Joanne Masding, Flimsy Signals (season 2), 2019. Permanent commission for Bruntwood, Cornerblock, Birmingham. Image courtesy Patrick Dandy

Do Female Artists Have to Choose Between Motherhood and a Career?

Hettie Judah speaks to 12 women about their experiences of motherhood in the art world, including Birmingham-based Joanne Masding – via Elephant Magazine.

Luke Routledge Relief Paintings - Rainbow Bird. Available via Eastside Projects.

Now, more than ever, artists and cultural organisations need our support. We’ve started to compile a list of organisations with great shops, as well as events coming up over the next few weeks selling artists and makers works.

If you are a cultural organisation, artist or maker selling work as part of an event online or offline who would like to be added to the list, please let us know.

[Updated 8 December 2020.]


On Friday 4 December Modern Clay will hold a Winter Studio sale on Instagram.

Great Malvern Christmas Arts Market takes place on Saturday 5 December from 10am-5pm in the grounds of Great Malvern Priory.

Over the weekends of 5-6 and 12-13 December, Fargo Village hold their Christmas Makers Market online with over 40 makers and designers selling their wares.

MAC Birmingham’s Winter Arts Market continues until Sunday 6 December.

Worcester Arts Market takes place over the weekend of 12-13 December on the High Street and Cathedral Square.

The Old Print Works in Balsall Heath, Birmingham hold their Christmas Market at the venue from 12-13 December from 11am-4pm.

Grand Union are offering 50% off all their Editions until Thursday 17 December.

Feminists Work for Change have launched an online shop ‘Empower Bab‘ with limited edition art works by Birmingham-based artists. All proceeds go to Baobab, West Midlands refugee and migrant grassroots women’s advocacy project.

Stryx’s shop, launched in November sells original art works and editions. Artists include: Ewan Johnston, Lexi Strauss, Georgiou & Tolley and Paul Newman.


Luke Routledge Relief Paintings – Rainbow Bird. Available via Eastside Projects.

Eastside Project’s Winter Art Fair – With work by over 30 artists from their associate membership programme as well as specially priced Eastside Projects editions. Items include limited edition artworks, artist t-shirts, tarot readings, textiles, jewellery and more.

Studio Outlet sells unique works, test pieces, one-offs, experiments, models, maquettes and more; made by artists in the process of developing new work and making exhibitions. Artists include Joanne Masding, Ruth Claxton, Sarah Taylor Silverwood and Andrew Gillespie.

Unit Twelve Gallery in Staffordshire are open Thursday-Saturday, 10am-4pm selling beautiful handmade crafts.

Public House stock artists’ books, zines and pamphlets.

Amanda Randall Piper Window Brooch available in the Coventry Artspace shop.

Coventry Artspace have recently opened an online shop supporting local artists.

Buy prints, books, jewellery and more from the RBSA shop.

Centrala‘s shop offer a great selection of books in both English and Polish as well as artwork, crafts, food and drink.

Ikon Gallery’s shop sells books, prints and posters, tees and totes, jewellery and more.

Compton Verney sell Gift memberships and Access all Areas passes.

Craftspace offer pay-as-you-feel family activity packs as well as beautiful jewellery created by Shenalu, a collective of refugee women who specialise in craft.

Multistory‘s shop stock a range of project related publications, DVDs and even tea towels.

Airspace Gallery‘s shop offers a range of publications and editions.

Reusable face masks from Birmingham Museum & Art Gallery

Birmingham Museum & Art Gallery‘s shop sells all kinds of wares, including face masks featuring works from their Collection.

The Sidney Nolan Trust sell a selection of publications, cards and membership offers.

#ArtistSupportPledge – Support artists across the globe on Instagram.



Now, more than ever, artists and cultural organisations need our support. We’ve started to compile a list of organisations with great shops, as well as events coming up over the next few weeks selling artists and makers works.

Kerry O’Coy talks about activating art on Dudley High Street and her experience organising and working with local businesses for Eye Candy Festival.

The joy of colour

Painter Cherrie Mansfield and fine art photographer Richard Nicholls reveal how they created five designs for Worcester’s new outdoor gallery project – via Worcestershire Open Studios.

Lindsey Mendick, ‘The Yellow Wallpaper’, 2020, installation detail, Eastside Projects, Birmingham. Courtesy: the artist and Eastside Projects; photograph: Stuart Whipps

How artists from Édouard Vuillard to Dorothea Tanning and Kehinde Wiley used wallpaper in their work, with mention of Lindsey Mendick’s exhibition at Eastside Projects in Birmingham earlier this year – via Frieze.

Photographer Laura Pannack writes about her year-long project in the Black Country commissioned by Multistory for ‘My Best Shot’ in the Guardian.

Black Lives Matter has underlined the crucial role played by black photographers. Eight British leaders (including Birmingham-based Vanley Burke) in their field to pick a favourite image from their archives – and explain why it’s so important to them – via The Guardian

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.



The Crafts Council ask expert commentators what they think the main problems are and how institutions should be addressing them.

Artist spotlight: Pogus Caesar

Jack Arts interviews Pogus Caesar. Born in St Kitts and brought up in Birmingham, Caesar has contributed two images currently displayed on billboards across the UK in response to the Black Lives Matter movement.

How to be a Hermit - A Guide for Surviving Lockdown from One Who Knows Hermit: a person living in seclusion; a recluse. hermitic, hermitical, hermitish, hermiticaly, hermit-like, hermitry, hermitship 1 “Some are born hermits, some achieve hermitship and some have hermitry thrust upon them.” (sorry, William) Illustrated with a drawing from a medieval manuscript of a man dressed in a brown shift blowing a musical pipe and banging a drum.Hello you. Welcome to the new normal, this socially distanced, isolated world of stay-at-homes. In recent times you’ve unexpectedly joined the ranks of the contemplatives, the solitaries, the enclosed orders, the hermits; some of you more willingly than others. For some of us, the natural born hermits, this current stay-at-home world of lockdown has been a blessing and a balm. Illustrated with a drawing of a woman’s head and shoulders. She has long hair and red cheeks and is drawn in the style of a medieval manuscript Natural born hermits come in a range of colours and flavours: Some of us are happiest completely alone. Others enjoy a tiny community of friends and family. Still others are quite sociable, but still need a lot of alone time in between the parties. Come with me into the world of the hermit, I hope you may at least be entertained and maybe find empathy for a different kind of mind. Illustrated with a black and white stylised drawing of a woman’s head and shoulders and a cartoon of an animal, possibly a dog. Both are drawn in the style of the middle ages.I want to take a moment to reflect on the awfulness of being alone against your will. For people who are forced into a life of seclusion because of physical illness or injury, poverty, old age and metal ill health, an enclosed, isolated life is not a joy but a torture. I urge you to seek out the involuntary loners, the unwilling recluses, the stay at home sick and give them some love; call them up, let them know you are thinking about them, offer help. Don’t leave anyone alone who needs companionship. Illustrated with a drawing from a medieval manuscript of three kings standing together, each holding a hawk. Two of the kings are holding hands. A Short History of the Hermit There have always been hermits. A Slightly Longer History of the Hermit Throughout history and across the world, people have wandered away from their villages, towns and cities to live alone as hermits. Many moved away to a place of loneliness and silence in order to hear what their God/s is/are saying to them. Others become hermits because they want to test themselves alone in the wilderness, or because they just cannot stand all that damn rackett of people and civilisation any longer! Illustrated with a drawing of a medieval castle and surrounding buildings on a hill. In the foreground a cloaked and hooded figure of an older man sits on the ground reading a book. His feet are bare. Most human beings really love to hang out in groups. It’s probably why we started with a couple of straw huts and now have mega cities. You can clearly see the human need to be with other people if you’ve ever parked in a totally empty car park and your return find one other car has arrived. It’s parked so close to you you can’t get your door open. (Yes this has happened to me. Yes I’m still annoyed about it.) While the hermit, or solitary, has always been looked at with some suspicion by the rest of humanity, like a magnet they have also drawn the crowds. To avoid society, hermits have been walled up in rooms, lived on top of towers, taken to caves in the mountains, but still the press of humanity has come, seeking the hermit’s wisdom,. Illustrated with an Orthordox Christian Icon painting taken from a medieval manuscript. A bearded mans’ head and shoulders can be seen coming out of a stylised tower in the middle of a lake. An white building can just be seen at the side of the lake. The area behind the man is painted gold. During the late 17th century, there arose a fashion amongst the decadent elite for  How to be a Hermit: The Rules (according to me) Number one: Be alone. If you can’t be alone, you’ll hate being a hermit. As a hermit, you must prefer to spend the majority of your time (say, 70%) without other human beings around. However, hermits are permitted (even expected) to keep unlimited company with gods, cats, dogs, chickens, imaginary space aliens, as they prefer. Illustrated with a drawing from a medieval manuscript of a hooded and robed hermit sitting outside his hut looking at a man-shaped beast with the head of a wolf and huge claws on its fingers and toes. The beast seems to be talking to the hermit. Number two: Be interested For many, the whole point of being a hermit is being able to spend as much time as possible pursuing one’s area of interest/s without being interrupted by pesky people. Harsh, but true. Illustrated with a brightly coloured painting from a medieval manuscript of monk scribe seated at his writing table. The background of the image is gold. Number three: Be idle The life of a hermit is a life of contemplation. For religious hermits fervent and continuous prayer is the ideal. For the secular hermit active idleness, contemplative pondering of one’s special interests, should form a significant part of one’s daily round. Idleness and interests go, oddly, hand in hand. Illustrated with a humorous drawing of a sleeping man dressed in medieval clothing. He has his chin in his hand and is wearing long pointed shoes that curl up at the toes. Number four: Be (somewhat) Organised There is a fine line between being a hermit and being completely out of your tree. The demarcation line is to be found in organisation. You cannot, as a hermit, let things go. Managing a diary for your infrequent social responsibilities, cleaning yourself and your hermitage relatively frequently, maintaining routines, these things will keep you on the right side of sanity. Illustrated with a humorous drawing of a half naked man wearing a loin cloth and holding a tree branch n one hand. His other hand rests on a vase which has been upturned and seems to be spilling water or wine. Number five: Be (a little bit) Social People need people. This fundamental rule of life cannot be avoided, even for hermits. No one is 100% self sufficient; the greatest challenge for the hermit is balancing the need to be alone with the necessity to interact with people, to care for family, make a living, navigate society. It’s probably the hardest thing for hermits to get right and society could help by making more home-working available. Hermits everywhere are watching the outcome of lockdown and increased homeworking with deep interest. Being able to earn a living and not leave the home/hermitage would be life changing. Illustrated with a drawing from a medieval manuscript. A woman in nun’s habit is visiting a hermit in his hut by a river. The hermit is dipping one toe into the water.4. Quiet: Hermits value silence. The ideal hermitage is on the mountain top or in the wooded valley. A beach hut in a lonely cove or an island croft. Not only are these places far from society, the intrusive and mechanical noises of modern life are replaced with the sigh of wind and song of birds. (There are hermits who enjoy loud noises and raucous music and the city din. They are rare and peculiar) 5. Noticing the small things: flowers, beetles, the smell of rain, the crusty pleasure of toast, etc. 6. Enjoying the big things: Trainspotting, star gazing, listening to the same song on repeat, talking to gods, sci fi box sets, online bookshops, MMU games etc.7. Simplicity: Shops and hermits don’t mix well, which is good because most hermits are poor. Happy hermits embrace frugality. 8. The uniform: you can wear whatever you like as a hermit, go naked if you prefer! Hang fashion (unless you love fashion) and sizeist judgmentalism; you wear that moth eaten but very soft Captain Picard t-shirt and dinosaur pyjama bottoms as much as you want (but pay attention to Rule Number Four, see above) 9. Being authentically yourself: You don’t have to pretend when you are a hermit. It’s just you (and whatever gods / pets / space aliens you chose to share your hermitage with) so you can sing, dance, flap, rock, warble, put on silly voices, sniff, fart and whistle to your heart's content. Illustrated with a simple decorative border in blue, black and gold taken from a medieval illuminated manuscript. Two greyhounds are chasing a stylised deer along the bottom of the border.7. Simplicity: Shops and hermits don’t mix well, which is good because most hermits are poor. Happy hermits embrace frugality. 8. The uniform: you can wear whatever you like as a hermit, go naked if you prefer! Hang fashion (unless you love fashion) and sizeist judgmentalism; you wear that moth eaten but very soft Captain Picard t-shirt and dinosaur pyjama bottoms as much as you want (but pay attention to Rule Number Four, see above) 9. Being authentically yourself: You don’t have to pretend when you are a hermit. It’s just you (and whatever gods / pets / space aliens you chose to share your hermitage with) so you can sing, dance, flap, rock, warble, put on silly voices, sniff, fart and whistle to your heart's content. Illustrated with a simple decorative border in blue, black and gold taken from a medieval illuminated manuscript. Two greyhounds are chasing a stylised deer along the bottom of the border.


