Love & Solidarity: Jamie Crewe, Grand Union 2020.. Image by Patrick Dandy

http://thisistomorrow.info/articles/jamie-crewe-love-solidarity

The term ‘community’ conjures images of disparate individuals joined by shared interests, experiences, cultures, or religion. But the term also groups unquestioningly, disregarding an acknowledgement that frictions can – and do – exist. Jamie Crewe’s ‘Love & Solidarity’ at Grand Union, Birmingham, offers a conflictual understanding of kinship, and parameters for queer love and disdain. Review by Ryan Kearney – via this is tomorrow

https://www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/2020/mar/05/judy-watson-review-pain-and-persecution-in-a-lush-and-stunning-landscape

The artist’s great great grandmother escaped a massacre by hiding underwater and breathing through reeds. Such astonishing stories of Indigenous Australian experience feed into this beautiful show that packs a punch. Hannah Clugston reviews Judy Watson at Ikon – via The Guardian

Meryl McMaster: As Immense as the Sky

Anneka French reviews a solo show of work by Meryl McMaster, her first in the UK – via Photomonitor

http://thisistomorrow.info/articles/zouzou-group-door-open

Betsy Porritt reviews ZouZou Group: – door open at Ikon Gallery – via this is tomorrow

http://thisistomorrow.info/articles/the-twin-coventry-biennial-of-contemporary-art

Emily Hale reviews Coventry Biennial: The Twin, focussing on exhibitions at The Row and Herbert Art Gallery and Museum – via this is tomorrow

Are we really living in a democracy, or a cold war ideology re-imagined?

Georgiou & Tolley’s (Darryl Georgiou & Rebekah Tolley-Georgiou) multi-layered, multi-textured and multi-framed moving image work, Twin Stranger: Entangled State, is currently showing as part of The Twin, at the 2019 Coventry Biennial of Contemporary Art. The work has been situated in The Row, a disused NHS building, and as it turns out, an apt site; a building that had previously been a place where only the most vulnerable of society visited, their secrets laid bare in order to receive the care they needed; consent and control? In keeping with the theme of The Twin and also the 30th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall, the work is also being exhibited in the former GDR, in what is a ‘false original’ of the former Hotel Berolina; now a doppelgänger government building, responsible for issuing fines and parking tickets. Surveillance and control in a different guise?

The Hotel Berolina, which features throughout the film, was built in the German Democratic Republic, long before the wall came down. A symbol of opulence and power; a place for sleeping, eating, meeting, playing but with an added punch of surveillance thrown in for free. Was the status of being seen there, worth the price of really being seen?

 

Who is watching who?’ …

… in the foyer, in the rooms of this Stasi controlled building … opposites and parallels, connections and diversions, play out across the screen as the viewer is pulled into the lobby, suddenly alert to a woman with red hair, a tall man at the elevator, meeting their gaze. A disturbed voice (actor Jack Klaff), asks questions, makes observations and reacts … layered over soundscapes, interviews, conversations, protests. As a viewer the tension becomes palpable, the tempo and the urgency of the dialogue builds, a feeling that you have entered into something very dark and most probably dangerous.

As you start to engage with the work, the many layers begin to make themselves known. Each word, phrase, image and sound is wrapped around double meanings, subliminal messages, hidden text, semiotics, dualities within dualities, juxtaposed against one another. It is an allegorical work that doesn’t take you on a gentle meander but spins you headlong down a fast flowing rapid, heading straight to the open mouth of a monster, that has travelled through time, shape shifting, mercurial and ever present.

Twin Stranger: Entangled State explores the wider themes of Georgiou & Tolley’s previous works: Magician Walks Into The Laboratory, Resistance ’68, and Magician: Walking Back The Cat; regarding mass surveillance, data gathering, paranoia, consent, control, through the lens of both still and moving images, to re-present the past and situate it within the present. In parallel, an associated Twin Stranger Radio Film, to be broadcast on Saturday 16 November, 6-7pm (MixCloud), along with the siting of the work in Berlin, offers a celebration of resistance and revolution against both historical and contemporary Cold War ideologies that lead to the eventual demolition of the Wall. The experimental soundscape: a layering of the moving image, dialogue and location sound recordings, synthesising with the archive material and music of the 1980s.

In addition to Twin Stranger: Entangled State, a ‘sound walk’ entitled, From A to B: Anhalter Bahnof to Berolina, will take place in Berlin on 16 November 2019; passing the site of the former Berolina statue (the female personification of Berolina), that once stood in Alexanderplatz. This sister project and off-site event, will form part of a subsequent limited edition audio work, to accompany the site-specific works in Coventry and Berlin.

How the hell did we get here and why?’

Spend enough time with this work and the parallels with contemporary society become stark and frightening. There’s no need for a Hotel Berolina anymore, there’s no need for a Berlin style wall. Every discovery, every crack in the capitalist right wing armour, is sealed with false originals, wormholes and rabbit holes, and deceptive connections. An invisible panopticon structure that sees all, but remains unseen and untouchable, to all but a few … our digital footprints analysed each time we enter the Hotel Internet, regardless of which room we inhabit.

 

Review by Helen-Kilby Nelson

https://www.artslabinternational.com/twin-stranger-entangled-state

Helen Kilby-Nelson reviews Twin Stranger: Entangled State, a video work by Georgiou & Tolley, currently on display at The Row as part of Coventry Biennial 2019.

https://frieze.com/article/fierce-festival-performance-art-end-world

Sean Burns reviews Fierce Festival 2019 – via Frieze

https://www.theguardian.com/stage/2019/oct/21/fierce-festival-review-birmingham?fbclid=IwAR2gYZdT12oL4O923UPUNsgp32igJPDn5P1j__P6cDTcKa0xMiwmhLc8nU4

Gareth Llŷr Evans reviews Fierce Festival, Birmingham’s long standing programme of live art and events – via The Guardian

http://thisistomorrow.info/articles/amalia-pica-private-confidential

Emily Hale reviews Amalia Pica: Private & Confidential at The New Art Gallery Walsall – via this is tomorrow

Emily Scarrott reviews Adam Neal’s “In Loving Memory Of” at Coventry Artspace’s Arcadia Gallery, which took place during August 2019 as part of their graduate-in-residence scheme.

 

“Who Is Adam Neal and Why Is He Dead?”

 

“That’s what people keep asking me,” Adam says, grinning; “People keep coming in thinking that this is a memorial to someone called Adam Neal and they want to know what’s happened”.

“Who is the show in memory of?” I ask.

“I guess the working class as a whole really,” he answers. “The last generation of working class people are elderly now, after them it starts getting messy. This sort of working class doesn’t really exist anymore, it’s just leftovers now”.

Neal’s first solo exhibition, a culmination of his participation in Coventry Artspace’s graduate-in-residence scheme, grounds working class culture in the aesthetics which form his grandmother’s daily life. The exhibition focusses on lens-based documentation and display of an observed domestic practice, repackaging an environment in which the artist has grown up.

Central to the gallery space is a weekly Aldi shop in a basket, positioned on a plinth that has been annotated with a list of items, handwritten by Neal’s grandmother. This part is important; It is the tone-setter of the exhibition, dictating the balance between what the artist finds humorous and what he finds precious. Whilst there is a clear joy in exhibiting his nan’s shopping, a tenderness towards this woman is shown in Neal’s practice of care towards the artwork. On the day of my visit, he had ensured that he left the house early to go (specifically) to an Aldi before opening to buy a packet of pork pies to replace the previous ones which had gone out of date the day before.

I spend a lot of time with gigantic copies of half completed pages of an “Arrow Word” puzzle book, getting to know the character of the elderly woman who I have never met. These samples act like anecdotes of an older generation and build a clear picture of their place in the world of their descendants. Certain answers are lost on younger adults, and both the artist and I admit to each other that we weren’t familiar with a lot of the content. With answers like Danny La Rue in the now 2019 world of Ru Paul’s Drag Race, the puzzle books evidently know their audience and document a wave of pop culture knowledge which has been forgotten, changed or rewritten.

Neal points out his favourite parts of the images: changes in biro colour mid-answer which shows his nan’s thought process throughout the page.

There is a fond spark in the artist’s eye as he speaks about his grandmother. The achievement of their grandchildren is both the legacy and the death of the working class, with their daily graft providing the opportunity for education and success in younger generations. This support is honoured in Neal’s curatorial choices for his work; The biggest declaration of which can be found in a sleek series of large-scale photography hung using an (authentic) collection of kitsch souvenir fridge magnets at each corner. The transformation from nan’s fridge to gallery wall pays homage to those matriarchal homemakers who nurtured the abstract thinking of their families and encouraged it’s professional development by displaying early prototypes in their nest.

