Lily Wales, Las Vagueness, 2018. Work made following a GRAIN and New Art West Midlands Engine bursary research visit to Nevada, USA.

New Art West Midlands and GRAIN Projects are jointly offering a bursary of £2000 to an artist based in the West Midlands region.  The bursary is a significant international research opportunity to support professional development. 

We are seeking applications from artists working with photography to undertake research in Aarhus, Denmark.  This opportunity has been developed in partnership with Aarhus Billedkunstcenter / Aarhus Center for Visual Art (AaBKC) and Galleri Image, with a focus upon regional identity, international cooperation and exchange.

 

Lily Wales, Las Vagueness, 2018. Work made following a GRAIN and New Art West Midlands Engine bursary research visit to Nevada, USA.

 

Facilitated by our partners in Aarhus, the bursary of £2000 will enable the successful artist to work in the city and/or surrounding region between 9 and 15 March 2020. Accommodation is provided at Godsbanen, situated in central Aarhus and a key creative hub for the city.

 

Artists interested in submitting a proposal may want to consider:

– Relationships between the West Midlands and Central Jutland regions
– The status of Aarhus as a second city – like Birmingham – and conditions outside of a nation’s capital
– Peripheral communities or geographies within the urban or rural space
– Specific geographical, economic, political and cultural characteristics and concerns of communities in Denmark

 

The successful applicant will be expected to deliver an artist talk in Aarhus as part of AaBKC’s Social programme (a short introduction and discussion over breakfast for the art community). Additionally, you will need to prepare a brief evaluation report for the Grain and New Art West Midlands websites on your return.

 

The bursary is part of New Art West Midlands’ Engine programme led in conjunction with The New Art Gallery Walsall, and the GRAIN Projects Professional Development Programme.

 

Application

Please apply via our online opportunities portal outlining how you would use the bursary and why this opportunity is crucial to your professional development. This should be accompanied by 3 images of recent work, your website details and your CV. Please include an indicative budget – accommodation is covered but your budget should include any fees, travel, subsistence and any other associated costs.

 

Access our online opportunities portal HERE

Deadline: 4pm on Monday 20 January

 

 

 

We are committed to widening access to our opportunities. Audio or video recorded applications may be submitted via Vimeo or YouTube by those facing barriers in applying. Financial support is available to support access costs relating to the application.

If you have any support requirements or would like to discuss this further, please do get in touch with: info@newartwestmidlands.co.uk or telephone 0121 300 4309.

 

About New Art West Midlands

New Art West Midlands is the Contemporary Visual Arts Network for the region. Our purpose is to strengthen and develop the contemporary visual arts sector in the West Midlands, creating defining opportunities for West Midlands’ artists and curators, and working collectively to safeguard the future of artists and our sector.

 

About Grain Projects

GRAIN Projects is an arts organisation dedicated to commissioning, facilitating and delivering ambitious, engaging and high quality photography projects, commissions, events and exhibitions.  We produce new work in collaboration with artists, photographers and communities and collaborate with major partners here and internationally to engage and work with new audiences and participants. GRAIN is led by GRAIN Projects CIC, a unique and collaborative arts organisation, supported by Arts Council England and Birmingham City University.
www.grainphotographyhub.co.uk

 

About Galleri Image

Galleri Image is a non-profit exhibition space, which aims to promote high quality photo-based art by showing Danish and international photography and video art. Founded in 1977, the gallery is the longest running non-profit exhibition space for photographic art in Scandinavia, and for many years it was also the only photo gallery in Denmark. Over the past 40 years, Galleri Image has achieved an international reputation for its exhibitions and has contributed considerably to the recognition and understanding of photography as an important and independent medium in the world of visual art. Based in Aarhus, Denmark, and with free entry to all its shows, the gallery regularly hosts talks, discussions, seminars, workshops and guided exhibition tours. We actively seek to support young talents and frequently tour our exhibitions around the world.
www.galleriimage.dk

 

About Aarhus Billedkunstcenter

Aarhus Center for Visual Art (Aarhus Billedkunstcenter, AaBKC) is an artist resource center serving visual artists in Denmark’s Central Jutland region. Based in Aarhus, Aarhus Center for Visual Art strengthens the local arts community by creating opportunities for networking and collaboration between artists and institutions, offering professional development services to artists, facilitating discourse and community outreach with public art events and hosting residencies for local and international artists and art professionals.
http://aabkc.dk/page/about-aarhus-center-visual-art

 

 

 

 

New Art West Midlands and GRAIN Projects are jointly offering a bursary of £2000 to an artist working with photography based in the West Midlands region. The bursary is a significant international research opportunity to support professional development activity in Aarhus, Denmark. Deadline: Monday 20 January

In March of this year I took a trip to a small town called Stroe located 1 hours’ drive from Amsterdam in the Netherlands. I was going there to participate in a two-day event that explored the capabilities and limitations of the human body and mind.

Limp. UV Printed image on synthetic latex, wooden dowel. 2015

As an artist I have always been interested in the human body, not necessarily as a figure to be drawn, painted or sculpted but as a subject to be examined and referenced. This interest bordered on an obsession when I became fascinated by the world of extreme male bodybuilding back in 2013. I spent quite a lot of time learning about the rites and rituals involved in this extreme activity. One thing that continues to resonate with me is the fact that this group of individuals push their body to the absolute extreme, solely for aesthetic purposes. There is no reward for how much weight an individual can lift or how quickly they can run, in this world, the only thing that is important is how they look at the end, the appearance of the end ‘product’.  I like to imagine how that parallels the art world and the production of art works. Within my practice, I have referenced these extreme bodies and the activity itself in many ways, most recently in the form of abstracted painting or sculptural objects. The process of making my work will also often connect to some of the activities involved in extreme bodybuilding (repetitive actions, physical pressure etc.). When presenting my finished works for exhibition I would describe the process of making them as ‘unseen performances’, to reference the physicality involved in their production. In 2018 I decided that it was time to consider making the unseen, seen, and that I would begin to develop a piece of live or recorded performance work. This shift in my practice is what prompted my application for the Engine Micro Bursary and to give me the opportunity to kick start this new chapter of research and development.

The combination of mental dedication and physical effort demonstrated by bodybuilders is the main reason I have continued to stay interested in it. The effort required to achieve and maintain these extreme bodies is almost incomprehensible. When considering how a performance piece involving the body might exist, I think about this combination of extreme physical and mental activity. I often seek out examples of individuals or groups who push things to the limits. One such individual is a 60-year-old Dutch man called Wim Hof, also known as the Iceman due to his infinity with all things cold. I first encountered Wim and his antics when I watched a documentary exploring his seemingly humanly impossible feats. At one point, he held 26 separate individual Guinness world records for extreme human activity, including the furthest swim in ice water, the fastest half marathon barefoot on snow and the longest time in direct full body contact with ice. All of this led people to believe he was a one off, a freak of nature who did not feel cold in the same way other people did. Wim claimed that he was not unique but was merely optimising the capabilities of the human body and he could teach anyone to do it. To prove it, Wim began what has now become known as The Wim Hof Method a system that combines regular exposure to the cold, breathing exercises and meditation. This method, however, was not just a frivolous venture into record-breaking but rather had some significant physical and mental benefits. Wim claimed that by practising the techniques of the method you could improve sports performance, reduce stress and strengthen your immune system. I was hooked, I wanted to know more. I discovered that a number of scientific studies had been carried out on not only Wim himself but also a group of trained individuals. It appeared they were able to consciously activate their autoimmune system, something that was previously believed to be impossible. I found this all so fascinating. Could it be that a slightly peculiar Dutch man had unlocked some new potential in the human body?

Wim Hof, breaking the world record for time spent surrounded by Ice.

I started to imagine how the things Wim was doing might relate to performance art. I was reminded of the endurance performance work popularised in the 1970s by people like Marina Abramovic, Stuart Brisley and Vito Acconci who pushed their body, mind and public perception to the limit. But it also brought to mind how materials can be used to evoke certain responses. I thought about transience in relation to ice and how it has been used as an art material in the past, with the obvious example of Marc Quinn and his frozen blood head piece, Self. The idea of referencing aging via the changing state of a material is something I referenced previously in my latex works, a material that quickly shows signs of wear and tear when pulled taut. I was confident that this could translate in other ways.

I discovered that there was an event-taking place, which might shed some light onto the specifics of the Wim Hof Method. It involved a series of lectures, workshops and participatory activities, so I signed up and booked flights to the Netherlands.

There were a group of around 30 participants and a team of four Wim Hof instructors who would guide us through the weekend. The morning started with a detailed introduction into the background of the Wim Hof Method. It transpired that this was much more than an activity simply to impress your friends with how long could stay in cold water. It appeared that the health benefits of the method were vast and yet all that was required was some conscious active breathing along with some exposure to the cold. It seemed too good to be true. As the day went on, we were introduced to the science behind the method. One of the trainers, Bart Scholtissen, a former neuroscientist from Amsterdam who found the method after suffering from poor mental health, introduced how active breathing and cold exposure can alter the way our bodies react to physical and mental stress. He discussed how in a contemporary world being endlessly stimulated by technology had resulted in a mass amount of people being stuck in the fight or flight response mode which can result not only in mental anxieties but also physical ailments. Through breathing, we could return the body into a resting state to allow us to relax fully and recuperate from daily stresses. It all seemed very reasonable and I remained as open but a sceptical as possible.

After morning lectures, we began some participatory activities that included going through the breathing exercises. These exercises, known collectively as ‘breathwork’ are based on ancient yogic techniques of conscious and deliberate airflow into the lungs. The aim, as explained by Bart, was to increase the amount of oxygen in our blood and to decrease carbon dioxide. By doing this we encouraged the cells in our blood to flow through our circulatory system in an active and efficient way, the result being an almost paradoxical increase of energy and the general feeling of relaxation. Afterwards we broke for lunch and I had an opportunity to speak with some of the other participants before returning for a series of discussions in the afternoon. Learning about the other participants, why they were there and their experiences was very interesting. Almost every person I spoke to, described how these breathing techniques and cold exposure had significantly impacted their life. From those with mental health issues and even mental illness to others with physical problems such as autoimmune diseases, each one described how the Wim Hof Method had help them deal with their difficulties.

Day two started similarly to day one with some more lectures into the science behind the method but also a bit of background to Wim himself, who also made a surprise appearance in the morning and give a motivational talk. He’s an extraordinary character and I can see why people are drawn to him, but also how he could be a target for sceptics. For me, I was happy experiencing all of this without judgement and an open mind. Today we would explore the cold exposure aspect of the method first hand. After a couple breathwork of sessions and we collectively prepared to enter an ice bath. For some this seemed to be no big deal but for most, including myself I was quite anxious about the prospect yet I had a sense of inner confidence perhaps feeding off the more positive members of the group. We gathered around the (ironically named) hot tub which had been previously filled with cold water and ice and were invited to enter at our own pace. I watched on to observe both how people dealt with the cold but also how the instructors guided them through it. What became immediately apparent is that by controlling the breath you controlled your ability to resist cold. Our body’s natural response to a sudden drop in temperature is to breathe quickly and shallow, to increase the heart rate and pump blood around the body to generate heat. This is also the sensation that triggers our in-built fight and flight response. By actively controlling the breath and slowing it down, people were much more able to deal with the cold water. When it came to my turn I could feel my heart racing before I even step foot into the cold water but I was confident that by applying the same methods as others, I would be able to do it. As I stepped into the ice, I immediately took a sharp intake of air, a gasp, and could feel my heart racing even faster. As I lowered down into the water my breathing rate increased and I felt an almost overwhelming urge to get out. At this point I tried to focus also on my breath trying to be more conscious, taking control and slowing everything down. As I gained control of my breath I felt my heart rate slow and the urge to get out dissipate and before I knew it I was fully emerged in the ice water being joined with five other participants. I had never experienced anything like that before, that sense of taking control of your body and your mind to overcome something physical like this was a new and exciting prospect. I sat in the ice for probably two minutes before getting out. As I emerged I felt amazing and in a way I’d never experienced before, my body felt energised, I was tingling from head to toe. It was genuinely a moment I would never forget. Eventually we had all had our turn in the ice bath, we made our way back to the main area for some warm tea, and a final debrief.

On my journey back from the Netherlands I reflected on my time there, considering all that I have learnt and experienced. It struck me that learning is not always a cognitive brain centric activity and that we can also learn through physical experiences via the body. I started to think about how I might begin to produce artworks informed by the information I had received but also, and perhaps more importantly, the physical and emotional experience I had. Up until very recently, my working methods would primarily consist of extensive theoretical research. Reading about a specific topic until I felt I knew enough about it to represent it via image or object making. Whilst the body would often play a part in the conceptualising of the work, I had not always considered it as truly embodied practice. Moving forward, I want to try to produce works that are more responsive to physical urges and feelings rather than explicitly cognitive ones.

Taking this experience back to the studio has been an interesting one. I have been determined to spend less time in my head and more time in my body. That’s not to say that I’ve stopped thinking critically but rather allowed my body to also have a say in the decision-making. Recently I produced a series of performance to camera works, which reflected this new approach. I can’t exactly say what these photographs are, what they do or how they might be conceptualised within the context of an exhibition but I feel positive about that. I have a sense of freedom around my art making that was arguably not there prior to my Wim Hof experience. I feel as though I can try things now I would have otherwise talked myself out of doing, for one reason or another. In parallel with the feeling I had on leaving the ice bath, I feel energized and excited about this new development chapter ahead.

Brian J Morrison
http://www.brianjmorrison.com/

 

 

 

 

Artist Brian J Morrison reflects back on his research trip to Stroe in the Netherlands earlier this year, funded by an Engine Micro Bursary.

Last year James Lomax was awarded an Engine Micro Bursary to undertake a research trip to Madrid. He reports back: 

I was very fortunate to be awarded one of the Engine Bursaries last year which I used for a research trip to Madrid. I had not visited Madrid before. The trip had two purposes; to visit museums and galleries (in particular the Museo del Prado), and to also make new connections in the city.

Madrid is rich with museums and galleries, and the Museo del Prado is at the centre of this. It was somewhere I had wanted to visit for a long time. It is the main Spanish national art museum and is renowned for having one of the finest collections of European Art in the world. It houses work from the 12th to 20th Century, based upon the Spanish Royal collection, and includes both painting and sculpture. Artists in the collection include Francisco Goya, Hieronymus Bosch, El Greco, Peter Paul Rubens, Titian and Diego Velásquez.

My practice is largely installation based, with a focus on print and sculpture, and is often influenced by and in dialogue with painting. I particularly wished to visit the Museo del Prado to experience Francisco Goya’s Pinturas Negras or Black Paintings and Hieronymus Bosch’s The Garden of Early Delights triptych. Goya’s Pinturas Negras consists of fourteen deeply moving paintings which the artist painted in oils directly onto the walls of his Madrid home in the latter years of his life. Not only dark in tone, the paintings are of far darker content, reflecting Goya’s bleak outlook on life – not only his own, but also reflecting the political climate at the time.

Hieronymus Bosch’s collection of paintings in the Prado combine works on board and larger panel works which are two sided, hinged, triptychs. The Garden of Earthly Delights triptych is a three part painting depicting the spherical earth when closed. Upon opening, the panels depict the fall of humanity, starting with Adam and Eve on the left and a descent to hell on the right. The colour and exquisite detail in the painting, undertaken in the late 1400s, is immense and overbearing. The experience of the Prado itself is one that reflect upon often. It was great to be able to witness these paintings in the flesh and to allow them to make their mark upon my own work.

During the course of my four day visit I was able to visit the Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía to see Dorothea Tannning’s exhibitions, Behind the Door, Another Invisible Door as well as the museum’s incredible collection. I also made a trip to Factum Arte, a specialist in art conservation and fabrication. Factum Arte seeks to construct a bridge between new technologies and craft skills in the conservation of cultural heritage and in contemporary art. They use their technologies to create identical replicas as well as recordings so that these works could be recreated in the event of being destroyed by a natural disaster etc. As well as this I attended a number of openings over the course of the visit and was able to meet with Madrid based curators and artists.

Last year James Lomax was awarded an Engine Micro Bursary to undertake a research trip to Madrid. He reports back.

Background

Salt Road artist directors Jaime Jackson and Dr Sally Payen received funding support from New Art West Midlands and the Spanish Embassy for Cultural and Scientific Affairs to travel to Bilbao 2-9 May 2019 to develop contacts and make partnerships for Biocity and the Fall, Salt Road’s visual Biophilic art exchange project between the Birmingham and the West Midlands and the Basque Country.

 

During the visit we meet with climate scientists at BC3 Centre for Climate Change as well as public realm/environmental artist and architects Urban Bat and Jessica Llorente. We also made contact and agreements to proceed with Officers from Bilbao City Council and Vitoria City Council.

Context

BioCity and the Fall is a joint Salt Road and BC3 Centre for Climate Change international visual art relational program. The project focuses on biophilic/biomimicry art to create new toolkits for people to co-create their own biophilic environments. A public realm sited installation, exploring climate change and biophilia.

 

We plan for the exchange to deliver the following artwork commissions:
– Moving image works
– Co-created globe artworks showcased in public space installations across partner cities
– Internet of Things commission

 

The project will be inspired by the personal stories of climate change researchers at BC3 Basque Center for Climate Change. We will be creating moving image art by interviewing the researchers to humanise their stories, inspiring our community workshop participants to co-create art. The exhibition in Bilbao will be part of BC3 and the University of the Basque Country Faculty of Arts climate change and art programme June 2020.

Results/agreements for the network follow meetings

BC3 researchers have told us that they have difficulty in engaging the public with the facts around climate change. Future proposed actions:
– We will engage young people in workshops with climate change science the extinction of species and the loss of biodiversity, by co-created globe artwork through relational practice.
– Connect communities from the Basque Country with those in Wales and the West Midlands, through the Welsh Audit Office Mutual Benefits program and the Biophilic City Network (Birmingham and Vitoria-Gastiez).

 

Workshops to engage communities of young people will take place in Bilbao, Vitoria-Gasteiz, Birmingham and Cardiff. Public realm site specific installations will take place in a public popular park spaces in Bilbao (site to be confirmed), Vitoria/Gasteiz, Birmingham and Cardiff.

– Interviewing BC3 scientists: Summer/Autumn 2019
– Community workshops in UK: Autumn 2019
– Exhibition in UK: Spring 2020
– Community workshops in Spain: Spring 2020
– Exhibition in Bilbao: June 2020 & Vitoria-Gasteiz Autumn 2020

Conclusion

The funding from New Art West Midlands paid for flights to Spain and transport in Spain, which enabled us to develop and secure our network of partners there. With Urban Bat offering to be our gatekeeper into the creative engagement sector in Bilbao, BC3 being our climate scientists and the city councils of Bilbao and Vitoria (Vitoria is the other European Biophilic City along with Birmingham. Project development was funded by the Spanish Embassy Office for Cultural and Scientific Affairs, and New Art West Midlands. Alongside New Art West Midlands, partners include the Spanish Embassy Office for Cultural and Scientific Affairs, New Leaf Sustainability, Welsh Audit Office, Cardiff Metropolitan University, Birmingham City Council, Vitoria- Gasteiz City Council, Birmingham City Council, STEAMhouse and the Biophilic City Network.

 

The project will link Wales, the West Midlands and the Basque Country. We expect the project will be extended to Oslo and Reykavik in 2021. Further funding applications will be made in each country to deliver the project outputs

Salt Road artists Jaime Jackson and Dr Sally Payen report back from their research visit to Bilbao in May, part funded by an Engine Micro Bursary.

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.

The Sower/ Aleppo Pine (2017), Fred Hubble.

Frederick Hubble: Hypha 
Launch: Friday 24 May 4pm – 7pm
Opening hours: 24 May – 7 June 2019
KH7artspace, Sydhavnsgade 7, 8000 Aarhus C, Denmark

 

The Sower/ Aleppo Pine (2017), Frederick Hubble.

KH7artspace is delighted to present the first international solo exhibition by UK artist Frederick Hubble.

Through materials including glass, water, snow, chocolate, fish, wine, wood and brass, Hubble’s practice responds to place through sculpture, video, photography, performance, drawing and ephemeral gesture.

For Hypha, Hubble will transform the gallery with a body of new site-specific works that respond to the contexts of Aarhus and its surrounding areas.

Hypha takes its title from the branching filaments that form mycelium in fungi. Using this natural structure as a starting point, the exhibition brings together interconnected spaces, places and peoples.

 From the cool of the forests, to the saltiness of the sea and the blueness of the sky, Hypha explores climate, transit and the changing experiences of place that link Aarhus to the West Midlands region of central England.

The idea of the “foreigner” and the skewed Romantic ideals (both historic and contemporary) attached to international travel, the impact of tourism and the slow unfolding of time all play a part in the works produced for KH7.

Via Hypha, the gallery becomes a site of production, experimentation and display, with works made in anticipation of the exhibition, as a direct response to the site and after the exhibition ends as part of the ongoing legacy of Hubble’s practice.

Hypha is curated by UK-based curator and writer Anneka French, with critical curatorial support from artist Mette Boel.

Biography
Fred Hubble (b. 1993 Birmingham, UK) received his MA Fine Art from Birmingham School of Art, Birmingham City University, UK in 2016. Recent exhibitions include Forward, Medicine Gallery, Birmingham, curated by Ikon Gallery (2019); Silent Stage, Yaga Gathering, near Vilnius, Lithuania (2018); Firn, Asylum Gallery, Wolverhampton (2018); Slow Cooker, Stryx, Birmingham (2017); Lunch at the Nipple Dome, Art Licks, London (2017) and The Twin, Coventry Biennial of Contemporary Art (upcoming). He has undertaken residencies at JOYA Arte + Ecologia, Sierra Maria, Almeria, Spain and at Stryx, Birmingham (both 2017).

 

www.fredhubble.com
www.kh7artspace.dk
 
 
The exhibition is generously supported by Aarhus Kulturudviklingspulje

New Art West Midlands alumni artist Frederick Hubble is currently showing at KH7artspace, Aarhus, Denmark. Curated by our Project Co-ordinator Anneka French, Hypha is Fred’s first international solo exhibition.

Kunsthal Aarhus with Jillian Mayer’s ‘Slumpies’ in the foreground

In late 2017, I was selected for research project ‘Traverse’, with New Art West Midlands and Aarhus Billedkunstcenter. This project asked ‘What does it mean to be an artist working outside of your country’s capital region?’, and I was paired up with Aarhus based artist Mette Boel, to discuss our experiences and needs. We spoke at length over Skype and across email, the results of which can be accessed here.

Following this virtual activity, Aarhus Billedkunstcenter (AaBKC) invited me to visit Aarhus, and further develop my relationship with the city and the artists and organisations working there. While in Denmark, I also proposed to visit Copenhagen, as further food for thinking about capital city working and also to maximize the reach of the trip.

My initial plans to spend 3 days in Aarhus turned into a week, and the planned summer 2018 visit turned into April 2019, due to having a baby and taking maternity leave. My partner and baby came too. The week in Aarhus was a mix of visiting its many galleries and museums, meeting with artists in studios and curators, and getting a more general feel for Aarhus life. I was hosted by Aarhus Billedkunstcenter and their International Project Curator, Pamela Grombacher.

