Leamington Spa-based digital artist Rosa Francesca talks about her practice and those that inspire her – via Voice Magazine.
Wolverhampton Arts and Culture Curatorial Officer Roma Piotrowska speaks to Contemporary Lynx about her career path and shares her insights for aspiring curators.
Birmingham-based De’Anne Crooks was recently commissioned by Film and Video Umbrella (FVU) to produce a piece responding to the pandemic. ‘Great-ish: The Gaslighting of a Nation’ (2020) is a love letter to an unborn child which engages with the migrant experience and Britain as a spouse in a would-be toxic relationship.
Annabel Clarke talks to her about her work.
‘Great-ish: The Gaslighting of a Nation’ is such a moving piece. I was in tears. Can you tell us a little about how you went about making the film?
I am still humbled by the emotional response people have had to the film. I think the response has been quite reflective of the process. Making it was emotional. There were so many times I felt like I was giving too much to the work. Like it was very raw thing to explore a topic in this way, in this very personal way.
I knew when I wrote the proposal that I really wanted to show the toxic relationship that marginalised people have with their country, but I wasn’t sure how I wanted to do it. As I worked, I began to make connections between how this country treats marginalised people and toxic relationships, and I realised that actually, everything I’m writing down, everything relating to what occurs between a country and marginalised peoples, especially Great Britain, is symbolic of a bad relationship, it’s actually gaslighting. As somebody who has been in a toxic relationship and somebody who has been gaslit, making those parallels came easily to me.
It took me about two weeks to cement how I could communicate these ideas in a way that not only expressed what I felt and what my community feels (although I cannot speak for my entire community), but what I as a Black womxn feels and is willing to share. I didn’t really know how I could express this concept in a way that everyone could relate to because depending on your racial background, you will either never experience a complex relationship with your country or you will have experienced it so comprehensively that this work may trigger you. I’m aware of how ridiculously cliché this may sound, but the solution came to me in a dream, I know how that sounds. But the truth is, I literally jumped out of bed at 4am, grabbed my phone and started to jot down what ended up being the first half of the script for ‘Great-ish: The Gaslighting of a Nation.’ It was at the end of my bed, phone in one hand and through blurry eyes that the structure and the first half of the script began to form.
This idea that I would write a letter to my unborn child, which again is an aspect of this that is so personal to me because of my own relationship and issues with being able to have a child, could only have come in this way. Even though I was apprehensive about the initial script, it felt very important and it felt appropriate to tell a story in this way. So I started to write a love letter. Once I had this structure I felt a lot more confident about bringing this experience across. That’s the thing with gaslighting, it can be hard to explain that type of abuse because you have been convinced that it’s not abuse. But half way through the commission, I realised that I was teaching something non fictional. This is not me talking to my abuser, to Great Britain, or even to my peers, but this is me talking to someone who doesn’t exist yet. That added a whole different dimension to the piece, and I had to play around a lot more with my storyboard. I feel like I should say that the monologue informed the visuals but it didn’t, and I feel like that worked well in this case. I had already selected archived material and had filmed most of the new material around my home, as the brief required we stay indoors, before the script was complete. I think the rule that we had to film within our homes adds a layer of intimacy, having visuals that have been collected in my home, in my space, a safe space that I would rarely share with such a wide audience, but also have that working alongside audio that is ultimately saying things aren’t so safe and talking about things that are quite dangerous and emotional and traumatic is what pushed my thinking a little further forward.
It can currently be viewed on the FVU website. Are there plans for it to be shown elsewhere?
The film is available to watch on the FVU website as part of their permanent collection and is a featured video until 14 November. In terms of what happens with the work now, I’m not too sure yet. I really would love to screen it elsewhere. I’d love to screen it in spaces that specifically talk to and heal people like me really, because I feel like even though it can be read as quite a sad piece, this is a testimony of healing. It is an experience a lot of Black people can relate to, so it would be really great for people to see it in a space that feels like home. Sometimes galleries don’t exist as an inclusive space for Black people and so I have this vision of screening it in spaces specifically chosen by the Black community.
To be honest, being able to view it on the FVU website works really well right now as many physical spaces cannot be occupied. I’m grateful to FVU, not just for the commission, but the support. My Supervising Producer Leah McGurk was really invested in the concept, in the proposal, in the work and I felt that in the support I got from her. I specifically want to thank her for helping bring this together.
Your work spans mediums. Has the pandemic changed the way in which you make work?
I’ve never really considered myself to be one type of artist, so I’ve never committed to calling myself a painter, a filmmaker or a sculptor. I guess I just create work in a way where the medium is dictated by the message.
The solo exhibition I had in July 2019 at Centrala ‘Two Truths and a Lie’, was made up of mostly paintings with one photographic piece, a print piece and one short video piece called ‘Lief’. So I’d say for that body of work I steered towards more paintings and photography, which just so happened to be a project I shared pre-covid. So I would say the pandemic has in fact altered the way in which I’m creating, not necessarily thinking but my choice of medium. I’ve got to really think about how people are going to engage with my work more carefully, so that has dictated the way I’m making it. I think I still have a traditional approach, as in jotting stuff down in my sketchbook, I always return to my sketchbook, but I’ve noticed that I am then bringing those sketchbook ideas to my screen and creating these sort of desktop mood boards. I’ll have writing I’ve done on there, some of the automatic writings, images from my phone, sketches, sketchbook pages, other found imagery all laid out on my desktop screen. Some of these are available to see on my website and Instagram. As soon as the first lockdown happened, that was when I started putting everything on screen in a particular way and played with how the different things worked with one another – Seeing how some of the text would contrast with the drawing and how that contrasted with the photographs I took. I think that was to first stage of seeing my practice change in this digital sort of way.
The filmmaking really came back into my work through lockdown. The FVU commission requiring me to only film in doors, only in my home, was definitely something that was affected by the pandemic. And even though I use my sketchbook a lot, for ‘Great-ish’ I found that I was mostly using my phone to make notes. I feel I’ve become a little more digital, as I imagine most of the world has due to the pandemic. I think I only leaned into that way of producing work because most people were at home, on their computers, getting more in touch with technology.
You’ve recently been awarded a bursary through ReFramed. Could you tell us a little about what you will be producing for the commission?
I’ve been asked to respond to how COVID-19 has affected Black and Asian people or the Black and Asian experience in relation to COVID-19 which is a huge topic really! I could probably complete a whole body of work about that. But the brief required me to create 3-5 photographs and I chose to do this work about my grandmother (who I call ‘Nan’). You can actually see her in ‘Great-ish: The Gaslighting of a Nation’. She’s my muse.
The series of photographs I’ve produced capture her experience of faith and fear. Initially I wanted to look at how someone who is elderly, an immigrant in England, can already feel like they are in a strange land. They can feel isolated as both an older person, as a woman, as a Caribbean person – how that is already quite isolating to be in a country that you consider a sort of home but not quite that, and then in addition to that, to be in isolation, to be locked down. It’s a difficult experience. It’s an experience that’s not represented enough.
I then started to focus on one of the things that has always been a comfort for her, something that has always been a constant, and that has been her faith. She’s a Christian woman and a firm believer in God. Her faith is everything to her. The photographs try to document her relationship between having this faith but not being able to go to church, be around her friends, her pastor, her leadership, her family. What happens when someone is surrounded by all of this fear and is hearing on the news everyday: ‘Stay home’, ‘Don’t go anywhere’, ‘You are vulnerable, you are vulnerable’? I think it’s weird always hearing that you are vulnerable and then being Black, being an older woman and having these underlying conditions, receiving these messages since the start of lockdown, she has just had this very strange and difficult experience.
I really wanted to discover what that fear looks like alongside her firm faith, really trusting and believing in a God that she believes has everything under control and that she is protected, and safe and loved. The photographs are a documentation of her relationship between her home, her space and how her home is safe because she has this faith. She is surrounded by all these memorabilia, scriptures, images, her bible and her hymns. So yeah hopefully you can see the final images soon and I hope you enjoy them.
What else are you currently working on?
I’m currently working on a few things. I’ve just created something for Vivid Projects. Alex Billingham at Vivid Projects has an incredible concept at the moment called Vivid Live TV. They commissioned me to create something that responded to this digital era that’s happening; the digital boom of creating art and how we access it as well. I created a short video called ‘Break Bread With Me’. That’s available to view until 6 November. Hopefully I can show that work again at some point in the future. I’m delving a little into work about identity politics and what makes my identity political.
My work at the moment is looking into what happens at this intersection of being Black and British and what that actually means in relation to belonging, the implicit consequences of colonisation, the conversation around migration and people existing within Britain; but Britain not really feeling like a place where one can exist and so on…that is where my current body of work seems to be going. This is even starting to cross over into my Masters degree where I’m looking at inclusive language and the consideration of identity within education; thinking about Bell Hooks and David Sutcliffe’s text ‘British Black English’. Really focusing on language and speech in relation to identity politics. I’m also working with Black Hole Club which is fantastic and we are developing something really cool at the moment and I have the opportunity to unpack my ideas a little further but through a retrospective lens, thinking about identity politics spanning the last 30-40 years. Making different connections with my own work but with other artists that have inspired me as well. There is a lot of cross over happening between my studying, my commissions and the fellowship with Black Hole Club so that’s fun.
Birmingham-based De’Anne Crooks was recently commissioned by Film and Video Umbrella (FVU) to produce a piece responding to the pandemic. ‘Great-ish: The Gaslighting of a Nation’ (2020) is a love letter to an unborn child which engages with the migrant experience and Britain as a spouse in a would-be toxic relationship. Annabel Clarke talks to her about her work.
Cold War Steve talks about his work with Birmingham Museum & Art Gallery and the impact of the pandemic on the arts – via The Independent.
Alvaro Martinez interviews Andrew Jackson about ‘From a Small Island’, his experiences as a descendent of the Windrush Generation, and the difficulties to find his identity reflected in English institutionalised history – via Loupe Mag
Moya Lloyd interviews West Midlands based artist Anand Chhabra as part of a series exploring artist experiences of lockdown. – via greenarts.co.uk
New Art West Midlands x Coventry Biennial exhibitor, Mengxia Liu, talks about developing a feeling of community through her illustrations. – via Creative Review
We speak with artist and AirSpace Gallery Director Glen Stoker about his recent body of work. Tell Me Where To Go is a series of one hour walks performed in Stoke-on-Trent via a digital collaboration during restrictions imposed during the Covid-19 pandemic.
How have you approached Tell Me Where To Go as a body of work, Glen?
For the last few years my personal practice has morphed into my organisational work with AirSpace Gallery. Because that organisation is a bit hungry for time and labour, it’s not really been possible to create a separation between that and my personal practice. But, particularly in the early stages of the pandemic, there was some increased spare time, which allowed a chance to have a think about my individual practice. The initial lockdown one hour allowance of daily exercise offered a specific time structure in which I could incorporate my practice processes and interests – walking as journey, duration and urban environments – and I started to think about how to utilise the few possibilities this new situation allowed. Tell Me Where To Go was a structured response built around that one hour window.
And are they new walks or familiar ones?
Generally I tend to walk at about four miles an hour so, potentially, for these 1 hour walks, I’m looking at a four mile circumference from my front door. I’ve lived in Stoke-on-Trent for twenty-five years or so, so I’ve covered a fair amount of the city, so in a macro sense, the surroundings are very familiar, but because I was giving control of my navigation away, these walks sent me on routes that I wouldn’t necessarily routinely walk. Ordinarily, you use regular routes, going from A to B, the quickest or the easiest, but with these walks, taking decision processes out of my control, there was a sense of the unfamiliar within the very familiar.
What has been the structure of the walks?
I wanted to find a way to walk with people at a time when we were isolated from people. The idea was, to give away my directional decisions. Using communication via mobile phone, my remote walking partner became my internal sat nav. At each junction, I would ask my partner whether I should turn left, right or carry straight on. In the hour there would be anywhere between 40 and 70 directions. The only things I’m in control of are my feet and my senses. My walking partner had the option to “see” my walk with me, with a photograph at each junction, allowing a sense of the environment, or they could choose to walk “blind”, and receive all photo documentation at the end of the walk, when they would find out where we’d been. At the end of the hour, I’d send my partner an image of our final destination and then head home to reflect on the walk. I revisited the walk in my head, remembering where I’d been, noting down all the streets, mapping the walk out in the form of a faux Google Map. Each walking partner would then receive all the photographs taken, edited and post-produced – acting as a an ordered visual journey and three pieces of design work – a grid of images, a chosen image from the end of the walk and the map.
How have you been choosing the collaborators?
The first couple were done with a friend and colleague, to test the walks. After that I put calls out over my own networks. I walked with Pandora Vaughan, an artist based in London; Bram Arnold who is a fellow walker, artist and academic based in Devon; Dr. Alison Lloyd, a walking artist based in Nottingham; Terry Shave and Jo Ayre, both artists based here in Stoke; and on one occasion, my partner was a coin-toss mobile phone app.
How does the character of the city itself play out on the walks and in the photographs?
There’s something interesting about the separation between urban and rural environments. I live in a city that has more green spaces than most, with lots of overgrown Brownfields. Nature is a really present and visible phenomenon in Stoke. Most of the final images from the walks depict this natural ecology in urban location. Whether I’m drawn to those instinctively, or I’m subjectively searching for them, these are the things I’m fascinated by. We don’t necessarily need to see urban environments as concrete jungles. In this city, for me, the natural habitation is the dominant one. For instance, at the end of one of the walks, I found myself standing in front of these two trees, beautiful intertwined, hanging over this gently flowing brook – a tributary of the river Trent. I could have been in a forest in some beautiful National Park, and yet it was about two minutes’ walk away from one of the busiest roads and biggest council estates in the city.
With reduced road noise and less people around, have you noticed anything that you might not notice normally at this time of year?
Absolutely. I found it more than easy to walk in the middle of roads without fear of oncoming cars! One of the things that strikes me when I’m walking is the hierarchy of vehicle – cars, bikes, pedestrians – it was nice to be able to claim the territory. The fruit tree blossom has been incredible this year. From talking with friends and colleagues, apparently it’s down to a super-bloom which is what happens when we have a frost-free winter, but I wonder whether it’s also an effect of less vehicle fumes. Particularly in the early walks, at the end of March and start of April, there’s an ever present pink or white hue in the background of the photographs. I think nature has been one of the winners of this situation. I think it quite enjoys the lack of human presence, as do I.
The work is a record of this time, the seasons and conversations with somebody. How do you think the works might be received in the future? Are you interested to show these works in the future when restrictions are lifted?
As snapshots of the time, they are sort of fascinating because the streets are empty and it’s pretty rare to see urban locations so devoid of life. I’d say this is sketchbook work really, with some sense of individual resolution to each part of it. It’s important that my participants get something which is in a sense final, from their co-operation. Also, these particular walks have stopped now, as the regulations and restrictions have changed and we’re allowed to walk for as long as we want every day now.
Strange that we are speaking on the day when these restrictions are lifted (13 May 2020). What’s next for the work?
The expansion of our one hour exercise limit means I think there is maybe one more of these walks left to do – an unlimited walk – so I would stop when I was hurting or exhausted. It might be quite interesting to see where I end up eight hours on, but finding someone to join me for that amount of time might be difficult! As I usually walk solitarily, I’m interested to explore some collaborations further, outside of the narrow ‘walking artist’ paradigm, and undertake the walks with other practitioners – such ecologists, historians etc. That’s maybe where my energy will go next.
Is there anything further you’d like to add?
The work comes from a constant DIY ethic and from finding opportunities where immediately you think these might have been deprived. My first instinct when lockdown happened was “How can I make work in this situation?” but quite quickly you can look at what your new situation is and find a creative space within that. Not only am I quite pleased with how I adapted and responded, but it has really helped as a focus for coping with what has been a very strange situation. I’m always an evangelist for the benefits of walking – even if it’s only for an hour. In terms of wellbeing and jogging the creative processes – for me, it’s a failsafe.
We speak with artist and AirSpace Gallery Director Glen Stoker, about his recent body of work. Tell Me Where To Go is a series of one hour walks performed in Stoke-on-Trent via a digital collaboration during restrictions imposed during the Covid-19 pandemic.
Recipes for Resistance is an interactive multimedia art project from artist Raju Rage, presented by Ort Gallery and featuring five artists: Sabba Khan, Jasleen Kaur, Navi Kaur, Raju Rage as well as artist in residence Yas Lime. It explores the politics of food and its relationship to migration, belonging, memory, culture, coloniality, gender, resilience, adaptability and resistance.
Due to the pandemic, the exhibition has has to be moved online for the time being, however this has enabled the conversation around the project to open up online. We speak to Raju Rage about the exhibition and publication, politics and food, the chosen artists and the changes to the project that have had to take place.
Commissioned creative responses to the publication will be shared via the Ort Gallery website.
Download and listen to the interview HERE.
The publication can be read here.
We speak to Raju Rage about ‘Recipes for Resistance’, an interactive multimedia art project. The exhibition at Ort Gallery has had to be postponed for the time being, but this has enabled the conversation around the project to open up in other ways.
Andy Sargent, one of our recent Outside In Engine Micro Bursary awardees shares his experience and vision of ‘the stikman cometh’ as one of Disability Arts Online’s recent commissions of artists in isolation.
Can you tell me more about the roots of and motivations for the [Discursive Spaces] residency programme?
Asylum Art Gallery LTD is based in Wolverhampton. We’ve worked hard to regenerate two unused and almost derelict spaces in and near the city centre and turn them into inclusive cultural spaces for mentoring, collaboration and showcasing. Unfortunately, Wolverhampton as a borough has suffered disproportionately from a lack of investment, due to spending restrictions because of government austerity across all sectors, especially art, culture and disability. We have seen a significant reduction in community spaces and centres. We also have an incredibly diverse and multicultural community of residents that should be recognised and celebrated. This is increasingly difficult if public spaces to meet are reduced or not regenerated for communal function. The [Discursive Spaces] residency programme looks to enable discussion around the local communities and the spaces they use, or the memories of the spaces that were and how they held communities together in the region. Heterotopias are spaces within spaces, spaces with restrictions to their access. Public space and communal space is difficult to navigate because it simultaneously must be inclusive to all and yet so many layers of restrictions exists around them. Our motivation was to start a discussion around these topics and look at how the outcomes from the artists might inspire future projects of regeneration through culture that enable community led spaces to re-emerge around our city.
How did you select the 5 artists to work with? What were you looking for?
When selecting artists to respond to these research areas, we were looking for proposals that had a strong previous body of work, but also acknowledged the locality of the project. It was always about engaging with what exists or does not exist here anymore, and so this was the deciding factor on whether or not an artist’s proposal has the empathy and commitment to develop outcomes that could be filtered through to our local council and contribute to their regeneration strategies.
We were overwhelmed with so many strong proposals, but we chose artists who had shown a commitment to engaging with a specific local community or building/space. Because of the quality of work that was submitted, we also invited 6 other artists to contribute their research to the publication and the group show at Wolverhampton Art Gallery. These were artists whose practice already engaged with these areas of research but did not need a residency to develop the work further assigned to a local community or space.
What research have their residencies uncovered?
We are now on our fifth and final residency and the work produced from the artists has been profoundly affecting, engaging and very provocative. We’ve had graphic installations, kaleidoscopic archival projections, skeletal canal boats, representations of derelict urban spaces and an immersive tent installation. There’s a real sense of the visceral in all of the work, which we think is due to the artists’ starting points being local people and their public spaces or lack thereof. With Jayne Murray’s work we discussed the movement and restriction of people between suburbs and city centres due to ring roads and the fear attached to underpasses, which could be vibrant and communal public spaces. We’ve seen years of city topography change and blur through Thomas J Brown’s moving image work that highlighted intergenerational memories of the spaces in their city. David Checkley went and interviewed Urban Moorings CIC and through found canal objects, built a skeletal representation of a canal boat, discussing openly his need during times of struggle to retreat to these beautiful communities and the deterioration of an entire way of living post industrial collapse. Remi Andrews’ work was affected significantly by Covid-19 and she could not physically engage with any local communities or integrate this into her outcome. However, her stark representation of the empty tent within the derelict city, installed on the wall rather than floor (highlighting how setting up a permanent residency in public space like this is illegal and subject to removal) forced us to question why, when we have such a large homeless community and so many derelict or unused spaces, strategies are not in place to reduce or mitigate this.
What have been your highlights so far?
The highlights have been interacting with our local communities and regular gallery attendants. Seeing them engage with people and places they recognised, uncovering forgotten memories or spaces and discussing what they miss or need or long for.
Can you tell me more about the impact of Covid-19 on the overall project? In what ways have the artists and the organisation responded?
Since this was a project motivated by community engagement, interaction and the discussion of improving access to and use of public space, Covid-19 has forced us to completely refocus our last two artists outcomes, including our ability to showcase these to our audience. We had instead provided online essays, photographic and video documentation, an interview with the artists and Zoom Q and As. However, it has also highlighted our concerns as an organisation, for the need of public space and to commit harder to ensuring that communities and the spaces they need are not forgotten, in an economy that is looking to social distance people further through digital platforms as a long-term strategy. We must not let Covid-19 allow people in positions of power to relinquish their responsibility to communal access to space and the shaping of its functionality.
Sahjan Kooner’s project is next to be showcased. What can audiences expect from the online event on 29 May?
Sahjan Kooner is interested in migration and technology. They are a fantastic artist to finalise the project with, as though the work has focused on local oral testimonies from migrant communities, it reminds us of the wider heterotopias and asks us to consider mass migration, restrictions of space and access through digital platforms. These have massive implications globally, but also very personally and both must be considered if we wish to really integrate all people and their needs into our cities.
52° 35′ 28.9320” N, 2° 6′ 38.6928” W
30° 54′ 3.4740” N, 75° 51′ 26.1972” E
Sahjan is presenting a series of floor-based works which contain films developed over the course of the residency. The films are a culmination of an intensive research period which contained oral testimonies, forensic reconstructions of memories and physical/digital production. The filmic body of work explores how memories move across time and space and draws questions around prosthetic memory, architecture, politics of place, domestic life and marginalised voices.
You can view the documentation and interview of this work from 6pm Friday 29th May 2020 on Facebook, Instagram, and our website.
There is also a Zoom Q and A from the artist where we will live stream from the gallery.
Meeting ID: 785 174 8938
How do you plan to share research and findings from the wider project? What’s its future?
Throughout the residencies, our writer in residence Nathaniel Grant has been responding to the works through extensive research around the subject areas and their impact locally. The documentation from the residencies, essays from Nathaniel, further contributions from 6 local artists and professional architect Curtis Martyn who specialises in urban design, will culminate in a publication that will be gifted to West Midlands institutions, cultural organisations, our council, libraries and archives. This will also be available to access online through our website. We currently sit as a key stakeholder on Wolverhampton’s cultural compact and will look to integrate some of the questions that have been raised and ideas for cultural regeneration into their strategy moving forward.
You can view the publication from 3rd July and if you’re organisation would like a hard copy please contact:
We will also be showcasing 11 artists in a group show at Wolverhampton Art Gallery where the publication will be available and Curtis Martyn will be speaking on how cultural regeneration can shape urban planning. The programming of this show is now subject to the social distancing guidelines and dates will be released when safe to do so.
We speak to Hannah Taylor about the [ Discursive spaces ] residency project which has been developing at Wolverhampton’s Asylum Art Gallery. We find out more about the motivations for the project, the artists’ research and the ways that the project’s content and format has been shaped by the circumstances of Covid-19.
The West Midlands-born artist and founder of the contemporary arts programme Hogchester Arts discusses her involvement with Isolation Art School, selling and buying work through Artist Support Pledge, working on project ‘Night Shaking’ with West Midlands-based artist Dean Melbourne, plus the impact of her recent a-n Artist Bursary – via a-n.
David A. Bailey and Jessica Taylor, curators of the Diaspora Pavilion speak with Kate Keohane and Catherine Spencer on the curatorial thinking behind the project – via International Curators Forum.
Photomonitor speak to Aliki Braine about her exhibition at Argentea Gallery which is due to be rescheduled. – via Photomonitor
Georgia Tucker, recent New Art West Midlands x Coventry Biennial exhibitor, is an artist, virtual reality designer and environmental activist. Her exhibition Conniveo is currently touring in the UK. Conniveo is a virtual reality and physical installation which explores marine pollution; particularly plastic pollution, oil pollution and dead zones. – via More by Here
In an image saturated world, it is sometimes surprising to find a strong connection to landscape that can translate to the viewer so effectively. Warwick-based Caitriona Dunnett answered a few questions about the creation of this series, which has been exhibited widely – interview by Christiane Monarchi for Photomonitor
We speak to Roma Piotrowska, Curatorial Officer for Arts and Culture at the City of Wolverhampton Council about her role, Wolverhampton Art Gallery’s collection and British Art Show 9.
Can you give us a little summary of what your job entails?
I am the Curatorial Officer for Arts and Culture at the City of Wolverhampton Council. My job involves coordinating and shaping the programme of exhibitions and events across Wolverhampton’s cultural sites, including Wolverhampton Art Gallery (where I am based), Wolverhampton City Archives, Bantock House and Bilston Gallery. I spend most of my time working on the Gallery’s exhibition programme.
What has it been like working with a collection?
Ikon Gallery (where I worked previously) does not have a collection, so I was keen to gain this kind of experience. I couldn’t have dreamt of a more exciting collection to work with than Wolverhampton Art Gallery’s. Our collection is vast, and part of our strategy is to link it closely to our contemporary programme, which excites me the most. Last year for example, we organised an exhibition of works by Keith Piper, which originated from the fact that we have two of his works in our collection.
In the 1960s the gallery started to amass a significant collection of Pop Art, including work by Andy Warhol, Roy Lichtenstein and Richard Hamilton among others. We now have the largest collection of Pop Art outside of London. This remains a collecting priority. We also have a significant collection of work by Black British artists. Building on the social and political issues inherent in the Pop collection, the gallery chose to focus on art which responded to contemporary society, especially looking at the themes of gender, identity and conflict. All these themes have been important to me in relation to art since I started my first gallery job at Wyspa Institute of Art, Gdansk, Poland in 2005.
Do you have a favourite piece in the collection?
No, I don’t really. It is very difficult for an art professional to have a favourite work of art. There are pieces that I am proud we have in the collection because they are by artists whose practice I follow and admire, for example works by Yinka Shonibare, Richard Billingham, Keith Piper, Gillian Wearing, Larissa Sansour and Siobhan Hapaska.
Sometimes items that may seem to be less interesting, become fascinating in the right context. We have for example a collection of memorabilia connected to Royal Weddings, which normally wouldn’t be of my interest. We wanted to represent different stages of family life in relation to our Wolverhampton and Me exhibition, so we chose objects connected to Royal Weddings, such as stickers, commemorative beer bottles and ‘Charles & Diana’ brick. It was fascinating to learn more about those quirky objects and display them in a completely new context of an exhibition about family ties.
What are you working on at the moment? What are you looking forward to in the programme?
Before the Coronavirus outbreak we were working on our immediate programme but since the crisis started, the next few months are very much up in the air for us.
Very exciting and more in the future is British Art Show 9, which is planned to take place in Wolverhampton from February to May 2021. It is the most anticipated exhibition of cutting-edge contemporary art in Britain and it will be exhibited both at the Gallery and University of Wolverhampton. We are anticipating that the show will bring thousands of art-lovers to Wolverhampton from across the UK and beyond, putting our cultural offer firmly in the spotlight.
Find out more about Wolverhampton Arts and Culture here.
We speak to Roma Piotrowska, Curatorial Officer for Arts and Culture at the City of Wolverhampton Council about her role, Wolverhampton Art Gallery’s collection and British Art Show 9.
We speak with Melanie Pocock, the newly appointed curator at Birmingham’s Ikon gallery, to find out more about her background, research interests and plans for the future.
What attracted you to your role at Ikon?
Ikon provides the kind of environment that artists and curators crave: a beautiful, signature architecture, where it’s possible to take risks and create vision. I was also attracted to Ikon’s size. It’s large enough to create ambitious exhibitions, yet small enough to feel their effects on artists and audiences.
I knew Ikon from my time working at Modern Art Oxford during my MA in Curating Contemporary Art. When Ikon advertised the role, the gallery was presenting The Aerodrome, an exhibition dedicated to the memory of Michael Stanley, who was curator of Ikon from 2002 to 2004 and Director of Modern Art Oxford when I was there. While not a deciding factor in my application, the exhibition did feel like a calling card! Michael’s desire to work side-by-side with artists greatly influenced me and is an approach which Ikon’s programme directly reflects.
The role came at a time when I was looking for a new challenge in an institution closer to home (I’m originally from London). I felt that the internationalism of Ikon’s programme, fostered over many years by current Director Jonathan Watkins, would enable me to contribute my on-the-ground experience in Asia.
What are you most looking forward to about working at the gallery?
In addition to Ikon’s scale and focus, I’d say the opportunity to work with a highly skilled, multi-disciplinary team. In the three months I’ve been here, I’ve been amazed by the expertise and achievements of Ikon’s staff, from the Facilities team’s development of the ‘Ikon lights’ (the gallery’s bespoke lighting system) to the Learning team’s incredible work on artist residencies and offsite programmes.
Since last week, and because of the confinement measures owing to Covid-19, myself and the Ikon team have all been working from home. It’s a big change, but one which I’m embracing—in the interim, at least! We’re already starting to use digital platforms and communication tools more effectively. The Facilities team has been incredible, helping us to get set up for remote working in an incredibly short amount of time.
What do you hope to achieve in the role?
Bringing artists to Ikon whose work has not yet achieved adequate recognition from the global art ‘system’, or which remains less visible due to issues of language or access, is a priority. I’m interested in consolidating strands of Ikon’s current programme—the role and meaning of painting today, as evidenced in John Walker’s recent exhibition, as well as contemporary artists’ relationship to Indigenous practices. Creating exhibitions and projects which embed artists’ ideas within the socio-cultural and material fabric of Birmingham is also something that I’d like to work towards.
What has excited you so far about Birmingham and/or the West Midlands region?
The history of art schools in the region—the Birmingham and Wolverhampton schools of art, established in 1843 and 1853 respectively, for example—is one that I find fascinating, especially having come from the Institute of Contemporary Arts in Singapore, which is affiliated with an art school (Lasalle College of the Arts). The aim of art schools in the West Midlands to foster artistic approaches to craft and design is vividly reflected in the region’s art history. It’s also a strong current in the work of younger artists, who are reviving this history through their employment of craft techniques like glassblowing and welding.
Can you tell us something about your upcoming projects at the gallery? What can audiences look forward to?
Yes—I certainly can! One project is a group exhibition, which will survey Ikon’s programme in the 1990s. Focusing on Elizabeth Ann Macgregor’s tenure as Director, it will include photography, painting, installation and video by over 40 artists whose work was presented at the gallery during this time. Apart from major works by renowned artists—Mark Wallinger, Adrian Piper and Yinka Shonibare, to name a few—the exhibition will reflect many of the decade’s critical debates on race and class politics. I’m also working on an exhibition by Krištof Kintera, a Czech artist who is known for his macabre sculptures and installations critiquing hypercapitalist systems and societies. It will be his first major solo exhibition in the UK and will occupy both floors of Ikon’s galleries.
We speak with Melanie Pocock, the newly appointed curator at Birmingham’s Ikon gallery, to find out more about her background, research interests and plans for the future.
Artist Sarah Byrne exhibited in New Art West Midlands x Coventry Biennial 2019. Having recently completed her Masters degree at the University of Wolverhampton, she has gone on to undertake a residency at The New Art Gallery Walsall. We caught up with her to find out more about her practice, and her approaches to the residency on site and during lockdown.
How have you approached the residency? What have been your starting points?
The residency largely offered me a space to play, and to try things without too much planning or thought. Something I began to value during my Masters was what I called ‘mindless’ work. It’s like the opposite of being mindfull, which is associated with having to be very present and aware – something which honestly just freaked me out because there are times I didn’t want to be so aware, I just wanted to shut off and let things happen. One of my favourite chefs, Jack Monroe (2019) wrote in the method for her Self Love Stew, that:
“Stirring is key. It is soothing. It is mindless, not mindful. Sod mindful. My mind is full enough. It is a minefield. Sometimes I want to stir some stuff and stare at my hands or into nothing”.
I find it’s a great metaphor for how I try to approach my work now – mindless stirring. Just using the right ingredients, and then letting the flavours come together themselves.
So how I started was by bringing a bunch of materials into the studio without any solid plan, just some notes I’d made on my phone during the months leading up to it. I already understood where my work stood conceptually from recently finishing my Masters, so it was a great opportunity to let the materials take the lead and see what I could allow them to do.
Can you tell me more about your work in the lead up to the residency, specifically that as part of your MA and shown during New Art West Midlands x Coventry Biennial?
My practice explores the relationship that I have with my dual nationality, and explores imagery and thoughts relating to my mixed race heritage.
I began with an interest in the photographs and photo albums my mum curated of me growing up. She still keeps and displays them, in leather-bound chronological order on the bookshelf. I began a material exploration of these photographs, viewing myself and my narrative with a different, analytical eye to how I would normally view them. I looked at them at this point as if I were an anthropologist, rather than a family member. The impulsive family snapshot became important, as did the consideration of how I’d grown up with value placed on my race as an identifier, with muddled memories of feeling tokenised by both sides.
As I repeatedly used and re-used the photographs, remembering stories, smells, sounds and emotions, I began to question the reliability of my own narrative voice, becoming aware that I was attempting to recall a period of my childhood which is commonly misremembered by many. I was already going through a process of comparing digital and human memory, and doubts around my attempts to recall events were making me question a degree of computer-like overwriting and corruption within memories. At the time of the New Art West Midlands x Coventry Biennial, the visuals I was creating would explore the ideas of glitching, malfunctioning and faultiness in relation to human memory. The approach of collage on an overhead projector allowed for an ambiguous and infinite number of possible scenarios using a decided collection of existing objects, environments and disruptions.
In the lead up to the end of my MA and my gallery residency, my work had also developed to consider trends relating to skin whitening in South East Asia. A strong memory I hold from my trips to the Philippines is the overbearing presence of skin whitening treatments. I remember on one trip to the Philippines, after using up all the sun protection cream we’d brought with us from home, my dad and I were searching for more in the local Boots pharmacy equivalent. I remember picking up and examining each of the bottles and being unable to find a product that wasn’t selling itself on its whitening or bleaching properties. The metaphor of fading and bleaching began to be included in the discussion around distortion and concealing in relation to memory.
How have you utilised materials and motifs?
In the Philippines there is a huge value placed on Westernism. Historically, the Philippines have been owned by both Spain and America, making it a cultural hybrid of these places as well as its geographical location in Asia. Something I observed (and became very uncomfortable with) even as a young child, was that my dad and I were revered for visiting there as white people. People in the markets would stop, stare and point, people would approach us for money, sometimes begging, sometimes threatening. Conversations would revolve around my appearance, with huge worth placed on my “lovely light skin”.
Growing up, this gave me whiplash as I compared it to the treatment I received for being Asian when back home in England. At school, it was a running joke for many that I looked Chinese … My nationality was my identifier, and the way people would introduce me. “This is Sarah – she’s Filipino”, they’d say, pre-empting that the other person would be wondering that already. My descriptors would shift to “lovely olive skin”. Which was I, then? And why did it matter so much?
The bleaching soap was one of the ideas leading the work at the start of the residency as I saw it as an object which could speak of lots of different metaphors and dialogues. My parents had recently been on a visit there, so I asked them to pick me up some of the boxes they saw in the supermarkets!
There’s something to note in that many of the whitening properties lie in women’s cleaning products. I don’t notice the same sort of marketing in the men’s variety of soaps and deodorants. I thought then about the cleaning products themselves, and their purpose. Cleaning. Whitening. Like the intention is to wash your skin colour away. The same language wouldn’t seem out of place on a bottle of Cillit Bang. I started to consider this in parallel with the disintegration and fade treatment in my work.
In addition, another motif which has been important throughout the residency, has been the colour yellow. I did a series of Instagram posts about this, discussing how my instinctual relation of the colour to the Filipino landscape was what initially drew me to the colour, but then how it developed to become something important to continue with. There’s a broad consideration of the colour yellow in reference to Asian countries. It became quickly established in the world that there were black people and there were white people. More recently brown, too, has become a common descriptor. But where did Filipino people belong in these categories? Reclaiming and taking possession of Yellow outside of its former derogatory context gives us a “little flag to fly” (Chok, V. (2016) ‘Yellow’, in The Good Immigrant. London: Unbound, pp.33–44.)
You have shared some really interesting content on Instagram during your residency so far. Given the Covid-19 situation and the residency pause, how do you hope to continue to use digital platforms to share your thinking and research moving forward?
Thank you! The staff at the gallery have been incredibly supportive during this time. I have been continuing my Instagram takeovers on the gallery account, and have been very grateful for the responses I receive on that platform.
With so many of us now staying at home, an at-home art practice is something that I think is important not just on an individual basis, but in terms of sharing and contributing to an online community that others can view or feel involved in. A lockdown practice doesn’t have to be that productive or important, but the act of setting a goal for yourself or having something enjoyable to be working on, can be so important for wellbeing in this weird limbo. I’ve found that since the lockdown has been enforced, the viewing numbers on my Instagram stories have shot up, and the number of responses have increased, as more people are turning to their phones and social media with their extra time.
I’ve found social media, and particularly Instagram stories, to be really positive in encouraging me to write in a voice like I’d write to a mate. It’s not my ‘academic’ voice, or the one that would maybe be present in an artist statement. I don’t do any planning for them, and I barely proofread them. I try to engage my stream of consciousness, and not put pressure on myself to sound a certain way. I’ve personally found this to be very freeing, and based on the responses I’ve had, it has allowed others to get a good insight into how I think through and make decisions around my work as it happens.
On a personal level, documenting this stream of consciousness is also great for me to formalise the ‘bitty’ thoughts that might otherwise be lost and overwritten by the next idea as I potter about with my materials. It leaves more for me to reflect on after the fact, and can be more beneficial in developing those threads further as I progress. It’s definitely something I’ll adopt to featuring more on my personal page after this residency is finished.
I wrote my MA thesis in the style of a book, titled Chinese Burn. It’s in some ways similar to how I voiced my Instagram stories, I aimed to write it in a language that straddled conversational and academic. I didn’t want it to be a book that only my supervisor would read, and would be impenetrable and/or useless to anyone else.
On completion of the book, I had a small handful of copies printed and was pleased that Deborah Robinson at the gallery decided to curate one of the books into the MA show beside my work. Since giving sneak peaks of it online, I’ve had queries from people wanting to know where they can purchase a copy! I’d love to be able to self-publish it properly, and I’m currently looking into options which I hope to be able to pursue relatively soon.
As my work develops I would be interested in exploring the possibility of more books, perhaps exploring the work I’ve been able to play with during this residency and documenting the thinking and process.
Ultimately, I’ve been saying that the end of my Masters does not equal the end of this body of work. It’s still very much something that’s developing and spitting out new outcomes as it goes. It will be great to return to my studio space at Eagle Works in future when this current dystopian reality is lifted, but for now I’m very grateful for my dining table studio space, and I hope for more sunny Spring weather so I can use my garden to explore sun-bleaching and drawing possibilities.
Artist Sarah Byrne exhibited in New Art West Midlands x Coventry Biennial 2019. Having recently completed her Masters degree at the University of Wolverhampton, she has gone on to undertake a residency at The New Art Gallery Walsall. We caught up with her to find out more about her practice, and her approaches to the residency on site and during lockdown.
Artist Leanne O’Connor undertook a Whitworth Wallis Residency in 2018 at Birmingham Museum & Art Gallery. She spent a month exploring the stained glass and metalwork collections of the museum’s industrial galleries, as well as items in the museum collection centre and local archives services. Her new exhibition, on display until 1 June 2020, uses The Story of Dante and Beatrice by Florence Camm, a 3-part stained glass panel held in the museum’s collection, as its jumping off point, within a series of newly made sculptures in steel and glass. Anneka French finds out more.
Tell me a bit about your starting points?
I have made a fragment, a digital print on glass titled Florence? which was taken from the story of Dante and Beatrice, a 3-part stained glass panel made in 1912 by Florence Camm and the Camms of Smethwick. I linked up with a historian called Elaine Williams who theorised that this particular fragment was actually Florence herself. It was a weird exchange between looking at historical photographs of Florence’s life and looking back into the image. How it’s constructed is important because it doesn’t play to the Edwardian rhetoric of everyone looking off or out away from the central image. I thought that there could be something quite feminist about the work, especially if Florence did include herself looking straight out towards us in a pivotal work that was going to be internationally shown at the International Craft Exhibition in Turin. Florence had quite a sheltered life in terms of her output because she was just making for the family really. The figure of Beatrice was always shown as docile and shrouded by other women which goes against the original text. Florence and her contemporaries reframed this story in a way that I haven’t seen before. A defiance is well-captured.
