We speak with artist and AirSpace Gallery Director Glen Stoker about his recent body of work. Tell Me Where To Go is a series of one hour walks performed in Stoke-on-Trent via a digital collaboration during restrictions imposed during the Covid-19 pandemic.

How have you approached Tell Me Where To Go as a body of work, Glen?

For the last few years my personal practice has morphed into my organisational work with AirSpace Gallery. Because that organisation is a bit hungry for time and labour, it’s not really been possible to create a separation between that and my personal practice. But, particularly in the early stages of the pandemic, there was some increased spare time, which allowed a chance to have a think about my individual practice. The initial lockdown one hour allowance of daily exercise offered a specific time structure in which I could incorporate my practice processes and interests – walking as journey, duration and urban environments – and I started to think about how to utilise the few possibilities this new situation allowed. Tell Me Where To Go was a structured response built around that one hour window.

And are they new walks or familiar ones?

Generally I tend to walk at about four miles an hour so, potentially, for these 1 hour walks, I’m looking at a four mile circumference from my front door. I’ve lived in Stoke-on-Trent for twenty-five years or so, so I’ve covered a fair amount of the city, so in a macro sense, the surroundings are very familiar, but because I was giving control of my navigation away, these walks sent me on routes that I wouldn’t necessarily routinely walk. Ordinarily, you use regular routes, going from A to B, the quickest or the easiest, but with these walks, taking decision processes out of my control, there was a sense of the unfamiliar within the very familiar.

What has been the structure of the walks?

I wanted to find a way to walk with people at a time when we were isolated from people. The idea was, to give away my directional decisions. Using communication via mobile phone, my remote walking partner became my internal sat nav. At each junction, I would ask my partner whether I should turn left, right or carry straight on. In the hour there would be anywhere between 40 and 70 directions. The only things I’m in control of are my feet and my senses. My walking partner had the option to “see” my walk with me, with a photograph at each junction, allowing a sense of the environment, or they could choose to walk “blind”, and receive all photo documentation at the end of the walk, when they would find out where we’d been. At the end of the hour, I’d send my partner an image of our final destination and then head home to reflect on the walk. I revisited the walk in my head, remembering where I’d been, noting down all the streets, mapping the walk out in the form of a faux Google Map. Each walking partner would then receive all the photographs taken, edited and post-produced – acting as a an ordered visual journey and three pieces of design work – a grid of images, a chosen image from the end of the walk and the map.

How have you been choosing the collaborators?

The first couple were done with a friend and colleague, to test the walks. After that I put calls out over my own networks. I walked with Pandora Vaughan, an artist based in London; Bram Arnold who is a fellow walker, artist and academic based in Devon; Dr. Alison Lloyd, a walking artist based in Nottingham; Terry Shave and Jo Ayre, both artists based here in Stoke; and on one occasion, my partner was a coin-toss mobile phone app.

How does the character of the city itself play out on the walks and in the photographs?

There’s something interesting about the separation between urban and rural environments. I live in a city that has more green spaces than most, with lots of overgrown Brownfields. Nature is a really present and visible phenomenon in Stoke. Most of the final images from the walks depict this natural ecology in urban location. Whether I’m drawn to those instinctively, or I’m subjectively searching for them, these are the things I’m fascinated by. We don’t necessarily need to see urban environments as concrete jungles. In this city, for me, the natural habitation is the dominant one. For instance, at the end of one of the walks, I found myself standing in front of these two trees, beautiful intertwined, hanging over this gently flowing brook – a tributary of the river Trent. I could have been in a forest in some beautiful National Park, and yet it was about two minutes’ walk away from one of the busiest roads and biggest council estates in the city.

With reduced road noise and less people around, have you noticed anything that you might not notice normally at this time of year?

Absolutely. I found it more than easy to walk in the middle of roads without fear of oncoming cars! One of the things that strikes me when I’m walking is the hierarchy of vehicle – cars, bikes, pedestrians – it was nice to be able to claim the territory. The fruit tree blossom has been incredible this year. From talking with friends and colleagues, apparently it’s down to a super-bloom which is what happens when we have a frost-free winter, but I wonder whether it’s also an effect of less vehicle fumes. Particularly in the early walks, at the end of March and start of April, there’s an ever present pink or white hue in the background of the photographs. I think nature has been one of the winners of this situation. I think it quite enjoys the lack of human presence, as do I.

The work is a record of this time, the seasons and conversations with somebody. How do you think the works might be received in the future? Are you interested to show these works in the future when restrictions are lifted?

As snapshots of the time, they are sort of fascinating because the streets are empty and it’s pretty rare to see urban locations so devoid of life. I’d say this is sketchbook work really, with some sense of individual resolution to each part of it. It’s important that my participants get something which is in a sense final, from their co-operation. Also, these particular walks have stopped now, as the regulations and restrictions have changed and we’re allowed to walk for as long as we want every day now.

Strange that we are speaking on the day when these restrictions are lifted (13 May 2020). What’s next for the work?

The expansion of our one hour exercise limit means I think there is maybe one more of these walks left to do – an unlimited walk – so I would stop when I was hurting or exhausted. It might be quite interesting to see where I end up eight hours on, but finding someone to join me for that amount of time might be difficult!  As I usually walk solitarily, I’m interested to explore some collaborations further, outside of the narrow ‘walking artist’ paradigm, and undertake the walks with other practitioners – such ecologists, historians etc. That’s maybe where my energy will go next.

Is there anything further you’d like to add?

The work comes from a constant DIY ethic and from finding opportunities where immediately you think these might have been deprived. My first instinct when lockdown happened was “How can I make work in this situation?” but quite quickly you can look at what your new situation is and find a creative space within that. Not only am I quite pleased with how I adapted and responded, but it has really helped as a focus for coping with what has been a very strange situation. I’m always an evangelist for the benefits of walking – even if it’s only for an hour. In terms of wellbeing and jogging the creative processes – for me, it’s a failsafe.

We speak with artist and AirSpace Gallery Director Glen Stoker, about his recent body of work. Tell Me Where To Go is a series of one hour walks performed in Stoke-on-Trent via a digital collaboration during restrictions imposed during the Covid-19 pandemic.

Artists Make Change: “Artists need to be more involved in policy decisions”

a-n Artists Council has initiated a 12-month research and development project that will explore the role of the artist in society and advocate for how artists and art organisers can effectively work for change. Glen Stoker, a visual artist and Director of Stoke-on-Trent-based artist-led project AirSpace Gallery, and Rachel Dobbs, an artist and educator based in Plymouth speak to Jack Hutchinson about the project and how the COVID-19 pandemic has impacted their plans – via a-n.

The Manchester Contemporary, the UK’s only invitation art fair for critically engaged contemporary art outside of London, has announced this year’s roster of exhibitors, including three galleries from the West Midlands.

AirSpace Gallery, Stoke-on-Trent; Meter Room, Coventry and Recent Activity, Birmingham have been selected to exhibit at the fair. In total, 34 galleries will feature this year, all selected by The Manchester Contemporary Curator and founder of the gallery Division of Labour, Nathaniel Pitt.

The Manchester Contemporary marks its tenth anniversary this year. It has established itself as one of the country’s most respected contemporary art events, and has attracted art collectors and curators from across the globe.

Pitt said:

“For this edition, in our tenth year, I have decided to look at the shape and future of the fair as a serious event in the busy contemporary art fair circuit. I see Manchester as an opportunity for a diverse approach to fair making. A more accessible artist centred fair both for the audience, collector and gallery alike.

“The Manchester Contemporary prides itself on being a part of a wider cultural landscape outside London and as a supporter of artistic practice and regional development. I have concentrated on bringing back some galleries from previous editions, galleries like Arcade who have a rich history of progressive exhibition making and attendance at the larger fairs, and added to this a roster of the best in artist-led projects from Caracus to Wakefield and a strong international presence from artist-focussed galleries in Berlin (Grim Museum), Paris (Galerie Jerome-Nivet,) Rotterdam (Joey Ramone), and Basel (Balzar Projects).

“And finally we have two key projects from Venture Arts, supported by Castlefield Gallery (both Manchester) and Bethlem Gallery of Bethlem Asylum in South London. These projects will be showcasing artists who work closely with their respective organisations looking outside the confines of the art world”.