…kruse is a neurodivergent, multidisciplinary artist and current BOM Fellow. …kruse works collaboratively with AuTCRONE, a semi-fictional digital/human cyborg from the year 2120.

Their practice explores the human and trans-human, informed by their divergent neurology, person-hood, gender expression, enhanced sensory input and communication difference.

Themes and interests include the climate crisis, identity, neurodivergence, ageing, disability, gender expression, isolation, communication, solitude and community.


End comment

For many neurodivergent and autistic people the need to stay at home during the Covid-19 crisis may have come as a welcome respite from ‘normal’ life. While we are missing beloved friends and family, we are at least not having to navigate the sometimes confusing and stressful world of work and social obligations that can make life extra difficult for us.

The things that most of my NT (neuro-typical) friends seem to be missing are things that I am greatly relieved to be relieved of; community activities, festivals, parties, shopping, crowds, social busyness. Even if autistic people do enjoy some of these things, they come with extra stressors, sensory and social, that NT people don’t have to deal with.

Conversely, the things that most people find difficult during this lockdown, solitude, isolation, only being able to meet others online, being confined to the home, hours or days spent not talking to another person, may actually make life less stressful for many neurodivergent people.

Personally, I’ve always secretly fancied being a  hermit, in the style of the 19th century garden hermits; wherein an artist, poet or philosopher would live in solitude in a rustic hermitage in the grounds of some aristocrat’s estate, writing in peace and solitude, occasionally visited by the gentry and consulted on matters artistic or philosophical. In recent years I have been working with people and organisations to make workplaces and galleries more inclusive and accessible to autistic people. I believe that there could be some positives coming out of this awful pandemic as organisations and employers see that working online is much more feasible than previously thought. Being able to work, socialise and access arts events online could do a lot to lessen the social stress that many autistic people have to cope with on a daily basis. Access to different working patterns, more flexible work times, homeworking and digital workplaces could all help to make access to work a reality for autistic people, who currently have one of the highest unemployment rates of any socially disabled group.

May 2020

Image attribution for How To Be A Hermit by …kruse 2020

Pic 1: Bear and dancing horse from British Library Royal 20 D IV, f. 237v
Image taken from f. 237v of Lancelot du Lac.
Pic 2: Detail: Marginal drawing from British Library Arundel 413, f. 10
Marginal drawing of of a dog? and a human half-bust figure, in the Sermones de quadragesima. Image taken from f. 10 of Sermones de quadragesima.
Pic 3: Detail: Marginal drawing from British Library Arundel 413, f. 10
Marginal drawing of a human half-bust figure, in the Sermones de quadragesima. Image taken from f. 10 of Sermones de quadragesima.
Pic 3a: Three kings from British Library Royal 10 E IV, f. 258v
Detail of a bas-de-page scene of three kings standing together, each holding a hawk. Image taken from f. 258v of Decretals of Gregory IX with glossa ordinaria (the ‘Smithfield Decretals’)
Pic 5: Image from page 105 of “A short history of engraving [and] etching : for the use of collectors and students; with full bibliography, classified list and index of engravers” (1908) Year: 1908 (1900s) Authors: Hind, Arthur Mayger, 1880-1957 Publisher: London : A. Constable
Pic 7: Luke of the Stylites (Menologion of Basil II).jpg Wikimedia Commons
Pic 8: A Mountainous River Landscape with a Hermit and a Chapel ca. 1570–83
Matthijs Bril the Younger, Met Museum
Pic 10: Devil and hermit from British Library Royal 10 E IV, f. 113v
Detail of a bas-de-page scene of a devil and a hermit outside a hut. Image taken from f. 113v of Decretals of Gregory IX with glossa ordinaria (the ‘Smithfield Decretals’). Written in Latin.
Pic 11: Hermit from British Library Royal 14 E III, f. 6v
Detail of a miniature of the hermit writing at a desk. Image taken from f. 6v of Estoire del Saint Graal, La Queste del Saint Graal, Morte Artu.
Pic 12: Woman from British Library Sloane 748, f. 79v
Image taken from f. 79v of De caelo, De anima.
Pic 13: Image from British Library Harley 2506, f. 42v
Image taken from f. 42v of Phaenomena (also known as the Aratea).
Pic 14: Nun visiting hermit from British Library Royal 10 E IV, f. 130v
Detail of a bas-de-page scene of a nun visiting a hermit. Image taken from f. 130v of Decretals of Gregory IX with glossa ordinaria (the ‘Smithfield Decretals’).
Pic 16: Tournament from British Library Royal 20 D IV, f. 225v
Miniature of trumpeters and jousters at the tournament, with a bas-de-page scene of hounds chasing a stag. Image taken from f. 225v of Lancelot du Lac.


Multidisciplinary artist …kruse was recently awarded an Engine Micro Bursary. Their piece How to be a Hermit: A Guide to Surviving Lockdown from One Who Knows explores some of the pleasures that lockdown has afforded them as a neurodivergent person and aspiring hermit.

Yhonnie Scarce and Judy Watson talk about creating work with seductive surfaces and dark themes. Their Ikon Gallery exhibition covered by Jane Ure-Smith – via Financial Times

Cold War Steve’s latest work – an homage to his hometown of Birmingham – features a glittering cast of local luminaries set against a 19th Century cityscape. Find out more about this new commission from Birmingham Museum & Art Gallery and Vivid Projects. – via BBC

Slaughtering the Sacred Cows: a reflection

On Wednesday 11 March, Anna Berry hosted a public conference, Disability Arts: Slaughtering the Sacred Cows at Midlands Arts Centre, Birmingham as part of her curatorial residency there. Panellists included Aaron Williamson, Aidan Moesby, Trish Wheatley, Sonia Boué, Tom Shakespeare, and Manick Govinda. Sonia Boué gives her reflections on the themes raised. – via Disability Arts Online

Tom Seymour covers a new photobook by Edgar Martins, including a series commission by Grain Projects focusing on HMP Birmingham – via Wallpaper Magazine

Lindsey Mendick, whose work is currently on show at Eastside Projects in solo exhibition ‘The Yellow Wallpaper’, is featured by Kathryn Hughes – via the Guardian

Georgia Tucker, Terra Firma, VR installation, 2019

Georgia Tucker, Terra Firma, VR installation, 2019

Terra Firma (2019) by Georgia Tucker combines a physical and VR installation which explores the environmental crisis through different spaces. The installation is a narrow room that houses an immersive and interactive VR environment portraying a speculative future of increasing consumerism. Terra Firma exemplifies the artist’s concerns of our impact upon the natural environment and the production of man-made materials, represented respectively by woodland and plastic.

Further interaction with the work comes through a QR code, providing a weblink and narrative. The narrative is set 50 years in the future, where Georgia transports the viewer to Earth’s last natural woodland. A plastic netting ‘viewing’ barrier has been used to prevent further damage to the woodland. However, it has adapted, and thrives within the trees as an organism. The viewer is now encased within a compartmental maze and a natural soundscape, and is able to explore the tunnels and never-ending plastic structures. Whilst VR exposes the viewer to vulnerability, removing their sight and sound, the building provides a place of protection.

Georgia is a graduate of Birmingham City University. Her work, on display at The Row, was selected  by International Curators Forum for New Art West Midlands x Coventry Biennial.

Georgia Tucker’s virtual reality installation Terra Firma was selected by International Curators Forum for New Art West Midlands x Coventry Biennial. Her work is on display at The Row.

Ameera Sadiq, Untitled, 2019, mixed media installation

Ameera Sadiq, Untitled, 2019, mixed media installation

Ameera Sadiq is interested in how our perceived reality, constructed from our sensory input, can transform the perception of our environment. Her current sculptural assemblages aim to convey a sense of disconnectedness from reality, bearing a resemblance to a virtual world or out of body experience. The work has an otherworldly appearance marked by the intensity of luminescent colour schemes, and metallic and plastic surfaces that evoke futuristic and technological environments. Her practice draws inspiration from sci-fi cinematography, exploring unsettling dystopian worlds, where futuristic realities fail, when dreams and desires become questionable.