How has this research come through into your work?
I thought it could be something quite excellent to have a fragment of a face of a maker maybe in the Birmingham School of Art room in Birmingham Museum & Art Gallery (BM&AG). The team very kindly said we show the work as an intervention in the gallery.
And this is the first time there has been a contemporary work in that room?
As far as I am aware, this is the only contemporary work exhibited in the Birmingham School gallery, yes. And this work represents both a historic and contemporary maker at the same time. I considered solidarity and sisterhood over generations. There have been some really beautiful and haunting works I’ve seen around women makers who are tied into activism. These straddle art and craft and I enjoy those borders of production. I like that this piece captivates the room and that it is outside of a frame. It is a sort of a devotion to Florence.
How many works are in the industrial galleries?
There are 3 downstairs and 2 upstairs. The central panel that I have been looking at is a transparency reproduction and the original is currently in the Oklahoma Museum as part of a big Pre-Raphaelite exhibition that’s happening in North America. It is on loan from BM&AG. There was a fading reproduction on show but my works nearby are hands pointing towards this and the team at the museum were able to refresh the reproduction. It’s been nice that interacting with collections can re-invigorate the display.
Tell me more about your research?
I’ve been working with the Community and History Archives Service (CHAS) in Smethwick, Sandwell. They have a massive collection of photographs that Florence took of the community of Smethwick that would pose for her ecclesiastical designs. The company certainly didn’t have a hierarchy of models that the central Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood had. For example, there is a picture of a beggar from the panel which is in the archive, as well as a man called Albert Fell who was their glazer or leader. It was bonkers but I was installing this work and his great granddaughter came here with her husband. They were talking to the technician and they said that’s my great granddad with the feather. We’re going to be meeting up soon to talk about everything.
Tell me more about your works Hands of a Sisterhood?
I made these 5 wee sculptures and had been doing research with CHAS prior to applying for this residency. I had seen the beautiful, big ecclesiastical works that Florence had produced. I felt like it was important to pay homage to women makers who worked within trades that must have been extremely difficult for them. CHAS have all of her familial collection, the photo albums that she built herself, her collected drawings, photographs and the boards she mounted things on such as shoeboxes, I found beautiful. I found some photographs she took of her sisters’ hands and I wanted to create signposts from Smethwick that would point back to existing work. I’ve been thinking about survival tactics for ageing work. The different heights of the poles that support the hands are the different ages her sisters were when they died. The bases are a map of Smethwick and the twist crops up in Oldbury fencing. I’ve not seen this design anywhere else and the hands are her sisters’.
What impact has the residency and exhibition had on your work?
These are the most heavily constructed works I’ve ever done. I saw this residency as a massive testing ground for what I could do, for what historical processes I could learn about and what materials I could discover. Negotiating form has been really difficult for me. There are things I would do differently if I were to make them again so it’s been really great in terms of making me think about how I want to make. It’s given me an appreciation that I don’t just work in steel, that I shouldn’t box myself in. The print on glass, Florence?, is the piece that resonates the most for me. Interdisciplinary ways of working are something I am going to embrace a wee bit more.
Whitworth Wallis Artist in Residence: Leanne O’Connor is on display at Birmingham Museum & Art Gallery until 1 June 2020.
Artist Leanne O’Connor undertook a Whitworth Wallis Residency in 2018 at Birmingham Museum & Art Gallery. Her new exhibition, a result of research conducted during that residency, is on display until 1 June 2020. We found out more.
Artist, photographer and writer Lottie Davies has recently opened a solo exhibition titled Quinn: A Journey at the Herbert Museum and Art Gallery in Coventry. Incorporating moving image, stills, text and a variety of objects, the display aims to offer an immersive insight into the fictional journey of William Henry Quinn, as he walks from Cornwall to the far north of Scotland in post-Second World War Britain. Anneka French finds out more.
Could you introduce your work?
My work has evolved over the last twenty years. I learnt through assisting commercial and editorial photography work. My fine art practice evolved mid-way through that when I made a series of work called Memories and Nightmares which were staged, narrative, tableaux type pieces based on collecting memory stories. I use life experiences to make semi-fictional photographs. I like the idea of taking an individual’s experience and making it more universal or relevant to anybody and I like the idea that people might feel they have seen one of my pictures before or that something about it makes them think about their own memories or story.
Can you describe the origins of Quinn?
Quinn originally started because my gallerist at the time asked me to do an artist talk and I wanted to do something different. I thought I would do a performance. I called Samuel J Weir and asked him if he would be interested to do a one off performance and I wrote a short story monologue for him to perform. That was when the character of Quinn first arrived and wanted to do more with this. The story of his journey and why he’s walking have evolved throughout the 4 years of shooting. I’m self-taught so I’ve never really approached projects from the beginning with a firm idea of what the outcome would be. I enjoy that freedom of being able to develop the story as we went along, although I knew he was walking from Cornwall to the north west of Scotland early on.
Can you say more about the making of the project?
The whole project started 6 years ago but it took 4 years to shoot because I needed to wait for the seasons to change so that it is obvious time is moving, as well as working in between other projects and Sam’s commitments. It was bubbling along slowly as we went further up the country but things took longer because of the practicalities of travelling in more remote parts, which meant we would have to spend a week somewhere rather than just a couple of days. We finished shooting 2 years ago and the project has sat for a little while, something I always like to do if possible.
How has Quinn’s narrative developed?
The narrative has been the last bit. In the exhibition is a small notebook which is a diary in the form of letters to Quinn’s wife, notes and lists. It took a while for me to be comfortable with its format as originally there was going to be some oral history and various different ways of telling the story. Writing fiction is not something I am very experienced with so it took time to feel like it was alright. But it was really fun and it’s the newest area I’ve been exploring. I love words and really enjoy playing with them.
What can visitors expect within the exhibition’s rooms?
One of the rooms in the exhibition is an installation of a boarding house. The diary is there for people to pick up read by themselves but sections of it are displayed on the walls which is something totally different for me. The room has no photographs in it. I’ve been able to put all 4 of the different elements of the project into the exhibition. So there is moving image, stills of Quinn’s journey and I have been working with the Herbert Art Gallery & Museum’s historical collection. Quinn’s belongings which are genuinely from the period are displayed alongside items from the permanent collection. People are invited to interact with the boarding house room – to sit on the bed, open the drawers.
How do you think you might connect with audiences in terms of the contexts of the gallery and the city?
The project is set post-World War Two, which is a central experience to Coventry and to the cathedral next door. Some of the Herbert’s collection objects on show are of this period – things that have been useful and may have changed in meaning or context over time. The show is meant to be more universal than this specific time and at the moment, people all over the world are walking and travelling to find a place to be, as many people were then. A large proportion of the global population is currently uprooted by economic circumstance, conflict, Corona Virus. Quinn’s journey is a metaphorical one for all of us. We all have a journey through our lives and take different directions, sometimes unexpectedly. I’m hoping that people will enjoy the real things on show that have had a life but also that they can relate to Quinn’s story.
Can you tell me more about the performance you have planned?
Samuel J Weir is going to read excerpts from Quinn’s diary at the cathedral and then we will come to the gallery for a conversation about the making of the work with the audience. I will be bringing along a work scrapbook. All the stills were shot on large format analogue film on a brass and rosewood camera so I might bring that along too. I think there is an interest in how things are made, in analogue photography and in real life objects that have had lives.
Quinn: A Journey is curated by Dr Rachel Marsden and is on display at the Herbert Art Gallery & Museum until 31 May 2020.
A performance and in conversation event takes place on 17 May, 1:45pm at Coventry Cathedral before moving to the gallery.
Artist, photographer and writer Lottie Davies has recently opened a solo exhibition titled Quinn: A Journey at the Herbert Museum and Art Gallery in Coventry. Anneka French finds out more.
Artist Georgia Tucker, who showed at the end of 2019 as part of New Art West Midlands x Coventry Biennial, has been busy working on a new commission as part of the BBC New Creatives scheme. Conniveo, the resulting exhibition, comprised of a VR and physical installation, opens at Stryx on 6 March and then tours.
Can you tell us more about the starting point for the Conniveo project?
Rural Media’s website advertised the BBC New Creatives scheme, co-funded by Arts Council and BBC Arts. They have been after mainly film and audio artists but also interactive artworks which includes VR. I applied for it with a project idea last June. The project wasn’t called Conniveo at the time but the idea was very similar – about plastic pollution and the oceans. I found out in August that I’d been selected for a commission so that I could develop the VR and physical installation sides of the exhibition which will be on display at Stryx.
What will the Stryx exhibition involve?
Everything for the physical installation has been made using recycled materials and sourced environmentally, apart from the VR technology, so that the experience isn’t affected. I’m incorporating fishing nets that have been donated by people who collect plastic waste from beaches and scaffolding as it’s always re-used. The scaffolding installation will house the VR. Some prints on display have been taken from the VR – digital renders that you wouldn’t see when navigating the virtual environment such as under the sea bed and from above. I’ve made a light box from a broken TV. I have also produced an animation of the experience as there is only space for one headset and one area to walk around in. It means that people who can’t view VR, or don’t want to, can watch the animation.
Is the exhibition touring?
Yes, it’s going to be shown at Birmingham School of Art 6 – 17 April and then to Backlit Gallery 5 – 14 June in Nottingham, which will be a group show that has an open call out at the moment, and then at the National Marine Aquarium in Plymouth for the whole of August. It’s the first time the aquarium have worked with an artist. The room where it will be shown has a wall which forms part of an actual aquarium with fish swimming past. Conniveo will then be touring around for the rest of the year in other locations.
What does the open call out involve?
Not necessarily VR, but artists exploring environmental concerns. I want to bring together people who have similar views but shown in different media. The open call is still live and images and statements can be emailed to me. It would be helpful if people sent the work they want to show rather than a portfolio. The work selected needs to work alongside what I’m showing and I will pick my personal favourites. Scale of work will determine how many others are selected. Rural Media and a curator are assisting with selection.
What impact do you hope this work will have in terms of the issues it raises?
Rural Media have helped me with marketing, particularly how to push my social media and as a result I’ve got meetings with some large organisations including charities who want to use the work for their lobbying efforts. The environmental impact is that VR helps immerse the viewer and forces them to engage with the topic more actively. I’ve been surprised that a lot of people that are following the work are not necessarily interested in VR but are following it because of the work’s environmental content.
And the impact in terms of your practice?
I’ve again got meetings and potential commissions with some very large companies and even though VR has been around for a long time it is still somehow new. These companies are looking at their environmental impact, developing schemes for going greener and are therefore after the combination of the technology, the artwork and the content. These experiences have made me change the way I think about my practice in terms of making a living from it. I didn’t expect there to be corporations hiring creatives but it seems to be the way forward. A lot of companies are saying to me that in the future you may be able to replace some job roles but that they can’t replace creatives.
Applications for the open call can be emailed directly to Georgia at firstname.lastname@example.org by Sunday 1 March.
Artist Georgia Tucker, who showed at the end of 2019 as part of New Art West Midlands x Coventry Biennial, has been busy working on a new commission as part of the BBC New Creatives scheme. Conniveo, the resulting exhibition, comprised of a VR and physical installation, opens at Stryx in March.
Artist Farwa Moledina, who showed at the end of 2019 as part of New Art West Midlands x Coventry Biennial, has recently taken part in an exhibition in Lahore, Pakistan. Curated by Ikon’s Director Jonathan Watkins and Aisha Khalid, A Rich Tapestry featured works by Farwa as part of Lahore Biennale collateral activity. Her works were shown alongside those by Mahtab Hussain, Matthew Krishanu and Osman Yousefzada, alongside Pakistani artists Ali Kazim and Imran Qureshi.
We spoke to Farwa to find out more about her experiences of the project.
Can you tell me more about how the project opportunity arose?
Ikon will be showing the work of Aisha Khalid as part of their winter exhibition, and so this project came about through conversations on possible cultural exchanges between artists in Lahore and Birmingham.
Which works are you showing? How have these been developed?
I am interested in 19th Century Orientalist artworks and the way in which Western male painters depicted highly exotic and erotic versions of Muslim and Arab women from the Middle East and the Maghreb. Through my work, I try to subvert and reclaim the Orientalist narrative that is still so prevalent in current society.
For A Rich Tapestry, I am showing two new works entitled No one is neutral here and You must choose your part in the end. These works are a series of digital prints on polyester. In these an anonymous woman is photographed wrapped in a cloak that has been designed using elements of Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres’ La Grande Odalisque, a well-known Orientalist artwork from the 19th Century. The pattern includes a scanned-in image of an embroidery I created with the words ‘Not Your Harem Girl’ and also an image of a hand with a henna design I made from the same text; when combined these elements form a pattern that resembles Islamic geometric art.
I often work in layers, taking time to create embroidery and henna that then feature in the work – so even though the pattern is not entirely obvious within No one is neutral here and You must choose your part in the end, the process of making the cloaking fabric itself together with the text is an act of defiance and challenging Western male perceptions of Arab, Muslim and WOC, both in the 19th Century and even now.
The images are taken at the Ayasofya (Hagia Sofia) in Turkey, although that isn’t made obvious. I have attempted to negate the ‘exotic’ that is often associated with the East by steering away from the elaborate mosaic tiles and stereotypical ‘otherness’ that we are often identified with. Even though the location is not evident, I felt it was important to take this fabric back to Turkey and physically carry it around to photograph. This was part of the process for me, and my practice is as much process as it is the final work. The images are taken beside a column and beside a window, when paired, they speak of enduring gender politics both past and present, whilst also challenging the West’s voyeuristic view of Muslim and Eastern womxn.
How do these works respond to the sites they are shown in and the contexts of Lahore?
I feel the works respond really well to the sites and to Lahore in general. There are some incredible female artists in Pakistan, Aisha being one of them. Showing my work in spaces that she has created and lived in, surrounded by farmland that she has cultivated is a real honour. Pakistan is no stranger to the effects and consequences of colonisation and British rule and I feel strongly that displaying the series in Lahore served to elevate the pieces, which reflect the difficulty of reclaiming a sense of self separate from the colonial gaze. As such, I feel very privileged to have been given the opportunity to showcase my work in such an appropriate context.
What has been your experience in Lahore and as a part of collateral events for the Biennale?
Visiting Lahore was such an incredible and enriching experience. There is a rich history and culture in Pakistan that is sometimes forgotten. The Pakistani people were incredibly kind and hospitable, and constantly went out of their way to make us feel welcome and cared for. Pakistani art has also been incredibly inspiring, and I have so much to think about and reflect on.
What do you hope the impact of this exhibition might be upon your work?
Showing work in South Asia and the Middle East is really important to me given my roots and the nature of my work and I am grateful for this opportunity. The art scene in Lahore is really thriving and I hope this leads to further exhibitions within the region.
What do you hope to make/research/show next?
As always, I’m interested in the issues surrounding Muslim/womxn of colour and hope to continue making work around these themes. I will be undertaking a research residency at the Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery in the next few months where I will have the opportunity to respond to their collection, so I’m very much looking forward to that!
Artist Farwa Moledina, who showed at the end of 2019 as part of New Art West Midlands x Coventry Biennial, has recently taken part in an exhibition in Lahore, Pakistan as part of Lahore Bienniale collateral activity.
Fool’s Gold is a new exhibition by artists Hayley Harrison and Pamela Schilderman which opened recently at Rugby Art Gallery and Museum. Open until 14 March, the exhibition explores issues of ecology and natural resources. We spoke to Pamela to find out more.
How has the exhibition come about?
We are both members of an organisation called Matt Roberts Arts and got to know each other by attending various networking events. Hayley approached me about doing a two-person exhibition as there are crossovers between our practices. We both wanted to make new work that highlighted our ecological concerns so when Rugby Art Gallery and Museum came on board, we got support from Arts Council England and Rugby Borough Council.
Can you tell me more about the relationship between your works and Hayley’s?
We both recycle or use organic materials but in different ways; Hayley takes the urban waste materials she finds like crisp packets and turns them into sculptures that “examine our disconnection with nature”. I, on the other hand, see myself as a kind of alchemist, often recycling components from former artworks or mixing everyday and natural materials to create metamorphic reactions.
What can audiences expect from the exhibition?
To be surprised, inspired and encouraged to consider our impact on nature by re-thinking the question of value. Fool’s Gold presents the viewer with two different yet complimentary thought-provoking perspectives on nature versus consumerism.
Can you say more about the importance that climate change and resources have upon your practice?
One area of my practice involves transforming everyday or waste materials into something extraordinary. It is all about perception and part of that involves inviting the viewer to question the value of materials. I bring into focus the disregarded, elevating them to the status of art. Punctum and Respiracao were made from paper punched holes, Almas from cotton wool, Allusions from polystyrene balls and Needle from toilet paper and natural pigments. Metamorphosis is present in the other cyclical area of my practice where I recycle old artworks transforming them completely into new ones. Bula Matari became the Harold Thomas Collection and has now became Crystal Clear and Wishing Well.
How will the live art installation unfold and how can audiences get involved?
The idea is to take advantage of Rugby Art Gallery and Museum’s glass fronted foyer and attract people who haven’t visited the gallery before to come in. We’ll be creating a coffee cup tower that will grow throughout the exhibition and working on site on certain days so people can interact with us. There will be a time-lapse film and plenty of social media coverage; we’re really hoping to get the local community behind us and the council have been very supportive. People will be able to drop-off their coffee cups and make their pledges for us to incorporate them into the tower.
Learn more about the exhibition and the programme of planned events here.
Fool’s Gold is a new exhibition by artists Hayley Harrison and Pamela Schilderman which opened recently at Rugby Museum and Art Gallery. We spoke to Pamela to find out more.
New Art West Midlands x Coventry Biennial artist Matt Gale is interviewed by Santanu Borah – via Asian Curator
Located in Chapel Ash in Wolverhampton, Asylum Art Gallery was founded in 2014. They are passionate about nurturing art within the community. They provide a space to showcase work, develop new ideas and engage artists in exploration. We speak to Director Hannah Taylor about the gallery and studios, as well as current opportunities.
You are currently offering West Midlands-based artists an exciting residency opportunity which will explore the spaces of Wolverhampton – the Discursive Spaces Residency Programme. Why should artists apply?
This is a paid opportunity for five West Midlands-based artists to engage with local spaces, Wolverhampton City Council and community to develop work that offers a poignant contribution to the commentary around how these structures facilitate growth or restriction. The publication we will produce as a result of the residency will remain a tangible artefact to continue these discussions and hopefully promote cross-city, cross-institutional and cross-sector collaborations. Redefining our perspective of ‘community’ and our common ownership and responsibility of space in this political climate is crucial to regenerating through culture.
You’ve just celebrated your first anniversary at your studios. How can artists get involved with/be a part of Asylum?
In terms of the ‘Asylum Art Gallery and Studios’, anyone is welcome to be apart of our collective. We run exhibitions at the gallery regularly and host open studio days, events, workshops and art crits that the public are welcome to attend. You can also join us and use our facilities such as the library, computers, hot-desking facilities, photo studio – work in a creative space that promotes collaboration and supportive discussion.
Everyone is welcome to contact us and see how we can support their ideas through mentoring, portfolio development or connecting with relevant collaborators. We want to be an open space where all creatives feel confident to express and develop. You can contact us through the website and find relevant forms for submitting exhibition proposals.
You can arrange an appointment with us or join our mailing list through: email@example.com
What do you have planned for the future?
Our plan is to develop an educational program that supports the development of high quality contemporary art practice but within a vocational setting, and with a special awareness of facilitating hidden disabilities such as chronic health and mental health issues. Asylum Art Gallery was initially set up by Corin Salter after being diagnosed with Aspergers Syndrome as a safe space or a place of refuge for anyone to express and create. We believe that there is a gap that needs bridging between education and professional practice, and unfortunately there is still an institutional bias in relation to disclosure and exclusion.
The Discursive Spaces Residency Programme offers a paid residency for five West Midlands based artists at any stage of their artistic development to produce a solo show in response to community engagement and research of ‘Heterotopias’. Each successful artist will undertake a one month residency at Asylum Art Gallery & Studios, where their research will inform a solo exhibition. The process, research and outcomes will also be presented as an academic publication – in collaboration with a writer in residence – that encapsulates all five artist’s journeys.
The residency encourages artists who may not have been born in the area, such as international students, asylum seekers, refugees or migrants and BAME communities, to engage in critical discussions about non spaces and transient spaces such as public space, and how it is used or unused in the City of Wolverhampton.
Deadline: Friday 1 November 2019.
We speak to Director Hannah Taylor about the gallery and studios, as well the Discursive Spaces Residency Programme, a paid residency for five West Midlands based artists exploring the spaces of Wolverhampton.
We spoke to Faye Claridge about her recent residency at the National Trust’s Dudmaston Estate, and a new project at Ripon Prison and Police Museum.
You have recently finished your work at the National Trust’s Dudmaston Estate. How did you go about working with visitors, volunteers and residents for the project?
The project has been so good to work on, the word ‘journey’ can be overused when talking about experience or development but it genuinely was designed as – and delivered – a journey. I started very openly, introducing myself in an exhibition and using a comments board and meetings to ask visitors, staff, volunteers and residents what they’d recommend to explore or research. I then created a pairing activity, asking everyone to link some of those areas, and any other unexpected objects, places or people connected with Dudmaston. I made a film of pairing suggestions and gathered more with specially-designed comments cards and a shocking pink post box (using that colour as “the opposite of National Trust brown” as one participant put it). After much negotiation and consideration of conservation issues, some of those ‘pairings’ were then able to be made physically, with us moving objects, restaging some of the rooms and creating signs for outdoor pairings. The next stage was asking for responses to the pairings and analysing those to find the most impactful. The top two were very close but the ‘winner’ was suggested by two young visitors, aged 6 and 10.
This was the two objects ‘Two Unknown Girls’ and ‘The Boxing Ones’ that went on to inspire the final outcome: ‘If Pairing Were Power’?
Yes, they said they made that pairing because both objects reminded them of living as brother and sister, “always fighting or in harmony, with no middle ground”, which was relatable to so many visitors. It also chimed with lots of themes of interest at Dudmaston, from the current residents’ family links (especially as twins) and the duality of the estate being National Trust owned and family-occupied. I was really excited to be following children’s perspectives on the property and its history and was able to expand this by creating an artwork that involved their participation as collaborators and models. We decided to bring the children from the painting ‘Two Unknown Girls’ to life, so I made costumes that were part 2D (as if still part of the flat painting) and part traditional costume so they could be worn. With these we made a series of portraits linking to more Dudmaston stories, bringing together children from a local boxing club, the family that nominated the pairing, my own children and the two children that live on site (a National Trust gardener’s son and a descendant of the original Dudmaston-owning family). I placed the photographs among the family pictures throughout the hall, inserting fictitious relations, and created two mannequins so visitors discover one dreaming in a twin room (surrounded by birdsong and soft whispers) and the other high in a tree beyond, with her head and hands transformed into tulips from the original Dutch painting.
The final room in the visit contains contextual information on the project (like a behind the scenes video and reading area) which is also summarised in a small exhibition booklet. I was keen to strike a balance between creating mystery and sharing research, which is not always easy. The gallery room also continues to invite responses and some of the reactions have been extremely touching and heartfelt as visitors share feelings and memories inspired by the artwork.
You have experience of working within many heritage sites. What advice would you give to an artist starting their first collaboration with such places?
It’s not for everyone, but I love the complexities of heritage sites. It takes skill to balance the myriad of needs in a project at a special site, or with a collection, without losing sight of the artistic integrity at the heart of why you’re there. It’s also vital to build really effective relationships because negotiations inevitably have to be made by both sides at some point during development or production and the more trust and understanding you have, the easier it’ll be for any concessions to be worked out. Humour, tea and cake are also must-haves for any project involving people, of course, and nowhere is fuelled by tea and cake quite like the heritage sector!
Can you tell us a little about your upcoming work with Ripon Prison and Police Museum?
The work for Ripon Prison and Police Museum has so far been extraordinary because I’ve been able to take their archives to present-day prisoners, to explore similarities and differences in their lives and prison experiences. I’ve been organising workshops in HMP Askham Grange so inmates ‘adopt’ a prisoner from the Edwardian and Victorian charges books, I then record them talking about their comparisons and make portraits with them (where possible) to link with the archive mugshots. The results from these workshops will be compiled as a film installation for one of the Victorian cells at the museum.
I proposed working with the prison because it’s really important to include the voices of those most affected by the public image of crime and punishment: present-day prisoners. The museum is part of that public image and the project gives the prisoners a way to share their perspectives and for museum visitors to consider the individual lived experience of justice systems. It also really matters to me that Askham Grange is a women’s prison, for the museum to reflect the complexities of how custody affects families, children and the perception of women’s position in society.
‘If Pairing Were Power‘ returns to Dudmaston from March – September 2020.
‘Prisoners on Prisoners‘ at Ripon Prison and Police Museum opens in February 2020.
Both projects are supported by Arts Council England.
You can follow all of Faye’s projects through Instagram and Twitter via @fayeclaridge.
‘Humour, tea and cake’ – Faye Claridge discusses her recent residency at the National Trust’s Dudmaston Estate, a new project at Ripon Prison and Police Museum, and gives advice on working with heritage sites.
Anna Berry, curator-in-residence at Midlands Arts Centre talks about learning the role of curator, touring exhibitons, access and reveals what her curated exhibition will be about.
Artist Helen Kilby-Nelson discusses her research interests and working methodologies ahead of her exhibition at Coventry’s City Arcadia gallery at the end of August.
How has the residency at Coventry Art Space shaped your work?
My initial proposal for the residency included researching socially engaged art practice alongside developing how my own practice might fit under this umbrella term. As a social housing tenant I founded an action group in my local community in May 2018 and I have wrestled with whether this was something separate from my practice or a part of it. If it is a part of my practice how do I ensure an ethical and transparent relationship with fellow members? The time and support from Artspace trustees helped me to work through these questions and I have found that these two parts of me now sit comfortably with each other and with members of the action group. I finally gave myself permission to allow the socially engaged aspect of my work to grow organically without feeling the need to have a prescribed or time sensitive outcome.
The residency has allowed me to further develop my research-based practice which has manifested in a body of work that responds to stigma based on social housing. These two elements of my practice currently synthesise and weave in and out of each other in a non forced way. The residency has therefore helped shape my practice to incorporate various methods of working. I see my practice as multi-dimensional in terms of approach, process and outcome as I move forward.
What can visitors expect from the exhibition at City Arcadia?
The exhibition includes film, projected moving image, sculpture and text. The combined works are a layering of different forms of language, representing misinformation, learned behaviour, lived experience and the perpetuation of stigma both external and internal. The work focuses on cause, dissemination and effect.
As part of the exhibition I will also be running a workshop on Saturday 31 August, ‘re-imagining Monopoly’, as a creative tool to address the challenges faced for marginalised groups within a hierarchical society.
Can you tell me more about the title of the exhibition?
A word, an insult I have come across through talking with other social housing tenants and one which I have been called myself is “leech”. There are so many assumptions wrapped up in this single word. Yet the leech is an incredible creature, some of the fascinating facts I discovered are that a leech can adapt to almost any environment, it is gender fluid and that it has 32 brains. It felt appropriate to take this negative imagery and subvert it as well as use a potent, visceral word that hints at supposed intelligent collective behaviours and instigators.
Can you tell me a bit more about your approach to the timely subject of social housing and its myriad political, economic and social associations?
I chose to approach this subject through an autoethnographic process, having been a social housing resident for over twenty years, feeling angry about poverty porn, misinformation about social housing tenants, the loss of autonomy and reduced life chances. Using my own experiences as a base from which to research other artists and collectives who have tackled issues around social housing and open dialogue with others, including housing providers, researchers, community workers, other social housing residents and the wider public. The hardest part has been unpicking the political, economic and social associations and how these all merge. There are elements of all three in the work but the main focus has been stigma and how that is created and the power it has.
How do you conduct your research and how are your works made manifest?
My research is rhizomatic including everyday observations, interactions, feelings and thoughts, conversations with friends and peers, philosophy, critical texts, art-works and artist links. My practice responds through writing and making throughout the process. I make multiple works in different media and the process can appear chaotic, however it creates a visual and written ongoing critical dialogue of itself. These instant responses to external interventions and internal thought processes maintain a state of flux, a constant questioning and production towards more resolved pieces of work.
What will you be working on next and how does this support longer term ambitions for your practice?
My practice will continue to question, respond to and act on issues within society that marginalise, dehumanise and perpetuate inequality and the cause and effect of these hierarchies, language and inequalities within society and on identity and life opportunities. My work in response to social housing doesn’t finish with this exhibition and I will continue to collaborate with fellow tenants in my local area to shift the balance of power. I am also planning a further period of self-guided research into hierarchies, cause and effect.
I have already begun working on an exciting project as part of my professional development with Black Hole Club at Vivid Projects that continues to experiment with language, this time through sound and methods of input.
Myself and artist Adam Neal, who has also been undertaking an Artspace graduate residency and is showing at City Arcadia, are working together on a ‘Graduate Toolkit’ which will add another dynamic to both our practices, as well as planning other collaborative projects.
29 August – 7 September 2019
Artist Helen Kilby-Nelson discusses her research interests and working methodologies ahead of her exhibition at Coventry’s City Arcadia gallery at the end of August.
Artist Adam Neal speaks about his autobiographical body of work exploring social class ahead of his exhibition ‘In Loving Memory Of’, opening at Coventry’s City Arcadia later this month.
How has the residency at Coventry Artspace shaped your work since you completed your BA at Birmingham City University?
After the completion of my Fine Art BA at Birmingham City University I was thrown into the mire of what real life art practice might look like. The residency with Coventry Artspace has aided in that adjustment and has given me a framework to work within that has directed the trajectory of my practice. The nature of my practice hasn’t changed greatly, however it has become more reflective, biographical and intimate. I’ve placed my own class construction and role as an artist under a microscopic lens within my practice, perhaps in an attempt to forge some form of identity and perhaps to continue this inquiry within social class. In terms of my process, my practice has become increasingly concerned with photography and its processes. This may have stemmed from time and financial constraints; nonetheless it has led me to an interesting point in my practice where I am now questioning the relevance and application of photography within issues of social-class representation and translation. The freedom of the Artspace residency has allowed me to shift my practice slightly, generate personal work that concisely comments on a myriad of social-class issues.
What can visitors expect from the exhibition at City Arcadia?
‘In Loving Memory Of’ will provide an insight into a fading way of life, that of the traditional working-class, whilst beginning to highlight how that exists amongst contemporary societal shifts. The exhibition will consist of photography, film and objects in order to create a form of amalgamated comment on the issues at hand. I anticipate the exhibition to be visually jarring to some degree, so that it mirrors the eclectic interior of my Nan’s house. Equally, I’m trying to mask or underplay the larger thematic at hand with somewhat playful visuals and display mechanisms, in the hope that everything attempted to be conveyed is done so in a palatable manner. I’m conscious of not wanting to become too preachy or patronising with this subject matter, so I’m actively trying to avoid this. Equally, a key attribute of working-class culture is its ability to use satire and self-deprecate to a certain extent so I do want this to be evident within the exhibition.
Your statement describes your approach as ‘generat[ing] work about the social, from within it.’ Can you unpick this a little?
This stemmed from an initial acknowledgement of my position as an artist, and also being cemented within a traditional working-class community. During my final year on my BA I wrote this statement because I was working part-time within a local social club and managing a local children’s football team therefore I was an active member of the community I was producing work about. I do not work in a social club anymore, however I do still manage the football team so I am still an active member of the community. Operating as an artist and producing work about this community placed me in a precarious area in terms of my identity and also conjured ethical implications. I deem this to have defined my approach, as I have never sought to document people directly, only objects and locations that talks for and about people. I’ve been constantly torn between two very contrasting worlds, the art world and the traditional working class environment I have been raised within, and I’ve been attempting to ameliorate the chasm between them. Although I’ve realise that at this point amelioration is some way off, and it’s more pertinent to acknowledge and comprehend first.
Do you feel that the body of work is a portrait of your family and/or yourself? Or is it more about a cultural and social moment in time?
Currently I do feel like the work is more of an autobiographical reflection and a translation on the issues I’m investigating. At this point in my practice I deem that to be an appropriate perspective to take on the subject, as my area of investigation stems from my relationships, environment and experiences. Therefore being able to fully understand how my perspective on social-class has been constructed underpins this current body of work and any future development. Additionally, presenting a more intimate and personal translation on the issues has the potential to the viewer to project their own relationships, perspectives and experiences onto the work. Although I’ve acknowledged the work is autobiographical, I do believe there can be wider cultural and social issues extracted from it, as it unpicks issues surrounding national identity and social mobility in small doses. The work needed to be personal in order for me to produce it in a concise and coherent way, however this body of work is only a departure point for work of this ilk and within this area of investigation.
What are you working on next and what are your longer-term goals for your work?
Saturday 17 August, sees John Hammersley (artist and chair of Coventry Artspace) and myself engage in an ‘In Conversation With’ event, at Arcadia, Coventry. This will be a conversation that challenges social class construction and its placement within a creative context. Whilst Saturday 7 September will see Helen Kilby Nelson and myself run an open workshop titled ‘What do Artists do all Day?’ where we will be discussing the transition between graduate artist to practising artist and how you bridge that gap.
Once my exhibition and residency finishes with Coventry Artspace I will be undertaking a Graduate Residency with Grand Union in Birmingham, I will be starting a Film and Photography MA at the University of Derby in September and producing new work for an exhibition with Ort Gallery early next year. Crucially, as a result of the residency Helen Kilby Nelson and myself have started working collaboratively and have devised what we deem to be a crucial project around graduate artists and residency programming, and we believe this project proposal has real impetus.
Longer-term I want to continue the investigation into social class and its placement within a creative context, and to be able to draw on public issues within my practice. Currently my work is heavily autobiographical and I have been questioning how far this goes to making comments on the wider, more public issues. I am undertaking this MA on a part-time basis, so that I can maintain a practice outside of this and also bridge the gap between academia and the ‘real-world’, in a hope that this will allow me to produce work that creates more considered social statements that reverberate outside of my own social sphere and understanding.
‘In Loving Memory Of’
Opening: 15 August 6pm – 8pm
Continues: 16 – 24 August 2pm – 6pm Daily (except Sundays)
Artist Adam Neal speaks about his autobiographical body of work exploring social class ahead of his exhibition ‘In Loving Memory Of’, opening at Coventry’s City Arcadia later this month.
Artist Joyce Treasure speaks to us about her recent exhibition and residency at Bruntwood’s Cornerblock building in Birmingham in partnership with Grand Union. Now roughly half way through her residency period, Joyce explains more about the images, influences, subjects and processes which are critical to her work.
Your recent exhibition at Bruntwood featured a number of new works in drawing and sculpture circling race, gender, religion and politics. How was the exhibition’s premise conceived and how did you select which works to show?
The preparation for ‘Hymns’ began with small graphite portrait drawings of civil rights activists in October 2018 for an open studio event at the Custard Factory. The images were drawn on to the pages taken from a 1920s common prayer book that I had picked up from a charity shop. ‘Hymns’ was partly chosen as a collection title as a tribute – a song of praise – to scholars I admire, and to highlight each portrait’s ‘ideological critique’ and its resistance of the accepted dominant ideologies of that time. It’s a multidisciplinary body of work with each piece numbered ‘Hymns #1 – #22’. The portraits are presented on a small scale to emphasise the hidden histories and to highlight the lack of Black agency throughout dominant narratives. I think my reasoning to draw civil rights activists is leftover from my school days, where there was zero education on the radical movements of that time. My own progressive education was sought outside of school and independently, where I used to attend communist meetings. I was a member of the young communist league (YCL), and I would go off to meetings – with a couple who were members of the West Midlands communist party – to listen to talks around Marxism, and civil rights. At the time, it all went way over my head, really. There was a lot of racism floating around during the ’70s, so it was a place to go where topics about race could be discussed. I was around about 13/14 years old and the experience of ‘belonging’ related to feelings rather than anything academic or concrete; a place to feel okay. I chose those particular portraits because they are artists or speakers I admire now. In my imagination, I would go back and write those narratives into the education system: the missing education that I have been unpicking since 2010 when I began creating street art and paintings around Black identity.
One portrait is of a Bodi Tribe woman, whose sexual orientation is androgynous. I have deliberately done this with other paintings too, to demonstrate gender fluidity, as a way to disrupt the heteronormative thought – that belief that heterosexuality is the norm and anything outside of this is deviant. Johnson and Henderson tell us that Queer studies, like Black studies, disrupt dominant and hegemonic discourse by constantly destabilising fixed notions of identity by deconstructing binaries such as heterosexual/homosexual, gay/lesbian and masculine/feminine as well as the concept of heteronormativity in general.
The theories, contexts and lived experiences of race are critical to your work. Can you tell me more about how these perspectives are intermeshed in the works?
My black studies degree course has helped further develop a social and political perspective mixed in with my personal experience. The work is autobiographical, so I used a copy of my Dad’s British passport, images of my mom and me on my centre assemblage piece to document that I am a child of the Windrush generation. The distressing Windrush scandal appalled me, and I wished to bring this into the narrative, as a way to record it into an art piece to demonstrate, protest and resist. I wanted to speak about this during my talk, which I did by drawing comparisons between Enoch Powell’s rhetoric and today’s driving narrative that has forged our “hostile environment” policies, and how this has dangerous and harmful effects on people’s lives and well-being. Racism existed within my family dynamics, as well as socially, so a part of me wishes to acknowledge how race has partly affected my childhood adversities. The assemblaged female centre figure needed to be black. She has been needle felted. Felt making is one of the oldest forms of fabric making. A tradition that came before spinning and weaving; a non-woven interlocking of wool fibres that is subject to heat, moisture, agitation or pressure. The base of the felted bust is made of polystyrene. I used one of those white European polystyrene heads that you use for wigs; a kind of Frantz Fanon Black Skin, White Mask piece. I wanted my centrepiece for ‘Hymns’ to embody blackness as a point of strength and to occupy and interrogate the ‘white space’ (Anderson, 2015).
The copy of my dad’s passport was pasted onto a bridge that connected the centrepieces to a pillar holding a speaker; the “home”. In this sense “home” which is seen as a speaker, points towards music. The inside of the speaker acts as a kind of sanctuary, where I have placed myself. In the base of the pillar, I have cut away a ledge. Inside a black ceramic bird is broken into three pieces. It broke into three parts by accident. I was really annoyed at the time – I’d knocked it off the table, nudged it with my elbow. Wayne Lucas, a friend of mine and whose work I admire, said he preferred it that way. In the end, I owned it. I’m so concerned with getting things right, doing the ‘right’ thing, in the moral sense that is, but the whole work is about accepting the broken pieces that exist, and I really need to be able to be okay with all that. The speaker symbolising music, sits on top above the broken pieces. Indre Viskontas tells us that music helps us to feel more human. It heals and makes us feel better. This relationship between strength, fear and vulnerability is something I am interested in.
What feedback has the exhibition received? Has this influenced your thinking or your practice?
Some of the feedback objected to the use of bible pages, deeming it disrespectful. However, the use of the text acts as a cultural backdrop and as my work, to date, sometimes examines colonialism and empire, the bible, concerning imperialism, acts as a construct for critical thinking. The bible, with regards to the enslavement of Africans, was used to oppress, and also for revolutionary preaching, allowing people like Sam Sharpe to inform and encourage political thought through religious meetings that were the only forms of organised activities for Africans during enslavement. Besides being a collection of sacred text for religious teachings, the bible acts as a form of resistance, a space of commune and a space for connectivity.
From a feminist perspective, I question the patriarchal, hegemonic masculine context within the writings of the bible and how that contains semiotic power. Writing of any kind can be pulled into question as much as any other form. The scriptures have been written many times and has changed according to the era. For example fourth-century mistranslation of the bible attributed to ‘song of songs’ where the speech of Queen Sheba shifts from “I am Black and beautiful” to “I am Black but beautiful”, bringing with it a whole new way of seeing beauty. With its many interpretations and misuses, what is known as ‘reception history’, the study of the Bible text has changed, adopted and been appropriated according to different cultures throughout history. Those changes play a role in advertising, social, political, scientific discourse, and many more. It was also forbidden for enslaved people to practice their own traditional religious beliefs. Not deterred, the bible was, at times, adapted to complement and work alongside indigenous spirituality such as the Yoruba Orishas. Catholicism was absorbed to form Candomblé for Brazil and other Latin American countries and Vodou, Haiti and other Caribbean islands and Latin American countries. In this body of work, I weave elements of these traditions juxtaposed against the scriptures as a reference, pointing back, a bridge between here and there; past, present, future. The westernised idea that God is a white-bearded man has always entertained my imagination, so the central black female figure challenges that notion too. It is the energy within a faith that it is most impressive.