The Manchester Contemporary runs from 12-14 October 2018 at Manchester Centreal. Tickets are available now at themanchestercontemporary.co.uk 

AirSpace Gallery, Meter Room and Recent Activity to exhibit at The Manchester Contemporary, the UK’s only invitation art fair for critically engaged contemporary art outside of London.

https://www.a-n.co.uk/news/blogger-qa-jenna-naylor-alien-hybrid-maker

a-n interview Jenna Naylor, New Art West Midlands 2017 alumni and artist based at AirSpace Gallery, Stoke-on-Trent.

Sarah Walden, Bodies of Pleated Matter, installation view at AirSpace Gallery. Image by Selina Oakes

Drawing upon influences in experimental filmmaking and post-structuralist philosophy, Fine Art graduate Sarah Walden (MA, Birmingham City University) considers the boundaries and sensations that can emanate from the surface of the moving image. Working across digital and analogue film, she plays with the imperfections of her chosen media – and the potential for chance occurrences. Her four-channel video projection, Bodies of Pleated Matter, folds together multiple images and cultural references to stimulate and challenge the viewer’s cognitive interpretations in an increasingly dematerialised world. Walden’s film has been selected for New Art West Midlands 2018 and is showcased at AirSpace Gallery in a purpose-built screening room until 31 March.

 

Sarah Walden, Bodies of Pleated Matter, installation view at AirSpace Gallery. Image by Selina Oakes

 

Selina Oakes: Bodies of Pleated Matter examines our relationship to surface in an image-saturated society. How does your work provide a respite from the mass of visual data present in our everyday lives?

Sarah Walden: Much of my work deals with the idea of overload. Bodies of Pleated Matter bombards its viewers with visual information that is created by overloading processes (electronic glitches, material disruption and distortion), which are combined and wrapped around the viewer in order to foster a confrontation with the mechanism of sensory processing. The sheer volume and variation of speed of information can force a cognitive stop, enabling the experience of the work to become a kind of flattening whereby one can’t immediately draw a recognisable meaning from it. It’s less of a respite, and more a series of questions posed to the audience: where is your body when you engage with visual data? Are you fully engaged with your senses when you navigate that space?

As a viewer, you are encouraged to confront the idea of surface: there’s the screen in front of you and there’s the truth of light hitting that screen. The celluloid film has a material surface that is highlighted by its obliteration. Your skin becomes the surface that the light seeks if you hold your hand up in front of the projection. The imagery itself is about surfaces – water, the body, the threshold between land and sky – and how we navigate those surfaces. It asks you to consider how the surface of water wraps around your body, and within that consideration, how do you determine your own boundaries?

 

SO: How does the piece feed into your wider practice and research?

SW: Boundaries, edges, screens and materiality are huge parts of my practice. I’m interested in how things that don’t have a tangible material existence, such as digital data, can have such material effects on humans. We’re becoming transhuman. My research focuses on the breaking of technologies – both digital and sensory technologies – and how we can find new languages for engagement with the senses. 

My experimental media practice and research into the lived experience of neurodivergence (autism, synaesthesia, dyspraxia, dyslexia, ADHD, etc) unpicks the frustration I have with living in such a heavily mediated world, where all this visual information needs to make sense intellectually before it will be given value and attention. I want my work to create new narratives that make a different kind of sense – one that emanates from embodiment and discusses the experience of living in bodies that behave in surprising and sometimes uncomfortable ways.

 

SO: You work with both found and filmed footage. Why is it important for you to create a dialogue between old and new imagery – both of which appear anonymous in the piece?

SW: I think when you start to question surface and the materiality of film, you have to engage with the fact that film is a time-based media. I wondered how material our relationship is to time: does it have a surface on which we can skate and make new stories? The piece spans 50 years of film and video technology, so the inclusion of found footage from the 1970s sets the scene in that regard. I also want to challenge the notion of narrative and whether our filmic gaze has changed with the development of digital media.

I’m always struck by the reverence with which home movies are shot on Super8. Now, it’s so much easier to film when we all have home movie cameras in our pockets, and that shows in our framing: we’re happy to cut heads and legs out of frames and camera shake isn’t a thing to be avoided anymore. It’s become a throwaway technology.

I filmed and developed my own celluloid because I wanted the experience of scarcity and preciousness – the anxiety of wondering whether the footage has been correctly exposed and testing the tolerances of the celluloid itself through the development process. I had to wait for images, and this is beautifully uncomfortable in the age of instant gratification. Meanwhile, in narrative terms, the similarities between the old and the new footage outweigh the differences. We’re still interested in our families and the places we visit. We love our pets and gardens and children, and we want to preserve them.

 

SO: While split across a 4-channel digital video projection, some of the scenes we experience are shot on Super8. What draws you to celluloid film, and why do you transfer it to digital?

SW: Much is made of the analogue versus digital debate but I’ve never seen it as a binary or exclusionary relationship. Digital video and celluloid film will give you the same product – a moving image – but they are vastly different mediums in their form and functionality. The celluloid film I used has a material surface that is ultimately obliterated by mechanical means: the emulsion on its surface has been scraped back to separate the layers of colour. Some of it has been developed in experimental conditions so that the dirt and noise of imperfect conditions are aesthetic elements, choices that are made by the materiality of the media but can also be directed by the artist. I also used VHS tape, made from digital and celluloid film and then forced through a homemade dirty video mixer. This makes the image jump and swim: it bottlenecks two and sometimes three channels, and makes unseen decisions about which channel to prioritise at any given time. Transferring the footage to digital means that I can push the analogue in alternative directions.

 

SO: Technology is both an enabler and a disabler. Have you experienced any challenges working with such an ephemeral medium?

SW: The short answer is, of course, yes. I always mutter when I’m installing work that I should be a sculptor or painter because I wouldn’t have to deal with the temperamental nature of technology. Of course, that’s an incredibly flippant thing to say, as all art forms have their production challenges. I have probably run the gamut of technological challenges since I started making film work 5 years ago.

Luckily, my collaborator Ollie MacDonald-Brown is one of those amazing people who just seems to be able to engineer his way out of any technical problem, and of course a problem shared is a problem halved. We once did a performance where we had 100s of feet of film loops draped through the gallery and we were distressing them live on two projectors: I had the 8mm and he had the 16mm. Unfortunately his projector broke about 10 minutes through the performance after someone stood on his film loop and creased it. He spent the first hour of the two hour performance trying to fix the projector. Eventually, he accepted its demise and pulled the film through by hand, which resulted in some beautiful burn patterns. By contrast, I only had to deal with a couple of broken loops. Most recently, we had an issue with Bodies of Pleated Matter at the private view at AirSpace Gallery. The computer that was handling the projection mapping crashed and we had to run it off our backup.

There are always questions of how the work gets turned on or off each day in a show: it’s quite terrifying to entrust your work to someone else who isn’t a film and video technician. That being said, digital technology makes moving image works much more accessible than celluloid: babysitting old projectors is not something most people would feel comfortable with, and rightly so – it’s a complex skill. Turning a digital projector and media player on is much easier and allows for moving image to be part of a wider discourse.

 

SO: What does it mean to you to be part of New Art West Midlands 2018 at AirSpace Gallery?

SW: When I submitted my proposal for New Art West Midlands, I didn’t expect to be selected largely because of the complexity of the work. I’m delighted to have been proven wrong and grateful that AirSpace Gallery rose to the challenge of its realisation in such an enthusiastic and supportive way. Glen Stoker (AirSpace Co-Director) has gone out of his way to make this piece work, wrestling with building the screens single-handedly and learning all of the technology required to make it work every day. He made all of it as easy as it could possibly be. Overall, it has been an amazing experience and I’ve learned so much more about my own piece and practice as a result of showing in the gallery. I think it was the only place that Bodies of Pleated Matter could have lived, and it has been lovely to see it working again in its new custom-built home.

www.sarahwalden.net

In the third of her series of interviews with New Art West Midlands exhibitors, Selina Oakes catches up with artist Sarah Walden.

Jodie Wingham, Unbuttoned Shirt, 2016

Recent Birmingham City University graduate, Jodie Wingham challenges the boundaries of printmaking and traditional methods of display by disrupting her imagery’s flat surface with sculptural interventions. Two of her works, Sitting Cross-legged and Unbuttoned are being shown as part of New Art West Midlands 2018 at AirSpace Gallery until 31 March.