Aarhus is Denmark’s second city, like Birmingham, but considerably smaller in size and population. The major art centre there however, is huge. ARoS has 5 floors of galleries and a giant Olafur Eliasson permanent artwork ‘Your Rainbow Panorama’ and feat of engineering that has transparent coloured panels that leak all over the city. Its one of the numerous ways in which Aarhus presents itself as a city that values culture, and this flagship art centre, while I felt it was not particularly loved by artists working in Aarhus, is understood as being a destination for visitors and an advertisement of cultural investment.

I met with Jacob Fabricius, Director at Kunsthal Aarhus, and spoke about the ethos of the organisation and the arts in Denmark more broadly, as well as my own practice and the Traverse research project. I was really excited by the Kunsthal building, which began as a modest space, and has expanded horizontally and vertically at different times. I loved the sculpture garden that surrounds Kunsthal Aarhus, and particularly these fiberglass sculptures by Jillian Mayer.

Kunsthal Aarhus with Jillian Mayer’s ‘Slumpies’ in the foreground

 

Godsbanen is a production centre for ‘cultural entrepreneurs’, with wood, print, metal, ceramic (etc.!) workshops, offices for creative industries and music and theatre performance spaces. AaBKC have their office in the building, and Mette is starting up a new subsidized studio group with peers on site soon too. This publicly accessible production facility makes it feasible to make a variety of works in the city without needing to travel 4hrs to Copenhagen.

Tina Oxager spoons for sale in Godsbanen

 

We took a trip to Moesgaard Museum, 30 minutes out of Aarhus centre, which is a museum of Danish archeology and ethnography. It houses a vast amount of stuff, and the experience of displays and interpretation is highly choreographed: galleries have starry night skies, sound tracks, squashy bog-like floors and more. There were many wonderful artifacts and armatures to look at as research for my work.

Moesgaard Museum

 

The Friday night of my visit was coincidentally a warm evening with an unprecedented number of openings and events. Among others, I visited Charlotte Fogh, one of Aarhus’ commercial spaces with an exhibition by Aarhus based Julie Stavad, and the opening of large group exhibition ‘Tomorrow is the Question’, at ARoS.

Charlotte Fogh Gallery

 

Mette and I presented the findings of our Traverse project at AaBKC Social event while I was there. We spoke to a group of artists and public in KH7 studios, which Mette cofounded and where her studio is currently based. It was really useful to revisit the data and our findings from Traverse a year later, to check in about how things have shifted. Invited to the discussion were members of the Aarhus artist community who have recently relocated there from elsewhere, as well as longstanding members. Mette and I are now discussing how to further develop and disseminate this research to have a broader reach and impact.

I did studio visits with artists including Anne-Sophie Overgaard, Tanja Nellemann Poulson and Kamilla Jørgensen, and caught up with Mette about her practice. It was a great opportunity to talk practice, career trajectories and to explore whether works by Danish artists could be included as part of my online project Studio Outlet, which sells things made by artists.

Nyhavn, Copenhagen

 

In Copenhagen I visited Kunsthal Charlottenborg, which was presenting Europa Endlos, a group show about current events in European politics. I was struck by such a historic gallery and art school being so close to Copenhagen’s tourist hotspot of Nyhavn.

I visited artists Jason Dungan and Maria Zahle, who moved to Copenhagen from London five years ago. They have a beautiful home with studios attached, and it was a great opportunity to understand how Copenhagen operates for resident artists rather than the surface that’s experienced as visiting tourists.

While it’s simplistic to think about Aarhus and Copenhagen in a comparison of either this one or that one, and having only spent a couple of days in Copenhagen, it was easily Aarhus that stole my heart and suggested that it could be worthwhile to relocate there. Like Birmingham, in Aarhus I can see how it’s possible to work as an artist and live as a human, with other interests and a family, but Aarhus comes with the enviable Danish quality of life that no amount of artist-run spaces being setup in the grass roots of a city can amount to without top-level investment and provision of infrastructure.

The trip was a great marker of the beginning of my return to work post maternity leave, and offered energizing relationships and reminders of being part of a welcoming global community of artists. I’m looking into ways for my family and I to spend a more substantial amount of time in Denmark.

www.joannemasding.com

Joanne Masding reports from her recent visits to Aarhus and Copenhagen, Denmark, the result of an Engine Micro Bursary and the follow up to Traverse #2, a dialogue and research exchange devised in collaboration between New Art West Midlands and Aarhus Billedkunstcenter.

Andrew McNiven: Untitled (Belgian Autoroute Services), 2018. HD video, multi-channel audio (work-in-progress)

My application to New Art West Midlands’s Engine Micro Bursary scheme was to support research within Northern Europe in which I visited a number of significant museums and galleries to make video and audio recordings and photographs, generating source material for a new project.

Provisionally entitled ‘Hum’, this new project uses video in which sound is the primary source, in this case the sonic environment of the museum. This work will be audio described in a new collaboration with Dr Louise Fryer of University College London, BBC Radio 3 and the National Theatre, in which we aim to experiment with and examine the potential of applied audio description in relation to visual culture, as both a way of increasing access, and to explore the experimental use of audio description forming part of the works’ content, as a creative contributory element itself. To Dr Fryer’s and my knowledge this has never been explored previously.

Andrew McNiven: Untitled (Belgian Autoroute Services), 2018. HD video, multi-channel audio (work-in-progress)

The Micro Bursary enabled me to extend an existing trip for pre-planned projects at Greylight Projects in Brussels and NP3 Artspace in Groningen and spend several days researching filming, photographing and sound recording in museums and galleries in Belgium, the Netherlands and France. These included the Mauritshuis, Museum Boijmans van Beuningen (Rotterdam), MHKA (Antwerp), Musee des Beaus Arts Lille, and others. Many of these were previously visited as part of my AHRC-funded practice-led PhD almost a decade ago, examining the conditions of display in the museum. I was able to generate a significant amount of research material with which to further develop my work.

In addition to the planned museum visits, there were also useful, and perhaps productive ‘collateral’ opportunities – filming and recording a Belgian motorway from the service area provided the source material for a potential work with a Ballardian sense of place; the seaway entry to Rotterdam’s Europoort offered a kind of ‘hum’ and scale hard to find anywhere else in the world.

Caravaggio: Boy Bitten by a Lizard, 1594-1596. Installation at MHKA (Antwerp) as part of exhibition Sanguine/Bloedred

 

Ed & Nancy Keinholz: Five Card Stud, 1969-1972. Installation at MHKA (Antwerp) as part of exhibition Sanguine/Bloedred (originally inc. in documenta 5 in 1972 before disappearing for nearly forty years).

I was also able to encounter previously unseen works: Ed & Nancy Keinholz’s rarely seen ‘Five Card Stud’ (1969-1972), originally part of documenta 5 in 1972 before disappearing for nearly forty years, and one of two versions of Caravaggio’s ‘Boy Bitten by a Lizard’ (1594-1596) from the Fondation Roberto Longhi in Florence – the other being in the National Gallery in London – both part of ‘Sanguine/Bloedred’, Luc Tuymans’ vivid exploration of the baroque at MHKA in Antwerp.

Being awarded the Engine Micro Bursary has also been useful in providing leverage for funding the wider ‘Hum’ project, and I have been successful in securing a significant award through the Kerr-Fry Bequest from the University of Edinburgh towards this.

That the bursary supported both the planned and the unplanned is significant. In allowing an artist time, opportunity, new experiences and encounters, the potential for new ideas is supported. The value of this is huge.

Andrew McNiven used his Engine Micro Bursary to visit a number of significant museums and galleries in Northern Europe to generate source material for a new project. He reports back.

In June 2018, I had the opportunity to experience the 10th Berlin Biennale We Don’t Need Another Hero for the energetic, coffee/kebab fuelled, gloriously sunny opening week.

 

This was my first experience of this renowned biennale and my second time in Berlin. I went to consider the themes posed by the curator Gabi Ngcobo, with a curatorial team made of Moses Serubiri, Nomaduma Rosa Masilela within the biennale’s context of Berlin. It was described in the press release as “explore[ing] the political potential of the act of self-preservation, refusing to be seduced by unyielding knowledge systems and historical narratives that contribute to the creation of toxic subjectivities”. The biennale title – a Tina Turner song – indicated to not finding answers. Rather, the curators invited “contradictions and complications” of “willful disregard for complex subjects”, typified by this funny, assertive and lyrical title.

 

Over the past couple of years, I have learnt that art fairs and festivals are a time for quiet contemplation and an opportunity to see a huge amount of art. I was profoundly moved by two works in the biennale, which I saw at the KW Institute for Contemporary Art. Firstly, Liz Johnson Artur’s video work “Real…Times” (2018) and secondly, the mixed-media exhibition “Untitled (Of Occult Instability) [Feeling]” (2016-18) by Dineo Seshee Bopape, that included works by Jabu Arnell, Lacell Workman and Robert Rhee. Dineo Seshee Bopape’s practice has been eloquently described by curator Osei Bonsu as “So complex are the fragile constellations … [they] evade the easy didacticism of a casual description.” Which I can only say from my experience, is true; this exhibition was an exceptional experience. The sounds of Nina Simone’s live 1976 performance of Feelings played around the amber-orange, industrial, dilapidated landscape as water droplets fell from the ceiling into buckets that were strewn across the floor. Each artist inhabited their own part of this environment, cumulatively creating an environment that invited exploration.

 

Dineo Sheshee Bopape, Untitled (Of Occult Instability) [Feelings] Other works on view include: Jabu Arnell, Discoball X (2018); Lachell Workman, Justice for___ (2014); Robert Rhee, EEEERRRRGGHHHH und and ZOUNDS. Photo: Timo Ohler

 

Liz Johnson Artur’s exhibition, showed work from her Black Balloon Archive that includes photographic representation of people of African descent. I watched her video work “Real…Times”, which lasts just over 15 minutes twice fully, and would have watched a third time if it were not for the queue that formed behind me. The work was filmed in London and showed a man preaching in the street and being arrested, women presenting on the radio, a young man – these are part of the visual components of this work that faded between each scene as a montage – moments in time that were overlapping one by one. The work felt so honest, hand-crafted and deeply personal – it is one of the best pieces of moving image I had ever seen and I look forward to watching it again to fully explore this work. Liz Johnson Artur has her first solo exhibition at South London Gallery opening in June 2019 which I am very excited to see! Also, Dineo Sheshee Bopape has an upcoming exhibition at Towner Art Gallery in Eastbourne, opening in June this year which I am looking forward to if anyone would like to see these artists work in the UK.

 

Liz Johnson Artur, Real…Times video from Black Balloon Archive, 1991–ongoing, installation view. Image courtesy of Berlin Biennale. Photography by Timo Ohler.

 

In a biennale context, spending an unusually long period of time with an artist’s work and to not quite know why is a great feeling – usually emotional – as you start taking your questions and thoughts around the festival with you, gauging a deeper sense of the biennale themes. It felt as though these artworks were here for me as they offered some meaning or truth. Of course this is not the case but with an overwhelming amount of art to see, these moments are precious and long-lasting. Another work that consumed all my attention was Mario Pfeifer’s film “Again / Noch Enimal” at Akademie der Künste – a feature length 60-minute work. The luxury of having so much time to give to each exhibition was an absolute joy.

 

Whilst in Berlin I visited artist collective Lou Cantor and discussed their work with them, which was an academic, insightful and fun conversation. We discussed the internet, AI and lots of other topics, including their recent publication Intersubjectivity Vol II – Scripting the Human (2018). I had the delight of working with Lou Cantor on my Masters project in 2017 and it was great to finally meet them face-to-face. Serendipitously I became friends with Scottish artist Caitlin Hyne who was studying in Germany whilst I was in Berlin. Her work and company was/is most stimulating. It was useful to meet other curators and artists whilst in Berlin – a couple of whom I have kept in touch with. Another artist’s work that I had the pleasure of seeing was Sam Samiee’s exhibition at ZK/U, which is a “production site” for research and artist residencies. I found the forms in Samiee’s work inviting and curious, and on reflection I wish I had written about this work in-situ as I feel I would have gained a lot out of this process. I follow Samiee on Instagram and always look forward to seeing what he shares (@aarsaam). Following these artists on Instagram is a useful way to “follow” the many artists you come into contact with in fleeting moments – whether it’s productive is a concern for another day.

 

Sam Samiee, The Unfinished Copernican Revolution (2018). Mixed media. Exhibition view: We don’t need another hero, 10th Berlin Biennale for Contemporary Art, ZK/U – Center for Art and Urbanistics, Berlin (9 June–9 September 2018). Courtesy the artist. Photo: Timo Ohler.

 

Biennale themes, titles, guest curators, branding, catalogues, the parties and even tote bags can be indicative of that year’s particular objective – one driving theme. Yet, as a visitor, when in the midst of a biennale, the expansive programme spread across many venues isn’t a succinct experience to take in during one week. Therefore the curator’s approach, drawing to the fore the complications and contraindications of socio-political issues worked well, as it wasn’t a didactic programme – it was expansive. I enjoyed that I didn’t leave with a singular opinion but left grateful to the organisers for sharing artists and exhibition possibilities that were previously unknown to me.

 

Thank you to New Art West Midlands for providing me with a Micro Bursary which was hugely helpful for this trip. I am grateful for non-tangible research outcomes. My current area of interest is thinking about festival models and curation, and having the opportunity to see the 10th Berlin Biennale was an enriching experience that feeds into my developing curatorial practice. I am delighted to say that I will be visiting the Venice Biennale (for the first time ((and my first time in Italy!)) and this trip has been supported by the Art Fund’s Jonathan Ruffer Curatorial Grants. Going to a festival for research is an incredibly exciting opportunity and valuable for developing curatorial methods, and specifically, developing ways to engage with visitors.

 

Laura O’Leary is Programme Assistant at QUAD, Derby and a freelance writer.

Curator Laura O’Leary used her Engine Micro Bursary to visit the Berlin Biennale back in June 2018. Read more about her research here.

sdr

Back in July 2018 I got the opportunity to visit Berlin for the Berlin Biennale. Despite previously visiting Berlin on multiple occasions, this year sparked my first visit to the Berlin Biennale. Being in its 10th year as an arts festival across Berlin this felt like an important year to visit as they take the time to reflect on how they have developed and look forward to their future as an arts festival in this ever growing and vibrant city. We don’t need another hero is the title for this year’s Biennale and it had the art scene standing at a cross roads for both contemplation of historical moments and the possibility for new and future political action. As an anniversary for the Biennale it was interesting to see how the organiser’s used this milestone to their advantage or disadvantage and hopefully set the tone for the next few years of the festival.

As a visitor I was approaching the Biennale wearing two hats, my about-to-start-final-year CSM-Fine-Art-student hat and my just-worked-as-production-manager-at-the-new-Coventry-Biennial hat. With these two perspectives in mind I had a very interesting and quite critical experience. I found it very valuable to be in this position, looking both for inspiration and references for my practice and dissertation research as well as also viewing the exhibitions and overall experience from an arts professional viewpoint.

I gave myself a healthy four days to visit Berlin as this gave me enough time to enjoy each of the four venues that the Biennale had to offer. As soon as I arrived I headed off to the first venue which was the Akademie der Künste, the Fine Art Academy in Berlin. For me this space, exhibition and overall feel was not to my liking and somehow I felt like this might have set the tone for the rest of my visit. Having shows in university buildings are always a challenge, fighting against the institution’s architecture and trying to separate itself from any feeling of being a degree show. I also couldn’t help but notice that it had a similar wooden block floor to ‘the street’ in CSM that has been breaking apart for years. However, when taking in the works there were a couple that really stood out for me. One video piece that immediately caught my eye was all voices are mine (2010) by Basir Mahood. Having not much budget and only one day to shoot, the video created comprised of poses and actions alongside other actors. Mahood sees this work as a collaboration between himself and his fellow actors which I feel sits perfectly with the overall concept of the Biennale and also sits well with my own collaborative practice. In contrast to that approach I was also very interested in the work of Sondra Perry and her video in the Biennale, IT’S IN THE GAME ‘17, looks at the forces that control space and analyses its sometimes problematic ways of classification and reading.

As the main venue for the Biennale, the KW Institute for Contemporary Art did not disappoint. Spanning the whole of the gallery, KW managed to engulf me into its many spaces and house me for a few hours. Showing artists that have helped define what this institution is was a powerful way to set the tone for the show and created a rich selection of artists for the Biennale. Personal highlights were Fabiana Faleiros’ Mastur Bar – a travelling bar that offers an extended programme beyond the walls of the Biennale. From celebrating female masturbation through music and a social space to performances looking at the use of our fingers and gestures, the multi sided project within the mini basement area of KW acted as a curious oasis within the show.

The venue that has stuck with me since my visit has been the Volksbühne Pavilion; an interesting glass construction situated next to the Volksbühne Theatre. Having a rich history of housing previous artists’ projects and performances, this space housed Las Nietas De Nonó’s interactive installation for the duration of the Biennale, opening up the space for performances and participation. As an installation in itself it felt very intriguing for such a small space and almost acted as a little utopia. It gave off similar feelings to Post Modern Plant Life, a 1 week artist residency I took part in housed in an artificial hot house in Leamington Spa; especially with its use of portable technologies, plants and cooking tools. Despite visiting the space when no event was happening, I felt that this space acted as the centre of many discussions within the Biennale and that by being located in this space that the future was ready for us and we were ready for it with camping stoves and selfie sticks.

 

My final day saw me getting the tube over to ZKW-Center for Art and Urbanistics to catch the last show of the Biennale. Using the 10th Biennale as a moment to re-establish connections with collectives that previously used the space felt very potent and this could clearly be felt in the works exhibited. Even though initially I felt as though I’d entered a political underground Berlin club in the middle of the day when absorbing work, when it came to seeing Heba Y. Amin’s project rightly named Anti-Control Room I was left blown away. Unnervingly blurring the lines between history, present day and the potential futures, Amin created an incredibly in-depth project that explores utopian visions and alternative political worries. The multi-channel video left me both in awe and in turmoil being faced with an alternative reality that in many ways we are already playing out in our own parallel universe.

 

Coming away from Berlin and my first Biennale visit I was left with an interesting mix of opinions and feelings. As a visitor coming at a quiet time in their public programme I peacefully made my way around the venues alone taking in the shows and exploring Berlin, which made my visit very subdued and flat. However, what came from uncovering the subtle decisions in selection and curation of the different shows built up a much more lasting effect on my Biennale experience that I would not have previously expected. Building on previous relationships, expanding programmes and addressing political issues collectively with new and exciting artists, the Biennale, despite feeling quite tame on first meeting, tackled some very important issues and have set themselves up as an arts festival for an exciting few years ahead. We definitely don’t need another hero, we just need a lot more cooperation.

Engine Micro Bursary awardee Emily Roderick visited the Berlin Biennale back in July 2018. She reflects on the trip here.

The Manifesta Hub

The Manifesta Hub

Earlier in the year Selina Oakes visited Manifesta 12 in Palermo, Sicily with an Engine Micro Bursary. She reports on her trip and the effects of the roving Biennial on the city.

Palermo is a confluence of migratory flows. Positioned at Europe’s Southern tip and Northwest of the Middle East, the Mediterranean city’s identity has been shaped by a plethora of civilisations: traces of Greek, Roman, Norman, Arabic, Byzantine and Ottoman influences reverberate through the street, fusing with contemporary narratives to make for an intoxicating destination. In 2018, Palermo is placed under the gaze of Manifesta. In the words of many locals, “What is Manifesta?” It’s neither an exhibition, a performance, a festival nor a conference, but all and more combined. It’s a roaming, nomadic, contemporary, at times collaborative and explorative platform; one which showcases predominantly new work by artists residing in or responding to Europe.

With the support of an ENGINE and New Art West Midlands Micro Bursary, I travelled to the Sicilian capital to better understand Manifesta 12’s curatorial trajectory of “cultivating coexistence” amidst Palermo’s vivacious cultural fabric. As a visitor, I cannot say that, after five days, I know Palermo intimately – far from it. Its winding streets, frequently interrupted by boisterous scooters, led me off-course on an hourly basis. It’s a feisty city with a millennia-old history and a population who is equally dismissive and proud of their nationality. For decades, Sicily has followed its own trajectory and, until recently, Palermo has been heavily influenced by the Cosa Nostra. In navigating the town, a prevalent street art movement weaves its way between UNESCO heritage buildings, while unbeknown alleyways are studded with blue-LEDs in preparation for the Feast of Santa Rosalia. 

After reading Mayor Leoluca Orlando’s statement that “Manifesta 12 is not a foreign body fallen upon the city like a meteorite but the result of sharing and fostering visions, aspirations, projects and dialogues,” I was intrigued to understand how a nomadic Biennial could connect with and build a legacy in this Palermo in such a short space of time? And what type of legacy does it wish to leave behind? “You think you’re going to come to Palermo and not have problems? Think again,” commented an invigilator, whom, regardless of her remark, saw Manifesta in a good light; “it’s changing the city – bringing money and employment.” But are these changes down to Manifesta? Palermo is also Italy’s Capital of Culture 2018 and already has a burgeoning artistic scene.

Maltide Cassani, part of Tutto, Palazzo Costantino

Much like its host destination, Manifesta is complex. It works bilaterally between Palermo and Amsterdam – it has two teams, one based in Sicily and another in its Dutch offices. For the first time, Manifesta hit the ground running two years before the main event; it has also recruited a group of Creative Mediators to develop its 12th edition concept, The Planetary Garden. Cultivating Cooexistence. Taking its title from Gilles Clément’s The Planetary Garden (1997), Manifesta 12 updates the book’s portrayal of the Earth as a garden that is tended to by the human gardener by infusing it with Palermo’s horticultural jewel, Orto Botanico, and Francesco Lojacono’s View of Palermo (1875) – a 19th Century painting which illustrates the city’s multi-national plants species. Collectively, The Planetary Garden is a poignant reminder, in these xenophobic times, of the diversity that exists in what we perceive as being “native.” 

On paper, Manifesta’s curatorial concept makes for a crucial antidote to Europe’s closing-borders. One of its three sub-sections, Garden of Flows, pursues the notion of a “transnational commons” through explorations of “toxicity, plant life and the culture of gardening.” The second sub-section, Out of Control Room, examines “power in today’s regime of global flow,” identifying the migrant crisis and data privacy as two major players, while the third, City on Stage, incorporates Palermitan dialogues into a global context. As a whole, visitors are given the opportunity to reassess contemporary themes from a Mediterranean perspective. In speaking with Chiara Cartuccia, M12 Curatorial Coordinator, she worded it as “everything is looked at through the lens of Palermo. That’s the original thing – the gaze, the eyes that you are adopting.”

And it’s true: the vibrant flora, the exotic smells from Ballaro’s markets and the heat from the cobbled pathways, all influence your understanding of the works exhibited. In many ways, I engaged with sites and concepts that would, ordinarily, not be on a tourist’s itinerary. Far from ‘alternative-sight-seeing,’ Manifesta’s use of otherwise covert buildings enable audiences to access a different version of Palermo. The Biennial Hub, staged inside Teatro Garibaldi, marries deck chairs and topical books with terracotta walls and rustic alcoves. In our conversation, Cartuccia highlights these invaluable choices: “The decision not to use institutional spaces was a brave one. While it’s been a struggle in terms of bureaucracy and architectural implementation, hopefully, with regards to this theatre, it is just the beginning.”