Coventry’s City Arcade is the perfect frame for this body of work. Surrounded by shops that still cater specifically to the needs of this fading generation, the exhibition bemuses passers- by as they aren’t quite sure what Adam Neal, a gracious host armed with a camera and his Nan’s net curtains, is doing on their territory. These are the moments when art spaces like Arcadia are most effective, providing an experience of the uncanny for the community which inspires questions rather than immediate alienation.

“And has your Nan come to see the show?” I ponder, wondering what such an experience must feel like.

“She’s seen pictures,” he smiles proudly.

“Did she like it? Any feedback?”

“She says it’s good, but mostly she just wants her fridge magnets back”.

 

Emily Scarrott reviews Adam Neal’s “In Loving Memory Of” at Coventry Artspace’s Arcadia Gallery, which took place during August 2019 as part of their graduate-in-residence scheme.

Please Sir, Can I Have Some More?

A critical review of Stryx Gallery’s SOUP Pt V: BLENDER residency by Emily Scarrott – via a-n reviews

https://www.theguardian.com/music/2019/jul/23/supersonic-festival-review-birmingham

By embracing the heaviness in Birmingham’s heritage, and adding a strong dose of eccentricity, Supersonic is world-class. Review by Ben Beaumont-Thomas – via The Guardian

https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2019/jul/09/value-artists-benefits-ireland-britain-creative-industries

From September, artists in Ireland will be permitted one year on unemployment benefit without having to look for work, to allow for time to pursue their practice, rehearse, or develop a portfolio. – via The Guardian.

Larissa Sansour and Søren Lind. In Vitro, 2-channel black and white film. 27 mins 44 secs, 2019. Courtesy of the artists. Larissa Sansour and Søren Lind. In Vitro, 2-channel black and white film. 27 mins 44 secs, 2019. Courtesy of the artists. Larissa Sansour and Søren Lind. In Vitro, 2-channel black and white film. 27 mins 44 secs, 2019. Courtesy of the artists. Larissa Sansour and Søren Lind. In Vitro, 2-channel black and white film. 27 mins 44 secs, 2019. Courtesy of the artists.

Black oil rushes through the streets of the Palestinian city of Bethlehem engulfing the city. Suddenly the town explodes, erupting in fire and smoke in the opening sequence of In Vitro (2019) by Danish-Palestinian artist, Larissa Sansour, co-directed with Søren Lind, and curated by Nat Muller for the Danish Pavilion of the 58th Venice Biennale.

Larissa Sansour and Søren Lind. In Vitro, 2-channel black and white film. 27 mins 44 secs, 2019. Courtesy of the artists.

The black and white, two-channel, Arabic language film is set in the aftermath of this eco-disaster, in a dystopian, sci-fi world. Time is discussed between the characters Dunia, an elderly women who is hospitalised and Alia, “a clone” that visits her. The first words are spoken by Dunia: “Each morning I wake up to the Underground’s sound of rumbling”. This experience evokes a sense of entombment as both characters live in an underground bunker, which protects and represses them. They are both scientists; Alia was created “Underground” to act as the predecessor to Dunia, the leading scientist whose objective is to reform Bethlehem.

In Vitro’s epistemological meaning is “in the glass” and is contemporarily defined as a biological process, restricted to a laboratory. Alia, a product of experimentation describes how she can feel the “fire burning on her face”, in a particularly haunting moment. This is because Alia holds the collective trauma of the those who were killed in the plague, symbolised by the black oil that Dunia’s world succumbed to. Her recollections are a painful archive to delve into, as the individual traumas of those who perished are re-lived. In the film, Dunia remarks to Alia, “We will be archived for someone else to make sense of”, suggesting a possible output of the scientific organisation who cloned Alia; to use the clones as memory vessels and activists, though this is never articulated. Many parts of the film are left for us to assume or guess, leaving black holes in the narrative, which often shifts in time across the two-channel film installation.

The film invites thoughts on nostalgia and asks if we can or should resign ourselves from the past. There are two distinct perspectives: Dunia, who longs for a resurgence of her beloved home, as she advises Alia that she should be respectful of memories, such as their shared peaceful memory of harvesting olive trees. Alia, on the other hand, wants to focus on the world that is being reformed – to create her own sense of self, away from the memories that have been implanted inside her. There is a back and forth between the characters; an attempt at understanding why these memories are important to retain and share, which Alia refers to as “fairy tales”. Dunia quickly comments, “Nations are made on fairytales” as facts are “too sterile”, pertaining to the formation of history and identity, demonstrating generational shifts between these perspectives.

Larissa Sansour and Søren Lind. In Vitro, 2-channel black and white film. 27 mins 44 secs, 2019. Courtesy of the artists.

A pivotal moment in the film is when Alia is shown alone in an underground room with a large, black, foreboding object or “void”. This object enables Alia to reconnect to past memories, suggesting that she is torn between what she truly wants amidst this huge pressure and responsibility. In another room across from the film, which is reachable by a passing decorative tiled corridor, comprised of 500 tiles made in Nablus in the northern West Bank, there is a large black sculpture, titled Monument for Lost Time (2019).This oval-shaped object reaches the full height of the ceiling, dwarfing visitors and mirrors the sculpture we see in the film. Reflecting on painful memories is a human reflex. Dunia, is a maternal character which is present in how she speaks to Alia. It becomes clear that Dunia lost her daughter in the eco-disaster, perhaps why she believes memories are the most precious thing to possess. Curator, Nat Muller describes the “void” or “repository of memories” as a “hollow vessel, a reminder of loss that can no longer be defined, but only be sensed achingly like a phantom limb.”

Accompanying the sculpture there is a soundscape by Mons Niklas Schak, which plays synthesised sirens and the cracks of old industrial buildings akin to the soundtrack in the film that he composed, invoking a sense of disaster. I see a visitor have their photo taken, reaching out to touch the void – comically re-enacting a moment from the film, which somehow demonstrates the quality of this work to communicate a complex narrative in a modest 27-minutes. Heirloom, the title of this exhibition, suggests that memories are property, that are passed down generations. The tiles, which have been added to this pavilion as an intervention are an example of a traditional Palestinian craft, subtly indicating that we cannot move forward without addressing the past, or in Dunia’s words: “The past never was, it only is.”

 

Laura O’Leary is a writer and curator, based between Derby and Birmingham, UK. Laura’s research trip to the Venice Biennale was made possible with a Jonathan Ruffer Curatorial Research Grant from Art Fund.

 

Curated by Nat Muller, a postgraduate researcher at Birmingham City University, Larissa Sansour’s exhibition Heirloom is now showing at the Venice Biennale. The project is reviewed by Laura O’Leary and is on show at the Danish Pavilion at the Giardini until 24 November 2019.

Installation view, The Range, Eastside Projects

Birmingham City University student, Gurpreet Kaur, responds to Eastside Projects‘ recent group exhibition, The Range.

I told my friend ‘’I feel weird’’, ‘’why?’’ she said? ‘’I don’t know’’. ‘’I just feel weird’’ ‘’I went to an exhibition where…’’

Walking down Heath Mill Lane you will come across a brown building next to Central Taxi parts blending in with the others. Keep an eye out for the scaffolding bars, yes that’s Eastside Projects. Use the second door with the huge door handle, which is probably an artwork. Then slowly walk in trying not to feel too intimidated by the people at the front desk. Don’t worry. ‘Ask’ them if you can see the exhibition and they will give you an exhibition guide. Walk in and enjoy! Trying not to feel intimidated again. Jokes.

You will be greeted by a mixture of artist works scattered across a white/grey bare room featuring artworks by: Adam Farah, Ain Bailey, Beverley Bennett, Hashim Ali, Seema Mattu and Zarina Muhammad. All curated by Rehana Zaman.

‘The Range’ is the correct name for the exhibition. There is certainly a range of themes such as culture, society and lifestyle running across the exhibition. Music, human rights, poetry, apprehensive, cringe and gimcrack stuff. So, if any of these interest you then make sure you direct yourself to Heath Mill Lane.

The space will absorb you in with calming sounds of a forest and tweeting birds. Starting with Hashim Ali. ‘My Mate, Jim Roberts’ is the first artwork I viewed even though it’s the last one on the gallery guide. It’s a video on a TV screen which seems like a collection of home videos and memories compiled together, which every family has. The nine-minute movie seems to consist of a timeline of the artist’s life. Childhood memories, Pakistani news, buildings, shops and the environment of the home town in which the artist has been nurtured in. Growing up as an Asian in the UK something you will be familiar with is the mimicking of an Asian accent. You too will understand this if you remember to spot the headphones. As time goes on the artist grows older and there are videos of fights in the clips. The police then come onto the scene. This may express the teenage years of the artist’s life. The culture of the first and second generation of migrants in the UK are conveyed through this video. I could relate to some scenes in the clips such as: the shaky family video footage, the Asian accents and the news. It brought the bond back to myself. Me questioning who I am and what it means to be a second-generation British migrant.