In her practice, Wingham encourages the voyeuristic tendencies that lurk within the human psyche by presenting the viewer with seductive images of scenarios that are usually hidden from public view – like the bare legs of a cross-legged woman or the undone button on a man’s shirt. Inspired by The Pictures Generation and the language of advertising, the artist ultimately seeks to heighten her audiences’ relationship with these hidden, private moments.

 

Jodie Wingham, Unbuttoned Shirt, 2016

 

 

Selina Oakes: Your work plays with notions of human curiosity and the cognitive pleasures experienced when something hidden is exposed. Why is the act of ‘revealing’ important to you?
Jodie Wingham: This is based on a mixture of personal interest and research into psychological ideas on the nature of sight being an important driving force for our desires. As an individual, I’m drawn to the moments that you’re not meant to witness or pay attention to within the public sphere. You are allowed into a narrative which you have to embellish to make sense of: the act of revealing has not yet ended – it is not fully revealed – therefore it remains in this state of suspense, which I believe is far more interesting than the end result. The idea of what is about to happen, or what is being revealed, is often far more satisfying than what you may want to know or see. This is because your imagination has to work to fill in the gaps. It is this moment that exists ‘on the cusp’ that I like to play with and, because it doesn’t give everything away, you as a viewer have to be involved in the development of the image or idea. We as a society have information readily available: images are explicitly shown in media, billboards etc. We no longer think or take notice of the finer details – not really. I want to entice a longer gaze: one that the viewer, as an individual, fuels.

 

SO: Sitting Cross-legged and Unbuttoned distort the aesthetic of high-end advertising and are reminiscent of works from The Pictures Generation. Can you discuss some of your art historical and cultural influences?
JW: The Pictures Generation is an excellent reference as I was influenced by their usage of media techniques to produce their work. In my own practice, I am aware of the media’s influence on our interaction with images and the bombardment of information that we consume. My photographs may appear reminiscent of the images that we interact with in the media, however I don’t use models that fall into the industry’s ideals. My imagery is meant to represent real people: it’s an interplay between magazine aesthetics and non-typical models to disrupt what you expect.

 

SO: You present a predominantly two-dimensional medium – printmaking – in an unconventional and sculptural way. What draws you to bend the traditional rules of display?
JW: I became frustrated with the idea of printmaking being seen as a traditional and often boring art practice in the fact that the prints are often flat, displayed within frames and hung on walls. Print is so much more and can be pushed to the extremes like any other art practice. I wanted, and still want, to see what is achievable in print by using a cross-disciplinary approach to create alternative conversations of what print can be and how it can be displayed. My ideas focus around the viewer being involved in an image – an image that is usually voyeuristic in nature. For me, it is important to promote the interaction between image, display and audience: the use of sculptural elements introduces a physicality which the viewer can interact with. In doing this, it upsets the common reading of an image and, through the addition of different viewpoint and angles, the print takes longer to read. This prolonged gaze is an important theme in my work.

 

 

Jodie Wingham, Sitting Cross Legged, installation view at AirSpace Gallery. Image courtesy Selina Oakes

 

SO: Does gender representation come into your practice, either through your choice of imagery or materials?

JW: Even though I do not make work with set gender representation ideas in mind, it would be hard to say that gender representation is not present within my practice, particularly within this body of work. The image of a woman sitting crossed legged with flesh clearly on display naturally initiates a conversation on how women are represented and what the image is saying by using that particular pose. I was aware of this when creating Sitting Crossed Legged, but I didn’t want it to be the main idea that people thought of when looking at the piece. With this awareness, I chose a model who did not conform to set ideas of media shape and size – what people may deem as a ‘model’ woman. She is not digitally altered, and I wanted to only use the cropped section of the chair seat with no face: without an identity this woman could be anyone and allows a closer association with the ideas behind the piece rather than the sitter herself.

Similarly, ideas around gender representation can be applied to the male sitter in Unbuttoned. Here, notions on how masculinity is portrayed in the media arise, but I try to focus the scene on the opening of the shirt. I am aware that the imagery in my practice (and possibly the materials used, for example, metal is commonly seen as a masculine material) engage with notions of gender representation: I’m currently thinking about whether this is an important conversation to include and play with, or not.

 


SO: 
As a visual arts graduate, how do you intend to continue with your practice? Have New Art West Midlands 2018 and the show at AirSpace Gallery bolstered your confidence for future projects?

JW: The visual image will always feature in my practice. I want to see how far I can push the boundaries of the printed image by working on new ways to make the discipline interactive for the viewer. Traditional printmaking is a medium that I love to work with, however, it is often displayed in a set way. I believe this should be challenged and the art-form represented more often in contemporary art practices.

That being said, intimacy has become a much more prevalent concept for me. This is not so distant from my previous work, as I have always wanted the viewer to have a more intimate connection with the images. In the past, I have often used installation concepts to achieve this interaction between the work and the viewer. New Art West Midlands and AirSpace Gallery have given me great support and feedback from the show itself, which has given me the confidence to push forward in the creation of new work.

 

Selina Oakes speaks to Jodie Wingham, currently exhibiting at AirSpace Gallery as part of New Art West Midlands 2018.

Lily Wales, Radioactive Rhonda. installation view, AirSpace Gallery. Image Glen Stoker

Birmingham Art School Masters graduate Lily Wales is one of 28 selected artists exhibiting across the region as part of the sixth edition of New Art West Midlands. Much of Wales’ work addresses the visual language and childish rhetoric associated with nuclear weaponry. Her piece, Radioactive Rhonda, recreated and on display at AirSpace Gallery, Stoke-on-Trent, until 31 March, seeks to mock the U.S. government’s atomic bomb history and its civil defence campaigns through a giant sphere pasted with a plethora of brash imagery. In these photomontages, Wales renders visible the grotesque characters of former a-bombs, Atomic Annie and Mr Plumbob, in a bid to question the ways in which language and aesthetics can dislocate public perceptions of nuclear warfare.

 

Lily Wales, Radioactive Rhonda, installation view, AirSpace Gallery. Image Selina Oakes

 

Selina Oakes: Your work explores the language associated with nuclear weaponry, particularly the childish nicknames given to atomic bombs by the U.S. government. What first drew you to work with this subject matter?

Lily Wales: I’m a huge fan of the theorist Marshall McLuhan and I read his work frequently to drum up thought. As a starting point, I followed his notions of electricity being an extension of the nervous system and guns as an extension of the eye and teeth. In his books, which are typographically stunning, he goes on to talk about technology causing an amputation of the self. When thinking about the most extreme version of this self-annihilation, nuclear warfare naturally became an obvious choice. Once I started digging around it didn’t take long to find the bizarre usage of language, which felt like a joke and had me completely fascinated as I’ve always been drawn to humour within my practice.

 

SO: Atomic Annie, Mr Plumbob, Romeo, Smokey and George are all names of a-bombs from the mid-late 20th century. What makes Radioactive Rhonda relevant to today’s society?

LW: Rhonda’s relevance lies in her social reality: this year the Doomsday Clock was moved from two and a half minutes to midnight to two, amidst recent nuclear risk. I recently watched the 1984 documentary style film Threads, which follows nuclear holocaust with a focus on Sheffield as a city hit by the atomic bomb. It’s a startling contrast to the U.S. civil defence videos that managed to anaesthetise the public’s perception of such weapons. Despite an awareness of the mushroom cloud footage being archived material I’d seen on YouTube, I still found the film to be a traumatic watch. 34 years later, that film is still shockingly relevant and quite frankly makes Rhonda look like a pussycat. While it may sound ridiculous for a bomb to be called Radioactive Rhonda, is it any worse than one being called the Mother Of All Bombs?

 

SO: Radioactive Rhonda is covered with a brightly grotesque photomontage. Where do these images come from and why is their source important?

LW: All the imagery on Rhonda is sourced online, predominantly through Google Images. When making the work there isn’t much importance placed on where the imagery is sourced, just more so around the quality of the content itself. That being said it does demonstrate the power of information and how easily accessible it is due to the Internet. When I was first researching nuclear warfare, I was cautious to rely on online sources too much for authenticity, however bizarrely enough it has proved to be more reliable than official sources. With a subject matter consisting of mostly classified information and officials being able to nether confirm or deny information, who knows what’s false? Maybe Rhonda is real after all.

 

Lily Wales, Radioactive Rhonda, installation view, AirSpace Gallery. (Background, Olivia Peake, Semblance). Image Selina Oakes

 

SO: This is the second time that you have constructed Radioactive Rhonda – the first being for your Masters show at Birmingham School of Art. Has your relationship with the piece changed and how might you progress with new works in the future?

