Mere Reading, Laura Onions, June 2020

Artist Laura Onions has been using some of the time that lockdown has afforded her to make new work exploring this context of enforced leisure. These paintings feed into long term bodies of research on reading and pedagogical practices. A selection of these paintings are for sale, raising more for The Haven. Laura, who showed work as part of New Art West Midlands x Coventry Biennial 2019, talks more about her series here.

 

Mere Reading, Laura Onions, June 2020

 

Reading is a space of solace and resistance, yet over recent months I have struggled to make my way to that space. I pick up a book and feel posed with it – much like the readers in paintings from history, forever unmoving and never turning the page. Who is the reader, then, shattered into so many surfaces? What is her voice? Many have become withdrawn from usual comforts. So, in my enforced leisure, I began painting from my sofa – a kind of reading otherwise through the figure of the reader.

There is always a correspondence between reading (and painting) in place and time. Place can be transformed by reading in it. It can be a means to enter the outside world at a time when we are limited in doing so. Not everyone is able to read under an open sky, but we have the option of abstracting ourselves from our surroundings. This can be a threshold between spaces of uncertainty, or where the body is vulnerable within our exterior and interior lives. The book is a volume in these spaces of spillage and containment – an apprehension of the present, a kind of holding which is also being held.

 

Mere Reading, Laura Onions, June 2020

 

Which bodies read, which write? Which are audible, which receive? Language is bound up with bodies, raising the question of who is able to articulate, who speaks and who is silent. “The reader beckons the receiver close; someone must recognize her sounds. The writer beckons the reader close; someone must read her signs.” * We lend our voice to mute signs, although we so often read in silence. Perhaps reading offers her the chance to become another. A kind of channelling of voices other than your own.

I like to imagine the figures in these paintings are reading texts that are confessional, autobiographical, even didactic, finding their stories in the literature that provide tools, knowledge, voice and independence. The smaller narratives of our lives have become so much more prevalent and powerful and we should be the readers of those writers, whose identities are denied and have no other place to find their stories except in the literature, “we will have only the future tense. Also each other. The renown we will make audible together, we should use it.” **

 

Mere Reading, Laura Onions, June 2020

 

A selection of paintings are available to purchase on Laura’s website here in aid of The Haven, a charity in Wolverhampton supporting vulnerable women and children as a result of domestic abuse. You can find out more about the Haven’s work here.

 

* Quinn Latimer, ‘Signs, Sounds, Metals, Fires or An Economy of Her Reader,’ in, The Documenta 14 Reader, Germany, Prestel Verlag, 2017, p. 273.
** Ibid, p. 296.

 

Mere Reading, Laura Onions, June 2020

We speak to artist Laura Onions about new work she is making during lockdown exploring this context of enforced leisure.

Laura Onions, Writing Otherwise (after Marion Richardson), Screen print and acrylic paint on canvas

Laura Onions, Writing Otherwise (after Marion Richardson), Screen print and acrylic paint on canvas

Printmaking, writing and archival research are approaches through which Laura Onions explores the impacts of learning in relation to gender and feminist pedagogies. This responds to the ways language reproduces patterns of meaning. What we read and write situates identities and positions us socially and politically.

Laura’s recent work is focused on female educators/learners who fostered a caring, holistic approach towards education. Archival research into Marion Richardson (1892 – 1946) an artist/educator who transformed the manner in which children learn to write through pattern making, resulted in the series Writing Otherwise in which writerly patterns and textual elements meet one another in functional paintings.

Laura is interested in the spaces we create for ourselves and others. Images of women reading are a reoccurring theme in painting – particularly historical paintings by male artists. The ongoing series The Look of Reading uses painterly printmaking techniques to push the images towards abstraction. The figure and surrounding scene begin to merge, obscuring and shadowing to subvert/invert the male gaze.

A graduate of Birmingham City University, Laura is exhibiting several works across The Row and Bell Green Library in Coventry. New Art West Midlands x Coventry Biennial and Coventry Biennial of Contemporary Art continues until 24 November 2019.

Laura Onions is the focus of our artist spotlight today. Her work can be found as part of New Art West Midlands x Coventry Biennial at The Row and Bell Green Library in Coventry.