Drawings and collages allow Ameera to build a library of ideas that inform the construction of her sculptural installations. She employs an experimental approach to rethink and utilise everyday objects and materials by violating their intended use and depicting them serving an alternate purpose. Ameera frequently uses mass produced objects and materials to explore their technological capabilities.

Ameera’s installation is on view at the Lanchester Gallery, Graham Sutherland Building, Coventry University as part of New Art West Midlands x Coventry Biennial. She is a graduate of Birmingham City University.


Ameera Sadiq’s installation at The Lanchester Gallery is the subject of our next New Art West Midlands x Coventry Biennial artist spotlight.

Betsy Bradley, Swing to Utsuroi, Acrylic on reclaimed canvas, found wood, hemp rope

Betsy Bradley, Swing to Utsuroi, Acrylic on reclaimed canvas, found wood, hemp rope

Betsy Bradley’s practice seeks to communicate an experience of the present moment, embodying a dialogue between thought and action. Paint acts as an extension of the artist’s body and mind, physically suspending impulsive gesture. Her meditative processes unify these elements of being; moments free from thought in which the paint takes on its own agency. Driven by discovery, Betsy deliberately evokes moments that lie on the cusp of becoming. Her use of found materials and improvised mark-making tools challenge the hierarchical connotations of traditional painting. Fluid interaction between loose canvas and found objects extends this gesture beyond mark making on to the painting as an object itself. Informed by their immediate surroundings, improvisational structures serve as both supports and sculptures in her practice that question conventional notions of painting display. Betsy relies on a reciprocal relationship with her environment; spontaneous responses to materials around her result in adaptable works that upend the expected functionality of object and artwork.

Three of Betsy’s paintings are displayed at The Row. She is a recent graduate of Birmingham City University. New Art West Midlands x Coventry Biennial and Coventry Biennial of Contemporary Art continues until 24 November 2019.


The painting-based practice of Betsy Bradley is the focus of today’s artist spotlight from New Art West Midlands x Coventry Biennial.

Farwa Moledina, Not Your Fantasy II, Birmingham School of Art, 2018

Farwa Moledina, Not Your Fantasy II, Birmingham School of Art, 2018

Not Your Fantasy is a series of textile prints by Farwa Moledina concerned with re-appropriating and reclaiming Orientalist imagery of Muslim women. The work aims to unveil the voyeuristic tradition of Western male painters, whilst inviting viewers to question the prevalence of Orientalist stereotypes.

The image features a Muslim woman clad in white on a white background. The lack of colour negates all exotic and erotic Orientalist stereotypes, the only colour being the fabric. It is embroidered with the words ‘Not Your Fantasy’ and patterned with fragments of Ingres’ painting ‘La Grande Odalisque’, criticised for its appropriation and sexualisation of Eastern Culture. Not Your Fantasy is challenging and clearly directed at 19th Century Orientalist painters who created scenes of harems from their imagination and were fascinated by the otherness of the Eastern woman. Here, the subject’s gaze is challenging, opposing the vapid expressions of women found in Orientalist paintings.

Not Your Fantasy is exhibited at The Row. New Art West Midlands x Coventry Biennial and Coventry Biennial of Contemporary Art continues until 24 November 2019.


Today’s artist spotlight is Birmingham City University graduate, artist Farwa Moledina, whose work can be found at The Row as part of New Art West Midlands x Coventry Biennial of Contemporary Art.

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.

Hira Butt, Dhee Rani (Princess Daughter), Mixed media

Hira Butt, Dhee Rani (Princess Daughter), Mixed media

Hira Butt’s work revolves around the ideologies of gender and cultural dominance and her research on ‘Pak/Brit Mess’ – a self-defined term expressing a mixture of Pakistani and British culture – that has left empowering emotional and psychological effects on her personality.

Dhee Rani (Princess Daughter) is a series of bejewelled sculptures that reflect the complexities of domestic violence and contemporary slavery as a result of cultural transition. The series is a provocation to the commodification of life partners who are selected on the basis of property, exchange and domestic function rather than personality, aspiration or other human qualities. It reflects on expectations behind the selection and its potential fallout. The football, for instance, recognises globalised male dominance within the ‘beautiful game’ and incorporates feminised, domestic Pakistani decoration. The series is a confrontation of the pressures that enforced cultural differences or fictional differences can have on those that undergo tremendous cultural transition.

Dhee Rani (Princess Daughter) is exhibited at The Row. Hira is a graduate of Birmingham City University.

Artist Hira Butt is the subject of our artist spotlight today. Hira’s work was selected for New Art West Midlands x Coventry Biennial by International Curators Forum.

Amy Guo, Free Time Acquired by Forgetting to Press Pause, screenshot

Amy Guo, Free Time Acquired by Forgetting to Press Pause, screenshot

Amy Guo’s practice works within the frame of digital technology, glitch, documentation and time, investigating our relationship to these phenomena. Digital material and space are explored through projection, video, painting and installation works. Amy views glitch as an unexpected intervention that prevents the normal function of modern technologies. It functions as an apparatus to distort human perception.

Works consider the ways in which our social interactions with others are mediated through technology and the visibility of our digital selves.  In some of her works, a common ground is established by creating a human voice-over video akin to Siri. Amy’s practice comments on the projection of human emotion and intellect on to virtual entities. This articulation of the non-human critically depends on the understanding of our human selves.

A graduate of Staffordshire University, Amy shows a painted work titled Free Time Acquired by Forgetting to Press Pause created via the app Now Then Time Tracking Pro at Arcadia gallery.

New Art West Midlands x Coventry Biennial and Coventry Biennial of Contemporary Art continue until 24 November 2019.

Next in our artist spotlight series is Staffordshire University’s Amy Guo. Amy’s work is on display at Arcadia Gallery as part of New Art West Midlands x Coventry Biennial selected by International Curators Forum.

Lily Wales, Mr owl ate my metal worm, Handmade photomontage

Lily Wales, Mr owl ate my metal worm, Handmade photomontage

Lily Wales’ work has previously explored the effect of language on the public perception of nuclear weapons through the names they have been allocated. This was the subject of the work shown in New Art West Midlands 2018 at AirSpace Gallery, Stoke-on-Trent.

Lily’s new body of work aims to critique the presence that underwater nuclear weaponry has on our natural and political climate. The title ‘Mr owl ate my metal worm’ is a palindrome. The work refers to the sinking of HMS Coventry, a destroyer in the Royal Navy that was part of a pairing, unofficially termed Type 64, with the warship Broadsword. After being struck by Argentine bombs from a second wave of A-4 Skyhawks in 1982, HMS Coventry was sunk to the sea floor, taking its on-board weaponry and nineteen crew members with it.

Lily is a graduate of Birmingham City University. Her work is shown at The Lanchester Gallery and The Row, as part of New Art West Midlands x Coventry Biennial.

Lily Wales is today’s artist spotlight. Her work is shown at The Lanchester Gallery and The Row, as part of New Art West Midlands x Coventry Biennial. Her new body of work aims to critique the presence that underwater nuclear weaponry has on our natural and political climate.

Ewan Johnston, Prehistoric Hangover, 2019

Ewan Johnston, Prehistoric Hangover, 2019

Wolverhampton-based Ewan Johnston’s work is rooted in his life and the lives of people around him, while taking influence from historic narratives and myths. Ewan is concerned about what it means to be a young adult living today in a small city in England and describes his practice as political with a medium ‘p’. Working through painting, Ewan’s practice is focussed on colour, survival, joy, fear, humour and pain. He describes his practice as his purpose, his refuge and the way he is most comfortable expressing himself.

Ewan shows a selection of his acrylic paintings on canvas at The Row, a former NHS facility. His work Prehistoric Hangover (2019) is shown in one of the bathrooms open to Coventry Biennial visitors – a playful intervention that challenges and provokes.

Ewan is a graduate of Birmingham City University. New Art West Midlands x Coventry Biennial and Coventry Biennial of Contemporary Art continue until 24 November 2019.


Wolverhampton-based painter Ewan Johnston is the next of our New Art West Midlands x Coventry Biennial artist spotlights. A selection of his work can be seen at The Row, a former NHS facility and Coventry Biennial venue.

Shiyi Li, Minister of Lonliness, Live performance and live collage, 2018

Shiyi Li, Minister of Loneliness, Live performance and live collage, 2018

Shiyi Li is a Chinese visual artist, animator and illustrator currently based in Birmingham. Her work Minister of Loneliness is a collaborative performance involving chamber music, animation and live art performances made in conjunction with international percussionist Gloria Yehilevsky and originally performed by Aisling Reilly. The composition expresses concerns around mental health issues, an area in which the artists share personal experiences.

The story divides into four chapters that explore the relationship between women and loneliness. The film combines poetic narrative and montage and addresses the impact of media and scale. The chapters mix animation, live collage, live drawing performances and live music, and tell a story of a woman who progresses from self-denial to emerging positivity.

Minister of Loneliness has been screened and performed internationally in 2018 and 2019 in Bangkok, Saint-Étienne, London and Birmingham. It is screened at the Lanchester Gallery throughout Coventry Biennial, with a special live performance taking place on 15 November at The Herbert Art Gallery & Museum as part of New Art West Midlands’ No Limits, the launch of the visual arts strategy for the West Midlands.

Shiyi is a graduate of Birmingham City University. New Art West Midlands x Coventry Biennial and Coventry Biennial of Contemporary Art continue until 24 November 2019.

Shiyi Li’s work is showing at The Lanchester Gallery, with a special live performance on 15 November as part of the launch event of New Art West Midlands’ visual arts strategy for the West Midlands.

Rosie Piercy, Give Him Up, flag, pole and fan

Rosie Piercy, Give Him Up, flag, pole and fan

Worcester-based Rosie Piercy deals with the redaction and transparency of public funds and personal debt. Her works are often specific to site and are frequently both critical and playful.

She is showing works at The Row and St Mary’s Guildhall. The first, a new work, consists of sky-blue helium filled balloons highlighting the cost of Coventry Biennial which slowly deflate during the course of the exhibition. A recent balloon sculpture Forever in Debt outlined the exact balance of her student loan and drew attention to the political issues of tuition fees and the socio-economic costs of education in Britain.

Extending her inquiries into the value of culture, Rosie’s flag sculpture Give Him Up, references memes, repetition and internet archives via the familiar face of 1980s pop icon Rick Astley.

Rosie graduated from University of Worcester and was selected for New Art West Midlands x Coventry Biennial by International Curators Forum.

New Art West Midlands x Coventry Biennial and Coventry Biennial of Contemporary Art continue until 24 November 2019.