Baljinder Kaur is another artist who embraces her heritage and culture through art. She too is part of the generation whose grandparents and parents migrated to the UK. As a British Indian Sikh, she is intrigued by the lifestyle of the Sikh generation now, whether they be elderly or youthful. She drew a sketch of herself as a senior. Through her sketch, your first observation is the long, flowy attire worn by the person. You can also see the person wearing an apron which suggests that the attire underneath would be worn on a daily basis. As from the name of the sketch, the person is known to be ‘mopping’. Would the forthcoming generation want to wear this attire? How would they feel doing daily chores wearing the attire? Just as Hashim Ali has collated his life and culture through video clips Baljinder Kaur too collates her life and culture through observing and sketching the lifestyle of people within her community.

On the grey walls you will see some familiar posters that you may recognise if you have your aunty from India in your WhatsApp contacts. Massive low-quality posters on the walls done by Zarina Muhammad. ‘May your WEDNESDAY be magical one! Be safe, happy and healthy…’ ‘Have a wonderful THURSDAY Good Morning’. Not quite sure what the message was. Even though the poster looked naff, reading the quotes on them bought a sway of positivity to me. Maybe the scale of the writing on the posters had an impact on me, rather than the text on my smart phone. Maybe next time I get one of these messages from my aunt, I will cherish it more with gratitude. Maybe I should have the confidence to send these to everyone in my contacts and embrace the eyes in which Asians see modern day technology.

As was the door handle when we entered the exhibition, the lights that illuminate the gallery are also artworks created by Adam Farah. When walking in you may think they are just normal lights or may not even notice them. I only knew they were an artwork when looking at the exhibition guide. I noticed them when they were warming up the cold industrial area. They seemed like a blanket to the whole exhibition which wrapped and bonded together all of the artworks. With such diverse responses from the artists, the cultural concepts created merged all of the artworks together.

That’s another exhibition to add to the unusual list. But what was unusual? The idea is strong. You can find out for yourself.

There’s lots more artworks to go and see which haven’t been mentioned. There is also another exhibition on by Freya Dooley which is a neon pink room. So if you like pink. Exciting.

Gurpreet Kaur

Birmingham City University student, Gurpreet Kaur, responds to Eastside Projects’ recent group exhibition, The Range.

Still Anarchy (2017-ongoing), installation view, Chris Alton. Image courtesy of Patrick Dandy.

Laura O’Leary reviews Three Models for Change which took place at Stryx, Birmingham from 9-16 June 2018.

Three Models for Change, was a group show of artists Chris Alton, Ian Giles and Greta Hauer curated by University of Birmingham students Ryan Kearney, Alice O’Rourke and Ariadne Tzika in association with Grand Union. The exhibition presented three separate works, all made between 2016-18 that engage with how to form communities and ripple the product of proactive conversations into society.

After BUTT (2018) Installation view, Ian Giles. Image courtesy of Patrick Dandy.

In Ian Giles’ After BUTT (2018), mattresses were strewn across the floor creating a comfortable bed to watch his thirty-four minute film, in which a group of stylish readers in their twenties enacted conversations that he conducted with the founders and those involved in the making of BUTT, a gay magazine that featured half lifestyle and half pornography content, published between 2001-2011. Questions included why the magazine  started, by whom, it’s design, and legacy.

The perspective of the group oscillates around the room, shot in a soft light. In the film, a reader comments that BUTT made it okay “to have a small dick and a pot belly.” BUTT displayed body diversity, instead of the mainstream presentation of men in gay magazines that was “clean” and “commercial”, an aesthetic that was familiar to the founders Gert Jonkers and Jop Van Bennekom pre-BUTT. However, as the conversation draws out, we find out  the magazine was not inclusive, and provoked questions regarding the magazine’s treatment of race and gender.

Gay culture is discussed with emotion and humour in this highly organised, scripted conversation. A casual life-like nature to the dialogue is portrayed, due to beer cans sitting next to reader’s trainers, as though I was witnessing a self-reflexive conversation. Whilst sinking deeper into the mattress, re-watching the film, I considered why these artists are brought together in the same room.

Chris Alton’s Still Anarchy (2017-ongoing) is an installation of three embellished leather jackets, embroidered with statements such as “Defend the Sacred”. Copies of his A Quaker Zine #Volume 1 commissioned for this exhibition are displayed, which include snippets of conversations, collages, drawings and small texts made during a workshop in May 2018 at Friend’s House, London, with “a group of former Punks, now Quakers and others.” The zine indicates to resistance, demonstrated in the imagery of police arrests at protests and also, constructions of identity. Such as, “I turn back to the [14-year-old] girl in the denim jacket, the girl who used to be a Mod but now considered herself a Quaker, the girl who admires Edie Sedgwick and gets turned on by Day-Glo running shoes.” The extract is a part of this document which demonstrates the recent exchanges Alton had with the group.

In Alton’s installation of leather jackets, he brings together two seemingly disparate groups; Punks and Quakers, and turns them into a fictional band, imagined and sought by the artist. Typified by a pull-out poster in the zine, with a “MEMBERS WANTED” sign – seek band mates, reminiscent of handmade posters found in the back of music stores. Tabs at the bottom of the poster display the artist’s digits. The (retro) term “digits” used, as the aesthetic of the poster harks back pre-digital times, where these types of messages were not shared online but infiltrated the walls of buildings, where these groups would pass through; forming networks. The leather jackets that hang from chains vacantly await the band, ready to fuse a new narrative.

Installation view, Image courtesy of Patrick Dandy.

In Greta Hauer’s work – the final “Model for Change” – her commissioned film Vigorous Activities (2016-2018) sheds light on the fictional activities taking place on Nishinoshima, a volcanic island ~1000km off the coast of Japan. Nishinoshima was confirmed as an island in 2013 and is expanding overtime, consequently broadening the Japanese economic zone. The work lasts for nine minutes and begins with a large title: VIGOROUS ACTIVITIES in the opening sequence and a documentary style aesthetic follows, in which a character that plays “the presenter” details the redevelopment of Nishinoshima as a tourist hotbed, notorious for its seafood delicacies; a by-product of men in suits tampering with the ecosystems of the island. By reflecting on a fictional future for Nishinoshima; a new self-building island, it presents the site of the exhibition as a space to reflect on the formation of communities, which in themselves could be seen as self-building systems and the possibility of re-defining places by investigating their political and cultural remit.

Three Models for Change offered a gateway into prototypes of queer dialogues, the intersection between Punks/Quakers and into possible futures of un-told, uninhabited places. What draws to the surface, is the unrest of desire for spaces for organic conversations, in a structured, harmonious sense. How by critically addressing the histories and futures of communities, even fictitious, can be a good diving board to enter into how to discuss issues through these networks, to quote from Ian Giles’ work – “how there’s not one way to do anything.”

Laura O’Leary (based Birmingham/Derby) is a freelance writer and Programme Assistant at QUAD, Derby.

 

Laura O’Leary reviews Three Models for Change which took place at Stryx, Birmingham from 9-16 June 2018, a collaboration between the University of Birmingham and Grand Union.

Accordion (still), 2014 by Sam Belinfante.

Helen Kilby-Nelson reviews Sam Belinfante’s, Accordion, (2014) at the CET Building in Coventry.

In the old press halls of the brutalist Coventry Evening Telegraph building (CET), currently a pop-up art space, Sam Belinfante’s, Accordion, (2014) is currently being exhibited until Thursday 14 June, thanks to Artspace Coventry’s, The Art of Coventry Professional Development Programme.  A moving image work originally shot on 16mm black and white film and then transferred to HD video, the film was made in collaboration with accordion player Mark Knoop and composer Neil Luck. I knew the work was an exploration of ‘Ins’ and ‘Outs’, and I was intrigued to find out how the work responded to, and within, the dark industrial basements of this amazing building.

It always feels a bit like stepping back in time when you cross the threshold into the reception area of the CET, and no matter how many times I go there I always get lost amongst the many corridors, staircases and doorways. It’s a bit like being in a dystopian version of The Shining’s, Overlook Hotel but without the carpets. As my eyes struggled to focus in the dim light, all sound was amplified. The rustle of clothing, the distant sound of voices, the soft splash as the surface of a puddle was broken by the sole of a shoe. The eerie sound of Accordion echoed around me and called to me like a Pied Piper.