The rest of the feedback was mostly positive, which is always good to receive. One person said they thought the work looked cheap and unfinished. I used materials that I could upcycle and spent as little money as possible, as the project was self-funded. People in Haiti, a place I travelled to in April 2017, use whatever they can get their hands on. They don’t let lack of funds get in the way of expression and creativity. We are totally spoilt in the west with notions relating to opulence. We work with what we have at our disposal. It was important to me to hear from other Black women that find the work relatable to their own identity. This helps me to consider how to move my practice forward, which I am still reflecting on.
You are roughly half way into your residency at Bruntwood, a partnership with Grand Union. What has this entailed so far and how has this differed from being embedded within a gallery context?
The residency is thanks to Grand Union and Bruntwood who are working in partnership to offer annual artist residencies at Bruntwood’s Cornwall Buildings, where I am currently resident until February 2020. As it stands, we have a studio space for a year in exchange for a commissioned artwork. The residency differs in that there is no defined objective other than the commissioned art piece. In my submission, I specifically wrote the residency to fit around my university black studies placement course to help me further consider ways to implement academia with art and to use ‘Hymns’ as a body of work as a reflective location. Being in conversation with the private sector feels different because you are speaking or working in an environment that is used to a clear understanding and outcomes, where my approach to my art is more experimental. Posing questions within my work, in my case, around Black female identity is unusual in a ‘white space’ such as Bruntwood’s Cornerblock building, where the exhibition happened. Often these spaces want to see work that fits inside the hegemonic discourse. Work that seeks to step beyond the prescribed formula is unusual. The ‘white space’ can also be applied to the gallery space as well. Shows such as Frank Bowling’s retrospective work showing at the Tate importantly helps to break down the constraints set on Black artists to only produce work regarding the Black struggle. But it is important that there remains space for artists whose narrative contains adversity and who wish to do work that includes conflict; otherwise, we risk art being homogenised to suit a singular audience.
What are your plans for the remainder of the residency and for your practice more widely?
Bruntwood has expressed that they would like to take the exhibition to Manchester, so I need to consider this. The residency is written around me producing a commissioned artwork, so I need to think about how I can build on my current methodology of combining cultural heritage onto existing material. I plan to combine research and possibly some fabricated work. However, I need to further develop my skills if I venture into fabrication. Birmingham’s STEAMhouse offers a programme that helps designers, entrepreneurs and artists develop their ideas, so this may be an option.
My daughter bought me the book, Marina Abramovic: Student Body. Gemma Jones, a Birmingham based performance artist, delivered a performative art workshop in April that I attended. The exercises she provided were taken from the book Student Body, which I very much enjoyed doing, so I am looking at performance art as a practice and experimentation. From a subjective location and reflective practice, the work and my experience form a personal social site that aims to connect with different epistemologies. I plan to continue building on my current reflective practice and to identify curators and public gallery spaces to work with who are concerned with social, political themes and well-being.
Artist Joyce Treasure speaks to us about her recent exhibition and residency at Bruntwood’s Cornerblock building in Birmingham in partnership with Grand Union.
Opening at the Herbert Art Gallery this evening, Wonder features new commissions and existing work by artists based predominantly in the West Midlands. The exhibition is rooted in a sense of play and interactivity by way of site-specific painting, animation, light installation and collections-inspired augmented reality works. We speak to invited curator Dr Rachel Marsden about the development of the exhibition.
Can you tell me more about the premise of Wonder?
I was bought in to curate the exhibition in January this year. The exhibition was originally developed from the idea of fairy tales and the fact that the Herbert usually has a family-friendly summer exhibition targeted at early years. This was the first consideration as part of the project’s development.
One of the reasons I wanted to speak to you about Wonder is the regional interest in the artists that have been selected. Could you tell me more about these selections?
Julia Snowdin had already been commissioned to make an installation called Light Pavilion which is a sensory light canopy largely for early years. Thinking about those who might have additional sensory needs and disabilities was a part of the show. The gallery had also had conversations with Ben Javens who is a local illustrator and a lot of his work looks at the idea of storytelling and folktales. Because both Julia and Ben are local, regional artists, for me that became another trigger to frame the exhibition in a way that honoured and supported emerging regional artists. Serendipitously, as it worked out, when I was thinking about the theme in a multi-age range context, translating to adults too, the artists I started to think about were already networked to each other without me realising. Antonio Roberts, who I’ve worked with previously, had worked with Edie Jo Murray who is very much an emerging digital practitioner. She’d been working with an organisation called Ludic Rooms in Coventry, who are also supporting the professional development of Julia.
We wanted a balance of analogue and digital – a sense of the physical/material in some works versus the digital/alternative realities in others. I bought in Lucy McLaughlan who creates large-scale public murals. These are quite abstract but always informed by the site and space she’s in. She’s taking imprints of Coventry for this project and both her and Ben knew each other too. The networked relationships have made this quite holistic in a sense – it feels a supportive environment. And also having the budget through which to support their practice appropriately is really key.
There are also more female than male artists represented here. This is important to me. Going beyond gender equity links to the recent Freelands Foundation report looking at that balance. It’s important to have that, and the breadth of the artists, at the back of your mind. Edie sees herself as neurodiverse and she is really happy to speak about her experiences through her practice with audiences. Another important point to highlight is the individuality of each artist but also that collective voice of what they can share together through the network which is the West Midlands itself.
Are all the works new commissions?
The only artist who is not local is Davy & Kristin McGuire – Studio McGuire – who were originally included in Hull as part of City of Culture 2017. We wanted to bring them in as a link to Coventry’s City of Culture in 2021. They are pre-existing works which speak more to the adult audience in their diorama work using projection and shadow play. The rest of the works are actually all new commissions and it’s been brilliant to have the opportunity to do that and also to trust them with the ideas and themes we’ve provided to act as a starting point for new works.
I’m also interested to see where this process takes them beyond this exhibition, as part of a longer journey within their practice. For instance, for Edie, this opportunity has allowed her to collaborate with Secret Knock Zine – a free low-fi print zine specific to arts and culture across Coventry distributed across venues. Through this experience, she has also been taken on by Instagram beta testing, creating new face filters for trial. She’s created one for the exhibition which uses butterflies from the natural sciences collection. That future focus is important. Additionally, there are brilliant technicians at the gallery that have been able to honour the ambition of what the artists want to do, especially with Ben’s large installation.
Will there be a programme of events that will draw out some the concerns of the exhibition?
One of the key aspects has been the collaboration with Secret Knock Zine. For the third issue, they have been working with Edie quite closely, are showcasing all the artists’ works, I’ve written a text and they are also working with us for the launch party, running zine making workshops, thinking about how we share this content digitally, making limited edition prints – all activating the work in a different way. There’s a huge early years programme throughout the summer, a curator’s talk in July and we have Ludic Rooms coming to do a project called Wonder and Web which is looking at how we physically network space and how that happens online. Julia is doing a number of events because she really wants feedback on audience interaction with her Light Pavilion, to see how all age ranges respond. For her, this has been a pivotal opportunity to create something so large for public play/use.
What do you think you have learned from the experience of working on this project?
It’s been a fun opportunity to get involved in the West Midlands again and to see what everybody’s been doing and to be able to give that support to create new work. But also it highlights some of the socio-cultural priorities of the artists right now – what they’re interested in and what matters to them.
I was saying to somebody yesterday, it’s been 10 years since I curated my first proper exhibition. So to think about the artists’ priorities and the organisational priorities in that period – how the voice of the digital is so normal now – is considered in every part of the show, from the interpretation and marketing to the artists’ works themselves. It’s a language that you need to know and that we will need to know more and more. The show will be live streamed at the opening and half way through, there are a lot of pre-recorded interviews and further online content, social media of course and then there are Edie’s augmented reality works that explore the gallery’s collection. There are many layers of digital content that just didn’t exist 10 years ago. That’s been a real point of clarity for me – to see that shift.
Wonder is open to the public until 15 September 2019. A programme of events accompanies the exhibition.
Wonder, an exhibition designed around play and interaction featuring new commissions from a number of West Midlands-based artists, opens this evening in Coventry. We catch up with its curator Dr Rachel Marsden to find out more.
We speak to artist Shaheen Ahmed about her practice, influences and current exhibition Threads at Gallery Maison Mayci, Birmingham, on view until 10 July.
Can you tell me more about the processes of making your works? Where are the maps sourced from and from where are your patterns derived?
I manipulate flat maps into the 3D kirigami structures using Geometric patterns. I often use pure silk thread to sew up the tent like structures I create. I sometimes add tallymakrs to the maps to denote minimal meditative marks. The maps I work with are sourced from Lapworth Museum of Geology at the University of Birmingham. There is a clear political undercurrent to your work which has to do with migration and geographical borders.
Can you explain more about this?
I’ve been developing this body of work for the past ten years, in which time there has been a global shift towards mass migration and suffering. It’s this overload of pain and despair that I see around the globe that makes me use my artwork as a form of therapy.
What can visitors expect from your current exhibition at Maison Mayci?
In the words of a recent visitor to the exhibition: ‘beautiful, intricate and delicate yet so powerful.’
Can you tell me more about some of the recent projects you have undertaken with Ikon Gallery, and at the University of Birmingham and Lapworth Museum? How have these fed into your practice?
I was head hunted by Ikon on the strength of my art practice to mentor artists from Pakistan, along with working in two primary schools within Birmingham. For both of these projects I helped answer specific briefs around script, mark making, creative block, writing skills as well helping pupils design a logo and display area/bookcase. My time at Lapworth Museum was varied from responding to a symposium, teaching, working with a scientist and researching maps. All of this along with my study trip to Italy to learn bookbinding and gestural mark making has helped feed my art practice immensely, from adding a blanket stitch within my map work, to using brush and ink work, to working with maps and 3D structures.
What are your ambitions for your practice in the longer term?
I’d like to carry on sewing up maps within my studio. I feel there is quite some mileage within this technique and would like to explore this further through textiles and garments. I will continue with my brush and ink series on paper and 3D kirigami. I am also working towards creating a light installation at STEAMhouse.
We speak to artist Shaheen Ahmed about her practice, influences and current exhibition Threads at Gallery Maison Mayci, Birmingham, on view until 10 July.
We speak to Herefordshire-based artist and New Art West Midlands Alumni Lorna Brown about Eye Am She, her current project at National Trust property Berrington Hall. A response to the histories of the house and to ideas of colonialism, celebrity and the male gaze, her installation draws upon the central figure of Ann Bangham, a former resident of the house in the 18th century.
How did the commission from Berrington Hall arise?
The commission actually arose as a result of my appearance in New Art West Midlands 2017. A member of management staff responsible for visitor attractions saw my work and contacted me to discuss the possibility of a commission. They wanted a piece of female focused artwork that would tie in with the centenary of Suffrage.
How did your research begin and how did you determine that Ann Bangham, wife of London mayor Thomas Harley, and eighteen century resident of Berrington Hall, would be your focus?
Preliminary research began with information provided to me by members of staff at the property. To build on this I spent some time at the local records office, took advice from a historian and then conducted my own research from books. When first commissioned the request had been for a piece of work that discussed the stories of women of Berrington in general (through the ages). However, it was later decided by the property themselves that they would like me to focus on Ann Bangham in particular. The reason for this was that they had purchased a Court Mantua once owned by Ann, and they wished to build on a planned top floor exhibition that would use this dress as the focal point.
Can you share more about how Ann’s life and your work is connected to the phenomenon of celebrity?
Ann was born into a fairly wealthy Herefordshire family, a family who had successfully climbed the social ladder. They were based in Herefordshire but also had a home in London. Ann’s marriage to Thomas was a favourable social match but one that thrust her into the spotlight, particularly because Ann’s new husband was Mayor of London. On marrying Thomas Harley, Ann would have been required to move to London full time whilst also heading their country households. It was only in her later years that Thomas had Berrington built and I imagined this as a time when she may have been reflecting more on her life after time in London under the watchful eye of the public.
Celebrity as we know it today really began to evolve in the 18th century. London, with its developing consumer society, was one of a number of cities central to this development. And as print and journalism grew and developed, newspapers and their obituaries became increasingly popular, encouraging an increased public interest in the lives of others. Ann would have been a socialite of her time, attending court and even hosting the royals. So I was drawn to the thought that this was all happening for Ann at a time when the phenomenon of modern celebrity was really beginning to evolve.
Your eye portraits reference Georgian painted eye miniatures – jewelled paintings worn as tokens of love and mourning. How have you selected the sitters whose eyes appear on your enlarged versions?
Yes, I wanted to remain aesthetically true to the period whilst also discussing the gaze. I photographed people in Herefordshire and London but wasn’t particularly selective with the sitters as I wanted simply to reference the experience of being under the watch of others. I spent many months with my camera just asking people I came across in the street, in bars, in restaurants as well as friends and family if I could take their picture. I’m always so fascinated by the border between the active and the passive, and the thought that I was using my camera to gaze upon subjects who would in fact become the onlookers in the piece was curious. The only way in which I was slightly selective was that I did make a concerted effort to photograph a sufficient number of people of Black Caribbean and/or Black American heritage, for reasons that I will come on to.
The idea was that this was a room in which Ann was looking back on her life and looking at herself through the eyes of others as much as she was looking through her own eyes. I think with our increased use of social media we can all relate to this feeling, but I feel that it’s a feeling that women have a heightened awareness of.
This idea of Ann as watched is underpinned by the male gaze theory. Whilst thinking about the way Ann would have been viewed by other women and by herself as much as by men, I was thinking about the male gaze and the way in which we as women turn it back on ourselves and each other. And in particular the way in which in the 18th century (more so than today) everything a woman did was shaped by the societal expectations dictated by men. In giving the sense of Ann as the watched, she is also watching herself, in this room of reflection.
Can you share more about the importance of the flowers you have used within the installation?
Berrington have recently done a lot of research into their walled garden and pleasure grounds with an aim to preserving the gardens for future generations. Pleasure gardens were very popular in Georgian England and Ann would have spent a lot of time outdoors enjoying all the new flowers that were arriving in Britain at this time.
I felt that I wanted to bring some of the outdoors inside and in doing so I drew inspiration from the introduction of floriography to Britain in the Georgian period. Although we already had a few medieval traditions associated with flowers, it was Lady Mary Wortley Montagu, who in 1717 brought the Turkish version of the ‘Secret Language of Flowers’ to England. Her letters on this subject led to a later fascination with flower symbology and later translations were based on this. I used flowers popular in the Georgian garden (and those considered exotic in Georgian times) for their symbolic meanings.
Hollyhocks, popular in the 18th century and symbolic of fertility and fruitfulness, grow in abundance from the four poster bed in the centre of the room. Just as in the original ‘Persian Selam’ described by Montagu, the hollyhock still represents fertility and fruitfulness with its abundance of seeds that it casts out prolifically. The flowers grow from the bed in reference to Ann’s 8 children, her fertility and many years of childbearing. The flowers that grow from each corner of the room are a mixture of hollyhocks, tulips, lilies, orchids and pink carnations. All of which also have associations with Motherhood and fertility:
Lily – Rebirth and motherhood
Pink carnation – A mother’s love
Tulip – Fertility and abundance
Orchid – Fertility
And about the wall of “aspirations and interests”?
Wth regards to the wall of aspirations, this was a nod to the imagined Ann. Yes, she was the wife of a man of high society, a woman with a public image to maintain. Ann the mother, Ann the socialite, and Ann the woman who lived in the Age of Enlightenment. She was watched and looked to, but was she more than a party throwing wife and mother with a collection of beautiful dresses?
I wanted to step away from this mother/wife image slightly to entertain the notion of Ann as a more complex and three-dimensional character. Who was the Ann behind the mask? What were her aspirations? What were her regrets? What were her feelings? We do not know and so, we can only imagine. And so an imagined Ann. Yes the Ann who mourned the loss of her children, the Ann who kept up appearances under the watchful eye of society and the public. But also possibly, the intellectual Ann who secretly read early pre-suffragette feminist literature and dreamed of a career in science or medicine.
I was thinking about how women of this period were often well read and interested in such subjects, but societal structure didn’t allow them such freedom in putting their aspirations into practice. Also I thought about how feminism didn’t begin in the 19th century but much earlier and Georgian women such as Mary Wollstonecraft were instrumental in influencing the suffragettes.
So on the wall of aspirations and interests are glimpses of this hypothetical Ann, a woman who wanted more from life. A woman who, given the opportunity and without the obligations and societal constrains of her life, would perhaps have liked to devote her life to medicine. A potentially intelligent and strong woman whose strength was employed for the provision of support to her husband.
The wall features references to notable women of this period; Mary Wollstonecraft (English writer and philosopher), Marie-Louise Lachapelle (French midwife), Dorothea Erxleben (the first female medical doctor in Germany) and Anna Morandi Manzolini (renowned anatomist).
Can you talk more about how your work connects to and disrupts the colonial past of the house and the Georgian period? What does this mean within the context of an organisation like the National Trust?
Thomas Harley fulfilled many roles during his lifetime and through his connections to Drummonds Bank he had a number of profitable contracts, among these were contracts for remitting money to the West Indies, contracts which at this time inevitably assisted the infrastructure of slavery. This is not to suggest that Thomas was in any way a villain, it is however an inescapable fact that slavery helped to build a world economy and the wealth enjoyed throughout the British Empire was largely afforded (either directly or indirectly) as a result of Britain’s colonial expansion and imperial and economic supremacy.
The sugar so enjoyed by the wealthy of Georgian England was dependent on slavery and although by the late 1700s opinion was beginning to turn, Britain didn’t pass the Abolition of Slavery Act until 1833. Hundreds of British families received compensatory payouts of thousands of pounds (worth millions today) for the loss of their slaves.
Slavery is inextricably woven into Britain’s historical past and whilst this has been readily acknowledged in the more obvious large port cities such as Liverpool, I feel it important and healthy that the discussion around the legacies of slavery and colonialism continue, particularly in spaces of this period owned by the National Trust. I feel it important not for the apportioning of guilt or blame, but for ensuring that it is acknowledged nationwide as very much integral to our history, and to the economic power and privilege that we still enjoy today.
It was for these reasons that as an artist of mixed European and Black Caribbean Heritage, I felt unable to create a piece of art that responds to the lives of the privileged society of this period without at least a subtle element of acknowledgement and reclamation.
In doing so I took an area amidst the eyes that hang from the ceiling and filled it entirely with the eyes of people of Caribbean and Black American ancestry. These eyes sit immediately in front of the wall of Ann’s aspirations, surveying all that I imagined Ann may have liked to have done if given the chance. In placing them there my intention was that they would survey the entirety of the opulence of the room, whilst immediately surveying the detachment of privileged society of this time from the source of the luxury enjoyed. Whilst it may not be particularly noticeable, this subtle subversion of the colonial gaze is nonetheless there.
What are your aspirations for the work and for your practice in the future?
I’ve just recently joined a local arts collective and taken on a new studio. I look forward to new opportunities for creating in an inspirational environment with future group exhibitions to come. Long term, I hope for many more opportunities to exhibit and engage in the conversations that develop from that. And to just continue fulfilling my desire to examine, delve and create.
We speak to Herefordshire-based artist and New Art West Midlands Alumni Lorna Brown about Eye Am She, her current project at National Trust property Berrington Hall.
Artist Lucy McLauchlan opens Unfold at Centrala this evening, an exhibition that explores her response to place and thoughts around documentation. We find out more about her future plans and wider practice.
Can you tell me how the exhibition Unfold came about?
I make the majority of my work away from my home town of Birmingham. Recently I made a conscious decision to change this and so my ongoing explorations began. It started in an urban woodland area which I was surprised has not changed for many years, a green oasis within the concrete. The city has undergone massive redevelopment, particularly in the centre. I decided to take some large 9x3m rolls of canvas to the woodland and a part of the city that was in the middle of change and that personally I connected to more than any other; the Central Library of Birmingham and its immediate surroundings. I had painted this building many years ago. It’s a John Madin design that personally I feel should have been listed but it’s a love/hate building for the city.
Back to the woodlands – I dragged the canvas around the site with my sledge full of paint to capture imprints to create a permanent record. These then developed into a larger commission for The New Art Gallery Walsall titled Not Forgotten.
Can you explain the relationship between your murals – often exterior and sometimes temporary – for which you are best known and the works on display here?
I come from a mural painting background, where I fully enjoy the ephemeral nature as a new life for the painting takes hold. But witnessing the fast paced change of my city encouraged me to make these more permanent manifestations and so my practice evolved, whilst maintaining the same approach and ethos I have to mural painting; both are very physical and spontaneous. But this is a way of capturing that moment in time, to document the surface I’m painting and the places I’m seeing …
Since the woodlands, I have paddled the waterways of Birmingham to create similar works. In between I have still been creating many works abroad – installations and murals on display for other places. It was high time for me to bring these together and present them back in Birmingham with this show Unfold.
Each of the works presented holds a memory for me since they were each created on site in a different location, under a different scenario. I see these paintings and prints much like a group of old friends coming together to share their stories. And this is what I intend to do. Normally I let the work speak to the viewer individually without my verbal input however on this occasion I shall be hosting walk throughs to expand on each piece.
In the show shall be the canvas work Under Bordesley made at the Bordesley Junction of the canal where the Ring Road crosses the rail line in Birmingham. My more recent path led me along the Grand Union Canal, Digbeth branch. Documentation of this journey culminated in the ‘Birmingham By Pass’ exhibition and zine; sharing the encounters as I met the fishermen, day trippers and gongoozlers.
“In those hours spent painting a mural I see and hear things I would’ve missed just passing by, I get to chat and get to know the place a little better … For me it is not the finished mural that is my driving force, but the process of painting, giving me time to re-appreciate my surroundings from a new perspective.”
Can you say more about the influence of site upon your work, be this the canals of Digbeth or urban forests in Moscow?
The site influences the finished work on not only an aesthetic level and within its physical make up; be that a specific colour choice, a particular material incorporated, the dirt or soil gathered into the painting, the wind or rain playing their part … But also beyond this with the foundational reasoning behind why that particular location was chosen. Once there I let chance and intuition take over, much like my approach to painting the murals – allowing the space and environment to dictate, freeing the brush marking to take over with a rhythm of action and reaction. The paintings develop as I am painting, as I absorb the situation, the conversations surrounding me. I glean a new perspective from being there physically present in that setting, this intrinsically feeds back into my work.
The set of 3 canvas works I made for my installation at the Moscow Biennale (that will be part of my Unfold show) are an example of how the site influences me. I was invited to exhibit new work for the Biennale and the theme was ‘Offline’. I began to explore the city with open eyes and no internet/phone to guide or distract me. I took my canvas across the city but my attention was lost amongst the homogenised abundance of shops and shoppers. After a few conversations with locals I discovered a much more interesting side to the city – Moscow’s real hidden treasure of its inner city Losiny Ostrov National Forest. Getting out of the touristy centre I got a better view and could see the layout of city, the concentric circles of ring roads and the clear divides of wealth. This day trip also gave me time with our local guide (who had never visited and was unaware it is the world’s third largest inner city forest) and gave me a chance to hear the views of a young person growing up in Moscow. All of this ultimately fed into my final designs.
What are your aspirations for your practice? What are you working on next?
I’ll be looking at Coventry next, creating new works for the group show Wonder at The Herbert.
In general, I shall continue working outside be that on murals or canvas. I enjoy the challenges and the unknown encounters you get when you put yourself in that situation. It also allows the freedom to work on much larger pieces and engage with people I may never have met otherwise.
These are what initially led me to paint outside; avoiding the studio isolation and size restrictions. Painting in certain outdoor spaces is free with open access that can facilitate big brush movements and encourages an immediate response and interaction from passers by (both good and bad). There’s also a community, family aspect to it, spread across the world, of other like-minded people painting together.
I want to also develop my printing practice. I originally started making my own screen-prints as an affordable process and result. This is when Banksy had just set up Pictures On Walls and invited me to join POW and later his group shows. This led to being represented by Lazarides Gallery when it set up in London and later Studio Cromie in Italy. They all shared the same ethos encouraging this form of public art – ‘art for all’ with a strong DIY attitude.
I was recently back in Puglia with Studio Cromie to head back to walls I’d painted years ago with the intention to capture their surface and turn into prints which we’ve just released.
Artist Lucy McLauchlan opens Unfold at Centrala this evening. We find out more about her plans and practice.
We speak to photographer Sam Ivin about Settling: Exploring Human Migration, a new exhibition with individuals and communities of Stoke-on-Trent. The exhibition is now open at The Potteries Museum & Art Gallery.
Can you tell us more about the origins of your project ‘Settling’ and your interest in working with migrants and asylum seekers?
The project began in 2017 when I was selected for a residency with Appetite, a local arts organisation in Stoke-on-Trent and GRAIN Projects, a Midlands organisation that commissions and curates photography. A local resident Val ‘Nicky’ Basnal had approached Appetite with an idea to create a collection of images focusing on the Sikh community in Stoke. This inspired Appetite and GRAIN to launch a national call-out for artists and photographers to create work on migration to Stoke, which would be shown at Appetite’s Big Feast Festival 2017.
When I applied for the opportunity I had finished my Lingering Ghosts work the year before, that project explored how long periods of waiting effected those applying for asylum in the UK. The work began after visiting a refugee centre in Cardiff in my second year at University. I was shocked to learn how long some people were waiting whilst seeking asylum in the UK, without the right to work or travel: 4 years, 7 years, 12 years. I’ve recently met someone who’s been waiting 18 years. The injustice of this is what got me interested in human migration and refugee rights.
The residency seemed like a very organic and fitting progression for Lingering Ghosts, from a more positive standpoint. The stories and images I came across were so fascinating and poignant I decided to expand the work with an Arts Council England grant in 2018.
How have you identified and worked with the individuals and communities in the development of the project? Has this been targeted or more organic?
Appetite were very helpful at linking me with community groups in the initial residency. There’s a group called the Burslem Jubilee Group for example, (who meet once a week to socialise with and assist asylum seekers and refugees) they’ve been great and really involved right from the beginning.
I contacted local groups and try to visit them as much as I can. Sometimes you may be at a community group and someone says they’re interested on the spot or knows someone who might be appropriate to contact. Other times people email you to say they’re willing to help. It’s targeted but I allow room for the organic individual meet-ups to happen too.
Can you tell me more about the works themselves? Hyacinth Stone, for instance, looks to be overlaid with painted marks?
The pieces are designed for exhibiting and are made up of two frames. One on the left is a manipulated portrait, on the right is a large square frame filled with each person’s own photographs, filled with their own images at different sizes. Reflecting on their story of migration and finding home in Stoke-on-Trent.
The 12 photographic portraits are manipulated using paint to emphasise a person’s story, situation or feelings. Hyacinth loves gardening for example, so I decided to create a wall of foliage that almost envelops her.
What can visitors expect from the exhibition?
A place to discover fascinating stories and photographs of human migration. There’s the series of 12 works, a projection, a wall of Polaroids and display cabinets with original photographs and test artwork. Visitors are also encouraged to share their own story of migration.
What are your ambitions and hopes for the project?
I hope that someone can read the stories, look at the pictures and understand more about why people make these journeys to live in foreign places. I believe it’s important to record these images and stories for future generations too. I’d also love to show the exhibition in other places around the UK.
We speak to photographer Sam Ivin about Settling: Exploring Human Migration, an exhibition at The Potteries Museum & Art Gallery in partnership with Appetite and Grain Projects.
The Club’s Conception (or How the Egg Was Cracked), currently on show at Recent Activity in Digbeth, retraces the demolished past venues of Birmingham’s The Nightingale Club, the city’s longest-running queer space. In collaboration with those who attended its three preceding venues, Ryan Kearney and Intervention Architecture map these spaces from recollections, replacing absent photographs and creating an archival presence.
We talked to Ryan about the exhibition.
Can you tell us more about the starting points for the exhibition?
The project began out of a visit to the LGBT archive held at the Library of Birmingham. There’s a small cardboard box dedicated to the history of Birmingham’s queer spaces, containing items like the poster for the city’s first pride in 1998 and various local gay publications. Most of the box, however, consists of meeting minutes from The Nightingale Club and plans for its relocation in the 1990s.
A document titled ‘The Conception (or How the Egg Was Cracked)’ mentioned that the club had occupied three venues since opening in 1969: a terraced house, an ex-working men’s club and an anglers association. As there were no photographs, I became interested in what the venues might have resembled. I put out an open-call to speak with those who attended the club, hoping to use descriptions and sketches as a replacement for images. It came to light later on in the project that people didn’t want to have their photo taken in a gay bar, some even remember whole groups hiding at the sight of a camera.
How does the project fit into your wider curatorial research?
Much of my previous work is around the subject of queer histories and how an awareness of these can allow intergenerational discussions. I first explored this through Queering the Archive at Recent Activity in 2017, a screening of Sandi Hughes’ documentation of LGBTQ+ and BAME communities in Liverpool, prompting discussions on the accessibility of the archive and its impact on younger generations. The Club’s Conception (or How the Egg Was Cracked) continues this, using processes of oral histories and their visual transcriptions to contribute towards the archive while bridging generations of clubbers.
How have you developed the objects and drawings that are on display?
Following the open-call, I met with the participants on a 1-1 basis. I started out by asking them to sketch floor plans of the venues they attended using pen and paper, we then talked through the floor plan to establish an idea of the interior – the furniture, wallpaper and flooring of each individual room. I didn’t provide prompts but as I met with more people, the drawings became increasingly alike, showing that there was a collective understanding of what each space resembled.
Using the sketches and descriptions, Intervention Architecture produced renderings and models combining how the participants remembered each space. The sketches and renderings are printed on polyester drafting sheets, a material used when printing in progress architectural plans, suggesting that the findings aren’t final. It’s possible that someone could walk in and claim that the renderings are incorrect or that a certain feature is misplaced, and that’s what the project is about. Unless you’ve spoken to everyone who attended each venue, which for several reasons is impossible, there will never be a complete picture.
How did the collaboration with Intervention Architecture arise?
I have been familiar with Intervention Architecture for a while and was interested in learning more about how they branch across both their architectural and artistic projects. Considering the architectural nature of their practice and their work on artistic commissions such as ‘Ways of Learning’ at Grand Union and ‘Next Generation Design’, I was keen to collaborate.
Can you talk more about the continuing significance of The Nightingale Club to its communities?
I had my sights set on the Nightingale as a teen and made sure I went on my 18th birthday. I think this is something that a lot of queer people in the region can relate to; the club is a rite of passage. Also, its familiarity and history of relocation make the club a great instrument in discussing the issues of displacement currently threatening Birmingham’s queer community. While there’s definitely a positive significance, many of those I interviewed expressed that the club was no longer their scene, even those who had been attending since it first opened. Ageism – along with issues with racism and sexism – are rife in the LGBTQ+ community, leading to spaces not feeling as safe as they might have before.
What do you hope will be the legacy of this research – for its participants, the public and LGBTQ+ communities?
Women weren’t allowed into The Nightingale Club until the mid-80s and only then under the condition that they would be signed in by and have their drinks purchased for them by a man. It was only in 1994 that they could become members. I hope while the project is a positive description of queer spaces, that it will also prompt thoughts around exclusion and to what extent it happens today.
Also, the documenting of histories relating to Birmingham’s queer scene is long overdue. Everyone I got in touch with was eager to talk and the project also provided an opportunity for the participants to reconnect with each other, to meet those who attended the club at different times. I would hope there might be more interest in speaking to those who came before us, understanding their experiences, how they differ to our own and how they might apply today.
The Club’s Conception (or How the Egg Was Cracked) takes place at Recent Activity, Birmingham until 1 June 2019.
The Club’s Conception (or How the Egg Was Cracked), currently on show at Recent Activity in Digbeth, retraces the demolished past venues of Birmingham’s The Nightingale Club, the city’s longest-running queer space. In collaboration with those who attended its three preceding venues, Ryan Kearney and Intervention Architecture map these spaces from recollections, replacing absent photographs and creating an archival presence.
We talked to Ryan about the exhibition.
We speak to Charlie Levine, the Project Curator for ITV’s new on-screen identity project ITV Creates. Launched on 1 January 2019, new idents are showcased weekly, with a different interpretation of ITV’s logo created by a wide range of British artists, from Turner Prize winners to emerging talent. The project started with artist, photographer and filmmaker Ravi Deepres.
Can you tell me more about the background to the project and how you became involved?
ITV’s Creative team, led by their Executive Creative Director, Tony Pipes, had come up with the concept of a weekly changing ITV ident for 2019, in a project called ITV Creates. They wanted to commission artists and makers to highlight that ITV is ‘more than TV’, that they produce and make various other programmes and opportunities beyond what you see on the ITV channels. As Tony says of ITV Creates: “This work reflects ITV as a 21st century broadcaster, part of the fabric of culture, as an endlessly creative organisation. After all, we don’t just curate, as a company we constantly commission and create world-class content and this was a way to express that on air.”
I got involved in the project when ITV Creative’s team got in touch with me and my former colleague, Anna Vickery, in August 2018 asking for some advice about a new project they wanted to undertake. Anna and I both met with the team, signed our non-disclosures and talked the ITV team through an artist commissioning process: the various ways you can find artists, what the brief needs to include details of, potential budgets and timelines etc. At the end of the meeting we were asked if we would like to come on board and help curate the project, be the artist liaison and manage the commissioning of the idents. Anna had recently been appointed Deputy Director of Peckham Platform so was unable to accept the offer with me, and I became the ITV Creates Project Curator.
What are the motivations for the project from ITV’s perspective and yours?
ITV Director of Viewer Marketing Paul Ridsdale sums it up from their perspective: “Our channel idents had been running for almost 6 years and whilst they have served us well, 2019 felt like the right moment for a change. We think this new approach is fresh, distinctive and brings to life the energy and creativity at the heart of ITV. But above all else, we simply hope that viewers will enjoy this ever-changing look as they tune-in for their favourite programmes each week.”
From my perspective, this is an incredible opportunity for art to get beamed directly into people’s homes and for artists to be seen by 7 million viewers on average daily. Every artist has said how wonderful the whole process has been, especially the time in the studio when the work is being filmed – Electric Robin, who film the idents, take great care in making sure each piece gets an individual treatment and that the artist feels like a collaborator in the process. As a curator it’s a dream brief, to be able to showcase UK-wide talent, promoting various disciplines and approaches to such a wide audience. The 52 artists represent a real snapshot of what it happening in artist studios and galleries right now, and hopefully will inspire viewers and audiences to realise and discover their own creative potential and tastes.
How have you selected a diverse pool of artists? What have you been looking for within the selection of the 52?
It’s important as a curator to make sure you are representative and inclusive, and always responding to the brief or curatorial concept. With this project there are several factors that need to be considered, specifically who is your collaborator and what are their expectations? How can you promote the client positively while still retaining artistic integrity? How can you use this platform to promote UK-wide artists who might not yet be household names but who are innovators in their field? How can you be representative of what is happening in a complex and multifaceted art world?
This has been a challenge, as 52 artists is not a lot, and luckily ITV have been wonderful collaborators and have wanted me to present to them unexpected artists, to push the boundaries of what audiences might think ‘art’ is and to make sure the selection is inclusive.
Was it important for you that the artists be based in different parts of the country? Perhaps you can tell us more about those who are based in the West Midlands and the work they have been making?
ITV are a national broadcaster and they work internationally, it was part of their brief to me to make sure UK wide artists were being presented to them for inviting to propose an idea, and it was something I also encouraged. As a Brummie now living and working in London I have always wanted to make sure my work does not become London centric and that I continue to work with and research regionally based artists.
I am thrilled to say that several artists so far shown are Brummies or have associations with the city, namely Ravi Deepres, who launched the whole project, Charley Peters, Brummie born and now London based, and Bharti Parmar.
What sort of reactions have you been receiving from audiences?
So far, so very positive! As we enter week 12 of 52 with Bharti Parmar, I am very happy with how the project has been received by audiences, art-world colleagues and the media press, and I look forward to continuing this momentum with more artists who will challenge, excite and inspire.
My favourite reactions so far, however, have been that of the artists and wider team involved – Electric Robin and stills photographer, Theo Deproost. I have been inspired by how supportive they are of each other’s idents and how active on social media they have been about the project, their work and the other artists. As a curator who likes to work with communities and networks, and bring audiences and artists together, this has been a really amazing personal outcome.
What are your hopes for the project as it continues throughout the remainder of the year?
My hopes for the project are fairly simple. That I am able to create a platform that helps artists develop their practices, access audiences and make new work. I hope I can introduce audiences and viewers to new ways of thinking and open up ideas of what is or can be, art, and for audiences to explore their own creative potential and interest. I want to continue to deliver exciting representative artists and makers that help ITV tell their story as themselves, artists and makers. And I hope that people enjoy it as much as I do!
We speak to Charlie Levine, the Project Curator for ITV’s new on-screen identity project ITV Creates about her development process and ambitions for the project.
As part of New Art West Midlands 2018, five artists and alumni of the exhibition were awarded coveted residencies with the National Trust. The residencies are part of an ongoing dialogue that aims to support West Midlands artists as part of Trust New Art, the National Trust’s programme of contemporary arts.
Larissa E Shaw was awarded a residency at The Firs, the birthplace of Sir Edward Elgar. Set in sight of the beautiful rolling Malvern Hills, he took great inspiration from the area. We spoke to Larissa about her experience.
How did you go about this residency? Did the National Trust wish you to explore anything in particular? Did they expect a final outcome?
I spent the mornings researching in the archives located at the back of the cottage, and during the afternoon I would be talking with the volunteers and visitors at The Firs.
I found communicating with the volunteers particularly important. Some of the volunteers are, what I and most others would classify as, ‘Elgar experts’. Many had a keen interest in composers across the globe, and have established their own well known societies, so the fluidity between Elgar and the rest of the musical world has been invaluable to me.
I attended talks in the visitor centre were rich in information, and allowed me to see how visitors were educated about Elgar, and more specifically, what they were most interested in.
I also spent a long weekend hiking and camping in the Malvern Hills, where it is believed Elgar often visited to gain inspiration for his works. Interestingly, I have been told by a few different sources that Elgar would have his driver take him to the top of the Hills so he could feed the birds. He would throw the feed up into the air, wait for the birds to land, and then write his scores and manuscripts where the birds landed.
There is a style of music called Aleatoric music, or ‘chance music’. This music, in some element of the composition, is left to chance. It is most associated with procedures in which the chance element involved a limited number of possibilities. An example of this would be to write a stave (the lines which illustrate sheet music) on paper, and hold the paper to the light against a window. The illuminated paper would show blotches of pigments which could be converted into a movement of musical notes ascending (going up), and descending (going down) throughout the score, as well as the rest of the paper. Well known composers of Aleatoric music are Stravinsky (early 1900s) and Henry Cowell (1930s). This method was also was used by visual artists such as Duchamp (1913-1915, interestingly living at the same time as Elgar) and John Cage’s Music of Changes (1951).
The National Trust wanted me to explore what it was about Elgar that sparked his ‘genius’, and how that may spark genius in visitors too. My residency has investigated key moments and events in Elgar’s life that shaped him into one of Britain’s greatest composers. Although The Firs did not expect an outcome (which allowed me enough mental and physical room to do whatever I wished) I plan to write a lot about my time at the property, and hopefully reveal some unknown things about Elgar. I hope in time this will manifest in physical works that will become a dialogue of ongoing investigations in the music world.
What did you think of the house? What inspired you?
I think that it is important for the National Trust to keep the house as it would have been in Elgar’s time for the ongoing education to visitors and for the rest of the music world. I have been to other composers houses such as Eric Satie in Honfleur, Northern France; Johannes Brahms in Baden-Baden, South-West Germany, and M.K. Čiurlionis in Vilnius, Lithuania – all of which are unique in style and showcase the composers’ lives.
What was important and of interest to me, was that The Firs have their own archives, a large part which is now in the British Library.
Is there anything you have learned on this residency that you will take with you into other projects?
I have learned how to interact with public visitors, and how to tailor my approach to different visitors too. I have learnt a lot about the National Trust, how an artist can work within the organisation and how an artist’s work can be useful as a means of delivering information to their visitors.
Within my practice itself, I have research that keenly interests me and has built a bridge connecting my musical education and art practice; something I have been struggling to do for a few years. The work and research made during the residency is definitely something that will occupy me for some time and see me through a number of projects.
As part of New Art West Midlands 2018, five artists and alumni of the exhibition were awarded coveted residencies with the National Trust. Larissa E Shaw was awarded a residency at The Firs, the birthplace of Sir Edward Elgar. Set in sight of the beautiful rolling Malvern Hills, he took great inspiration from the area. We spoke to Larissa about her experience.
