The latter famously hosted Andrew Logan’s Alternative Miss World pageant on Clapham Common in 1978, and it is that South London landmark, its historical heritage amongst the LGBTQ+ community and its potentially problematic policing or park management, that Brooks exposes and investigates in this triptych.