Can you tell me more about the roots of and motivations for the [Discursive Spaces] residency programme?
Asylum Art Gallery LTD is based in Wolverhampton. We’ve worked hard to regenerate two unused and almost derelict spaces in and near the city centre and turn them into inclusive cultural spaces for mentoring, collaboration and showcasing. Unfortunately, Wolverhampton as a borough has suffered disproportionately from a lack of investment, due to spending restrictions because of government austerity across all sectors, especially art, culture and disability. We have seen a significant reduction in community spaces and centres. We also have an incredibly diverse and multicultural community of residents that should be recognised and celebrated. This is increasingly difficult if public spaces to meet are reduced or not regenerated for communal function. The [Discursive Spaces] residency programme looks to enable discussion around the local communities and the spaces they use, or the memories of the spaces that were and how they held communities together in the region. Heterotopias are spaces within spaces, spaces with restrictions to their access. Public space and communal space is difficult to navigate because it simultaneously must be inclusive to all and yet so many layers of restrictions exists around them. Our motivation was to start a discussion around these topics and look at how the outcomes from the artists might inspire future projects of regeneration through culture that enable community led spaces to re-emerge around our city.
How did you select the 5 artists to work with? What were you looking for?
When selecting artists to respond to these research areas, we were looking for proposals that had a strong previous body of work, but also acknowledged the locality of the project. It was always about engaging with what exists or does not exist here anymore, and so this was the deciding factor on whether or not an artist’s proposal has the empathy and commitment to develop outcomes that could be filtered through to our local council and contribute to their regeneration strategies.
We were overwhelmed with so many strong proposals, but we chose artists who had shown a commitment to engaging with a specific local community or building/space. Because of the quality of work that was submitted, we also invited 6 other artists to contribute their research to the publication and the group show at Wolverhampton Art Gallery. These were artists whose practice already engaged with these areas of research but did not need a residency to develop the work further assigned to a local community or space.
What research have their residencies uncovered?
We are now on our fifth and final residency and the work produced from the artists has been profoundly affecting, engaging and very provocative. We’ve had graphic installations, kaleidoscopic archival projections, skeletal canal boats, representations of derelict urban spaces and an immersive tent installation. There’s a real sense of the visceral in all of the work, which we think is due to the artists’ starting points being local people and their public spaces or lack thereof. With Jayne Murray’s work we discussed the movement and restriction of people between suburbs and city centres due to ring roads and the fear attached to underpasses, which could be vibrant and communal public spaces. We’ve seen years of city topography change and blur through Thomas J Brown’s moving image work that highlighted intergenerational memories of the spaces in their city. David Checkley went and interviewed Urban Moorings CIC and through found canal objects, built a skeletal representation of a canal boat, discussing openly his need during times of struggle to retreat to these beautiful communities and the deterioration of an entire way of living post industrial collapse. Remi Andrews’ work was affected significantly by Covid-19 and she could not physically engage with any local communities or integrate this into her outcome. However, her stark representation of the empty tent within the derelict city, installed on the wall rather than floor (highlighting how setting up a permanent residency in public space like this is illegal and subject to removal) forced us to question why, when we have such a large homeless community and so many derelict or unused spaces, strategies are not in place to reduce or mitigate this.
What have been your highlights so far?
The highlights have been interacting with our local communities and regular gallery attendants. Seeing them engage with people and places they recognised, uncovering forgotten memories or spaces and discussing what they miss or need or long for.
Can you tell me more about the impact of Covid-19 on the overall project? In what ways have the artists and the organisation responded?
Since this was a project motivated by community engagement, interaction and the discussion of improving access to and use of public space, Covid-19 has forced us to completely refocus our last two artists outcomes, including our ability to showcase these to our audience. We had instead provided online essays, photographic and video documentation, an interview with the artists and Zoom Q and As. However, it has also highlighted our concerns as an organisation, for the need of public space and to commit harder to ensuring that communities and the spaces they need are not forgotten, in an economy that is looking to social distance people further through digital platforms as a long-term strategy. We must not let Covid-19 allow people in positions of power to relinquish their responsibility to communal access to space and the shaping of its functionality.
Sahjan Kooner’s project is next to be showcased. What can audiences expect from the online event on 29 May?
Sahjan Kooner is interested in migration and technology. They are a fantastic artist to finalise the project with, as though the work has focused on local oral testimonies from migrant communities, it reminds us of the wider heterotopias and asks us to consider mass migration, restrictions of space and access through digital platforms. These have massive implications globally, but also very personally and both must be considered if we wish to really integrate all people and their needs into our cities.
52° 35′ 28.9320” N, 2° 6′ 38.6928” W
30° 54′ 3.4740” N, 75° 51′ 26.1972” E
Sahjan is presenting a series of floor-based works which contain films developed over the course of the residency. The films are a culmination of an intensive research period which contained oral testimonies, forensic reconstructions of memories and physical/digital production. The filmic body of work explores how memories move across time and space and draws questions around prosthetic memory, architecture, politics of place, domestic life and marginalised voices.
You can view the documentation and interview of this work from 6pm Friday 29th May 2020 on Facebook, Instagram, and our website.
There is also a Zoom Q and A from the artist where we will live stream from the gallery.
Meeting ID: 785 174 8938
How do you plan to share research and findings from the wider project? What’s its future?
Throughout the residencies, our writer in residence Nathaniel Grant has been responding to the works through extensive research around the subject areas and their impact locally. The documentation from the residencies, essays from Nathaniel, further contributions from 6 local artists and professional architect Curtis Martyn who specialises in urban design, will culminate in a publication that will be gifted to West Midlands institutions, cultural organisations, our council, libraries and archives. This will also be available to access online through our website. We currently sit as a key stakeholder on Wolverhampton’s cultural compact and will look to integrate some of the questions that have been raised and ideas for cultural regeneration into their strategy moving forward.
You can view the publication from 3rd July and if you’re organisation would like a hard copy please contact:
We will also be showcasing 11 artists in a group show at Wolverhampton Art Gallery where the publication will be available and Curtis Martyn will be speaking on how cultural regeneration can shape urban planning. The programming of this show is now subject to the social distancing guidelines and dates will be released when safe to do so.