Gardener Tour, Orto Botanico

Orto Botanico, one of Europe’s oldest and largest botanical gardens, is another example of Manifesta activating unusual spaces; albeit it is already a thriving and much-loved destination. In an ornate greenhouse, Alberto Baraya playfully assembles 21st century herbariums from fake flowers: he connects with Palermo in an excursive manner, paying attention to the floral offerings at its numerous votive shrines. Nearby, American artist Michael Wang‘s The Drowned World (2018) examines the cyclical nature of plant toxicity: firstly, through a bubbling bed of algae and secondly via a forest of ferns grown in the ex-AMG gasometer site. While these works are in-situ, there’s an innate sense that they are insular and do not necessarily coexist with their fellow Garden of Flows exhibitors.

Fallen Fruit, Palazzo Butera

Negating this doubt is Leone Contini‘s allotment – the result of 10 years of collecting seeds and narratives from farmers in Sri Lanka, the Philippines, Turkey, China and beyond. Inside, a Sicilian cucuzza thrives alongside its international relatives – a prime illustration of the ‘coexistence’ of plants, cultures and nationalities – while the allotment’s positioning in a former colonial section further upends historical hierarchies. In Palazzo Butera, LA-collective Fallen Fruit presents Theatre of the Sun (2018), a dazzling enclave of citrus and flora-patterned wallpaper. As though to update Lojacono’s View of Palermo, the piece details the edible fruit growing in Palermo’s urban landscape – it’s accompanied by a Public Fruit Map of Palermo to encourage visitors to seek these out for themselves. Continuing with the theme of “growth,” Cooking Sections‘ interventions at Giardino dei Giusti and Spasimo use dry watering techniques to cultivate plants in parched climates. 

Much like the plants that inhabit Palermo, Manifesta’s artists are predominantly multi-national: but, here, a lack of Palermitan creatives is noticed. The positive in this is that it invites practitioners to introduce concepts which are not automatically evident in the city’s everyday workings. Out of Control Room – perhaps the more sombre of the three sections – looks outwards, incorporating works which assess the flow of “global powers,” i.e. people, data, goods, plants, microbes and money. At Palazzo Forcella de Seta, Europe’s migrant crisis surges to the fore in Forensic Oceanography‘s research into the Mediterranean’s militarised border regime. The first of four works, Liquid Traces (2014), reveals details of the “left-to-die boat” case in which 72 migrants drifted for 14 days during NATO’s military intervention in Libya in 2011. The film’s narrator candidly describes the boat’s fatal journey as it drifts past nearby vessels and military-controlled zones.

Peng! Collective takes a different approach and subtly slams the EU’s border control policies by inviting members of the public to become “Escape Agents.” Fluchthelfer.in. Become an Escape Agent (2015) uses short videos to promote the idea of helping refugees across internal EU borders – in one film, a German couple, returning from holiday, lend a hand to a refugee. The tongue-in-cheek piece is accompanied by a live website with details on how to proceed and a Crowdfunding campaign to assist Fluchthelfers now facing legal prosecution. These are concepts which affect the whole of Europe – including Palermo, which finds itself at the edge of where Europe meets with Africa and the Middle East.

Though the representation of Palermitan artists is low, Manifesta does pay attention to its current location. I spoke with a ‘Gardener’ (a Biennial Guide) about M12’s relationship to Palermo: “Manifesta has reopened important venues to the public and it is challenging the city’s former association with criminality. All of Palermo’s local problems are now part of a global community.” In our conversation, the Gardener refers to artistic interventions at Pizzo Sella and ZEN as “amazing projects which address parts of the city that have been erased from the memory of our citizens. We, as Palermitans, used to see these places in a negative light – as immovable or unchangeable.”

The ZEN Neighbourhood

Manifesta seeks to reactivate these sites, some of which were disrupted by the Sack of Palermo – a collective term for the post-war construction boom from the 1950s to the 1980s which saw unregulated buildings replace architectural gems and green belt land. At a time when 14,000 people were left homeless and Mafia-connected officials were monopolising building permits, projects such as Pizzo Sella and ZEN (Zona Expansione Nord) were hastily erected – the former incomplete and abandoned; the latter constructed without public parks, schools or local amenities. Rather than dwell upon historical events, Belgium-collective Rotor – known for its interest in material flows – encourages audiences to rediscover Monte Gallo (the site of Pizzo Sella) through an alternative narrative.

Da quassù è tutta un’altra cosa (2018) is, in equal parts, a workshop, an intervention, conversation and an excursion, which facilitates a shift in Pizzo Sella’s reputation as a ‘poster child of real estate corruption.’ The poised, concrete skeletons which lay, stacked on the hillside, remain physically unchanged by Rotor: instead, the collective recalls the bygone goat paths leading up, towards the neighbouring Capo Gallo Nature Reserve. This narrative reintroduces Pizzo Sella as an observatory for viewing the cliff, ocean, city and aborted building site beneath – it’s subtle and low-key. But, I wonder, how many spectators see the documentation at the city centre’s Pallazo Costantino and subsequently visit the Pizzo Sella itself?

Having wandered as far as Mondello, I could see the ghost-village looming overhead; without an organised tour it is difficult to engage with the work itself (*Gardener-led excursions have since been facilitating this process.) But there’s also an unease in observing these places as part of an ‘art pilgrimage.’ Coloco & Gilles Clément‘s Becoming Garden (2018) shines a light on the ZEN housing project, but there’s a risk that people’s personal lives, rather than the city, are the ones being placed on a stage. Still, good intentions can be found in the creation of a community garden – the result of group workshops and discussions on the importance of caring for a space.

Undoubtedly, the resounding question in people’s responses is: what’s next? What comes after Manifesta; what will be left behind? In speaking with Rossella Pizzuto, M12 Education Coordinator, it became clear just how important Manifesta’s Education Programme is in building this so-called legacy:The Education Department was the first to start work here in Palermo, two years ago. The team worked with social and cultural professionals, asking them what they expect from Manifesta – and we are continuing with this process. We’re trying to understand how Manifesta can be sustainable for them after it ends.” As a native Palermitan, Pizzuto is keen to reach out to communities: “People are used to staying in their own neighbourhood – so it’s great that we have an Education Hub in the form of a bus to travel and bring Manifesta to them.”

Pizzo Sella

Pizzuto mentions Pizzo Sella and ZEN, “Pizzo Sella, is always in people’s minds as a shame – it’s better that people don’t see it; something related with the Mafia and exclusivism. Rotor literally opened up this location. The work in ZEN is also about education – to educate people on how to be, once again, part of a community.” The notion of establishing a sense of community is something which is applicable worldwide. Manifesta’s commissioning of a Palermo Social Innovation Map has sought to emphasise the importance of community by identifying ‘spaces of culturally-driven social innovation.’ It highlights local initiatives already in place in six geographical areas: Ballaro, Cantieri, Culturali alla Zisa, Costa Sud, Ex manicomio, Sferracavallo and ZEN. It’s a map that opens Palermo up; sadly, its existence is not widely advertised.

The Palermo Atlas is perhaps a more prominent document – one which, in my mind, is more valuable than the Biennial guide itself. In the build-up to Manifesta, the Office for Metropolitan Architecture was commissioned to analyse the city from multiple disciplines, with research undertaken across the realms of architecture, archaeology and anthropology. It proposes a new research model for the Biennial – and the resources gathered will outlive the festival itself. But, there are limits to how much two-years of research within Palermo’s 2,700 year-old history can cover – and this is felt by communities of local practitioners.

In truth, there are only two Palermitan artists in the Official Programme – when asked about this, the Curatorial team answered “We researched, went out to meet people – but you should be allowed to branch out, to find people who are engaging with the topic in the best way.” It’s also fair to add that Manifesta is first and foremost a Eurobiennial, not a Palermitan-biennial. It does, however, seek to cultivate a coexistence – which from an outsider’s viewpoint, is not achieved in the Official Programme. Manifesta’s press release reads: “Closely collaborating with Palermitans, M12 co-habits Palermo as an ideal place to investigate the challenges of our time, and to experiment with traces of possible futures.”

Examples of the Biennial’s collaboration with organisations, universities and collectives show that yes, it works collectively to investigate and experiment. But, Manifesta remains a non-organic entity in the city’s fabric. In meeting with Gabriella Ciancimino, I garnered a sense that Manifesta and local practitioners were not necessarily in harmony: “There are people, who for years, have been making art. I don’t understand why this part of Palermo didn’t come out in Manifesta’s research. They focused on a particular reality of Palermo – and missed out on others. You can’t escape the young artists practicing here.” And it’s true: there’s little mention of the Pizzo Sella Art Village established by Fare Ala, nor are the city-based photographic collective Minimum or Botanical curatorial project, Radiceterna, in the Official Programme (though they are part of M12’s Collateral Events.)

Gabriella Ciancimino, detail from In Liberty We Trust

Palermitan and Sicilian artists have a greater representation in the Collateral Events. Cartuccia comments: “We had over 700 applications, mainly locals, for our Collateral Events. The city is so alive, you can really tell, especially from the kind of discourses that they were bringing.” But there’s also a sense that Ciancimino’s solo show, In Liberty We Trust at Palazzo Ziino, gained its Collateral Event accreditation after the exhibition was in place. Organised by the Accademia di Belle Arti di Palermo, In Liberty We Trust invites viewers into a monumental jungle of in-situ drawings which bind together botanical décor with political iconography and symbols of liberty – notions in-line with Garden of Flows.

Perhaps what Ciancimino says is true, “It was too fast. They [Manifesta] didn’t go deep enough.” Others too, agree that Manifesta doesn’t really know the city – “one or two years is not enough to build a relationship,” says Giulia, a Palermitan Law graduate, “Manifesta was unprepared for Palermo and vice-versa – it’s its own city with a very, distinctive character.” Later, I spoke with Palermitan-born Kaya at Galleria Franco Noero‘s Simon Starling presentation, whom offered another perspective: “Manifesta brings fresh air from Europe[..] there are people who complain that it is not perfect; life is like this.” Moving onto the topic of the future, Kaya adds, “A lot of people are asking what is going to happen after Manifesta. I tell people to calm down, let’s work on it [..] Others say, we were already here. It’s complex. I say, you need to change this town – you need to go into the community.”

As an outsider, I was privileged to have these conversations: they provided me with an insight into the city’s relationship with Manifesta. Upon reflection, one of the most valuable experiences was meeting with artists at a Radiceterna opening at Orto Botanico: here, I understood something about how Palermitans make and converse – albeit, no different from practitioners back home. Still, it was in talking to Ciancimino and visiting Ignazio Mortellaro‘s (Radiceterna curator) studio that I began to engage with Palermo and its people – something organic which no Biennial can produce; yet, one could argue that it was Manifesta that took me to Palermo.

Street Snails, Kalsa, Unknown artist

I think back to the Kalsa district’s street art: two snails face each other, one shell adorned with the words Case x Tutti. It’s not part of Manifesta, but holds a message that rings true through the lives of many Palermitans and connects with today’s global challenges of migration, power, gentrification and ecology. M12 achieves in-part its desire to “explore forms of politics based on cross-pollination and on the coexistence of what is different” (from Garden of Flows, Map.) through its portrayal of cultures coming together in one form or another. The plants in Orto Botanico prove that coexistence can be “cultivated,” but years of nurture have gone into achieving the cohabitation of plants – the same could be said of people and artists alike. Time is needed tell whether Manifesta is veritably invested in Palermo and not merely positioning itself in a rotation of timely places.

Manifesta 12 runs until Sunday 4 November 2018.

Earlier in the year Selina Oakes visited Manifesta 12 in Palermo, Sicily with an Engine Micro Bursary. She reports on her trip and the effects of the roving Biennial on the city.

Dolly, National Museum of Scotland.

Exploring what it means to be human, Laurie Ramsell‘s cross-disciplinary practice investigates themes of the perceived natural and unnatural experience through the use of biological material, often using his own body. In our latest round of opportunities Ramsell was awarded an Engine Micro Bursary to visit ASCUS Art & Science in Edinburgh to develop a greater knowledge of bioart communities working within the UK. He reports back on his trip: 

New Art West Midlands awarded me a micro bursary to travel to Edinburgh, where the only publicly available laboratory with a genetic engineering license is currently run by ASCUS Lab. ASCUS is based at Summerhall Place, an Eighteenth Century brewery turned University Veterinary College, which today has become a hub for artistic and creative organisations involved in animation, jewellery design, theatre, print, and other visual arts.

ASCUS have run events for ten years, hosting guest speakers in Summerhall’s anatomy lecture theatre; public science experiments in the old veterinary dissection room; and curated exhibitions of artists working in the fields of art and science within their own gallery spaces. Two years ago it opened ASCUS Lab with funding from the Wellcome Institute, and since then have run open lab days Thursdays and Saturdays for artists, students, and the public to conduct their own research or experiments, with inductions in microscopy, microbiology, and DNA analysis. Since 2018 they have ran several courses and workshops including ‘The Art of Tissue Engineering’, ‘The Physics of Pigments and Paints’, and ‘Model Organisms: Making Mutants’.

ASCUS Laboratory, Summerhall Place.

On my visit to Ascus Lab I met with lab technician Dr. Jiří Jirout who showed me around the lab and their equipment, donated from the University of Edinburgh. Dr. Jirout introduced me to the range microscopes they currently had set up, and the various techniques used when looking at different specimens, such as darkfield microscopy, which angles the light source beneath the specimen away from the viewing lens, illuminating the specimen whilst keeping the background blacked out. I was told about the various projects arts students from the university were working on; sculptors and illustrators viewing their work under magnification, and textile artists growing pellicles of bacteria cellulose for textile swatches. One member who had interned with ASCUS lab had grown crystals from chemicals she found in the lab; a sample of Vitamin C was on show, the forms and colouration of which was currently being used as inspiration in a new work by members and visitors.

Later on I continued my way through Summerhall Place to see the work included in the Synthtica Exhibition, co-curated by Edinburgh International Science Festival, Summerhall, and ASCUS Art & Science. The contemporary art exhibition showcased work by internationally renowned bioartists Marta de Menezes, Oran Catts, Ionat Zurr, Tarsh Bates, and Ting Tong Chang. The exhibitions aim is to show “through works derived using the tools, techniques and often living tissues of scientific research… [we can] explore how our notions of the natural and the artificial may need to change in an era in which hybrid and synthetic life forms have come into existence.”

‘The Pig Wings Project’ – Oran Catts and Ionat Zurr

The first room I entered held on display in a cabinet The Pig Wings Project (2000) by Oran Catts and Ionat Zurr. The work consists of three variations of wing design – seemingly mammalian (bat), aviary (bird) and reptilian (pterodactyl) – which have been grown using cells harvested from pig tissue – the first ever of their kind. For me the title of the project plays on the phrase “when pigs fly”, relating to a concept that will never happen or come to fruition, yet here it has happened. The project demonstrates that we now live in a time where humans have mastery over cells themselves, something which in previous decades would have never been thought possible. It also hints towards the use that pig cells have for humankind. Biological material from pigs used in xenotransplantation surgeries, pig heart valves to replace damaged human ones, and pig to human blood transfusions, are all possible due to the evolutionary similarity and inheritance homo sapiens share with the sus genus, or pig family tree. Very small and delicate in appearance, these organic models appear almost embryonic, as if hinting at the shape of things to come within the future of human animal hybrids.

Crossing Kingdoms (2018-) sees Oran Catts and Ionat Zurr in collaboration with Tarsh Bates on the pig wings project’s spiritual successor, which looks at how not only mammalian cells from pigs may be fused with human ones, but cells from entirely different kingdoms of life. “The work raises questions, through actual manipulation of life forms, about the practical and ontological nature and identity of novel organisms that fall outside of scientific and cultural classification systems”. The moral questions concerning this kind of research are some of the greatest we now find ourselves responsible to answer, and what Catts, Zurr, and Bates have done is taken that research out of the lab and put it on public display, forcing us to begin having those conversations in open spaces.

‘P’eng’s Journey to the Southern Darkness’ (2016) Ting-Tong Chang.

Across the hall in a second room is an installation of works by Ting-Tong Chang, titled P’eng’s Journey to the Southern Darkness (2016). The work opens up with a video interview between the artist and Simon Schaffer, professor of History of Science at the University of Cambridge. Schaffer has written on, and appeared in documentaries which examine the history of automata, and humans relationships to them. Schaffer looks at the robotic works by Chang as artefacts which not only entertain and intrigue us, but also offer a mirror to us about how we as a species deal with perceived intelligences. In the wake of artificial intelligence, the work begins to ask us how we feel about a possible future where humans share the planet with an intelligence equal to, or greater, than our own.

In the adjacent room four taxidermy crows sit atop plinths of increasing size. They audibly click as they bow their heads and raise their folded wings, constantly drawing your attention to them as they move into new positions out of the corner of your eye. Playing through a speaker a robotic voice reads aloud emails and letters of rejection addressed to the artist from open calls to exhibitions for his work. Chang explains that “the number and type of bird signify death in Chinese traditions…” and announced failures “…playfully question the proliferating bureaucratic art world in which contemporary artists find themselves in.” The fact that the circuitry which animates these crows is so obviously on show is a testament then to how easily it is still to rouse suspicion in the mind of its human viewer, is it alive, dead, or somewhere in between? The darting movements and nods of the head still evoke a fascination, and fear, of what this ‘living’ creature might do next, or where it sits in our understanding of the natural world. The fusion here of nature and machine points not only to the death of such binary terms; natural, artificial; living, dead; but of a rebirth of the two, not speculative but happening right now, in bionics and synthetic lifeforms.

‘Truly Natural’, Marta de Menezes.

Contributing to this dialogue is the work found in a brief retrospective of Marta de Menezes, in the piece Truly Natural. “The society of today is increasingly concerned with the distinction between what is natural and what is modified…However, as human creativity has been developing increasingly powerful tools to control nature, it is becoming difficult to discriminate the natural and the artificial”. On display are two houses for mice, one which has supposedly been genetically altered, and one in which a genetically altered mouse has had the modification undone, thus becoming ’natural’ again.

This work evokes the many moral dilemmas which persist in the minds of the public concerning genetic modification, and which become the narratives of some of the most enduring and vivid novels, films, and artworks dealing with genetic modification technology, such as Frankenstein, Blade Runner, and GATTACA. The issue then presents itself, how do we discern what is real, and what has been made/altered? This fear is rooted in a long history of human storytelling which reinforces the idea that what is natural is inherently good, and what is artificial is inherently bad, handed down from biblical parables to contemporary news headlines. However, we live in a world built on artifice of our own making; animals and plants selectively bred, landscapes urban and rural shaped to our own needs, and virtual environments where humans can lose themselves in. Menezes’ work reflects these truths back to us.

Dolly, National Museum of Scotland.

The creativity of human engineering and the blurring distinctions between the natural and artificial is apparent when you visit the National Museum of Scotland. There, behind plexiglass, in an artificial environment complete with natural hay and sheep droppings, is Dolly, the first ever cloned mammal. Dolly the Sheep was my first introduction to bioethical debates around genetic engineering. For me, Dolly became the root of my interest around the real and the artificial, about whether such distinctions mattered anymore, whether we needed the artificial because we had already destroyed the possibility of the natural to survive. Years later, I found about a group of transgenic goats, known as spider goats, because their genome contained a gene from a spider which meant that the goats could have spider silk extracted from their milk. The image of such a creature conjures in the mind an eight legged mutant goat, but the spider goats look like any other ‘natural’ (domestic not wild, thereby not truly natural) goat. Images on the internet of spider goats do sometimes have pictures of eight legged goats with the sensationalist captions we expect to see from news headlines. However, these are natural mutations, parasitic twins.

Bionic Handling Assistant, FESTO.

Is it then a moral responsibility to use genetic modification to undo the damage that natural biological mechanisms cause? Historically we know that humans have used such arguments to commit atrocities in the name of eugenics, and how this technology could be used in future is definitely a concern. What I believe these artists are doing by taking the work of biologists and scientists out of the lab and into the gallery is to engage the world, through novel, political, and beautiful artefact, so that everybody may have the chance to understand, discuss, and voice their opinion on its use. Companies like FESTO are demonstrating the value of this collaboration, using mechanisms from nature, such as the maneuverability of the elephants trunk, to help designers find new ways of automating everyday tasks in factories and workplaces, “safe and efficient human-robot collaboration”. The rate of innovation in these collaborative fields is unlikely to slow down, and with technologies such as 3D printing now starting to print biological material, the next industrial revolution seems set to be biological.

Exploring what it means to be human, Laurie Ramsell’s cross-disciplinary practice investigates themes of the perceived natural and unnatural experience through the use of biological material, often using his own body. In our latest round of opportunities Ramsell was awarded an Engine Micro Bursary to visit ASCUS Art & Science in Edinburgh to develop a greater knowledge of bioart communities working within the UK. He reports back on his trip.

Nnena Kalu. Work in Progress

Nnena Kalu. Work in Progress

In April, artist Jane Thakoordin visited Glasgow with an Engine Micro Bursary. As well as Glasgow International Festival, she visited former colleagues at Project Ability, a visual arts organisation that creates opportunities for people with disabilities and those with lived experience of mental ill-health.

My arts practice is participatory, which means that without people other than me, my art work would not exist. My career path has been a pretty winding road, and I have combined professional roles as a mental health social worker, manager, university lecturer and artist over the past 30 years.

As a socially engaged artist, I am drawn to working in partnership with people who are marginalised, often disenfranchised and often “othered” by society. Collaborations with people seeking asylum, women, looked after children, people labelled with mental health difficulties and learning disabled people have resulted in authentic friendships and professional relationships, with the added bonus of some great art created along the way.

I am currently developing work with artistic collaborators who have a diagnosis of psychosis, as part of my performative arts project The Black and Blue Collective.

It was this that lead me up to Glasgow in April to visit my old colleagues at Project Ability. A fully equipped set of studios, professional “white wall” gallery space and experimental spaces mean that Project Ability sits head and shoulders above so many other “inclusive arts projects” that I have been involved with. Learning disabled artists and artists with lived experience of mental health difficulties are supported by a range of knowledgeable, experienced, valued based volunteers and workers (many of whom have lived experience themselves) to create and express in a way that reflects art school practices. Throughout my career in mental health services, I have become disillusioned by services that proport to promote creativity with arts groups. Further enquiry elicits that this has usually meant a metal cupboard (often locked in between classes) full of the cheapest, utilitarian bulk purchased pencils, felt tip pens, photocopier A4 paper, pom poms, sequins, googly eyes….and so on it goes!

Project Ability values people as artists first and foremost, and supports them to develop, interrogate and explore ideas in a creative environment that oozes experimentation and risk.

Nnena Kalu at Project Ability

As part of GIF 2018, the gallery space had been occupied by London-based learning disabled artist Nnena Kalu. To create her work, she binds and layers materials to create large, colourful structures that wrap themselves around the gallery, reacting to the size, shape and environment of each new setting.

Bright colours and textures adorn her wrapped installations and “they grow from a small curious object in the space, into a large, immersive presence which transforms the gallery into a vessel for these organic forms to inhabit.” It was mesmerising to watch the film of Kalu’s 4-day residency in the gallery as her work became reality. Nnena does not use words to communicate, and the space is filled with the sound of cellophane being stretched and wrapped, gaffer tape being unrolled as she methodologically wraps her constructions.

The space and facilities at Project Ability contribute to ensuring the project and the artist members are perceived and promoted as artists. The recent Creative Health: The Arts for Health and Wellbeing Report 2017 states that “art can make a significant contribution to addressing …issues faced by our health and social care systems.” This is never so needed as now. I know from my experiences both within the mental health services as a professional, and externally as an artist and lecturer, austerity has had a devastating effect on many services that have played an essential part in people’s recovery and community support. Project Ability has managed to weather the funding storms by evolving into an inclusive, artist-focussed environment.