LW: It’s a labour intensive piece, so each time I’ve completed her there’s always a sense of achievement but it’s important not be a one trick pony. Moving on from Rhonda, I’ll still be applying photomontage to the realm of sculpture. There’ll be more of a focus on creating an environment and atmosphere rather than just a static object. I’ll be introducing the use of code and lighting within my practice, creating work in reaction to a recent trip to the Nevada Test Site in Las Vegas, funded by the Engine and Grain bursary. And you never know, there could be the comeback of the century with Rhonda II.

 

SO: What does it mean for you to exhibit in New Art West Midlands’ 2018 showcase at AirSpace Gallery?

LW: Well it was a great opportunity for Rhonda to be seen on a more public level with a much longer duration. With the piece being site specific it also meant I had a great connection with both the show and the gallery itself. I was able to have critical conversations about the work and to talk about future directions. Getting to know other artists at a similar point in their career was also a bonus.

New Art West Midlands exhibitor Lily Wales speaks to Selina Oakes about her experiences of re-making her sculpture Radioactive Rhonda at AirSpace Gallery and the context for its production.

Smoke and Mirrors, Amy-Lou Matthews

Beginning 2018 with her first solo show, Amy-Lou Matthews has proven her ability to choreograph both space and spectator. Following the recent completion of her BA in Fine Art, the Staffordshire University alumna transported her practice from art school to the artist-led studio in a six-month Graduate Residency at AirSpace Gallery. Matthews has continued to explore her deep-seated fascination with binary relationships through photography, film, staging and performance, and has ultimately transformed the gallery into a menagerie of theatrical tricks and tropes.

Running until 27 January, Smoke and Mirrors invites the viewer to actively decipher reality from illusion in a series of opulently playful props; in turn, equipping participants with the psychological and physical tools needed to battle their way through today’s post-truth era. Between the overwhelming folds of fervent green and red velvet, audiences are asked to trust both the artist and themselves in the search for meaning in a synonymously familiar and unknown situation. In this interview, Matthews – at the time sat very much at home against a verdantly green-backdrop – speaks about her residency experience and culminating show with Selina Oakes.

Smoke and Mirrors, Amy-Lou Matthews

Selina Oakes: What drew you to apply for the AirSpace Graduate Residency?

Amy-Lou Matthews: The prospect of a studio was a major draw. I was coming to the end of my degree and the idea of losing access to the studio became quite daunting. I didn’t want to lose the creative atmosphere that I’d experienced at Staffordshire University – people with different practices and interests were always milling about. It seemed a good idea to spend six months practicing alongside established artists in the area – and seeing how they work. Another draw was the chance of having a solo show – you can’t not at least try!

 

SO: How have you found the transition from life at university to the artist led studio environment?

AM: There was a definite shift – mainly of how big, and at times, quiet, the space was. It was strange to be given the keys to the gallery and left to get on with things – making it my own, more independently. Also, without the safety blanket of a student loan, I’ve had to find a good balance between supporting myself financially and practicing. I struggled with that to start with, but my time management skills have improved. In the future, I hope to focus more time on making.

 

SO: You’re a graduate from Staffordshire University. How has your experience of the city changed and/or stayed the same over the last six months?

AM: It hasn’t changed that much in terms of what I’ve seen change – the same organisations are still doing what they do brilliantly, regardless of the City of Culture Bid result. But my experience of these organisations has shifted: I really enjoyed working with the Cultural Sisters on The Last Bus project in October – an off-site exhibition marking the imminent demolition of the city’s old bus station – as well as being more involved with b-arts.

 

SO: Thinking back to your degree show, how has your practice developed since graduation?

AM: Now, my practice focuses more on participation and the audience’s role. Post-Performance, my end-of-year piece, touched on these themes: I created a stage setting and guided the viewer on to a green screen through the aid of a TV. That was the start of focusing on the audience’s perspective, but also on the way in which the outsider spectator observes a fellow audience member. I knew that I wanted to push these ideas further.
The knowledge of having a spacious area to exhibit in pushed my practice. It was great to sit in the gallery and plan how the audience would walk around. And the green-screen is still very much coming through! It was important to break down my practice and get outside of my comfort zone – letting my audience be a bit more playful and free to disconnect from enclosed spaces.

Shatter (leftside) Nail Play (rightside), Amy-Lou Matthews, AirSpace Gallery

SO: You appear to place less emphasis on the screen and more on the stage set in Smoke and Mirrors than in your degree work. Would you agree?

AM: Yeah, there’s much more focus on the stage. Previously, video was the medium that I used to create my multiples and two-dimensional illusions. These illusions have definitely evolved: the zoetropes in Perform – Post-Performance (part of Smoke and Mirrors) physically shift and bring two images together that wouldn’t normally be possible in real-time.

 

SO: What have been the most valuable parts of the residency at AirSpace Gallery?

AM: Being able to come into the gallery and work out where pieces would go ahead of the install has been valuable. You can map things out on paper, but actually experiencing the size of a space really helps. With regards to the mentoring – my mentor was Hetain Patel – it was great to hear about another artist’s journey and perspective. Also, the support and feedback that I received during the install was great. With Hetain, we spoke about which pieces worked where in the space; Glen Stoker, AirSpace Gallery Director, provided more logistical advice; and Natasha – the fellow 2017/18 graduate resident – enabled me to clarify each works’ intentions and the messages portrayed.

 

SO: In Smoke and Mirrors, you’ve transformed the exhibition space into an immersive theatre and stage set. What fascinates you about theatre and stage methodologies, and how do these sit within the gallery context?

AM: The beauty and wonder they create. They provide a space where you’re disconnected from the outside – a space in which it only matters what you see in front of you. These tropes mirror the gallery’s ‘entertainment’ persona. I like the idea of staging something in the ever-changing: AirSpace Gallery is a building which shifts with each new project that arrives – it’s similar to a stage which changes with each new production.

 

SO: Why is it important for you to question and reveal the illusion behind the magic? You enable the viewer to discover the structure behind the illusion, rather than merely the magic trick.

AM: I wanted to play with the simplicity of magic tricks – they’re all about misdirection and slight of hand. Once you start seeing part of a trick, you begin to pick up on similar traits everywhere – it’s a game of spot what’s a little off. In our current post-truth era, it’s about doing your own research and not simply believing what you hear. I want to instill a taste for curiosity in the viewer – for them to see where things lead to, rather than accepting someone else’s information.

 

Do you think that audiences today are more prepositioned to engage with your work, compared to say 10 years ago?

AM:  Yeah, especially with audiences’ approach, like the need to break things down to get information quickly. I’m presenting viewers with both sides simultaneously – they have to think and question almost instantaneously. It’s definitely more relevant for contemporary audiences.

 

SO: Smoke and Mirrors invites the viewer to perform. What do you hope the viewer will gain from this interaction? And what are you, as the artist, looking for?

AM: My intention is to enable audiences to feel as though they exist. When reflecting on traditional museum and gallery exhibitions, I noticed the sheer distance created between the viewer and the artwork through both physical and invisible barriers. I wanted to break those boundaries down – to invite the viewer to participate beyond observing, and to potentially create something new by activating the work. I’d like them to be playful and forget themselves for a short while – for them to give into their curiosities and instincts.

Post-Performance – Activated, Amy-Lou Matthews, AirSpace Gallery

SO: Your exhibition statement begins with a quote from the 2006 film, The Prestige. How important is this contemporary reference and the history of magicians to your practice?

AM: My obsession with The Prestige is definitely an issue. I came across it when I was researching magicians like Harry Houdini, and his predecessor Robert-Houdin. I was intrigued by their showmanship and cleverness, and also by the way in which the audience was in love with the act. It’s as though everyone was in on the trick, even though the spectator didn’t know how it was happening. The Prestige exposes this idea in a beautiful way. It presents a magic-trick formula: the set-up, known as the pledge; the turn, making something magical happen; and the prestige, letting the audience reflect on themselves and what they’ve seen. The film – and in a way, its trailer – are magic tricks in themselves: bit-by-bit they reveal subtle truths that cannot be unseen.

 

SO: Can you offer any advice for future graduates participating in the residency?