Speculative in nature, a model presents possibilities and examples to follow – or perhaps not. Three Models for Change is the title of a group exhibition at Stryx that offers up prototypes for change. Staging ambiguities, not certainties, the works by Chris Alton, Ian Giles and Greta Hauer ask separate questions about the formation of community and its relationship to society.
Determined not to conduct an online conversation, on 10 May Laura Onions sat down with curators Ryan Kearney, Alice O’Rourke and Ariadne Tzika to reflect upon their approach to curating this exhibition and discuss models for practice which involve real and constructed narratives.
Laura Onions: It’s a clear and purposeful decision to say no to the technology and not always let it be the mediator – working together and meeting face to face is important.
Alice O’Rourke: Curating is more than just putting on an exhibition, especially when working in a group, the conversations that happen are really important towards decision making and in realising that we really wanted to work with these artists.
LO: What kind of conversation would you like to illicit through this exhibition?
Ryan Kearney: We want people to really critique these models and have a conversation amongst themselves about how successful one of these models might be, how we change them or make them more inclusive. These are not utopian models that you could use to create a perfect world – but actually three options.
AO: Or examples maybe? We didn’t want this to come across as ways of making a society or for a community to work better – but these are just interpretations about how things can be different.
Ariadne Tzika: And maybe three different perspectives for society.
AO: I remember us being really drawn to the idea of fake news, fact and fiction. That was something we discussed a lot in the early stages, however there is more to this now and the idea of reality and fictive scenarios.
LO: Yes, constructed narratives are dealt with in different ways through the exhibition – I’d like to chat about that. I saw After BUTT by Ian Giles whilst it was at Chelsea Space earlier this year and I’m glad it is going to be shown here in Brum. The piece is a scripted performance recollecting upon the magazine BUTT to consider gay histories. It is a constructed scenario but the narrative the men perform comes from personal situations.
AO: Yeah, the words they are speaking could be their own and we are really interested in that blurring. There is not a set standard for what is real and what is not. There is an overlap that is apparent in all of the artist’s work in this show.
RK: Ian’s work really looks in to an awareness of social histories, queer histories and how this might have an influence looking towards queerer futures, so how this can influence positive change and being aware of these histories and also the imbalances within BUTT magazine itself.
AO: Chris Alton collaborates with communities. For the work in this show he is looking at Quakers who were punks. Still Anarchy is the creation of a fictional punk band, looking at how these separate groups aren’t actually that separate.
RK: In a sense it is a hybrid community, the two groups come from similar instances of political unsettling, so the Quakers come from a post English civil war situation and the punks are a very fractured group from a situation of negative political mess.
AT: Initially you believe that the two cannot come together, but they become untied in this band. In the exhibition are a series of zines and punk jackets which Chris made through workshops with community groups. All of the customisations on the jackets have either been given to him by Quakers or Punks so there something really personal and familiar to those.
LO: Do you think there is something within this exhibition about speaking to experience and how you articulate another person’s experience?
AO: In terms of the passing on of knowledge?
LO: Yeah, and whose knowledge is it? And how do we account for someone else’s story?
RK: A bridging between public and private lives you could say is at the heart of any activist movement. There is inherently something you identify with on a personal level, to some extent it will be private. Sexual lives and sexuality are private for example. So, I guess it is bringing out the private aspects that contributes to a larger discussion. There is a label built up of so many different experiences.
LO: Notions of inclusivity and exclusivity are raised in each of these works, which look beyond stereotypes to layers of intersectionality.
AO: So, the way that you handle those stories is important. Chris for example is a Quaker and that is why he knows so much. He is within that community. We are responsible for these personal accounts and making sure we tell them exactly in the way the artist wants to tell them as well. This is something we have had to consider in the handling of these works and it’s been really good for our experience.
AT: The three artists are telling a story and we are three different curators. This creates different perspectives which can be perceived in a different way by audiences, they might talk to them in different ways.
RK: So, Greta’s work, Vigorous Activities is probably the most typical model for change we might think of. A volcanic island that erupted around 2013 about one thousand kilometres off the coast of Japan. It’s very fresh, untouched, very new – no one has stepped foot on the island unless they are dressed head to toe in protective gear. There is potential for it to become a utopian community and environment untouched by political scandal.
AO: Yes, there is more discussion around territory within this work – maybe in terms of who owns what – it always goes down to greed and the politics of ownership. So, although on one hand there is this real utopian island, there are also the other problems which come with that; who claims it, who puts their name on it and its power.
LO: How do you create leadership that is not going to fall into the same trap or attached to singularities? But more of a community lead activity without hierarchies.
RK: That goes back to the idea of speculation – she is speculating upon who wants to purchase the island, or people who just want to claim ownership and sell it to the highest bidder. Greta alludes to Thomas Mores’ Utopia which is referenced in the drawing at the centre of the exhibition flyer – this perfect island, no place, untouched where the three different models co-exist.
AO: We have planned a Guerrilla Gardening event as part of our extended programme, which will be hosted offsite at the Digbeth Community Garden.
RK: Which in a way bridges the practices of Greta and Chris. It references the group Diggers who emerged at a similar time as the Quakers. They were a politically motivated group growing food in urban wasteland, against a growing anti-working-class narrative. And through Greta’s practice, the plant represents a kind of ownership. Japan inaugurates the volcanic island through indigenous plants.
LO: Guerrilla gardening is another approach towards change, creating space and community through feeding and nourishing the land, working together in a labour-intensive way.
AO: Through really informal chats about the development of Guerrilla gardening and particularly within Digbeth, this is an opportunity to be out of the gallery and potentially connect with a different audience but still in touch with the exhibition.
AT: We also have another event with Ian Giles. He is hosting auditions on 28 May to select performers for his new work Rainbow Flag Trojan Horse. This is a similar film-making process to After BUTT – he has scripted conversations with the friends of the Joiners Arms, a queer pub in London that was demolished to make way for luxury flats.
LO: I have written down displacement of communities, which is a different angle to the idea of models for change.
RK: The group campaigned to keep the pub, but failing this they pushed to have an LGBTQ+ community centre placed on the site, which has been successful. Rainbow Flag Trojan Horse will be a conversation with those campaigners – re-enacted by performers.
AO: Bringing the auditions and performance to Birmingham will be something specific to our city and its voices. As you say the idea of displacement – in this case – is also the moving around of voices, not just one location. It will be interesting to see how this resonates with people here and we are excited to see the final performance at Stryx 9 June.
LO: Have you had chance to reflect upon your curatorial approach? How do you think that has worked in relation to Three Models for Change?
RK: All of our practices are developing – one of my key interests at the moment is the archive – how that might be used to queerer futures, how you might use archives and histories to engage with culture and how this might have a positive influence.
AO: After working on this project I have been looking at more socially engaged practices. It’s important to me to bring other communities in who wouldn’t have necessary been to a contemporary art exhibition before.
AT: For me it was very important from the beginning that people can understand what we are talking about and feel that they can engage with the questions about society we are posing. So, I want there to be some transparency and for people to understand why we decided to exhibit these works.
LO: You are currently crowdfunding to produce a publication following the exhibition, what are the motivations behind this?
AT: This is an opportunity for us to extend the exhibition beyond its 10 days, as an ‘afterthought’ or an archive.
AO: This would be a physical trace of the show, including a commissioned text by a Birmingham arts writer that keys into the fictive elements of the work.
RK: This ‘afterthought’ will document the critiques and conversation that we hope will happen around the works; I am imagining the publication as a manual for positive change, one which is ever changing and can be built upon.
Three Models for Change is a collaboration with Grand Union and the University of Birmingham at Stryx. The exhibition runs until Saturday 16 June.
A collaboration between Grand Union and the University of Birmingham, Three Models for Change is a group exhibition taking place at Stryx in Birmingham until 16 June. Laura Onions interviews the curators.
Last June, Birmingham-based Eastside Projects unexpectedly closed its gallery space, with rumours circulating as to the reasons why. In this piece for a-n, Director Gavin Wade speaks to Jack Hutchinson about the real reasons for the closure, how it highlighted the support for Eastside Projects from Birmingham’s art scene and the organisation’s plans for the future.
Hereford College of Arts graduate Bob Langridge embarks on a personal journey of reconnection with the natural world in his photographic series, Hell Lane. Exhibited at Birmingham Museum & Art Gallery as part of New Art West Midlands 2018, the project comprises hours of analogue exposure time within Dorset’s enigmatic hollow-ways.
Instinctively, Langridge turns to large format film in order to produce imagery that envelops a contemplative relationship with his subject. He slows down the often automated 21st Century processes of image-making, and reverts to a painterly aesthetic – one which captures the nuances of light and the motion of foliage over time. Langridge’s Hell Lane is on display until 6 May.
Selina Oakes: Landscape is a major part of your practice. What does the notion of landscape mean to you?
Bob Langridge: Landscape means something different depending on its context. A painter or walker sees it in a different way to a person working in farming. I began making work in landscape as way of experimenting. I wanted to use large format film and for me the best environment to do that was to work in a landscape as a photographer. What I discovered was that by using large format film I was forced to slow down and consider what I was doing. The slower I worked, the more I became aware of my surroundings. I began to notice the subtle changes of light and colour and those things photography cannot capture – like birdsong and the rustle of vegetation when the wind blows. This helped me to become more considered about composition. I also realised that I was looking for something else; a way to express more than just the geographical features. I was looking for a connection or a story and that is what landscape is to me.
Experimentation continued with Hell Lane. I decided to use a pinhole camera to see what I could produce. It would be flippant to say it is down to chance but one cannot look through the viewfinder of the camera I had, so I used a medium format film camera to check that the composition was okay. Exposure for the images was either eight and a half or 17 minutes. During that time the light can change significantly. It also allowed me time to sit and reflect on my surroundings. At some point it clicked that hundreds of years ago someone else would have trod the same path as I was now.
SO: The series Hell Lane was inspired by Robert Macfarlane’s book Holloway. How does this publication inform your work?
BL: I came across Holloway in a roundabout fashion. While photographing on The Long Mynd in the Shropshire Hills, I became interested in the little paths created by the livestock. I started to research the old trade routes beginning with The Drovers’ Roads of Wales by Fay Godwin and Shirley Toulson. This led me on to searching for local “green lanes” to photograph. My tutor, Clare Smith, suggested Macfarlane’s book. I found it wonderfully written and it has some fabulous illustrations. I became interested in searching for the sunken routes. Holloway was that intangible something extra I had been looking for. Macfarlane’s work, and that of Hamish Fulton, led me to question how I could represent a place in a way that went beyond documentary.
SO: Time is a significant part of your imagery. Can you discuss how time – particularly slow time – is folded into your artistic process and images?
BL: By its very nature photography is a two-dimensional art. Robert Adams writes that landscape pictures provide “three verities – geography, autobiography, and metaphor.” When these attributes combine, they “strengthen each other and reinforce what we all work to keep intact – an affection for life.” When working on Hell Lane I knew that I wanted to find a way of representing what these routes had come to mean to me. For me the use of long exposure times provides the images with more than simple reportage can. There seems to be a sense of something happening. I hope that I have managed to capture a sense of the place.
I wonder if in part my approach to my work developed as a reaction to the instantaneousness of current photography. We wander around and all we see is our screens – even our friends see our images minutes after they have been taken. As photographers, we learn that photography is a choice: a choice of what to include in, and what to exclude from, the frame. We choose where to shoot from and when to shoot. If we are lucky, we also realise that there are times when we need to put down the camera and be in the moment.
SO: As an artist, you have built a deep understanding of Dorset’s hollow-ways. What sentiments do you wish to communicate to the viewer?
BL: I don’t think at any point in the making of Hell Lane I considered what I wanted a viewer to get. I hope they are intrigued and drawn into the images. The feedback I have had so far has ranged from being mysterious to being sinister.
SO: How has New Art West Midlands and the show at Birmingham Museum & Art Gallery supported the transition from Hereford College of Arts to life post-graduation?
BL: Being part of New Art West Midlands has been a real bonus. In revisiting my work and its predecessors as I prepared for the exhibition, I had moments of revelations and picked up bits that I had not noticed before. I have started to develop ideas for work that I had put to one side as I focused in on Hell Lane, so in that respect it has given me a real boost.
Hereford College of Arts graduate and New Art West Midlands exhibitor Bob Langridge speaks to Selina Oakes.
A graduate of Fine Art and Illustration, Jessica Eburne is one of 28 regional artists to be selected for New Art West Midlands 2018. She completed her studies at Coventry University in 2017 and is pursuing an MA in Contemporary Art Theory at Goldsmiths College. Inspired by the digitisation of visual culture, Eburne engages with the modern-day technologies that have swamped our psychological and social consciousnesses. While recognising the merits of technology, Eburne emphasises the dangers of “electronic dissemination” and plays with comparisons between technology and religious traditions. Two of her works, TR and Rechnilgog, are on display at Birmingham Museum & Art Gallery until 6 May.
Selina Oakes: Your practice revolves around “electronic dissemination.” What first drew you to this subject and can you expand upon this phrase?
Jessica Eburne: By using the term “electronic dissemination” I refer to the global spread of electronic devices and the increasing use and reliance on these in everyday life. The most obvious of these is the use of smartphones and social media. My opinions of this dissemination are not completely negative, however I believe that some sort of moderation needs to be attained. With both TR and Rechnilgog, I aim to raise awareness of the overuse of these devices in a direct, yet sensitive manner.
My creative practice is largely influenced by my personal observations and theoretical research on society’s use of smartphones and social media. For example, when traveling on the tube, almost all of my “co-tubers” are entertaining themselves via digital screens. Furthermore, witnessing the “where is my phone?!” panic exemplifies this reliance. In today’s Digital Information Age, it appears that many people are growing increasingly connected to their devices.
The most significant theoretical inspirations for these works were drawn from pre-internet texts that portrayed concerns regarding non-digital technology. Many of these predicted a situation whereby society would be controlled by this technology. For example, in his text, Question Concerning Technology (1954), philosopher and seminal thinker Martin Heidegger states: “everywhere we remain unfree and chained to technology.” Even though Heidegger was speaking of fuel-driven mechanical technology, his views seem more relevant than ever today. My work is also influenced by contemporary texts like Brett T. Robinson’s Appletopia (2013) which describes how Steve Jobs’ own religious thoughts inspired Apple products and marketing strategies.
SO: Audience participation plays a major role in your work. Why is it important to involve the audience, while still toying with the notion of technological alienation?
JE: In terms of TR, I wanted to put the spectator in a situation where they are engulfed by technology and thus provoke a consideration of their own usage of technological devices. To achieve this outcome, I employed an audio file playing through headphones, visual light elements, and with Rechnilgog, interactive buttons. By their physical contact with the pieces, spectators get to add the final “wow” factor – it is almost as if the artwork is incomplete without them.
While the piece does encourage an understanding of how technology alienates people from one another, it can also cynically suggest that an intimate connection with a piece of technology could be a substitute for an emotional connection with a human being. Ultimately, for both TR and Rechnilgog, I felt that interactional elements would lighten the mood on such a serious subject and enable the viewer to dictate exactly how they would experience the artwork.
SO: TR and Rechnilgog draw comparisons between technology and religion. What commonalities do these share and how might one inform the other?
Many believe that science and religion are dichotomous. My interpretation of religion is that it is formed upon both individual and collective beliefs, ideologies and norms. Many religions promote attaining a higher human self – or involve worshipping a “superhuman” being. Through this understanding, I interpret technology and religion as sharing many qualities, including:
Quantity – People’s behaviours are often determined by quantitative analysis. It could be said that the more one posts on social media, the higher their social “score.” Similarly, in some religions the more you pray and worship, the closer you supposedly are to an arbitrary higher self. In terms of recording, uploading and sharing information, in the book Homo Deus (2017), Yuval Noah Harari states: “people want to be part of the data flow, even if it involves giving up their privacy, their autonomy and their individuality.” The more likes and shares one gains, the more powerful their stance on social media. Furthermore, he also suggests that “traditional religions assured us that we were part of some big plan.” Technology also seems to suggest that every part of data exchange is meaningful. Being part of the network is a mode of being, and for many, to be disconnected from this flow means losing their meaning in life.
Usage – I compared technology use to a ritualistic religion. A religious belief can direct or dictate our actions to the point of becoming a habit, and similarly technology use appears to impose certain habitual practices in our day-to-day lives. These include checking one’s phone at regular intervals, using applications that prioritise and reward users based on the quality of their input, and consuming online and digital content as a priority to other forms of entertainment. Many applications and devices today remind users to use them via notifications: I describe these as a technological “call to prayer.”
Visuals – The most obvious link I found was in digital retail stores, most specifically at Apple stores worldwide which shared many design similarities to a church or temple. Most Apple stores are designed in the form of long aisles of tables, with their products placed in dedicated spaces as if for worship. There are brightly coloured images of Apple products displayed on the walls, similar to stained glass windows or murals, and the stores are lit so as to illuminate their products in a (unintentional or intentional?) halo.
SO: TR has a retro-futuristic aesthetic. Where have your visuals come from and how do you wish them to be interpreted?
JE: My work for TR was quite heavily inspired by that of Nam June Paik and the technology available around the 1970s and 1980s. Paik practiced a future-forward form of technological art and it is apparent that his vision for the future – i.e. today – is dystopian. By emulating the aesthetics of guardedness and uncertainty exhibited towards technology in the 1970s, I highlight the need to return back to that cautious mentality towards technology.
I continue to be inspired by the work of Elsworth Kelly, Aristarkh Chernyshev, Bruce Nauman and John Bock. I also looked into modern clamshell computer/mobile device design, including design elements borrowed from Amazon’s Echo and Apple/Android smartphones and decided to produce, what I felt, was a rudimentary, oversimplified version of the same. I also included elements of modern devices such as backlights and accent lighting. One could also suggest that combining this into a retro-futuristic style is an attempt at dumbing down modern technology into its simplest form, either for easier digestion by buyers, or to disseminate a message of warning.
SO: How has your participation in New Art West Midlands at Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery impacted your practice and future aspirations as an artist?
JE: In terms of exposure, New Art West Midlands 2018 has been an outstanding opportunity that has enabled me to promote my art practice to the wider art world following university. I’m aware that my work has been seen by a variety of artistic personalities and I have met some inspirational people. Being selected for the exhibition has proved to be a huge confidence booster for me as a practicing artist in the future. I am currently producing work for an upcoming show in London and have a few projects in the pipeline for this coming year. On one hand, I have pursued a different creative style for these future exhibitions and moved away, at least for now, from creating digital or technological artwork. Nevertheless, New Art West Midlands has led me to employ interactivity and effective audience communication in a far superior manner and I have pursued audience-forward artworks since then. Going into the future, I wish to continue producing independent projects and remain hugely interested in modern human and cultural conundrums and issues.
Jessica Eburne is showing as part of New Art West Midlands 2018 at Birmingham Museum & Art Gallery. Selina Oakes caught up with her to find out more about her influences and ideas.
Drawing upon influences in experimental filmmaking and post-structuralist philosophy, Fine Art graduate Sarah Walden (MA, Birmingham City University) considers the boundaries and sensations that can emanate from the surface of the moving image. Working across digital and analogue film, she plays with the imperfections of her chosen media – and the potential for chance occurrences. Her four-channel video projection, Bodies of Pleated Matter, folds together multiple images and cultural references to stimulate and challenge the viewer’s cognitive interpretations in an increasingly dematerialised world. Walden’s film has been selected for New Art West Midlands 2018 and is showcased at AirSpace Gallery in a purpose-built screening room until 31 March.
Selina Oakes: Bodies of Pleated Matter examines our relationship to surface in an image-saturated society. How does your work provide a respite from the mass of visual data present in our everyday lives?
Sarah Walden: Much of my work deals with the idea of overload. Bodies of Pleated Matter bombards its viewers with visual information that is created by overloading processes (electronic glitches, material disruption and distortion), which are combined and wrapped around the viewer in order to foster a confrontation with the mechanism of sensory processing. The sheer volume and variation of speed of information can force a cognitive stop, enabling the experience of the work to become a kind of flattening whereby one can’t immediately draw a recognisable meaning from it. It’s less of a respite, and more a series of questions posed to the audience: where is your body when you engage with visual data? Are you fully engaged with your senses when you navigate that space?
As a viewer, you are encouraged to confront the idea of surface: there’s the screen in front of you and there’s the truth of light hitting that screen. The celluloid film has a material surface that is highlighted by its obliteration. Your skin becomes the surface that the light seeks if you hold your hand up in front of the projection. The imagery itself is about surfaces – water, the body, the threshold between land and sky – and how we navigate those surfaces. It asks you to consider how the surface of water wraps around your body, and within that consideration, how do you determine your own boundaries?
SO: How does the piece feed into your wider practice and research?
SW: Boundaries, edges, screens and materiality are huge parts of my practice. I’m interested in how things that don’t have a tangible material existence, such as digital data, can have such material effects on humans. We’re becoming transhuman. My research focuses on the breaking of technologies – both digital and sensory technologies – and how we can find new languages for engagement with the senses.
My experimental media practice and research into the lived experience of neurodivergence (autism, synaesthesia, dyspraxia, dyslexia, ADHD, etc) unpicks the frustration I have with living in such a heavily mediated world, where all this visual information needs to make sense intellectually before it will be given value and attention. I want my work to create new narratives that make a different kind of sense – one that emanates from embodiment and discusses the experience of living in bodies that behave in surprising and sometimes uncomfortable ways.
SO: You work with both found and filmed footage. Why is it important for you to create a dialogue between old and new imagery – both of which appear anonymous in the piece?
SW: I think when you start to question surface and the materiality of film, you have to engage with the fact that film is a time-based media. I wondered how material our relationship is to time: does it have a surface on which we can skate and make new stories? The piece spans 50 years of film and video technology, so the inclusion of found footage from the 1970s sets the scene in that regard. I also want to challenge the notion of narrative and whether our filmic gaze has changed with the development of digital media.
I’m always struck by the reverence with which home movies are shot on Super8. Now, it’s so much easier to film when we all have home movie cameras in our pockets, and that shows in our framing: we’re happy to cut heads and legs out of frames and camera shake isn’t a thing to be avoided anymore. It’s become a throwaway technology.
I filmed and developed my own celluloid because I wanted the experience of scarcity and preciousness – the anxiety of wondering whether the footage has been correctly exposed and testing the tolerances of the celluloid itself through the development process. I had to wait for images, and this is beautifully uncomfortable in the age of instant gratification. Meanwhile, in narrative terms, the similarities between the old and the new footage outweigh the differences. We’re still interested in our families and the places we visit. We love our pets and gardens and children, and we want to preserve them.
SO: While split across a 4-channel digital video projection, some of the scenes we experience are shot on Super8. What draws you to celluloid film, and why do you transfer it to digital?
SW: Much is made of the analogue versus digital debate but I’ve never seen it as a binary or exclusionary relationship. Digital video and celluloid film will give you the same product – a moving image – but they are vastly different mediums in their form and functionality. The celluloid film I used has a material surface that is ultimately obliterated by mechanical means: the emulsion on its surface has been scraped back to separate the layers of colour. Some of it has been developed in experimental conditions so that the dirt and noise of imperfect conditions are aesthetic elements, choices that are made by the materiality of the media but can also be directed by the artist. I also used VHS tape, made from digital and celluloid film and then forced through a homemade dirty video mixer. This makes the image jump and swim: it bottlenecks two and sometimes three channels, and makes unseen decisions about which channel to prioritise at any given time. Transferring the footage to digital means that I can push the analogue in alternative directions.
SO: Technology is both an enabler and a disabler. Have you experienced any challenges working with such an ephemeral medium?
SW: The short answer is, of course, yes. I always mutter when I’m installing work that I should be a sculptor or painter because I wouldn’t have to deal with the temperamental nature of technology. Of course, that’s an incredibly flippant thing to say, as all art forms have their production challenges. I have probably run the gamut of technological challenges since I started making film work 5 years ago.
Luckily, my collaborator Ollie MacDonald-Brown is one of those amazing people who just seems to be able to engineer his way out of any technical problem, and of course a problem shared is a problem halved. We once did a performance where we had 100s of feet of film loops draped through the gallery and we were distressing them live on two projectors: I had the 8mm and he had the 16mm. Unfortunately his projector broke about 10 minutes through the performance after someone stood on his film loop and creased it. He spent the first hour of the two hour performance trying to fix the projector. Eventually, he accepted its demise and pulled the film through by hand, which resulted in some beautiful burn patterns. By contrast, I only had to deal with a couple of broken loops. Most recently, we had an issue with Bodies of Pleated Matter at the private view at AirSpace Gallery. The computer that was handling the projection mapping crashed and we had to run it off our backup.
There are always questions of how the work gets turned on or off each day in a show: it’s quite terrifying to entrust your work to someone else who isn’t a film and video technician. That being said, digital technology makes moving image works much more accessible than celluloid: babysitting old projectors is not something most people would feel comfortable with, and rightly so – it’s a complex skill. Turning a digital projector and media player on is much easier and allows for moving image to be part of a wider discourse.
SO: What does it mean to you to be part of New Art West Midlands 2018 at AirSpace Gallery?
SW: When I submitted my proposal for New Art West Midlands, I didn’t expect to be selected largely because of the complexity of the work. I’m delighted to have been proven wrong and grateful that AirSpace Gallery rose to the challenge of its realisation in such an enthusiastic and supportive way. Glen Stoker (AirSpace Co-Director) has gone out of his way to make this piece work, wrestling with building the screens single-handedly and learning all of the technology required to make it work every day. He made all of it as easy as it could possibly be. Overall, it has been an amazing experience and I’ve learned so much more about my own piece and practice as a result of showing in the gallery. I think it was the only place that Bodies of Pleated Matter could have lived, and it has been lovely to see it working again in its new custom-built home.
In the third of her series of interviews with New Art West Midlands exhibitors, Selina Oakes catches up with artist Sarah Walden.
Recent Birmingham City University graduate, Jodie Wingham challenges the boundaries of printmaking and traditional methods of display by disrupting her imagery’s flat surface with sculptural interventions. Two of her works, Sitting Cross-legged and Unbuttoned are being shown as part of New Art West Midlands 2018 at AirSpace Gallery until 31 March.
In her practice, Wingham encourages the voyeuristic tendencies that lurk within the human psyche by presenting the viewer with seductive images of scenarios that are usually hidden from public view – like the bare legs of a cross-legged woman or the undone button on a man’s shirt. Inspired by The Pictures Generation and the language of advertising, the artist ultimately seeks to heighten her audiences’ relationship with these hidden, private moments.
Selina Oakes: Your work plays with notions of human curiosity and the cognitive pleasures experienced when something hidden is exposed. Why is the act of ‘revealing’ important to you?
Jodie Wingham: This is based on a mixture of personal interest and research into psychological ideas on the nature of sight being an important driving force for our desires. As an individual, I’m drawn to the moments that you’re not meant to witness or pay attention to within the public sphere. You are allowed into a narrative which you have to embellish to make sense of: the act of revealing has not yet ended – it is not fully revealed – therefore it remains in this state of suspense, which I believe is far more interesting than the end result. The idea of what is about to happen, or what is being revealed, is often far more satisfying than what you may want to know or see. This is because your imagination has to work to fill in the gaps. It is this moment that exists ‘on the cusp’ that I like to play with and, because it doesn’t give everything away, you as a viewer have to be involved in the development of the image or idea. We as a society have information readily available: images are explicitly shown in media, billboards etc. We no longer think or take notice of the finer details – not really. I want to entice a longer gaze: one that the viewer, as an individual, fuels.
SO: Sitting Cross-legged and Unbuttoned distort the aesthetic of high-end advertising and are reminiscent of works from The Pictures Generation. Can you discuss some of your art historical and cultural influences?
JW: The Pictures Generation is an excellent reference as I was influenced by their usage of media techniques to produce their work. In my own practice, I am aware of the media’s influence on our interaction with images and the bombardment of information that we consume. My photographs may appear reminiscent of the images that we interact with in the media, however I don’t use models that fall into the industry’s ideals. My imagery is meant to represent real people: it’s an interplay between magazine aesthetics and non-typical models to disrupt what you expect.
SO: You present a predominantly two-dimensional medium – printmaking – in an unconventional and sculptural way. What draws you to bend the traditional rules of display?
JW: I became frustrated with the idea of printmaking being seen as a traditional and often boring art practice in the fact that the prints are often flat, displayed within frames and hung on walls. Print is so much more and can be pushed to the extremes like any other art practice. I wanted, and still want, to see what is achievable in print by using a cross-disciplinary approach to create alternative conversations of what print can be and how it can be displayed. My ideas focus around the viewer being involved in an image – an image that is usually voyeuristic in nature. For me, it is important to promote the interaction between image, display and audience: the use of sculptural elements introduces a physicality which the viewer can interact with. In doing this, it upsets the common reading of an image and, through the addition of different viewpoint and angles, the print takes longer to read. This prolonged gaze is an important theme in my work.
SO: Does gender representation come into your practice, either through your choice of imagery or materials?
JW: Even though I do not make work with set gender representation ideas in mind, it would be hard to say that gender representation is not present within my practice, particularly within this body of work. The image of a woman sitting crossed legged with flesh clearly on display naturally initiates a conversation on how women are represented and what the image is saying by using that particular pose. I was aware of this when creating Sitting Crossed Legged, but I didn’t want it to be the main idea that people thought of when looking at the piece. With this awareness, I chose a model who did not conform to set ideas of media shape and size – what people may deem as a ‘model’ woman. She is not digitally altered, and I wanted to only use the cropped section of the chair seat with no face: without an identity this woman could be anyone and allows a closer association with the ideas behind the piece rather than the sitter herself.
Similarly, ideas around gender representation can be applied to the male sitter in Unbuttoned. Here, notions on how masculinity is portrayed in the media arise, but I try to focus the scene on the opening of the shirt. I am aware that the imagery in my practice (and possibly the materials used, for example, metal is commonly seen as a masculine material) engage with notions of gender representation: I’m currently thinking about whether this is an important conversation to include and play with, or not.
SO: As a visual arts graduate, how do you intend to continue with your practice? Have New Art West Midlands 2018 and the show at AirSpace Gallery bolstered your confidence for future projects?
JW: The visual image will always feature in my practice. I want to see how far I can push the boundaries of the printed image by working on new ways to make the discipline interactive for the viewer. Traditional printmaking is a medium that I love to work with, however, it is often displayed in a set way. I believe this should be challenged and the art-form represented more often in contemporary art practices.
That being said, intimacy has become a much more prevalent concept for me. This is not so distant from my previous work, as I have always wanted the viewer to have a more intimate connection with the images. In the past, I have often used installation concepts to achieve this interaction between the work and the viewer. New Art West Midlands and AirSpace Gallery have given me great support and feedback from the show itself, which has given me the confidence to push forward in the creation of new work.
Selina Oakes speaks to Jodie Wingham, currently exhibiting at AirSpace Gallery as part of New Art West Midlands 2018.
Birmingham Art School Masters graduate Lily Wales is one of 28 selected artists exhibiting across the region as part of the sixth edition of New Art West Midlands. Much of Wales’ work addresses the visual language and childish rhetoric associated with nuclear weaponry. Her piece, Radioactive Rhonda, recreated and on display at AirSpace Gallery, Stoke-on-Trent, until 31 March, seeks to mock the U.S. government’s atomic bomb history and its civil defence campaigns through a giant sphere pasted with a plethora of brash imagery. In these photomontages, Wales renders visible the grotesque characters of former a-bombs, Atomic Annie and Mr Plumbob, in a bid to question the ways in which language and aesthetics can dislocate public perceptions of nuclear warfare.
Selina Oakes: Your work explores the language associated with nuclear weaponry, particularly the childish nicknames given to atomic bombs by the U.S. government. What first drew you to work with this subject matter?
Lily Wales: I’m a huge fan of the theorist Marshall McLuhan and I read his work frequently to drum up thought. As a starting point, I followed his notions of electricity being an extension of the nervous system and guns as an extension of the eye and teeth. In his books, which are typographically stunning, he goes on to talk about technology causing an amputation of the self. When thinking about the most extreme version of this self-annihilation, nuclear warfare naturally became an obvious choice. Once I started digging around it didn’t take long to find the bizarre usage of language, which felt like a joke and had me completely fascinated as I’ve always been drawn to humour within my practice.
SO: Atomic Annie, Mr Plumbob, Romeo, Smokey and George are all names of a-bombs from the mid-late 20th century. What makes Radioactive Rhonda relevant to today’s society?
LW: Rhonda’s relevance lies in her social reality: this year the Doomsday Clock was moved from two and a half minutes to midnight to two, amidst recent nuclear risk. I recently watched the 1984 documentary style film Threads, which follows nuclear holocaust with a focus on Sheffield as a city hit by the atomic bomb. It’s a startling contrast to the U.S. civil defence videos that managed to anaesthetise the public’s perception of such weapons. Despite an awareness of the mushroom cloud footage being archived material I’d seen on YouTube, I still found the film to be a traumatic watch. 34 years later, that film is still shockingly relevant and quite frankly makes Rhonda look like a pussycat. While it may sound ridiculous for a bomb to be called Radioactive Rhonda, is it any worse than one being called the Mother Of All Bombs?
SO: Radioactive Rhonda is covered with a brightly grotesque photomontage. Where do these images come from and why is their source important?
LW: All the imagery on Rhonda is sourced online, predominantly through Google Images. When making the work there isn’t much importance placed on where the imagery is sourced, just more so around the quality of the content itself. That being said it does demonstrate the power of information and how easily accessible it is due to the Internet. When I was first researching nuclear warfare, I was cautious to rely on online sources too much for authenticity, however bizarrely enough it has proved to be more reliable than official sources. With a subject matter consisting of mostly classified information and officials being able to nether confirm or deny information, who knows what’s false? Maybe Rhonda is real after all.
SO: This is the second time that you have constructed Radioactive Rhonda – the first being for your Masters show at Birmingham School of Art. Has your relationship with the piece changed and how might you progress with new works in the future?
LW: It’s a labour intensive piece, so each time I’ve completed her there’s always a sense of achievement but it’s important not be a one trick pony. Moving on from Rhonda, I’ll still be applying photomontage to the realm of sculpture. There’ll be more of a focus on creating an environment and atmosphere rather than just a static object. I’ll be introducing the use of code and lighting within my practice, creating work in reaction to a recent trip to the Nevada Test Site in Las Vegas, funded by the Engine and Grain bursary. And you never know, there could be the comeback of the century with Rhonda II.
SO: What does it mean for you to exhibit in New Art West Midlands’ 2018 showcase at AirSpace Gallery?
LW: Well it was a great opportunity for Rhonda to be seen on a more public level with a much longer duration. With the piece being site specific it also meant I had a great connection with both the show and the gallery itself. I was able to have critical conversations about the work and to talk about future directions. Getting to know other artists at a similar point in their career was also a bonus.
New Art West Midlands exhibitor Lily Wales speaks to Selina Oakes about her experiences of re-making her sculpture Radioactive Rhonda at AirSpace Gallery and the context for its production.
We speak to curator Meenakshi Thirukode about her platform Instituting Otherwise and her views on unlearning, institutional critique and decolonisation ahead of her participation in Reimagine India: Here, There & Everywhere Summit, at mac birmingham on Friday 23 March.
Can you tell me more about Instituting Otherwise in terms of its beginnings and rationale?
I want to start by acknowledging the naming of my platform which is inspired by concepts developed by cultural producers and workers engaged in a long term research project Future Vocabularies initiated at BAK, basis voor actuele kunst, in 2016 that rethinks arts conceptual lexicon. The naming here is both, a gesture of solidarity with the work of like-minded peers and a process of unlearning. It was when I got a scholarship to attend the summerschool project at BAK in 2017 that a philosophical framework for my practice found an articulation.
I’ve been working within institutions – especially commercial spaces like galleries and a museum, based in the US and in India, over the course of my career. And a lot of my practice was to subvert these spaces in order to confront the ways in which the system works, particularly the relationship of culture and representation to capital as it relates to South Asia. So for me I don’t come from that binary understanding of a center-periphery, but rather from a space of loopholing and finding the glitches within the system (we never really function outside a system) in order to find possibilities and futures of an “otherwise”.
For me the curatorial is a space for that conversation and engagement to take place and holds potential in India. Unfortunately in India ‘curators’ are understood to be exhibition makers or function on an advisory role. To me, it’s a pedagogical space and I want to explore that as a possibility with real stakes in the politics of the country, by working with those outside of the dominant market oriented art world infrastrutures.
What do you feel the platform provides/offers your curatorial practice?
For me it’s about creating a ‘space’ – an infrastructure, not always a physical one of course, for thinking about political urgencies and its related stakes in the ‘real’ world and the role cultural producers will play in imagining and producing that. That’s what ‘Instituting Otherwise’ can hopefully be a part of. I’ve moved beyond art as something ‘object’ oriented or as a space where we constantly produce and consume – not just aesthetics but also effects like anger and pain and desires. How does one participate in the world with the kind of knowledges we produce in the political conditions we live in? And I’m trying to create that space so we can figure this out. I don’t have the answers but I hope we can start to ask the right questions, together.
What are your thoughts on ‘unlearning’ and on institutional critique within the context of mac birmingham’s summit, Reimagine India: Here, There & Everywhere, and its position as a popular arts centre?
I think ‘Institutional Critique’ is a western canon – or at least when we talk of Institutional Critique, it’s a very particular history we refer to that’s seeped into our collective conscious as a dominant narrative. Outside of England, Europe and North America, there were/are a different set of political, socio-economic and cultural histories that are important to look at. Of course that could entail looking at what it meant for artists say from South Asia, living and working with artists in the late 60s and early 70s in America or the UK, might have engaged with. And then how those narratives engage and create a more complex set of relations with how we understand identities, representations and subjectivities today.
Unlearning is perhaps in this particular context, a way to begin setting different frameworks, different variables and starting from an understanding that someone like me is a product of predominantly western academic institutional system – and so I feel like I need to acknowledge that and then start to unlearn all of it via shifting the ‘POV’ from which we view political and art histories.
For all this to happen, mac and the summit become that space I was talking of earlier – by involving me, mac and the Here, There, Everywhere summit, is now a site for asking the right questions, in terms of how I laid it out in my previous answer.
Likewise, can you tell me more about your views and experiences of decolonisation within your practice and what this might mean to a city as culturally diverse as Birmingham?
I’m always learning what that term might mean. I think there’s always a tendency for an over-use of a term or to think of it as a ‘constant’ concept – and we see de-colonisation being used everywhere, when actually some sites and spaces are not necessarily de-colonising. So one has to always understand the precarity of the process, and how these concepts can be co-opted by capital or even far right populist movements.
We need to really think about what we mean by cultural diversity, by the term diaspora and what it means to someone like me, who has lived and worked in many contexts and conditions in the US and in the UK, but is from India and lives and works there now – a choice I made because at some level, these an urgency and stake in my being geographically located in India. So I think there’s an opportunity here at mac and in Birmingham to be able to really complicate the many ways in which we think of cultural diversity and that’s exciting for me.
What upcoming projects and research do you have planned?
I’ve been interested in how the curatorial in India can be a space of pedagogy and politics and I’m working to develop my platform ‘Instituting Otherwise’ in that regard. In terms of research I’ve always been interested in lost, erased histories and now the histories of the ‘otherwise’. I’ve been looking at how colonial and imperial imaginaries and histories (not just art but for instance, International Relations and Policy histories) have shaped the way we understand the world outside of the ‘West’ and how ‘culture’ was/is constructed as a means to oppress and marginalise. I’m also interested to continue research around performativity and the political – and particularly looking to work and research alongside those doing work on caste representations in visual and popular culture in India.
Projects around these trajectories of research are taking shape right now, so I will have more information on that in due course!
Reimagine India: Here, There & Everywhere Summit
Friday 23 Mar | 9.30am for 10am start – 5.30pm | £10*
We speak to curator Meenakshi Thirukode about her platform Instituting Otherwise and her views on unlearning, institutional critique and decolonisation ahead of her participation in Reimagine India: Here, There & Everywhere Summit, at mac birmingham on Friday 23 March.
Beginning 2018 with her first solo show, Amy-Lou Matthews has proven her ability to choreograph both space and spectator. Following the recent completion of her BA in Fine Art, the Staffordshire University alumna transported her practice from art school to the artist-led studio in a six-month Graduate Residency at AirSpace Gallery. Matthews has continued to explore her deep-seated fascination with binary relationships through photography, film, staging and performance, and has ultimately transformed the gallery into a menagerie of theatrical tricks and tropes.
Running until 27 January, Smoke and Mirrors invites the viewer to actively decipher reality from illusion in a series of opulently playful props; in turn, equipping participants with the psychological and physical tools needed to battle their way through today’s post-truth era. Between the overwhelming folds of fervent green and red velvet, audiences are asked to trust both the artist and themselves in the search for meaning in a synonymously familiar and unknown situation. In this interview, Matthews – at the time sat very much at home against a verdantly green-backdrop – speaks about her residency experience and culminating show with Selina Oakes.