It was a pleasure and a privilege to spend time with the artists and volunteers, creating work collaboratively and talking in the immersive energetic and dynamic exhibition space created by Nnena.

To ensure I got maximum benefit from my Micro Bursary, I went to as many GIF exhibitions as I could. 15 shows and one seminar in one day – surely that’s a record?

 

In April, artist Jane Thakoordin visited Glasgow with an Engine Micro Bursary. As well as Glasgow International Festival, she visited former colleagues at Project Ability, a visual arts organisation that creates opportunities for people with disabilities and those with lived experience of mental ill-health.

France-Lise McGurn, Rabbit, 2017, installation view at Recent Activity

In July, I undertook a trip to Glasgow to meet young artists and connect with artist-run spaces. I currently have two strands to my practice, making work and organising exhibitions for others through Recent Activity, a curatorial project I run with Andrew Lacon. Earlier this year, we opened a project space, providing a fixed location to our previously itinerant activity. Visiting Glasgow, I hoped to meet artists with a similar balance and range to their practices.

France-Lise McGurn, Rabbit, 2017, installation view at Recent Activity

Michael White, an artist who also runs Gallery Celine was extremely insightful. Unfunded and independent, the gallery operates from a living room in shared flat. The energy and ambition of Gallery Celine is exhilarating and such an urgent attitude to staging exhibitions would hugely benefit the artistic Birmingham.

David Dale Gallery revealed a different model – a larger gallery space with connecting studios. It was useful to see how a space might develop. An outdoor courtyard had been activated as a site for showing work and making pizzas in a clay oven. This resourcefulness and fluidity was interesting to see and particularly relevant to my work with Recent Activity.

Matthew and Jessica from The Good Press were also very interesting to meet. Formed in 2011, The Good Press provides a platform for the production and sale of independent publications, as well as a site for exhibitions and projects. Their range of activities and open approach to collaboration is compelling and has inspired some new conversations about the possible direction of Recent Activity.

I visited France-Lise McGurn in her studio prior to her exhibition at Recent Activity. It was great to discuss her developing work and talk more broadly about the artistic landscape in Glasgow. Having returned to Glasgow after time in London and Berlin, it was useful to talk about her relationship with the city and the changing roles of galleries and artist-run spaces.

Steven Claydon’s exhibition at The Common Guild was a highlight of the trip; the collision of materials, imagery and forms was really exciting to see first hand. Claydon’s broad range of cultural references and the overall composition of his exhibition made a huge impact on me.

Andrew Gillespie
www.awgillespie.com

Andrew Gillespie reports from his research trip to Glasgow last summer, made possible via an Engine Micro Bursary.

Jesse Jones, Tremble Tremble (2017) production image. Photo Ros Kavanagh.

Another milestone: my first trip to Venice. Before this summer I had never made it to the Biennale, and so, for many reasons, I was delighted to be awarded an Engine Bursary from New Art West Midlands which covered costs of accommodation as well as entrance tickets to the Giardini and Arsenale.

 

Anne Imhof, Faust, 2017 at German Pavilion, Venice Biennale, 2017. Courtesy: the artist and German Pavilion 2017. Photo: © Nadine Fraczkowski

We had four days to explore and get lost amongst the winding, cobbled and often disorientating streets of Venice. I had been warned that there was a lot to see but nothing actually prepared me for the scale and spectacle of it all.

Of course you’re only ever going to get that ‘first time’ feeling once, and for me this trip was an intense but glorious experience. Quickly I had to accept that there was no way I was going to get to see everything and so instead I decided to try to focus on the things that I knew I really wanted to see, as well as leaving some space for unknown and chance encounters.

Whilst exploring I confess to feeling wearied at times by the fast pace, and was self-conscious of my occasionally passive staring, but equally, I felt deeply moved by some of the works and the spaces for engagement, contemplation and reflection that they afforded me. And of course there were times when the pavilions and locations of installations themselves were as interesting as anything that might be going on in and around then.

Some of my personal highlights:

Germany’s Faust by Anne Imhof was entirely unsettling and I don’t think the vertigo it gave me subsided at all. In stark contrast, Austria’s Brigitte Kowanz’s architectural works with light and mirrors were beautiful and Erwin Wurm’s One Minute Sculptures were in some ways light-hearted, encouraging visitors to get (literally) inside and grab hold of props for a minute, enough time to pause for reflection and pose for a photograph.

I spent a long time in the Finnish pavilion, and really enjoyed the collaboration between artists Nathaniel Mellors and Erkka Nissinenpiece. Their video projections, objects and animatronics called upon shared interests in comedy, to contemplate Finnish national identity.

France’s Studio Venezia, which saw the pavilion transformed into a recording studio and performance area generated mixed responses from people I’ve chatted to since. Inspired by the radical educational principles of Black Mountain College, and an overwhelming desire to create a space for experimentation, Xavier Vailhan’s work featured floor-to-ceiling wood panelling and a soundproofed interior. It was designed to provide a space for music of all genres to be performed and experienced by audiences. Equally, revealing some of the mechanics of the recording studio itself created a durational and immersive environment within which visitors are complicit to what they see and hear; visual and sonic collaborations. It was designed to give musicians free reign as to what they produced when working in the space, and to breakdown hierarchies (perceived or otherwise) between professional and amateur musicians.

In the Arsenale, I was transfixed by Kader Attia’s installation, Narrative Vibrations (2017) which explored music and the human voice of and within North African and Middle Eastern cultures. The work led you down a corridor along which hung an array of historical source material comprising photographs, drawings, medical illustrations and publications exploring sound, electronics and acoustic theory. Amongst this ephemera are LPs and tape cassettes featuring the voices of famous female singers Warda Al-Jazairia and Umm Kulthum – their voices significant musically and politically, notably they were both ‘outspoken’.

Narrative Vibrations (2017), Kader Attia. Photo: Italo Rondinella, courtesy La Biennale di Venezia

In the middle of one of these collections was a first edition: an English translation of Treatise of Acoustics by E.F.F. Chladni, the German musician and composer whose experiments and observations with sound and vibrations profoundly influenced the development of the scientific field of acoustics. A number of his diagrams had been reproduced in the next space: a darkened room containing a series of sound sculptures and circular metal trays containing dried, loose couscous encased by clear glass domes. They sat atop speakers where intermittent bursts of female singing could be heard. The vibrations from the human voice caused the grain to move, forming patterns that echo those of the diagrams.

Jesse Jones, Tremble Tremble (2017) production image. Photo Ros Kavanagh.

Jesse Jones’ Tremble Tremble was also a highlight. I had to sit and watch it twice. Its title is taken from a women’s movement protest in Italy, from the 1970s, which called for wages for housework. It was orchestrated by the feminist academic Silvia Federici, whose book on the patriarchal appropriation of women’s bodies in order to fuel the capitalist system with workers and soldiers has had a major influence on Jones’ work.

Throughout the piece actor Olwen Fouéré is projected onto giant screens, her body highlighted against a largely black background. Sometimes she appeared to float in the space itself and other times was peering into the space, giant and staring. The space itself was dark and dramatic, comprising a bench, two projected film works and two transparent, giant curtains printed with outstretched, beckoning hands and arms. These are pulled along giant tracks suspended from the ceiling at various times during the work in order to demarcate the beginning and end of various ‘acts’, the rasping sound of their opening and closing adding further drama to this piece.

There’s nothing quite like a trip with others to be challenged (in a good way), to really think about personal research and enquiry and to unearth some of the ongoing values that underpin our practice. In my work I return again and again to people and place; to hosting and engagement; and increasingly to the visceral, transformative power of music.

Thank you again to Engine for their continuing commitment to providing invaluable opportunities for artists and curators within the region. This opportunity was, for me, both a way of spending time alone and with peers, really looking and really thinking.

 

 

Alongside various freelance work Kate Self is currently Producer for Radar: Loughborough University’s contemporary art programme, commissioning artists to engage with academic research. Her current programme (re)composition is exploring the relationships between music and place alongside academics from Geography and artists Sam Belinfante, Evan Ifekoya, Rebecca Lee and Xana. In January Kate joins Capsule as Executive Producer.

Kate Self reflects on the Engine visit to the Venice Biennale back in September.

Image by Pete Ashton

In September, artist and photographer Pete Ashton visited Ars Electronica, a media arts festival in the Austrian city of Linz with an Engine Micro Bursary. Here he reflects on his experiences in the context of international festivals and the impact these might have upon artists within their locale.

Image by Pete Ashton

Ars Electronica is a large media arts festival and as such it functions like most large industry gatherings, albeit with a less rapaciously commercial imperative. It takes place in the city of Linz, the third largest in Austria, roughly two thirds the size of Wolverhampton, give or take.

 

Ars Electronica (commonly shortened to Ars, which makes smutty British people snigger at your visiting Arse) was founded in 1979 and is based around the Ars Electronica Centre, a science museum for future technology manifesting as a glowing cube of flashing lights on the banks of the Danube. It appears to house very little art, which is a bit confusing when visiting during the festival, but uses what you might call a cultural mindset to frame the exhibits on show. There’s also a strong emphasis on pixels and screens – lots of VR goggles at the moment alongside their much vaunted “8K Deep Space” room where multiple high definition projectors fill the wall and floor like a slightly more immersive IMAX. Like most “big telly” spaces in cultural institutions, the challenge seems to be figuring out what it’s for. Maybe it’s just a big telly.

 

This “future technology” thing sometimes makes the place feel old fashioned, a problem futurism has bumped into in recent years. As we fumble our way through the end days of neoliberalism it’s harder and harder to imagine a future that isn’t part of our tattered reality tunnel, so futures that wish to avoid doomed dystopic nihilism have to remix the past, only smaller and faster and with more pixels. Ars gamely tries to bring earnest social concern to their tech evangelism but to these jaded eyes it feels a bit naive. Still, it’s refreshing to see a European take on what has become dominated by The Californian Ideology.

 

While the centre runs all year, the festival takes place for a week in September, and in recent years has completely separated from the mothership, occupying Postcity which is not a new space for exploring post-city ideologies and is actually an empty disused post office sorting depot. This is oddly refreshing, like discovering something called an Innovation Centre was actually used for innovation, which never happens.

 

The space is vast, covering three massive floors, some still kitted out with conveyor belts and mail sorting chutes, down to the ominously named Bunker complex which feels like a cold-war installation. It’s on a scale with a convention centre, but without any of the facilities. Ars brings it to life once a year, filling it with industrial fittings to create stalls, booths and workshops while decorating the concrete with potted long grasses. The end result evokes a post-industrial takeover by a tribe of techno-futurists, especially when all the Media Artists arrive with their fashion clichés and quirks.

 

You enter at the top floor via a sweeping service road built for lorries and collect your badge, although this is not technically needed for the top floor which is open to all. This floor is roughly divided into two areas. First is what I call the Tech Demos, works by artists that show their workings more than their meanings and which might lead to greater things in time, and demonstrations of cool technologies with no pretensions of artistry.

 

The former included most of the Artificial Intelligence which, to my mind, still hasn’t produced a great work yet. They’re using an artistic approach to poke at this relatively new technology and reveal some of its weirdness, and that’s great, but I doubt any of the artists involved are satisfied yet. There’s more work to be done. The latter reflects the main Ars centre. Lots of mind-control headsets, lots of robot arms, all very wow but of very little substance. But that’s fine. We don’t always have much wow in our lives. Often wow is enough.

 

Downstairs is what you might call the real art. Threaded through the maze of tunnels are installations and curated exhibitions, some commissioned by the festival along with collections from commercial galleries across Europe. Developing the market for digital art, often by definition intangible, is one of the strands at Ars.

 

The art on show was of a very high standard. I was particularly impressed the following:

 

– Stefan Tiefengraber’s Delivery Graphic
– Gaybird’s Fidgity
– Akinori Goto’s Sculpture of Time
– Gil Delindro’s (Un) Measurements
– Robert Andrew’s Data Stratification
If the upstairs was a fun-house of excitement the downstairs more than made up for that with plenty of space for contemplation.

 

Of course, one man’s impression of a massive event like this is going to be subjective and informed by my state of mind. While I had the eye of a practitioner I also had the attitude of a tourist, so I was interested in how the locals felt about this whale of a festival landing on their town.

 

Last year I was in Linz for a residency run by qujOchÖ, a collective of local artists that’s been working in the city since 2001. When I said I would be returning for Ars, one of the founder members, Thomas Philipp aka Fipps graciously said I could stay with him. This, coupled with my introvert approach to mingling, meant I followed qujOchÖ members around like a lost puppy, giving me something of a grass roots view of the whole affair.

 

Austrians, it turns out, are famously cynical and grumpy (their term “sudern” is hard to define but is rather like a Gaelic shrug soaked in nihilistic disappointment) so it wasn’t too much of a surprise to hear the local artists bitching in the bars late at night about programme changes and managerial incompetence. And I’m sure you’d hear that in any city – big events are hard and toes will be trodden on.

 

But I was surprised as the lack of impact on the local scene. I would have thought this would be their tentpole event, a chance to show off local work to a visiting global audience (and Ars is truly a global affair). But the impact was negligible. A lot of people got technical work, of course, and one of the shows at the main art museum was by a dystopian docklands by local collective Time’s Up (which had an oddly English vibe I felt), but this was an anomaly and where the Linz scenes were represented it was on the unofficial fringe where business was as usual.

 

Maybe the effect of Ars happened years ago and the city is now sustainable without it, allowing the festival to become a transnational entity, bringing inspiration in rather than exporting it. The local artists are complacent about it because it’s normal. Surely every city has a massive, international, popular, thoughtful and, most importantly, competently run arts festival? Sadly, they don’t.

 

If Birmingham had the equivalent of Ars Electronica (ignoring for the moment that this city is currently financially, ideologically and structurally incapable of such a feat) it would change everything for the artists working here. Not just from the sense of having an infrastructure or an income but from shifting our horizons and giving us a global perspective on our work.

 

Interestingly, a couple of months after Ars, Coventry had its first Biennial centred on an exhibition of contemporary art in an empty newspaper print-works. Despite the grand name (Biennials make one think of Venice) it was a totally grass-roots, shoestring budget affair, utterly hooked into the local art scenes. It was fired not by routine or remit but by a passion that, f*ck it, this needs to happen and we can make it happen. The Coventry Biennial, should it continue and grow, will bring stability and continuity to a community of artists that will raise their game. And should it succeed beyond their wildest dreams, those same artists will kick against it, sneering at its conservatism and conformity, at its inability to react and embrace what’s happening in the city it helped to transform.

 

And that’s exactly the way it should be.

www.peteashton.com

In September, artist Pete Ashton visited Ars Electronica, a media arts festival in the Austrian city of Linz with an Engine Micro Bursary. Here he reflects on his experiences in the context of international festivals and the impact these might have upon artists within their locale.

Work by John Waters. Photograph by Vicky Roden

Venice is what the world would look like if art was the universal number one export. It’s oddly unnerving to see a city so accommodating to artists and so willing to be used as an extension of the canvas – in the everyday wall-side shrines, the extraordinary architecture and also in the playful interventions such as Lorenzo Quinn’s Support, rising from the canal and echoing the similar masonic bodge-jobs that keep the city’s buildings standing.

Hew Locke, On The Tethis Sea. Photograph by Vicky Roden

It should then be no surprise that the scattering of Pavillions across the city seemed to succeed or fail dependant on how they used their relationship with Venice and the buildings who were hosting them. In some, the works were completely overshadowed by the sumptuous environment they were presented in. However, the Diaspora Pavilion had no such trouble. The exhibition worked with the surroundings to the benefit of both. Hew Locke’s On The Tethis Sea, a flotilla of ostentatious model boats suspended in mid air, contrasted wonderfully against the stark walls of the buildings ground floor. The more domestic spaces were elegantly utilised including an excellent presentation of Yinka Shonibare’s British Library.

The most perfect example of the symbiosis between project and place had to be the Scottish Pavillion and Rachel Maclean’s Spite Your Face. A large-scale projection in the proportions of a smartphone video, this was a modern version of the Pinocchio fable complete with the juxtaposition of obscene luxury and abject poverty. Characters were literally gilded and jewelled while others fashioned Venetian carnival masks from battered baseball caps. The single screen in an otherwise sparse and dark church was an extraordinary experience, with the film endlessly looping and Pic’s rise and fall assiduously assured.

This was my first time at the Biennale and my first time in Venice, and the reviews and photographs in no way prepared me for the experience. Pictures don’t show the tiny fish and tendrils of plan-tlife that swarm around the wrists of Quinn’s work. A write up cannot prepare you for the sudden submersion in the contemporary art playground that is the Giardini. An absolute art theme park, the national Pavilions were a feast of often exceptional works but it was South Korea which particularly stood out.

South Korea Pavilion, Giardini. Photograph by Vicky Roden

At once poignant, tender and crass we are drawn into the South Korea Pavilion with neon signage promising peep shows, orgasms and pole dances. There’s a joyfulness in the work (including a version of Rodin’s ‘The Thinker’ executed in lavatory paper and pepto bismol) but it’s the handling of a found archive detailing the life of ‘Mr K.’ which was most entrancing. Following one man who lived through Japanese annexation, the Korean War and the subsequent north/south division it highlights the effect global events have had on individual lives and futures. The acquisition of the archive itself, bought in a probate sale following the death of the protagonist’s wife, makes it particularly bittersweet. That which we dedicate our lives to preserving is not necessarily considered important enough to retain by the next generation.

Lee Mingwe, The Mending Project, Arsenale. Photograph by Vicky Roden

The Arsenale was another exhausting cultural submersion – possibly as a reaction to this, one of my favourite works was simple and immensely touching, together with having a deeply human connection. Following the 9/11 tragedy Lee Mingwei coped with the immediate horror of the impact of losing many friends and colleagues by mechanically mending the pile of clothes which he’d been ‘planning to get around to’. The Mending Project invites the audience to bring in their broken textiles to be mended in gaudy silk thread while sharing a conversation with the artist or his assistant, and seeks to find positive connections from the ashes of a terrible experience while serving as a memorial to those the artist lost on the day.

Work by John Waters. Photograph by Vicky Roden

My final word has to go to John Waters and his series of signs encouraging us to ‘Study Art’. Executed in classic 1950s style in the shape of brushes and palettes we are invited to study for a variety of reasons including ‘Fun or Fame’, ‘Pride or Power’, ‘Breeding or Bounty’ and (my personal favourite) ‘Prestige or Spite’. Dotted around for the audience to encounter, it relates back to a similar sign Waters saw inviting students to study art ‘for profit or hobby’. The subversion of this into reasons which can be all too painfully accurate for many attendees is peculiarly satisfying.

Awesome in the most literal sense of the word, completely overwhelming and utterly inspiring, Venice and the Biennale have already had a noticeable effect on my own practice. It may have been my first time there, but I’ll be damned disappointed with myself if it’s the last.

https://vickyroden.com/

Artist Vicky Roden shares her experiences of visiting the Venice Biennale. Her trip was supported by an Engine Bursary.

Susan Pui San Lok at the Diaspora Pavilion. Photograph by Rohanie Campbell-Thakoordin

Rohanie Campbell-Thakoordin reports from the 57th Venice International Art Biennale, with a focus on the Diaspora Pavilion curated by David A Bailey MBE. Her visit was funded by an Engine bursary.

 

Susan Pui San Lok at the Diaspora Pavilion. Photograph by Rohanie Campbell-Thakoordin

During September, I was selected for the opportunity to attend the 57th Venice Biennale, alongside other artists and curators based around the West Midlands. I was the only applicant accepted that is still undertaking undergraduate studies, which invoked simultaneous pride and immense imposter syndrome.

My main draw to the Biennale, aside from its obvious significance in the fine art world, was the inclusion of the first ever Diaspora Pavilion, conceptualised and curated by Midlands based curator David A Bailey.

The Biennale has come under scrutiny in more recent years for its arguably outdated structure regarding nationality and nationalism. The Diaspora Pavilion entirely questions the organisation of artwork into countries of origin (which is again debatable within the main Biennale event, as an artist does not have to be from a country in order to represent it). The Diaspora Pavilion instead celebrates and discusses the constant merging and shifting definitions of nationality; and gives a platform to the people whose nationality or ethnic identity does not fit concisely into one category (a celebration of people of mixed descent is how I read the Pavilion, which as someone who is mixed, I took to be an incredibly exciting thing).

Walking into the gallery, we were met by a wall of gold tinsel – the work ‘Untitled (Pavilion)’ (2017) by Susan Pui San Lok – which immediately evoked the fear of whether an interactive-looking artwork is actually interactive, and whether the viewer is actually entitled to interact with it. After watching other people wade through it, and pensively observing – once the leap is made into the work, the resulting feeling is incredibly disorienting, and also incredibly beautiful. When reading the accompanying programme notes to the exhibition, ideas of immersiveness, dream-space and ‘a theatre within a theatre’ are discussed in relation to the work. However, what stuck out for me was the incredibly unpretentious nature of the piece. The simplicity and aversion to take itself too seriously – a feature I felt was slightly too prominent in some of the other, larger scale works in the Biennale.

Barbara Walker, Transcended, at the Diaspora Pavilion. Photograph by Rohanie Campbell-Thakoordin

Other works in the Pavilion that caught my eye, included Barbara Walker’s drawing installation, ‘Transcended’ (2017), depicting soldiers from the Commonwealth, who fought in the First World War. However, due to the fact they were West Indian and not British, the roles they were actually permitted to undertake were the menial, manual tasks assisting the British soldiers. I first saw Walker’s work at mac birmingham, wherein a large part of the exhibition was the artist’s systematic removal of the drawings through the show’s duration; leaving smudged clouds of blurred charcoal. Seeing Walker’s work at the Biennale, and myself hailing from Birmingham, there was a certain sense of pride. The Diaspora Pavilion as a whole felt thoroughly curated. Aside from the placement of a couple of sculptures, that felt almost as though they were an afterthought, the space (a beautifully old Venetian building, the sort you would expect a live-in museum about the city’s history to be exhibited at) was entirely encapsulated by the distinct work of these diasporic artists. It was a beautiful sight to see said old Venetian house filled with the bright, clashing fabrics of Nigerian artist Yinka Shonibare’s installation ‘The British Library’ – an ode to immigrants to the UK and the contributions they have made.

Jordi Coloner at the Spanish Pavilion, Giardini. Photograph by Rohanie Campbell-Thakoordin

Outside of the Diaspora Pavilion, the work that made a significant impact on me was Jordi Coloner’s ‘Únete! Join us!’ representing Spain. An immersive “installation of installations”, the Spanish Pavilion at the Giardini depicted a utopian, borderless landscape, in the form of a socially functioning, community-based series of projects. Again, for me the entire lack of self-importance, or least the self-awareness present meant this work was encapsulating and highly engaging.

This time, the invitation to sit on the wooden, sports stadium-like stands was clear at the entrance of the work, and so no reluctance to sit and watch the work was had. Instead, a way of exhibiting video work in a way I have never seen before – moving around the space, crouching on one wooden stand and then on to another, with the overall space creating the piece once each screen has been seen.

The spectrum of work seen throughout my few days in Venice, especially from a curatorial perspective, was highly insightful. Both pavilions featuring incredibly sleek and expensive work with high production value – as well as the smaller, lower key works, that provided interesting discussion points. I found travelling with the Engine team to attend my first Biennale, to be a hugely useful and engaging experience – being able to attend and interact with the work, and more importantly to be able to discuss and share ideas, and crucially, with those within the sector I hope to pursue after studies. Gaining an insight in to the practical and administrative aspects of art exhibitions was a major highlight of visiting the Biennale.