The next of our artist spotlight features is University of Worcester graduate Rosie Piercy, whose work is shown at The Row and St. Mary’s Guildhall, Coventry.

Navi Kaur, Finding Space in Faith, video, 2018

Navi Kaur, Finding Space in Faith, video, 2018

Navi Kaur is an artist and educator based in Birmingham. She often makes work commenting on the migrant experience, specifically journeys, the environment, storytelling and the documentary. Inspired by an archive of family photographs found in her grandparents’ home, she produces work in response to the lives they have built here in the UK, encompassing their Sikh faith and daily regimes.

Navi works predominantly through the processes of digital photography, film and installation. She works closely with her Budimom, Surinder, and Baba Ji, Karamjit (paternal grandparents), to better understand her own heritage and culture. These are manifest through feelings of displacement in organised environments and highlight the importance of celebrating cultural diversity through cross collaboration.

Her short documentary film Finding Space in Faith is installed with a large 4m x 4m carpet at The Row, part of New Art West Midlands x Coventry Biennial, replicating the traditional pattern of a carpet you would find in Sikh Gurdwaras and South Asian family homes. Her work Dreams of Green Beans is displayed at Leamington Spa Art Gallery and Museum as part of the wider Biennial programme.

Navi’s work was selected for New Art West Midlands x Coventry Biennial by ICF earlier this year, one of 20 artists showing across Biennial sites. She is a graduate of Birmingham City University.

New Art West Midlands x Coventry Biennial and Coventry Biennial of Contemporary Art continue until 24 November 2019.


Navi Kaur, today’s artist spotlight from New Art West Midlands x Coventry Biennial, is showing two video pieces, one in Leamington and one in Coventry.

Matías Serra Delmar, No particular order, OSB boards, wood, sandbags

Matías Serra Delmar, No particular order, OSB boards, wood, sandbags

No particular order was exhibited as part of Matías Serra Delmar’s degree show at Hereford College of Arts, and was placed outside the main entrance of the Grade II listed brick building. No particular order is a large installation made on 11mm OSB boards, originally made with a total length of 56 foot, from wood and sandbags. Its variable length has now been reconfigured and takes up residence at The Row, cutting through its walls assertively and responding to this specific site.

No particular order utilises and references the raw, DIY materials that can be found encircling construction sites in fast-growing cities around the UK, with Coventry being no exception. The work also refers to the artist’s upbringing. Matías was raised in Argentina, where the socio-economic crisis meant that unfinished buildings could become a part of the day-to-day landscape for decades.

New Art West Midlands x Coventry Biennial continues in arts venues and historic sites across Coventry until Sunday 24 November 2019.

Matías Serra Delmar, our next New Art West Midlands x Coventry Biennial artist spotlight, exhibits his work at The Row. Matías is a graduate of Hereford College of Arts.

Matt Gale, Soma, Plastic, silicone, steel and living organisms

Matt Gale’s Soma explores the idea of the body as an ecosystem and critically examines the commonly held notions of both bodies and ecosystems as discrete, contained and distinct. It is a gentle tease about our tendency to oversimplify and about the fetish for neatly categorising things, often as a means to more easily comprehend them.

Soma comprises a collection of vessels, some containing living organisms, others containing elements intended to represent either an organic or environmental system. Some vessels specifically reference research into bioremediation (using living organisms to digest pollutants we have created), including mealworm beetle larvae eating polystyrene and a water fern (Azolla) used to cleanse fresh water. Other vessels contain species that challenge notions of what is ‘natural’. The installation plays with the idea of oversimplification with individual species contained and displayed as if in a zoo, but it is problematised by the tubes linking vessels together.

Matt graduated from Birmingham City University. His work Soma can be found at The Row as part of New Art West Midlands x Coventry Biennial until 24 November 2019.


Our next artist spotlight feature is on Matt Gale, an artist who graduated from Birmingham City University. His work Soma can be found at The Row as part of New Art West Midlands x Coventry Biennial.

Anna Katarzyna Domejko, Everyone grows a big toe nail from now on, Watercolour on textile, lino, pencil on the wall, agave plant (detail)

Anna Katarzyna Domejko, Everyone grows a big toe nail from now on, Watercolour on textile, lino, pencil on the wall, agave plant (detail)

Philosophies of power and wealth distribution inform Anna Katarzyna Domejko’s installation. The work emblematises a fictional scenario that places humans at odds with a ‘Big Toe Nail Tribe’. In the narrative, the two tribes find themselves unable to communicate with one another, situated on different sides of political, economic and social pivot points, with each having leverage against the other.

Composed of a series of paintings and found objects, the installation’s centrepiece is a fulcrum point comprised of layers of household lino. It is crowned by an agave plant, a species which is resilient and requires little resource to survive. The artist’s aim is that the work be observed from different locations in the gallery space, depending upon your perspective and upon the tribe you choose.

Anna, a graduate of Birmingham City University, is exhibiting at the Lanchester Gallery as part of New Art West Midlands x Coventry Biennial. The exhibition continues until Sunday 24 November 2019.


Anna Katarzyna Domejko is our next artist spotlight. Her installation, comprising of paintings and sculptural pieces, is on show at The Lanchester Gallery as part of New Art West Midlands x Coventry Biennial.

Gemma Costin, Wanderlust; Version 3.0, Metal, plastic, paint, hessian, soil, wood, plants


Gemma Costin describes herself as “a renegade botanist”. Informed by biophilic concerns and passions, her recent work Wanderlust is a travelling seedpod-cum-caravan that used to be the artist’s home. The piece has been awarded a permanent location at the Sidney Nolan Trust in Herefordshire where Gemma will be studying the creatures and the diversity of wildflowers that will take hold and set seed in in and around the caravan over the next few years.


Wanderlust; Version 3.0 has been created especially for Coventry Biennial. Gemma’s new living sculptures located at The Row, a former NHS rehabilitation clinic, incorporate plants with herbal, folkloric and medicinal properties that respond to the site. Window boxes made from recycled materials and a new travelling seedpod trolley will make a home for themselves in Coventry during the course of the exhibition.


Gemma is a recent graduate from Hereford College of Arts and her work can be found in the Learning Space at The Row.


Gemma will take over an exciting, practical, hands-on free family art workshop on Saturday 9 November, 11am – 2pm at The Row. Inspired by Gemma’s artwork and passions you will become mini urban activists, using a variety of materials and techniques to create your own seed bombs which will be planted across the city. Children must be accompanied by an adult at all times. Drop-in session, suitable for ages 5+. More information here.


Today Gemma Costin is the subject of our artist spotlight. Her work can be found in the Learning Space at The Row, as part of Coventry Biennial. She will be running a free seed bomb workshop on Saturday 9 November.

Sarah Byrne, Margins of Margins, Overhead projector, prints on acetate and found material

Sarah Byrne, Margins of Margins, Overhead projector, prints on acetate and found material

Interested in memories, nostalgia, narratives and truth, Sarah Byrne’s work forms a reflection of experiences growing up in England as a British girl with an Asian mother. Using and re-using imagery from her mother’s old photo albums showing Sarah’s childhood trips to the Philippines, her practice forms a process of recalling, realising, and questioning the events, exchanges and associations which have contributed to what she describes as a separation in her two national identities.

The work questions what she remembers, versus what she thinks she does, and examines the extent to which memories may glitch, malfunction or overwrite. The imagery explores the extent to which visibility, fade, and blur relate to ethnographical trends of ‘Whiteness’, particularly the proclivity of Western idealisation within South-East Asia. Sarah relates this to her own muddled young memories of feeling tokenised by both sides.

Sarah is a graduate from University of Wolverhampton and has recently been awarded a residency at The New Art Gallery Walsall from February – April 2020.

Sarah’s work is exhibited at The Row as part of New Art West Midlands x Coventry Biennial. The exhibition continues across arts venues and heritage sites in Coventry until 24 November 2019.




Our next artist spotlight is Sarah Byrne, a graduate from University of Wolverhampton, who is showing at The Row as part of New Art West Midlands x Coventry Biennial. Her work forms a reflection of experiences growing up in England as a British girl with an Asian mother.

Mengxia Liu, Stefania Reportage Illustration, Gouache, watercolour and coloured pencil on paper

Mengxia Liu, Stefania Reportage Illustration, Gouache, watercolour and coloured pencil on paper

Mengxia Liu’s work explores the collision of multiculturalism in public spaces in different locations around the world. Combining reportage and documentary illustration with an anthropological approach, her research investigates multiple narratives, both explicit and hidden, that can be found in marketplaces. Mengxia employs techniques and methodologies from a cross-cultural perspective to create an ongoing and dynamic record of an ever-changing community that reflects on the multi-layered histories, textures and communities of the market as a site of commerce and diversity.

Stefania Reportage Illustration, is the result of a live project that took place at the 11th Saint-Étienne Biennale of Design in France in March 2019. During this residency period Mengxia observed the ways visitors of different cultural backgrounds interacted with the city’s exhibits and documented the biennale community and culture in the form of detailed reportage illustrations.

Mengxia’s painting is exhibited at Coventry University’s Lanchester Gallery, located within their Graham Sutherland building, as part of New Art West Midlands x Coventry Biennial.

She is a recent graduate of Birmingham City University and currently an artist in residence at Grand Union. 


Our next Artist Spotlight is on Mengxia Liu whose work explores the collision of multiculturalism in public spaces in different locations around the world. She is a recent graduate of Birmingham City University and currently an artist in residence at Grand Union.

Tayyibah Mota, My Hijab Collection, fabric, plastic, yarn

Tayyibah Mota, My Hijab Collection, fabric, plastic, yarn


Through film, photography and mixed media, Coventry-based Tayyibah Mota considers the Hijab, a head covering worn by Muslim women believed to be a display of modesty and an act of devotion to God.

In Western or what we call ‘modern’ societies, this is a foreign practice. To some it is viewed as outdated or even oppressive. For some time, the Hijab and Niqab (veil) have been taboo and in some countries banned. Tayyibah’s work considers the Muslim women who observe the Hijab or Niqab who are now struggling to wear them. She is concerned with their emotions and their voices, sharing the experiences of the British Muslim women that observe this practice through her work.

Tayyibah has spent the past two years speaking to women of different ages and from different backgrounds that wear the Hijab, and has recorded some of these conversations and photographed them to show the diversity that can be found within the practice of Hijab.

Tayyibah recently graduated from Coventry University and her work is displayed at The Row as part of New Art West Midlands x Coventry Biennial, an exhibition which was selected by International Curators Forum (ICF) earlier this year. See New Art West Midlands x Coventry Biennial until 24 November 2019.