Farwa Moledina, ‘Interwoven’, 2018, Ways of Belonging, Ort Gallery at Midlands Art Centre

We are excited to announce the New Art West Midlands 2019 artists, selected by International Curators Forum:

Betsy Bradley, Hira Butt, Sarah Byrne, Gemma Costin, Anna Katarzyna Domejko, Andreana Fatta, Matt Gale, Amy Guo, Ewan Johnston, Navi Kaur, Shiyi Li, Mengxia Liu, Farwa Moledina, Tayyibah Mota, Laura Onions, Ameera Sadiq, Matías Serra Delmar, Rosie Piercy, Georgia Tucker and Lily Wales.

Farwa Moledina, ‘Interwoven’, 2018, Ways of Belonging, Ort Gallery at Midlands Art Centre 

  • New Art West Midlands returns for 2019 with a new cohort of 20 artists, recent graduates from the region’s art schools and creative Higher Education courses.
  • In collaboration with Coventry Biennial of Contemporary Art, a new exhibition model introduces artists in arts venues and historic sites across Coventry.
  • Selected by International Curators Forum, a new programme supports creative practice development for the region’s brightest new talent.
  • New Art West Midlands x Coventry Biennial of Contemporary Art runs 4 October – 24 November 2019

This autumn New Art West Midlands returns with a new model, working in collaboration with Coventry Biennial of Contemporary Art to introduce an exciting group of artists across the city.  From traditional arts venues to unexpected spaces and public places, the exhibition aims to reach new audiences and show the value of creativity as Coventry moves closer to its tenure as UK City of Culture in 2021.

Selected by International Curators Forum, the artists are recent graduates from the West Midlands’ art schools and creative Higher Education programmes. The region has a rich offer and heritage when it comes to art education; New Art West Midlands is a partnership with the leading institutions to celebrate the talented individuals emerging from undergraduate, postgraduate and doctoral programmes.

Applications were received from over one hundred artists, representing recent graduates from Birmingham City University, Coventry University, University of Wolverhampton, University of Worcester, Staffordshire University and Hereford College of Arts.

The selection panel included a delegation from International Curators Forum, including Adelaide Bannerman, Cindy Sissokho and Jessica Taylor alongside Ryan Hughes, the founder and director of Coventry Biennial. International Curators Forum’s highly acclaimed Diaspora Pavilion featured as part of the Venice Biennale in 2017, and has informed the direction of New Art West Midlands 2019 as a professional development programme.

In addition to participation in Coventry Biennial, a smaller cohort from these 20 artists will be selected to work with an appointed curator on a yearlong professional development programme. This intensive period will support practice-based skills toward the development of new work for a further curated exhibition at the Herbert Art Gallery (Culture Coventry) in autumn 2020. Speaking about the selection and quality of submissions, Jessica Taylor commented: “International Curators Forum is thrilled to be partnering with New Art West Midlands, Coventry Biennial and Herbert Art Gallery on this important opportunity to support a cohort of recently-graduated emerging artists and a curator from the West Midlands.

“We are excited that the Diaspora Pavilion model has influenced the development of this programme, which champions diversity and the professional development of emerging practitioners in the region. The connections made and exposure gained by the 20 selected artists as a result of their inclusion in this Biennial stands to be of great importance during this moment of transition in their careers, and we look forward to working closely with some of the artists as they continue on in the programme alongside a selected curator in 2020.”

Highlights include new large-scale installations, sculpture, photography, video, paintings, drawings and digital artworks, exploring themes of cultural identity, technologies and the environment among others. Sarah Byrne’s (University of Wolverhampton) work reflects on experiences growing up in England as British girl with an Asian mother. Her projections use imagery from her mother’s old photo albums of childhood trips to the Philippines to question the events and exchanges that have contributed to a separation in her two national identities.

“I am a renegade botanist” declares Gemma Costin (Hereford College of Arts). Her travelling seedpod is a repurposed caravan that used to be called home, now transformed into a space to interrogate ideas of nature and biophilia.

Amy Guo (Staffordshire University) investigates the relationship between human and digital technologies. Works consider the ways in which our social interactions with others are mediated through technology and the visibility of our digital selves.

Farwa Moledina’s (Birmingham City University) series of prints on paper and textile are concerned with re-appropriating and reclaiming Orientalist imagery of Muslim Women. In today’s postcolonial, globalised world, refugees, immigrants and persons of dual culture often find themselves caught between tradition, integration and redefinition of their complex identities.