Walking through the maze of twisting corridors, unexpected encounters occurred. Turning a corner I saw the retreating back of a stranger being swallowed by darkness, before being rewarded with a view of one of the two screens below me.  In the cavernous basement the ‘Out’ movements of Mark Knoop play out, they are almost imperceptible, they could appear painstakingly considered, separated as they are from their ‘In’ partner. However, there is a calm expression on the face of the accordion player before me, even though the movements are stilted.

After navigating the enormous print press and carefully descending the high metal staircase, a dampness enveloped me, mingled with the smell of old oil.  This did not detract from the work but became a part of the experience. It felt alien and despite the previous glimpses of the work, there was still a sense of not knowing, a disorientation of the senses.

Eventually I found myself in the first basement, an even darker space, despite the light emanating from the projector. A large screen, at least 20ft high hangs from the ceiling off to my right.  To view it straight on I need to walk in front of the equipment, I felt a sense of qualm, “am I allowed to do that?”. It felt wrong to break the beam of light, the connection between the two. There had purposely been no attempt to disguise the audio visual equipment. Much like the signs of the buildings previous incarnation, it is laid bare, little red dots of light seem to hover in the darkness until the light reflecting back from the screen allows you to see the technology and the dialogue it creates with the industrial space.  Stepping in front of the screen felt like breaking up a conversation and my shadow overlaying the moving image seemed an intrusion.

The floor was wet beneath my feet and my eyes drifted as I walked past towards the next basement room. I was distracted by the perfect reflections playing out in the large puddle at the foot of the screen, a mirror image which creates a continuous moving canvas across the floor. I realised the other side of the screen was also showing a reversed image. The back could be the front, the front could be the back depending on the direction of approach. Fragmented shapes on the brick wall to my right flickered and danced like a modern day Plato’s Cave. Tiny shapes of light appearing and disappearing all around me.

The second space is less intimate, it reminded me of the long aisle of a church, the screen a large tapestry, fooling me into thinking it was the full width of the space. More patches of water reflected disembodied images as I approached. Walking up the aisle in an imaginary Miss Havisham(esque) dress I felt that intimacy I thought was missing.  The space became just me and the accordion player. When I turned to leave I was instantly stilled by the first screen, framed perfectly within the double doorway ahead. I was caught between the two, trapped within a stereoscopic image and soundscape, surrounded by the discordant sounds of the accordion. The in and the out separated and layered one on top of the other, the music altered from a continual flow to allow them to happen simultaneously. I felt a moment of panic which passed quickly by taking one step to my right, allowing me to see the room around the screen. I relaxed and once more become mesmerised by the movements playing out on both screens. Another dichotomy created in an exhibition that contains many, both within the work and within its relationship with the space and the audience.

Images on screen, on brick on water.  Ahead, above, beneath, around. Breathe in, breathe out.  A completely immersive experience.

Accordion can be seen at the CET Building until Thursday 14 June. The pop-up space closes its doors for a final time on Saturday 16 June.

 

Helen Kilby-Nelson reviews Sam Belinfante’s, Accordion, (2014) at the CET Building in Coventry. The pop-up space closes its doors for a final time on Saturday 16 June.

Hand, Kingston Jamaica -Andrew Jackson

Hand, Kingston Jamaica – Andrew Jackson

Caroline Molloy, Senior Lecturer in Photography at Coventry University, reviews Andrew Jackson: From A Small Island at Midland Arts Centre (MAC)

Currently on display at Midlands Arts Centre (MAC) is Andrew Jackson’s body of work, From a Small Island. Jackson has been building and refining this body of work exploring themes of diasporic identity, migration, memory and family since 2010. The work investigates the complexities of Jamaican diasporic identities in Britain, informed by his own experience of growing up in the West Midlands as a child of Jamaican-born parents. The images include intimate portraits of his parents Amy and Alford made in his childhood family home as well as photographs of Jamaica, which seek to challenge stereotypical representations of the island country.

The past, Dudley, England – Andrew Jackson

In the forty seven images exhibited at the MAC, Jackson oscillates between an insider and outsider as he investigates the boundaries of belonging and exclusion. Originally conceived to capture and preserve his mother’s memories of Jamaica, Jackson realised her stories imagine the country she left behind in 1956, destined never to return. Motivated by this, Jackson chose to visit for the first time to visually investigate the homeland of his parents. Having crossed the Atlantic, Jackson is a flâneur in his parents’ homeland, responding to the Jamaica that greets him.

Ship, Kingston Jamaica – Andrew Jackson

There is a complexity to the titling of Jackson’s work From a Small Island, which concurrently, connects the small island of Britain (where Jackson was born) with the island of Jamaica, the birthplace of his parents. The ambiguity of the titling has a synergy with Kincaid’s (2000) book titled A Small Place, in which she analyses the impact of neo-colonialism on the Caribbean island of Antigua*. This is a theme that is alluded to in some of Jackson’s images of Jamaica, such as the diptych images Ship and Beach, which features a cruise liner as it docks, fenced off from local population; and the abandoned Pool in Kingston Jamaica, which contradicts familiar visual depictions of Jamaica as a tropical idyll.

On the 70th anniversary of the arrival of the Windrush migration from the West Indies, Jackson’s images bring together a personal familial story that pertains to a collective migrant narrative. His work speaks of race, identity, migration, and the complications of growing up in a diasporic community.

Jackson will be speaking about From a Small Island at the Beyond Windrush Conference: A conversation about art, politics and immigration in post-war Britain at MAC on Saturday 9 June 2018.

Andrew Jackson: From a Small Island runs until Sunday 8 July at Midlands Arts CentreThere will be an artist talk and tour of the exhibition on Tuesday 26 June.

Andrew is also currently leading photography workshops for 16-25 year olds in Birmingham as part of Green Lens, a green activism competition from Ampersand Projects and ecobirmingham

 

*Kincaid, J. (2000) A Small Place. Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Caroline Molloy, Senior Lecturer in Photography at Coventry University, reviews Andrew Jackson: From A Small Island at Midland Arts Centre (MAC)

David Bethell: Inverted Landscapes

Selina Oakes reviews David Bethell: Inverted Landscapes at the National Trust’s Ilam Park in Staffordshire.

Out-riders head the African Liberation Day rally, 1977. Vanley Burke.

Out-riders head the African Liberation Day rally, 1977. Vanley Burke.

Caroline Molloy, Senior Lecturer in Photography at Coventry University, reviews Vanley Burke: Photographing Birmingham (1968 – 2011) at Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery.

On display in the Bridge Gallery at Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery are thirty 16×20” black and white photographs by Vanley Burke. Originally selected and grouped together by Burke and curator Lynda Morris for the ‘By the Rivers of Birminam’ retrospective exhibition at Mac in 2012, they were recently acquired by the Collecting Birmingham project, run by Birmingham Museums Trust, which aims to give better visibility to black history; an area which has historically been under-represented. Counteracting negative representations of black people in the main-stream press, Burke’s empathetic eye has documented the history of his community, the black community of Handsworth in Birmingham, for fifty years. This exhibition presents a wide selection of Burke’s work, that gives a taster of his broader practice, spanning from the late 1960s to the present day. The photographs are curated in thematic groupings along the gallery walls, under the titles: Childhood and Education, Crowds Communities and Faith, Life and Every-day, Portraits of Influential Men & Women and Power & Protest. Alongside the photographs, there is a video interview playing, between Burke and Lynda Morris. Watching this video is an important part of the exhibition experience. It is crucial viewing for the audience, in order to situate the political and social context of Burke’s photographs.

 

Ivy House Pub, Soho Road, 1987. Vanley Burke.

All of Burke’s photographs have a political edge, some more overtly than others. They succeed in envisaging the conversation around Diasporic cultural identity, captured by Stuart Hall* in the late 1980s. Burke does this by documenting the political, historical and cultural intersection of place, in this instance in Birmingham from the late 1960s onwards. For example, his 1970s portrait of Wilfred, the young black boy in the park with his bike, on which a Union Jack flag flies, cuts across political arguments around identity and belonging. Coupled with Wilfred’s portrait, are Burke’s Protest and Power, reportage photographs, that document the Handsworth riots which were in protest to Enoch Powell’s ‘Rivers of Blood’ speech in 1968. Burke’s photographs are a remarkable visual evidence of the Jamaican Diaspora. Collectively they document the ordinary, extra-ordinary and politics of everyday life in the Diasporic Jamaican community in Birmingham over the past 50 years.

Young men on a see-saw in Handsworth Park, 1984. Vanley Burke.