AM: Have a routine. The residency was a huge jump from school and university, and so prioritising and managing my time became an important balance. Enjoy making. When I started the residency I put pressure on myself to make the most of the opportunity: remember, you’ve been given the residency to explore and experiment, so push your ideas and test everything. This is a time and space where you can learn. Make the most of the gallery access: come down and sit in it, bring down artworks and try things out – when there aren’t any shows on!

 

SO: Where do you go from here?

AM: I’ll be applying for opportunities with New Art West Midlands. I’d like to exhibit more, to continue pushing my practice, and to see how another artists’ work might sit within the spaces and atmospheres that I’ve begun to create. I’ll be staying in Stoke-on-Trent until the summer at least. Maybe I’ll continue having a studio here at AirSpace Gallery, but I’ve also discovered that I don’t necessarily need a studio to produce my work. A space to exhibit – and to store fabric (laughs) – yes, but I’m also interested in seeing how my practice develops in other environments.

 

Amy-Lou Matthews, Smoke and Mirrors, AirSpace Gallery Graduate Residency, 19 January – 27 January, Stoke-on-Trent.

Instagram – @amylou.matthews.art, Twitter – @amyloumatthewsaWebsite – http://amyloumatthewsalm.wixsite.com/artist

The AirSpace Gallery Graduate Residency Scheme, running since 2012, seeks to tackle graduate retention in Stoke-on-Trent and offers new arts graduates an opportunity to bridge the gap between education and a professional arts career. Residents receive a studio space for six months, monthly mentoring meetings and full access to the Gallery’s facilities.

 

 

Selina Oakes speaks to Staffordshire University alumna Amy-Lou Matthews about her time in residence at AirSpace Gallery as part of their Graduate Residency Scheme.

https://www.a-n.co.uk/news/scene-report-stoke-trent-malleable-city-creative-potential

Selina Oakes profiles the artistic scene in Stoke-on-Trent for a-n.

Image courtesy AirSpace

We are programming a series of Away Day visits both within the region and beyond to explore artist-led activity, to profile the work of artists based outside the capital and to create networking opportunities.

Our third visit is to the gallery and studios at AirSpace Gallery and nearby artist studio complex ACAVA.

Image courtesy AirSpace

Engine Away Day: AirSpace and ACAVA, Stoke-on-Trent
Saturday 14 October 2017
1-6pm

At 1pm we will meet at ACAVA for a tour of the studios and exhibition, and a presentation on the ACAVA studio model. From there, we will go on an artist and historian led walk from Stoke Town up to Hanley City Centre, stopping at points on the way to hear about arts and regeneration in the city.

The walk finishes at AirSpace Gallery, offering the chance to visit their current exhibition, FOUNT, in partnership with the British Ceramics Biennial, and to learn more about AirSpace, its structure and projects over tea and coffee. This is followed by some networking time.

(The British Ceramics Biennial takes place at Spode Factory and would be an ideal way to spend your morning in Stoke-on-Trent, should you choose to arrive early).

Everyone is welcome. Attendees are expected to cover their own travel costs to and from Stoke-on-Trent.

To reserve a free place, please contact Anneka French on info@newartwestmidlands.co.uk

Places will be allocated on a first come, first served basis and must be reserved no later than Tuesday 10 October 2017.

Our third Engine Away Day visit is to the gallery and studios at AirSpace Gallery and nearby artist studio complex ACAVA.

Join us at our six ‘expedition’ events to explore the extremities of artistic practice in the region.

Led by New Art West Midlands, The Outer Limits programme for artists explores the extremities of artistic practice – seeking out the far and distant places that make visual art in the midlands distinct and encouraging peer interaction.

Our six ‘expeditions’ will cover topics ranging from new artist opportunities all the way through to the cult of biennials. They will ask what is needed to safeguard the future of artists in the region, drawing upon national and regional speakers, key venues around the West Midlands and most importantly open minds.

All of these events are an opportunity for you to engage with us at New Art West Midlands, to moonshot our future work and boldly go beyond the current limits. The conversations we have will inform the West Midlands visual arts strategy and become the blueprint for our future programmes and advocacy work.

Keynote speakers at each of the events will catalyse the debate before we hand over to the people in the room to respond. Benefits to you as an artist include direct engagement with and impact on New Art West Midlands’ future programme, meeting other artists and discussing your work, and finding out about current opportunities. Plus, we will be issuing a New Art West Midlands limited edition badge (yes, seriously).

Leading us through The Outer Limits is artist Simon Poulter who will facilitate each session with Director of New Art West Midlands, Craig Ashley. New Art West Midlands’ Advisory and Executive Group members will also be in attendance. If you have to something to say, we want to hear it.

 

Event #1 ‘Setting the scene’ at AirSpace Gallery (Stoke on Trent)
Tuesday 19 September, 2 – 4pm

How to be successful as an artist. Sign up to join this event which will focus on the raw materials and engine of being ‘successful’ in your practice. We will be looking at core concerns for artists at all career stages, including insights by practising artists. What does a good gig look like? How do we Play Nicely in the art world and get proper reward and contracting for what we do? What rates of pay are current and workable for artists in the market place in 2017? We will be joined by Ryan Hughes (Director, Coventry Biennial of Contemporary Art) and Dan Thompson (artist, writer, speaker) to discuss these matters. The session will be an opportunity to gain valuable insights into how other artists work and input your own experiences.

Book here

 

Event #2 ‘F@ck this Sh/t’ at The Hive (Shrewsbury)
Wednesday 20 September, 11am – 1pm

How to take on the universe and make it listen. Sign up to connect with us and make some change happen within the grand new abnormal. We will be exploring the context of how artists respond to fundamental shifts in the political space, examples of disobedience and the fakery of the ‘disruptive’ economy. This session is about marginality, voices of otherness and a real opportunity to contextualise artistic practice as a response. We invite artists to debate and devise beyond the social media silos, with the intention of informing New Art West Midlands’ future programme. This session will include opening talks by prominent artists Noëmi Lakmaier and Ann Whitehurst, as well as the stuff you bring with you. Presented in partnership with DASH.

Book here


Event #3 ‘Out there’ at Vivid Projects (Birmingham)
Friday 6 October, 2 – 4pm

We explore the Outer Limits of digital space and the current thinking in digital culture. What mixed reality methods lie in wait for the artists of the new millennium? How can we bust through barriers to make new tools have some meaning? This session explores next generation ‘radical’ art, physical and digital realities – what is out there to be explored? Artists discuss tape machines, VR as painting, sci-art, bio-art, coding, experience design and user interaction. We will have two speakers on board for this mission – Gina Czarnecki and Laurie Ramsell.

Book here

 

Event #4 ‘Bring it on’ at Worcester Arts Workshop
Thursday 12 October, 11am – 1pm

You live in the West Midlands, you want to stay but what opportunities are there? In this session we invite artists and arts educators to explore the elephant in the room – retention of talent. This is a rapid build satellite session discussing recent development initiatives, new commissions, access to technical resources and partnerships across business, the funded sector and arts education. We will be hearing opening talks by self-organisers Emma Chetcutti and Lara Ratnaraja who will frame the discussion on how to sustain practice where you are. We also want to hear your ideas on the problems you face in working in the region.

Book here

 

Event #5 ‘Far Out-ness’ at The New Art Gallery Walsall
Friday 13 October, 11am – 1pm

‘Far out-ness’ is commonly associated with the post WW2 avant garde and jazz movements. Within this session we invite you to join us to discuss the position of art-making in the brave new world. This event is all about practice, presentation and making. Hosted at The New Art Gallery Walsall, we contextualise how West Midlands-based artists can shape and form their practice and process. What contexts are now available to artists? Gallery, web or public space? Our two speakers – Ruth Catlow and Gavin Wade – focus vanguard debates and we then connect in the talent in the room. This is suitable for early career, emerging and hybrid practitioners (artist curators for example). This event will be live streamed.

Book here

 

Event #6 ‘Cut and paste’ at the Coventry Evening Telegraph Building
Friday 20 October, 11am – 1pm

Biennial art has become synonymous with internationalism, neo-liberalism and globalisation. Would it be cool to rock up with a smart phone and shoot a new film in each major city you visit with some locals and then get on the next plane? What makes a new biennial – responsive, embedded and tailored to its locality? Or is this the wrong question? Located within the Coventry Biennial events and exhibitions programme, we invite artists from across the West Midlands (and beyond) to conduct a debate on art, instrumentalism and next-generation biennials. We will be assisted in this session by Roney Fraser Munroe and Mike Stubbs, who will give us reality checks on the cult of the biennial and more. Book early for this session.