 

Rohanie Campbell-Thakoordin reports from the 57th Venice International Art Biennale, with a focus on the Diaspora Pavilion curated by David A Bailey MBE. Her visit was funded by an Engine bursary.

Maelstrømmen, 2017. Two-channel 3D animation. Colour, sound. 5 min 7 sec. Commissioned by LIAF / North Norwegian Arts Centre

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).

Maelstrømmen, 2017. Two-channel 3D animation. Colour, sound. 5 min 7 sec. Commissioned by LIAF / North Norwegian Arts Centre

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.

Trevarefabrikken, the festival’s centre and ‘startpunkt’

Trevarefabrikken, the festival’s centre and ‘startpunkt’

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, 2017. Installation view in the Trevarefabrikken

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.

Pollen Messages, 2016, 3D animation, sound. Installation view

Pollen Messages, 2016, 3D animation, sound. Video still

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.

www.lislegaard.com
www.liaf.no
www.alygrimes.co.uk

 

Birmingham-based independent curator Aly Grimes interviews artist Ann Lislegaard about her work for the Lofoten International Arts Festival, north Norway.

New Art West Midlands / Engine visit to Venice Biennale. Sculpture by Lorenzo Quinn. Image by Alex Billingham

Artist and curator Alex Billingham offers up his personal reflections on the Venice Biennale.

 

New Art West Midlands / Engine visit to Venice Biennale. Sculpture by Lorenzo Quinn. Image by Alex Billingham

 

Egg gods/
David Oooooo yerh/
Hunters/
Water sports/
Finland! /
Spite/
Nose masturbation/
Bum caravans/
Archives /
Thread /
Animatronic Penguins … STOP My head hurts!

This September New Art West Midlands very kindly let me come to the Venice Biennale with them. It was my first time out of the country in ten years and what a way to start. Monarch kindly deferred financial collapse by a week to get us out and back.

It was wonderful to be with such brilliantly friendly people full of ideas and mixed interpretations of the work. It was refreshing to see how others approached viewing work.

The most influential lesson I ever got was when my elderly teacher took away my rubber. She said I had to learn from my mistakes. This has guided my approach to how I make and view art.

You only ever get one first impression of a piece, make the most of it. I never take information about art until after I’ve experienced it in the raw. Great work doesn’t rely on writing to be readable.

On to the damn ART already.

Where to start? SCOTLAND!

Possibly because of its isolation from the main bulk of work but I suspect because of the commitment both of scale and effort involved in it the Scottish Pavilion stands out as one of the most interesting pieces. A 20-foot vertical screen dominates a blacked-out church. Mirroring the themes in the piece the beauty and scale of the setting only becomes apparent once your eyes have adjusted. It’s a gloriously textured piece looping back in on itself elegantly melding Facebook symbols, myths and modern morality.

Battle of the titans: Arsenale vs. Giardini

These two monstrous beasts are of very different flavours.

Welcome to Giardini land, how may I help you today?

Initially it has the feel of being a Disney Land for people who like to say they’re in the arts but beneath the theme park layout and selfie advertising there’s a wonderland of work replete with jabberwockies and trolls.

Russia was disturbing and disappointing, played as a send up of the country’s military heritage. But neither vicious or damming enough to be real it felt much more like a display of Soviet might and total control.

Canada’s Geoffrey Farmer, however, was brave, daring and playful and by far and away my favourite piece (I returned 3 times). I was lucky enough to come upon it from the back entrance via England as you walk through the door to a shattered and gutted pavilion open to the skies. Strewn with playful wreckage using water to react to the presence of visitors, culminating in a ravaged fountain at its heart.

Guan Xiao, David, 2013, three-channel HD video installation, color, sound, 4 minutes 43 seconds. In “Viva Arte Viva” in the Arsenale.

How Bloody Big is the Arsenale?

This was no tourist playpen but a fully formed gauntlet of art gladiators stretching on into a parallel dimension where a giant kitten was terrorising art critics to get to the biggest balls of twine in the multiverse – just me there? Sorry.

A complete clusterf**k cacophony of cultural Kunst. Ok so I had a beast of a cold starting as I went through the belly of this beast so I kinda experienced it in a somewhat dreamlike state. While there were pieces which succeeded and others that failed, for me it was the experience which stuck with me, a million myriad ideas jostling for dominance of my attention constantly trying out do one another.

D. A. V. I. D. by Guan Xiao was probably the piece we most bonded over as a group, a prince charming nestled half behind warehoused vulvas.

Spain must take the prize for most fully realised idea – a dystopian nightmare laboratory – and China for worst pavilion, reading like a garbled mess presented by half-arsed 2nd year student. At least the Venetian pavilion had the grace to honestly be an advert for the Tourist Board.

Geoffrey Farmer, A way out of the mirror, 2017. Installation view at the Canada Pavilion for the 57th International Art Exhibition – la Biennale di Venezia, 2017. © Geoffrey Farmer, Courtesy of the artist. (Francesco Barasciutti)

Beyond The Thunderdom … Erm Venicdome?

A thousand thoughts fled through my mind as I raced up to Manchester for a performance the next day. Egg gods of Finland, upended trucks next to caravans with bumholes.

Curators struggling with performance. There’s still no resolved answer for me but it’s finally permeating into the landscape of these beasts. The bizarre way many of the pavilions used English as the primary language frankly shocked me. A hangover from colonialism is one of the running themes in the Arsenale. Research was presented as work sometimes so lazily that it made me question why it was in an art setting at all, at other times it was beautifully handled and worked over. This was the year of the archivist at the Giardini.

Mainly it was the more delicate and subtle works that stuck with me. Israel’s mouldy empty room hiding a great nebulous cloud, the music box desperately screeching away in a corner, the assistant endlessly nattering away while repairing clothing.

But mostly it was the bravery of Canada. Childishly totalling their pavilion to make a joyous piece of work.

Thank you, New Art West Midlands and the people, on the trip it was fantastic!
alexbillingham.co.uk

 

Our second report from the New Art West Midlands / Engine visit to Venice. Artist and curator Alex Billingham reflects on the trip.

Rachel Maclean, Spite Your Face, 2017, digital video (still). Courtesy the artist. Commissioned by Scotland + Venice

In the first of a series of reports from 57th Venice International Art Biennale, artist Thomas Kilby reports on his moving image highlights. 

Rachel Maclean, Spite Your Face, 2017, digital video (still). Courtesy the artist. Commissioned by Scotland + Venice

 

I was very fortunate to attend the 2017 Venice Biennale with the Engine team from New Art West Midlands and New Art Gallery Walsall earlier in the year. I was interested to see what current practices look like in artists’ moving image. In this article I will highlight some of the more interesting work that I found there.

The Scottish Pavilion was showing the work of Rachel Maclean, ‘Spite your Face’ a new video work projected in portrait format, which dominated the space of Chiesa di Santa Caterina, the Church of St Catherine. Reminiscent of Tacita Dean’s 2011 35mm film ‘Film,’ shown inside Tate Modern’s Turbine Hall, here Maclean’s work interacts with the space. Dimly lit to the left of the towering projection is a classical female sculpture, which during the video becomes a goddess type character. Maclean seems to be interested in the very format of filmic space, the works world shifts on its axis, as Pic, the protagonist, falls horizontally and vertically, down and out into a second reality. The world moves around him to unveil a new land where he can become who he desires.

Fairytale myths and futuristic dystopian worlds have been an ongoing thematic trait in Maclean’s work; engaging with popular culture adverts, such as perfume, has been established in her film ‘Germs’ (2013,) but here Maclean develops this concept alongside votive offerings, Venetian masks, and a radical colour palette of blue and gold, to create a work that fits inside its setting, and talks of contemporary issues. Pic enters a Faustian pact to make his wishes come true. He is gifted ‘Truth’ the new perfume that magically heals his credit card induced capitalistic self-harm slashes. After an awkward phallic-nose rape scene, we learn ‘all that glitters in not gold.’ There is no set start or end to the work it is a filmic loop. Pic will continue to fall from grace and be reborn.

Whilst pushing my way through the long drag of the Arsenale, which encounters curated topics such as climate change and tradition within contemporary art, the work of Guan Xiao was a welcome hilarious relief.  ‘David’ (2013) is a music video for Michelangelo’s high art sculpture of the beautiful young man. Its format is a three-part HD video installation, the work lists the ways in which society interacts with David and reproduces him. The hook, or chorus, of the song keeps insisting ‘we just don’t know how to see him.’

Palazzo Gundane (homage to the myth-maker who fell to earth), 2017 installation view
Courtesy: the artist. Photo: Simon Vogel

Samson Young represents Hong Kong this year with his filmic installation ‘Songs for Disaster Relief’’. There are three sections to the work, the most interesting being the second, which you enter through a velvet curtain that hangs a foot or two off of the floor, you enter into Lynchian living room-type environment with two monitors, representing fire places, with sofas and a coffee table in front. One monitor shows a CGI kilted figure on a chroma green backdrop rolling around; the other shows a drummer boy breakdancing over a purple screen. The soundtrack mixes a cover of Band Aid’s ‘Do they know its Christmas,’ with occasional trumpeting sounds, reminiscent of David Bowie and Bing Crosby’s ‘The Little Drummer Boy’. Dislocation is the pervading theme of the work. We hear the Hong Kong Federation of Trade Unions Choir sing ‘We Are The World’ in a hushed whisper. All of this is familiar but rendered through a foreign frame, as Young says, an ‘out-of-timeness’.

Whilst exploring the Giardini, a secluded garden with house-like museums, I found the unassuming pavilion of Finland. They were showing the collaborative work of Nathaniel Mellors and Erkka Nissinen, titled ‘The Aalto Natives’. It took the form of ‘an installation with video and animatronic sculpture’. The first thing that strikes you is the huge egg-like figure with a projector strapped to its head, opposite this is a smaller cardboard box with eyes, also with a projector attached. They have a dialogue with the video work projected in the far corner. The work is a hilarious mix of drawn stop frame animation, HD video and complex CGI, its story follows a god and his son coming back to the Finland they created centuries ago. The humour in the absurd satire catches your focus to look at larger issues of religion and bureaucracy.

Installation view of Nathaniel Mellors and Erkka Nissinen’s ‘The Aalto Natives, 2017’ at the 57th Venice Biennale. Courtesy Frame Contemporary Art Finland.

Søren Engsted’s video ‘Levitation’ 2017, shown within the Central Pavilion inside the Giardini, takes the form of a performative talk, with Engsted seated on an Indian levitation chair. Floating in midair Engsted tells the audience several facts and anecdotes around the theme of flying. Whilst viewing this video you are seated on a chair made from molded concrete, heightening your own feeling of corporeality.

Overall there can be teased out some common themes to the moving image work at this year’s Biennale. Humour is always a thread that attracts me to a work, and as I found out for most of my other colleagues on the trip too. The work felt light, welcoming and generous. Especially in a context like Venice, where you are bombarded with work, pieces that require time and reflection. These moving image works were a way of engaging with the viewer, to trick you, into looking harder at the layers behind. Lucky that I like to be tricked.

In the first of a series of reports from 57th Venice International Art Biennale, artist Tom Kilby reports on his highlights. Tom was one of the artists selected for an Engine bursary to attend the Biennale along with the New Art West Midlands and Engine teams.

Exhibition catalogue

This report is an account of my participation in the international printmaking exhibition 3rd Global Print located in the Douro region of Portugal which ran from August – 30 September 2017.

Effects of forest fire between Porto and Alijo

The Douro region is famous for wine production and the vineyards dominate the landscape, climbing the hills and punctuating the ochre ground with green. The region has also been designated UNESCO World Heritage status.

The exhibitions were spread across six towns and eight cultural venues, containing the works of 543 artists from 67 countries. 19 artists represented the UK (although this should read 20 since, upon wishing to add breadth to their global reach the organisers placed me as the sole representative of Hong Kong, my place of birth). Interestingly the country with the highest number of participants was the US with 105 artists, whilst Portugal only had 16 artists.

These events are organised by artist/curator Nuno Canelas and his compact team and participation is through invitation-only. This offer extends to showing consecutively at the 9th International Printmaking Bienal Douro in 2018 with Global Print being the smaller of the two. Not surprisingly, with the number of works and artists in the show, the quality and mastery of technique, themes and approaches was great and breathtaking, demonstrating that printmaking is vital and alive in the world.

Due to a combination of wide distances between venues, the irregularity of local transport and available time after installing my work, I was only able to visit four of the eight venues. However these shows have been documented by the organisers with the images shared on their Facebook page @BienalDouro. The venues were:

Alijo – Biblioteca Municipal (Library of Alijo) / Piscinas Municipais (Municpal Swimming Pool)
Chaves – Biblioteca Municipal (Library of Chaves) / Centro Cultural (Cultural Centre)
Favaios – Museu do Påo e do Vinho (Bread & Wine Museum)
Foz Coa – Museu do Coa
Regua – Museu do Douro
Martinho de Anta – Espaço Miguel Torga (Miguel Torga Cultural Centre)

My visit occurred from 28 July – 4 August, flying from Birmingham airport, landing at Porto in order to take a two-hour bus ride to Alijo. This seemed to be the ‘centre of operations’ since it is the home of Nuno Canelas and where many of the overseas visiting artists stayed. Whilst all the other artists chose to stay at the main and much more luxurious hotel in Alijo, I stayed at the youth hostel – the Pousada da Juventude de Alijo which was clean, quiet, spacious, en-suite and came with a continental breakfast. This was booked for me weeks in advance by the organisers and at a reduced rate.

It was at the Biblioteca Municipal where I installed my work, a public library with an exhibition space and serving as one of the venues for Global Print. I arrived in Alijo slightly unprepared due to the fact that my email requests for images and dimensions of the cabinets that my work would be shown in were not sent prior to my arrival. Fortunately, and surprisingly Alijo has a shop that sells all manner of goods from China and it was here where I was able to purchase and adapt the necessary items for my installation.

Adrift on the Sea of Fertility, 2017
sanded Vogue magazine, print residue, kidney stone, polyester fabric

Titled Adrift on the Sea of Fertility my installation was housed in two glass cabinets. One cabinet contained a Vogue magazine, all the images of which had been sanded off its pages to leave dusty vestiges of ‘beautiful’ figures. The other cabinet housed the semblance of a lunar landscape comprised of the residue from the sanding process. Rock-like, a single human kidney stone sits alone within this scene.

Adrift on the Sea of Fertility, 2017
sanded Vogue magazine, print residue, kidney stone, polyester fabric

Coincidences abound in life; like bringing a work that resembles a barren lunar landscape, to a place that is flanked by the charred remains of recent forest fires. But unlike my work, there are signs that life is just beginning to push through the deathly black, re-greening the hills and valleys.

Extract from my travel notebook

Growing out of our conversations, this coincidence had also worked its way into the thinking of Nuno Canelas who had chosen my work to represent Global Print, being the sole image used on the promotional posters and banners as well as the front cover of the exhibition catalogue.

Exhibition catalogue

The exhibition opening was held at the Museu do Coa, an hour and half mini-bus ride from Alijo. Sited on top of a hill over-looking vineyards and the Douro river, the museum is of an uber modernist construction and located in the Coa valley, world famous for its paleolithic rock engravings. Much of the museum is dedicated to visualising and disseminating the research from this activity to the public.

The opening was attended by artists from South Korea, Switzerland, UK and Portugal. It began with a guided tour by one of the museum’s archaeologists who gave a fascinating and deeply-insightful talk on the meaning behind the images made by the paleolithic peoples followed by speeches from the museum director and Nuno Canelas. Further into the evening a delicious 3-course meal was also arranged at a very reasonable rate in the Museum’s restaurant. It was an opportunity for discussion, networking, and relaxation after the heat of the day.

On the bus ride to Museu do Coa I sat next to Silvestre Pestana, a prominent Portuguese artist who was showing solo at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Santa Barbara, USA. An artist of later years he is a wealth of knowledge and experience of an understanding of art history ‘on the ground’ and it was fascinating and an education conversing with him on the journey. I hope to develop further exchanges.

Reflecting on the text written by Nuno Canelas that prefaces Global Print I sensed an anxiety towards the status of printmaking, in its complex relations to other art-forms, a disappearance of its autonomy;

… Printmaking’s hybrid nature … spanning the realms of ‘high’ art against its more utilitarian uses in everyday life. Something is lost in these overlaps, or rather printmaking recedes, a subsummation of one into the other. There is a print-consciousness within my own practice – in my relations with materials, the nature of my bodily engagement between the physical and the visual. Unfixed and mutable, artists call on print when their formal medium of choice is rendered speechless. Printmaking is intimately informed by the historical, by chemistry and the technological. Highly adaptable to requirements, its presence infiltrates our visual world, whilst being hidden in plain sight.

extract from my travel notebook

Despite the advancing breadth of printmaking techniques, practice and thought I felt the exhibitions did not stray beyond the known and uncontested parameters of contemporary printmaking culture. Perhaps this was due to logistics and what was practical to send work across the world. Whilst, in relation to the time, man-power and resources available it was sometimes in the hands of the gods as to how and where your work would be exhibited, with variable degrees of care and attention. Although this did not make the experience any less enjoyable and captivating. In its myriad of visual forms and themes, physical approaches and just sheer quantity, Global Print was able to offer a sense of how printmaking is being lived in the world today, and it’s Body Mass Index indicates good health. For me, looking at prints is something of a forensic activity. Eyeballing the marks both intentional and incidental, registration, plate tone and how the paper receives the ink, straying from print’s reproductive strangle-hold, there is much to enjoy in such inconsistencies. Then there are the actions performed to construct the print – dusting, smoking, eroding, cutting, pressing, wiping, gouging … a dance takes place with the (print)maker in the mind of the viewer. Roll on 9th International Printmaking Bienal Douro 2018

In Porto

Two days were allocated towards exploring the independent art scene of Porto. However many of these galleries were closed for the summer. This was especially true of the R. Miguel Bombarda, the street famous for being lined with independent galleries, here deserted save for a few cafes and small retail shops.

To kick things off was a much anticipated visit to the Museo de Arte Contemporaneo de Serralves, an obvious choice being a mere 40-minute walk from the Airbnb. The large paintings of Julie Mehretu seemed tailor-made for the airy, naturally-lit spaces of Serralves and there were a lot of paintings to see. I enjoyed walking through the sneaky corridors, mysterious channels that connected the vast open rooms.

Sharing the same grounds is the Serralves Villa, a luxuriously hedonistic 1930s Art Deco building. Previously a private residence and now an exhibition site with a fantastically gaudy pink-marbled bath and sink washroom. Inhabiting the spaces were the interventions of multidisciplinary artist from New York, Nick Mauss. Witnessing the architecture, design and decorative elements of the villa and their appropriation into a site for art was a highlight of my trip.

Sismografo (www.sismografo.org) was one of the few independent galleries open. There aren’t any signs directing you to its location. Situated on the first floor above retail spaces it is accessed via a wooden staircase from the street and obscured by a semi-street vendor (of what I’ve forgotten). I very nearly missed a visit after having been told by the vendor that no one had passed him since he opened and that it must be closed. I decided to venture up anyway and was surprised yet happy to see the doors open with someone invigilating the space. The gallery is flanked by large street-facing windows, occupies two large-ish white-walled rooms and was showing the work of Lisbon-based painter Gil Heitor Cortesao – oil paintings on paper and plexiglass. The invigilator turned out to be a member of the steering group who decide upon the artists they wish to show. After a chat that included all the possible independent galleries I could have visited outside the summer break she directed me to another space just round the corner.

Maus Habitos is located on the 4th floor above a retro-fronted car park and a self-contained gallery adjoining a bar-cum-coffee space. Again there are no signs directing you here. Efrain Almeida (Brazil) and Rigo Flores (USA) were the artists showing, work from a recent Cross Residency supported by cultural organisations Caravanna and In Residence Porto, comprising wooden figurative sculptures and large figurative pencil drawings on paper respectively.

Safe Art, a permanent exhibition site housed in a former bank, Porto

Safe Art is located along the central heart of Porto. Formerly a bank it is now a permanent exhibition site which extends down into its vault. It was showing an installation by Alberto Carneiro comprising the semblance of an in-progress harvesting of a rye field. Entering this space from the urban environment of Porto’s main square was a joyous experience, with shoes off and feeling the brittle snap of dry rye storks underfoot, I felt transported, out-of-place. Part of a trilogy from 1973-76, this piece was titled A field after harvest for the aesthetic delight of our body. The other two installations were being shown simultaneously in Lisbon. To my understanding Safe Art is part of a constellation of exhibition sites used by a Portuguese organisation called Culturgest that also runs events in dance, music, theatre, readings and conferences between Lisbon and Porto.

PurePrint was another organisation on my list to visit. It is run by the Faculty of Fine Arts at the University of Porto and hosts international residencies, exhibitions and conferences. Again due to the summer recess the department was closed, despite my attempts to persuade a member of staff and a security guard to let me look around.

My thoughts are directed towards what work to show at next summer’s 9th International Printmaking Bienal. For Global Print my attendance was required due to the nature of the work. In my practice there is an inclination to extend the language of printmaking, often into the realms of installation and performative modes of production. The need for ‘quality control’ towards how my work should be displayed is also a concern, making my attendance necessary. Before departure and during a chat over coffee, Nuno Canelas asked if I would like to speak at the conference that will form part of next year’s Bienal. Along with developing the networks made through Global Print (since a secret pact was made by all artists to return), the gravitational pull of the Douro is strong.

Pak Keung Wan
https://www.pakkeungwan.co.uk/

 

 

 

 

Pak Keung Wan on the international printmaking exhibition 3rd Global Print located in the Douro region of Portugal 2017.

Vivian Suter, Nisyros (Vivians bed), oil, pigment and fish glue on canvas and paper, volcanic, earth, botanical matter, microorganisms and wood.

Artist and educator Laura Onions was the recipient of an Engine Micro Bursary earlier this year. Below she reflects on her experiences of documenta 14, Kassel.

Vivian Suter, Nisyros (Vivians bed), oil, pigment and fish glue on canvas and paper, volcanic, earth, botanical matter, microorganisms and wood.

What shifts? What drifts? What remains? three questions underpinning the documenta 14 learning programme this year. Seemingly simple, yet these hold resonance particularly for education. How do we learn from experiences, what are the traces that take us forwards? How does art produce encounters for learning? As an artist and educator, these are important questions for both teaching practice and artistic practice. I utilised the Engine Micro Bursary to fund a trip to Kassel in July and the following are some reflections on works that left a lasting impression on me.

First day: Overwhelmed by the scale of the project I resolved to enter the larger curated shows first. In the vastness of Documenta Halle, a presentation of archives from Anna Halprin’s multiracial dance company breathed openly. Scoring the stories and development of dance deck – an architectural device Halprin crafted with her husband Lawrence.

Influenced by the Bauhaus, the construction of the deck (1954) reconsidered how acts of learning through the body occur based on observation and awareness, how conversations between self and place form together. “I began to simply shed all of my old patterns, and I had to start anew with new ideas of what is the nature and my nature interface. That’s where I began to develop a new approach to movement.”