Our second artist spotlight is on the work of Tayyibah Mota, currently showing at The Row as part of New Art West Midlands x Coventry Biennial.

Andreana Fatta, Ξεριζωμένη Γενιά / An Uprooted Generation, Copper pipes, Greek orthodox candle wax, archived objects and publication

Andreana Fatta’s project archives found objects in a creative manner. It follows the case of her grandmother, a Cypriot woman and a subject of displacement.

Throughout the process of archiving, the legal guidelines of the State Archives in Cyprus, presented in the publication that accompanies Andreana’s sculptural installation, have been followed. The “Historical Section Criteria” is a manifesto for Andreana’s creative practice, allowing her to make a space in which to raise awareness of the importance and functionality of an archive.

It is significant that the National State Archives of Cyprus were founded in 1972, two years before the country was invaded by Turkey. Archiving information that had the potential to be collected in this period of war turned out to be rather challenging. Many documents and other materials including artworks were lost.

Andreana is a graduate from Birmingham City University. Andreana is one of 20 recent graduates from the West Midlands’ six art schools exhibiting as part of the Biennial, selected by ICF International Curators Forum from an open call earlier this year.

Her work can be seen at The Muniment Room in St. Mary’s Guildhall, Coventry, in an exhibition that focuses on air and archive as part of New Art West Midlands x Coventry Biennial


In the first of our artist spotlights from New Art West Midlands x Coventry Biennial, we focus on the work of Andeana Fatta.

This month artist Nilupa Yasmin has been in residence in Brixton market as part of a GRAIN and PhotoFusion collaboration. Spending time with the market traders, residents and customers, she will then make a new piece in the PhotoFusion gallery, with visitors able to meet her and engage in her process. At the same time, the gallery will be exhibiting her work inspired by the markets in West Bromwich, commissioned by Multistory, as part of Blast Photo Festival 2019.

Annabel Clarke talks to her about her Brixton residency.


I love a market! In fact, when I visit a new place, I always try to seek them out. I feel you can get a good feel of the place from them. What attracts you to them?

I have to admit, I do this too! The surrounding colour and vibrancy are what excite me the most about markets; it’s also something that I try my best to convey through the work I’m creating. Markets have a life of their own, each stall running with their own story and selling their own craft. I’ve learnt the most from markets, be it about the trade or just the many stories the residents have. I always suffer the risk of spending hours (both time and money) in a market just talking to the stall holders. I’m from Birmingham and we have a great market here, so I’ve always been exposed to the market life galore.

Brixton Market is a fascinating one. A real melting pot of cultures, but sadly with the looming threat of gentrification. What sort of things have you discovered and focused on during the creation of your new work? How have residents engaged with the making of the piece?

Brixton is an incredibly multicultural area! but you’re right in that gentrification has already made its way into the stalls. You can see it when you’re walking down the row of shops, in the way they have adapted to the current state of development. Many shops have become a lot more accustomed to accommodating to the current day, age and market they’re selling for. This is in no way a bad thing, as businesses have to thrive, and tapping into their current market is a must for survival; you can almost see the businesses that are being left behind.

Many of the residents speak about all the new shops opening a few doors down, be it the décor of the store or the most obscure things they’re selling. I’ve found that a lot businesses aren’t much aware of the change that’s slowly occurring throughout. Many have been there for years and are seeing it as just one more change in the many years of changes they’ve had. Having had these discussions with them, I fear they’re not aware of how this gentrification is going to affect them and their livelihood.

I’m interested in marrying the visual space of the markets with the products sold, the old with the new and the traditional with the modern. Residents have a lot of opinions about the ambiguous products sold by their neighbours, but are very interested in how different and far the market has come from when they started. They have all been very welcoming and very eager in answering questions I have; the hardest part has been trying not buy everything I see. I think they see me as someone who’s come to take photos of their shops and interview them, so I’m quite excited to show them what I’m actually doing with their images.

I’ve noticed that there is a very evident wave of energy I receive from the space and I can see it being implemented into the images I’m taking and later weaving. Weaving has become a sense of performance for me in this space, something I’ve never quite honed down so much of when I’m creating work. It may just be the structure and nature of the fact that this is a residency and not a long-term project, but the performative act of weaving in the direction of the images has been rewarding. I’ve woven before but this work is different, there’s character in each piece along with my excitement and surprise in what I’m making.

‘Where Can I Find This?’ © Nilupa Yasmin, 2019.

When will the work be revealed?

The residency runs a little different to what I’ve don’t before and is currently coinciding with my exhibition in Photofusion. ‘Where can I find this?’ is currently on exhibit at Photofusion till mid October.
This work was created through for the Blast! Festival, commissioned by Multistory. I am visiting Brixton throughout September and it has been a different experience in almost restricting myself to stick to just the days I’m there (so far failing!). I’m hoping for the work to be unveiled in October so that it coincides with the last weeks of my exhibition. There is also a hope to give back the work I’m creating to the market in some way, so there is a little pressure in making work they can be both proud and pleased with.

You were commissioned to make new work for Blast! Festival. How has the Forge mentorship programme benefitted your practice? What did you find inspiring about the marketing in West Bromwich. Was there a particular part that you found inspiring?

The Forge mentorship has been highly beneficial for me. Working on such a big project for the Blast! Festival has not only helped boost my confidence but has tremendously improved both my skill and confidence in working with various community spaces. The support I received from the Mulistory team (and even still do) has allowed me to expand my own outreach and keep creating work that is both accessible and for the people it’s about. It’s become an integral part of my practise to both understand and implement accessibility in the work I am producing. A lot of the skills I’ve learnt through the mentorship and commission, I’m still applying now and most specifically in Brixton.

I did not initially intend to focus on market spaces for my commission but almost just fell into it. The Forge artists were working in the six boroughs of Sandwell and I found it quite interesting how each borough had its own markets space. Going around to each one, spending time and listening to their stories is where it all began. Funnily enough, many of the traders had been a part of or had worked in at least one other market in Sandwell, many moving due to markets closing down or management changing. The gentrification isn’t as prominent as it is in Brixton, but there is that underlining issue of market spaces being sold out or of changing over time, which many traders couldn’t work their business into.

What next? 

The next few months are very busy in regard to a various number of projects. I’m exhibiting my ‘Grow me a Waterlily’ installation at The Weavers House in Coventry as part of Coventry’s Biennial of Contemporary Art. The piece explores the context of identity, home and belonging. I am also on the Advisory board for the Biennial, as well as running a number of artist workshops throughout.

In November I’m exhibiting some new work at The New Art Gallery Walsall, a collaboration with GRAIN. It’s unseen work that explores gender identity, womanhood and femininity. A lot of my personal work explore many of these ideals as well as self-exploration into my own identity. It’s been great to step a little away from my commissions/community-based work to dabble back into many themes closer to home. I’ve thoroughly enjoyed delving into a lot of theory around female identity and the implications surrounding the male gaze.

Back to starting up a residency in December/ January on a project with Ort Gallery x Birmingham Hippodrome, as well as being part of their exhibition around social class in February 2020. The residency will look at ideas surrounding identity through craft and photography whilst working with a primary school based in Birmingham. I’ve never worked on a project with a primary school before, so this going to be a very interesting experience.

I think that’s about me for a while. I’m quite excited with the mixture of projects/exhibitions lined up but I know I’m not done with market spaces just yet (I hope).

Where Can I Find This?‘ is on show at Photofusion, Brixton until 9 October 2019. Nilupa will also be showing work at The New Art Gallery Walsall from 15 November 2019 to 19 April 2020.


This month artist Nilupa Yasmin has been in residence in Brixton market as part of a GRAIN and PhotoFusion collaboration. Annabel Clarke talks to her about the residency.

1 in 4 people in the UK experience a mental health problem each year. In England, 1 in 6 people experience a common mental health problem (such as anxiety or depression) each week.

Taking place across Birmingham from 1-12 October 2019, BEDLAM is a celebration of how the arts can help wellbeing. Welcoming artists from across the UK, the festival will present a programme of theatre performances, dance, movement workshops, art installations, wellbeing walks, film screenings, family events, Q&A’s as well as a special BEDLAM Symposium.

Visual arts highlights include:

Mirror Image: An opportunity for cultural practitioners to reflect on wellbeing
Thursday 3 October 2019, 1.30-4.30pm, Hexagon Theatre, Midlands Arts Centre. £10 (includes light lunch)

Through talks, discussions and workshops the symposium will explore practical ways cultural practitioners and cultural organisations can embed wellbeing into their own practice. Delegates will learn what techniques they can use to keep or improve positive mental health. Organisations will discover ways they can embed positive mental health into the culture of their operations. There will be an opportunity for networking and sharing good wellbeing practice. Presented by The Culture, Health and Wellbeing Alliance (West Midlands).


State of the mind: A guided tour of art and mental health
Sunday 6 October 2019, 12pm and 2pm, Birmingham Museum & Art Gallery. £3

As well as a tool for social and political comment, art frequently reflects the mental wellbeing of the artist, either consciously or unconsciously. Join BEDLAM for a fascinating walk and tour throughBirmingham Museum & Art Gallery and through the ages, as they discuss the impact of mental health on art and the way it is received, from the Renaissance through to Victorian artists, and the way in which art has reflected a response to war in the twentieth century.


MAC BEDLAM Festival Commission: Jenna Naylor
Saturday 31 August – Sunday 17 November 2019, 9am-9.45pm. Midlands Arts Centre. Free.

Artist Jenna Naylor will turn MAC’s Community Gallery into a menagerie of strange creatures drawn directly onto the walls. Inspired by MAC’s exhibition The Hills Are Shadows by Jim Holyoak and Matt Shane, Jenna’s commission provides a starting point for a growing collection of drawings contributed by participants of workshops at the Uffculme Centre and people attending workshops at MAC.

Jenna will also be leading several free free therapeutic drawing and wellbeing workshops where you can contribute your own creature to the gallery.

For the full festival programme visit



BEDLAM is a celebration of how the arts help wellbeing, taking place across Birmingham from 1-12 October 2019. Welcoming artists from across the UK, the festival will present a programme of theatre performances, dance, movement workshops, art installations, wellbeing walks, film screenings, family events, Q&A’s as well as a special BEDLAM Symposium.

Curating disability part one: bringing the outsiders in

In the first of a series of articles co-published with Disability Arts Online, artist Anna Berry writes about becoming DASH curator-in-residence at Midlands Arts Centre – via a-n

James Maskery, Franklin

This month the International Festival of Glass returns to Stourbridge to celebrate glassmaking, with a wealth of top international artists, fantastic exhibitions, workshops as well as family friendly events and performances.