Selina Oakes: What drew you to apply for the AirSpace Graduate Residency?
Amy-Lou Matthews: The prospect of a studio was a major draw. I was coming to the end of my degree and the idea of losing access to the studio became quite daunting. I didn’t want to lose the creative atmosphere that I’d experienced at Staffordshire University – people with different practices and interests were always milling about. It seemed a good idea to spend six months practicing alongside established artists in the area – and seeing how they work. Another draw was the chance of having a solo show – you can’t not at least try!
SO: How have you found the transition from life at university to the artist led studio environment?
AM: There was a definite shift – mainly of how big, and at times, quiet, the space was. It was strange to be given the keys to the gallery and left to get on with things – making it my own, more independently. Also, without the safety blanket of a student loan, I’ve had to find a good balance between supporting myself financially and practicing. I struggled with that to start with, but my time management skills have improved. In the future, I hope to focus more time on making.
SO: You’re a graduate from Staffordshire University. How has your experience of the city changed and/or stayed the same over the last six months?
AM: It hasn’t changed that much in terms of what I’ve seen change – the same organisations are still doing what they do brilliantly, regardless of the City of Culture Bid result. But my experience of these organisations has shifted: I really enjoyed working with the Cultural Sisters on The Last Bus project in October – an off-site exhibition marking the imminent demolition of the city’s old bus station – as well as being more involved with b-arts.
SO: Thinking back to your degree show, how has your practice developed since graduation?
AM: Now, my practice focuses more on participation and the audience’s role. Post-Performance, my end-of-year piece, touched on these themes: I created a stage setting and guided the viewer on to a green screen through the aid of a TV. That was the start of focusing on the audience’s perspective, but also on the way in which the outsider spectator observes a fellow audience member. I knew that I wanted to push these ideas further.
The knowledge of having a spacious area to exhibit in pushed my practice. It was great to sit in the gallery and plan how the audience would walk around. And the green-screen is still very much coming through! It was important to break down my practice and get outside of my comfort zone – letting my audience be a bit more playful and free to disconnect from enclosed spaces.
SO: You appear to place less emphasis on the screen and more on the stage set in Smoke and Mirrors than in your degree work. Would you agree?
AM: Yeah, there’s much more focus on the stage. Previously, video was the medium that I used to create my multiples and two-dimensional illusions. These illusions have definitely evolved: the zoetropes in Perform – Post-Performance (part of Smoke and Mirrors) physically shift and bring two images together that wouldn’t normally be possible in real-time.
SO: What have been the most valuable parts of the residency at AirSpace Gallery?
AM: Being able to come into the gallery and work out where pieces would go ahead of the install has been valuable. You can map things out on paper, but actually experiencing the size of a space really helps. With regards to the mentoring – my mentor was Hetain Patel – it was great to hear about another artist’s journey and perspective. Also, the support and feedback that I received during the install was great. With Hetain, we spoke about which pieces worked where in the space; Glen Stoker, AirSpace Gallery Director, provided more logistical advice; and Natasha – the fellow 2017/18 graduate resident – enabled me to clarify each works’ intentions and the messages portrayed.
SO: In Smoke and Mirrors, you’ve transformed the exhibition space into an immersive theatre and stage set. What fascinates you about theatre and stage methodologies, and how do these sit within the gallery context?
AM: The beauty and wonder they create. They provide a space where you’re disconnected from the outside – a space in which it only matters what you see in front of you. These tropes mirror the gallery’s ‘entertainment’ persona. I like the idea of staging something in the ever-changing: AirSpace Gallery is a building which shifts with each new project that arrives – it’s similar to a stage which changes with each new production.
SO: Why is it important for you to question and reveal the illusion behind the magic? You enable the viewer to discover the structure behind the illusion, rather than merely the magic trick.
AM: I wanted to play with the simplicity of magic tricks – they’re all about misdirection and slight of hand. Once you start seeing part of a trick, you begin to pick up on similar traits everywhere – it’s a game of spot what’s a little off. In our current post-truth era, it’s about doing your own research and not simply believing what you hear. I want to instill a taste for curiosity in the viewer – for them to see where things lead to, rather than accepting someone else’s information.
Do you think that audiences today are more prepositioned to engage with your work, compared to say 10 years ago?
AM: Yeah, especially with audiences’ approach, like the need to break things down to get information quickly. I’m presenting viewers with both sides simultaneously – they have to think and question almost instantaneously. It’s definitely more relevant for contemporary audiences.
SO: Smoke and Mirrors invites the viewer to perform. What do you hope the viewer will gain from this interaction? And what are you, as the artist, looking for?
AM: My intention is to enable audiences to feel as though they exist. When reflecting on traditional museum and gallery exhibitions, I noticed the sheer distance created between the viewer and the artwork through both physical and invisible barriers. I wanted to break those boundaries down – to invite the viewer to participate beyond observing, and to potentially create something new by activating the work. I’d like them to be playful and forget themselves for a short while – for them to give into their curiosities and instincts.
SO: Your exhibition statement begins with a quote from the 2006 film, The Prestige. How important is this contemporary reference and the history of magicians to your practice?
AM: My obsession with The Prestige is definitely an issue. I came across it when I was researching magicians like Harry Houdini, and his predecessor Robert-Houdin. I was intrigued by their showmanship and cleverness, and also by the way in which the audience was in love with the act. It’s as though everyone was in on the trick, even though the spectator didn’t know how it was happening. The Prestige exposes this idea in a beautiful way. It presents a magic-trick formula: the set-up, known as the pledge; the turn, making something magical happen; and the prestige, letting the audience reflect on themselves and what they’ve seen. The film – and in a way, its trailer – are magic tricks in themselves: bit-by-bit they reveal subtle truths that cannot be unseen.
SO: Can you offer any advice for future graduates participating in the residency?
AM: Have a routine. The residency was a huge jump from school and university, and so prioritising and managing my time became an important balance. Enjoy making. When I started the residency I put pressure on myself to make the most of the opportunity: remember, you’ve been given the residency to explore and experiment, so push your ideas and test everything. This is a time and space where you can learn. Make the most of the gallery access: come down and sit in it, bring down artworks and try things out – when there aren’t any shows on!
SO: Where do you go from here?
AM: I’ll be applying for opportunities with New Art West Midlands. I’d like to exhibit more, to continue pushing my practice, and to see how another artists’ work might sit within the spaces and atmospheres that I’ve begun to create. I’ll be staying in Stoke-on-Trent until the summer at least. Maybe I’ll continue having a studio here at AirSpace Gallery, but I’ve also discovered that I don’t necessarily need a studio to produce my work. A space to exhibit – and to store fabric (laughs) – yes, but I’m also interested in seeing how my practice develops in other environments.
Amy-Lou Matthews, Smoke and Mirrors, AirSpace Gallery Graduate Residency, 19 January – 27 January, Stoke-on-Trent.
Instagram – @amylou.matthews.art, Twitter – @amyloumatthewsaWebsite – http://amyloumatthewsalm.wixsite.com/artist
The AirSpace Gallery Graduate Residency Scheme, running since 2012, seeks to tackle graduate retention in Stoke-on-Trent and offers new arts graduates an opportunity to bridge the gap between education and a professional arts career. Residents receive a studio space for six months, monthly mentoring meetings and full access to the Gallery’s facilities.
Selina Oakes speaks to Staffordshire University alumna Amy-Lou Matthews about her time in residence at AirSpace Gallery as part of their Graduate Residency Scheme.
Karina Marusińska is an interdisciplinary artist, lecturer and socio-cultural animator based in Wrocław, Poland, who conducted a series of art workshops with West Bromwich’s migrant communities during a 3 week residency in July. She talks to Bettina Fischer about her ideas and the outcomes of her project as well as the connected exhibition at Centrala.
For your residency project you decided to offer workshops working with glass art. What was your motivation for engaging with people in this way?
I am not a stranger to advanced techniques or professional workshops of that kind. In my public projects, I combine these two techniques. On the one hand, we use materials which are present in people’s everyday life, although as readymade products only. There is no opportunity to experience them in the creation process. On the other hand, we have to adjust the level of technique to their ability in order to experience some freedom so they can get the work done by themselves or with a little of my help. I believe that when people eventually see the spectacular effects of their work, they begin to appreciate their potential in other spheres of life as well and to see their worth.
You focused your project on dreams. Can you tell me more about their role?
It has been said that any real change in the world is first a ‘revolution in the direction of the images that govern us.’ And that is why ‘only by changing the perception, a man changes his existence’. In today’s world, people run blindly. They do not dream because they believe that some things are beyond their reach. Fortunately, dreams are for everybody. My workshops have been a turning point when family members learned about each other’s needs. In many cases, it was a big surprise for them. People have discovered what they want … because they have spent a moment thinking about it. Painting on the glass released their ‘inner child’, for which imagination knows no boundaries. Art is the sphere of life where everything is possible. I am happy to use this fact. During the exhibition, their dreams will see the light of day. I think, when dreaming out loud, the chances are that the world will be favoured for their fulfillment. It sounds naive but I proved it many times on myself.
What’s the meaning of the title of your project, ‘Good Visibility’?
‘Good Visibility’ is to see reality as it comes, and simultaneously to see the potential of change for the better. It also represents people’s dreams ‘spoken aloud’ and visible to others during the exhibition. It also acts as a positive point of view on the migrant community in the UK. ‘Good Visibility’ also applies to me. As a workshop leader, I try to discern and reinforce the resources inherent in each participant. First and foremost, however, I aim to make them self-aware and use their potential.
With this in mind, how was the response to the workshop? Can you share some of the feedback you got from participants?
Some people came to the workshop with great enthusiasm, others were very shy, so I had to encourage them to take part. They were afraid to start but once the shapes began to appear, they could not stop themselves. Some have discovered in themselves or in their children a creative potential. For others, it was a time to distance themselves from their everyday problems. But for most, my workshop became an opportunity to meet people. People of all ages, views and different backgrounds met. All these differences did not matter there. I also noticed that most people have had some difficulty finding themselves in a situation of absolute freedom.
Tell me more about the exhibition at Centrala.
The show at Centrala contained two parts. The first part is the installation of work outcomes of ‘Good Visibility’ workshop participants, along with the documentation. The second part is an artistic interruption titled ‘Viewpoint’, which will take place outside right next to Centrala Gallery. These two elements of the exhibition are different in design but both are based on the theme of the ‘filters’ imposed on our reality. Both projects utilise image manipulation strategies but they differ in motivation. I wanted to point out that we have an impact on the reality that surrounds us, even by trying to visualise and realise our dreams but above all through the active and reflective reception of the reality surrounding us.
Will you continue the project outside of Birmingham?
Yes, however certainly not in the same form. I always try to make my projects take into account the uniqueness of a place, time, cultural conditions, etc. I would like my project to be continued in the future and further developed by people who are living there because much effort is needed to engage the West Bromwich community in their creativity and self-expression.
What else are you working on?
Currently, I am in a 3-month artistic scholarship in Graz, in Austria. This time I will focus on activities in the public space. This is only the beginning, so I am not sure just yet what will happen next.
Marusińska’s show ‘What the eye doesn’t know’ was display at Centrala from 22 September 2017 until 4 November 2017. The exhibition will also be presented in Geppert’s Apartment, the Gallery of Contemporary Art, run by the project partner Art Transparent Foundation.
Bettina Fischer speaks to artist Karina Marusińska about her residency and workshops in West Bromwich and recent exhibition at Centrala.
Birmingham-based artist Faisal Hussain recently presented his first solo exhibition Suspect Objects Suspect Subjects at Centrala, a show that included Muslamic Rayguns, Prevent Cupcakes and a Muslim’s suitcase. Bettina Fischer talked to him about motivators behind his work and the need to face hatred with humour.
Looking at your past projects, you have touched on themes around migration through your heritage-based works highlighting stories of South Asian migrants in Birmingham and Spain. How has this exhibition – which approaches suffering around the victimisation of Muslim communities – come about?
The reason for that shift was that the archive-based stuff was to do with showing what was hidden and trying to decolonialise some of the ways that people of different backgrounds are often overlooked in terms of heritage. So the subject of the F.light project and the Super Migrant project was to uncover hidden parts of history. The reason that this shift took place is that I started thinking more in the present day. I started thinking about what was going on here and about how people potentially would look back at this present point in time as being quite interesting. So I tried to put myself into the future because of all the archive work and then imagine what would be good to comment on as if I was looking back, if that makes sense. And that’s why this stuff to do with victimising Muslim communities came about. Because I knew no one else was talking about it and I didn’t want to wait 10, 20 years for someone to go ‘Oh yeah, we should have talked about that!’
On a concrete level, what’s within the exhibition?
Jokes, partly. People should expect to be entertained. They should expect to be calmed, hopefully. And hopefully they will also come out with a bit more of a playful attitude to do with some of the more negative aspects of the accusations that are being thrown around certain communities.
The exhibition seems to be tied so closely to emotions.
The exhibition is built up from a lot from negativity and through this process I’ve learnt how to feed off negativity and use it as an art material. I’m really thankful for all the love that’s come out of it. But there’s been a couple of negative comments as well, which I find absolutely hilarious. I find uncovering negativity towards communities a really interesting space to play with and I think that’s where the real stuff is, the hidden, simmering, under the surface kind of hatred, not the blatant, horrible hatred of ‘Please leave our country’. It’s fun. It’s fun to make fun out of people who need to change their minds, who need to maybe learn a bit more about people from different backgrounds.
Are you using a humorous attitude as a way of overcoming and challenging hatred?
Yes, this is what I’ve learned from this project. It’s the balance between humour and ridicule. And to be able to be playful, but then if required show people the banality of their belief through ridicule. That’s where we need to question aspects of bigotry and aspects of stereotyping.
In your show you used many different media, objects mainly. How does the project’s theme play into your concept of exhibiting objects?
The subject led the work and I wanted to experiment with as many things outside my comfort zone as possible. I have always created stuff based around digital or sculptural work and I wanted this to be an opportunity to study and do as many things as possible. And that’s why you’ve got everything from cakes, to toys, to projections, to video work, through to objects found online and a certain amount of technology and model making. Because the stories and the subject matter were so varied, they lent themselves to be played with a bit more. I have to play as well and need to make sure that I’m having a good time – as well as having a bad time with art. Sometimes as an artist I think you forget that.
Are you planning on exhibiting this show somewhere else?
Yes, hopefully. It depends on what other institutions within the region say about it. Also there is the aspect that this isn’t an Islamic exhibition, it’s not a Muslim exhibition. I’m not an Islamic artist, I’m not a Muslim artist, I’m an artist who happens to be from a Muslim background and therefore this work has an application, not just because it’s talking about communities so that it would need the community labeling. I want it to be very open, I’d like it to go to places that will allow people to question certain subjects around what the exhibition’s about.
Will there be more objects added to the Suspect Objects collection?
Yeah, these are only half of the proposed objects that I wanted to create. There’s loads more and to be honest there are new ones coming up every day because there are so many contradictions to do with identity, activism, politics. As long as these contradictions are coming up, there’s always a need to question that kind of bigotry, but done in a way that is approachable and that has respect for those communities.
Are you working on anything else not immediately related to this project?
At the moment, yes, there is another project that I’m working on. It’s heritage based and again it’s about Asian youth culture and about uncovering stories and heritage to do with people growing up in Birmingham in the 1960s, to people growing up in the 2000s. The next art project that I’m hopefully going to do is potentially going to be more sculpturally based since I also make wall-mounted sculptures.
Hussain’s solo exhibition Suspect Objects Suspect Subjects was on display at Centrala Gallery, 1 September – 14 October 2017.
Birmingham-based artist Faisal Hussain recently presented his first solo exhibition Suspect Objects Suspect Subjects at Centrala. Bettina Fischer talked to him about motivators behind his work and the need to face hatred with humour.
Birmingham-based independent curator, Aly Grimes, is currently a student on the CuratorLab course at Konstfack University in Stockholm. Following a group visit to the Lofoten International Art Festival (LIAF) in Northern Norway and this year entitled ‘I Taste the Future’, she interviewed one of the contributing artists, Ann Lislegaard about her new commission for the biennial.
The Norwegian-born, Copenhagen-based artist Lislegaard here discusses science fiction, the future, and her new commission, ‘Maelstrømmen’, for the Lofoten International Arts Festival (LIAF).
Your new commission for LIAF 2017, entitled Maelstrømmen, directly anchors itself in Lofoten both physically – exhibited in an old wood workshop in the fishing village of Henningsvaer – and also through its subject matter, taking Edgar Allan Poe’s short story, ‘A Descent into the Maelstrom’ (1841) as its point of departure. It surprised me to learn that many Norwegians have never been to the Lofoten archipelago. As a native Norwegian, had you ever visited these islands?
I lived in Nordland close to Lofoten for part of my childhood and early school years. Norland is situated north of the polar circle and it is the most dramatic landscape I have ever experienced. I remember how I used go to and from school in total darkness for months – the sun never rose above the horizon line. Everything would be covered in snow and occasionally the sky would be lit by northern lights. It was intriguing and mysterious, like being on another planet. Also the maelstrom, which I used to watch from the top of a mountain. It looked like a big swirling organism, pulling and whirling, and I would speculate on what it would mean to spiral downwards, down to the bottom of the ocean. Maybe my interest in science fiction is rooted in those experiences. Later I would read Edgar Allen Poe’s short story A Decent into the Maelstrom. How he deals with the place is for sure science fiction.
Did you find that the natural surroundings of Lofoten provided inspiration for your commission? The setting itself is almost supernatural!
It was very emotional for me to be back after so many years and very inspiring. Everything there is in a state of constant change. In that sense the place feels almost animated or supernatural, like a parallel world filled with forces that affect your mind and body
This year’s biennial title, ‘I Taste the Future’, utilises science fiction as a tool for imagining futures, meanwhile attempting to engage with the past, present and future of Henningsvaer. With such an emphasis on concepts of the future and links with science fiction within your practice, this year’s theme must have really excited you?
Yes, I was happy to be invited and proud to provide inspiration for the title of the festival – it’s a rewriting of a text I wrote for Pollen Messages an earlier work of mine
Were you able to select the space in which your artwork was exhibited and if so what was your reasoning for exhibiting in the old Trevarefabrikken, the festival’s ‘startpunkt’?
I liked the complexity; walking through the factory I could still sense a dormant history in the smells, textures, dust and old heavy machines that crowded the spaces. Trevarefabrikken is connected to a time when nature was primarily seen as a place to mine, cut or harvest for our economic gain. Not much has changed today. For all our technical advances we still haven’t solved our relationship to the environment. This theme somehow informed my work, so it was interesting to project directly onto the dirty walls of the space. The projection enhanced the shadows of machinery and made them flicker. Suddenly the history of the place became part of the animated image.
How did the relationship between yourself and the curators, Heidi Ballet and Milena Hoegsberg, play out? Did they offer you free reign with your commission? Were you invited to respond without curatorial intervention?
I was interested in making a work about the whirlpool as sort of a contact zone where a kinship with life in the ocean could occur. It would be an ‘Area X’; a place where you could find new sensations and unknown organisms speaking in an alien language. We discussed this while I was working on the animation and got feedback from both Heidi and Milena.
I very much enjoyed the presentation of Maelstrømmen, in particular the separation of the two screens and speakers embedded amongst the building’s various original artefacts. The exhibition guide explains that ‘in Poe’s story, the narrator gets caught in the maelstrom and his whirl towards it becomes a kind of time travel as he passes objects from different eras’. The setting of your artwork amongst these historic objects certainly reflects this image and the near total darkness of the room sucks the viewer into the heart of the vortex. Was this your intention?
The machinery, the smell of dust and cod liver oil, everything there fascinated me from the very beginning. I had the intention of activating the space around the animation all through the work process. I hoped it would engage the history of the building and as well as what was outside, the history of the whirlpool, tides and oceanic creatures but it was only at the very end, after trying out several different versions, that I figured out how to install the piece.
Maelstrømmen manifests a 3D animation principally featuring a cyborg’s head that communicates in scores of fragmented and glitching sentences. The cyborg’s face switches from one screen to the other intermittently while the video is occasionally intercepted by clips of the swirling limbs of sea creatures. We hear “… a large octopus moved towards me in a blur of tentacles. Its body barely visible as it took on the colour and texture of whatever it p-p-passed …” I am interested to know how you arrived at the decision to present the work as a two channel video? It almost appears like the cyborg is having a conversation with itself?
I wanted to create a sense of a double and more fluid identity, both visually and on the soundtrack. The cyborg’s speech is filled with stutters, glitches and wrong sayings. Occasionally there might even be a sense of the speaking happening as a sort of transmission, that the words are flowing through it, coming from one or many external sources. I was working with this all through the process, testing different ways of presenting the animation. It turned out that presenting it as a double projection worked the best in Trevarefabrikken.
The colour intensity of the video starkly contrasts with the surrounding darkness of the room. The distinct greens and blues conjure imagery of the Aurora Borealis found on postcards in gift shops all around the islands but also more subtly, in the colour scheme of LIAF 2017. Was this a deliberate or perhaps subconscious decision?
I wanted to place the character in a twilight zone with no distinct light source, like moonshine but without a moon. The character retells the story in a sort of non-space, it adds to the confusion of where she is and where she has been. The octopus is a hybrid image and more saturated. When I filmed the octopus it was like a performance; it was whirling its tentacles like an actor enacting the cogs and wheels of a strange machine. I have never seen anything like it. Also an octopus has eight tentacles, eight brains, three hearts and each one of these can work independently as well as collaboratively on very difficult tasks. It can change form and colour in seconds, disguising itself to blend in with whatever area it moves through. The colours of the underwater scenes were defined by the water particles that drift through the images creating patterns that suggest a sort of communication or unknown language.
Positioned in the same room as Fabrizio Terranova’s film, Donna Haraway: Story Telling, one could draw a fair few visual comparisons to the work which is also punctuated with snippets of pulsating jelly fish floating around the screen. Is Haraway of interest to you?
Donna Haraway proposes the term ‘Staying with the trouble’, a story of all species as full of dying as living, endings as beginnings. The purpose of her theory is not reconciliation or restoration but the possibilities of partial recuperation and getting on together. I find this very inspiring. Haraway proposes not only a speculative fabulation or a speculative feminism, like the science fiction writers Ursula Le Guin, Marge Piercy and Joanna Ross but also speculations about how to “… reworld, reimagine, relive, and reconnect with each other, in multispecies well-being.”
Whilst Terranova’s work is a biographic piece about the life and work of Haraway and her approach to storytelling, Maelstrømmen is a self-portrait. How did you arrive at the decision to represent yourself, the narrator, as a cyborg?
I wanted to include an autobiographical element. Since I grew up in Nordland I wanted to make a direct connection to the maelstrom. Also when you create a 3D figure, they tend to look young. Making a face look more experienced, with wrinkles and wear and tear, is hard to do digitally. So it made sense to start from a 3D rendering of my own image. That said, I’m not the only person squeezed into this body. If I have the chance I might reconstruct and remodel her again for new purposes – I like that thought.
Your earlier work, Pollen Messages (2016), also depicts a 3D animated cyborg. Is this also an autobiographical work?
Pollen Messages was the first time I found a way to build a cyborg with human features. It’s not me though, but an animator named Zara. She also came out looking a lot younger than we wanted.
3D animation seems to play an integral part of your work. What brought you to this media and are you continuing to expand your practice with the use of other digital technology such as virtual reality?
I would love to work with virtual reality. Many of my works have dealt with places. It would be fantastic to be able to venture into these strange alternative worlds using virtual reality.
Much of your work references other science fiction films and writing such as Kawamata Chiaki’s novel ‘Death’ and Ridley Scott’s ‘Blade Runner’. This is also the case with your work, ‘Shadows of Tomorrow’ (2016), which borrows vocabulary from the film and re-records it through a human beatboxer. When creating a new commission, does your creative process begin by sourcing sci-fi material or do you begin by addressing your own personal concerns?
It’s hard to separate artistic and personal concerns. Like Malstrømmen a lot of my other works have dealt with the idea of a new or alien language that enables a different way of communicating. Being female and a female artist, I have always felt that I had to invent a language, both personally and artistically, since I didn’t feel like I had a language available I could use. So this theme has been present in my works since my early sound pieces.
Shadows of Tomorrow is about searching for a new language to make ‘contact’. Trying to identify rhythms and vibrations in the body as a sort of pattern recognition, a communication. I often refer to it as a space opera – it’s abstract and science fiction like – but I see this work as connected to earlier sound works of mine, like Corner Piece and I-YOU-LATER-THERE that take place in a mundane domestic setting and appear more autobiographical.
Ballet and Hoegsberg’s curatorial brief for this year’s LIAF was to imagine life 150 years from now. As your work so often addresses the future, was this a challenge for you and is this something you think you have achieved with Maelstrømmen?
Well, the cyborg might live in the future, 150 years from now. Maybe she’ll be found by a group of young artist animators and sent out on new adventures. Hmmm … that is probably not likely to happen. Anyhow, I’m happy that the work proposes a different way of interacting with and seeing the environment. Many other people are coming up with ideas and proposals for this, both within the arts, and critically, like Haraway. The Brazilian president Michel Temer just opened up a large part of the Amazon for the mining and the logging industry. It means that a pristine nature reserve the size of Germany will more than likely be destroyed. In Denmark 10 wolves in Jutland are causing endless debate. And people are putting poison out to kill the few beautiful sea eagles that nest on the countryside. We really have to solve our problematic relationship to our surroundings. It becomes more urgent by the day. Hopefully art can contribute to this as well.
Birmingham-based independent curator Aly Grimes interviews artist Ann Lislegaard about her work for the Lofoten International Arts Festival, north Norway.
We chat to Katie Boyce, recently appointed Senior Visual Arts Officer at Rugby Art Gallery to find out about her interests and upcoming plans.
Can you tell me more about your role as Senior Visual Arts Officer? What does a typical day look like?
My role at Rugby Art Gallery is quite varied. It mainly consists of working with artists to curate and produce a high quality temporary exhibitions programme that will develop and grow our audiences. I seek external funding to help us deliver the exhibitions and support our audience development projects as well as work with the regional visual artists to nurture the creative community. We are also very lucky to own a renowned contemporary collection that I curate and care for, including conservation, loans, new acquisitions etc.
What attracted you to the position?
I had been working at Kettering Museum & Art Gallery for about 6 years and I felt that I had accomplished all that I could there. I needed a change and a new challenge to focus on. My role at Kettering was extremely varied from exhibitions and events to education and marketing, as well as working with a historical collection and a listed building. I wanted to specialise more with exhibitions and develop my skills as a curator. Rugby were offering the ideal post, which allowed me to not only work with artists to develop an exciting exhibitions programme but also shape their growing collection through new acquisitions.
What projects are you working on or hoping to develop?
Currently I am working on our annual Open exhibition which opens in November. It will be a good chance for me to see the wealth of talent that lies within and around Rugby. These exhibitions are a great way to support local artists as well as emerging new talent and give them a platform to shout about their work.
As well as this I am working on the programme for 2018, which will lead with a theme of ‘People and Identity’. Each spring, Rugby’s nationally known collection of 20th century and contemporary British art is exhibited; curated to encourage new readings and audiences. To introduce the people and identity theme, the exhibition will tell the story of some of the artists in the collection. I am working on the project as we speak and will be carrying out the research over the next couple of months. I am really excited about this particular exhibition as it is a great way for me to delve into the stores and learn about the artworks that are held within them.
Future plans include securing a sculpture exhibition for the gallery. As an artist myself I have always had passion for sculpture and large installation pieces and Cornelia Parker have always been a huge influence to my work. Rugby has the most amazing exhibition space and I am really excited to test the boundaries and see what works in the space.
I understand you have some connections with Coventry. Can you tell me more about these and what it’s like to be working within the West Midlands again?
In 2005 (oh my god, was it that long ago!!!), I embarked on a 4 year journey at Coventry University as a Fine Art student. I loved every minute of my experience and developed my art practice dramatically – changing from drawing and painting to metalwork, sculpture and photography. Towards the end of my degree I started volunteering at The Herbert Art Gallery on their exhibitions and events team and soon into my time there an internship post came available.
My time there was extremely valuable, working closely with the team to develop exhibitions; install and facilitate events. I was lucky enough to curate my own show whilst I was there, which included my own work, giving me the confidence to have a few more exhibitions with my work. I was with The Herbert for about 18 months, before they encouraged me to apply for a post graduate degree in Museum and Gallery Studies, which I grabbed with both hands.
Coming back to the West Midlands has been quite nice as I have been able to make connections from where I left off and see all those people that helped me in my early stages of my career. Even though I have only stepped over the border from Northamptonshire there seems to be a strong buzz for the arts here and it’s very refreshing.
What do you think the specifics of this region offer to artists and audiences?
I think Rugby is very fortunate to have an Arts Development Officer (Jo Bailey), who helps artists gain the confidence to do more with their work, supporting them through a network of people that can encourage them and nurture them through their practice.
I have noticed that the West Midlands is very diverse and one region, say Warwickshire, differs immensely from, say, Coventry in terms of their art offer and the artist networks within them. So from an audience point of view, galleries are able to show this diversity within their exhibitions. I think a lot has changed within the region since I was last based here so I will enjoy getting to know all the exciting projects that Rugby can get involved in over time.
What Do I Need to Do to Make It OK? runs at Rugby Art Gallery until 4 November 2017.
We chat to Katie Boyce, recently appointed Senior Visual Arts Officer at Rugby Art Gallery to find out about her interests and upcoming plans.
We speak to Chicago-based artist Nick Briz, one of 10 artists showing in No Copyright Infringement Intended, a group exhibition, curated by Antonio Roberts. Taking place at Vivid Projects until 23 September, the exhibition explores the collision of digital art and copyright issues.
ok, i’ll try to answer as many of ur questions at once as i can (^__^) >> not sure how much u know about the story behind the Rihanna SNL performance, but in Nov of 2012 Rihanna performed live on Saturday Night Live (SNL) in front of a green screen (so that the audience @home would see her superimposed over other backgrounds), not xactly groundbreaking, but tbh i don’t think i had ever seen someone do that on SNL. the images/scenes she was superimposed over seemed weird/trippy to most, but more than familiar to a small group of net artists which also overlapped w/a small online-subculture which was being referred to as ‘seapunk’ at the time. that community got pissed, feeling their aesthetic/scene/culture had been co-opted && online publications were quick to write about the backlash (the knowyourmeme entry for seapunk has a good list of articles re: the Rihanna “controversy”). as someone in the net art community i was seeing a lot of my friends making upset posts on social media re:the situation && it reminded me of something i had gone through a few years earlier.
i think it was sometime in 2008 when Kanye West had released a music video for his track “Welcome to Heartbreak”, this video featured a glitch aesthetic (specifically a technique known as datamosh). glitch art is another community i’ve been heavily involved in for years && before the Kanye video this community was relatively small, few people (including artists) had heard of glitch art. so when the Kanye video dropped folks in the community were pissed, i had friends claiming that glitch had been co-opted && it was the beginning of the end. the reality however was that glitch art had now been introduced to a much larger community, after that Kanye video glitch became much more popular, so much so that my glitch friends && i were able to organise a glitch conference (called GLI.TC/H) 3 years in a row (which Antonio also helped out on) as a result of the increased popularity we’ve now got A LOT of shi//y glitch art online, but at the same time, most of my fav glitch artists are folks who didn’t discover glitch until after the Kanye xplosion. the story behind the Kanye video is interesting, but i don’t want to digress too much… the reason i bring it up is b/c it was a big eye opening moment for me as an artist, at the time i felt glitch had been co-opted but i realised that was too simplistic a view of how culture worx. Kanye hadn’t “co-opted” glitch, he simply joined the conversation && of course (given his status) had a big impact on it, the results of which where both good && bad (but in my opinion, mostly good. .. even though the video itself might had been a little lame (>_O)).
so bax to Rihanna, when this happened i couldn’t help but feel like my fellow net artists weren’t seeing the bigger picture on social media, this is part of how culture worx, no one owns the conversation (it wouldn’t be a conversation if u were the only one allowed to have it). a few years b4 some of the artists in this community had made an xtremely influential glitch art piece using a Rihanna music video … && though i’m not trying to equate an underground artist’s appropriation of a large pop star w/her appropriation of an underground artist (there’s a clear power-imbalance there) it’s important to remember that in a way we (net artists) had already started this cultural remix “conversation” w/her.
i wanted to make something in re: to the way my community was reacting to the Rihanna performance in a way that was both sympathetic (like i said, i had already xperienced that feeling of co-option) but also helped them realise that this is how the cultural convo worx. i wanted to make something that would take the energy they were spending on making angry social media posts about Rihanna ‘copying’ their work && redirect it towards making new work ‘copying Rihanna copying their work’ >> ie. get them bax in the cultural remix discourse. the whole green screen aspect of it reminded me of this Oliver Laric piece i absolutely love called ‘Touch My Body (Green Screen Version)‘ (which came out around the same time as that Kanye glitch video), where Laric took that Mariah Carey music video && went through frame by frame replacing all the backgrounds w/green so that it could be remixed online (very “Internet”, much “remix”). && so i figured it made the most sense to remix his idea into another remix project which would invite these internet remix artists to remix Rihanna’s remix of their work.
i called my younger brother (who’s great w/after effects) && asked him if he could quickly do what Laric did to this Rihanna performance. so he did that to as much of the performance as he could in one night && then we put it up online, && naturally the community started remixing && the cultural convo continued in the productive way i was hoping it would (^__^) (w/more remixing, rather than sh*t posting). && the conversation literally did continue, i started collecting the remixes on my website && then the agency which had produced that performance for Rihanna on SNL reached out to me to see if there was some way she could collaborate w/this community of artist directly (unfortunately that never worked out, interesting story though, but again, i’ll try not to digress).
u asked what i’d hope an audience would take away from the work, tbh i never intended to show this work in galleries or anything like that, the audience was always supposed to be my community of net artists who had felt co-opted. like i said, i know && sympathise w/that feeling, but i’ve also come to realise that culture is a complicated conversation && feeling co-opted in a situation like this means ur missing the bigger picture. i wanted to help my community see this as an opportunity, as part of the convo && so that’s why i posted the green screen version, so they would remix it && get their feelz out that way. i think it’s great that folks have wanted to share the piece in different contexts (like this show for xample) but i never really intended it for larger audiences (so i’ve never really thought about what they’d get out of it).
We speak to Chicago-based artist Nick Briz, one of 10 artists showing in No Copyright Infringement Intended at Vivid Projects.
For the majority, our comprehension of sex begins through the plethora of imagery filtered into society by the media, the porn industry and education. Whether directly or inadvertently, we come into contact with this image-heavy sexual landscape which, after decades of existence, is difficult to shatter and revisualise into something that acknowledges all bodies, identities and sexualities. While artists may not appear to be an obvious choice to tackle its unbalanced portrayal, artists, with their visual literacy, are able to facilitate new dialogues and decipher another, more collective understanding. The Bedfellows project is a platform forged from the personal, political and professional perspectives of three practitioners who are dismantling contorted sexual constructs to build an inclusive future.
Last month, artists Chloe Cooper, Phoebe Davies and Jenny Moore hauled 25 vacuum-packed duvets, stacks of books, zines, fetishist objects and an oblong table displaying feminist porn from their studios in London to AirSpace Gallery in Stoke-on-Trent. This was the beginning of Bedfellows’ next venture, which, following a recent commission at Tate Exchange, was in search of a place to nest, incubate, reflect and grow with the material that they have been gathering for the last four years.
During their residency, the resourceful trio created an intimate haven from which members of the public could discuss sexual identity and sex education today. A public-facing Open Weekend enabled the artists to have frank conversations with local residents and organisations such as Galaxy – a group for people aged 13-18 who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender, or people questioning their sexuality or gender. Discussions were also shared with sexual health experts from The Piccadilly Project and support workers from Savana, who provide support for anyone who has experienced or is affected by any form of sexual violence.
The Gallery’s street-level window provided an ideal point of engagement where passersby stopped to notice the array of sexual paraphernalia that had replaced the more familiar aesthetics of a visual art gallery. Perplexed or intrigued, most pondered to consider whether these items were inviting or confrontational. Inside, visitors found Clubhouse – an open access research centre where white duvets offered a cosy shelter; a podcast provided the friendly voice of a radio talk show host as she recounted her ongoing journey with the concept of sexual consent; a monitor showing videos spanning topics of sex including disability and definitions of queer; and a brightly coloured bookshelf – adorned with a Humanifesto – summed up the project’s mission. So, what drives these artists to challenge the taboo perspectives that distort our associations with sex?
Phoebe Davies recalls the moment and sentiments that brought them together four years ago: “I remember we were all frustrated about recent experiences we’d had concerning pornography and sex education. These concerns felt urgent and we began having conversations in pubs, studios, over breakfast and dinner.”
Jenny Moore adds, “We were talking about porn: we’d all had experiences of having discussions with people about what porn was or wasn’t for.” She comments “And it was our shared experiences of being in the same place at the same time that helped us to grow a solidarity where we were confident to say ‘Yes, we’re frustrated by how we are allowed to enact our own politics as artists’.”
Sex, of course, is a central part of the project – as is making it accessible to multiple audiences beyond its stereotypical taboos. So, what does the word mean to the artists? A humorous response from Chloe Cooper kicks things off: “It’s a portal between my clitoris and politics!”
This frankness is key to the delivery of the project – here are three women who are prepared to speak out and discuss a range of sex-related topics. Moore tells me that “Sex is a prism in a room of mirrors, where someone can see behind themselves or another person without being aware of what they’re looking at. It’s a spacious landscape that the rules of my body can really explore.”
These two exuberant responses are complimented by Davies’ connection with sex as “complicated and something that is also very private. It’s dangerous when you don’t have the right tools to talk about it. Sex is also a release – it is similar to running, dancing or raving: spaces where you can let go.”
Much of Bedfellows’ research centres on feminist porn, sexual identity, desire and consent in order to stimulate conversations with young people in schools and members of the public.
“Feminist porn is a sex education topic that people aren’t addressing. Everyone we talk to agrees that we can look at porn to learn things. But it’s also a $97 billion dollar industry.” Moore’s awareness of its synchronic use and risk enables porn to be broken down into other topics: “It can be argued that mainstream porn is heterosexist – it shows only one type of sexual identity.”
The same could be said of sex education, which has become archaic in its exclusion of LGBTQ identities, as well as its bashfulness in discussing desire: “Porn is mixed with a lot of confused emotion about lust – it’s important to address the issue of how do we really know what we desire? How do you learn and express it? Desire is stuck in people’s bodies with no language.”
Consent is another topic that many individuals are apprehensive to speak about. “If you don’t give your consent people assume that you don’t have desires. And it’s important to ask, why did no-one tell me I was allowed to say no? Or how to say no, or how to decide that I knew we wanted to say no?”
Moore stresses the fact that mainstream material tends to provide examples of the extremes, with no alternatives. “That’s why we’re calling it a sex re-education project. It began with re-educating ourselves – beyond what the media, mainstream porn and schools teach us.” This search for alternative imagery opened up the artists’ perspectives on porn.
For Davies, “I didn’t necessarily start with a porn positive perspective. I saw mainstream porn as a dangerous tool for learning about relationships. Finding out about alternative imagery opened that up. And the desire thing is interesting – once you know what you want, then you can be more safe in figuring out how you want to do that.”
The question remains, what can Bedfellows bring to the conversation alongside sexual health experts? Cooper responds, “Meeting people who work within sexual health in Stoke-on-Trent has shown us the overwhelming generosity of those involved in the sector. We are not experts in this – we’re merely saying let’s talk about it. Our work is a sex re-education: it addresses the way that things are reduced to basic classifications such as you’re this and you like this, that’s ok, and you’re this and you like that, that’s not ok. We need to be more creative – something which I took from a Heart radio podcast called No.”
The artists’ modest admission that they are not experts leaves room for non-hierarchial learning, growth and communication. Moore is mindful of what, as artists, they can provide, “We’re not trained in public health; we’re trained in images, in making and in thinking. We can do the visualising, imagining and experimenting alongside sexual health professionals who are dealing with practical solutions for STIs, HIV, abortions and sexual assault.”
During their time at the gallery, the trio hosted an Open Weekend where they got to know professionals, the public and local support groups – some of whom told the artists “you should be proud of what you’re doing.” Their response to this was “But it’s nothing compared to what they’re doing.”
With an expression full of excitement, Moore highlights the synergy between art and sexual health, “That moment of coming together felt like art really matters! And sexual health matters, and the project matters. These two things give life to each other. To me, the best kind of art can exist in slower, smaller ways. It reminds me of the 1980s Artists Placement Group, where they were trying to boost art’s social value by placing artists in government departments, oil companies and transportation boards. This is the first project that I’ve worked on where we’re actually working in a field that is not ours. And yet, we are doing so successfully as artists; adding to a conversation that is not just art.”
