Gosh! It’s not often that Atlantis Banal’s work crosses the Atlantic. Her conceptual pieces, tinged with that visionary ability to find something profoundly mystical in the commonplace and everyday, has made Banal the darling of New York’s avant-garde cognoscenti.
Oh, wow! The Pop Up Art Gallery has yet another surprise in store – Atlantis, herself, will talk us through the ideas and processes that inform such radical, thought-provoking pieces as ‘If you try to capture something - do you kill it?’ and ‘Does it make sense?’ Two very care-taking museum staff ensure we don’t walk on the long white floor between opposing video screens. An elegant curator arrives, gives us some intriguingly bizarre biographical details about Atlantis – and then, swathed in a mesh of fishing net, sea-shells and fairy lights, Atlantis is among us, making Art.
All three characters are, in fact, manifestations of the remarkable and ingenious Shona Reppe whose fanciful imagination is allied to a thrillingly inventive skills set. Reppe consistently crafts costumes and props with an attention to detail that always goes the extra, witty mile, the humour and flair all the more impressive because of how she uses ordinary bits and bobs – like string, coat-hangers, little miniatures animals, tin cans.
Ahhh – cans. Yes, there is a nod in the direction of Andy Warhol in Banal’s oeuvre. Adults will relish the sly references to famous instances of conceptual art but younger audiences will be merrily caught up in the glorious, off-the-wall eccentricity of Reppe’s own works of art.
If the surface here is drolly tongue-in-cheek, what lies beneath - assisted by technical wizard Tamlin Witshire and co-directed by Charlot Lemoine (Velo Theatre, France) – is a seriously considered reflection on what art ‘is’... The answers are up to you, but one thing is certain sure - play, theatre, art and creativity all matter whatever your age. Atlantic Banal is the inspirational living proof of that.
"Designer and theatre maker's latest offering is a colourful and delightfully delivered production"
If you could open Shona Reppe's head and peer inside her imagination, you'd discover a technicolour world of wonder and merriment. How she comes up with the designs and notions for her shows is anyone's guess, but thank goodness she does. This latest offering is filled with Reppe's trademark props and costumes – the kind you can't take your eyes off, as you try to listen to the equally bizarre words coming out of her mouth. Atlantis Banal, we discover, is a ground-breaking visual artist with a back catalogue of curiously brilliant works. She's not real, of course, but by the end of the show you wish she was. Atlantis is one of four people we meet upon entering the 'Pop-up Gallery', along with the exhibition curator and two gallery attendants (all played by Reppe herself, apart from Graham the much-maligned side-kick). Each character comes with their own look, costume-wise (many of which are works of art in themselves), and a curly wig of varying hues. As always with Reppe, the attention to detail is fabulous, the wit sharp and the delivery delightful.
With all visual art, the setting is often as important as the content, and the 'Pop-up Gallery' doesn't disappoint. A pristine white floor is framed by benches from which we watch the exhibition grow – flanked at either end by video screens showing a series of short films capturing Atlantis Banal's highly successful career.
For the adults in the audience, the pretentiousness is hilarious, with touches and nuances instantly recognisable from the contemporary art world. Yet the show is also based on a true love of visual art and all its myriad possibilities. For younger viewers, pleasure comes not from recognition but just pure enjoyment at the colours, upcycled creations and Reppe's slightly bonkers but always accessible delivery.
Most of all, it makes you want to go home and create an exhibition of your own from some 'found fashion'.
The Sunday Herald ****Oct 19 BY MARK BROWN
From large-scale, operatic splendour to a somewhat smaller, but, in its own terms, equally impressive work of family theatre in Atlantis Banal: Beneath the Surface. There has always been a delightfully liberated eccentricity to the work of children’s theatremaker Shona Reppe. However, this piece, in which we are invited into the imaginative world of contemporary artist extraordinaire Atlantis Banal, is, perhaps, her most gloriously bonkers creation thus far. The artist, who we meet in the “pop-up gallery” at the launch of her latest exhibition, entitled “Beneath the Surface”, was born in a coat hanger-shaped island somewhere between Shetland and Scandinavia. She was struck by lightning at the age of four, which might explain why she is such an, er, “unusual” person. Reppe is ably assisted by co-performer Tamlin Wiltshire and directed by Charlot Lemoine (of French company Velo Theatre, who have co-produced the show with Reppe). Cutting between a Mondrian-attired, airline steward-style gallery guide, a pretentious art curator and the estimable Ms Banal herself, Reppe constructs an hilarious pastiche of contemporary art at its most pseudo-intellectual and achingly “relevant”. There are shades of Monty Python and Vic Reeves in Reppe’s wonderfully surreal combination of video, music, performance and installation. Recommended for audiences aged eight and over, it is a deliciously silly, highly original work of family theatre.