Book here

 

 

 

 

Led by New Art West Midlands, The Outer Limits programme for artists explores the extremities of artistic practice – seeking out the far and distant places that make visual art in the midlands distinct and encouraging peer interaction through 6 events across the region.

Chloe Cooper, Phoebe Davies and Jenny Moore at AirSpace. Photograph by Glen Stoker

Selina Oakes speaks with the three artists of BedfellowsChloe Cooper, Phoebe Davies and Jenny Moore, recently on residence at AirSpace Gallery, Stoke-on-Trent.

Chloe Cooper, Phoebe Davies and Jenny Moore at AirSpace. Photograph by Glen Stoker

For the majority, our comprehension of sex begins through the plethora of imagery filtered into society by the media, the porn industry and education. Whether directly or inadvertently, we come into contact with this image-heavy sexual landscape which, after decades of existence, is difficult to shatter and revisualise into something that acknowledges all bodies, identities and sexualities. While artists may not appear to be an obvious choice to tackle its unbalanced portrayal, artists, with their visual literacy, are able to facilitate new dialogues and decipher another, more collective understanding. The Bedfellows project is a platform forged from the personal, political and professional perspectives of three practitioners who are dismantling contorted sexual constructs to build an inclusive future.

Last month, artists Chloe Cooper, Phoebe Davies and Jenny Moore hauled 25 vacuum-packed duvets, stacks of books, zines, fetishist objects and an oblong table displaying feminist porn from their studios in London to AirSpace Gallery in Stoke-on-Trent. This was the beginning of Bedfellows’ next venture, which, following a recent commission at Tate Exchange, was in search of a place to nest, incubate, reflect and grow with the material that they have been gathering for the last four years.

During their residency, the resourceful trio created an intimate haven from which members of the public could discuss sexual identity and sex education today. A public-facing Open Weekend enabled the artists to have frank conversations with local residents and organisations such as Galaxy – a group for people aged 13-18 who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender, or people questioning their sexuality or gender. Discussions were also shared with sexual health experts from The Piccadilly Project and support workers from Savana, who provide support for anyone who has experienced or is affected by any form of sexual violence.

Bedfellows at AirSpace. Image by Selina Oakes

The Gallery’s street-level window provided an ideal point of engagement where passersby stopped to notice the array of sexual paraphernalia that had replaced the more familiar aesthetics of a visual art gallery. Perplexed or intrigued, most pondered to consider whether these items were inviting or confrontational. Inside, visitors found Clubhouse – an open access research centre where white duvets offered a cosy shelter; a podcast provided the friendly voice of a radio talk show host as she recounted her ongoing journey with the concept of sexual consent; a monitor showing videos spanning topics of sex including disability and definitions of queer; and a brightly coloured bookshelf – adorned with a Humanifesto – summed up the project’s mission. So, what drives these artists to challenge the taboo perspectives that distort our associations with sex?

Phoebe Davies recalls the moment and sentiments that brought them together four years ago: “I remember we were all frustrated about recent experiences we’d had concerning pornography and sex education. These concerns felt urgent and we began having conversations in pubs, studios, over breakfast and dinner.”

Jenny Moore adds, “We were talking about porn: we’d all had experiences of having discussions with people about what porn was or wasn’t for.” She comments “And it was our shared experiences of being in the same place at the same time that helped us to grow a solidarity where we were confident to say ‘Yes, we’re frustrated by how we are allowed to enact our own politics as artists’.”

Sex, of course, is a central part of the project – as is making it accessible to multiple audiences beyond its stereotypical taboos. So, what does the word mean to the artists? A humorous response from Chloe Cooper kicks things off: “It’s a portal between my clitoris and politics!”

This frankness is key to the delivery of the project – here are three women who are prepared to speak out and discuss a range of sex-related topics. Moore tells me that “Sex is a prism in a room of mirrors, where someone can see behind themselves or another person without being aware of what they’re looking at. It’s a spacious landscape that the rules of my body can really explore.”

These two exuberant responses are complimented by Davies’ connection with sex as “complicated and something that is also very private. It’s dangerous when you don’t have the right tools to talk about it. Sex is also a release – it is similar to running, dancing or raving: spaces where you can let go.”

Bedfellows at AirSpace Gallery. Image by Selina Oakes

Much of Bedfellows’ research centres on feminist porn, sexual identity, desire and consent in order to stimulate conversations with young people in schools and members of the public.

“Feminist porn is a sex education topic that people aren’t addressing. Everyone we talk to agrees that we can look at porn to learn things. But it’s also a $97 billion dollar industry.” Moore’s awareness of its synchronic use and risk enables porn to be broken down into other topics: “It can be argued that mainstream porn is heterosexist – it shows only one type of sexual identity.”

The same could be said of sex education, which has become archaic in its exclusion of LGBTQ identities, as well as its bashfulness in discussing desire: “Porn is mixed with a lot of confused emotion about lust – it’s important to address the issue of how do we really know what we desire? How do you learn and express it? Desire is stuck in people’s bodies with no language.”

Consent is another topic that many individuals are apprehensive to speak about. “If you don’t give your consent people assume that you don’t have desires. And it’s important to ask, why did no-one tell me I was allowed to say no? Or how to say no, or how to decide that I knew we wanted to say no?”

Moore stresses the fact that mainstream material tends to provide examples of the extremes, with no alternatives. “That’s why we’re calling it a sex re-education project. It began with re-educating ourselves – beyond what the media, mainstream porn and schools teach us.” This search for alternative imagery opened up the artists’ perspectives on porn.

For Davies, “I didn’t necessarily start with a porn positive perspective. I saw mainstream porn as a dangerous tool for learning about relationships. Finding out about alternative imagery opened that up. And the desire thing is interesting – once you know what you want, then you can be more safe in figuring out how you want to do that.”

The question remains, what can Bedfellows bring to the conversation alongside sexual health experts? Cooper responds, “Meeting people who work within sexual health in Stoke-on-Trent has shown us the overwhelming generosity of those involved in the sector. We are not experts in this – we’re merely saying let’s talk about it. Our work is a sex re-education: it addresses the way that things are reduced to basic classifications such as you’re this and you like this, that’s ok, and you’re this and you like that, that’s not ok. We need to be more creative – something which I took from a Heart radio podcast called No.”

The artists’ modest admission that they are not experts leaves room for non-hierarchial learning, growth and communication. Moore is mindful of what, as artists, they can provide, “We’re not trained in public health; we’re trained in images, in making and in thinking. We can do the visualising, imagining and experimenting alongside sexual health professionals who are dealing with practical solutions for STIs, HIV, abortions and sexual assault.”

During their time at the gallery, the trio hosted an Open Weekend where they got to know professionals, the public and local support groups – some of whom told the artists “you should be proud of what you’re doing.” Their response to this was “But it’s nothing compared to what they’re doing.”

With an expression full of excitement, Moore highlights the synergy between art and sexual health, “That moment of coming together felt like art really matters! And sexual health matters, and the project matters. These two things give life to each other. To me, the best kind of art can exist in slower, smaller ways. It reminds me of the 1980s Artists Placement Group, where they were trying to boost art’s social value by placing artists in government departments, oil companies and transportation boards. This is the first project that I’ve worked on where we’re actually working in a field that is not ours. And yet, we are doing so successfully as artists; adding to a conversation that is not just art.”

Davies reflects on the fact that all three artists also have backgrounds in education. And there’s the added bonus of creativity: “We are performers, movers and writers, bringing skill sets that might not otherwise appear in traditional workshop settings. We can work with focus groups to make zines and prints, promoting different ways in which to access sex education.”

Bedfellows at AirSpace Gallery. Image by Selina Oakes

These alternative ways of learning which litter Clubhouse have enabled an equally wide ranging audience to engage with Bedfellows. The artists are also keen to point out that none of it is new – they are merely unearthing pre-existing material. “It’s about acknowledging the material” says Cooper, “All of the resources that are in the Gallery are out in the world – and all we’ve done is googled the hell out of it, spoken to lots of people, and tried to spend time bringing it together. We’re providing points for people to pull on.” The variety of different media and perspectives means that there is something for everyone, “if someone doesn’t like reading, they can watch a video or listen to a podcast. If someone wants to have a conversation, there’s space for that as well. It’s also important to have a multiplicity of voices – that also contradict each other.”