It is good to note the public prominence of Burke’s photographs, in relation to the 70th anniversary of the arrival of the HMT Empire Windrush, which brought to Britain the first wave of migration from British Commonwealth countries. However, as a critical contributor to the visual archives of Birmingham, it would be good to see a more in-depth presentation of Burke’s work on permanent display in BMAG. I made a special trip to see this work and was surprised to find no printed literature about his practice, and being unfamiliar with the layout of the Museum, I needed to ask for directions three times, before I found the Bridge Gallery. This is an important exhibition to see, that would benefit from better visibility.

*Hall, S. (1984) Reconstruction works: Images of Post War Black Settlement, in Ten8, 16: 2-9.

Vanley Burke: Photographing Birmingham (1968 – 2011) can be seen in The Bridge Gallery, Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery until 1 July 2018.

 

Caroline Molloy, Senior Lecturer in Photography at Coventry University, reviews Vanley Burke: Photographing Birmingham (1968 – 2011) at Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery.

Grayson Perry, Claire's Coming Out Dress, 2000, © the artist, image by Jerry Hardman-Jones, Nottingham City Museums & Galleries collection. Coming Out: Sexuality, Gender and Identity exhibition at Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery

“Art can help us understand how society has changed … it can also enable us to see the world differently, offering insights into personal experiences beyond our own.” C.K McDonald

Grayson Perry, Claire’s Coming Out Dress, 2000, © the artist, image by Jerry Hardman-Jones, Nottingham City Museums & Galleries collection. Coming Out: Sexuality, Gender and Identity exhibition at Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery


Coming Out: Sexuality, Gender and Identity is a touring exhibition conceived by Charlotte Keenan McDonald, firstly showing at the Walker Art Gallery in Liverpool and now at our very own Birmingham Museum & Art Gallery. In McDonald’s own words, “A lot of the work I have been doing to date is around LBGT+ history in [the Liverpool] collection and the way that it has been erased. I’ve been really interested in seeing what has been done in terms of research and who has been overlooked, as well as people who have been part of public histories.”

Coming Out is part of a trio of shows that began last year, coinciding with the 50th anniversary of the partial decriminalisation of male homosexual acts in England and Wales. This ostensible helping hand failed many within the LGBT+ community because of its complete lack of inter-sectional amendments which did not address the lesbian community and still demanded a differing age limit to the community’s heterosexual counterparts.

Tate Britain’s 2017 exhibition Queer British Art 1861–1967 kicked off this reconsideration of histories. Coming Out has been seen to respond to the drop off point of 1967, initially with Andy Warhol’s Marilyn, which won the John Moore’s Painting Prize in 1967.

In the Birmingham instalment of this realigning trio, there are a variety of different works, ranging from audio visual work, to a decaying commissioned installation from Anya Gallaccio, from a number of high profile artists such as Grayson Perry and Sarah Lucas to emerging artists such as Jez Dolan, who graduated recently from Birmingham School of Art with an MA in Queer Studies.

As you first walk in to the exhibition, you are made aware to the fact you are walking in to a space for the queer and the kitsch. Viewers are instantly exposed to the queer cigarette gnome by Lucas, juxtaposed against the pristine materiality of Perry’s Claire’s Coming Out Dress which he wore to accept the Turner Prize as his transvestite comrade Claire in 2003. There is noticeable gaze from Perry’s dress to Lucas’ gnome. This gaze mirrors the multiple histories and queer voices heard in this exhibition, some louder than others – but nevertheless a multitude of voices are represented.

The prevalent kitsch is extended by the use of colour within the space, paying respect to the Gilbert-Baker Pride flag, which formed part of the battle cry of the late 1970s gay liberation movement and represented magic, healing and the spirit. This further reconfigures the normative wealthy, white, industrialist history of the gallery world, moving it further away from the white cube to a colourful non-linear queer art space.

As well as the kitsch, the might of the Young British Artists (YBA) calls you home to roost. A neon piece from Tracey Emin is hung above Warhol. This kitsch element of design was brought into Warhol’s seminal Marilyn print. Emin hit the headline in the 1990s with her evocative intra-personal works that laid bare female sexuality through the subversion of craft. Emin and her fellow YBAs somewhat co-opted Warhol’s 15 minutes of fame model, just as the YBAs arguably co-opted the public gaze – but for more than 15 minutes and on borrowed time. This seminal print anchors you to the middle of the space, drawn in by Emin’s romantic swirly neon, and by the chanting oozing out of Isaac Julien’s film The Long Road to Mazatlàn, with the beauty of queer ballet juxtaposed against the backdrop of the Wild West.

Contrasting with the Walker Art Gallery’s Coming Out, the curatorial volume then dies down to a whisper when we are met with the arresting photographic series ‘Exiles’ by Sunil Gupta, depicting the cruising zones in his hometown of New Delhi, where the law against same sex acts still remains ironclad. This section is quieter in comparison, with the Walker Gallery display showing Gupta close to Warhol. This curation reflects the frequent white washing and the misheard processes that queer people of colour go through within the art institution.

These histories aim to be redressed and realigned by Birmingham Museum & Art Gallery through a learning and engagement programme called FORUM facilitated by the Arts Council. FORUM’s programme breathes inclusivity as local artists and community groups were part of its development. Its aim is the realignment of queer within the art world so that its communities can continue and thrive.

The term ‘coming out’ has gone through a shift. It has been reclaimed, turned from a negative phrase to a moment full of colour, celebration and vibrancy. This is underpinned by the variety of gender identities and sexualities disclosed in the exhibition, brought to life by the sculptural and film works displayed particularly. These act as flag posts for the concept of the show. This latest instalment of pioneering queer British exhibitions is an important baton to carry into the main arena of the art world. More should be done to continue the realignment of queer histories through the lens of art.

 

By Leanne O’Connor

 

(This is an amended version of a review first published here.)

 

Leanne O’Connor reviews Coming Out: Sexuality, Gender and Identity at Birmingham Museum & Art Gallery, on display until 15 April.

susan pui san lok. ‘Untitled (West)’ (2018), shimmer curtain installation at Wolverhampton Art Gallery. Image courtesy Wolverhampton Art Gallery.

Diaspora Pavilion/Venice to Wolverhampton
Wolverhampton Art Gallery
10 February – 29 April 2018

Reviewed by Caroline Molloy, Senior Lecturer in Photography, Coventry University

susan pui san lok. ‘Untitled (West)’ (2018), shimmer curtain installation at Wolverhampton Art Gallery. Image courtesy Wolverhampton Art Gallery.

Diaspora Pavilion/Venice to Wolverhampton, is an exciting exhibition which is not aligned to a specific artistic practice. The topic of the exhibition is to showcase contemporary practices that respond to themes of displacement, migration and identity. Originally exhibited as part of the 57th Venice Biennale, this reconfiguration of the Diaspora exhibition, curated by David A. Bailey and Jessica Taylor, features the work of seven multi-disciplinary artists; Larry Achiampong, Kimthi Donker, Michael Forbes, Paul Maheke,  susan pui san lok, Erika Tan, and Abba Zahedi. Each of the artists deal with concerns around diasporic identities, in different ways. Having seen the Diaspora Pavilion exhibition in Venice, I was expecting to make comparisons between the same work in a different space. However, this is not the case. In rethinking the work for Wolverhampton Art Gallery, the emphasis has changed. There is a smaller selection of artists involved in this reiteration of the exhibition. In doing this, each practice has the freedom to stand independently of each other and has the space in which to breathe.

 

The integrity to the hang is a crucial factor when looking at this work. It has been curated to respond to a permanent collection in the art gallery. Careful attention to how and where the works are situated is evident. This achieves fascinating inter-connections between the Diaspora exhibition work and other exhibitions on display. Such as placing pui san lok’s Golden, which is inspired by nostalgia, in the same vicinity as the V&A Museum of Childhood’s exhibition Clangers, Bagpuss & Co. Although the intention of both exhibitions are disparate, there is a synergy to playful treatment of the two exhibits. The hanging of Donker’s paintings is another good example of the highly considered curation. The theme of Donker’s paintings draw on historical figures associated with black emancipation. However, his work candidly challenges official visual storytelling of enslavement. What is inspiring about the hang, is in where the paintings are positioned in the gallery. They sit in first floor Victorian and Georgian Galleries. In terms of content, historical context and style, they fit well within these spaces. Nonetheless, in confronting traditional Euro-centric depictions of enslavement, power and ownership, these paintings directly challenge the historical paintings and artefacts they sit alongside. This combination creates an unsettling visual disjuncture which cannot be ignored.

 

Kimathi Donkor, ‘Toussaint L’Ouverture at Bedourete’ (2004), oil paints on linen, 136 x 183 cm. Image courtesy the artist.