THE SCOTSMAN Joyce McMillan 22nd Nov 2019 ****
WHAT is art, then? It seems like a question for adults, and perhaps for that particular kind of adult who gives a damn about culture and its definitions; but it’s one of the many virtues of Shona Reppe’s latest family show that it demonstrates how that same question can amuse and intrigue children of almost any age, bringing the generations together in an entertaining and strangely exhilarating hour of enquiry about where play ends, and art begins.
So we enter the “pop-up gallery” in which the show is set, sit round on four sides of the space, and are welcomed by two museum staff dressed in Mondrian colours, a gift-shop manager played by Reppe, and her assistant Graeme, played by Tamlin Witshire. There’s an introductory lecture by a female expert, also hilariously played by Reppe; Atlantis Banal, so we’re told, is a remarkable artist, born on an island somewhere between Scotland and Norway, struck by lightning at an early age, and raised by an aunt who was a sardine packer, and an uncle who was a dry cleaner.
It’s therefore perhaps not surprising that her art has a vaguely marine feel, and that this particular exhibition is titled Beneath The Surface; and when Reppe appears again, this time as Atlantis herself, it’s in a series of fabulous installation-style costumes, from a dress of lights that evokes the magical world of sea fish, via – among other things – a gorgeous evocation of Atlantis itself through a green cloak that transforms into a miniature landscape, to a rap session about genetics, featuring an outfit made of newspaper clippings and brown paper bags. What’s delightful about Atlantis Banal, in other words, is that it both sends up some of the wilder aspects of conceptual art, and yet also celebrates the spirit of play and possibility, and the inspired re-framing of the ordinary, that drives the best of it. The show – co-directed by Charlot Lemoine of Velo Theatre in France – features powerful projected images, superb music by Fabien Cartolade, and a glorious triple performance from Shona Reppe at her gorgeous, absurdist best; and if it’s more of an exhibition than a play, that’s exactly the point, in a theatre event that celebrates what we do, at any age, when we’re simply having fun, and doodling in three dimensions about the magical world around us.
REVIEWSPHERE Peter Callaghan **** "another enchanting addition to her impressive body of work.."
Shona Reppe is one of the most prolific theatre-makers in Scotland. And what’s more, the quality of her work is always of a high standard. More often than not exceptional. Whether that be White which earned her a CATS Award for Best Design in 2011, The Curious Scrapbook of Josephine Bean which won a TMA Award for Best Show for Children and Young People a year later or the utterly bonkers but equally fantabulous Baba Yaga which after premiering at last year’s Imaginate Festival was shortlisted for Australia’s equivalent of an Olivier Award.
Atlantis Banal, co-created by Shona Reppe and director Charlot Lemoine of Vélo Théâtre in France, is another enchanting addition to her impressive body of work. Though perhaps “happening” is a more fitting description.
For the hour-long launch of the eponymous artist’s latest exhibition at the catwalk-like POP-UP Art Gallery comprises a series of thought-provoking and titter-inducing installations which through a combination of found objects and fashion, video and soundscapes, invites the audience to consider a number of questions on life and art. Such as, if you capture something do you kill it? Are we full of other people? And does it make sense? Switching back and forth between a safety-conscious usher, a blunt-speaking curator and the enigmatic Atlantis Banal – and assisted by her husband Tamlin Wiltshire on sound who is comically referred to throughout as a Blind Date-like “our Graham” – Shona Reppe literally hooks us from the off with an inflatable fish which with a swish of its robotic tail and rub of its button nose silences the room to a jaw-dropping hush.
A succession of delightful designs follow. A particular favourite being a garish jacket that transforms into an audible map which when stepped upon produces an array of sounds particular to the environment of the Ordnance Survey grid reference: a playground of chatter and chases; a field of mooing and mowing; and much to the surprise of the far from banal Banal, an undergrowth of growls and roars. The title of the exhibition also forms the thrust of Shona Reppe’s exploration into what lies “beneath the surface” of human interaction in a digital age. Everyone has a voice and opinion, but how many of us are listening? Selfies litter the pavements of social media like chewing gum, but how often do we raise our eyes from the screen to connect to the here and now? Questions to ponder while exiting through the gift shop.