I am reminded of videos of Josef Albers, how he used his whole body in his teaching to encourage students to reach a wider range of movement, to experience shape from different perspectives. These are powerful tools of pedagogy that are shared through choreography “as performers become more confident and skilled they all become freer in using the whole body, the wholeness of the trail.” Tracing the emotional, political and performative engagements of the community groups who used dance deck, this archive recalls the importance of co-creating inclusive spaces towards making and innovating.

Vivian Suter, Nisyros (Vivians bed), oil, pigment and fish glue on canvas and paper, volcanic, earth, botanical matter, microorganisms and wood.

Second day: Rumbling along the tram lines, I reach the outer edges of the city where the glass pavilions sit on Kurt-Schumacher strasse. A boundary between the hub of the city and the regions where many migrant communities reside. The so-called pavilions are abandoned commercial outlets, now containing art works and installations that may or may not be entered, playing with the possibilities of transparency, transition and in-between-ness. It’s a quiet morning, I have them all to myself. Vivian Suters, Nisyros (Vivian’s Bed) is most alluring. Paintings on un-stretched canvas hung in layers, interrupting and obscuring one another as they folded back into the room towards a bed made of wood at its centre. The paintings are trusted, there is a need to follow them in; inviting in their floods of colour, boldness and sculptural presence, but also an intimate space made public.

The Missing Link. Decolonisation Education by Mrs Smiling Stone, School desks, photographs, glassine paper sheets, drawings with coloured pencil, microphone stand, earth and lipstick on paper.

Third day: Weaving through the historical Neue Gallerie, an ambitiously curated show that speaks along the lines of politics, economy, global relationships, lasting debts. The upper floors explore cultural theft and systems of colonisation and exploitation. In a sun-drenched atrium, this is where I find The Missing Link. Decolonisation Education by Mrs Smiling Stone by Pelagie Gbaguidi. Scrolls drape from floor to ceiling, their surface mapping part formed figures and scrawls that echo handwriting. Among the delicate drawings are school desks, upon these are fragments of ceramics, toys and veiled photographs of figures caught within the violence of apartheid. Lift the veil and confront the atrocities of dehumanisation.

Conceived from a research project based in South Africa, Gbaguidi places the transmission of knowledge at the centre of this work. What and whose knowledge is passed on, rearticulated or canonised? Education here is troubled as both a preserver and a solution to legacies of oppression. Gbaguidi leaves a stanza on the wall to synthesise her thoughts on the work:

How might education contribute to
purge from consciousness that there exist no
under-beings but that the birth of a
life is a value in itself.
That every human has a right to a
cradle

 

I could not leave Kassel without visiting the Kunsthochschule, Kassel’s art school which was designed in the 1960s by Paul Friedrich Poseneske, situated in the Auepark, Kassel.

 

The works that stood out to me personally were those that infiltrated public space, that whispered across the city, distorting and obstructing views above ground or hunkered in spaces below ground. Raising awareness of the presence and movement of self through the city, repetition of movement; bodies, space, lines, traces of past and present. While I write these reflections, teaching is about to resume, focus is about to become stretched. The trip to Kassel functioned as a timely reminder, that we must account for the spaces that we construct with others.

Artist and educator Laura Onions was the recipient of an Engine Micro Bursary earlier this year. Below she reflects on her experiences of documenta 14, Kassel.

Forgotten Greens and Healing Powers, Ines Lauber. Photograph by Kaye Winwood.

 

Last month Kaye Winwood attended Food Art Week (Berlin), this research opportunity was supported by an Engine Micro Bursary, from New Art West Midlands and The New Art Gallery Walsall. She reports back on her experiences.

This annual festival, now in its third year, is curated by Berlin-based Entretempo Kitchen who claim to be the “first contemporary art gallery to combine food and art”.[i] The festival includes exhibitions, workshops, dinners, dining experiences, salons and talks that take place over many sites and with different partners across Berlin.

The primary aim of Food Art Week is to interrogate important questions in contemporary society, using food as a catalyst to underpin this discourse. This year’s festival was entitled ‘Vs. Meat’ and approached “topics such as human and animal rights, feminism, conscious consumption, environmental issues and sustainability whilst calling attention to the political, social, and technological aspects of the meat industry”.[ii]

Working as a Creative Producer/Artist using food as a medium and multi-sensory experience as an artistic and curatorial practice, the festival provided an opportunity to meet a group of like-minded artists, producers and visitors, and to see and experience international practice.

The intention of this research trip was to expand my knowledge of the sector whilst contributing to specific areas within my research:

Expanded Dining – a term I coined to reflect a ‘beyond the plate’ approach to dining that I use in my own practice.

A research kitchen – a space combining artist studio and development kitchen to R&D creative food practices across disciplines.

My travel companions were collaborator Nuala Clooney with whom I am developing a range of tableware exploring the sensuality of the dining experience; and Dr Elisa Oliver, Director of FEAST online journal with whom I am exploring theories and practices of Expanded Dining.

  

Day One:

Most of the activity took place during the evening, so on arrival Nuala and I had the opportunity to explore a little of Berlin before heading out for ‘Drink Art’, after all ‘drinking is the highest form of art’ according to Marioni, right?

After initially being dropped off by a taxi driver at a Psychotherapy Clinic over the wrong side of town (was it something we did/said?) we finally got another cab to the correct venue – uber cool ‘Keith’ Bar – a dark cavernous space lit by candlelight and specialists in whisky, German beer and cocktails.

On arrival, we were warmly welcomed by Chris Lloyd*, Coordinator of this year’s festival and his colleague Vanessa. We also had time for a quick catch up with Charles Michel* where we talked briefly about the lack of education around meat production and the potential for artistic practice to have a faster societal impact than policy.

(*) Chris and Charles are co-founders of the international Crossmodalist movement with whom I’ve previously met in UK. Chris is now Berlin-based, and Charles lives between London and Paris. More about them later …

The bar owner Ken (we still don’t know who ‘Keith’ is) – also an artist – had been invited to participate in the festival and worked with locally chef Tony Sanchez from ‘Sancho’ to create a dish and cocktail which resonated with the theme of this year’s festival whilst referring to his Latin American heritage. The specially designed plate was delicious and complex – layering flavours and heat beautifully in three tacos accompanied by a tangy pickled onion salad. The heat in one of the tacos was eye-wateringly intense – causing a pleasure/pain response often associated with chilli, amongst other things.

The cocktail – a Mezcal, tamarind and chipotle margarita – was intriguing and challenging. The rim of the glass was coated in grasshopper salt (or plain salt for vegetarians/vegans). It’s Mezcal smokiness was pimped using chipotle and given an added profile with a dose of tart tamarind. The margarita was sweetened (ever so slightly) with an almond and honey syrup and, whilst I couldn’t detect the honey nor almonds, I was pretty thankful for any notes of sweetness added to this piquant drink. The drink was served with a straw which we felt kind of defeated the object of the salty rim however, my companion couldn’t get enough of the grasshopper salt and fingered her glass until it was squeaky clean.

The event was ticketed, and diners arrived in pairs and small groups – I had the sense that many of the diners were already familiar with the bar (I might be wrong) and the bar had a convivial ambiance throughout although, as a seated event, it didn’t have the communality that I’d anticipated. Drink Art! was a really enjoyable as a satellite event but we were left wondering whether this event really addressed issues around within the festival.

 

Day Two:

I have been following Entretempo for a couple of years. I have been intrigued by their work within food/art and also their kitchen/gallery model, it’s a model that I am keen to explore in the UK and one that mirrors its historic predecessors – FOOD (Matta Clark, NY, 1970s), Holy Palate (Marinetti and Futurists, Italy, 1930s) but has relatively few contemporary peers.

Meeting at Tainá Guedes, Director of Entretempo

I was delighted that Tainá Guedes, Director of Entretempo and Artistic Director Food Art Week, could make some time on Tuesday morning to meet us.

Tainá, intelligent and tenacious in equal measure, has worked hard to sustain the gallery and the festival. She has grown the festival from a passion for food and art and the festival now has 120 staff and volunteers over the 10 days of the festival. Originally from Brazil, Tainá told us that she has lived in Berlin since 2009 and set up Entretempo in 2013. She explained that Berlin seems like the only place in the world that this type of activity can thrive.

Entretempo combines gallery and kitchen in one space. The gallery space has a year round programme of food-related exhibitions, meals, events and workshops. The adjoining kitchen is modest in size but ample for Tainá and her team to produce food for events, commercial hires and catering. Whilst the majority of their work is ‘art’ based and not-for-profit however, the local council categorised them as a ‘restaurant’ at a substantially increased rate. Sadly this is symptomatic of a lack of understanding around the nuances of food related practice and is also true within the UK.

Tainá talked about the festival programme becoming increasingly politicised and activist. She programmed ‘Vs. Meat’ this year as an opportunity to consider the future of food within contemporary and future cultures. The events considered vegetarianism and veganism as a way forward, alongside feminism, sustainability and ethics. Next year the theme will be ‘sugar’ and will take place internationally across Brasil, LA, New York and Paris.

Nuala, Elisa and myself introduced our mutual areas of interest, in particular the female and sensuality within food and sensory events and discussed the possibility of working with Entretempo to present an event in Spring 2018. Watch this space!

After a jaunt across town to one of the festival’s related exhibitions – which was closed that day, argh – we explored a few other galleries including DAAD before heading to Prinzessinnengarten for that evening’s event – Forgotten Greens and Healing Powers.

This interactive dinner was sited in the beautifully conceived Prinzessinnengarten comprised of allotments, a bar, kitchen, apiary and park. A beautiful place to saunter, meet, drink and eat.

Our event was hosted on a modest timber platform, with a tarpaulin roof and seats made from water barrels. The artist/chef Ines Lauber (Studio Ines Lauber) – introduced the event, the ethos of which was a consideration of our diet and forgotten foraged foods. A reminder to reconsider the use of natural food as a larger part of our diet.

Our dinner was made almost entirely from ingredients from the allotments, and started with a rosehip and basil spritz embellished with rose petals which was delicious. In small groups, we were invited to make a butter or quark spread using fresh herbs and spiced salt which we devoured with freshly made spelt and millet bread. After which we had some ‘messy play’ with clay.

We rolled out our clay, placed vegetables and herbs in the centre of the clay and rolled carefully to create airtight parcels which were then taken to an outdoor fire to be cooked. Whilst they were cooking we had an opportunity to network with our fellow diners and search out and pick foods from nearby trees, hung in plastic balls, or on washing pegs. A lovely idea, but some of the packaging and fastenings didn’t prescribe to the ethical aspirations of the food event, and felt at odds with the experience. We were seated again and given an insightful talk by a winemaker from Pfalz and treated to a beautiful Riesling made using soil diversity methods which he explained in great detail.

Armed with our rolling pins we cracked our vegetables open, steaming hot and full of flavour, they were accompanied by a fresh herb salad, a tomato and apple ketchup, garden pesto and hummus.

Forgotten Greens and
Healing Powers, Ines Lauber. Photograph by Kaye Winwood.

We then walked over to the apiary and met the local bees (and a tiny mouse) for an inspirational fact filled talk about the hives at Prinzessinnengarten from death inducing mating rituals to mummifying rodents! Walking back across Prinzessinnengarten to our tables in the dusk was beautiful and really added the overall ambience of the experience. At the table we were served a whipped ricotta cream with honey from the bees. The interactive aspects of the experience prompted discussion, creativity and pleasure and provided a reminder of some of the forgotten, and underused, methods of producing and using foods.

 

Ultraviolet Schnitzel, Uli Westphal

After dinner we dashed across town to attend a talk by Berlin based artist Uli Westphal in yet another cool bar – Das Kapital – a meeting point for artists, talks and salons. Uli’s “works deal with the way humans perceive, depict and transform the natural world. [He is] especially interested in how misconceptions and ideologies shape our view of nature. In recent years [he has] focused on the portrayal and transformation of nature through the food industries. [His] work is multidisciplinary and research based, frequently consisting out of collections, classification systems, simulations and experimental set-ups.”

The event was a thorough introduction to Uli’s practice whose conceptual work across media provides a commentary on food, product marketing and consumerism from creating digital images, producing light installations, sculptural objects and photographs; and also an opportunity to witness the suspended UV schnitzel at the end of the bar!

 

Day Three:

We headed to the exhibition Flesh on Flesh at Momentum Gallery, a gallery and residency programme for time-based arts. The works in this exhibition used raw meat as an artistic medium or symbolic tool in a screen-based exhibition including new commissioned work alongside the well-known work Meat Love (1989) by Jan Svankmajer. It was an abhorrent, sometimes brutal, sometimes humanising, display of ‘flesh’ drawing parallels between human and animal.

Nezaket Ekicic, Flesh on Flesh at Momentum

Later that day we headed to a Vernissage: Crossmodalism Food Art Showcase presented as a satellite event for Tech Open Air 2017. The Crossmodalists are an international “movement born from the synthesis of art, science, and entrepreneurship. It is based in learning and collaboration across non-traditionally linked disciplines, ideas, and communities”.[iii]

The Vernissage featured screenings of films by Dr. Tereza Stehlikova (Royal College of Art, London), and No Water For Whales (Colombia), a talk by Charles Michel (Crossmodal Research Laboratory, University of Oxford) and photographer Joe Sarah.

The evening also included the opportunity to experience ‘Perfume Orchestra’ an existing work, adapted for one, with specially created perfumes wafted in front of you as you sat listening to Wagner in complete darkness. It was an interesting experience in how the olfactory senses are affected by music.

 

Day Four:

Sadly it was time to leave Berlin but on way to the airport I had time to visit the Hamburger Bahnhof to see the exhibition moving is in every direction. Environments – Installations – Narrative Spaces – an extensive exhibition covering 3,500 square metres and including works by Alan Kaprow, Joseph Beuys, Susan Philipsz and Pipilotti Rist – interrogating authorship, participation and environment.

The trip to Berlin was hugely enjoyable and invigorating and has given me plenty of food for thought (no pun intended) however, I was disappointed that the Food Art Week programme was announced so late in the day that we had already booked our travel and missed the main exhibition and many of the events I would have liked to attend.
This research trip was an incredible opportunity to spend time with peers and collaborators, make new contacts and experience new work. All of which I know will be of enormous benefit to my artistic and professional development.

 

[i] http://entretempo-kitchen-gallery.com/exhibitions/about/

[ii] http://foodartweek.com/food-art-week96

[iii] Taken from the Crossmodalist Facebook page

Last month Kaye Winwood attended Food Art Week (Berlin), this research opportunity was supported by an Engine Micro Bursary, from New Art West Midlands and The New Art Gallery Walsall. She reports back on her experiences.

Cody Choi, Venetian Rhapsody – The Power of Bluff, 2016-17. Neon, LED, Steel, Canvas, PVC. 1243x1033x111cm. Day installation view at the Korean Pavilion, 57th International Art Exhibition, La Biennale di Venezia. Photo by Riccardo Tosetto. Courtesy of the Artist

Four artists and visual arts producers based in Birmingham and the Black Country have been awarded our 57th Venice Biennale bursaries following an open call. These bursaries are supported through Engine, our artist and curator development programme.

The selection panel were particularly impressed by strong applications from Kate Self, a creative producer and visual arts educator, and artists Thomas Kilby, Rohanie Campbell-Thakoordin and Vicky Roden. Roden showed work in the 2015 edition of the New Art West Midlands exhibition at the Barber Institute of Fine Arts and Birmingham Museum & Art Gallery.

Kate, Thomas, Rohanie and Vicky will travel to Venice with the Engine/New Art West Midlands team in late September. Each will produce a report of their experiences in Venice which will be available to read on our editorial pages.

Four artists and visual arts producers based in Birmingham and the Black Country have been awarded our 57th Venice Biennale bursaries following an open call.

We are offering four West Midlands artists or curators the opportunity to visit the 57th Venice Biennale with the Engine/New Art West Midlands team.

Cody Choi, Venetian Rhapsody – The Power of Bluff, 2016-17. Neon, LED, Steel, Canvas, PVC. 1243x1033x111cm. Day installation view at the Korean Pavilion, 57th International Art Exhibition, La Biennale di Venezia. Photo by Riccardo Tosetto. Courtesy of the Artist

We will provide accommodation in Venice and a 48 hour pass to visit the Biennale. Flights must be organised and paid for by the applicant and we will not be providing subsistence costs.

We will fly out on the morning of Tuesday 26 September and will return on Friday 29 September. The accommodation will be covered on the 26, 27 and 28 September.

Please apply for this opportunity by sending an outline of no more than 500 words about why you would like to participate and what benefit this would be to your practice. Please send a CV including your full address and a website link if you have one. Applications should be sent by 11am on Monday 17 July as a single PDF to info@newartwestmidlands.co.uk

Any artist or curator living in the West Midlands can apply.  Preference will be given to applicants who have not visited the Venice Biennale before.

Successful applicants will be asked to write a short report on the visit and some content may be shared on the New Art West Midlands website.

We are offering four West Midlands artists or curators the opportunity to visit the 57th Venice Biennale with the Engine/New Art West Midlands team. Deadline 11am, 17 July 2017.

Wolfgang Tillmans, Iguazu 2010, © Wolfgang Tillmans

Artist Adam Grüning was awarded a Micro Bursary to carry out research at Tate Modern exhibitions Wolfgang Tillmans and Media Networks. He reflects on his visit and its relevance to his practice below.

Wolfgang Tillmans, Iguazu 2010, © Wolfgang Tillmans

For me looking at a photograph is the closest thing to looking at the sky on a clear night, both have the ability to make you feel the enormity of time and to think about what reality means. More and more when I look at a photograph I feel as though I’m trying to find a truth rather than see an image, and I think about how that truth then sits in reality. This connection between the two can move with time and context, but Wolfgang Tillmans’ truth sits very much in the present, as you may expect from a show with “2017” in the title.

The show in its entirety is 14 rooms, hundreds of images, tables of news articles and books, 1 video piece, one room playing tracks from Colourbox and although its scale and superficial variety of work feels like one, it’s definitely not a retrospective (it even says so in the hand-out, just in case you weren’t sure.) The work spans from 2003, three years after Tillmans’ Turner Prize win, to the present day, so it’s easy to make this mistake. It’s been difficult to ignore the show; it’s felt as though every other post on my Instagram feed since its opening has been from the exhibition. I don’t know whether this helped or hindered my perspective on the show but it was certainly a factor that drew me closer to Tillmans’ work and to see a connection between his approach and how I have been working more recently.

The complex, messy connections between the images have a kind of poetic quality that is maintained in each room; it is gentle, tender and gives you a strange sense of being held whilst you walk through the space. It took me a week from seeing the show to fully appreciate this. I usually take two trips around an exhibition and it was the second trip I felt this more. Initially it felt a mass of independent research and evidence all at once, like clicking open all tabs on an amateur detective’s browsing history. There was a point too when I was alone in a darkened room watching a larger than life video of Tillmans jump around in his underpants thinking “why am I alone in a darkened room watching Tillmans jump around in his underpants”, but after a second pass it all made sense … more or less.

There is an element of preaching to the choir about the show, the gentle reminders about assumed truth, how the future is written from today’s actions and the bigger role we (both as individuals and as a larger collective) play in the world channeled most notably through Tillmans’ anti-Brexit campaign. That being said, it is more than just a reminder, it is the connections made that say most; from the headlights image, the oceans (both literal and of Frank) the still lives and the tables of information, it is looking through Tillmans’ eyes on a world right now putting his perspective on it all and the subtle links between everything and everyone. Maybe there is a sense of being spoken down to or of pointing out the obvious, depending on your view. The exhibition has split opinion quite dramatically but the images and information speak beyond current climates, which is where its greater successes lie.

Whether the Tate is the right venue for the exhibition, I’m unsure. It certainly has the space and status to house Tillmans’ idea but I couldn’t help feel that the white cube style environment did nothing for the work, and that the room Colourbox was playing in provided a more engaging sensibility overall with its blue walls and generally less stale environment.

There was an overwhelming sense of finding comfort and beauty in the work, and although I can see the eyebrows of previous lecturers frowning on me for saying it was beautiful, there was an undoubted sense of ‘this is beautiful’ in an unexpected way. Maybe it was the perception of gravity that kept me circling the exhibit that weighted it in time, in the moment, that made me feel beauty. It was something more than all of its parts. Although I kept being told that the display was original, it was nothing I hadn’t seen before, no one image particularly stood out, no one article or print out said more than another but together it demonstrated the workings of something, a perception, an understanding and an insight into someone who cares. It repeatedly moved outside of the gallery for context, which I found unusual for a Tate exhibition, and repeatedly moved me.

Image: Adam Grüning

In terms of my own practice, I’ve struggled with balancing how I work and feeling a disconnection between all the parts that make up my practice; the exhibition has been a positive influence on this. It has made me feel more comfortable with how I work and allowed me to see the connections between all the things I do, seeing they are much closer together than I initially realised. Maybe comfortable is the wrong word but it brought a calmness, making me see things more as a whole rather than as so disjointed.

Whilst at Tate Modern I was interested in seeing the Media Networks exhibition too. Although not my primary reason for visiting, the exhibition displayed artists’ responses to media and technology over the past 100 years which is something that has always returned in my work. Although the show was fine, if a little dry, the work of Louise Lawler stood out massively. Her composition, value, commodification and critique alongside Tillmans’ seemingly insignificant images and information hoarding, both balanced together and felt important to my practice right now, not one more than the other but a connection between them both. Overall, the show was not what I expected, not that it turned out better or worse, but it highlighted to me things I didn’t anticipate. Rather than research or theory or practical understandings, I need to address my perception of myself as an artist and to encourage work I’ve maybe been denying myself from producing because of this.

http://adamgruning.com/

Artist Adam Grüning was awarded a Micro Bursary to carry out research at Tate Modern exhibitions Wolfgang Tillmans and Media Networks. He reflects on his visit and its relevance to his practice.

Artist, curator and New Art West Midlands Advisory Group member Antonio Roberts was invited to speak at The Arts in a Digital World Summit in Montreal, Canada in March. Here he reflects on the possibilities and limitations of digital platforms for the arts, particularly in terms of the diversity of our creative communities.

The Arts in a Digital World Summit. Photograph Antonio Roberts

From 15-17 March The Arts in a Digital World Summit took place in Montreal, Canada. The event invited over 200 artists and institutions to the Arsenal gallery to address the many ways in which digital technologies are impacting the arts and to scope out strategies for the future.

I was invited to take part in the summit and provide my insight into how I have worked with – and against – digital technology in my artistic and curatorial practice. To date I’ve curated a number of projects and exhibitions that have addressed this including co-founding the FizzPOP makerspace, and curating exhibitions including µChip 3, GLIT.TC/H and No Copyright Infringement Intended. In addition to this I am Curator at Vivid Projects, which has a long history of showcasing experimental artworks, videos and performances that integrate new technologies.

Although the name might suggest the summit was about digital art the Canada Council were very clear in stating that digital art is only one area of interest for the summit. The wider aim of the summit was “to be a discussion about the transition and transformation of the Canadian arts sector to thrive in the digital era”.

Although it lasted only three days the summit was intensive but not overwhelming. It provided great insight into how the creative culture works in Canada and the ambitions of the Canada Council for the Arts moving forward.

To launch the first two days keynote speeches from the likes of Jackson 2bears and Astra Taylor encouraged us to think about how technology and the apps that influence how we socialise need to reflect the diversity of its users.