 

The works on show as part of the Diaspora exhibition are visually stimulating and conceptually important bodies of work to be showcasing in Brexit-ing Britain. I am certain that is it is no coincidence that the showing of Diaspora Pavilion/Venice to Wolverhampton, overlaps with the Apna Heritage Archive exhibition, which also focuses on themes of diaspora and migration. Both are exhibitions that seek to remind us that there are many voices that make up this sceptred isle, voices that need to be seen and heard.

Caroline Molloy, Senior Lecturer in Photography, Coventry University, reflects on her experiences of and the wider impact of Diaspora Pavilion/Venice to Wolverhampton.

Apna Heritage Archive Exhibition, Wolverhampton Art Gallery

Apna Heritage Archive Exhibition, Wolverhampton Art Gallery

The Apna Heritage Archive 
Wolverhampton Art Gallery
13 January – 18 March 2018

Reviewed by Caroline Molloy, Senior Lecturer in Photography, Coventry University

 

In a triangular exhibition space, in Wolverhampton Art Gallery sits the current exhibition, the Apna Heritage Archive. This exhibition brings together different strands of research that seek to raise the visibility of the Punjabi community in the West Midlands, a community that makes up 15% of the local population. There are four threads to this exhibition.

 

The first thing the audience encounters on entering the gallery are a wide selection of vernacular family photographs that are drawn from the Heritage Lottery funded Apna Heritage Archive. The archive, which took two years to collect, brings together historic family photographs of the Punjabi community in the West Midlands, taken between 1960 and 1989. These photographs document and memorialise personal moments such as births, marriage and leisure activities. In doing this, they stand as testament to three decades of sociocultural change within the British Asian diasporic narrative. In the gallery space, the archival photographs are historically indexed and projected on rotation across the wall. On an opposing vivid pink wall, sit contemporary photographic portraits of the first Punjabi settlers in the West Midlands. These photographs were taken by Anand Chhabra and Sarvji Sra, the founders of the Apna Heritage Archive, who are also part of the local Punjabi community. The third wall presents photographic portraits made in collaboration with Chhabra, Sra and students at St Luke’s Primary School. In the centre of the gallery, are four glass cabinets that house the ephemera collected alongside vernacular family photographs. These include both open and closed Punjabi family photography albums, vintage cameras, negatives and historical identity cards.

 

Apna Heritage Archive Exhibition, Wolverhampton Art Gallery

 

It is in an inclusive exhibition that uses multiple methodologies with which to engage different generations of participants. Each strand of the exhibition draws from broader bodies of work. For instance, only a fraction of the 2000 vernacular Apna Heritage Archive photographs are on display. In working with photography and photographic objects in different ways, the exhibition appeals to a diverse range of visitors. To date, it is well attended and has seen new audiences enter the gallery space. Beyond the curiosity of looking at other people’s family photographs, visitors from the Punjabi community are invited to find photographs of themselves, friends and family members using the catalogue system provided. Connections have been made between the contemporary photographs and the Apna Heritage Archival photographs, with the same people appearing in both collections of photographs, at different historical moments.

 

Apna Heritage Archive Exhibition, Wolverhampton Art Gallery

 

Patricia Holland, when writing about family albums, reminds us that their value is in preserving family histories. She points out personal histories also belong to wider collective narratives. In exhibiting this archive, rich in sociocultural information, the audience are invited to examine or re-examine the British Asian diasporic narrative. This is an important exhibition in terms of community recognition and without doubt, will be a rich research resource in the future.

 

APNA HERITAGE ARCHIVE EXHIBITION, WOLVERHAMPTON ART GALLERY

 

References

Spence, J., Holland, P. (1991) Family Snaps: The meaning of domestic photography. London: Virago Press Bottom of Form

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Apna Heritage Archive exhibition at Wolverhampton Art Gallery is reviewed by Caroline Molloy.

Ian Andrews, installation view at Artists Workhouse in Studley

 

Some fresh tasty vegetables [talent], a dash of hot sauce [ideas], knob of butter [agency], a glug of ageing wine [experience], a crumble of stock [collaboration]? Then there is the cooking … time, space and don’t get me started on the utensils! 

Ian Andrews, installation view at Artists Workhouse in Studley

The complexities of ‘what ingredients make for a successful artist?’ led Stryx, an independent art space in Birmingham to set up their SOUP residency programme back in 2015. SOUP representing in simple terms, a mixing of artists in a shared studio space for a length of time.

 

The SOUP residency, now in its fourth year, has given over twenty artists the chance to work collaboratively in a large multifunctional studio space for a two-month period, framed by three open-studio exhibitions. This gave audiences the chance to see how a group of artists can progress with their work during a residency period.

 

In 2017, the SOUP residency entered new culinary territories with the launch of SLOW COOKER: SOUP PT IV with the support of Arts Council England and Birmingham City Council. This version of the residency saw the SOUP residency transform and transpose into a two-month paid residency for six artists: Ian Andrews, Hannah Taylor + Emily Scarrott, Thomas Kilby, Amy McLelland and Frederick Hubble. The project then morphed into a touring exhibition spanning across the West Midlands area. Working in collaboration with Asylum Gallery in Wolverhampton, Meter Room in Coventry, Direct Art Action in Sutton Coldfield and Artist Workhouse in Studley, Warwickshire.

 

As an alumnus of 2016 SOUP PT III, I observed and followed this recent transformation of the SOUP to SLOW COOKER residency, in an attempt to reveal the ups and downs of such an experience and its role in nurturing artistic talent.

 

I kept a keen eye on the SLOW COOKER artistic residency programme, with regular engagements with those involved. I will begin by highlighting some of the radiant outcomes. First and foremost, it has given momentum to six artists to allow themselves the time and space make and show work. The importance of this should never be underestimated. The SOUP residencies, like many before, have given a chance for artists to reconnect, reapply and re-energise their practices. For some, this experience has given them reason to make again, for others it has given them a fresh opportunity to experiment with new ways of working and showing. This includes the encouragement to explore ways in which to engage with the public, gained through a number of public exhibitions, engagements and participatory events.

 

The three open-studio exhibitions that were on at show at Stryx Gallery between May 2017 and July 2017 were, as ever, well curated, considered and received, with the knowledgeable support of the directors of the gallery: Karolina Korupczynska and Anna Katarzyna Domejko; as well as vital input from curator Roma Piotrowska who delivered four useful curatorial and mentoring workshops for the artists during their residencies.

 

These exhibitions consisted of a series of mixed media, process and live works. As a viewer I gained a sensation that all of the works in some way revealed a sense of curiosity about the seemingly bizarre and capitalist world in which we live. These works spanned research including magical displays of faux food, exploration of artworld fame, to repetitive body-based performances themed around social trauma, to the mythical origins and futures of our natural oceans.

 

Exhibition shot. Frederick Hubble

 

The audience responded well to these shows triggering a host of feedback, conversations and questions. All three of these open-studio events were marketed within with Birmingham’s Digbeth First Friday event showcase, which, as expected, added to the exhilaration of the event.  As with many exhibitions, artworks themselves only really become works when the audiences see them, but, even more so during a mid-residency open-studio event, whereby the artist very often puts their work in front of an audience without knowing how it may be received. This is a vulnerable and vital step in the development of a piece of work.

 

The final exhibition was then re-curated, appropriated and toured around the other four venues between July and December 2017. During this period, the shift of focus changed from being foremost about process and testing, to management, outcome and display. The satisfaction and tension between the making and displaying of work became a valuable albeit stressful experience, especially for the artists in the group whom tend to make responsive and live works.

 

The spaces chosen were located across the West Midlands, and varied in size, ethos, management aims, focus and organisational support. Some set up times being weeks, other being a matter of hours. This proved to be a realistic if challenging experience of what planning exhibitions of work can be like, leaving a legacy of key logistical skills that make up a significant part being a successful contemporary artist.

 

Another area of enquiry has been engagement and opportunity. As SLOW COOKER became the first paid SOUP residency, this has had a direct and positive impact on the quality, engagement and reach of the residency. Meaning this year, more than ever, the artists seemed to have made more ambitious work with a greater impact and reach.

 

The mixing of six very different practitioners during the residency allowed for collaboration, support and conversations to emerge, but as ever, due to the precarious life of being an artist, the later touring shows became more challenging as the artists had to begin to develop other financial avenues to support their on going practice beyond these touring works, as explained by a few of the participants. This is a problem encountered for many artists, indeed creative types, after paid work. Momentum and funding don’t always go hand in hand. The rights of artist workers have and I assume always will be a contested issue for a world that revolves around financial capital and investments. But, having said this, Stryx did an excellent job on ensuring, when possible, travel and associated expenses were covered in these later stages to the project.