Headlining the festival is the British Glass Biennale at The Glasshouse Arts Centre. The exhibition features new work by 74 artists based in the UK or UK artists living abroad and includes large installations, interactive artworks, films and exquisite vessels.

The festival will also celebrate Scandinavian glass, with an exhibition from the Swedish Kingdom of Crystal in the Red House Glass Cone, and hot shop demonstrations by the Norwegian hett glass and pâte de verre by Tone Ørvik, whilst Danish artist Steffen Dam, creates a modern cabinet of curiosities.

Kelsey Mayo (K)not

The theme of this year’s festival is ‘Placemaking’ with an invitation to reflect on how we make places and places make us. The festival will engage with this theme in the widest sense through technology, science, and art and imagination, encouraging a culture of participation where anyone can join in.

As well as showcasing makers and artists from across the globe, there will be a chance to learn why the glass industry developed in Stourbridge, and hear the ‘Voices of the Cones’, stories and songs inspired by 100 recordings of people who worked in the famous factories that supplied the world with glass.

Free entry to all festival venues (some events are ticketed). There is a free Festival Shuttle Bus from 9.30am – 5.30pm each day running from Stourbridge bus station to all festival venues

The 8th International Glass Festival takes places from 23-26 August 2019 across venues in Stourbridge.

The British Glass Biennale takes place at The Glasshouse Arts Centre, Stourbridge from 23 August – 28 September 2019.

This month the International Festival of Glass returns to Stourbridge to celebrate glassmaking, with a wealth of top international artists, fantastic exhibitions and family friendly events and performances.

From singing together to being read to in a library, an arts participation scheme is transforming lives in Denmark. Helen Russell reports – via The Guardian

Fresh exhibition in the China Hall of the original Spode factory site featuring Eusebio Sanchez ‘Antropomórfico’, 2017 and Patricia Mato-Mora ‘Hydroanthropozoa’, 2017 Photography: Joel Fildes.

The British Ceramics Biennial (BCB) returns to Stoke-on-Trent from 7 September to 13 October 2019, bringing together more than 300 contemporary artists and makers in a programme of exhibitions, installations and events over six cultural venues across the city.

The festival celebrates its 10th anniversary this year with an expanded programme that begins in the BCB hub, the China Hall in the original Spode factory site, extending to AirSpace Gallery, and with special site specific commissions and interventions at Middleport Pottery, The Potteries Museum and Art Gallery, Spode Works and World of Wedgwood, each a champion of Stoke-on-Trent’s ceramic identity and history.

At the centre of the biennial are BCB’s two flagship exhibitions, AWARD and Fresh. AWARD brings together new work created by 10 innovating ceramic artists competing for the prize, which has been increased to £10,000 to mark BCB’s 10th anniversary. Alongside this, Fresh returns with a showcase of work by 20 of the UK’s most talented recent ceramics graduates.

Sam Lucas
‘Strange stranger’ group, ceramics and textiles, 2018. AWARD exhibition at Spode China Hall, original Spode factory site.

Highlights include:

AirSpace Gallery in the cultural quarter of Hanley will present Terms and Conditions: propositions in clay, a performative residency and exhibition of new works by artists Dunhill and O’Brien exploring the physical qualities of clay as a material.

Drawing on Middleport Pottery’s profile as a heritage and manufacturing site, Resonating Spaces brings together a series of interventions based around the mass production of ceramic bell-like forms to build on ideas of individual and collective commemoration and celebration. A multi-disciplinary team of artists, including Helen Felcey, Joe Hartley with Standard Practice with a film-maker and sound artist, are leading in the creation of clay and production installations, experimental sound works, community engaged practice and co-produced artwork with local residents, Burselm Jubilee Project, giving audiences opportunity for spectacle, scale, making and reflection.

Mould store at Spode Works. Spode Works and Spode Museum Trust Heritage Centre.
Photography: Jenny Harper
Externalising the Archive at Spode Works

Spode Works was one of the few ceramic manufacturers in Britain to have operated continuously for over 230 years on the original site. In Externalising the Archive, artist Neil Brownsword brings the former function of the site back into the public realm. Working with other artists and artisans from industry, his large-scale installations will use some of the 64,000 plaster moulds from the Spode site stores with new castings, film, digital projections, sound and performance.

In the 1970s the artist Glenys Barton was Wedgwood artist-in-residence, creating figurative and sculptural pieces that were intended to compliment general factory production with their pure artistry. Using this as a starting point, ceramic artists Duncan Hooson and Stephanie Buttle collaborating with performance and sound artists will present 22 Hands, large-scale clay installations expanding Barton’s vision through the creation of three theatrical sets that will be animated throughout the festival. The title refers to the number of hands that handle a pot during its factory production process.

A free weekend festival bus will run between the different venues, enabling visitors to get round the city to experience the full programme and enjoy the the cultural assets of the city.

The full Biennial programme can be found here.


The British Ceramics Biennial (BCB) returns to Stoke-on-Trent from 7 September to 13 October 2019, bringing together more than 300 contemporary artists and makers in a programme of exhibitions, installations and events taking place in six cultural venues across the city.

Two new publications launched in the region last week, at events at BLAST! Festival in Sandwell and at Birmingham School of Art respectively, aiming to forefront some of the best photography, art and writing happening in the West Midlands.

Photography for Whom? is edited by Anthony Luvera, with support from Grain and Multistory. Published bi-annually, its focus is upon socially engaged photographic practice. Bringing together past projects with contemporary practice, the publication aims to connect themes and concerns that continue to resonate within the field.

Issue 1 of Photography for Whom?, available to buy online, and in bookshops around the country, features a text by Luvera that situates community photography in grass roots political activism while considering its lack of profile in contemporary accounts of the medium. Heinz Nigg’s article explores the WELD Photography Project (the Westminster Endeavour for Liaison and Development) in Birmingham in the 1970s, while Kieran Connell considers the political nature of community photography. Photographs by Trevor Appleson, John Reardon, Derek Bishton, Brian Homer, many of which have been recently on display at MAC Birmingham, are interspersed throughout the publication.

Forward, a free publication edited by Dion Kitson and Tom Glover, locates critical writing, interviews, poetry and artworks at its core, and is available to buy online or free to pick up in galleries across Birmingham. The editors describe Forward as “your principal port of call for art in the West Midlands: what’s good, who’s good, where’s good … It is the beating heart of art in Birmingham and the West Midlands, celebrating the connection between the region and its cultural output.”

Forward’s inaugural issue features contributions from artists Fred Hubble, Foka Wolf, Abi Mardell and others, and interviews with Ikon Director Jonathan Watkins and drag queen Twiggy. A feature on the elitism of the art world by Charlotte Russell, the painting practice of Annette Pugh written by Ruth Millington, and a playful feature by Kitson that connects a historic Halesowen park and a bench proposed by artist Ian Hamilton Finlay to Saddam Hussain and the ‘Iraqi Super Gun’ are all included in this wide-ranging issue.

Two new publications launched in the region last week – Photography for Whom? and Forward, which aim to forefront some of the best photography, art and writing happening in the West Midlands.

Research by artists Mette Boel (DK) and Joanne Masding (UK)
Organised in collaboration with Aarhus Billedkunstcenter (DK)

What does it mean to be an artist working outside of your country’s capital region? This is the main question behind the second edition of Traverse, Aarhus Billedkunstcenter’s research programme exploring artists’ working conditions across cultures. For this project, Aarhus Billedkunstcenter partnered with New Art West Midlands to consider the impact of peripheral geographies on artists’ working lives. We wanted to know, what challenges do regional artists face? What opportunities arise? How can we better support artists working outside of the cultural centre?

Mette Boel (DK) and Joanne Masding (UK) were selected via open call to explore these and other questions. Over the course of two months, the artists engaged in a lengthy written exchange examining their working lives in depth, considering a range of topics stemming from the theme of periphery. The following excerpt reveals how the twists and turns of their correspondence steer our collective research in unexpected directions.

Mette and Joanne broadened their research by surveying five artists from each of their respective cities, asking the artists to identify how they got their most recent work opportunities. Did the artists develop their own projects, did the projects evolve within their networks, or were they invited to participate in projects unexpectedly?

What structures do you build to facilitate the right headspace and working conditions?

Mette Boel: I don’t actually know if I have a specific way of working. I have both worked on exhibitions having no space to physically work and prepare in and therefore working mostly in my head and then I’ve also had periods of having much more physical space. Both things work for me. I think London for me was very much a very long exercise in adaption, being able to shift and being able to work from the onset of a feeling or mood or desire much more than working through material investigations as an example. After moving to Aarhus I have much more space than I ever had in London, this have prompted me to be more physically involved for longer stretches of time in my research and working process. This is important as I am trying to spend as much time in my studio making work as possible.

Some of the things I do to get in the right headspace is reading and writing and trying to reach an open and intuitive space within myself. I sometimes close my eyes and keep them closed until I can see quite clearly the work I want to create. This doesn’t work all the time. I try and get into where the flavour sits, the gist, the heart of it all. Because I make suggestive work and it for me is more a case of wanting to create a mood or a space, than for instance delivering a message or pushing a point I tend to dwell on things, keep them a bit open. Theory means a lot to me, but its something sitting on my backbone, something that is there as a base for thinking, reflecting and reacting and creating. It is not always predominant in the work itself.

Joanne Masding: To make good work, it’s important for me to live a life where being an artist is my job. I have gradually worked towards being in the position I am now in, where it is my main activity and how I earn a living, and I’m more productive when I can spend a fairly traditional proportion of my week at work. On the whole, this means not working during the evenings and at weekends, and having holiday. Spending the majority of my time in the studio on my own suits me well.I’ve been trying to build a solid studio practice, where I continue making work consistently, rather than making for opportunities when they arise. As part of this, I make the best work when I can allow things to resolve quite slowly. The pressure to know immediately what work is and what it’s doing can be stifling, whereas making room for being playful and unknowing usually leads somewhere more fruitful. Taking on new ways of working, whether process, material or form, takes some recalibration, so for this particularly I need room to understand how various components are behaving.

What is the best starting point for building a show?

Mette Boel: When I do my large total-installations, the space is crucial to me, the way it looks and feels. I like a closed space, so the mood does not seep out through cracks and doorways. I like things to be contained. I do not come along these spaces too often, which means that I only do large-scale installations maybe once a year. I feel like a big show a year is a good amount for me. I always need some time to contemplate my decisions and the shows general feel. And of course, it is always a quite costly affair to put on these shows, so it is important that there is enough time, to get the funding for realizing the show.