This is true in every sense. There are articles and videos on sex and disability; zines on rape and abuse; podcasts on consent and acceptance. “It would be ridiculous for the three of us to represent sex education alone” says Moore, “We’re three white women, all of a similar age, and if you think in a feminist porn context, our voices have been quite well heard. We benefit from feminism as it is right now. I question whether we can use this privilege to change the conversation.”

They’re keen to highlight the collaborative nature of their work, Davies stating “there were over 60 people in our credits list for an iteration of the Clubhouse at Tate Exchange.” Adding to their conversation and replenishing their confidence in the project is their encounter with Jo Bradley, Commissioner for Sexual Health in the area. “We’ve never been taken seriously by someone who works in public health before” says Moore. “Personally, I will take away a sense of solidarity against what seems to be a wider network of mainstream culture, patriarchy and capitalism. Meeting other people who are doing the same work but differently, is heartening.”

Sparked by their conversation with Bradley, Bedfellows is looking at how they can contribute to the sex education curriculum. “The bill for compulsory sexual and relationships education in schools from 2019 has recently been passed. But, we don’t know what they are actually going to teach.”

Cooper describes the potential in this vagueness: “We [Bedfellows] should ask people what should be taught – and we should tell the government what people want and need.”

The foundation of this collectively written curriculum is reflected in Bedfellows’ Humanifesto, as Cooper points out, “… something that includes all our bodies, our desires, our complexities, for it to be feminist and queer.” Moore adds that the curriculum should “make space for different types of bodies, and also to make space for those surviving sexual assault.” The list is constantly growing as Bedfellows collates responses from people of all ages during workshops and residencies. “The conversations we had with 14-16 year olds from Galaxy are an example of the intergenerational thing that we’re trying to do. Knowledge transfer comes from all sides [and generations]. It’s important to provide a place for people’s own versions.”

Bedfellows at AirSpace. Image by Selina Oakes

As artists, they are looking to be innovative, and develop more experiential ways in which the curriculum could be taught such as movement, sound and physicality. “The body learns things that the mind will only understand later. What if guided meditation could be used in sex education? What if writing – your own life story, own sex story, your own sexuality – was a part of sex education?” asks Moore.

Davies also points out that they lead discursive sessions called SEX TALK MTGs with a wide range of ages. “We want sex education to be a lifelong thing.” A major part of the project is setting up frameworks where adults and young people can interact with each other without having to be teachers or students or parents. “Could we create these scenarios – the SEX TALK MTGs where an 18 year old is having a conversation with a 40 year old? And how do you pay attention to all the details so that it’s not age specific or discriminatory? Earlier this year, we ran the same workshop with two generational groups at Tate Exchange. It worked a charm because both groups don’t know how to talk about sex” says Moore.

Bedfellows uses bodily, sexual imagery – photographic, filmic and drawn – to explore its subject. “I’m constantly referencing queer sexy ladies” laughs Davies, who clarifies that, whilst depictions of sexual body parts and activities are featured, the objectification of bodies, specifically those of women, is not on the agenda. “We are focusing on opening up conversations about both ‘male’ and ‘female’ body parts.”

Davies reflects on how important it is to acknowledge every part of women’s bodies, not just “tits and waist” or “the parts we find attractive,” as well as men’s bodies and intersex people’s bodies. “It’s important to acknowledge that there are other types of bodies and that it’s not a binary.” Cooper separates her imagery from art historical objectification through a clear comparison: “‘Female’ figures in art history are alone, a bit naked and looking out – they’re available for us. The people that I’ve drawn are having sex with people that they’ve chosen. They are not here for us.”

While Bedfellows is keen to differentiate itself from, as Moore puts it, “the nipped and tucked white vulvas on the Internet,” the artists are aware that they can’t erase these references. “The best thing you can do is agitate and complicate. The work is a fine line as it comes from frustration of objectification.”

Providing an alternative are the visual and literary aids of Clubhouse. “There’s a great video of two people with physical disabilities calling up careworkers and sexworkers to assist them in having sex called #gettingsome: Disabled and sexually active” Cooper reflects on a key resource. “It’s important because people don’t talk about sex and disability – or the different ways that we experience intimacy.”

Davies selects Make Your Own Relationship User Guide, a zine by Meg-John and Justin as one of her favourites. “It suggests different shapes and options on how you may choose to have relationships with sexual partners.” Moore angles towards John Barker’s Men Unlearning Rape from the 1990s. “It just blew my mind – where are these men? I’d never heard of a men’s group creating a space for other men to discuss what society tells them about sex.” Another of Moore’s favourites is the Scarleteen. “It’s an American sex education website with an amazing sexual inventory which talks about all the possible things that you could ever want to do. If someone had shown me this as a teenager my whole life would be different.”

Continuously learning and building on their archive through conversations and workshops, Bedfellows is focusing their efforts towards the realisation of a collective consultation document for the 2019 sex and relationships education curriculum. “I feel really inspired about being this other voice – getting all of these artists together who come to our research groups to contribute to a consultation document” says Moore.

With their next public event taking place at the Walker Art Gallery in Liverpool as part of Coming Out – an exhibition that marks the 50th anniversary of the partial decriminalisation of male homosexual acts in England and Wales – the artists are looking to make waves in the sex education sector. Be on the lookout for Bedfellows’ creative activities that unmask a multitude of sexual identities, options and desires for a plethora of generations.

 

Bedfellows will be at the Walker Art Gallery in Liverpool on 28 September 2017. 

 

Tweet Bedfellows @WeAreBedfellows
Instagram Bedfellows@BedfellowsResearch
Email Bedfellows bedfellowsresearch@gmail.com

 

Selina Oakes speaks with the three artists of Bedfellows, Chloe Cooper, Phoebe Davies and Jenny Moore, recently on residence at AirSpace Gallery, Stoke-on-Trent.

Larissa Shaw, Flesh Party, 2017

28 artists have been selected for the exhibition, New Art West Midlands 2018 which will take place at Birmingham Museum & Art Gallery, Herbert Art Gallery & Museum, Coventry and Airspace Gallery, Stoke-on-Trent in February to May 2018.

 

Larissa Shaw, Flesh Party, 2017

The artists are recent graduates from the West Midlands region’s six leading art schools at BA, MA and PhD levels:

Nicola Arnold, University of Worcester

George Caswell, Birmingham City University

Aileen Doherty, Birmingham City University

Jez Dolan, Birmingham City University

Amrit Doll, Birmingham City University

Gem Douglas, Birmingham City University

Jessica Eburne, Coventry University

Louise Hampson, Staffordshire University

Lucy Hanrahan, Birmingham City University

Simon Harris, University of Wolverhampton

Keri Jayne, Staffordshire University

Lisa Kemp, University of Wolverhampton

Bob Langridge, Hereford College of Arts

Bryony Loveridge, Coventry University

Tony McClure, Birmingham City University

Hayley McNally, University of Wolverhampton

Bayley Morris, Birmingham City University

Olivia Peake, Birmingham City University

David Poole, Birmingham City University

Lewis Pritchard, Staffordshire University

Larissa Shaw, Birmingham City University

Margaret Shuter, Hereford College of Arts

Sarah Walden, Birmingham City University

Lily Wales, Birmingham City University

Grace A Williams, Birmingham City University

Jodie Wingham, Birmingham City University

Darren Withey, Birmingham City University

Valerija Zukova, University of Worcester

Our three selectors of the 2018 edition were Patricia Fleming (Director, Patricia Fleming Projects, Glasgow), Sinead McCarthy (Curator, Liverpool Biennial) and Ingrid Pollard (artist and photographer, London).

The exhibition includes painting, sculpture, digital and sound installations, assemblage, photography, prints and film and video works that reference wide ranging contemporary themes from artificial intelligence, fake news, gender inequality and surveillance to timelessness, interruptions, displacement and glitches, to how our lives are now lived through the screen.

Rachel Bradley, Project Organiser of the annual exhibition said: ‘The selection panel members are very impressed year on year at the diversity and quality of the artists’ work they are able to choose and showcase in the New Art West Midlands exhibitions. The project has now seen 176 artists pass through this early career professional development experience which has made an invaluable contribution to the development of the West Midlands’ visual arts scene over the past six years. It also gives audiences an opportunity to see new work by a new generation of artists.’

New Art West Midlands Exhibition 2018 is led by Birmingham Museums Trust with support from participating host venues. It is funded by Arts Council England alongside Birmingham City University, Coventry University, Hereford College of Arts, Staffordshire University, University of Wolverhampton and University of Worcester.