 

During and after the residency, all the artists involved seemed to have revived confidences in both their artworks and their audiences. A few have already jumped into future opportunities and collaborations directly or indirectly related to the experience. Frederick Hubble has already secured a solo show titled FIRN at Asylum Arts Space in collaboration with a local curator Karina Cabanikova. This is a perfect example of how this experience is already starting to have impact in terms of collaboration, reach and the development of artistic [and indeed facilitative] practices.

  Gavin Rogers, 2018

Gavin Rogers responds to SLOW COOKER PT IV, an artist residency programme delivered by Stryx Gallery Birmingham from May to Dec 2017.

Jonny Bark, Inhabiting Edgelands

The Old Print Room, CET Building
25 November 2017 – 14 April 2018
Reviewed by Caroline Molloy, Senior Lecturer, Coventry University

 

Jonny Bark, Inhabiting Edgelands

 

 

Inhabiting Edgelands, sees the re-visualisation of Jonny Bark’s final BA (Hons) Photography degree work, as an immersive experience in the Old Print Room at the CET Building in Coventry. Once housing the printing press for the Coventry Evening Telegraph, the Old Print Room has transformed into an experimental space in which new installation strategies are investigated. This space has enabled Bark to conceptualise and produce his first independent solo exhibition, the re-imagining of Inhabiting Edgelands. Originally conceived in book format, the work has been reconfigured to occupy the vast 30 x 20 metre Old Print Room. The work inhabits three of the four walls, punctuated on one side by neon yellow pillars. The images are pieced together in a mosaic of low-fi A4 prints to create life-size landscape images. In the centre of the room lays collected ephemera from the edge lands research site. Accompanying the visuals, Bark has created a soundscape that situates the audience back into the edge lands.

 

Jonny Bark, Inhabiting Edgelands

 

Bark’s work moves away from traditional depictions of the picturesque landscape, redirecting us to the unnoticed and mundane. With the aim of drawing attention to the transitional spaces between the urban and the rural, Inhabiting Edgelands looks at these neglected liminal spaces. In order to investigate his research site beyond a tourist gaze, Bark camped out in the edge lands. In a formative showing of the work, the audience were required to travel to the edge lands to see the work on exhibition, in the environment where it was made. In placing the work within the research site, Bark demonstrated an understanding of the relationship between his images and the landscape. The weather conditions of the edge lands interacted with the images on display and the longer they were left situated in the landscape, the more they deteriorated. This became the inspiration for the low-fi presentation strategy used in both the Inhabiting Edgelands book and this exhibition presentation.

 

Jonny Bark, Inhabiting Edgelands

 

In Inhabiting Edgelands, Bark reminds the audience of what it is like to ‘feel’ the geography of the landscape, as well as look at it. The overlooked and the everyday are at the centre of his work. It is a conceptual response to the landscape that raises questions about the politics in representing the environment. Using multi-sensory methodologies, the work succeeds in transcending its original photographic roots. This is not a spectator’s exhibition; it requires participation from the audience. To capture the essence of Bark’s large-scale work, the audience are required to move around the space, and whilst doing so they are accompanied by the blended environmental soundscape. Through this interaction, the audience are encouraged to think of the landscape as an experiential place.

 

The opportunity of using the CET building to exhibit Inhabiting Edgelands has proved to be an excellent opportunity for Bark to realise the work without restriction of space or time.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Caroline Molloy reviews Jonny Bark’s exhibition Inhabiting Edgelands at the CET Building, Coventry.

Sheela Gowda, Ikon Gallery, 2017. Photo: Stuart Whipps

Selina Oakes reviews Ikon gallery’s current exhibition of work by Indian artist Sheela Gowda.

Sheela Gowda, Ikon Gallery, 2017. Photo: Stuart Whipps

Resembling abstract cut-outs from a constructivist painting, Sheela Gowda’s newest work draws an unwavering line between geometric form and everyday materials. The circular bowls that litter Ikon’s concrete floor – lain down in a choreographed and communal manner – bare the markings, scathes and scratches of their previous life as metal drums used to transport resin and oil across vast distances. Flattened into uniform sheets and reformed into traditional ‘Bandlis’ – objects used to carry building materials in India – these pieces create a synergy between mass transportation and individual craftsmanship. Whilst the sourcing of these materials remains undisclosed to the viewer, there is a sense of a conscientious recycling of materials and skill-sets.

Much of Gowda’s work looks at handmade processes – typically those from her hometown of Bangalore – and how, in a fast-paced and technology-driven society, these local skills can be revered, transferred and shared with new audiences. At Ikon, the bowls within Gowda’s walk-through installation have been shaped by hand-operated machines; their perforated counterparts lay propped on the walls to provide a ‘workshop’ aesthetic. Whilst tarnished with abrasion and rust, the drums’ original colours are used to their optimum potential; they become layered, sculptural gradients reminiscent of a symmetrical Rodchenko graphic revamped into three-dimensions by a John Chamberlain workmanship aesthetic. The material’s uneven surface is made uniform through Gowda’s composed pulling together of objects. This also reflects on themes of community; the bowls in particular resonating with the mechanics of a communal meal.

An interconnecting room filled with plaster-covered objects creates a displaced purgatory; one that is colourless and almost formless as the white props fade into their stark background. The familiar shapes of bowls can be distinguished amongst items that resemble piping – all of which lay propped unceremoniously on the outskirts of the space. The viewer’s desire to rejoin a sense of colour is met by vivid, jauntily-cut bunting which half-heartedly clings to a collapsing black frame. Oddly enough, this make-shift assemblage – titled It Stands Fallen – simultaneously hints at a dystopian abandonment of place as well as a celebratory and ritualistic space. The intentional convergence of abstract line and colour creates an installation where interior and exterior aesthetics collide: the red pigmented fabric provides a reminder of the domestic and handmade, whilst its unsteady support enables the bunting to pour outwards, into a violently-strewn pile on the floor.

Opposite, a riot scene of lawyers throwing stones at the media, and in conflict with the local police, suggests a breakdown of society; their censored eyes adding an element of obscurity and anonymity – a visual that displaces culpability and is perhaps suggestive of the media’s irresponsible free reign across digital platforms. This vast print, which spans the width of the room co-occupied by It Stands Fallen, contrasts harshly with the highly sculptural and handmade aesthetic of Gowda’s other pieces. It does, however, establish a political and social backdrop with which these handmade traditions and rituals must now compete; perhaps Gowda’s intention is to illustrate the potential of age-old craftsmanship to reference humankind’s ever-changing yet cyclical way of life.

The exhibition runs until 3 September 2017.

Selina Oakes reviews Ikon gallery’s current exhibition of work by Indian artist Sheela Gowda.

Tadao Cern, Black Balloons, 2016.

Earlier in the year recent graduate and New Art West Midlands 2017 alumna Halina Dominska was awarded an Engine Micro Bursary to attend Aesthetica’s Future Now Symposium which took place from 25-26 May 2017. She reports back on her experience.

Held at York St. John University in the heart of York, I attended Aesthetica’s two day Future Now Symposium in May. As an emerging contemporary artist it’s been useful to attend one or two symposia each year. They can reinvigorate and redirect your thinking. Meeting interesting people and being present at first class debates are just some of the aspects which can benefit your practice. Future Now also offered the rare chance for a portfolio review session. While there, I was interested to find out more about the Aesthetica Art Prize and exhibition (Entries for the 2017 Aesthetica Art Prize are open until Thursday 31 August 2017). As a recent arts graduate I’m keen to build up the profile of my work, one way to do this is through such awards.

The symposium opened with Aesthetica’s Director Cherie Federico, who commented on the digital times we are living through, and how quickly they have advanced from the millennium. She questioned what we did with our time before ‘being online’, and went onto highlight many aspects, positive and negative about our digital lives. One aspect highlighted was the reduction in ‘human contact’ in our communities, with the example of the introduction of self check outs in supermarkets and shops.

The idea of human contact unconsciously slipping away from generations of people is one that preoccupies me. How will this affect us? Will it affect us? Has it affected us? How will it change us as social beings? Can we change it? Do we want to? According to the phenomenologist Merleau-Ponty, we experience the world through our senses. To limit our sensory experience of the world and our connections in it will change how we learn, live and thrive as human beings. I wonder if the ‘gift of time’ the internet has given us (less administration, flexibility) could be used to replenish that face to face interaction with the community, friends and family. Cherie finished her talk with the thought: ‘Art allows us the privilege to stop, reflect and think on all of these things’.

Rachel Ara’s (Aesthetica Art Prize winner 2016) talk as part of the Sculpture Today session was refreshingly honest. She talked about her processes, an obsession with making and her ‘FARTS’, fast art which she makes in between her main projects. She sets out with the aim to use all women in the process of making. Rachel views her first works as prototypes to the work she really wants to make.