Another thing is time. Time is very important; to have time enough to develop the work so that it becomes something that takes up a place in my consciousness as something, which was really there, which existed. Something that stretched above the work and the space and the time it was on display. Potential for expansion, is very important to me. I like it when a work or a show leads to something new. For instance new collaborations, extensions of existing work ore new thoughts and ways of working.  This is why collaborations are important. To work with good people, and people whom I trust and who trusts me. The work must also demand its space, it need to be emphasized by a necessity to become. To be brought into the world so to speak.

Joanne Masding: The most successful shows that I’ve made have had a long lead-in time. As I’ve said, making new things is usually slow, and I often work with the materiality of the exhibition space, which also benefits from a longer timeframe. It can be challenging to talk about new work when I’m in the midst of it, and I’m still working out how to use curatorial/organisational support during this part of the process. Collaborations in this sense can be fruitful, but I build relationships slowly and it takes a lot of time before I can communicate easily. It’s ideal when I feel trusted to do what I do, and supported without too much need for tying things down early. Making shows is a really exciting part of being an artist, and the point when I properly get to experience the work for the first time. This is a high-risk scenario! I enjoy installing work, and in a dream world would have time to sit quietly with the work while I’m making an exhibition. Working with tech teams is relatively new to me, and I’m still practicing being decisive out loud.

What does recognition mean to you?

Mette Boel: Recognition is a funny one. I am all right with saying that I want the recognition. Its a bit of a high for me, its my drug. I’m addicted to it a little bit. And all addiction is bad in a way. I wouldn’t say however that recognition is the biggest driving force but like all other jobs, it’s great to do well and to be recognized for the work you do.
I sometimes come across people who have this idea that artists are doing art because they can’t help it. Like it’s some divine power running out the arm and into the hand, gods send in a way. That might be true for some artists, that it is a type of calling. To me it’s very much a decision. This is my life; this is what I enjoy the most. I put all my energy into it because I want to succeed. Creativity is probably an urge, like an itch, you have to do it. But to do it professionally, that’s a decision.

Joanne Masding: We quickly enter into psychological territory when talking about making work! Being an artist is a strange job. I’m making progress when it comes to the mental impact of being critical of your own activities – being regularly rejected and seeing peers go along their own trajectories – but it’s still hard. There is usually a voice wondering whether it’s enough, or good enough, and it can take effort to hear the other voice that knows you’re working hard and doing what’s needed. The critical voice can be useful to a point for being spurred on, and receiving recognition from elsewhere can too. I try not to compare recognition I receive – feedback, show invites or reviews – to what anyone else is getting. Instead I try to put effort into keeping my focus on where I’m at, what I want to happen next, and what I’m enjoying, rather than getting sucked into assessing myself against other people’s CVs. I’m not looking for an astronomical rise and celebrity art career. If I can keep making work, keep working as an artist and keep progressing, I think that will be recognition enough.

How do you have critical conversations about your work and how are they critical to your development?

Mette Boel: Since being out of education I haven’t had as many critical conversations as I used to I guess. But I think it is a good thing. Instead of constantly being asked critical questions and being asked to position myself against other artists or ways of being an artist, I have more focus on my own work. However, that is not to say that critical conversations are not important to me. They are hugely important, but the situations in which I have these conversations must be real. Not awkward and superficial. I prefer a good old one to one conversation. Maybe it has to do a little bit with being in control. If I want to, I can ask an artist or a curator to come for a studio-visit. I can choose who and when and I really appreciate not having to talk about my work at stages where it is not ready to be talked about.

Joanne Masding: Always needing to translate things into language can be tricky. I put pressure on myself when I’m making anyway, so I’ve been trying to find the best ways to get critical input that’s also supportive. I’ve recently been a participant in alternative post-graduate education programme School of the Damned, which involved lots of group crits in the same vein as art school. It’s through experiences such as this that I’ve been working out what I need and what I respond to best. I don’t like having to justify work to a group, and compete against big personalities for air space. Instead I love one-on-one conversations that are critically supportive and energizing and that send me off on new tangents and with more thoughts. I’m trying to build genuine relationships with people who I share common interests with, then I can have supportive conversations reflecting on work that are both useful and enjoyable, and don’t cripple confidence.Working in a fairly small community of artists in the city, I have friends and peers who have an understanding of my practice and who I can talk to about making and work quandaries. While I love working alone, knowing that I’m part of this group is reassuring.

What does ambition mean to you? How do you feel about being ambitious? How are you ambitious? How does ambition affect the work?

Mette Boel: To be ambitious is not something I feel like I choose to be. It is something that is just there as a premise and a need for being able to work the way I do and with the things and people I do. Whether or not it is healthy to be ambitious is another thing. For me it is definitely important to be clear on for whom I am ambitious. Is it for myself and is it a drive that I need to keep my practice running or am I ambitious because I need recognition from people outside of myself, and my practice. I try and channel my ambition into focus on my work and the things that happen in my studio. At times I try and keep a bit to myself, to just work and not look to hard at what everyone else around me are doing.

Joanne Masding: I feel conflicted about the idea of being ambitious. In one respect I agree with needing drive to push ideas, develop and shift out of getting too comfortable, but in another I’m conscious of ambitious being a stand-in for bigger, louder, harder, and this doesn’t fit well with my personality and the tone of my work.I’m also aware of the pressure to be ambitious, and hear it talked about particularly in relation to younger artists. It’s a quality that I feel that I’m judged against, and I think this can lead to feeling as though there’s a rush to achieve certain things, such as a first solo exhibition, rather than being able to focus on making the best work.



Notes on tactics and things that have worked for others

  • Expand network by working as technician/exhibition photographer
  • Have a specific way of working/area of interest and be a good fit
  • Apply to open calls when friends are judges
  • Keep up long relationships, get another show when curator moves
  • Initiate through network of contacts – use network pro-actively
  • Invite people to the studio
  • One show leads to another – invite curators to meet in the show


See the artists’ original survey data here.

Research by artists Mette Boel (DK) and Joanne Masding (UK), organised by New Art West Midlands in collaboration with Aarhus Billedkunstcenter (DK) on working outside the perceived centre and what that means for practice. An Engine professional development opportunity.

Back in February we held an event with our partners Trust New Art at the National Trust to share some of the experiences, research and results of five Short Residency Awards given to New Art West Midlands alumni artists Larissa Shaw, Lindy Brett, Aileen Doherty, Theo Ellison and Grace A. Williams. An aim of the event was to highlight the value in artists working within heritage contexts, looking at the ways in which artistic practice crossing into new spaces might yield new and sometimes unlikely research possibilities. The artists involved were selected through an open call to all alumni of the New Art West Midlands exhibitions and were asked to make a proposal for research for a particular property following a networking event. It was important that no outcome was expected of the participating artists – rather, this was an opportunity for research, conversation and reflection. These residencies took place from May to October 2018, for a period of five days, each with varying degrees of engagement with staff, collections, audiences, architecture and landscape.

Kate Stoddart, an Independent Curator working with National Trust, and our key contact throughout the project, emphasised concerns for supporting artistic professional development that she shares with New Art West Midlands, especially in the years immediately following graduation. Such residency projects not only provide key opportunities for artists but also allow properties to have access to new voices and views that enrich their own research and their offer to audiences. The project brought together shared ideas  of supporting  continued professional development for the region’s artists – not just at graduate level, but also in the critical years that follow. It was also about introducing and contributing creative intelligence, encouraging new ways of thinking and working at heritage sites which will make for interesting projects and attract new audiences.

Held at Birmingham City University’s Conservatoire and chaired by Professor Catherine Baker, Associate Professor Interdisciplinary Practice at Birmingham School of Art, we heard presentations from the residency artists and staff at each of the National Trust properties involved in the East and West Midlands: The Firs, Ilam Park, Attingham Park, Coughton Court and Mr Straw’s House. These properties were selected via a call for expressions of interest. Kate noted that three of the properties had never before worked with contemporary artists.

Catherine Baker explored in her opening presentation definitions of research in terms of the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC) (questions, aims, context and contribution) and creative practice as research in and of itself. Many definitions place a dichotomy between creative practice and research and they remain unclear. Collaborative and interdisciplinary relationships have value for both parties but are not necessarily harmonious. In fact, conflict, disruption and provocation might be more valuable than a settled and comfortable research relationship. For Catherine, research is reliant upon vulnerability, not knowing and even failure. Artists are best used not instrumentally but as partners. In this way, it is new insight, rather than new outcome, that is gained.

Artist Larissa Shaw gave her presentation with Rachel Sharpe, Creative Partnerships Manager at The Firs in Worcestershire, the birthplace of composer Sir Edward Elgar and the place where his ‘genius’ was born. Larissa began by discussing the importance of chance and of the Worcestershire landscape to Elgar’s composition work which offered a starting point for her residency. Her time at The Firs afforded her some distance from her practice and allowed her research to grow and develop into something that might become a physical work in the future. Larissa responded to the residency context by engaging in conversation with volunteers who are ‘home-grown’ Elgar experts. Speaking about her practice with non-arts specialists left her feeling a little vulnerable but support and parameters for working from Rachel enabled a freedom and confidence in her project. Larissa has an orchestral background and the project provided a critical link between that and her artwork. Rachel and Larissa are looking to develop an Arts Council funding application that draws on the “Aeolian harp” – an instrument played by the wind – and they are excited to reflect on the possibilities and conversations ahead.

The Firs

Lindy Brett’s residency was spent at Ilam Park in Derbyshire, supported by Projects Offer, Paul Mortimer. She used medium-format photography, video and sound technologies in the landscape, dividing her days across several weeks to explore ideas of the picturesque and the self-conscious landscape. Lindy conducted oral research with volunteers and staff on their favourite views and aspects of the very large site which dovetailed with Paul’s key concern about what Ilam should be in the twenty-first century, and a renewed importance of this landscape which has inspired artists since the eighteenth century. Some of Lindy’s ideas included camera traps set off by the feet of visitors, frames placed within the landscape and recreating vanished aspects of the site. Both felt that the short nature of the residency (five days) did not account for the induction to the site that was necessary given its scale nor the time it took to explore it. Lindy feels that the experience has given her confidence and opened up new ideas.