Another quirky piece of delightful family theatre from Shona Reppe
Welcome to The Pop Up Gallery starring the work of Atlantis Banal! Who is Atlantis, you may ask? She is the latest creation of Shona Reppe, an award-winning maker of outstanding family theatre, in collaboration with Charlot Lemoine of Vélo Théâtre. And what a creation she is! Before meeting Atlantis Banal herself, an artist born on the Island of Portmanteau in the North Sea, Beneath the Surface begins as the assembling audience is guided to the gallery space (aka Traverse 2) by two gallery assistants. Their dress code is Mondrian themed. One, Reppe herself, wears a tabard with a chic and jaunty red pillbox hat perched precariously on her corkscrew hairdo. Her male colleague, Graeme (Tamlin Wiltshire), who doubles as Technical Manager on stage, sports a Mondrian-style tie. The pair then treat gallery visitors to a set of safety instructions – wackily delivered in the style of an airline crew – which perfectly set the tone for the zany events that lie ahead. When a bespectacled Banal herself appears, like a walking work of art, we are then invited to take a deep breath and dive beneath the surface into her arty world. Here, we experience Madame Banal’s ideas on what constitutes art. In this inclusive and interactive experience, we take an ingenious train journey; attempt primitive communication; watch film and take part in photography. Aphoristic questions about art, delivered with impish faux gravitas, pepper the exhibitions. But there are no answers to be found in this clever joke on the art world. The irony, of course, lies in this fun poking exercise at the pretensions of conceptual art, being created by a real artist whose creativity seems infinite. Reppe has the capacity to bring her unique brand of twinkly quirkiness to any show she has a hand in. She leaves an identifiable fingerprint through the immaculate co-ordination of sound and action, as well as outlandish costume design. Yet her kaleidoscopic imagination manages to make each of her shows feel fresh, bursting with delights and surprises alike. The mesmerised smiling faces of children of all ages (the cliché of 8 to 80 applies) is evidence of their delight at this beautifully bonkers show. A visit to any gallery is incomplete without a wander through the gift shop, and Banal’s exhibition is no exception; there are treats galore at pocket money prices after this fantastic family show.
THE SCOTTISH PLAY review by William Quinn 29th Nov 2019 ⭐⭐⭐⭐
"Shona Reppe presents Atlantis Banal: Beneath the Surface, is simply delightful; a glorious, and rewarding pastiche of the performance art-form. Family friendly in absolutely the best way, it is never patronising, persistently imaginative, and not afraid to challenge."
Atlantis Banal (Shona Reppe) is the world’s foremost exponent of ‘Everythingism’, that is, finding art in any, and everything; and everyone. The audience has been invited to the opening of her newest exhibition at the POP-UP Art Gallery (played by the Traverse 2).
The studio doors open upon a fully realised pocket world, complete with ushers, a terrifically earnest curator, and the enigmatic artist herself. Guests are invited to sit on benches surrounding a central white catwalk-esque stage, upon which ‘the art’ will happen. From the curator’s first sonorous biography of Atlantis Banal, enthusiastically illustrated through wildly silly, yet polished video visuals, I didn’t so much suspend my disbelief, as cheerfully toss it over my shoulder. When Ms. Banal makes her appearance, a mermaid created from Christmas lights, net, and sand, it’s clear that for all the fun poking, this ‘performed exhibition’ was born to praise performance art, not to bury it. Four further pieces follow, each marvellously absurd, and laced with meaning. There’s no preaching, just an erudite nudge towards a taking a look at life with a more artistic eye. There’s spectacle, music, mystery, physical comedy and joy; lots and lots of joy. The rich seam of humour threaded throughout, is both well-conceived and delivered, with the audience’s smiles and laughs, deftly woven into the group experience.
Reppe is simply fabulous, creating every role but that of Graham (Tamlin Wiltshire), the much put-upon gallery dogsbody. Each of her characters is a distinct, and quickly recognisable personality within the performance space. Tamlin, for his part, makes a most genial straight-man, and an ace fish pilot. I have zero intention of spoiling the actual exhibits. This show deserves to be experienced, not described. I will say that, the audience participation is so natural as to recruit and reassure even those of the wariest disposition. I left the POP-UP Art Gallery quite convinced I had just visited a bona-fide exhibition; a testament to this piece’s production values. By the look on my fellow attendees’ faces, I wasn’t the only one who left merrily entranced. Charlot Lemoine and Shona Reppe are to be congratulated for creating something fresh, new, and, for my money, important. Catherine Wheels Theatre Company have produced another gem. When, not if, this piece tours again, I strongly suggest getting a ticket.
Shona Reppe (Puppets) is a limited company registered in Scotland and recognised as a Scottish Charity, Company number 267273. Charity Number SC035750 Registered Office: Catherine Wheels, Brunton Theatre, Musselburgh, EH21 6AF, Producer/Administrative Support: Louise Gilmour Wills