Davies reflects on the fact that all three artists also have backgrounds in education. And there’s the added bonus of creativity: “We are performers, movers and writers, bringing skill sets that might not otherwise appear in traditional workshop settings. We can work with focus groups to make zines and prints, promoting different ways in which to access sex education.”
These alternative ways of learning which litter Clubhouse have enabled an equally wide ranging audience to engage with Bedfellows. The artists are also keen to point out that none of it is new – they are merely unearthing pre-existing material. “It’s about acknowledging the material” says Cooper, “All of the resources that are in the Gallery are out in the world – and all we’ve done is googled the hell out of it, spoken to lots of people, and tried to spend time bringing it together. We’re providing points for people to pull on.” The variety of different media and perspectives means that there is something for everyone, “if someone doesn’t like reading, they can watch a video or listen to a podcast. If someone wants to have a conversation, there’s space for that as well. It’s also important to have a multiplicity of voices – that also contradict each other.”
This is true in every sense. There are articles and videos on sex and disability; zines on rape and abuse; podcasts on consent and acceptance. “It would be ridiculous for the three of us to represent sex education alone” says Moore, “We’re three white women, all of a similar age, and if you think in a feminist porn context, our voices have been quite well heard. We benefit from feminism as it is right now. I question whether we can use this privilege to change the conversation.”
They’re keen to highlight the collaborative nature of their work, Davies stating “there were over 60 people in our credits list for an iteration of the Clubhouse at Tate Exchange.” Adding to their conversation and replenishing their confidence in the project is their encounter with Jo Bradley, Commissioner for Sexual Health in the area. “We’ve never been taken seriously by someone who works in public health before” says Moore. “Personally, I will take away a sense of solidarity against what seems to be a wider network of mainstream culture, patriarchy and capitalism. Meeting other people who are doing the same work but differently, is heartening.”
Sparked by their conversation with Bradley, Bedfellows is looking at how they can contribute to the sex education curriculum. “The bill for compulsory sexual and relationships education in schools from 2019 has recently been passed. But, we don’t know what they are actually going to teach.”
Cooper describes the potential in this vagueness: “We [Bedfellows] should ask people what should be taught – and we should tell the government what people want and need.”
The foundation of this collectively written curriculum is reflected in Bedfellows’ Humanifesto, as Cooper points out, “… something that includes all our bodies, our desires, our complexities, for it to be feminist and queer.” Moore adds that the curriculum should “make space for different types of bodies, and also to make space for those surviving sexual assault.” The list is constantly growing as Bedfellows collates responses from people of all ages during workshops and residencies. “The conversations we had with 14-16 year olds from Galaxy are an example of the intergenerational thing that we’re trying to do. Knowledge transfer comes from all sides [and generations]. It’s important to provide a place for people’s own versions.”
As artists, they are looking to be innovative, and develop more experiential ways in which the curriculum could be taught such as movement, sound and physicality. “The body learns things that the mind will only understand later. What if guided meditation could be used in sex education? What if writing – your own life story, own sex story, your own sexuality – was a part of sex education?” asks Moore.
Davies also points out that they lead discursive sessions called SEX TALK MTGs with a wide range of ages. “We want sex education to be a lifelong thing.” A major part of the project is setting up frameworks where adults and young people can interact with each other without having to be teachers or students or parents. “Could we create these scenarios – the SEX TALK MTGs where an 18 year old is having a conversation with a 40 year old? And how do you pay attention to all the details so that it’s not age specific or discriminatory? Earlier this year, we ran the same workshop with two generational groups at Tate Exchange. It worked a charm because both groups don’t know how to talk about sex” says Moore.
Bedfellows uses bodily, sexual imagery – photographic, filmic and drawn – to explore its subject. “I’m constantly referencing queer sexy ladies” laughs Davies, who clarifies that, whilst depictions of sexual body parts and activities are featured, the objectification of bodies, specifically those of women, is not on the agenda. “We are focusing on opening up conversations about both ‘male’ and ‘female’ body parts.”
Davies reflects on how important it is to acknowledge every part of women’s bodies, not just “tits and waist” or “the parts we find attractive,” as well as men’s bodies and intersex people’s bodies. “It’s important to acknowledge that there are other types of bodies and that it’s not a binary.” Cooper separates her imagery from art historical objectification through a clear comparison: “‘Female’ figures in art history are alone, a bit naked and looking out – they’re available for us. The people that I’ve drawn are having sex with people that they’ve chosen. They are not here for us.”
While Bedfellows is keen to differentiate itself from, as Moore puts it, “the nipped and tucked white vulvas on the Internet,” the artists are aware that they can’t erase these references. “The best thing you can do is agitate and complicate. The work is a fine line as it comes from frustration of objectification.”
Providing an alternative are the visual and literary aids of Clubhouse. “There’s a great video of two people with physical disabilities calling up careworkers and sexworkers to assist them in having sex called #gettingsome: Disabled and sexually active” Cooper reflects on a key resource. “It’s important because people don’t talk about sex and disability – or the different ways that we experience intimacy.”
Davies selects Make Your Own Relationship User Guide, a zine by Meg-John and Justin as one of her favourites. “It suggests different shapes and options on how you may choose to have relationships with sexual partners.” Moore angles towards John Barker’s Men Unlearning Rape from the 1990s. “It just blew my mind – where are these men? I’d never heard of a men’s group creating a space for other men to discuss what society tells them about sex.” Another of Moore’s favourites is the Scarleteen. “It’s an American sex education website with an amazing sexual inventory which talks about all the possible things that you could ever want to do. If someone had shown me this as a teenager my whole life would be different.”
Continuously learning and building on their archive through conversations and workshops, Bedfellows is focusing their efforts towards the realisation of a collective consultation document for the 2019 sex and relationships education curriculum. “I feel really inspired about being this other voice – getting all of these artists together who come to our research groups to contribute to a consultation document” says Moore.
With their next public event taking place at the Walker Art Gallery in Liverpool as part of Coming Out – an exhibition that marks the 50th anniversary of the partial decriminalisation of male homosexual acts in England and Wales – the artists are looking to make waves in the sex education sector. Be on the lookout for Bedfellows’ creative activities that unmask a multitude of sexual identities, options and desires for a plethora of generations.
Bedfellows will be at the Walker Art Gallery in Liverpool on 28 September 2017.
Tweet Bedfellows @WeAreBedfellows
Email Bedfellows firstname.lastname@example.org
Selina Oakes speaks with the three artists of Bedfellows, Chloe Cooper, Phoebe Davies and Jenny Moore, recently on residence at AirSpace Gallery, Stoke-on-Trent.
Emilie Gervais, an artist based in Marseille, is one of 10 UK and international artists showing in No Copyright Infringement Intended, a group exhibition, curated by Antonio Roberts. Taking place at Vivid Projects, following its first outing at Phoenix Leicester, the exhibition explores the ways in which artists are grappling with issues of copyright in the digital age.
Can you tell me more about the work you are showing and its title?
I’m showing a painting of Princess Peach titled Still not Sure if Art or Copyright Infringement. The title is related to my first version of the work, an A3 limited edition print of another painting of Princess Peach titled Not Sure if Art or Copyright Infringement. It’s a digital painting made with Gimp based on an image of Princess Peach. It’s a caricature slightly highlighting some of her character traits. The limits between what’s art and what is copyright infringement is questionably often blurred.
Where are its sources or starting points drawn from?
The work is inspired by the Not Sure if Art or Copyright Infringement Fry meme. I was browsing art related memes on different websites and it’s the one that ended up being the most appealing to me. I saved it on my computer and it stayed there for a couple of months, lost in a folder. Whenever I save an image to my computer, I try to eventually make something out of it – images I save are usually ones that inspire me somehow. The Fry meme and Princess Peach images were both in the same folder. I was about to delete them when I felt they should be combined. So I replaced Fry’s portrait by painting Princess Peach very roughly – which led to a doubtful portrait of Princess Peach.
How is the work being displayed in Birmingham? Is this different from other display sites?
In Birmingham and elsewhere, the work is always displayed as a tiled background image that repeats itself endlessly until the zone it has to cover is covered entirely. It’s always site-specific. Sometimes, other works are displayed within or above it (using the background zone as a frame for example).
In addition to issues of copyright and distribution, is there something at play with regard to the representation of women within this piece of work?
Every woman has a bit of Princess Peach inside. Princess Peach is a political mastermind within Mushroom Kingdom. Isn’t she?
No Copyright Infringement Intended runs from 1 – 23 September 2017 at Vivid Projects.
Emilie Gervais, based in Marseille, is one of 10 artists showing in No Copyright Infringement Intended, curated by Antonio Roberts at Vivid Projects. We find out more.
Bettina Fischer sat down with her on the opening evening of her new exhibition Terra Firma to find out more.
Amongst other works, your exhibition exploring the canals features a series of portraits of people living on narrowboats. How did this idea come about?
During the first weekend of my residency I had a bit of a mini depression. It is quite an emotional experience working away from home and being submerged in a new environment. A lot of things happen in a short period of time and you miss your usual surroundings. Everything becomes really unbalanced. At this point I was a little bit lost. So, I thought I have to find a way of getting out of this emotional state and go out, do something. I went for a walk and found this beautiful oak tree in Cannon Hill Park which calmed me down. As I was cycling back along the canal in Balsall Heath I spotted a mosque and a church in the background. This image struck me visually with the graffiti and the river in the foreground so I started taking pictures. That’s when Jill appeared and asked me what I was doing. This was the start of a long conversation about her experience of living around the area over the past two decades and a source of inspiration for me. Jill became the first subject of the photo portraits in the exhibition.
How did you find the subjects comprising the series?
These encounters happened differently every time. Usually I would try to stay by the canals, sometimes I would meet someone and start a conversation and eventually make a photograph. But mostly these encounters generate each other – one person leads you to another, but there were some random ones as well.
What else can we expect to see in your exhibition?
As well as the photograph series of people living and working on the canals there is a series of video blogs which document the artist residency itself. It tells the story of how the photograph series came together. The third part of the exhibition is a projection of other photographs I took during the residency. They are also connected to the canals, but they are more personal, amongst other things picturing my time on the narrowboat I lived on.
The title of your exhibition is Terra Firma. What does the phrase mean to you and how does it relate your project?
‘Terra Firma’ means ‘solid earth’ in Latin and we chose it as a title because it hints at the relationship we have to our home wherever it may be. For me it encapsulates a sense of longing and a search for the stories and personalities that make a place. So it made sense to use the phrase to describe this new body of work I created for the exhibition. Even if you live on water, your sense of belonging will be connected to a kind of stability that is rooted in the people who live around you.
Is there anything particular you will take with you from your residency in Birmingham? How did the experience influence your work?
This was my first residency experience after graduating from my MA earlier this year and as such it was a huge challenge. I was here for a month which sometimes felt like a long time but actually was a very short amount of time to get to know a place and create new works at the same time. I have definitely learnt a lot from the experience and I documented ups and downs in the video blogs featured in the exhibition. For me as a documentary photographer the residency format was an interesting way of working and I hope to do more of it in the future.
Are you working on anything else at the moment? Do you have any other projects coming up in the near future?
At the moment my MA degree show work is featured in the Best of Diploma exhibition at the Hungarian University of Fine Arts. It’s been well received in the local press and I have a few interviews coming up when I return home. I was also approached by a couple of galleries to do shows with them. One of these exhibitions are going to be photograph based but I still haven’t decided how to approach the other one. I just know it’s going to be about body-consciousness, focusing on the female body which is also the theme of my degree show exhibition. I also have some projects in Italy and other ongoing projects in Hungary. One of them involves drawing animations for a documentary about veteran pilots from World War II which will be quite different from my usual work but I enjoy taking my work in new directions.
Barbara Mihályi’s exhibition Terra Firma is open until 16 September 2017 at Centrala Gallery.
Bettina Fischer speaks to Barbara Mihályi about her residency and exhibition at Centrala exploring Birmingham’s canals.
We catch up with Amelia Beavis-Harrison, newly appointed ESP & Public Programmer at Eastside Projects. Yorkshire-born Amelia has until recently been based in Oslo, Norway, and has a busy independent practice as both artist and curator dealing with socio-political subjects.
Can you tell us more about your work as an artist and curator? What projects are you currently working on?
I see my curatorial work as an extension of my artistic practice, often sharing related interests and ideas between the two as a mutually influencing way of working. My artistic practice is largely performance-based focusing on using language as a way to question socio-political situations, and the organisations I have been a part of and established have often had this same level of questioning. Kunst Vardo, for example is a nomadic platform commissioning artists to very directly respond to themes relevant to the geographical situation the project takes place in.
At Eastside Projects I’m currently working on a programme that runs parallel to Policy Show, which opens in September. The programme is called Reaction School and is a series of micro-master classes with artists and thinkers from across the UK, focusing on how to visualise policies/politics and get active. It brings together some of my own interests in activism and policy change whilst being hands on.
I’m also currently in the middle of preparing two of my own exhibitions in September. The first is a solo-show at Tenthaus in Oslo exploring bias in the media, and the second is a group show at The Museum of Non-Conformist Art in St Petersburg, Russia.
What drew you to the role of ESP and Public Programmer at Eastside Projects?
Eastside Projects is an example of how an artist-led organisation can operate on the same level as a curated institution, and it was important for me to join an organisation that both supported and encouraged those values. I have predominantly worked with site-specific programmes that focus on an event based structure and the role seemed to fit very seamlessly with my background and interests. I am very invested in the self-empowerment of individuals, and the ethos of ESP being member-driven and running in parallel to Eastside Projects, opposed to under, is something I want to champion.
What are you looking forward to within the role?
I have an ambition to meet all the members of ESP, and to get the voices of the ESP community heard. It’s a big task but by no means impossible. We are also in the process of establishing a development platform for women to take them to the next level within their practice. Female artists and practitioners are globally underrepresented, and although this is starting to be addressed and considered more widely within programming and collections management, we wanted to make a firm commitment to the development of female practices. I am looking forward to finding out how we shape the programme and what particular needs female practitioners have that are currently not addressed in established development programmes. This could be anything from childcare demands to making the female voice heard.
What have been your experiences of being based in the West Midlands so far?
I have only just moved to the West Midlands after re-locating from Oslo. It took me a little while to adjust back to UK living but it becomes familiar very quickly. Before Oslo I was based in Nottingham and came to Birmingham for exhibitions and events. Luckily now the train ride is a bit quicker.
One of my very first experiences of Birmingham was attending a Re:Flux concert curated by aas and Ensemble Interakt at St Paul’s Church in 2008. I seem to remember there being a lot of repetitive noise and the use of a piano. Birmingham’s changed a lot since then, and is set to change again as Digbeth goes through a period of flux and gentrification with HS2. I’m looking forward to seeing what reactions and responses come with the change.
We catch up with Amelia Beavis-Harrison, newly appointed ESP & Public Programmer at Eastside Projects.
Earlier in the summer we spoke with the first three artist residents of Glasshouse, a group residency at The New Art Gallery Walsall and Eastside Projects – Alice Gale-Feeny, Joe Fletcher Orr and Bryony Gillard
Since 4 July, artists Tom Verity, based in Stoke-on-Trent and James Lomax, based in Birmingham, have been undertaking the second part of this residency programme in The New Art Gallery Walsall’s Artists’ Studio. Anneka French found out more.
Anneka French: So, you are roughly half way through your residency …
James Lomax: I think we are both beginning to get to the direction we want to take things.
AF: Before you came, did you have specific aims or strategies in mind or were things more open?
Tom Verity: I had the materials planned but left it quite open. I think you’ve got to with a residency.
JL: I applied with something quite prescribed ideas – looking at two specific motifs in my work – reflections of water which I’d been screen printing on glass and Perspex, and Venetian blinds which have been coming up a lot in my work. I was interested to find out why I’m using these motifs and materials. I think it was 4-5 months between applying for the residency and coming here but through doing a couple of shows in the meantime, I actually worked quite a lot of that stuff out and I’ve decided that these things were isolated to individual works. It’s important to try and find the next motifs that might carry through. My work is specific to a memory, place or situation.
AF: How have you responded to place and context here? Previous works have had a lot of quite domestic reference points.
JL: I haven’t based work specifically on the galleries but I’ve done a lot of walking around outside and inside and spent time talking to people. The way I start research is by walking around a town. I’ve taken lots of photographs but haven’t had any of them developed yet. I have those images in my memory. The mundane experiences become a research tool. I’ve been looking a lot at history books in the shop on Walsall. These kinds of books are written by someone who has ties to the area and they are quite personal things. I will often draw on something within those as a starting point. That has taken me to making these large concertina screens though I’ve decided it wasn’t working.
AF: Tom, tell me about the materials you’ve been using.
TV: Ropes and weights. It’s strange when you invite people to the studio because none of the pieces are finished and I don’t really like any of them. You have to take forward the bits that are working.
AF: It’s a visible context for making. How have you worked with the context of the gallery?
TV: I have previously worked quite directly with that kind of information but I thought this time it might be better to go with the flow. I thought it might be quite boring for audiences otherwise so I’ve left the influences to happen more naturally. It’s probably slightly too early to say how.
JL: I think you have to be quite careful coming into a residency and making work about a place. Someone asked me about the use of leather and of course Walsall has a leather making industry and I’d be lying if I said it wasn’t on my mind. I’ve been buying chamois leathers from Poundland because it’s right outside the gallery.
AF: So the materials are as much about that proximity as history then?
JL: It’s as much about that and about my own personal experiences and also just working with a different material. I made these angular formal structures using leatherette and I really didn’t like them and now I’m using a way more natural material to make something more irregular and organic and hopefully more anthropomorphic. I don’t know how the material is going to react. I’m stitching together these structures and filling them with expanding foam and they do their own thing.
AF: Can you tell me more about how you are selecting materials, James? There are lots of art technician and DIY-related materials.
JL: All these things are bodging materials, I would say. They are quick fixes and I’ve never used them in an art gallery environment. Part of the reason why I want to use them is because I’m intrigued by them and I don’t know how they are going to behave. These adhesives are new to me. They come out of the tubes in these colours. I try and keep away from art materials because of the language that goes with them. I want the materials to have a domestic reference.
AF: The adhesive pieces have a definite baking reference to them.
JL: Yeah, they are delicate structures and precarious. I made some from a solvent free version and they were hanging from the ceiling. The next day they’d fallen and shattered so it is a learning curve with materials.
AF: Can we talk about colour within both of your works? James, you’ve used things as they come and Tom you have made some more specific decisions on colour?
TV: I’ve selected things like the ropes from the colour options available. I wouldn’t say these colours are fully finished as they are test works. But going back to references, this piece on the wall has a reference to the thing on the back of train seats where you can store objects – I’ve been travelling on the train every day. I’ve been thinking about geometric structures of painting and more historical still life paintings of letters and other objects trapped on noticeboards. The framework allows you to play and swap objects in and out.
JL: Although I’ve been working with things that come in their natural colour, colour is important to the work and I select materials according to their colouring. These pieces could all be pink but I want them to be pink and green, kind of like Drumstick lollipops. The material has a skin and you can press it in with your thumb, a little bit like chewing gum. In the last show I did, I was working with cyanotype processes which were connected to what the work was about.
TV: The materials are representing themselves in my work. Similarly, all the fixings are on the front – there is nothing hidden away, which shows an honesty to the materials and the making processes.
JL: Do you think it’s important to reference the fact that you studied painting? I always frame your work within painting.
TV: Not really but those things come into my thinking. Jeremy Moon’s abstract paintings are influences. I like the lines I’m using to have a use, in that they are holding things to the wall and a use in their visual aspect. They are doing something.
AF: How much have you been here together? Do you think that your works are speaking to each other or being influenced by each other?
TV: We’ve been in at least 2 days a week together.
JL: We cross over quite a lot. I wouldn’t say Tom’s work has fed into mine but I think the way we have used the space has. Tom was using the walls so I decided to do something in the middle of the room. I’m jealous of your speed of working because I have to really build up.
TV: I can work quickly but a lot of it is bad. This is useful because you move quickly through ideas but they are not made as well as they could be and might not have chance to express themselves. I’m looking for the core ideas to be solid before I develop them into something well made. The screen you made had a high production value.
JL: I think that’s the thing I didn’t like about it. Sometimes I make something that I’m not fully happy with. I knew what that screen was going to do before I made it but these other materials are much more unpredictable. I put the adhesive chain together this morning and I didn’t know how it was going to work as a thing. The production value and preciseness of the screen and the fact that I’ve worked as a fabricator mean that I know how those things work and there is no intrigue there. The problem with my way of working is it takes me 2 or 3 weeks to know I’ve got it wrong.
AF: Both works have an obvious tension – things being suspended, objects piercing others – could you say something about that?
TV: I like the work to be physically active. Tension is a by-product of that. Chance and precariousness bring something else to the work.
JL: I’m trying to bring different objects together to create a kind of character around a piece of work. I feel like I am constructing a kind of character through the different materials. I build a picture in my mind of an individual and scenarios that are sometimes based on a specific happening or place. I’m interested in organic forms and a lot of my work is figure-like when I look back at it – more like portraiture. Something more angular is more like a still life, if that makes sense.
AF: Is it important that the person or story is kept secret?
JL: Yeah it is. It’s something I’ve been battling for a while. I just don’t think it’s important for the viewer to know that. I hint at these things through materials and titles. I think it’s more interesting to allow interpretation of the work on their own terms rather than force mine upon a viewer.
AF: Can we talk about your plans for the remainder of your time here and your show within this space. Presumably the door will remain shut during that time…
TV: Yeah, some parts of the room won’t be visible. You can quite precisely set up an exhibition.
JL: The single viewpoint is something I’m interested in. I’ve often made works for shows so that they are directly obstructive of other of my works. I like choosing the way my works are seen. I made work in 2015 that split the space in half and meant you couldn’t see the whole show in one go. There is a curatorial element of my practice from that point of view. I’m still working on the chamois structures.
AF: Will they be hung or on the floor?
JL: I don’t know yet. I could have 10 different configurations. The installation part of it will be the making of the work. I’ve also been using the sun to bleach wood, wallpaper and paper towels. I accidently did some a while ago but the process intrigued me. I haven’t yet worked out what they are yet but they might come into it. The residency has been a great opportunity and it’s been great to be so public facing.
TV: Everything has been more performative with people watching. It’s like being in a zoo a little bit.
JL: I have quite enjoyed that aspect. It’s funny with a group of kids looking in. We’ve had some nice conversations. We’d both like to thank Walsall – they’ve been wonderful.
A public presentation of work made during the residency will be on display in the studio from 23 August – 29 September 2017.
Since 4 July, artists Tom Verity and James Lomax have been undertaking the second part of the Glasshouse residency programme in The New Art Gallery Walsall’s Artists’ Studio. Anneka French found out more.
We catch up with Seán Elder, Grand Union‘s new Associate Curator, to find out more about his background, research and future plans.What drew you to the West Midlands and what have your impressions been so far?
I grew up in the North of Scotland in the Highlands and have made my way via Aberdeen and Glasgow to Birmingham. It’s become a joke amongst a few of my friends that I’m slowly making my way further south, and while it wasn’t at all deliberate it’s funny that there has been a linearity to it.
If I’m honest my first introduction to Birmingham through studying art was, as I’m sure it is for many people, Eastside Projects and its folding of curatorial, art-making, and production methodologies. I think also reading on the establishment of art spaces in a large, post-industrial city mirrored my then-home of Glasgow. Where those similarities diverged I guess was in the difficulty Birmingham has had in creating a network of such spaces. And where Glasgow has an abundance of artist-run spaces running successfully on mostly similar models, here in Birmingham there is a smaller network of quite different structures across Eastside Projects, Grand Union, Ikon and others.
My first happening across Grand Union came with their exhibition by Prem Sahib, and the fantastic reception that followed. I was very much drawn to a small, curator-led gallery showing work by an artist who seemed at the time on the tip of reaching the next level of his career. The giant cock ring hanging in the gallery also helped to pique my interest, of course.
Researching Grand Union’s back-catalogue following that and its quiet emphasis on showing work by marginalised artists and an incredibly rich extended programme meant I was always planning a visit at some point – so it feels odd to now be working as part of the curatorial team. Odd but very exciting.
Since moving I’ve been really welcomed by the people working within the city. It’s reminiscent of home in terms of the conviviality, though there seems to be less emphasis on status here as there can be in some circles, yet there’s always the occasional male ego.
You have recently been appointed Associate Curator at Grand Union, what are your hopes for the post? What are you most looking forward to?
I feel very grateful for the opportunity and excited for the years ahead within the capacity of this role. There’s a number of things about Grand Union which I think will benefit me greatly. Firstly, the speed at which a project develops. I’m somewhat of a slow burner when it comes to developing these projects and relationships and I think with social media, Instagram and the perception of speed at which some people work it often becomes a source of doubt.
I’m not really interested in short-form exchanges between artists and curators so this is a real opportunity to invest and nourish those relationships that are so central to developing towards something fully formed. Grand Union’s track record of commissions acting at an important intersection in an artist’s career is a reassurance that this long-form of curatorial dialogue is relevant and necessary.
Alongside this I’ll be working with the rest of the gallery’s amazing curatorial team – Gallery Director Cheryl Jones and Programme Director Kim McAleese. As Cheryl focuses more on the development of Grand Union as an organisation, Kim and I have a number of shared interests that are going to hopefully form an exciting and diverse programme over the next while.
The position also acts as a mentorship programme so I’m hoping to make connections with various established curators and practitioners across the UK to help to develop my own skillset and knowledge. I hadn’t realised just how ‘mid’ the Midlands were, so now I’m here I want to make the most of being so easily connected to the rest of the country.
Grand Union and other organisations located in Minerva Works such as Centrala and Vivid Projects have recently been awarded NPO status for the first time. What should we look forward to at Grand Union in the near future?
It’s been really exciting for Grand Union and Birmingham to have such a number of successes in the NPO funding round. For Grand Union I think it’ll help us to form a more robust action plan for organisation-wide development over the next few years across both the studios and the gallery and to think more about what developments in Digbeth and beyond might mean for our position in the city.
Our next show is the first solo exhibition in the UK by Susie Green, entitled Pleasure is a Weapon. The space is going to become home to drawing, painting and installation, animated by performance and sound throughout its life-cycle. Susie’s work is incredibly visually engaging, bright and enticing, but with a real depth of understanding and sensitivity to it. The extended programme is shaping up to be a really integral part of this – I’m particularly excited for a screening of Mano Destra (1986), a meditation on Lesbian fetishism and bondage.
Next year’s programme kicks off with Melanie Jackson, whose expansive research project is going to be taking over the gallery. Deeper in the Pyramid is going to be examining milk as a substance for probing social and political histories. Milk being something understood as “natural” but at the moment of consumption having gone through a process of homogenisation and modernisation.
This will be followed by a two-person show by artists Tako Taal and Rami George, based in Glasgow and Philadelphia respectively. I’ll be curating the show in dialogue with both the artists as they research their personal and cultural histories as a means of understanding their contemporary identities – whether racial, queer or gendered. This is at the earliest stages right now but I’m very excited to bring these artists to Birmingham and help the project comes to fruition.
We catch up with Seán Elder, Grand Union’s new Associate Curator, to find out more about his background, research and future plans.
Schilderman’s project seeks to challenge accepted traditions of the self-portrait by using forensic identifiers to present an alternative view of identity through scientific processes.
In Casket you’ve looked at the idea of a portrait forensically. What was the inspiration for this?
A visit to the BP Portrait Award made me want to challenge the idea of a portrait as a face or body. Then the first thing that came to mind was to use the thumbprint as the oldest, most recognisable form of identification. At the time there was a lot in the news related to identity and biometric technology which led me to consider the possibilities of a forensic portrait.
Did you have to learn any new processes in order to make your scientific self-portrait?
Yes, for the hair piece I had to learn how to basket weave. I met with the jewellery curator at Nottingham Castle Museum who kindly showed me their impressive collection of Victorian hair jewellery. She gave me some instructions from the Ladies Companion (1850), which I tried very hard to follow.
The piece feels very Victorian in its display, reminiscent of memento mori. Why did you choose this way of displaying the piece?
I wanted to incorporate history in Casket in order to juxtapose past and present. By linking each forensic identifier with a precious element and showcasing them in a jewellery box I intended to reinforce identity as precious. The title, as well as the piece, is deliberately ambiguous, to offer the dual interpretation of death/life.
You received a France Brodeur Young Artist Award in 2016 to help with the development of the work. How did this funding help you? Would you recommend others in the region apply for this funding?
Getting the France Brodeur Young Artist Award has been amazing! Thanks to their support I got to collaborate with three makers from the midlands and I did learn a lot from them about new materials. I would definitely recommend other artists to apply for this opportunity as the FBYAA not only support a project but do so, in the context of the development of your practice.
Casket has been displayed at New Walk Museum in Leicester before coming to Leamington Spa, are there plans to show it elsewhere?
Casket will go to Maidstone Museum & Art Gallery in Kent, from 16 October – 16 December 2017 and I hope to show it in other museums next year.
What else are you working on?
At the moment I am working on a new forensic piece which again, will be an alternative self-portrait. I am also developing a mixed-media piece on the human brain, exploring the relationship between emotions and identity on which I hope to collaborate with a scientist.
Schilderman’s work will be on display at Leamington Spa Art Gallery & Museum until 17 September 2017 and she will be giving at an artist talk at the gallery at 1pm on 8 September 2017.
Annabel Clarke speaks to artist Pamela Schilderman about her work in Leamington Spa Museum & Art Gallery’s Spotlight display.
Recent Activity is a curatorial collaborative project by Birmingham-based artists Andrew Gillespie and Andrew Lacon. They have recently opened a space on Floodgate Street in Digbeth. We found out what they have planned for the space.
You have worked on projects nomadically for some time. What prompted the move to open the Recent Activity project space?
We have operated an itinerant programme since 2015, activating spaces and audiences across Birmingham and beyond. Although exciting, we wanted a new challenge and to form a different dialogue with artists and the city. Our other projects still continue – we recently presented an iteration of Nomadic Vitrine with Alex Frost at The Royal Standard in Liverpool.
What is the ethos behind the space?
Our attitude to the space is very much the same as to our previous projects. We hope to bring new artists to Birmingham and provide for the display and discussion of context for contemporary. We have always tried to work with a sense of urgency and tried to utilise the inertia of each project to propel the next one.
We had been working in a particular way, with certain parameters for over a year. We wanted some continuity, a fixed location with a new set of possibilities.
What do you hope the space will bring to the art ecology of the city?
We hope to contribute to the existing landscape, generating more activity and dialogues. We have both benefited hugely from Grand Union and Eastside Projects.
How does your curatorial work with Recent Activity feed into your individual artistic practices?
Recent Activity forms one strand of our practices. Each exhibition or project feels like new collaboration, exposing us to different artist’s practices and undoubtedly informing our own approaches.
What are your plans for the future of the project space?
Exhibitions and events will run throughout the year. In August, we are working with James Parkinson on another Nomadic Vitrine presentation, whilst France-Lise McGurn is making a new exhibition in the project space.
Recent Activity is a curatorial collaborative project by Birmingham-based artists Andrew Gillespie and Andrew Lacon. They have recently opened a space on Floodgate Street in Digbeth. We found out what they have planned for the space.
Developed in Birmingham is a season of hands-on workshops, talks, walks and events which reveal, explore and celebrate the city’s significant role in the early history of photography. In our second interview about the season, curator and photographic historian Pete James, talks about Mat Collishaw’s new VR artwork Thresholds, currently on show at the Waterhall, Birmingham Museum & Art Gallery.
You have worked with Mat Collishaw in Birmingham before but how did this particular project come about?
I’d been thinking about a doing a project to re-create Talbot’s 1839 exhibition using facsimile prints for some time. I’d written about it briefly in a couple of papers and then, around 2012, I discussed a loose idea with two leading Talbot scholars, Roger Taylor and Larry Schaaf. Then the move from the old to the new library came along. This pushed everything on to a back-burner where it stayed until 2014 when Mat and I began collaborating on In Camera, a GRAIN commission to make work in response to the Library of Birmingham photo archive.
Walking through town after the launch of the show I pointed out the former site of the Literary and Philosophical Society in Cannon Street to Mat. At the time I thought the Talbot exhibition had taken place here. I mentioned the half-baked idea of somehow re-creating the show. Mat told me he had been looking for a virtual reality project for some time, but that he had no real interest in the glaringly fantastical imagery usually associated with VR games – or “unicorns and elves and hot air balloons”. He wanted to do something with VR that was quite real and this seemed like a good opportunity. The idea seemed to offer a way to engage with VR, technology which, like photography in 1839, was going to change the way we look at the world. So Thresholds really came about by accident – through a chance collision of our separate and distinct ambitions. Once I got stuck back into the research I discovered that the 1839 show had actually taken place at King Edward’s School on New Street. The Lit. and Phil had been the base for the organising committee. We re-shaped the project around this new site and the rest, as they say, is history.
As a curator and researcher known for working with archives and historical materials, what has it been like to work with such new technologies?
Working with VR has simply been a mind-blowing revelation. It’s been an exciting and daunting roller coaster, a steep learning curve, an experiment and a hugely rewarding challenge.
Mat and I teamed up with Dr Paul Tennent from the Mixed Reality Lab at Nottingham University and VMI, a London-based firm who specialise in photorealistic CGI and VR experiences for architecture and property development. Their technical knowledge and Mat’s artistic vision has utterly transformed the way I think about working and doing photo history. Every time I put the headset on and go back to 1839 new ideas and understandings flood my head.
The collaboration has given me the opportunity to help create a virtual reality representation of what is arguably one of the first public exhibitions of photography, and to be part of one of the first projects using simulated realities to explore photo histories. It’s given Mat the opportunity to work with a new artistic tool, to be at the forefront of a new creative movement, and to make an artwork that, in blurring the lines between reality and reality-reality, asks audiences to think about the impact this new technology will have on our lives.
It’s also stimulated a raft of conversations about how we now use the knowledge gained to create and develop new applications within museums, education, art and research environments; how we can bring together material from globally distributed collections to explore ideas on multiple levels; and how we can share the outcomes with audiences who can’t get to visit the actual installation.
What do you think the ‘recreation’ approach to this historical narrative brings to the subject?
We began using the term ‘recreation’ but stopped soon after we realised that people were taking this too literally. They were beginning to think of the project simply as a heritage project, not an art project.
Thresholds is an evocation of a moment in photographic history which, in turn, seeks to offer a point of departure, a pretext, for consideration of how photography has evolved and impacted upon us – for good and bad – since 1839. It’s a recreation in the sense that it’s based on sound and detailed research about the space and contents represented, but it’s also an imaginary space which enables the modern viewer to consider related ideas from multiple viewpoints: past, present and future.
The ‘recreation approach’ enabled us to ask questions about the future of VR – is it the next big thing or Betamax? Like photography in 1839, it’s an emergent and imprecise technology, and it’s hard to predict exactly where it’s going to go and what impact it will have on us.
I like to think that perhaps one day someone will ‘recreate’ our show using a yet unknown technology, and look back at it as part of another narrative around the history of art, technology and photo history.
The exhibition has been on display in London recently. How is it different in form or context now that it is being shown in Birmingham?
The Waterhall provides much more space than was available at Somerset House. It enables the audience to see the entire installation, which sits like a glowing monolith in the centre of the space, surrounded by contextual and complimentary material.
Our aim is to evoke different contextual ideas and associations around the show at each new location. In London, the show was set against the backdrop of an art fair where Talbot prints, once seen and handled as rough prototype images with no great financial value, are now shown behind velvet curtains, talked about in hushed tones, and sold for vast sums of money.
Here in Birmingham, it’s set in a local historical, photo-historical, almost site-specific context. We have been fortunate to include rare and important material from the King Edward’s Foundation Archive and to show contemporary artworks by Cornelia Parker (Fox Talbot’s Articles of Glass) and Ravi Deepres and Michael Clifford’s film Obscura, which resonate with ideas, themes and pre-histories of photography embedded in Thresholds.
We have also been able to present the show within the context of a programme of complementary exhibitions and events: Jo Gane’s White House in Paradise Street, on show at BOM, and Developed in Birmingham, a series of talks, workshops, and photo walks which, together with Thresholds, explore, celebrate, and promote awareness of the history of photography in Birmingham.
How have you developed the surrounding exhibition from the King Edward’s Foundation Archive?
The King Edward’s Foundation Archive has been a critical part of the project. We used its unique and significant holdings to shape the VR / CGI environment and to inform our understanding of how the exhibition appeared in the school building. Alison Wheatley, the Foundation Archivist, and David Blissett, an architect expert on the work of Charles Barry, provided invaluable insights into the archive material.
We have loaned key items from the archive – including Charles Barry’s original 1833 competition drawings, an architectural model of the school, and a digital projection of 24 glass stereo slides made before the school was demolished in 1936, to tell the story of the school. These 2-D and 3-D objects stand in contrast to the virtual rendering of the school seen in the VR experience. We have also included rare and important documents – including a copy of the original 1839 exhibition catalogue – which provide further historical and narrative context for the VR experience.
What can visitors to the exhibition expect?
Quite literally an experience like no other. A chance to immerse themselves in a cutting edge VR project which combines art, history, and technology in a new and perhaps unique way. They can expect to be transported back to the dawn of photography where they will perhaps share in the sense of awe and wonder experienced by our Victorian predecessors seeing photographic images for the first time 178 years ago. However, I’m more interested in the ideas people will take way from the exhibition than the expectations they may bring to it.
Read the interview with Jo Gane about her exhibition A White House on Paradise Street here.
Thresholds is open at the Waterhall Gallery, Birmingham Museum & Art Gallery from Thursday to Sunday until Sunday 6 August 2017. Booking for the VR experience is advised, but the surrounding exhibition is free.
Information about the full Developed in Birmingham programme can be found here.
Developed in Birmingham is a season of hands-on workshops, talks, walks and events which reveal, explore and celebrate the city’s significant role in the early history of photography. In our second interview about the season, curator and photographic historian Pete James, talks about Mat Collishaw’s new artwork Thresholds, currently on show at the Waterhall, Birmingham Museum & Art Gallery.
Following an open call, photographer Sam Ivin has been awarded a new residency commission in Stoke-on-Trent, a collaboration between GRAIN Projects and Appetite. The residency will see Ivin engaging with individuals and communities that moved to or migrated to Stoke from within the UK or internationally. Those who have made their home in the city and work in the city have made Stoke the diverse community it is today.
Ivin will create an archive of photographs during his residency between June and September for a subsequent exhibition. The archive will tell the participant’s stories of arriving in the city and where their journey started from. A positive project, Ivin will celebrate commonalities using images from local people’s own photography collections, having them work with these images to present a contemporary archive and a work for exhibition.
We found out what he has planned over the next few months:
Can you tell me more about your proposed approach to the project?
The idea is for participants to take part in two workshops. In the first session people will share their stories of moving to Stoke and give their contributions to the archive to be donated or scanned/photographed, with some creativity involved of course. In the second workshop we’ll create artwork from the images given in the first workshop. If people prefer just to contribute to the archive there’s no obligation to attend the second workshop.
Which aspects of the process are you looking forward to?
Hearing people’s stories, discovering images and creating some new pictures! Already the range of people involved in the project is extraordinary – and we are only just beginning the work. Participants have migrated for asylum, love, work, study, the reasons are vast. As the stories are from people’s personal perspectives they are often relatable or at least help further understanding.
What challenges do you envisage?
The main challenge will be finding enough participants to create a substantial archive of quality, we’ve had an encouraging response already though. The more participants, the better the archive in theory. And scanning, there will be a lot of scanning!
How can the residents of Stoke-on-Trent get involved?
If people have any pictures, other media, documents or even objects that relate to migrating to Stoke-on-Trent then please get in touch with me! These can be images of your ancestors, older family members or from your own experiences of moving and settling into Stoke-on-Trent.
What potential outputs do you hope for?
There will be an exhibition of the archive, artwork and stories at the Big Feast Festival, 25th – 26th August at the Hanley Argos building. This will showcase the project so far with the hope to grow it in the future. I’m hoping for a series of artwork, most likely portraits, from participants connected to each of their individual stories. Alongside this I’d like to create a larger piece connected with everyparticipant in the project but this is dependent on the contributions we receive.
What legacy do you hope might be achieved through the project?
Right now I’m focusing on the next couple of months and exhibition at The Big Feast Festival. I’m hoping the project will leave behind a high quality archive of pictures and exciting artwork that captures the stories of those who have chosen Stoke-on-Trent as their home. If this is achieved in the next couple of months the project can grow in 2018 to create a more extensive archive with some really special artwork.