I was especially drawn Taylor’s keynote presentation about the internet as a democratic platform. As the internet came to be more a part of our everyday lives it was looked to as a borderless, free, democratic world that would make our culture more open and let us express ourselves more freely. It would disrupt existing models of cultural and commercial creation and consumption by doing away with gatekeepers and treating everyone as equals. What has happened instead, Taylor argues, is that the existing broken social and economic models have transferred to the internet, with all of their inequalities, biases, and negative stereotypes amplified by the speed and global reach of the internet.

Gatekeepers, which in the physical world, will have existed as bricks and mortar institutions are now global private organisations such as Google and Facebook. Their algorithms, which dictate how we consume culture, mimic and amplify existing gender, racial, class, geographical and cultural inequalities instead breaking of them down.

This encouraged me to think about how these issues affect the creative communities. Are the ways in which platforms like Facebook, Instagram and Twitter operate ultimately negatively affecting our experience of culture both on and offline? In a digital world without borders why do we rely on a handful of sites to control our culture? Why not create our own? This draws parallels to offline institutions and galleries.

Taylor ends her presentation by encouraging us all to think about what if the internet wasn’t led by a California ideology. That is, what if the internet wasn’t controlled by mostly American Silicon Valley companies? Would there be the same focus on profits? Would every communication platform be an opportunity for advertising? I found myself asking what if the internet was governed by artists. How would it differ from how it operates now?

The Arts In a Digital World Summit. Photograph Antonio Roberts

Outside of the keynote presentations were the Human Library sessions. These were 30 minute presentations in which invited facilitators – myself included – talked about a topic and invited questions from participants. One session, led by Harmen van Sprang, focused on shareNL, a company that advises companies on the sharing economy. The sharing economy is an ecosystem built around the sharing of resources. It encompasses a lot of things, but generally organisations like Uber and Airbnb, where our personal resources are hired out for commercial gain, come to mind.

After explaining how it works we were asked to consider, could this way of working, fuelled by technology, be beneficial to the arts? One participant argued that such a model had existed in libraries that made musical instruments available for hire by the public and institutions.

There was consensus amongst attendees of the session that turning every exchange into a financial one could potentially be harmful as it could see things like the lending and borrowing of common resources and equipment e.g. projectors, chairs, something which happens amongst all artists and organisations, happen less as we place financial price on these exchanges.

There were far more presentations and workshops than these two and no way I could have attended them all.

The summit drew to a close with the announcement of a $85 million Fund for the Arts in a Digital World. Canada Council could have easily just launched this fund without much fanfare and a simple e-mail but by holding this summit everyone involved and invited – which included artists and organisations from across Canada – helped shape how the fund is used. One way to think about the summit was that it was a large survey from a diverse range of people about what their needs are. It is often that artists lower in the hierarchy feel that their needs are overlooked in favour of the large galleries.

What I took away from this experience was that digital technology can have a profound effect on our community but that we must shape it and not let it dictate us. There’s no doubt that the summit was put on at great expense but I would definitely like to see something happen in the UK, even if not focused purely on digital and art, which puts diverse artists and organisations at all levels in one physical location at the same time to discuss the issues that are important to them.

Live stream of the summit here.

 

Artist, curator and New Art West Midlands Advisory Group member Antonio Roberts was invited to speak at The Arts in a Digital World Summit in Montreal, Canada in March. Here he reflects on the possibilities and limitations of digital platforms for the arts, particularly in terms of the diversity of our creative communities.

Robert Rauschenberg, Untitled (Spread), 1983. Solvent transfer and acrylic on wood panel, with umbrellas, 188.6 x 245.7 x 88.9 cm. © Robert Rauschenberg Foundation, New York

Kurt Hickson was awarded a Micro Bursary to undertake two research trips to London, visiting several exhibitions including Painters’ Painters at Saatchi Gallery, which ran from 30 November 2016 – 22 March 2017 and Robert Rauschenberg at Tate Modern, which ran from 1 December 2016 – 2 April 2017.

 

Dexter Dalwood, Kurt Cobain’s Greenhouse, 2000, Painters’ Painters, Saatchi Gallery. Dexter Dalwood/Saatchi Gallery, London

 

Tuesday 28 February 2017

To his credit Charles Saatchi has continued to advocate painting despite its steady decline over recent years. Painters’ Painters at Saatchi Gallery was an exhibition that continued to challenge modern conceptions about the oldest form of image making. The show featured nine international artists of varying ages and stages in their careers. Each with their own gallery space, there were nine distinct approaches to the medium.

The high point of the exhibition for me was the collage-like paintings of David Salle; The Neo-Expressionist being an old college favourite of mine with several good examples of his work on show here. Other highlights included Dexter Dalwood’s painting Kurt Cobain’s Greenhouse (2000), the quirky mix of works by Richard Aldrich and the humorous paintings of Ansel Krut and Martin Maloney.

It could be argued that Painters’ Painters didn’t really live up to the title of the show and neither did it form a complete picture of painting at present (there were no female artists, no pure abstract works and some paintings were nearly thirty years old). The picture the exhibition did paint, however, was a fun one. It was an exhibition that managed to emphasise painting’s basic fundamental elements without taking itself too seriously. It celebrated painting without the need to declare that ‘painting’s back’. Painters’ Painters at Saatchi Gallery was an amusing and entertaining show, that succeeded in emphasising the inherent pleasure of putting paint to canvas; something that I imagine has inspired thousands of art students who visited to do just that.

During the day I managed to take in several other shows including Luiz Zerbini at Stephen Friedman Gallery – the Brazilian painter being someone I’ve admired for a while but this being the first time I’d seen multiple works of his together; Gavin Turk’s Who What When Where How & Why at Newport Street Gallery, which goes without saying had a good old school Brit Art vibe about it; and Monochrome at Ordovas Gallery, a show that looked at the purity and clarity of the use of a single colour – white featuring a single work by five artists including Richard Serra and Barbara Hepworth. I also made it to the Maria Lassnig: A Painting Survey PV at Hauser & Wirth on the evening for a few beers and a look at the Austrian artist’s evolution from experimental abstract painter to figurative painter.

Robert Rauschenberg, Untitled (Spread), 1983. Solvent transfer and acrylic on wood panel, with umbrellas, 188.6 x 245.7 x 88.9 cm. © Robert Rauschenberg Foundation, New York

Saturday 1 April 2017

The second part of my Micro Bursary was used to visit the major Robert Rauschenberg retrospective at Tate Modern. As an artist with a strong interest in process and materiality myself, it was great to see the physical quality of Rauschenberg’s use of non-traditional materials and ‘found objects’ up close. From his pop art silkscreen paintings, to his glossy black monochromes; his ‘combines’ through to the formation of Experiments in Art and Technology (E.A.T.); Rauschenberg for me was the ultimate painter-maker.

The show was made up of eleven rooms in a loose chronological order, each presenting a particular shift in direction or technique during the artists six-decade long career. Through a remarkable range of media including painting, digital printing, sculpture, performance, electronics and photography his endless curiosity into all forms of art-making and his constant quest for innovation was plain to see. Several key works were on display, including the stuffed Angora goat, the silkscreen prints of Kennedy and the infamous Erased de Kooning Drawing (1953).

It was the last weekend of the show when I visited and so it was annoyingly busy.  The security guards and gallery assistants were on high alert and on a serious crack-down against touchers and secret copy-right infringing snappers. I was embarrassingly caught several times in the later case. Interestingly whilst looking at Bed (1955), a work I’d seen at MoMA a few years earlier, I noticed a small moth crawling around on the inside of its protective Perspex case.  I informed a guard that was walking by, telling them that they might want to notify someone and have it removed as moths eat quilts and bed sheets.  However, I was told that “It was probably meant to be there … that it was just part of the artwork … and that it would probably die soon”. Clever guy this Rauschenberg.

Before the day was out I managed to head over to FOLD Gallery to check out the Valérie Kolakis show Done With Objects Because Things Take Place, an interesting and somewhat inspiring exhibition of mainly sculptural works that were either made up of or hint at everyday objects.  The use of materials and objects found here in Kolakis’ work echoing Rauschenberg’s own exploration into art production.

Valérie Kolakis, DONE WITH OBJECTS BECAUSE THINGS TAKE PLACE, installation view at FOLD Gallery.


Conclusion

The first half of the bursary was used to engage with several pure painting shows, something that is a rarity within the West Midlands. With multiple exhibitions showcasing a broad range of strong contemporary work, I took away a feeling that despite the odds, painting is still very much alive and kicking in the capital. The second part of the bursary gave me the opportunity to rediscover an artist that constantly broke with conventions. An artist that reminds us all of the joy of working with what’s readily available, questioning, but also reinforcing the possibilities of art-making today.

Kurt Hickson was awarded a Micro Bursary to undertake two research trips to London, visiting several exhibitions including Painters’ Painters at Saatchi Gallery and Tate Modern’s Robert Rauschenberg retrospective.

Jessica Warboys, Sea Painting, Dunwich, 2014. For AV Festival at Laing Gallery, Newcastle. Copyright the artist, 2015. Courtesy the artist and Gaudel de Stampa, Paris.

Mark Essen reports on the recently reopened Tate St.Ives. A recipient of an Engine micro-bursary, Mark wished to visit to visit galleries in the Cornwall area for professional development and attend a group show in which he was exhibiting.

Closed for extended refurbishment since October 2015, the opening of Tate St. Ives has been much anticipated. The gallery opens with two exhibitions which explore the history of artists working in the area. An exhibition of work by Jessica Warboys, an artist who uses nature in a raw, unprocessed state has produced a new series of sea paintings. These works are made by the transference of minerals from the sea at Zennor directly onto the canvas.

That Continuous Thing: Artists and the Ceramics Studio, 1920 – Today traces the changing shape of the ceramics over the last 100 years. The show brings to attention the early considerations of British Studio Pottery into the realm of fine art. The exhibition’s introduction gathers together works by Bernard Leach and Shoji Hamada who were based in St. Ives in the 1920s. Leach was pioneer in British Ceramics, bringing eastern philosophy and aesthetics to his St.Ives Studio.


The exhibition continues with contemporary ceramicist Jesse Wine, curating a room by placing his own work alongside American artists such as Peter Voulkos, Ken Price and Ron Nagle. Similarly Aaron Angell has curated a room in which he explores studio pottery with his own Troy Town studio based in London. It is in this part of the show that I was invited to show work I had made at Troy Town in 2016. Angell delves deeper into the history of ceramics, placing works from the 400-200 BC Italy and 12th century England next to contemporary works. The placement of these objects encourages an endless curiosity; it manages to deconstructed the progression of time to our fascination with objects. It is an example of how our relationship with handmade clay objects can relate to those that lived before us. There’s little difference between the historical works and some of the contemporary works. It’s an expansive range of works from around 30 artists with over 60 works placed on handmade arts and crafts style tables in the gallery.

The cycle of the artist studio is prevalent in the practice of any creative output. Reciprocating between the input of people turned by ideas of a material and distinguished by the output of the phenomenon. It can also be a reflection of historical economics of a vernacular which flows into a philosophy and aesthetic. The very bold and bright works in the room curated by Wine reflects 1960’s America. A contrast with the 12th centenary head. Throughout the whole show each work functions as interlocutor. This exhibition explores the speciality of a relationship between artist and a material, clay is nothing but it can be everything.

That Continuous Thing: Artists and the Ceramics Studio, 1920 – Today features the work of Bernard Leach and Shoji Hamada, Peter Voulkos, Ken Price, Rudy Autio, Ron Nagle and Jesse Wine.

Artists showing part of Troy Town: Aaron Angell, Alex Frost, Allison Katz, Andrew Munks, Anthea Hamilton, Colin Self, Denise Wren, Emily McCartan, Gillian Lowndes, Hannah Regel, Hubert Dalwood, Ian Law, Isabel Mallet, Jess Flood-Paddock, Jill Crowley, Mark Essen, Matthew Peers, Matthew Smith,Mo Jupp, Nicolas Deshayes, Richard Slee, Rose De Borman, Samuelle Nicole, Sophie Von Hellermann, Tom Salt, Town Gas Group (Toyin Olubamiwo, Cynthia Waithaka, Christina Marshall), Unknown maker 12th century, Nottingham, Unknown maker 400-200 BCE, Veii (near Rome), Viola Relle & Raphael Weilguni, Will Robinson.

Mark Essen reports on the recently reopened Tate St.Ives. A recipient of an Engine micro-bursary, Mark wished to visit to visit galleries and studios in the Cornwall area for professional development and attend a group show in which he was exhibiting.

Day three of the fifth year of Art Basel Hong Kong saw me preparing for a talk I was to give at the K11 art space, across the bay in Kowloon, close to the site where the M+ ‘mega-museum’ of contemporary art and visual culture has been gestating for a number of years already. Both Art Basel Hong Kong (founded in 2013) and M+ testify to the significance of the territory now within the global contemporary art world.  On the one hand, it is the third most important centre for art market activity after New York and London; on the other, Hong Kong is both bridge and border between the west and the People’s Republic of China, although as a Special Administrative Region, Hong Kong is now in a volatile process of partial assimilation to mainland China and its government by the Chinese Communist Party. As such, the SAR territory is a key barometer in the global politics and geo-political economy of contemporary art and culture. This system or ecology as a whole has expanded from its traditional sites of authority and validation in Europe and the USA into many ‘emerging’ centres of production and dissemination in Asia and South America (though its flourishing in Africa has yet to occur).

Does the binary opposition of ‘centre and periphery’ still offer to describe adequately the distribution of economic power and aesthetic creativity within the global contemporary art world? Did it ever? In many ways the same question might be asked of the relations between London and the Midlands, and the place of New Art West Midlands in the British sector of the art world. While the art market and the financial value of art activity remains, fetishistically, at the centre of the media’s interest in contemporary art, all other players have always seen a much broader significance in the meaning and purpose of art and its making with modern culture. The geographical relationship between ‘centre’ and ‘periphery’ has always been dialectical and interactive; the latter, within avant-garde art in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century art, offering to usurp the former – as the key examples of Pissarro, Gauguin, Cezanne and Picasso attest. In the SAR the specificities of local production within the dynamics of the city’s relationship with Beijing, with New York, or Sydney are clear to see in the layout of galleries and artists represented at Art Basel Hong Kong, as the territory assumes its own powerful centrality in the Asian art world and increasingly interacts dialectically with Europe and the USA.

The biggest shift necessary is, then, a conceptual and evaluative one – without, however, minimising the difficulties of making a living as an artist, when all the British cities outside London are dwarfed by the cultural economy of the capital. The developmental significance of the STEAMhouse project in Birmingham  – bringing start-up companies and entrepreneurial innovation within creative industries businesses to the city – lies in its partnership with Arts Council England funded projects such as New Art West Midlands, in the same way that Art Basel Hong Kong works with the government of the SAR and its myriad independent cultural partners, such as Asia Art Archive and Videotage, a documentary film collective that has been active recording societal transformation here since the 1980s. These relationships – patronal, economic, cultural and creative – are at the centre of my new book, published by Blackwell, that is the focus for my talk today at K11: The Global Contemporary Art World. Hong Kong and Birmingham both feature in it, and are themselves an interconnected and dynamic part of this world.

Jonathan Harris, Head of Birmingham School of Art, March 2017

 

 

Jonathan Harris, Head of Birmingham School of Art, reflects on the geo-political contexts of Birmingham and Hong Kong

Image courtesy Mark Murphy

Artist and designer Mark Murphy reflects on his recent trip to New York and the significance one special site in particular has had on his thinking and the development of his practice.

Image courtesy Mark Murphy

In January 2017, I made my first trip across the Atlantic, a fact that surprises a lot of friends I tell … ‘What, you’ve never been before?’

Before heading south towards sunshine in Mexico and Cuba I spent 8 days in New York City. The impact so many cultural works produced in this city have made on me (as an artist, designer and musician) is enormous, yet this has always been from a distance.

Despite the cold, (it gets so cold) I was enamoured by the frenetic energy of New York. Like so many before me, I felt like I knew the city or at least, that the city knew it had inspired me.

Late in the afternoon of my second full day, after witnessing a beautiful sunset from the deserted boardwalk of Coney Island, I decided to make a little art pilgrimage ‘uptown’ to sit in a particular place in a particular subway station.

To the naked eye, my destination – a worn out, litter-strewn wooden bench at the far end of a station platform in the Bronx – doesn’t amount to much but for me its historic and cultural importance has great significance.

Image courtesy Mark Murphy

I can pinpoint my initial connection with letterforms and colour in combination, and the endless possibilities this held, to first seeing a book of photographs of New York graffiti art by Martha Cooper and Henry Chalfant. It was called ‘Subway Art’.

I was 11 or 12. It blew my mind.

I’ll hazard a guess that ‘Subway Art’ was the most borrowed book in my school’s library for a time, its full colour plates diligently pored over in wonder, its spine split, the pages creased and worn by use.

Whilst I’m not a graffiti writer, (a dalliance in my young teens but nothing significant) this interest propelled me towards studying art and design, then art school and ultimately a creative career.

Since graduating I’ve worked as a graphic designer, starting my own independent studio, Surely, in 2002. Alongside client work where I use letterforms and colour, daily, I take a lot of photographs, make music and sometimes lecture. In recent years, in reaction to copious hours of screen time, I’ve also been developing my calligraphic skills and making hand cut paper collages, using found print drawn from the last 70 years. Sampling perhaps but with images rather than sound.

The first wave of paintings documented in ‘Subway Art’ (ephemeral in nature, existing now only on film and in photographs), spawned a global artform that, after years of criminalisation, stepped into the mainstream. This created bridges that have led to many developments including an evolving worldwide street art movement and artists of global renown like Banksy and Shepherd Fairey. It has also left an ongoing and undeniable mark on the fields of fashion, music (sleeve art/video), graphic design and typography.

Image courtesy Mark Murphy

It felt good to visit 149 St. Grand Concourse, the Bronx, to sit in that station, on ‘the Writer’s Bench’ for a little while. This dusty bench is a rare remnant of a scene, now passed. A scene that in some ways helped lead me to do what I do, to see things the way I see them.

The same station is also home to a (now damaged) plaque, mounted in 2008 by Erik Burke as a mark of respect, but further research highlights that Erik’s plaque is actually on the wrong bench on the wrong platform.

‘Throughout the late 70s and 80s graffiti writers from all over the city congregated at a bench located at the back of the uptown platform. They came to meet, make plans, sign black books and settle disputes. The main activity was watching art on the passing trains (known as benching). The writers would admire and criticize the latest paintings.

This station was an ideal location for a writer’s bench for several reasons. It was a station where the 2 and 5 lines converged. The 2 and 5 lines featured some of the most artistic works in the city. The fact that many lay-ups and train yards for the 2s and 5s were located in both the Bronx and Brooklyn made creativity on these lines extremely competitive. An overpass connecting the uptown and downtown platforms was an ideal vantage point from which to view the passing trains.’ 

www.at149st.com

I have massive respect for all those crazy talents that took it upon themselves to share their art with New York and, subsequently, the world.

Creativity as a condition, once in your bones, rarely lets you go. These young men and women risked violence, arrest and 3rd rail electrocution to make their creative mark on their environment, and in some cases pushed letterforms to their known limits and beyond. Driven enough to take these risks, I doubt they would ever have foreseen the legacy and impact they would make, on the creative world and on individuals like me. This legacy is still alive and constantly evolving.

This short but significant journey and moment of contemplation, to pay homage and acknowledge my respect, felt essential somehow. I was, after all, in the same city … at last. ✊🏻

further watching … here

surely.uk.com
markmurph.co.uk

@mark_moif
@moif_collage

 

Artist and designer Mark Murphy reflects on his recent trip to New York and the significance one special site has had on his practice.

Jenny Duffin, a creative producer and recent recipient of a New Art West Midlands Micro Bursary, visited Manchester on a research trip in November. Here, she reports back from the two conferences attended, Make:Shift and Maker Assembly.

 

Richard Hutten’s Playing with Tradition

 

I went to Manchester in November to attend two events, Make:Shift, a two-day conference run by the Crafts Council, and Maker Assembly, held at MadLab, Manchester’s Fablab/Makerspace.

This trip was the first ‘official’ step I took towards the planning of a new ‘festival of making’ in Birmingham. The ideas I’ve had for this have been evolving for 2-3 years and I’m finally saying it out loud to more people. I plan to put in a mini Grants for the Arts bid to research and develop the concept, with the hope to plan the first festival for Autumn 2018.

Thursday 10 November
Day 1 Make:Shift

I arrived on Thursday morning at Manchester Piccadilly and headed over to the Museum of Science and Industry where the Make:Shift conference was held. It was well signed and there were volunteers waiting in the main entrance to direct us to the top floor where the event was held. There was an open plan room with the registration table, tea, coffee and lots of people chatting. I was handed a bright yellow tote bag with all the conference info and away I went to find a cuppa. I’ve travelled alone a fair bit, and gone to many ‘networking’ type events alone, but doing both was somehow different! I managed to find someone else who had come alone as well and by the time we’d done introductions and shared which sessions we were thinking of attending, it was time to go in to the opening talks …

 

Opening

The opening speeches were in the ‘speaker space’. There was a welcome by Rosy Greenlees, and keynote speeches by Annie Warburton, Creative Director of Crafts Council, and Mark Miodownik.

Mark spoke about the TV series he co-presented ‘Chef vs Science: The Ultimate Kitchen Challenge’ and showed a clip from the series. He said that the chef he worked with, Marcus Wareing said cooking was all about ‘love, care and understanding’ and Mark challenged the concept that science wasn’t those things. Mark spoke about how mankind had always had a skill for finding new methods in making, for instance blacksmiths always knew that they had to beat metal, however only fairly recently did we have the knowledge and understanding for how that works and why that is.

Mark spoke about living materials vs non-living materials and how perhaps we could manipulate non-living for the future to become more ‘living’, using the example of self-healing concrete. He questioned whether having structural materials like this, that didn’t need human intervention to repair, meant that the ‘love care and understanding’ would be lost. But he said he thought we would become more like ‘gardeners’ for roads, guiding the self-healing.

Session 1: Parallel Practices: Learning Through Making

Chaired by Lucy Sollitt, with John Grayson, Shelley James, Riccardo Sapienza (Matthew Howard was absent)

This was an interesting conversational talk about a project at Wheatstone Lab, Kings College London (see a video about the project here). The lab-residency type project was all about bringing together people from different practices and creating a space for students to explore materials and techniques through collaborative practice. Students made automata incorporating their new found combined knowledge of glass, mechanics, and electronics.

Session 2: Augmented Bodies and Prosthetic Devices

Chaired by Andrew Sleigh, with Hannah Perner-Wilson, Graham Pullin and Mika Satomi.

Graham talked about Hands of X and customising and personalising prosthetics. He talked about ‘Materials for imitation’ vs ‘materials for wearing’ and said Hands of X took inspiration from personalised manufacture like Cubitts eyewear. He also wrote this book on design and disability.

Hannah Perner-Wilson works a lot with tools and wanted to look into how tools become an extension of the body. She had prototyped a few different ways of wearing her tools on a semi-permanent basis, such as an apron-style dress, which you could wear out in public as well as in the studio, so you never apart from your tools. Her ideas developed into a rucksack which unrolled into a wall-hung tool pouch.

Mika Satomi spoke about the difference between prosthetics being very subtle and undetectable to the untrained eye, and them being used as a method of expression. She talked about exploring the idea of having chameleon-like skin on a prosthetic arm, and how this combines the two approaches in an adaptable skin. Using liquid crystal ink, which changes colour with heat, and puff print in which the printed areas puff up so they’re raised. She spoke about the uncanny valley too, questioning at what point does something start looking too close to human.