The funding and commissioning session included useful information from Wellcome Trust who are both financially and politically independent. They’ve recently made changes to their funding streams including their public engagement fund and application process, making it more streamlined. One piece of advice Alice Carey (Arts Partnership Manager, Wellcome Trust) gave was to think about your ‘baseline’ when making an application. If you want to make change in the world, firstly find out where you are starting from.

Gordon Dalton (Interim National Coordinator, Contemporary Visual Arts Network and Network Manager, Visual Arts South West) talked about the regional networks that make up CVAN, enabling lots of micro-funding even though they are not a funding body. Some of the schemes from Visual Arts South West include the Go and See Fund and a mentoring scheme.

Each of the sessions I attended had a variety of knowledgeable, well spoken and often charismatic speakers and chairs. One speaker that stood out was Season Butler. Season was eloquently articulate, but not only that, was entirely in control of where she wanted to direct the conversation. She beautifully prompted her panelists, ‘I wonder if…..’ was often the beginnings of a well thought out opinion or question.

It was a pleasure to attend the event; one that has given me much to think about and no doubt refer back to in the future.

Earlier in the year recent graduate and New Art West Midlands 2017 alumna Halina Dominska was awarded an Engine Micro Bursary to attend Aesthetica’s Future Now Symposium which took place from 25-26 May 2017. She reports back on her experience.

Photo: Ray Jacobs

Writer Poppy Noor visited the second Awkward Bastards symposium in March co-produced by DASH, mac birmingham and the Live Art Development Agency. She reflects on the event, as well as questions of diversity and representation.

When I arrive at the Awkward Bastards second symposium I am not sure what to expect. The event, hosting radical artists across two days promises to be one filled with diversity and difference. But as a non-white woman who spent my teenage years living in homeless hostels, I never know what to expect when people say the word ‘diversity’ anymore. It feels like a word that’s always said to me – normally by someone who is middle-class, white, and probably male. But I don’t feel like a particularly ‘diverse’ person, I just feel that I am normal and I want to be represented.

Lewis Davey, an artist who stands for a 5-minute rant at the end of the day, sums this feeling up perfectly and with brilliant humour. He is talking about an American Footballer, who was criticised in the States for not standing when the National Anthem was played

“It’s just some guy’s favourite song.” He retorts. “Trap Queen by Fetty Wap is my favourite song. Imagine if I asked you to stand every time I played it!”

The line is funny because, for those of you who don’t know, Fetty Wap is an African-American rapper who is blind in one eye, has tattoos on his face, and sings about “getting high with [his] baby, and “getting fly with [his] baby.” Just thinking about all of the people that I so frequently see at galleries, with their knee-length skirts and stiff-upper lips having to stand to that song makes me equal measures giddy and uneasy. But of course, he has a broader point: this is what being forced to try to appreciate art that wasn’t made for you is like.

It’s something that Frances Morris, who refers to the Tate as “warm” and “safe” in her keynote speech could do with remembering. When artist Jamila Johnson-Small calls out these comments in a panel discussion for performing “illusory false empathy, which perpetuates erasure” she reminds me that a lack of diversity is about so much more than just being underrepresented. When I go to the Tate, I don’t just feel underrepresented: I feel as if my culture, and the people I grew up around simply didn’t exist at all. The panel brings to light how discussion around diversity in these spaces is so often more than just complacent – it also sustains the narratives that prevent inclusivity from happening.

Photo: Ray Jacobs

Diverse art means the ability to inform and educate. It draws us away from seeing people, multi-faceted as they are, in the singular boxes which mainly act to undermine those who do not fit into the pre-packaged, heterosexual, able-bodied, white form of ‘normal’ that we are constantly fed. But at Awkward Bastards, I realise how we can all too easily fall into the trap of viewing art through the lenses of familiarity and privilege. When artists take to the stage to lament the lack of disabled artists’ works displayed across the country, I realise how little I have questioned the fact that rarely have I seen such art displayed outside of hospital walls and school hallways. “My art is not therapy” says Sarah Watson, a multi-media artist with a learning disability, “If it was therapy, I’d be paying for it. This is my job.”

Trite arguments about simply choosing “the best” artists are ripped to shreds by panellists on the day. One ranter scorns the official artwork commissioned for the Paralympic Games, a colourful drawing of Big Ben by an able-bodied artist from the States. “What does it even represent?” she asks. What’s most shocking about this is how much good quality art could have been commissioned in its place. When I see Sue Austin’s “Deep Sea Diving” installation about life in a wheelchair, it isn’t magical because she’s in a wheelchair. It’s magical because Austin conjures up emotions, insights and sensations in me that I could have never brought up myself. When she presents on how 3D technology could meaningfully bring art to audiences otherwise unable to access it, it is innovative because she speaks from a place of understanding what it is like to have that access so frequently blocked from your life. It’s not the checkbox of diversity that feels good about the event, it is how diversity is facilitating me to understand and think about things in a way that I hadn’t before. Isn’t that what art is supposed to be about, after all?

At the end of the symposium, I think about how I have felt most validated at times when I have felt reflected in art and broader culture. It feels like being written into a story that you long knew you should have been a part of. But reflecting on the performances which came from experiences most different to mine, I realise that reading someone else’s story can, in the end, be so much more interesting than reading your own.

Poppy Noor is a freelance journalist writing on issues around diversity and inequality. She writes regularly for The Guardian and commissions content for their Housing Network. You can view her Guardian bio here or follow her on Twitter.

Writer Poppy Noor visited the second Awkward Bastards symposium in March co-produced by DASH, mac birmingham and the Live Art Development Agency. She reflects on the event, as well as questions of diversity and representation.

Sonia Boyce, Eastside Projects, Birmingham. Photo: George Torode; Courtesy: the artist and Eastside Projects

Esther Draycott reviews the recent project Performance/Wallpaper by Sonia Boyce at Eastside Projects and looks ahead to the next one on 7 April.

Boyce is one of the leading figures to have emerged from the British Black Arts Movement during the 1980s. She studied at Stourbridge College and has since exhibited internationally, been awarded an MBE and elected as a Royal Academician.

Boyce’s work forms part of Production Show, running at the gallery until 22 April.

 

Sonia Boyce, Eastside Projects, Birmingham. Photo: George Torode; Courtesy: the artist and Eastside Projects

 

From around 7pm on 17 February I joined a crowd emitting occasional bursts of applause and sympathetic groans as local skateboarders raced around Eastside Projects for a show arranged by artist Sonia Boyce. The main space had been transformed into a skate park for the night as part of her ongoing project Wallpaper/Performance. Some skateboarders – only ever one or two at a time – were playing ukuleles. The score, played by performers seemingly at random and alone rather than in unison, was written by composer Jorge Gomez Abrante. He claimed he had started writing music specifically for playing the ukulele while skateboarding after he was forced to start tuning the instrument while skating his way to music rehearsals. The evening was documented by photographer George Torode. His photographs will be collected and reimagined as wallpaper by Boyce in a process she calls ‘recouping the remains’.

With all that in mind there seems to be a lot to explain but when I ask Boyce to do so she seemed determined to focus on the simplicity behind the performance. “It’s just fun”, she explained. “I have thought a lot in the past about how there are so few ways for people in adulthood to be playful. Initially I wanted to fill a gallery with people skipping, but Gavin [Wade, Eastside Project’s Director] was interested in skateboarding so we decided to go with that instead.”

Boyce was equally keen to emphasise, as she has done frequently in the past, that the performance element of her work at Eastside Projects involved little input of her own other than the bare bones of the idea: Abrante’s ukulele music was his own project, and most of the skateboarders performing visited the gallery for the first time on the night itself with no set choreography or rehearsal. Just like the rest of the audience, her role during the performance was simply to observe what would naturally unfold over the evening.

Instead it is in the transition between the two elements of the entire project – the performance and the wallpapers that are on display – that you get a real sense of Boyce’s practice as an artist. By inviting the audience to reflect on the way she has transcribed the event we observed alongside her into a permanent artwork, Boyce turns what started out as a simple, enjoyable, at points confusing evening into a reflection of memory itself: how our minds tend to distill real events into embellished, reordered, often completely different versions of themselves.

Visitors are welcomed to Eastside Projects on 7 April when once again skateboarders will be descending on the gallery for the evening, ostensibly to do pretty much the same thing. There will be a few minor changes: this time the performance will be filmed, recorded and will play out to the backdrop of the wallpaper Boyce has created from documentation of the previous performance, evoking a strange feeling of déjà vu even for those who didn’t make it to the first event.

Judging by the first performance, I would urge you all to go – but then again it will probably be nothing like how I remember it.

 

Esther Draycott reviews the recent event Wallpaper/Performance by Sonia Boyce at Eastside Projects and looks ahead to the next.