28 artists have been selected for the exhibition, New Art West Midlands 2018 which will take place at Birmingham Museum & Art Gallery, Herbert Art Gallery & Museum, Coventry and Airspace Gallery, Stoke-on-Trent in February to May 2018.

Victoria Lucas, Lay of the Land (and other such myths), installation view at AirSpace Gallery Photograph courtesy of Jules Lister

Artist Victoria Lucas is currently presenting her solo exhibition Lay of the Land (and other such myths) at Stoke-on-Trent’s AirSpace Gallery. Anneka French caught up with the Sheffield-based artist to find out more about her research, production processes and what it’s been like working with the gallery again after seven years.

 

Victoria Lucas, Lay of the Land (and other such myths), installation view at AirSpace Gallery
Photograph courtesy of Jules Lister

 


Tell me more about the research processes you have undertaken to produce your large photographs and sculptural works.

The Lay of the Land (and other such myths) project began in the Californian desert in September 2015, whilst I was on sabbatical from my lecturing position at the University of Central Lancashire. I was in California exhibiting site-specific work in a show in Joshua Tree, and following this I spent time travelling around interviewing various academics and artists, before heading back out to the desert to collect footage and take photographs. I ended up at the Alabama Hills, a collection of rock formations situated in Owens Valley, which has been used as a Hollywood film set for decades. Upon my return to the UK, I developed a series of photographs and sculptures in response to this site and in conjunction with research gathered as part of my PhD.

My research aims to investigate the analogy of the artificial island as an ideological mise-en-scène to challenge anti-progressive frames of power, through the construction of imaginary subversive place as artwork. Creating an artificial island involves infilling an area of space with large amounts of material until a new land mass is achieved. This construction of place, of new ground that can be traversed and utilised, is an assertion of one’s power in the face of elemental forces. Approaching the exhibition making process with this in mind opens up a dialogue for me about the power of subversive place making – which has become the crux of my artistic research.

 

Your exhibition was first shown at HOME in Manchester – how did it come to be shown at AirSpace? Has the display since altered?

Lay of the Land (and other such myths) was first created in 2015, and from there it was developed as a touring show in conjunction with producer Mark Devereux Projects. It was first exhibited publicly at London Art Fair in January 2017, as part of a SOLO Award™ prize I received in 2016 from Chiara Williams Contemporary. It then went to HOME in Manchester in the form of a symposium and photographic series. Now it features at AirSpace as part of the gallery’s programme commitment to independent curatorial practice.

The content of each version of the exhibition fluctuates and evolves depending on the space and the surrounding context. For example, the London Art Fair configuration specifically played with the traditional conventions of the art fair, whereas the HOME exhibition utilised both the scale of the walls in the gallery and the theatre – replicating the scale of the landscapes represented and providing a space to construct an accompanying performative symposium.

The AirSpace exhibition builds on both of these shows, using the unique surroundings of the gallery as a starting point for new work.

Victoria Lucas, Lay of the Land (and other such myths), installation view at AirSpace Gallery. Photograph courtesy of Jules Lister

You worked with AirSpace before in Conjunction 10 (2010-11). What does it mean to be working with the gallery again?

It is fantastic to be exhibiting with AirSpace again. Since Conjunction 10 I have been invited back to AirSpace a few times – as workshop leader and as a mentor for new graduates, for example. Every visit is a very positive experience, and it is great to be back again working on such an ambitious solo exhibition with their support.

 

Part of the source material for the work comes from the landscapes and brownfield sites close to AirSpace. Why do these resonate with you?

Literary sources form key material for the new body of work created specifically for AirSpace Gallery. JG Ballard’s Concrete Island presents a desolate, segregated concrete intersection as a stage carved out of and dislocated from reality. This imaginary literary landscape informs an artistic investigation that seeks to locate sites in which real and imaginary worlds meet. The new work at AirSpace borrows Ballard’s title, and has been developed specifically in response to the concrete expanses that punctuate the city of Stoke-on-Trent. Interpreting the Brownfield sites situated close to AirSpace in conjunction with the novel and with reference to a specific feminist framework, my Concrete Island installation comprises a large scale photograph, concrete benches, rubble taken from a nearby site and a new sound work composed in collaboration with singers from across the region.

The photograph was developed after numerous site visits on the run up to the exhibition, and has been created through a process of layering and digital manipulation – much like the images developed in response to the Alabama Hills. The sculptural benches have been designed with the female body in mind, as the length of each bench refers to the average height of a woman in the UK. Visitors are encouraged to lie down on the benches and listen to the soundscape presented, in which the female voice becomes an artistic medium. Working from harmony to a chaotic, discordant sound, the all-female choir individually and collectively fill the work with their powerful voices.

This composed sound work has been developed with the choir over a series of experimental workshops, which I led on the run up to the exhibition. I have also created a film of the choir performing this piece on one of the brownfield sites, and this work – entitled ‘A Staging’ – is also presented as part of the exhibition at AirSpace.

 

What parallels do you see might exist between the fictive places you create, the deserts of California and the changing nature of Stoke-on-Trent?

I see all of these spaces as deserts – as landscapes that can be captured and utilised to create otherworldly fictitious places in the form of an exhibition. The work’s geographic origins are simultaneously important and unimportant in this respect – references to real places are fragmented and recontextualised through the exhibition to generate a mise-en-scène that challenges limiting constructions of female identity through objects, soundscapes and video works.

Drawing from Rosi Braidotti’s theoretical reflections on the posthuman, the non-naturalistic forms in the video works refer to the female human body, and create an opportunity to make sense of and ultimately redefine female identity away from broader, limiting frames of sexuality. Ultimately, I use place as a vehicle rather than a direct reference – and this overarching feminist framework is what unites the landscapes explored.

 

Can you tell me more about working collaboratively with singers from across the West Midlands?

The female voice has become a central component in the works displayed as part of this exhibition. As the viewer enters the space, they are greeted by Release (2017), a looped sound work in which an intermittent sigh of relief fills the gallery space. Then, moving towards the back of the gallery, a collection of female voices becomes audible as headphones in Concrete Island and the audio of A Staging are first encountered.

The power of the collective female voice as a raw unstructured material has been utilised here to strongly position the woman in the centre of the work without direct reference to the female body – a form that brings with it limitations, in terms of the gendered cultural tropes one is conditioned to adopt when considering an understanding of femininity in the west.

Victoria Lucas, Lay of the Land (and other such myths), installation view at AirSpace Gallery. Photograph courtesy of Jules Lister

Your work speaks about power and escapism in relation to gender. Can you tell me about your thoughts on the political aspects of your work?

Limiting, orthodox idealism has gained a foothold in western politics, fuelled by the widespread manipulation of facts and a populist shift towards right-wing agendas – and this forms an important backdrop to my interrogation.

The work questions how power and agency can be playfully reclaimed through the construction of subversive place, as dissident, fictive island constructions explore a scene in which radical representations of women control their own space, and their own bodies, on their own terms. Using the metaphor of land reclamation, my artistic practice aims to reveal a space in which the occupant can objectively interrogate the limiting aspects of feminised stereotypes through an encounter with art.

 

What are your hopes for the exhibition?

Playing with the position of the viewer in relation to the work is a key part of my method, specifically in relation to notions of place-making and the activation of subversive islands within an exhibition context. The consideration of how the viewer enters the space, how they navigate through it, spend time within it, and leave it, are all crucial to fulfilling the core aims of the work. So my hope is that the work functions as I intend, existing as a multifaceted installation that comprises a variety of entry points for the purposes of audience engagement.

 

And your upcoming plans?

At the moment I am focusing on getting my third year students through their upcoming degree show at UCLan. I then have work in a couple of group exhibitions – one at Millennium Galleries in Sheffield, which opens on the 6 June, and the other at Sydhavn Station in Copenhagen, opening the 9 June. I also look forward to working through a long reading list for my PhD and making new work this summer.

Lay of the Land (and other such myths), AirSpace Gallery, 5 May – 3 June 2017.
Presented in association with Mark Devereux Projects.

Artist Victoria Lucas is currently presenting her solo exhibition Lay of the Land (and other such myths) at Stoke-on-Trent’s AirSpace Gallery. Anneka French caught up with her to about her research, production processes and what it’s been like working with the gallery again after seven years.