If you have any pictures, documents, objects or stories you would like to contribute to the project, please contact Sam Ivin via – email@example.com
Following an open call, photographer Sam Ivin has been awarded a new residency commission in Stoke-on-Trent, a collaboration between GRAIN Projects and Appetite. We found out what he has planned over the next few months.
Artists Alice Gale-Feeny, Joe Fletcher Orr and Bryony Gillard were selected for Glasshouse, a residency devised by The New Art Gallery Walsall and Eastside Projects, with the aim to strengthen relationships between artists and galleries across the country. The three artists, based in Nottingham, Liverpool and Bristol respectively, spent time in May and June undertaking research, making and developing new conversations about their practice.
Anneka French spoke with them to find out more about their experiences at The New Art Gallery Walsall just prior to their studio presentation.
Anneka French: Maybe we could start with what it’s been like being in this artist studio space …
Joe Fletcher Orr: I think Alice should talk about that as her work has been about the space.
Alice Gale-Feeny: I guess my work has been more about the space. I was really interested in responding to this situation of being on show, being watched and being able to watch bodies in space. I’ve explored that by being in the building, not just in the studio.
Bryony Gillard: I think what’s different about working in this context is that the boundary between process and presentation is more permeable. I think we’ve all thought about what the space looks like when we leave which is a different way of using a studio to the usual. Here, it’s been possible to leave things up to test and people will see these things.
JFO: Maybe we should have left the door open. It probably looks more like an office.
AGF: Last week I had a good conversation with a man who came in to speak with me about the slide projector I was trying to mend. It was something about the old technology that invited him in. It was a talking point.
AF: Is the interaction important? There are maybe more similarities between Alice and Bryony’s practice but Joe, running Cactus, this interaction must be pretty important to you?
JFO: Yes it’s really important. My plan at the start was to have conversations with people and build relationships.
BG: This has happened well with the staff.
JFO: I’ve had a lot of conversations particularly with Zaynul, one of the gallery assistants. He’s really nice and the curatorial staff have been very supportive of course. We’ve had the whole care package.
BG: All the staff are very warm to the artist studio programme and people are really curious. This has been a great aspect of the institution.
AGF: I think they’re interested in the process of us being here which is not something I’ve experienced before.
AGF: Working with other people in this space has been a really interesting challenge. It frees up your own practice.
JFO: I’m used to hanging around with artists who have the same approach. But Bryony and Alice don’t really have the same approach as me. It’s challenged me a lot which is good because I haven’t been challenged much since leaving university I guess.
BG: We’ve all challenged each other and we’ve had intense conversations about our work and politics and process and this has been really productive. I’m experimenting a bit more without having to do loads of theoretical research – I feel I have more of a license to try something maybe even without a really strong reason to do it.
AGF: We’re all on equal footing even though we are doing different things.
AF: Alice, how have you been using the building?
AGF: I’ve been photographing parts of the building mainly focussing on the staircases and aspects of the architecture that suggest movement to another part of the building. I’ve been thinking about how a space is designed for a public and how you get people to navigate a space and building things for different bodies. I’ve taken a lot of slides of stairwells and stair cases before I got here and I want to combine these in a slide carousel with the new ones in a reading and some kind of movement. It’s been nice to have a building to be in and use. I’ve enjoyed being out there and distilling things in here.
BG: We are doing something informal as the residency was programmed without any events. Both Alice and I might be showing some performance and we will be inviting people along.
JFO: I didn’t realise how short a month was. It’s gone so fast.
AGF: I’ve felt like I’ve been on residency even when I’ve not been in this space which has been really useful. Even on the train.
BG: Because none of us live here, everything is new and there is more time and space.
AGF: It’s about getting out of habitual ways of making and thinking.
AF: How much connection have you had with the gallery before?
JFO: I’ve not been here before but I’ve seen lots online. I don’t know why I hadn’t been, I’ve got no excuse. I went to the Leather Museum around the corner – there are places where I live like that that I’d never go to so it’s given me a different approach.
AF: Like being a tourist?
JFO: Yes and trying to research and learn.
AGF: It’s been a way of making the most of a place and the experience.
AF: How much of the place is coming into your research, Bryony?
BG: Nothing I’ve made is overtly related to the building. I’ve been working with dancers while I’ve been here who I’ve found through networks that Alice had. This is a site-specificity because I’m working with people from the area with whom I wouldn’t work otherwise and we’ve been working within this studio and the room next door. The physicality of the spaces have influenced our movements. It’s been obliquely connected to Walsall but not any historical information or anything like that. The residency was about having time and resources for me. I don’t think there are many programmes like this in the UK that are like this.
JFO: I want to make some works with leather, a long list of works that are related to the area but I’ve not made them yet. I wanted to figure out work for a solo show and group shows coming up that I can activate. I’ve made a good list to carry me through the year. I make an endless list and go through this. Alice thinks I’m not interested in process which is probably true and something I need to deal with head on.
AGF: I hope you didn’t take it as a criticism. I noticed our different ways of working.
JFO: I always just want it to be done and do it again – everything else frustrates me. Even if the works made are about Walsall I can still show them elsewhere. I brought some footballs with me. I usually get artists to sign them but I’m going to do it with the gallery staff and leave it here. I was in an exhibition in Rome where all of the artists were quite famous conceptual artists and I took the role of the fan and got them to sign the football. I knew that them signing it would make the value of the work much higher than I could ever make. I’ve been asked to do it lots of times but I’d like to work with the staff. It’s not so much about football as memorabilia, signatures and value systems. I use a plain white football that looks like an art object – there is only one manufacturer of these. Teams are too loaded. I’ve thought about endless works about leather and footballs? I’m attracted to leather for loads of reasons though this is bad. People who’ve signed them usually want them.
AGF: It’s like looking at mirror of yourself.
AF: Can we talk about next steps? You have an open studio upcoming?
AGF: We have been like silent interlopers and we will leave this presentation but have not had so much interaction with the public.
BG: We are putting ourselves under public scrutiny.
AGF: More public scrutiny is good.
JFO: I’d really like to work with Walsall leather. Though it doesn’t matter if it is here and sometimes when I show things abroad and tell them local stories it has more of a mystery maybe. Sometimes it adds to the work if I take it completely far away.
AGF: It’s interesting to think about making something in one place and showing it elsewhere.
JFO: I think the photographs you took, Alice, could be shown anywhere. They are not too loaded with this place.
AGF: I want to take away recognisable features and to be more about public space. I hadn’t really thought about it as a collection that grows – about making something site-specific or general that means it can speak about other public places. I was looking at some of the architectural plans for the building but I like the way that it can be a bit more malleable. I’ve also been filming at a Quaker Meeting House in Bournville. They’ve let me film twice now and I hope that footage can become something though it might not be about Bournville exactly.
BG: The work I’ve been doing with the dancers is something new. I’ve never had the opportunity to work with more than one dancer at a time. I’ve used my materials budget to pay them which has felt like an enormous privilege – this has allowed me to improvise, play and take risks. I’ve learnt a lot from interacting, directing and working from them and I have lots of footage and experience to draw on and make something else. This has also been a good chance to push an existing project in a new direction. I wanted to explore my relationship to choreography and performance and this has completely moved things on for me. The dancers I worked with were so brilliant that I’d like to continue to work with them.
I’ve never spent any time in the Midlands before but I feel really excited at the thought of coming back here and developing relationships. It feels like a really exciting place to be. I think this would be great to accumulate and extend networks with Joe in Liverpool, Alice in Nottingham as well as within the West Midlands.
Glasshouse 2 will see James Lomax from Birmingham and Tom Verity from Stoke-on-Trent take up residence at The New Art Gallery Walsall from 4 July – 22 August 2017.
Alice Gale-Feeny, Joe Fletcher Orr and Bryony Gillard were selected for Glasshouse, a residency devised by The New Art Gallery Walsall and Eastside Projects, with the aim to strengthen relationships across the country. Anneka French spoke with them.
We caught up with Hannah Dale of the newly opened Canwood Gallery in Herefordshire to find out more about the gallery’s origins and future plans.
What prompted you to start up the gallery and sculpture park?
In 1970s the gallery owner, then a farmer, became critically ill with leukemia, and was sent down to Bart’s hospital in London, to take part in a medical trial as a last ditch attempt to try and save his life. In between some pretty severe treatments, including radiation and mustard gas amongst many others, he decided to venture out and took a black cab to the Tate. It was his first visit to a contemporary gallery and he found immense inspiration in the controversial Carl Andre’s brick sculpture Equivalent VIII (1966). It was the first of many visits to art galleries in London. Whether it was the inspiration from art or the treatment, or both, he was the only person in his batch of 12 to survive to this day.
It has always been his desire to give something back and to build a gallery in Herefordshire where people could experience great art for free within the county.
You’ve been open less than a year, why was 2016 a good time to open for you?
Retiring from farming gave Stephen the opportunity to start on his dream project and work began on a three year project of converting the existing farm buildings into gallery spaces. Canwood Gallery opened for H.Art in September 2016 and has been overwhelmed by the positive response and support for the project.
How have you chosen the artists that you exhibit? I see that you have Carl Andre’s work on display – tell me more about his influence on the gallery.
Carl Andre is the inspiration behind Canwood Gallery’s opening and therefore the gallery immensely proud to have Isoclast 07 on permanent exhibition. Beautiful and contemplative or just a pile of bricks, the debate will always roll on! The gallery’s remit is to team an exceptional mixture of internationally-renowned and local artists. We hope to provide an escape from the fast pace and worries of modern life, inspire a few debates and further the enjoyment of art.
Can you tell me more about the gallery space itself?
The main gallery was an abandoned building used for storage and the second gallery was used to store farm machinery – it was quite a project! You can see more information and images on our blog post.
What are your plans for the future of the project space? What have you got coming up?
We have some fantastic exhibitions coming up in July, August and September. Our major showcase summer exhibition 1 July – 1 August Bricks in the Sticks – A Farmer’s Inspiration, includes works by Carl Andre, who inspired a generation to debate the merits of contemporary art, and an international collection of current world-leading artists including Jonty Hurwitz, Tomokazu Matsuyama, Blake Daniels, Brett Amory, Angela Conner, Almuth Tebbenhoff, Chris Dunseath, and Patricia Terrapon.
Outside, in 10 acres set in stunning rolling open countryside in an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, the exhibition will feature a range of inspiring sculptures from Harvey Hood, Alison Lochhead, Heather Jansch, Roger Stephens, Jonathan Loxley, Mark Houghton, Richard Jackson, Ed Elliott and Helen Sinclair.
Alongside this exhibition in our second gallery we have Vulgar Earth – a contemporary exhibition of sculpture, painting and installation, exploring and questioning our interactions with the environment around us. Local artists include Simon Meiklejohn, Peter Horrocks, Jackie Yeomans, Verity Howard, Jim Carter, Rob McCarthy and Glyndwr Brimacombe.
The gallery will also be open for H.Art 9, 17 -20 September.
We caught up with Hannah Dale of the newly opened Canwood Gallery in Herefordshire to find out more about the gallery’s origins and future plans.
Why did you decide to set up GRASSLANDS? What are its ambitions?
I have a very long garden and half of it was unused for a couple of years. Originally myself and my partner thought of running a community allotment project but this did not quite take off! We quickly realised we were not gardeners and didn’t really know our neighbours that well. So I decided to run an art residency project that was interested in finding artists who wanted to collaborate with others and produce art that was experimental, temporary and beyond the usual confines of studio or gallery based work. I usually find artists that have not met before and are from differing art practices or approaches to making contemporary art. I am interested in developing GRASSLANDS further by producing a work space area to run various workshops, develop one off and regular events and generally have a more structured programme that invites a wider pool of creative thinkers and makers to produce hybrid collaborative work.
Tell me about the challenges and opportunities of running the site.
Some of the challenges are around organising time to be available to facilitate GRASSLANDS residences and how this works for artists too. It is also financially challenging as currently it is self-funded by me but I hope to generate some income in the near future for this. The residencies usually last for a whole weekend and they are therefore quite short but this increases the intensity of the art activity and conversations that takes place.
Which of your past residencies have been most successful?
All the residencies have been successful in their own way especially when the work produced was unexpected and made through collaboration. Making new discoveries, skills or skill-sharing and collaborating is what makes the residencies most successful. Another success is when conversations lead to working with other projects, artists or potential opportunities.
You selected Damian Massey and Natalie Ramus for a residency from New Art West Midlands 2017. Can you tell me why you selected them for your Special Opportunity Award and what you are hoping for from them?
I am hoping Damian and Natalie will collaborate together to see what hybrid work can be made. So a sculptural practice (Damian) working with a performance and sculptural practice (Natalie). After looking through the selected artists for New Art West Midlands 2017 I produced a short list of artists based on images and statements from their website and web links. I was particularly interested in Damian’s art for its sculptural qualities and possibilities, the conversion of manmade materials developing into natural forms. I was also interested in the ideas driving the work, more specifically concerns around urban environments and the impact of human culture. I was equally excited to select Natalie’s comprehensive website which showed a real engagement in pushing her own boundaries of performance through the physicality, emotional, action-based research and experimental work in response to a personal journey in relation to the public and the private and the conflict within this. Natalie’s ideas around perpetual performance resonated with my own research.
How might Damian and Natalie work with the other two artists also on residence?
All artists are at different stages in their art career and all at an exciting time, producing individual work and collaborative projects. I am looking forward to new conversations they have and art making beyond each other’s practices.
The other two artists are previous GRASSLANDS artists. They are Ian Andrews and Sarah Fortes Mayer. Ian’s prolific art practice is largely sculptural and responds to site. His art practice is a personal exploration of how the mind works, interprets and remembers the experiences that make us who we are. Sarah’s practice is inclusive of performance and sculpture and looks into the invisibility of older people, confronting audiences with “the voices and images of the overlooked” as she describes them. Both Ian and Sarah also run an art project called In-Public, an Arts Council Funded community project recently looking at inter-generational approach to tackling invisibility, titled Age Yard Shift.
What are your hopes for the residency in July?
I hope the artists will collaborate with each other, share ideas, make new discoveries and stay in touch. After July I am hoping to run an annual event where I will be inviting all previous GRASSLANDS artists to meet up for an informal gathering.
We spoke with Dan Auluk, artist, curator and GRASSLANDS founder about his upcoming residencies and plans for the future of this unique space in Birmingham.
Meadow Arts‘ latest exhibition Synthetic Landscapes explores our relationship to the land. Taking place at both Weston Park in Shifnal and Shrewsbury Museum & Art Gallery, the exhibition features a number of new commissions and works by both emerging artists and some of the most prominent British artists working today. Anneka French spoke to Meadow Arts’ Director Anne de Charmant to find out more.
How has the theme of Synthetic Landscapes arisen?
The overriding curatorial line that Meadow Arts explores is our relationship to the land we inhabit, whether social, cultural or even emotional: the notion of landscape is very important. We are blessed in this region with some of the most beautiful landscapes in Britain and the area has inspired many artists, writers and designers. For example, the Picturesque movement was born in Herefordshire at the end of the 18tth Century. As Curator, I also have a personal advantage; as a foreigner, firmly established in Britain, I can observe certain traits that might seem obvious to many but are well worth exploring. The relationship to landscape is one of those; there is such a strong bond to the landscape in this country, much more so than in the rest of Europe.
The case of ‘Capability’ Brown and his peers is a high point in this relationship because he offered such a strong ideal. It certainly answered something quite deep in the collective psyche. A point of balance maybe between nature and culture, an enhanced but secure place for man to situate himself in the environment. It has become a reference point but there is nothing truly natural in Brown’s designs and it’s fascinating to see how this works.
Most of the artists in this show wrestle with the landscape being overloaded with cultural and social references and respond in different ways. Ged Quinn, in his magnificent large paintings, literally offers the viewer the clues to the cultural construct that lies behind a landscape proposition. In his film, The Arrival, Salvatore Arancio goes beyond the point of equilibrium and opens the door to otherworldly interpretations. Edward Chell finds pockets of truly modern landscapes on motorway verges, then studies and champions them.
How does this theme interact with the physical landscapes and contexts at Weston Park and Shrewsbury Museum & Art Gallery?
While at Weston Park the vast Pleasure Grounds were being carved out, over the hills and only a few dozen miles away at Coalbrookdale, near Ironbridge, the instigators of the Industrial Revolution were looking at transforming the landscape too, but with an eye for engineering and productivity. For them, the densely-wooded valley constituted a system to be improved upon and exploited. The natural environment needed to be surveyed, gauged for all its possible uses. Soon brand new enterprises would flourish, such as the first ever iron bridge and key individuals come to the fore such as Thomas Telford.
How is the exhibition being divided across sites and what drew you to these sites?
These two essential models, the idle/idyllic one, epitomised by Brown at Weston Park and the working/economic one, represented by Telford stand in perfect opposition in this corner of Shropshire, so it felt right to have two separate shows with some connection between them.
We asked emerging West Midlands artist David Bethell to select works from the Museum’s collection and respond with his own work. Bethell has built an ambitious and slightly haphazard contraption which is meant to accomplish all sorts of tasks: it is a carriage and a plough but also a surveying machine and a humble cart. It will be displayed at Shrewsbury Museum and support a film of the contraption moving through the landscape at Weston. In the Walled Garden, Bethell has built half a bridge that disappears into the wall, only to reappear as the other half in the museum in Shrewsbury.
Can you tell me more about the works on show and the newly commissioned pieces?
Pablo Bronstein’s Chinese Bridges in the Landscape is a truly stunning piece that is hard to describe but really has an impact. It was always going to be a large outdoor piece, that much I had agreed with Bronstein but it took a while for the right shape to emerge. He had done large scale works but mostly indoors and is at the moment working for the Rambert Ballet on a huge set. So the outdoor/landscape proposition interested him. The two bridges stand in one half of the Walled Garden and they are made of printed and laser cut wood. Treated like billboards, these Chinese Bridges in the Landscape offer a brilliant deconstruction of the artifice of landscape designs. The installation plays tricks with visitors but is also shown not to work.
In the same way Heather & Ivan Morison’s piece is not what is seems and is deliberately strange and slightly unsettling. It is made of scagliola, a sort of fake marble favoured by the Georgians for its opulence. The sculpture is housed in one of the pavilion bothies, lolling on the stone floor. It is an amorphous, but not entirely abstract shape, that both invites and rejects readings.
The third commission is Bethell’s but other artists have modified or adapted their work for Weston. Helen Maurer has used the gardener’s bothy to amazing effect, using the fabric of the place, like water troughs or cavities and shelves to create a suite of little installations that glow like precious jewels in the darkened spaces.
The list of artists include some of the most significant British artists working today alongside some earlier on in their career. How have these artists been drawn together?
At Meadow Arts, we always try to show the work of well recognised artists which are not so easy to see outside the traditional big centres. ‘Big name’ artists are often very happy to escape their usual haunts and are interested in testing out new ideas in interesting new contexts such as the great places where we work. For Synthetic Landscapes I asked artists like Julian Opie, Ryan Gander, Quinn and Bronstein to participate along with other established artists.
For emerging artists, it’s a great opportunity to show their work alongside these established artists. As one of the only contemporary visual arts NPOs working in the region we feel it is part of our role to create these opportunities. In this show we have commissioned Bethell for the first time although he has worked in the region before. Jasleen Kaur is a fascinating young artist. We also work internationally by showing the work of French artist Hélène Muheim for the first time in the UK, and the very gifted Italian artist Salvatore Arancio with whom we hope to work with again next year.
Has the Weston Park location been challenging to work with?
Weston Park is a huge place and we have chosen to work only in the gallery and in the Walled Garden, which gives us a sense of containment like an open-air gallery. The gardeners’ bothies have offered us great opportunities: Maurer has interacted with the ruined space beautifully, she used discarded objects such as an old tin bucket or a watering trough to create amazing incidents. Arancio’s film is being presented in a space that could have been one of the locations of his work.
What can visitors expect?
They will see wonderful work, from very large, stunning interventions in the landscape, such as Opie’s sculpture City, a 3m tall model of a group of skyscrapers, to intimate and stunning little drawings made with eye shadow by Muheim.
What are your hopes for the exhibition?
I’ve been told the exhibition is really enjoyable which is certainly one of our goals! I also hope that it will give rise to new conversations and maybe new perspectives. As well as an arts audience, Meadow Arts invites new audiences to encounter contemporary arts, sometimes for the first time. We hope that by presenting the works in a different context and by creating connections that are clear to follow, we make the experience pleasurable for the audience.
4 June to 3 September 2017 – Weston Park
24 June to 3 September 2017 – Shrewsbury Museum & Art Gallery
Meadow Arts’ exhibition Synthetic Landscapes explores our relationship to the land and takes place at Weston Park in Shifnal and Shrewsbury Museum & Art Gallery. Anneka French spoke to Director Anne de Charmant to find out more.
Aimee Millward was a New Art West Midlands exhibitor in 2016. Now studying for an MA in Fine Art at the University of Wolverhampton, she has recently developed an exhibition in collaboration with Dudley Archives and Local History Centre. Titled Virtual Mirrors (Intersection of the Real and Unreal), the exhibition explores the mapping of the Black Country through new paintings. Locations include Wren’s Nest Estate, Upper and Lower Gornal, Sedgley, Dudley and Wolverhampton.
How did the collaboration with Dudley Archives come about?
In the middle of my MA in Fine Art, I was developing and experimenting with new ways to interpret space and place. While producing a painting for the Mander Centre in Wolverhampton I was predominantly referring back to maps found on Google. However, I wanted to physically study some of these maps, so I decided to visit Dudley Archives to view their map collection. After that visit I found out that they had an exhibition space and approached their Senior Archivist Richard Lewis to see whether they would be interested in a collaboration of their maps and my paintings.
Can you tell me more about your fascination with maps and with the Black Country?
I’ve always enjoyed studying maps. It’s a simple pleasure to look at the variety of colours and shapes from a location that you are familiar with. I’m interested in looking at how that landscape has evolved over 150-200 years. I find it interesting how perspectives and locations are changed by looking down on to that environment, instead of studying what is physically around me. The view and sensations of walking through an estate or a public garden is totally different compared to looking down at a 2D map. That estate I have just walked through or the public garden I walk my dog across every day is dramatically simplified into a shape that you could not visualise within that area. The image that is painted on the reflected surface is an abstracted view of a location that has been reworked. The Black Country has a history and wealth of industrial heritage and can still evoke the 19th Century image of a dark and dingy landscape. By taking motifs from maps of this location, I explore and re-interpret the area that I have been surrounded by since birth, using vivid colours to juxtapose with this landscape.
How are you approaching the material through your painting?
For this exhibition I have experimented with painting on mirrors and canvas in acrylic paint. The use of a mirrored surface creates a space within a space. Using a mirror – a real useable object – instead of a traditional canvas surface allows for interaction and juxtaposition between the painted surface with the smooth, sleek reflection and an unreal space and a real space. The painted surface is a space which has been placed on top of a reflected surface that automatically creates a space. Both the painted space and the real space that is now on the other side of the mirror are all reflected, spaces within spaces. I am very interested in the writings of Michel Foucault in relation to his metaphor of a mirror acting as a heterotopia. I use the painting to act as a heterotopia.
By studying the maps I have selected a variety of motifs and reworked the composition, to bring an abstracted view of the Black Country. In some of my paintings I have focussed on one area of the Black Country but looked at maps from different eras. For instance the ‘Museum’, which is analysed by Foucault, contains artefacts from different times and places, one can literally travel through time in one place. In those paintings, motifs have been selected from a specific area alongside motifs from maps approximately 100-200 years previous.
What can visitors to the exhibition expect?
They can expect to view maps in a completely new way, in an imaginative way as something that they would not usually see. My paintings will be shown alongside some selected maps from Dudley Archives so the audience can study my process of developing the compositions and shapes from those maps.
What do you hope the project’s outcomes might be?
I hope to tour this project by maybe using different locations to work with and re-interpret.
What plans are upcoming for your work?
I am nearly coming to the end of my Master’s degree at the University of Wolverhampton and will be exhibiting my work at Wolverhampton Art Gallery – which is very exciting. I am currently expanding my paintings in size and within installation work so I am looking at locations to experiment in and exhibit in.
The exhibition runs Tuesday 6 June – Saturday 19 August 2017.
Aimee Millward was a New Art West Midlands exhibitor in 2016 and has recently developed an exhibition in collaboration with Dudley Archives and Local History Centre titled Virtual Mirrors (Intersection of the Real and Unreal).
Last month, artist Ming De Nasty showed a new body of photographs at Birmingham’s A3 Project Space. Sufficient formed part of a research project on urban growing within the city. The exhibition plotted her growing year during 2016. Annabel Clarke spoke with the artist about the project.
What prompted you to make the Sufficient series?
I grew up on a small-holding that has long since given way to urban sprawl. Despite having lived in a city since then, farming has never really left me. In a container or corner of garden I have grown things where I can. As an allotment holder I grow most of my own vegetables. I also keep chickens and bees.
For sometime I’d wanted to do a photographic project around ‘urban farmers’, people that keep livestock like chickens, bees, rabbits or goats as a source of food or who grow food in an urban environment. To look at why and how they do this. I applied for and got a Grant for the Arts award from Arts Council England and I started to search for individuals who would take part. I could find plenty of people that keep chickens or bees but I needed to find more culturally diverse individuals that where more representative of Birmingham. I decided to concentrate on the growing side of the project and explore what drives people to grow vegetables.
What do you love about growing?
For me it’s not only about growing some of my own food and knowing where that food has come from, it’s the whole process. Sowing the seeds and watching them grow. I love spending time in a space where time slows down where I can have the space to appreciate details, textures and life cycles. It’s a very meditative, almost magical experience for me.
How did you go about finding the people you photographed in your wider series?
I found the individuals by putting a call out on social media through allotment groups and other people that I knew who are keen growers. It proved to be quite difficult as naturally a lot of growers are quite private and shy. There were a few that I would have loved to have photographed and share their amazing stories but they just weren’t happy about being on show so I just had to let them go.
At A3 Project Space you exhibited images of your personal growing year, what prompted you to do this instead of showing a selection of images from the whole series?
I had a long conversation with Trevor Pitt who runs A3 and we decided the images and stories of the individuals were already represented on the blog space and that the images of my own growing year were much more personal and intimate. People generally expect my images to have people in them when in fact a lot of my own personal stuff does not. This was an opportunity to show some of these images.
Will you be continuing this project? What plans do you have for the future – for this project and others?
I’d like to continue this project in some way and am considering a few ways to take it forward. I also have plans for another exhibition, which will be totally unrelated to this project at A3 Project Space next year. Watch this space.
Could you tell us a little about the edition you have for sale?
Prints from the exhibition are on sale as A2 giclee prints in editions of five at £125 each. I also have in an edition of 50: a hessian sack containing four A6 giclee prints plus a pack of seeds which can be bought through my Etsy Shop.
Last month, artist Ming De Nasty showed a new body of photographs at Birmingham’s A3 Project Space. Sufficient formed part of a research project on urban growing within the city. Annabel Clarke spoke with the artist.
Joanna Colley of Birmingham’s Reuben Colley Fine Art speaks to us about their upcoming exhibition Master Graphics, featuring some of the biggest names in the artworld.
The exhibition includes work from some of the most significant artists of the 20th Century. How has the list of artists been drawn together?
People buy works of art for different reasons. Some are looking for a thing of beauty which will bring them pleasure for years to come, while others like to be challenged by something that pushes at traditional boundaries. There are also those who buy primarily for investment. In selecting for this show, we are seeking to offer our clients works of art which fulfill all of those criteria: objects of beauty, which are often challenging, but represent sound investments too. All the artists we have chosen have been innovators who have challenged the conventions of their time, from Pablo Picasso and Henri Matisse to Damien Hirst and Banksy.
Can you tell us more about the works on show?
The range of work will be rotated throughout the exhibition. The work on display will include silkscreens and lithographs by Andy Warhol, limited edition etchings by Hirst, we also have a Picasso etching and a Matisse limited edition aquatint.
Is there a particular piece or artist you are most particularly excited to be exhibiting?
There are so many spectacular pieces so it is difficult to choose but the Matisse aquatint is quite exciting!
Why have you chosen to exhibit these types of work in Birmingham?
We felt that as an independent fine art gallery in the UK’s second city it was important to remove the misconception that work of this calibre is only available to view and purchase through London galleries. We also wanted to draw attention to the fact that we have been representing and sourcing this type of artwork for our clients for some time now, working closely with them to ensure they build their perfect artwork collection is of upmost importance to us. We are delighted that Master Graphics now forms part of our permanent portfolio within the gallery. We are extremely proud of this exhibition and we hope that visitors enjoy viewing it as much as we have enjoyed pulling it all together.
The exhibition runs 6 June – 1 July 2017.
Joanna Colley of Birmingham’s Reuben Colley Fine Art speaks to us about their upcoming exhibition Master Graphics, featuring some of the biggest names in the artworld.
Artist Victoria Lucas is currently presenting her solo exhibition Lay of the Land (and other such myths) at Stoke-on-Trent’s AirSpace Gallery. Anneka French caught up with the Sheffield-based artist to find out more about her research, production processes and what it’s been like working with the gallery again after seven years.
Tell me more about the research processes you have undertaken to produce your large photographs and sculptural works.
The Lay of the Land (and other such myths) project began in the Californian desert in September 2015, whilst I was on sabbatical from my lecturing position at the University of Central Lancashire. I was in California exhibiting site-specific work in a show in Joshua Tree, and following this I spent time travelling around interviewing various academics and artists, before heading back out to the desert to collect footage and take photographs. I ended up at the Alabama Hills, a collection of rock formations situated in Owens Valley, which has been used as a Hollywood film set for decades. Upon my return to the UK, I developed a series of photographs and sculptures in response to this site and in conjunction with research gathered as part of my PhD.
My research aims to investigate the analogy of the artificial island as an ideological mise-en-scène to challenge anti-progressive frames of power, through the construction of imaginary subversive place as artwork. Creating an artificial island involves infilling an area of space with large amounts of material until a new land mass is achieved. This construction of place, of new ground that can be traversed and utilised, is an assertion of one’s power in the face of elemental forces. Approaching the exhibition making process with this in mind opens up a dialogue for me about the power of subversive place making – which has become the crux of my artistic research.
Your exhibition was first shown at HOME in Manchester – how did it come to be shown at AirSpace? Has the display since altered?
Lay of the Land (and other such myths) was first created in 2015, and from there it was developed as a touring show in conjunction with producer Mark Devereux Projects. It was first exhibited publicly at London Art Fair in January 2017, as part of a SOLO Award™ prize I received in 2016 from Chiara Williams Contemporary. It then went to HOME in Manchester in the form of a symposium and photographic series. Now it features at AirSpace as part of the gallery’s programme commitment to independent curatorial practice.
The content of each version of the exhibition fluctuates and evolves depending on the space and the surrounding context. For example, the London Art Fair configuration specifically played with the traditional conventions of the art fair, whereas the HOME exhibition utilised both the scale of the walls in the gallery and the theatre – replicating the scale of the landscapes represented and providing a space to construct an accompanying performative symposium.
The AirSpace exhibition builds on both of these shows, using the unique surroundings of the gallery as a starting point for new work.
You worked with AirSpace before in Conjunction 10 (2010-11). What does it mean to be working with the gallery again?
It is fantastic to be exhibiting with AirSpace again. Since Conjunction 10 I have been invited back to AirSpace a few times – as workshop leader and as a mentor for new graduates, for example. Every visit is a very positive experience, and it is great to be back again working on such an ambitious solo exhibition with their support.
Part of the source material for the work comes from the landscapes and brownfield sites close to AirSpace. Why do these resonate with you?
Literary sources form key material for the new body of work created specifically for AirSpace Gallery. JG Ballard’s Concrete Island presents a desolate, segregated concrete intersection as a stage carved out of and dislocated from reality. This imaginary literary landscape informs an artistic investigation that seeks to locate sites in which real and imaginary worlds meet. The new work at AirSpace borrows Ballard’s title, and has been developed specifically in response to the concrete expanses that punctuate the city of Stoke-on-Trent. Interpreting the Brownfield sites situated close to AirSpace in conjunction with the novel and with reference to a specific feminist framework, my Concrete Island installation comprises a large scale photograph, concrete benches, rubble taken from a nearby site and a new sound work composed in collaboration with singers from across the region.
The photograph was developed after numerous site visits on the run up to the exhibition, and has been created through a process of layering and digital manipulation – much like the images developed in response to the Alabama Hills. The sculptural benches have been designed with the female body in mind, as the length of each bench refers to the average height of a woman in the UK. Visitors are encouraged to lie down on the benches and listen to the soundscape presented, in which the female voice becomes an artistic medium. Working from harmony to a chaotic, discordant sound, the all-female choir individually and collectively fill the work with their powerful voices.
This composed sound work has been developed with the choir over a series of experimental workshops, which I led on the run up to the exhibition. I have also created a film of the choir performing this piece on one of the brownfield sites, and this work – entitled ‘A Staging’ – is also presented as part of the exhibition at AirSpace.
What parallels do you see might exist between the fictive places you create, the deserts of California and the changing nature of Stoke-on-Trent?
I see all of these spaces as deserts – as landscapes that can be captured and utilised to create otherworldly fictitious places in the form of an exhibition. The work’s geographic origins are simultaneously important and unimportant in this respect – references to real places are fragmented and recontextualised through the exhibition to generate a mise-en-scène that challenges limiting constructions of female identity through objects, soundscapes and video works.
Drawing from Rosi Braidotti’s theoretical reflections on the posthuman, the non-naturalistic forms in the video works refer to the female human body, and create an opportunity to make sense of and ultimately redefine female identity away from broader, limiting frames of sexuality. Ultimately, I use place as a vehicle rather than a direct reference – and this overarching feminist framework is what unites the landscapes explored.
Can you tell me more about working collaboratively with singers from across the West Midlands?
The female voice has become a central component in the works displayed as part of this exhibition. As the viewer enters the space, they are greeted by Release (2017), a looped sound work in which an intermittent sigh of relief fills the gallery space. Then, moving towards the back of the gallery, a collection of female voices becomes audible as headphones in Concrete Island and the audio of A Staging are first encountered.
The power of the collective female voice as a raw unstructured material has been utilised here to strongly position the woman in the centre of the work without direct reference to the female body – a form that brings with it limitations, in terms of the gendered cultural tropes one is conditioned to adopt when considering an understanding of femininity in the west.
Your work speaks about power and escapism in relation to gender. Can you tell me about your thoughts on the political aspects of your work?
Limiting, orthodox idealism has gained a foothold in western politics, fuelled by the widespread manipulation of facts and a populist shift towards right-wing agendas – and this forms an important backdrop to my interrogation.
The work questions how power and agency can be playfully reclaimed through the construction of subversive place, as dissident, fictive island constructions explore a scene in which radical representations of women control their own space, and their own bodies, on their own terms. Using the metaphor of land reclamation, my artistic practice aims to reveal a space in which the occupant can objectively interrogate the limiting aspects of feminised stereotypes through an encounter with art.
What are your hopes for the exhibition?
Playing with the position of the viewer in relation to the work is a key part of my method, specifically in relation to notions of place-making and the activation of subversive islands within an exhibition context. The consideration of how the viewer enters the space, how they navigate through it, spend time within it, and leave it, are all crucial to fulfilling the core aims of the work. So my hope is that the work functions as I intend, existing as a multifaceted installation that comprises a variety of entry points for the purposes of audience engagement.
And your upcoming plans?
At the moment I am focusing on getting my third year students through their upcoming degree show at UCLan. I then have work in a couple of group exhibitions – one at Millennium Galleries in Sheffield, which opens on the 6 June, and the other at Sydhavn Station in Copenhagen, opening the 9 June. I also look forward to working through a long reading list for my PhD and making new work this summer.
Lay of the Land (and other such myths), AirSpace Gallery, 5 May – 3 June 2017.
Presented in association with Mark Devereux Projects.
Artist Victoria Lucas is currently presenting her solo exhibition Lay of the Land (and other such myths) at Stoke-on-Trent’s AirSpace Gallery. Anneka French caught up with her to about her research, production processes and what it’s been like working with the gallery again after seven years.
Room7 is a new curatorial collective that has arisen from the MA in Art History and Curating at the University of Birmingham. Its members come from Staffordshire and the Black Country, as well as Leicester, London, Peterborough, Denmark and Latvia.
FLUX, their first exhibition together, opens on 2 June at Centrala and features work by artists from across the region: Mark Houghton, James Lomax, Anna Parker and Zoe Robertson. The exhibition runs until 10 June. The exhibition has been developed in partnership with the University of Birmingham and Grand Union.
We spoke to Room7 to find out more about their aspirations for the project.
Can you tell me about the process of developing the exhibition, both logistically and thematically?
An open call was sent out by Grand Union in the summer of 2016, asking for submissions of art works made in any media that was to be exhibited as part of a new collaboration between Grand Union and the University of Birmingham.
We began developing the exhibition by creating a long-list of submissions that we felt would complement and respond each other, in relation to multidisciplinary practices. Alongside this, the themes of body and its relationship to space and tactility manifested as the key themes of the exhibition. Even though the call out was for West Midlands artists we had submissions from most parts of the UK, making the selection process about logistics as well as artistic practice.
We are proud to say that we supported artists in the production of new work for FLUX.
How did you select the artists and what are the relationships between their different practices?
We went on studio visits that helped us to narrow down our selection and find out more about physical and practical aspects of the artworks, as well as meeting artists to develop relationships. We found fascinating the fact that our short listed artists all worked in different media and professions, which would make for an interesting dialogue within the gallery space. For example, this is the first time Intervention Architecture has been a part of an art exhibition.
You are producing a publication for the exhibition. What are your aspirations for this text?
We worked with Rope Press to develop a handout and poster for the exhibition. The handout offers a short introduction to each artist along with an exhibition statement. In producing written material about the artists it has been important to us to merge the artists’ own conceptions with our interpretations as a curatorial collective. This relationship has created opportunities for learning and an exploration of individual practices, and it is our hope that the handout will reflect this process.
We are currently also working with graphic designer Mollie Wade to produce a catalogue; the catalogue is thought of as an ‘echo’ of the whole project, and will be published shortly after the exhibition closes.
It is thought to be an extension of the visual and written interpretation of the exhibition and the work we have been doing with the artists. A big part of our ethos as a collective is to offer opportunities to young artists and professionals. Mollie has recently graduated from the University of Lincoln, and it is therefore a great pleasure for us to work with her and help her develop her portfolio as well.
Tell me more about the symposium you have planned on the final day of the exhibition.
The idea of hosting a symposium came quite naturally to us. Forming our collective we had to think about how we wanted to define our practice and an important part of that was to make the art available on multiple platforms. Thanks to generous funding from the University of Birmingham we were able to realise this idea.
Hosting a symposium has made us able to invite interesting speakers and of course present a platform for our four artists to express their ideas and thoughts on the project, and thereby the symposium will acts as an extension of the dialogue presented in FLUX. We will aim for an informal atmosphere where everyone can participate in discussions and debates about the contemporary art scene in the West
The symposium is hosted in Centrala on the 10 June and will start at 5pm. The programme includes a workshop and talks by Cheryl Jones, Director at Grand Union, and Craig Ashley, Director of New Art West Midlands. Tickets are sold via Eventbrite.
Aelita Galevska: Liepaja, Latvia
Bethany Williams: Peterborough, UK
Jessica Pollington: London, UK
Katrine Stenum: Aarhus, Denmark
Laura Bishop: Staffordshire, UK
Stephen Kirk: The Black Country, UK
Olivia Myatt: Leicester, UK
Room7 is a new curatorial collective that has arisen from the MA in Art History and Curating at the University of Birmingham. We speak to Room7 to find out more about their aspirations for their first exhibition FLUX.
In the first of our texts looking ahead to Developed in Birmingham, artist Jo Gane discusses her exhibition A White House on Paradise Street, which takes inspiration from a lost photograph made by George Shaw. The exhibition opens at Birmingham Open Media (BOM) on 15 June.
Can you tell me how your research into Birmingham’s connections with early photography began?
Really when I started working with historic processes such as wet plate collodion in 2008. I then worked on a project with Pete James about Harold Baker’s wet plate images of the city in the library collection which was shown at Birmingham Museum & Art Gallery (BMAG) as part of Birmingham Seen in 2009. This got me thinking about how photographs have documented a continuously changing cityscape from early on. I’ve since started looking at and making images with earlier processes such as daguerreotypes, which led to a conversation with curator Pete James about George Shaw’s early image making in the city.
I like to make work about people who are strong characters. This normally comes across by looking at their portraits. Shaw looks like a good man, he has an interesting, ambitious glint in his eye in the daguerreotypes I’ve seen of him which connected directly with me, a bit like the images I looked at of artist Jo Beck when I made work with his archive.