Through film, photography and mixed media, Tayyibah Mota (Coventry University) considers the Hijab. Her work seeks to display the tradition within and opposition to this Muslim practice, whilst sharing personal experiences of some of the British Muslim women who wear them.

Rosie Piercy (University of Worcester) deals with the very current issue of tuition fees and the cost of education in Britain. Her sculpture ‘Forever in Debt’ consists of helium filled balloons highlighting the exact balance of her student loan as they slowly deflate.

Ryan Hughes, director of Coventry Biennial, commented: “We are really delighted by the work we have selected and are looking forward to bringing it to Coventry to share with audiences. The professional development focus of New Art West Midlands aligns strongly with our vision for a social and critically engaged biennial for the region. The unique and inclusive new model they have built will create deeply meaningful opportunities for these artists in the West Midlands and beyond.”

Now in its seventh year, the New Art West Midlands exhibition programme is established as an important aid in developing the careers of artists. With 200 artists involved since 2013, previous exhibitors have seen their work purchased for the national Arts Council Collection and have gone on to achieve solo exhibitions in respected galleries.

New Art West Midlands 2019

Various venues across Coventry, 4 October – 24 November 2019.

 www.newartwestmidlands.co.uk

 

 

Notes for editors:

The New Art West Midlands 2019 exhibition is supported by Arts Council England, Birmingham City University, Coventry University, University of Worcester, University of Wolverhampton, Hereford College of the Arts and Staffordshire University, developed in partnership with Coventry Biennial of Contemporary Art, Culture Coventry and International Curators’ Forum.

 

Partners New Art West Midlands 2019:

About Coventry Biennial of Contemporary Art:

Coventry Biennial of Contemporary Art brings critically engaged, high quality contemporary visual art to the city and surrounding area. Celebrating and promoting contemporary art and artists, the festival is equally rooted in the city of Coventry, its history and its future. The first Biennial took place 6 – 22 October 2017 in venues across the city, the centre-piece being the sprawling CET Building, now under redevelopment. 2019 is the Biennial’s second iteration, with the third taking place in 2021 as part of Coventry’s UK City of Culture year.

About International Curators Forum: 

International Curators Forum develops and offers professional development opportunities for artists and curators, which include curating exhibitions and events that address diasporic culture in a global context; connecting professionals around the world through organised international networking trips and residencies. Past projects include the 2016-2017 international knowledge-sharing platform ‘Curating the International Diaspora,’ and the 2016-2018 professional development programmes ‘Diaspora Pavilion’ and ‘Beyond the Frame.’

About Culture Coventry:
Culture Coventry
is the trust that manages three of Coventry’s finest visitor attractions: Coventry Transport Museum, home to the world’s largest collection of British road transport, including the two fastest cars in the world; the award-winning Herbert Art Gallery & Museum, which celebrates the city’s culture, history and arts; and the Lunt Roman Fort, a fully excavated and partially reconstructed turf and timber fort, including the only gyrus in the Roman Empire. Between them, the attractions proudly tell stories of Coventry’s unique history to over 800,000 visitors per year from around the world.

  About New Art West Midlands:
New Art West Midlands is the contemporary visual arts network for the region. The network plays a leading role in bringing people together to support, promote and develop the region’s contemporary visual arts sector, both within the region and at a national level. They create defining opportunities for artists and arts professionals to develop their practices through a distinctive, critically-engaged programme, including the New Art West Midlands exhibition for recent graduates, and Engine, a region-wide professional development programme for artists and curators. New Art West Midlands is part of the national Contemporary Visual Arts Network. They are supported by Arts Council England and the lead partners are Birmingham City University and The New Art Gallery Walsall. Further support is provided by their partners Coventry University, Hereford College of Arts, University of Wolverhampton and University of Worcester, as well as Staffordshire University.

We are excited to announce the New Art West Midlands 2019 artists, selected by International Curators Forum:

Betsy Bradley, Hira Butt, Sarah Byrne, Gemma Costin, Anna Katarzyna Domejko, Andreana Fatta, Matt Gale, Amy Guo, Ewan Johnston, Navi Kaur, Shiyi Li, Mengxia Liu, Farwa Moledina, Tayyibah Mota, Laura Onions, Ameera Sadiq, Matías Serra Delmar, Rosie Piercy, Georgia Tucker and Lily Wales.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

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