Front’s Blow Away vase

Break – Handling Session

There was a room set aside with items from the Crafts Council collection during the break. I MAY have gone back 3 times…

It was really reassuring as I already knew of a few of the makers and had noted them as avenues to explore further.

My faves:
Richard Hutten’s Playing with Tradition which reminded me of similar work by Faig Ahmed
Michael Eden’s GSOH 3D printed ceramics
Front’s Blow Away vase which reminded me of Livia Marin
Tom Mallinson’s Digits2Widgets 3D printed textiles

Session 3: Sustainability
Speakers: Lucy Siegle, Maurizio Montalti, Nat Hunter, Kathryn Fleming

I seemed to take really minimal notes from this, but I left with a refreshed feeling that I must find a way of helping the planet, and have been far more thoroughly recycling since …

Lucy Siegle started with the big picture – we are all consumers whether we like it or not. Apparently the biggest polluter, behind oil, is fashion as the production of textiles is very polluting. She recommended a film called The True Cost.

Maurizio Montalti works with fungi to create solid materials. He creates incredible things called bio bricks which are made from grown organisms, as well as mushroom leather.

Nat Hunter talked about Machines Room and about ‘design for recycling’ – thinking about the end life of a product before it begins. She spoke about learned helplessness, how we have been trained to think we need to rely on others to manufacture. She has big ideas about Fab Cities and talked about localising manufacture. Production used to be in the hands of those who had the tools but this is changing. At Machines Room they developed an injection moulder that can use recycled plastic bottles. She talked about bringing manufacture back to the local, for example Open Desk where designs can be downloaded and then pieces can be cut in a workshop near to where you are ordering the furniture from, rather than buying furniture that then has to be shipped a long distance. She also looked at how to reduce waste wood from this process – using the pieces of wood left behind from cutting the shapes out.

Kathryn Fleming gave one of my favourite talks; she’s so inspired by nature. There’s a type of antelope in high mountains that has the most efficient fur coat, really fine but really insulating. Birds of paradise don’t have pigment in their bright feathers, it’s all in the structure. Grolar bears exist, due to polar bears moving due to warmer temperatures. There are equivalent genes in all animals for making eyes or for making ‘body’. Can we help animals evolve sustainably? To adapt with the environment that humans are creating?

Kathryn used some powerful phrases such as ‘Future Craft: Born from culture, built for purpose, daringly simple.’ The word Anthropocene was also a word mentioned almost as much as ‘makerspaces’ over the 3 days. She also spoke about how Adidas have launched a line of shoes made from ocean plastic.

Friday 11 November
Day 2 Make: Shift

 

Session 1 Maker Breakfast – Introduced by Jonathan Rowley

Richard Arm spoke about ‘As real as it gets’. He A research fellow at Nottingham Trent University and developed a silicon body, with removable organs, for use practicing surgery.

Les Bicknell is a self-declared book artist. He questions everything – ‘is this a book?’ This was a fascinating way of analysing definitions and structures.

Aniela Hoitink started with the comment ‘this is what I do, but I don’t know who I am’ which I quite liked. Why do we design clothes that last at least 40 years when we only wear them for a year or a season? She looked into natural materials and those that are quickly biodegradable. Mycelium is made from fungi and she worked with Maurizio who spoke prior. Aniela looked at using technology with fashion and at externalising internal systems such as a heartbeat.

Ann Marie Shillito has developed really user friendly software for people to design their own 3D printed jewellery and has worked in collaboration with software developers.

Caroline Yan Zheng talked about extimacy – externalising emotions. She looked at how this might help mental health and has created cool jewellery-like devices.

Hideki Yoshimoto owns Tangent which brings design and technology together. Inako (rice fields) is the title of glowing poles that sway as you move past them. Tangent develops fine art but is making it available on a household level. Kiko (bubble) are bubbling coffee tables and individual candles.


Session 2: Keynote

Caroline Till of FranklinTill mentioned a lot of really interesting stuff such as Viewpoint magazine and secret sensory suppers. She spoke about how if we look differently at both production and materials, that’s how we can have a maker revolution. A brilliant example of looking at byproducts and so-called waste is Merdacotta, new material made from cow poop! Museo della merda. There’s even a museum. Caroline talked about ‘Unmaking’ – looking at how we unmake all the things we make and can’t dispose of responsibly. She also mentioned Madame Jeanette, a print on demand magazine. She looked at different ways of manufacture and production to reduce waste. Ikea’s space 10 project looks at sustainable design.

Session 3: Two and Three Dimensional Fabrics

Mark Beecroft looked into 3D printed knitting and how different stitch designs react differently when made in 3D printed materials.

Jane Scott explored fibres and how they react to moisture. Pine cones close up when wet and open out when dry. They do this once off the tree so it must be on a structural level. Jane looked into this and applied to fibre structure to her own woven fabrics.

Oluwaseyi Sosanya spoke about weaving in 3D and about how the method can be transferred to industry.

Session 4: Making Meanings: The Cultural Roles of Makerspaces
Daniel Charny and Hannah Fox

There were interesting discussions about community impact from Makerspaces. Hannah Fox from Derby Silk Mill is creating a ‘museum of making’ where the community builds what the space will become. Sounds ace.


Conclusion

A few closing thoughts:

Making new tech human
Amateur vs professional
Value and values
Collaborating with the old and new


The End

I left the conference with a head full of ideas. It finished at 3pm so I headed across town to visit the Manchester Centre for Craft and Design. It was a fascinating space and used to be a Victorian fish and poultry market building. On the ground floor was a small café with an amazing cake range and a gallery space showing ‘heated exchanges’ a collection of contemporary glassware. There were a number of shops doubling up as studio spaces throughout the ground and first floor; some were shared between a few artists and others were solely owned.

 

Saturday 12 November
Maker Assembly

I started the day with fancy breakfast at Ezra and Gil.

The event was at Madlab which is nestled in the Northern Quarter, really near to the Manchester Centre for Craft and Design.

When I arrived I met a few people by chance from DoES Liverpool, another Makerspace. When I mentioned I was from Birmingham they immediately mentioned the names of 2 people I already knew well through BOM and generally the Birmingham art and tech network. Small world!

Session 1: Learning from International Making Cultures

Liz Corbin chaired a panel with Justyna Swat (POC21 Paris), David Li (Shenzen) and Craig Dunlop (Cape Town).

Justyna spoke about POC21, where her and a team built a ‘village’ on castle grounds in a rural area near to Paris. They created a space where they built a community from the ground up and developed a series of ideas surrounding climate change and innovation in making towards this cause.

David
 Li spoke about the Shenzhen community and what life is like there.

Craig Dunlop created an amazing space in Capetown, kind of by accident. He created an open workshop that developed into a place supporting those unemployed people into employment through the power of making. He matched up employment skills with making skills such as trust and soldering.

Session 2: Making and Humanitarian Relief

Laura James spoke about Humanitarian Makers, who use small-scale, local production to solve humanitarian problems. An example she spoke of was the sterile clips that midwives use to cut umbilical cords. Midwives provided with a certain amount of the clips after an earthquake in the region they were working in. The next best option was to use the finger of a sterile glove which were also in short supply. This is less than ideal, so the organisation 3D printed these clips. The approach of Humanitarian Makers is to identify local problems and solve them with simple production – training up locals with the equipment and then leaving it behind when they leave the area.

The idea of re-localising manufacture was spoken about a lot during the 3 days, which is interesting as it almost seems to backwards in terms of a wider idea of progress.

Session 3: Making and Manufacture

James Tooze chairs panel discussion with Ruth Claxton (woop woop the Brum gang) Adrian McEwan, Paul Sohi and Alon Meron

Alon Meron spoke about one to one solutions and multiplying that approach. He works to put together the public – people with design needs, and designers/makers. An example he used was working with a stroke sufferer, who needed a device to help them put on their trousers.

Ruth Claxton spoke about Workshop Birmingham, Make Works and Production Space and how the linked-up-ness of artists/makers and those with the tools and skills, was an interesting journey.

Adrian McEwan talked about the internet of things. Powering devices with data, for example a twitterbot that can detect when a certain phrase is used and blow bubbles.

Paul Sohi – I didn’t write anything down. Sorry, Paul, you must have been too charismatic. Or I had a caffeine lull.

Session 4: The Role of Making in a Wider Civic Infrastructure

Laura Billing ‘The Open Works was an experimental project aimed at creating new ways that Lambeth Council can work with residents to develop a sustainable future for West Norwood: socially, economically and environmentally. It ran for 12 months between February 2014 – February 2015.’

Observations and Learnings Overall

Making really is considered to be wide within this context. Though I was a little surprised at the lack of mention of ‘traditional’ ceramics, glass, textiles, metalwork. But that’s good. That’s one of the things I want to explore – the depth and breadth of making.

Collaboration is key and something I’m a big fan of. There was a lot of talk about collaboration between mindsets/skillsets and how, actually, engineers, scientists, crafters and makers are quite similar in the way they approach things. They just have different skills, methods, and different areas of knowledge.

Localisation as supposed to globalisation. Something mentioned frequently was how we look at manufacture and production, and how perhaps Western society should rethink how we look at manufacture. Concepts such as OpenDesk seemed very popular, where furniture designs are kept online and then downloaded locally, with pieces being cut for the furniture in ‘local’ workshops.

Reverting to ‘the olden days’ but with new technologies and awareness. As above, reverting to some old ways of living seemed to be a common thread. Taking elements of the past, small community production and trading but combining these with the powers of technology.

Design for different purposes and functionalities. This seems pretty obvious but it was highlighted quite a lot during the 3 days. Design for problem solving, design for disguise, design for imitation, design for empathy … so many purposes and ways of approaching questions, problems or themes.

Final Thought

One final thought/rant about makers/making. Making is great. That was very clear from the 3 days and it was so great to feel like a part of the ‘making’ community, surrounded by so many people who loved making as much as I do. It made me think about people I know, and humanity in general. Is everyone a maker? What makes a maker? If you’re not a maker, what are you?

 

Creative Producer Jenny Duffin reports back from Make:Shift and Maker Assembly in Manchester. Her research was funded by a Micro Bursary.

Duncan Poulton - No Body (2015), 'Semi-Self Reflections' screening at Rockelmann &, Berlin

Artist Duncan Poulton reflects on his recent research visit to Transmediale, a festival of digital art, culture and technology, and fringe events that took place in Berlin, 2 February – 5 March 2017.

His visit was part funded by the New Art West Midlands Engine Micro Bursary scheme.

 

Duncan Poulton – No Body (2015), ‘Semi-Self Reflections’ screening at Rockelmann &, Berlin

In February I visited Berlin during the Transmediale festival of digital art, culture and technology after being invited to screen some of my video work by independent curators Alexine Rodenhuis and Kat Rickard. The screening was entitled Semi-Self Reflections and was held at Rockelmann & gallery as part of Transmediale’s Vorspiel programme of events. The programme, which explored digitally mediated bodies, identities and avatars, displayed a number of artists working around a zeitgeist of uncertainty, post-production and appropriation including Elliott Dodd, Puck Verkade and Samuel Walker.

At Transmediale I was able to see a number of talks, presentations and discussions, the best of which was a talk entitled ‘On the Origins of Androids’. This was a series of presentations by artists Floris Kaayk and Koert van Mensvoort which playfully examined the limits of what is accepted as (post- and trans-) human, framed by propositions and parables by technology philosopher Peter-Paul Verbeek. In turns fascinating, morbid and entertaining, the speakers discussed their projects for viral social media which were designed to deceive the viewer by feeding them CGI animated science-fiction and presenting it as New Scientist clickbait. Presenting these spoof projects – learning to fly with prosthetic Icarus wings or the 3D-printed organism with reconfigurable body parts – became a way to tangibly measure the limits of new technologies, their ethical limits and public gullibility. In closing Van Mensvoort explained a diagram which depicted how technologies progress from unimaginable to invisible to naturalised, and spoke of present day Western humanity as essentially cyborg; so immersed in and reliant upon technology that we are “like a fish that does not know that it is wet”.

Alan Warburton – Primitives, Installation view at HAU 2, Berlin

Prove You Are Nonhuman’, another Transmediale panel talk, saw a variety of speakers touching upon the growing phenomena of anthropomorphised technology and the simultaneous dehumanisation of mankind. The subject matter of presentations ranged from musings on how big data will replace psychology and other sciences, to E-waste dumps in developing countries and the 18th century astronomer Franz von Gruithuisen, who mistook rough terrain on the moon for a cityscape resembling the suburbs in which he lived. Elsewhere I visited HAU 2, a venue which was part of Transmediale’s partner festival CTM. On show was a new 3-channel digital video work by London-based artist Alan Warburton. Using crowd simulation software normally utilised by Hollywood blockbuster VFX teams, Warburton’s immersive work presented an infinite expanse of homogeneous figures in a perpetual series of exercises, configurations or drills which questioned the agency of simulated beings.

‘alien matter’ exhibition, Transmediale, Berlin

Transmediale’s exhibition alien matter featured a number of artists I admire including Mark Leckey, Constant Dullart, Morehshin Allahyari and Daniel Rourke. Imaginatively installed, the show included a giant chroma-green corridor, a video prophesy of a future governed by an Artificial Intelligence system (voiced by an adorable virtual kitten) and Leckey’s GreenScreenRefrigeratorAction, in which the artist performs technological ventriloquism with a smart fridge, giving it voice in an existential monologue. Many of the works in alien matter were in some way interactive, most notably Allahyari and Rourke’s 3D Additivist Cookbook. An interactive PDF which hosts a spectrum of disruptive, inventive digital artworks and critical/theoretical texts, the cookbook details some of the most interesting projects in recent years and is free to download. The 3D Additivist Manifesto, a video-call-to-arms the duo made in 2015, was influential in the formulation of my recent video work Pygmalion that was screened in Semi-Self Reflections, and which will be showing in No Copyright Infringement Intended, a group exhibition at Phoenix Leicester curated by Antonio Roberts.

Omer Fast – 5000 Feet is the Best, Installation view, Martin-Gropius-Bau, Berlin

Outside of Transmediale I visited a number of other exhibitions and museums, most notably a retrospective of the video artist Omer Fast at Martin-Gropius-Bau. Impressive in scale and ambition, the show housed 7 moving-image works from early video-collage CNN Concatenated (2002) to the 3D film August (2016) and multi-channel video Spring (2016). Dark cinematic spaces with large projections were interspersed with ‘waiting rooms’ which had been fabricated to appear like airport terminals and hospital waiting areas, complete with magazines, litter, posters and other ephemera. Even the exhibition handout was laid out in the style of a garish gossip magazine, with shocking headlines and exclusive interviews which further complicated the intricate layering of fantasy, role-play and unreality in Fast’s work.

Transmediale is a weird and wonderful thing; it is important that these festivals exist, and that artists get the opportunity to visit them to have their thoughts and assumptions about their practice disrupted, challenged and reimagined. Whether you want to speculate on technology as the saving grace of creativity and mankind, or dwell on digital premonitions of a dystopian future (present?), I strongly recommend a visit to Transmediale.

www.duncanpoulton.com

 

Duncan Poulton reflects on his recent research visit to Transmediale festival in Berlin. His visit was part funded by the New Art West Midlands Engine Micro Bursary scheme.

Leah Carless, an artist based in Smethwick with a space at Birmingham’s Studio Capri, reflects on her recent research trip to Aarhus, Denmark, part funded by the New Art West Midlands Engine Micro Bursary scheme.

The Micro Bursary I received from New Art West Midlands enabled me to spend additional time in Aarhus in December 2016 in the lead up to a group exhibition I’m Every Woman. The exhibition ran 8-22 December 2016 at KH7 artspace. During this period I was able to spend time testing ideas, making new work, installing an exhibition and meeting artists and curators based in Aarhus. 

I arrived in Aarhus on Friday 2 December around 3pm. The first thing I noticed was how low the sun hangs in the sky. It’s on the same latitude as Edinburgh but there is a beautiful deep orange glow everywhere and it seems to touch everything around. The airport is tiny considering Aarhus is Denmark’s second largest city. Immediately I was struck by how everything seems to move much slower here – the commuters out of the airport, the airport transfer bus to the city. I later find out that there is currently a lot of debate about the airport and how it doesn’t really serve the city as needed. There is a ferry that links the city to Copenhagen and most use this as a means of transport. Aarhus has one of the largest ports in Northern Europe and the industry surrounding the port spreads across most of the city’s coast – one end the container bases and the ferry port at the other in the new development area.

KH7 artspace
KH7 artspace is a former factory building on the industrial side of the port. Most of the factories are in use and in this sense there seems to be a lot in common with Birmingham. The building is huge – three floors in total. The first two floors are studios and the top floor is KH7’s gallery. There is a large communal kitchen area. The studios are very clean. The spaces are so different to my experience of studios. They are more private, as each studio is located off a corridor and has a locking door. Some artists share, some have an entire studio to themselves. I was interested to find out how artists make their work as there seemed to be little equipment in the studio areas. I found that most of the manufacturing of works is done at a place called Godsbanen in the workshops. On the website it is described as a ‘centre of cultural production’ – one of its functions is to provide facilities for artists to make work out of a variety of materials including metal, wood and ceramics.  I was told that this is an affordable way to make work and how most artists produce work in Aarhus.

KH7 is the only artist run space in the city. There was a lot of excitement when I arrived as KH7 had just received their first grant for 2017. The artists hope to use this funding to cover exhibiting artist fees and travel to enable more international artists to exhibit in Aarhus. The gallery space is currently run by the studio artists. Money is generated by studio rent and each artist is given a slot in the gallery for their own use to test ideas, to invite other artists to exhibit and to work with the community or for educational purposes. It will be really interesting to see how the space develops next year with the new funding package.

People
The artists I am exhibited with are Mette Boel (DK), Nat Bloch-Gregersen (DK), Janina Lange (DE) and Matilde Mørk (DK). I got to spend time with all of the artists during my trip.

Nat and I spent a lot of time discussing our individual practices and found there were lots of overlaps in the materials we were using.  Nat has also just completed her MA this year so I found out a little bit about the differences and similarities between the UK and Denmark from that perspective. Nat studied at the Kunstakademi in Aarhus and I was really interested to find out that this is the first year that people have decided to stay on in Aarhus, not make the move to Copenhagen as in previous years.

As a group we had many interesting discussions about the show and all of the decisions that were made in the run up to the exhibition were made collectively.

I also met Matilde, who is a final year student at Kunstakademi. She has a fascinating practice and is very interested in gestural dance as a means of communication beyond speech. We shared some interesting discussions on the role of feminism within the exhibition we were working on, as well as in a wider cultural context.

During the entire week I worked very closely with Mette, who had invited me to be part of the exhibition. We had many conversations about the large scale installation she exhibited, about the curating of the show and the ideas behind it. This relationship continues as we are planning to each write a reflective piece of writing on the exhibition to use for our next group exhibition proposal.

I also met a brilliant artist called Louise Sparr. I got to spend some time in her studio and she came up to visit me in the gallery space whilst I was making test pieces. We chatted about the feminine, skins, membranes and materials. Whilst talking to Louise about my work and showing her images we began to talk about eggshells, a conversation that later informed the work I made for the exhibition.

I also met two of the three women that run the Rendezvous artspace. They have been working as a nomadic curatorial platform, making exhibitions in various locations around Aarhus and archiving these online. They have a large online presence on social media and a website archive. They were also pleased to have recently received funding to open a gallery space in Aarhus.

Work and tests
During the first few days in Aarhus I had time to make some small tests, experimenting mainly with colour in the space. I had planned on making another version of a previous work titled Full to the Brim. I found by making this work in situ, being able to make it using materials and dimensions specific to the gallery space meant that the second time in making this work there was more attention to detail and the work became more refined.

The edges were cleaner in this work, it was more controlled and less amorphous than previous works in this series. I’m not sure whether this was because I am now becoming more adept at my process or that I noticed more attention is paid to detail in Denmark. For example, when preparing for the exhibition, I noticed that AV wires were being fixed to the floor and wall using individual tacks, a much more time consuming but visually pleasing task than using electrical tape.

I was also very happy to bring a new material into my work – eggshells. I had previously used traces of older works, broken works or failed works but after a really interesting discussion with another artist and looking through images, we found similarities to eggshells in the works’ concept and material. I intend to continue using eggshells in future works.

The future
In the short time I spent and the few people I met in Aarhus I felt that I got a really good insight into what it’s like to be an artist living and working there. Aarhus has lots of connections to Copenhagen, as Birmingham to London but there seems to be more young people staying on in Aarhus after completing their education there. There are small pockets of young artists and curators doing lots of different things. Private views are well attended by the regular art crowd but there is also support from larger galleries.

Whilst on my trip I met two small collectives that had just received funding from the Danish Arts Council and with Aarhus being European City of Culture in 2017, this will hopefully continue to develop the artistic activity in the city and I look forward to following how it develops there over the next year.

Leah Carless reflects on her recent research trip to Aarhus, Denmark, part funded by the New Art West Midlands Engine Micro Bursary scheme.

James Lomax, Shepherd's warning, 2017. Digital C-type print from scanned 35mm negative, 30 x 40 cm

James Lomax, a Birmingham-based artist, studio holder at Studio Capri and recent recipient of a New Art West Midlands Engine Micro Bursary, visited the North East of England on a research trip last month. Here, he reports back on the exhibitions he visited and the meetings and conversations he had as part of this bespoke professional development opportunity.

 

James Lomax, Shepherd’s warning, 2017. Digital C-type print from scanned 35mm negative, 30 x 40 cm



I have recently been making a body of work based upon a specific town just North of Newcastle called Whitley Bay and wanted to make another trip to carry out further research. I especially wanted to establish connections in the area in order to show some of this work in the town later in the year. The work produced largely centres around stories my grandparents described living in Whitley Bay during the 1960s. Coupled with my own photography, research and biased memories, I have constructed sculptures and installations which involve multiple elements introduced to one another to evoke a landscape or create an unspecific sense of place. The works are assembled playfully, truths are elaborated upon and the relationships between objects are key.

The support from New Art West Midlands meant that I was able to do this and much more. I set up meetings with Newcastle-upon-Tyne-based artist collective, MILK, with whom I am planning on collaborating. Prior to the trip I knew two of the members but I had only spoken to the others over email so it was good to meet in person and be able to discuss the project easily as a group. MILK have just been in residence at WORKPLACE in Gateshead so I visited them at the gallery and saw the final iteration of three shows that they had developed, Like the green fig tree, which also includes work by Birmingham-based artist Joanne Masding.

Whilst I was in the North East I also organised to meet with a curator in the area for my own personal development as well as visit a number of galleries and shows, a particular highlight being Monica Bonvinci’s exhibition, her hand around the room, at the BALTIC Centre for Contemporary Art. I attended MILK’s closing exhibition event to celebrate the end of their residency at WORKPLACE and caught up with a number of people who I had met previously when I showed work at The NewBridge Project in Newcastle. Wheels are now firmly in motion with the project/collaboration in Whitley Bay and the chance to sit and meet with people in person has really helped this.

Conveniently, on my way I back from the visit I was also able to attend the opening of a group show which includes my work, Last Chance to Paradise, at COLLAR, in Manchester. It was great to meet with the curators of the space and with other artists in the show, helping to establish new networks and the potential for further future collaboration.

Artist James Lomax, recent recipient of a New Art West Midlands Engine Micro Bursary, visited the North East of England on a research trip last month.