From this connection with Shaw’s portrait, looking into his archive of exceptionally detailed daguerreotypes was captivating and made me want to know more about what Shaw was doing with the process in the city. His images are so detailed – they sing out as if they were made yesterday – that’s what gets me with daguerreotypes, they are like miniature holograms because of the way the light bounces off the mirror. This crossover of time in photography is one of my key research interests – photographs as a form of time travel. Shaw’s images transported me back into 1840s Birmingham and made me want to make work about this fascinating time in the city.
Shaw was a man with many and varied connections, often through his work as a patent agent as well as his links with science and industry from which interesting theories can be drawn about him as a key figure in developing early photographic technology. Shaw had his fingers in lots of pies, which all came together to create a complex web ideal for developing photography – which would have been incredibly hard for anyone else in this place, with his knowledge and connections, pre-internet.
The project draws inspiration from an early daguerreotype thought to have been made in the city. What attracts you to the narrative of Shaw’s missing photograph? Why is it missing?
For me, the most interesting thing is always the gap where the solid facts of research have been eroded by time and speculation can create an image and a story. The idea of a missing, super-early daguerreotype of ‘A White House on Paradise Street’ (said to be made within days of the release of operational details of the process in Paris on 19th August) was what stood out to me as an exciting gap that could be filled in with an artwork. Simply the written description of an image taken of ‘A White House on Paradise Street’ sounded so idyllic and perfect I had a picture in my head that I wanted to play with. The importance of the daguerreotype plate as potentially the first one made in England also excited me.
Tracing the trail of historic events that made this image possible is fascinating. The accounts suggest Shaw’s position as a patent agent gave him advanced access to information about the patent information. There also a number of potentially key connections between people in Birmingham and Paris which might have served as a conduit for this information. Shaw’s encyclopaedic knowledge of chemistry, and of sources for the component parts required to make a camera and produce such an early image from local manufacturers add plausibility to the whole story. You can imagine the myriad of discussions and experiments that went on to allow Shaw to produce this image and the excitement when it worked.
Although the actual plate was referred to in several accounts its now seems lost. I think it is missing because of the turmoil of two world wars in the city, although who knows, perhaps it will turn up? Pete has described the image as his ‘holy grail’ of relics he has been searching for, so I think he’d be happy if he found it, although I think I now prefer the image I’ve imagined of it and would be disappointed as it would inevitably be very different. Although I have looked at later images of the building we believe it was taken of, these don’t have the same air of mystery and importance around them. In fact, the ‘White House on Paradise Street’ was the White Hart Inn and above was the office of the Birmingham Water Works company of which Shaw was a director. That is enough knowledge for me – already it starts to lose its mysterious appeal. I am making an art project after all, not a historic document and need some wiggle room in that gap to make it interesting for me to play with.
How and where will A White House on Paradise Street be manifest? And what exactly is a ‘time machine camera device’?
The project will be an exhibition at BOM (Birmingham Open Media) from 17 June 17 – 19 August containing a new series of daguerreotypes inspired by the absence of Shaw’s original plate and the live streams from the cameras. BOM has been an essential breeding ground for the project as it has become a collaboration between BOM Fellows – myself, Pete James and Leon Trimble. Cameras will be spread across the city in locations that are relevant to the early history of photography at Queens College Chambers, Waterstones, the Great Western Arcade and BMAG.
The ‘time machine camera devices’ are small replica Wolcott cameras fitted out with a Raspberry Pi and a micro camera inside the camera body which films and live streams the analogue projection from inside the camera. The cameras were built using historic techniques in mahogany by master cabinet maker Jamie Hubbard and are beautiful objects, with a contradictory contemporary feel due to the visibility of the Raspberry Pi on the back which has been programmed by Trimble. They are time machines as they collapse the gap between the historic and the contemporary through the collision of these two methods of image making.
The design of the camera is based on a Wolcott which was patented in 1840 as a faster way of making a daguerreotype using a mirror rather than a lens. The spirit of invention that went into the lateral thinking design of the Wolcott camera appealed to me in this project. We also know Shaw made views of New Street with a camera of this plate size and type. There are only two existing original Wolcott cameras in the world, one of which is in the museum collections centre, which could speculatively even have once belonged to Shaw. This original camera has been 3D scanned by Coral Monton and a visualisation of it will also be in the exhibition at BOM.
I’m interested in processes of image making and how these play with the reading of time within an image. Contemporary technology colliding with historic processes makes for an interesting, complex reading of time which I enjoy.
The exhibition has an idyllic, utopian title. How does this fit with the city as we know it today?
I like the contradiction between the feel of the title and the actual area of Paradise in Birmingham it refers to which is currently a construction site. The gap between representation and reality in photography is an interesting space and this gap is made apparent by this descriptive text. The title harks back to simpler times in the city, although Shaw was living in a very complex, interconnected place which made his work exciting and possible.
What are your hopes for the exhibition?
I hope that the exhibition and the wider projects start to give Birmingham some visibility in its rightful place in the history of photography. Its role is often overlooked, however developments in science and industry within the city moved photography forwards and brought the technology from its birth into infancy. The city has been described as the ‘midwife’ to the birth of photography.
Developed in Birmingham is a series of events devised by curator Pete James which explores early photography in the city and runs until 3 September 2017.
In the first of our texts looking ahead to Developed in Birmingham, artist Jo Gane discusses her exhibition A White House on Paradise Street at BOM, which takes inspiration from a lost photograph made by George Shaw.
Liz Hingley speaks with Anneka French about her current touring exhibition and publication, both titled Home Made in Smethwick. A commission by Multistory, the project was developed between 2014 and 2016 and includes portraits and still lives taken in the homes, social spaces and work places of residents of Smethwick, a town in Sandwell which borders Birmingham.
How did the commission for Multistory come about?
Exploring and celebrating the ever-evolving ethnic diversity of cities is an ongoing inspiration for my work. When I was a child growing up in the West Midlands, our Yemeni neighbours often bought over fresh malawah bread; I also have strong memories of scrumptious Caribbean rice and peas eaten at the houses of Barbadian friends.
I was based in Shanghai at the time Multistory commissioned me as part of their Black Country Stories series and I jumped at the opportunity to begin a project which would reconnect me with my West Midlands roots. Multistory had already been working with Martin Parr for four years in Black Country as well as with other photographers I highly respect, such as Mark Power and David Goldblatt, and we wanted to further explore the richness of Smethwick, a small town in the Sandwell, in the Black Country, that is one of the most culturally diverse areas in the UK.
My practice and perspectives developed significantly during the three years I lived in China creating the work Shanghai Sacred whilst spending the summers producing Home Made in Smethwick in the UK. Living between two very diverse locations gave me an understanding and compassion for those who carry their sense of home from place to place.
It has been a personal and surprising journey of discovery and I am only just beginning to reflect on and appreciate this experience.
Smethwick has a rich and significant social and political history within the West Midlands and beyond. What specifically drew you to Smethwick?
Smethwick emerged as an industrial centre during the nineteenth century. Rows and rows of tightly packed terraced houses were planted on the surrounding farmland to accommodate the factory workers arriving on masse from the countryside. Since then, these modest houses have become the spaces of new beginnings and have been continually adapted and personalised to suit myriad lifestyles and home-styles. From the 1950 onwards, the paths leading to these homes have extended further and further across the globe.
I was interested to capture how the traditional Victorian terraced houses have been transformed to suit cultures and tastes from around the world. On my initial wanderings, I found Smethwick’s densely populated streets surprisingly quiet. Only a rich mix of smells seeping out from behind closed doors filled the silent air. Naturally, when resources to make a home in a new environment are limited, food comes before wallpaper or even beds. The taste of home feeds both the body and the mind.
Many of the photographs are based in people’s homes. How did you begin and build up relationships with the sitters of your portraits? What was this process like?
I was initially drawn to photography by the opportunity it offers to have uniquely intimate experiences with strangers whom I would not otherwise have the opportunity to meet. Like all relationships, these particular exchanges are built on trust and are intuitive so therefore hard to articulate in words. I want to portray people rather than subjects.
Posing the simple question, ‘What is your favourite recipe?’ from door to door, I was welcomed into homes to join the preparation of personal dishes rich with meaning and memory. Conversation flowed over the kneading of family-size naans; it continued over the harvesting of herbs grown from seeds stuffed into suitcases; and while waiting for blueberry crumble to bake with a cup of Pakistani pink tea. Cooking and eating together drew out remarkable life stories and revealed the complex journeys that have brought people from 130 different countries (and sometimes from just down the street) to their Smethwick home.
All those I met contributed to this celebration of the social heritage and culinary richness of Smethwick today. With the aim of capturing the essence of a community, I have been the lucky guest at their table and passenger on their journey.
There is a sense of intimacy and generosity within the work. In what ways does your project explore a sense of family and community?
My photographs are developed through collaboration. I seek opinions on how people wish to be represented and allow them to intervene in positioning themselves. The majority of my time is spent engaging through observation and conversation. After developing an understanding of my subjects and their contexts, I then see the moment to capture.
Using digital camera equipment enabled me to share the results and offer people copies of their images quickly and easily; this was crucial in building trust and sustaining relationships. Returning these photographs led me to engage in further discussion with the individuals. People’s quotes are an integral part of the Home Made in Smethwick book.
How do the portraits, still lives and recipes that you collected intersect with one another?
Rather than a cookbook, this collection of portraits and recipes reveals how food can act as a bridge from one continent to another; from one generation to the next; and from one house to its neighbour. The tastes of home are never left behind; they accompany people through their lives. They cement relationships and are passed on and transformed by new generations and new contexts. With this series I hope to celebrate the social heritage and culinary richness of Smethwick today and so reveal another perspective on the migration experience.
In the book the recipes are printed on greaseproof-like transparent paper and inserted over the portraits, opening as doors into the intimate space of peoples front rooms.
How does being an anthropologist feed into your photography?
Photography gives me an insight into people’s intimate stories and experiences. It also enables me to reflect on my own perspectives and feelings about life. I trained as a photographer and then studied anthropology; my work brings these two interests together. I tend to immerse myself in long-term projects that require in-depth research. This led me to begin collaborating with academics to develop the visual side of their research into society. I enjoy the challenge of finding ways to communicate complex issues through imagery and aim to continue producing work which bridges art photography and social research. It is an exciting intermediate space of constant discovery.
What are your hopes for the legacy of the project?
The UK is in a crucial time of social assessment and reflection and it is vital that we build a bigger more empathetic picture of ourselves. I hope that this work can become part of this dialogue and remain as an active historic document of Smethwick reveals today.
Home Made in Smethwick is currently on display at Blackheath Library. Hingley’s publication can be purchased here.
An interview with artist and anthropologist Liz Hingley about her photographic series Home Made in Smethwick, now a publication and touring exhibition commissioned by Multistory.
Evolution Explored was an ambitious outdoor exhibition of work from the Magnum Photos archive that took place in Shrewsbury town centre and closed just last month. Anneka French caught up with one of the exhibition’s partners, Salla Virman, former CEO of The Hive Arts Centre, to find out more about her motivations for this project.
Passionate about presenting great art to those outside of large cities, Salla Virman was determined to bring a high-quality project to Shrewsbury in Shropshire. “Just because you’re rural doesn’t mean quality should suffer” she notes.
Evolution Explored, an exhibition of Magnum Photos including pioneering practitioners such as Robert Capa and the much-loved British artist Martin Parr, took inspiration from both Shrewsbury’s association with evolution as the town of Charles Darwin’s birth and from the 70th Anniversary of the photographic archive. Shown outdoors in both St. Mary’s Square and The Square, the project was a collaboration with Grain Projects, Shrewsbury Business Improvement District (BID) and The Hive Arts Centre, and was supported by contributions from Arts Council England, Redrow Homes, Shrewsbury Shopping and Shrewsbury Colleges Group.
On the exhibition’s theme, Virman explains “Magnum Photos recorded some of the most amazing and heart breaking moments of our time. This is not just about the evolution of species but about the evolution of everything within the world around us. The exhibition has a key link with its locality and a much wider relevance too.”
“I hope that the photographs within the exhibition have challenged viewers emotionally and intellectually, allowing new discoveries on art, the natural environment, technology and the changes we are experiencing within society. There is, of course, also something about the evolution of the medium of photography that has been explored through this special presentation.”
Accompanied by a programme of engagement activities for schools and families delivered by Grain Photography Hub in collaboration with The Hive, the exhibition offered opportunities to find out more about the photographs and photographers shown as well as offering chances for the general public to get into photography themselves. Partnerships with a variety of organisations have, for Virman, enabled new mutual relationships, perhaps most importantly attracting visitors to the town, improving connections with business, as well as enriching the lives of local people within Shrewsbury.
“The exhibition has been cohesive and visually stunning. I want Shrewsbury to have more events like this. It has really brought the community together.”
Evolution Explored ran from 9 February to 20 April 2017.
We speak to Salla Virman, former CEO of The Hive Arts Centre in Shrewsbury, about her motivations for the Magnum Photos public realm exhibition Evolution Explored.
We are delighted that Cass Art, the UK’s leading art supplies retailer sponsored the New Art West Midlands exhibitions this year. As exhibition sponsor, they provided prizes for two awards this year. The Cass Art prizes were awarded to Lorna Brown (Hereford College of Arts) and Damian Massey (Staffordshire University), who were both awarded with £250 of art supplies. Mark Cass, Founder and CEO of Cass Art, answered our questions.
Cass Art’s Birmingham store is relatively new to the city. What prompted the opening?
Birmingham is a real beacon of innovation with a rich cultural heritage, major cultural institutions and a vibrant artist community. It’s a place we’ve wanted to be for a long time so we were thrilled to open our doors on Corporation Street. We’ve already enjoyed a year in the city, time flies when you’re being creative.
The motto outside the store is ‘Let’s fill this town with artists.’ What do you think that artists and the arts can bring to a town or city?
We believe art is beneficial for everyone, and we want everyone to realise they can do it. At Cass Art we speak to hundreds of artists every day, and we’ve seen that the arts have the power to change our society and enrich people’s lives in many ways. From professional artists making ground-breaking works that inspire their community, to the individual who prefers to make work for self-reflection or mindfulness, art gives people the freedom to explore their creativity and brings people together. All of our staff are artists, and they are able to help anyone from beginner to professional with friendly, thoughtful and intelligent advice.
You have sponsored or contributed to a number of different art prizes nationally including New Art West Midlands 2017. What do you feel is the value in this approach?
Being an artist isn’t always easy! They need support, encouragement and of course materials to develop their practice and it’s important for organisations like ourselves to help them to do it. Prizes and awards can make a real difference to someone’s career and can be the kick-start they need to succeed.
The Cass family have supported artists for over a century, in 1905 my great uncle Paul Cassirer hosted the first show of Vincent Van Gogh’s work, at that time there was little interest in the artist. Supporting artists at the start of their career is an essential part of what we do, that still underpins our manifesto today. You can read all about the Cass family history on the Cass Art blog here.
In what ways are supporting the practices of art students important to Cass Art?
Students are the lifeblood of Cass Art. Art students need to have the best materials to allow them to experiment. It’s a time for them to explore the kind of work they want to make and the kind of artist they want to become, so we want to help students to do that. Then of course when they graduate, it can be difficult for some artists to continue their practice, so we want to help ensure they have the support they need to realise their ambition.
We offer support in a number of ways, from providing various prizes and awards, to offering free Art Spaces to use for exhibitions and events across the UK. We also offer a 10% discount to students with a Cobalt Blue Student Card, and those who have just graduated can sign up for our Rewards Card for a £10 reward every time they spend £100, plus discounts for exhibitions, museums, art magazines and more.
New Art West Midlands 2017 continues at Worcester City Museum & Art Gallery until Saturday 3 June 2017.
We are delighted that Cass Art, the UK’s leading art supplies retailer sponsored the New Art West Midlands exhibitions this year. As well as exhibitions sponsor, they provided prizes to two awards this year. Mark Cass, Founder and CEO of Cass Art, answered our questions.
Why did you decide to organise an Biennial? Why now?
Coventry is a city undergoing significant change and redevelopment. The City Council has recently published an exciting new stratergy for cultural provision to be delivered over a 10 year time frame and there is a high profile bid to become the UK City of Culture for 2021.
There is a really strong performance scene in the city which is led by organisations such as Talking Birds, Shop Front Theatre and Shoot Festival. The city also has a growing visual arts scene with activity regually being delivered by Coventry Artspace and their City Arcadia Gallery as well as other inititives such as Matthew Macaulay‘s Class Room Project Space and The Pod / Collective‘s Coventry Centre for Contemporary Art, housed in a shed designed by Bob and Roberta Smith.
This seems to be the perfect conditions for producing something ambitious, large scale and which can really drive the visual arts for the region. The Biennial form seems most useful for doing that.
What should people expect? Are there any aspects that have been confirmed already? Which venues will you be using?
People should expect a city wide, high profile, ambitious and exciting range of exhibitions and events by artists from the city, wider region and from around the world.
The Biennial’s programme is around 75% complete, at this stage, ahead of completing our fundraising campaign and totally confirming our partners. I’m not at liberty to divulge what that programme looks like as things might change. However, there will be several solo exhibitions in addition to many group exhibitions and a large range of parties, talks, symposiums and other activities. All this being said, there are several clues around our programming appearing on our Instagram.
The Biennial will be occupying galleries, studio buildings and public spaces around the city. We’ve also been viewing large, disused and unusual spaces which will be hosting a large portion of our exhibitions and events creating the opportunity for audiences to experience Coventry in a way they wouldn’t ordinarily be able to.
You are currently crowdfunding to work with more artists for the Biennial. Why should we donate?
By donating to our Kickstarter page you will be directly supporting artists working in the region. You will also be putting the Biennial into a stronger position as we are approaching other funding bodies, the donations will be used as match funding and will show that there is significant interest in this Biennial happening at local and regional levels.
You can also receive some fantastic rewards by pledging to support us such as limited edition prints, publications or even a private dinner party!
The Kickstarter to support the Biennial runs until Wednesday 26 April. It can be supported here.
From 6 to 22 October this year Coventry will see its first Biennial of Contemporary Art. Annabel Clarke caught up with Ryan Hughes, Director of the Coventry Biennial of Contemporary Art and lead artist at Office for Art, Design and Technology to hear more about his plans for the Biennial, and their current crowdfunding campaign.
This film reveals how artist Faye Claridge worked with experts in traditional crafts, music composers and choreographers to awaken memories and to create new interest in an almost-forgotten ritual powerful enough to bring a whole community together.
Follow the journey of a giant corn dolly, brought to life from an old photograph, travelling more than 200 miles to find its home.
From shrouded archives, along stretching motorways, to the wilds of Northumberland, the Kern Baby’s journey invites us to reflect on how we represent our sense of self, geography, society and time.
View Kern Baby Homecoming, a new film from Warwickshire-based artist Faye Claridge on her Kern Baby project which toured between Compton Verney, Library of Birmingham and Northumberland.
Joyride is a new work being developed for Staffordshire’s Cannock Chase Forest by West Bromwich-born Keith Harrison. As the winning entry of Jerwood Open Forest 2016, a collaboration between Jerwood Visual Arts and Forestry Commission England, Harrison has received a £30,000 commission to develop Joyride throughout 2017. The project will draw upon the distinctive context of Cannock Chase Forest and the industrial legacies of Birmingham’s former Longbridge car plant through sculpture, light and a performative procession.
Harrison’s practice prioritises material and making processes, often developing work that can be physically engaged with and that pays acute attention to its site and context. Now based in Plymouth, the artist has shown in exhibitions at the V&A, mima, Camden Arts Centre, National Museum Wales and internationally in Japan, Denmark, Spain and Canada.
We spoke to the artist to find out more about the project.
What drew you to the Jerwood Open Forest commission?
When I was first shown the open invitation to apply by a fellow studio holder at KARST, the statement noted that the forests were open to ideas. This was compelling. I had also previously been part of Jerwood Makers Open 2011 which led to a whole new series of experimental large scale works involving sound and clay, so the possibility to work with the same organisation again in a new and challenging setting was a big draw for me.
Can you tell me more about the development of your initial proposal for Joyride?
I immediately had a place in mind – Cannock Chase – which I knew as a child, driving out in the family Austin Maxi from the housing estate in West Bromwich where we lived. I arrived at the subject of joyriding which had begun when, on the way to my studio in Plymouth, I came across a burnt out vehicle. The driver had tried to leave a car park through an underpass but had not seen the bollards blocking the way. Shortly after, I visited Cannock Chase Forest again for the first time in a number of years. The size of the car parks around the visitor centres in the forest and the ‘no cruising’ road signs in the surrounding area confirmed a complex relationship with the car. Initially, I was thinking of ways that an alternative route might be taken through the forest, including the production of a series of BMX mud jumps using a local mud/clay mix but on my first visit it was clear that these bike trails already existed within Cannock Chase and clay was not a material found in the area. So, in the period leading up to the interview stage for the final shortlisting it was the combination of a car, a ramp and a launch that took hold and I hoped it might be an exciting and unexpected proposition in the context of a forest.
The idea of connecting the car to the end of vehicle production at Rover became an increasingly strong element of the work and led to a research visit to the British Motor Museum at Gaydon to see the last car, the Rover 75 saloon, to come off the production line at Longbridge in 2005. My mother and grandfather worked at the Longbridge car works and my first car was a gold Rover 25, so there were multiple personal connections.
I wanted to link the two places together so I proposed that using a locally sourced clay, a full-size replica of the last Rover 75 would be built on the site where the car factory once stood and then processioned from Longbridge to the Tackeroo site at Cannock Chase. The Tackeroo site was about finding a combination of a flat stable ground within the forest to construct the ramp with good access by car and foot. Ideally the event will take place at dusk and, like a drive-in movie, the public will be invited to witness the event through and in their vehicles with the attending cars illuminating the event through their headlights.
From the interviews with the Jerwood Open Forest organisers myself and four other artists, Rebecca Beinart, Magz Hall, David Rickard and David Turley, were invited to develop our proposals further over a six month period. These culminated in a final panel interview and a show in and around our proposals at Jerwood Space, London.
How has your upbringing in West Bromwich permeated your work? How does ‘the forest’ fit with this very different kind of landscape?
I think the experience of growing up in West Bromwich on the Bustleholme Mill estate has influenced a number of more recent works, including the collaboration Bustleholme with Napalm Death at De La Warr Pavilion in 2013. The estate I grew up on was a place hemmed in between motorway, canal and railway, and Cannock Chase was the nearest wilderness that we could get to by car. I was only six or seven years old and in my head it was all a bit mixed up with West Midlands Safari Park and tigers and grasslands but it stayed with me as a special place. The forest was the antidote. I think it still has this role as a place, sanctioned and unsanctioned, for people to go to escape in all manner of ways and the car is often the means to that end.
Your proposal has been selected as the winning entry. What does this award mean to you?
The award is hugely important to me as it provides the financial means and institutional support to realise the most ambitious work I have proposed to date at a place, and from a place, that have a strong personal resonance with.
How are you approaching taking your work from a proposal to what sounds like a complex and relatively experimental public sculpture and series of events?
The transition of the work from proposal to realisation is undoubtedly going to be a huge challenge involving two main sites and the co-ordination of numerous people and simultaneous activities. But the chance to bring all these elements together in a public arena provides the energy and impetus. It has already resulted in a number of very inspiring meetings with individuals and organisations who will be involved in the production of the event and I hope the subtitle of Joyride, a ‘collective action for a new perspective’ reflects a willingness to allow the pooled knowledge and resources of volunteers, participants and audience to inform the project in unexpected ways.
What are you working on next?
I’m currently developing a proposal with Stoke-on-Trent Libraries for the next British Ceramics Biennial and also plans for a nationwide tour of a ceramic sound system.
Joyride will launch at Cannock Chase Forest this autumn. Jerwood Open Forest was established by Forestry Commission England and Jerwood Charitable Foundation with support from Arts Council England.
Joyride is a new work being developed for Staffordshire’s Cannock Chase Forest by West Bromwich-born Keith Harrison. We interview the artist.
Birmingham-based artist Jonathon Harris has a practice he describes as inter-medial. Working across sculpture, installation, writing, and still and moving image, his artistic concerns are centred upon our increasingly digital lives.
Fresh from a recent curatorial intervention at artist-led space Stryx, Harris is about to undertake his first large-scale curatorial project for the 2017 edition of Fringe Arts Bath titled Diegetic Life: Ghosts of the Putative. The ambitious exhibition takes as its starting point, identities that are specifically constructed for screen-based dissemination. Works for Harris’ exhibition will be selected via an open call. Anneka French finds out more.
Is the curatorial project an extension of your artistic practice?
In a word, yes. I’m trying to place ideas I’ve been working with as an artist into a wider context and, for me, that entails a necessary expansion of my artistic practice into curating. I see curating as a way to encompass a plurality of perspectives more effectively than as a solo artist making a single artwork. This has arisen, in part, from researching Jean Baudrillard’s ideas about hyper-reality. I’m interested in what happens to visual art, which has developed in much less visually-saturated times, now that we live in this visual hyper-reality and see more images per day than some of our ancestors saw throughout their entire lives. I was recently asked to stage a ‘curatorial intervention’ as part of #sorrynotsorry at Stryx and, in that process, I found a parallel with the way component parts are brought together in an installation piece – perhaps for the first time, I began to think concretely about the exhibition-as-artwork.
Diegetic Life: Ghosts of the Putative is your most ambitious curated project. What drew you to working with Fringe Arts Bath?
I’ve been involved with the West Midlands for enough time that it has a pleasantly familiar feel but there’s always the danger of that quite quickly becoming hermetic. So I’m keen to work outside the region partly because it’s outside of my comfort zone. My experience has been that the West Midlands is supportive of artists and many people here have been generous in sharing the benefit of their experience. Now, I want to take that knowledge and experience elsewhere to see how it sits in other contexts but also be able to bring something back to my peer network here. Establishing a solid base for ones’ practice is valuable, but so is having dialogue with other parts of the country too.
Fringe Arts Bath are friendly towards the type of high concept programming that I think my exhibition fits into – that can be seen in exhibitions they’ve previously programmed. The organisation tends to take over a mixture of art venues and other kinds of sites across the city. I’m awaiting confirmation of where my exhibition will be held but also looking forward to the possibility of working with a non-standard space. The festival offers lot of support to early-career curators which I was keen to make use of and, of course, Bath is a beautiful city in which to work!
How did you arrive at the subject of the exhibition?
It has largely grown out of my artistic practice. I’m slightly obsessed with surveillance culture – how, as a society, we have been entirely complicit with the exponential growth of public surveillance over the past few decades, and also the ways that process might have primed us to be enthusiastic about the way we now conduct a ‘social media surveillance’ of our own lives. I have exhibited work which played with the dynamics of surveillance at both Friction Arts and mac birmingham’s Cannon Hill Art School. Those works were about protest, politics and civil freedoms – topics which, for me, very much underpin some of the issues that are thrown up by the concept of hyper-reality. In the early 1980s, Baudrillard described hyper-reality as the point at which we can no longer reliably tell the difference between reality and fiction – a quick glance at what’s going on with politics suggests that we’ve now very much reached that point. My first degree was a film degree and I find documentary film theory helpful in getting a handle on this hyper-reality situation. ‘Diegetic’ refers to the narratives we create when we make images and videos. I’ve always thought that ‘putative’ is an ugly word but in this context it refers to the actual reality that is there before we start making images and creating narratives about our lives. This exhibition questions whether there is any difference any more between the reality of our lives and the narratives we create about our lives, or whether we are so far into the hyper-reality that we can no longer tell the difference.
What kind of artworks are you hoping to show?
I’m selecting via an open call and I’d like to have works in the show from both new media practices and more traditional art media. The ideas around the show feel very digital but the approach to them doesn’t have to be. An ideal scenario for me would be a counterpoint in the exhibition between still works and ones that either move or have a sense of movement, so I would definitely encourage submissions that use sound or performance. Even though there is an obviously political way to think about this exhibition, I’m also quite interested in more personal, perhaps more subtle, observations on the exhibition’s themes as much as works which have a statement to make.
How can artists apply to be part of the project?
Submissions are welcome in any medium that respond to the ideas outlined above about diegetic/screen-based life. The official call for artists can be found here and artists should email their proposals to firstname.lastname@example.org by Monday 27 March 2017.
The exhibition opens with the festival preview, from 6pm on 26 May 2017, and will then be open daily from 11am to 6pm until 12 June.
Jonathon Harris is preparing to curate his most ambitious exhibition to date at Fringe Arts Bath. Anneka French finds out more.
A body of new work by Hardeep Pandhal is the subject of a current solo exhibition at Eastside Projects titled Nightmare on BAME Street. Programmed as part of the two-year project Production Show, his work is manifest via animation, comic, knitwear and music.
Pandhal now lives and works in Glasgow, having graduated with an MFA from the Glasgow School of Art in 2013 with the support of a Leverhulme Scholarship award. He was selected for Bloomberg New Contemporaries (2013), the Glasgow International Open Bursary (2013), the Catlin Art Guide (2014) and the Drawing Room Bursary Award (2015). Recent shows include a solo show Hobson-Jobson at Collective Edinburgh (2015) and groups shows The Vanished Reality, Modern Art Oxford (2016) and Nothing Happens, Twice: Artists Explore Absurdity, Harris Museum, Preston (2016).
Anneka French spoke to the artist to find out more about his practice and influences.
Your work is deeply invested in issues of identity, social realism and translation. How did your early childhood in Birmingham shape your practice?
I went to an all boys school made up mostly of Afro-Caribbean and South Asian boys. The bouncers on the school gates during lunchtime were agreeable, so it was easy to truant. I used to soak my conkers in vinegar and heat them in the microwave because I thought this would make them stronger. I used to play snooker after school, I got a 33 break when I was 13. Teachers got punched in the face, my best friend got stabbed right next to me over a dispute over a girl. It was a distracting and disorientating experience.
I hope the language in my work can communicate being un-cocksure or a state of undifferentiated chaos. It’s like the idea of being caught between conflicting values at home and at school, or like having a double consciousness.
One formative moment was my first family trip to India, which we recorded with our first camcorder. I have been editing some of this material into my moving image work in various ways. I am thinking about the work of ‘Cultural Studies’ on mimicry and acculturation when I look back at my personal archive.
At the moment I am trying to convey the effects of cultural repression. There’s also something to be said about the role that poetic irony and parody play in performing acts of reclamation or empowerment as part of my method to making.
How is the city of Glasgow shaping your practice?
Glasgow feels like a secure place to live and make work. There is a nice community of artists based there and lots of influential people visiting. It also gives me the necessary distance to undertake the subjective thought-work in my work.
Can you tell me more about the collaboration with your mother? How does she feel about being part of your work?
When I think about making work, I try to start from an uncomfortable place. We share a language barrier so I cannot be sure how she feels about being part of my work. The knitted garments have images of heads stitched onto them. The effect of the stitching leaves the garment ‘puckered’, the heads bulge outwards in a manner that I thought was fittingly jarring, considering the nature of the collaboration. The relationship is forced in some ways but can also feel seamless too. It takes place in the domestic setting of the family house. It seems to make better sense as artwork upon reflection, retroactively. There is very little instruction or discussion surrounding each piece. Unlike the processes I undertake in other media, knitting and stitching in this way is linear – we set out to achieve what we initially decide and then the finished thing emerges after a couple of months. In that time I’m usually making other work away from home. Figuring out the distinction between being ‘performative’ and doing ‘performance’ also becomes hazy and therefore useful to think about. In a way, the meaning of the artwork is located in the production process – the exhibited object and exhibition scenario signifies the death and need of renewal of this process.
I am learning how to stitch my own designs on to the garments. Hopefully this activity will lead me to other threads
The phrase ‘Nightmare on BAME Street’ brings with it a whole host of direct political and social issues. How did you arrive at this title?
‘BAME Street’ is an imagined place based on Dudley Road, the main road near the house I grew up in. My idea for the title did not arise in any clear systematic way. I wanted it to sound like a title for a rap mixtape. Also, I haven’t finished it! I often find myself in situations where the title for a work is required or made before actually finishing it or thinking through the ideas properly. It’s like a way of covering enough of the bases that I think are important or challenging for me to pursue in my work. In this case, I am developing my ongoing collaborative work with my mother by adopting some of her skills and I am reflecting on the area of Birmingham that I (somewhat reluctantly) identify with, which is largely made of migrant communities. Perhaps this ambivalence is a symptom of being socially mobile, or practising participant-observation in my work, or perhaps it’s a sort of perverse fantasy that has something to do with my own self-preservation?
What can visitors to the exhibition at Eastside Projects expect?
Visitors can expect to see some knitted work and a new animation, with my own music in it.
It feels more experimental or less pressured. The framing of Production Show has encouraged me to pursue some of the more overtly propositional aspects of my work. There’s multiple starting points, improvisation, half-sketched ideas and lots of unresolved thinking at this stage. Once the animation is complete we will edit the still frames into a book to take stock of what it is.
Pandhal’s solo exhibition Nightmare on BAME Street is showing at Eastside Projects until 22 April 2017.
A new body of work by Hardeep Pandhal is the subject of a current solo exhibition at Eastside Projects titled Nightmare on BAME Street. Anneka French finds out more.
Ampersand Projects’ Co-Directors Matt and Kate Andrews and artist Justin Wiggan discuss the aspirations and impacts of Green Lungs, a community-engaged participatory project that took place in Autumn 2016. Working with refugees in Birmingham, Green Lungs sought to highlight the importance of Birmingham’s green spaces to the wellbeing of some of the city’s newest community members. Anneka French finds out more.
The Green Lungs project introduced over fifty refugees living in Birmingham to the historic Cannon Hill Park through a series of creative workshops that took place in Autumn 2016, led by artist Justin Wiggan. Many of the participants have recently settled in Birmingham, seeking sanctuary in the city. This project is a symbolic welcome to Birmingham’s green spaces: havens of peace and quiet in the urban, post-industrial landscape.
A key aim of Green Lungs was to build meaningful and prolonged connections with the parks that will hopefully last beyond this project, creating a legacy that participants can share with their family, friends and community. The project culminated in the planting of spring bulbs in a secluded part of the park – a small yet lasting intervention for each individual involved that they can return to next year.
What were Green Lungs’ starting points and aspirations?
AP: When we started discussing setting up Ampersand Projects in late 2015, we knew we wanted to focus on projects that introduced people to the positive impact art and heritage can have on their wellbeing, aspirations and outlook. We also knew that we wanted to work with people who don’t normally encounter art in their everyday lives.
Green Lungs came about through discussions with sound artist Justin Wiggan, who Kate had previously collaborated with on Advance with Feathers, working with patients at St Andrews mental health facility in Stirchley. We knew he was experienced at delivering activities that engage participants irrespective of language, circumstance or background. We have a shared belief that Birmingham’s parks are very special (and endangered) places and we wanted new arrivals to the city to experience them. Justin was also interested in exploring the relationship between nature, sound and memory.
As a new organisation, we were keen that, as Green Lungs is our first project, that it delivered on our aim to enrich people’s lives through contact with artists and green spaces. It was also really important that the project worked well as a pilot; we want Ampersand Projects to deliver sustainable work that can be developed and impactful over several years.
What are the project’s political implications?
AP: From the outset, we didn’t want Green Lungs to be overtly political in nature. Above all, we wanted to create a safe environment for participants to experience and enjoy Cannon Hill Park and encourage them to revisit – it was critical to us that the participants weren’t ever made to feel like they were being used or exploited to push a wider agenda. However, we hope that the project and exhibition reflect the individual voices and humanity of people seeking sanctuary in Birmingham and perhaps shift perceptions around refugees and asylum seekers, if only in a small way.
The legacy of Birmingham’s parks as free, democratic spaces that are for everyone is also important to Green Lungs. Many new arrivals to the city don’t realise that it has so many parks and green spaces, and that they are free. We’re keen to promote just how green Birmingham is as a city in our projects.
What do you feel is the importance of connecting art projects with wellbeing-focused activities?
AP: We believe that people can significantly improve their wellbeing by becoming invested in the public spaces that surround them, such as local green spaces. We feel that we have an opportunity with Ampersand Projects to provide people lasting experiences that will encourage them to see these places differently and take ownership over them. By working with artists such as Justin, our participants have opportunities to have new, creative experiences, draw on their own lives and gain confidence. We feel that we have a responsibility to improve the lives of the communities we work with.
You have a number of partnerships on the project. How did these develop and how were they selected?
AP: Green Lungs is our first project working with refugees and asylum seekers. We worked with the support of St Chad’s Sanctuary who were vital in brokering the relationships with this audience, making this project possible. So much of their work is focused on the vital services needed by those seeking sanctuary: food, clothing, housing and language classes and they were very receptive to us providing this additional experience for their users.
We have built a good relationship with mac birmingham as freelancers over the last few years through Kate’s various Next Gen projects and they were incredibly receptive to our proposal of Green Lungs last year. We were also very grateful to draw on the in depth knowledge of the Park Rangers service, who were a joy to work with. We look forward to continuing to work with their staff in our future projects.
You have worked with a number of young people too. How has this scheme been developed?
AP: For three years Kate has led the Creative Agency project at mac, which was an opportunity for young people to build and learn new skills in all areas of creative arts marketing and audience engagement. For Green Lungs, we worked with mac to recruit five young producers to collaborate with us on the delivery of workshops, documentation, curation and exhibition design. We’re keen to create voluntary and paid opportunities for emerging creative producers in our projects. Through Creative Agency, we’ve seen the positive impact this kind of experience can have on young people embarking on a career in the arts, particularly in securing employment or starting their own projects. The project benefitted hugely from their involvement.
How have you shaped the format and activities of the project?
JW: For me as an artist, what was interesting about Green Lungs is the fact that it allowed the participants to experience being an explorer instead of a tourist. It enabled them to translate their own experiences of the past, present and future by making connections through the workshops with the sky, the horizon and the ground. This also allows the participants to be quite philosophical and make connections with the mind, the eyes and the mouth. These were grouped together by means of association. By allowing participants to see these connections through a series of specifically designed worksheets, we generated collaborative material over a series of workshops and walks. Working with the participants has impacted on my artistic practice by allowing me to think about their role as more of an active partnership rather than translator. It also challenged my preconception of how ideas, sounds and places can change in meaning because of tiny cultural differences and huge personal experiences but how, in the end, we as humans need the same things – to be loved and respected. We all need to reflect on our own current circumstance and situation, and to think about how we approach the current changing climate where more and more people are finding themselves displaced, escaping and lost. The world picture now indicates that everyone needs to rethink their purpose and reaction to other humans. The model of the Green Lungs project, is a simple, sustainable model which shows how creative individuals and arts organisations play a very specific role in the integration of the human family.
What opportunities has the project offered for its participants? Have you faced any particular challenges?
AP: Many of our participants find themselves in difficult circumstances; some are still dealing with the trauma and implications of freeing oppressive regimes and leaving family behind. Therefore, their safeguarding was paramount above any artistic outcomes. We were very lucky to have the experience and expertise of St Chad’s Sanctuary to guide us.
We also had to be flexible and allow the workshops to take shape organically, due to changeable circumstances the participants are in, as well as levels of English spoken. We encouraged participants to write and share their experiences of the park in their own language if they were more comfortable.
Although our time with the participants was quite fleeting, St Chad’s have told us that many of the participants have spoken positively about the experience and many were keen to revisit Cannon Hill and their local parks following the workshops. Many of the participants came back for the exhibition launch, which was preceded by the private planting of spring bulbs in a secluded part of the part of the park.
What legacy do you hope Green Lungs has and what are its future plans?
AP: Green Lungs is a pilot project that we hope to grow from this year onward; working with more participants, artists and environmental and outdoor organisations. Long term, we also hope to produce resources that allow Birmingham-based organisations working with refugees and asylum seekers to lead their own arts and heritage activities in parks.
Our wider aspiration for Ampersand Projects for us to build on this area of work, becoming a leading organisation which brings together the arts and the outdoors for the benefit of communities across the West Midlands.
An exhibition featuring sound artworks by Justin Wiggan and documentation of Green Lungs is currently on display at mac birmingham until 28 February 2017. Green Lungs is supported by Arts Council England Grants for the Arts and is in partnership with mac birmingham, St Chad’s Sanctuary Birmingham, Birmingham Ranger Service and Birmingham Wellbeing Service.
Ampersand Projects work with communities and artists to create accessible and empowering engagement experiences in public spaces. Based in Birmingham, UK and founded in 2016, they work to improve wellbeing, develop skills and give opportunities for people to create and experience special spaces, enriching art and share heritage.
Ampersand Projects’ Co-Directors Matt and Kate Andrews and artist Justin Wiggan discuss the aspirations and impacts of Green Lungs with Anneka French.