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VM inspiration: Jim Broadbent's figures

Oscar and Academy Award winning actor Jim Broadbent has revealed hidden talents with his first-ever art exhibition, installed on the staircase at the Southbank’s Festival Hall as part of the venue’s annual Festival of Love.

Broadbent’s slightly-spooky figures, each about a metre high, stand in a silent group, both alone and together, rather as VM mannequins do. But, unlike mannequins, these have huge individuality. These three might be rather exhausted academics from any UK educational institution.

The son of a sculptor and a furniture designer who also created a theatre, Broadbent has had enormous success in cinema, playing many endearing characters including Bridget Jones’s totally-lovely but slightly-bumbling father, Colin, in ‘Bridget Jones’ Diary,’ and Professor Horace Slughorn in the Harry Potter movies. Similarly his figures seem slightly bumbling in their acutely observed and endearing attitudes.

Broadbent has beautifully captured telling expressions and demeanors in his dressed and painted wooden figures. Check out the middle-aged couple gazing intently into the middle distance above. Broadbent maintains that the garments, all rather charity-store-large, contribute to the characters. And to prove it, he switches the garments around from time to time.

Broadbent claims the figures are not portraits or caricatures of people he knows, but we cannot help but imagine back-stories for them. They give the overwhelming impression that we might have just walked past them in the street, and therein lies their compelling power in terms of VM.

As a group, they force us to question how divorced from our everyday experience many mannequins are, in that a mannequin’s character is deliberately minimised to enhance its sales potential and increase opportunities for reuse. These characters would be one-use for VM display, but nevertheless would be fascinating. I imagine this lady, perhaps a little older than we might think, walking purposefully down the Kings Road, her thoughts on catering for the family’s weekend at their cottage by the sea, and her graduate son’s inability to find a well-paid job.

Almost slightly-creepy in their painted corporeality, they figures veer towards the art side of VM, but their very roughness compensates for their unnerving reality. Perhaps they might inspire some endearing figures that would lend themselves to VM purposes? Particularly for the men, whose faces are so unlike the aspirational countenances of many male mannequins. Not as scary as gargoyles, nor as chilling as Chucky, it is in their very disarming ordinariness that their appeal lies.

Until 31st August.

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