Ilam park

Attingham Park near Shrewsbury hosted artist Aileen Doherty. Saraid Jones, Research and Interpretation Officer, started the presentation with an audio described tour of the site, and noted that she was really excited to be out of her comfort zone showcasing Attingham Park in a new way. Aileen’s practice is characterised by natural forms and natural sciences. This was her first residency and she admitted she had no idea how to approach it initially. Aileen split her five days in two parts in July, and tried to get to grips with the scale and the collections of the site where nature is frequently brought inside. In addition to tours, Aileen was able to stay on site and experience it outside visitor hours which was a valuable experience. The split sections allowed reflection on the first part of her experience, and the second half was spent making photographs and drawings of surfaces and textures very close-up. Archival research afforded further insight. Aileen felt that she achieved what her proposal outlined but that the reality of the residency challenged her thinking. Saraid’s team felt relaxed about the non-outcome driven nature of the residency – she found Aileen’s fresh eyes in thinking about details really useful and tried to give her freedom to explore. Aileen was pleased to have support, and to have open-ended and in-depth conversations with staff and volunteers. There are possibilities afoot for future collaboration via a potential outside artwork.

Attingham Park

Emma Dwan O’Reilly explained that Warwickshire’s Coughton Court is a nationally important house (it played a key role in the Gunpowder Plot) owned by a Catholic family who still live on site. Theo Ellison spent his residency on site. Theo found the scale of the house was overwhelming and felt a self-imposed pressure to shoe-horn previous work into this context. Not being able to touch or move any of the collection objects was a source of frustration so he resolved to work with these restrictions of preservation and conservation. He recruited a 3D-scanning company to laser scan rooms and objects within the house and presented some of the ghostly films and stills made using this technology to us. Theo felt his pieces were most successful when they lacked human presence. He found the collision of not being able to do what he wanted to do on site was a fruitful experience that has enabled new ideas and works. He is keen to show some of these works at Coughton Court and elsewhere in the future, and explained that the technology allows the mapped spaces to be endlessly revisited and discussed. Emma noted a big change in Theo’s work from their initial conversations. She was delighted by the work he made and was excited to share this with colleagues. The works produced have clear potential to feedback into the site.

Bedroom Table Scan, Theo Ellison

Grace A Williams spent her residency at Mr Straw’s House in Nottinghamshire, a relatively small and humble former home to the Straw family of grocers, where she particularly explored the role Florence Straw (wife of Mr Straw) played in its history. This line of research fit with her existing interests in the ‘vanishing’ of women and domestic space. Grace found that the staff on site were very helpful and that she was given freedom. The space is full of objects that appear untouched – it is one of the largest collections in the National Trust – which she found a little intimidating. Grace recorded the space within and outside visitor hours through photography positioned at 4ft – the height of Florence – and while she was there she met a visitor who had known her. Grace found that five days was insufficient and she put pressure on herself to make work. In conversations with Abigail Rose, Membership and Visitor Welcome Assistant, conservation, presentation and preservation were discussed. In one tour of the house with a male volunteer guide, Grace found him comically dismissive of Florence – claiming that Florence spent the family money on wallpaper. She found this made her laugh but she was also angry about the comment and will endeavour to feed this back to the site.

Florence Straw, NT Mr Straws House, Film Still, Grace A Williams, 2018.

At the end of the event, we also heard from Emalee Beddoes-Davis, Curator Modern and Contemporary Art, Birmingham Museums Trust; Hetain Patel, Artist and Eira Szadurski, National Trust Creative Producer – Outdoors, who contributed their valuable views to the afternoon’s discussions. The group began by discussing the value artists bring to such sites. Emalee reinforced the fact that this is focussed upon the artist’s subjectivity, thinking, experiences and honesty which moves the site away from a purely institutional voice. An artist has the ability to highlight artifice in this context. Hetain noted that such projects provide artists with new perspectives and time to think outside their usual frame of reference. The group discussed the length of these particular residencies, concluding that neither the artist’s practice nor their thinking, stop after five days – that that is a starting point. This, of course, raises a question of remuneration, Hetain affirming the point that an artist does not underwork on a residency because their reputation is at stake. The group also discussed the issue of presenting research that is unresolved and the uncomfortable nature of this in relation to outcomes and the honest expectation of a non-outcome driven project. For Eira, the value of the residencies lies within the permission given to the artists to ask awkward questions, make criticisms and have opinions. Two-way dialogue, outlined parameters and expectations are all key to making such projects effective.

Rachel Sharpe, from The Firs admitted that she was afraid of the non-outcome prospect at the outset of Larissa’s project but has come to see the importance of this. The Firs, for instance, have arrived at a new understanding of this value which has positive future outcomes for their way of working. She stated “You provided us with a very important platform to have a very different conversation about the site.” Catherine summed up by concluding that it is exactly this knowledge and this experience that is the outcome.


Anneka French


Back in February we held an event with our partners Trust New Art at the National Trust to share some of the experiences, research and results of five Short Residency Awards given to New Art West Midlands alumni artists Larissa Shaw, Lindy Brett, Aileen Doherty, Theo Ellison and Grace A. Williams.

Installation view, Sarah Taylor Silverwood: Daphne at The New Art Gallery Walsall

There is a mysterious twilight in the gallery.  In pools of light, cut-out wooden shapes, painted in hazy patterns of pink and blue and yellow, carry the drawn outlines of feet or breasts or faces.  These cutouts are arranged to suggest stepping stones, or are fixed at intervals sometimes high up on the walls, or assembled to form the housing for three video screens.

Installation view, Sarah Taylor Silverwood: Daphne at The New Art Gallery Walsall

The drawn animation that plays in a loop on these screens depicts things such as swaying tree branches and a woman’s lower legs as she casts off her shoes and dips her toes in water.  Then we see the same legs, but this time running around a rock.  A little later, there is a sequence in which the woman’s arm is clawed at and pinched. Due to the rawness of the animation it all happens precariously, as if newly rendered in each repetition of the loop.

The sounds of tweeting birds and a murmuring stream, together with the melancholic strains of violin and piano, reverberate in the gloaming.

This is ‘Daphne’, an art installation by Sarah Taylor Silverwood at The New Art Gallery Walsall. It was inspired by the Greek myth about the beautiful Daphne, who is chased by the god Apollo; but as he’s about to seize and rape her, she is magically transformed into a tree.

Installation view, Sarah Taylor Silverwood: Daphne at The New Art Gallery Walsall

When she first read the story, Taylor Silverwood explains when we meet, she was held spellbound by these two sentences in the opening paragraph:

Over hill and dale she roamed, free and light as the breeze of spring. Other maidens round her spoke each of her love, but Daphne cared not to listen to the voice of man, though many a one sought her to be his wife.1

In the weeks and months during which she made this artwork, Taylor Silverwood found herself focussing ever more intently on Daphne’s ‘free and light’ and ‘roaming’ state, and her breezy independence. It is this moment of the story that her art installation suspends in time, presenting us with the fantasy that Daphne can forever remain within, or forever return to, this first, footloose state.

It is perfectly in keeping with myths to alter or extract from them in this way. Like fairy tales, fables and folk tales, myths are part of the oral tradition of story-telling and so it is in their very nature to be mutable, with elements from one story sometimes straying into another or taking on a life of their own.2 Perhaps we all know how a single, fleeting passage – in this case, about Daphne’s freewheeling spirit – will entirely captivate us, for reasons we might struggle to understand? From somewhere in the soft colours and patterns and repetitions of ‘Daphne’, feelings of intense absorption and pleasure emanate.

Myths and fairy stories are passed down from generation to generation, most often within the context of the family. Part of their function, it’s been argued, is to express something of the particular emotions of families, over time.3 In Taylor Silverwood’s case, she explains, she first read the story of Daphne ten years ago when she was about twenty, in a book of Greek myths originally owned by her grandmother who had recently died. The book was given to Taylor Silverwood by her mother, who like her grandmother had read this book as a child. Cherished by three generations of women who were and are very close, the book and its stories are singularly charged.

When Taylor Silverwood asked her mother to act as the model for her drawings of the youthful Daphne, she bridged the generations. As the artist herself suggests, there are connections throughout with how her place in her family is changing. Her installation ‘Daphne’ explores, she explains, ‘the way that patterns and structures of myths pass through time in parallel to a sort of shifting familial lineage or loop’.

The animation loops and Daphne’s moment of freedom is replayed, over and over. The grandmother’s storybook is now in the granddaughter’s hands, as life continues on.

Yet we are reminded of the menace of Apollo, in the sequences of Daphne running and having her arm pinched, and in the soundtrack’s darkening tones. I experience all this as an undercurrent, and as a reminder of how women deal with the daily threat of danger from men, yet live happily for much of the time. Grandmothers, mothers and daughters all fear at some level for each other, generation after generation – but still, Daphne casts off her shoes once again and is free.

Angela Kingston, February 2019

Angela Kingston is a freelance curator and writer

The exhibition ‘Daphne’ by Sarah Taylor Silverwood is at The New Art Gallery Walsall from 19 January – 12 May 2019

1.  The First Stories, Grecian Gods and Heroes, collected and edited by J.L. Gunn, published by Thomas Nelson & Sons, Ltd. The first edition was published in July 1927.

2.  For a discussion on this subject, see for example, Bruno Bettelheim, The Uses of Enchantment, part one, 1975. In an acknowledgement of how myths etc are subject to different kinds of re-tellings, Taylor Silverwood based the patterns on the wooden cut-outs on textile designs by Duncan Grant that were inspired by the story of Daphne.

3.  Bettelheim, a psychoanalyst, gives a wonderful account of this in the aforementioned book.

Freelance curator and writer Angela Kingston reflects on Sarah Taylor Silverwood’s solo exhibition Daphne, on display at The New Art Gallery Walsall until 12 May.

Bedroom Table Scan, Theo Ellison

As part of New Art West Midlands 2018, five artists and alumni of the exhibition were awarded coveted residencies with the National Trust. The residencies are part of an ongoing dialogue that aims to support West Midlands artists as part of Trust New Art, the National Trust’s programme of contemporary arts.

Theo Ellison was awarded a residency at Coughton Court, an imposing Tudor house in Warwickshire closely associated with the Gunpowder Plot of 1605. We spoke to Theo about the residency:

How did you go about the residency? 

I initially found the scenario quite a tricky one to work out – it was a short five-day residency (officially and endearingly termed a micro-residency) in a huge Grade 1 listed gothic stately home laden with so much history. There was no imposed brief or expected outcome from the National Trust, and they were extremely accommodating and supportive, so it was more of a self-imposed pressure to come up with an interesting response.

What did you think of Coughton Court? What inspired you?

For those who haven’t visited Coughton Court, it manages to exude all the grandeur of a gothic country estate whilst somehow keeping things homely. Though that homeliness must have been in part due to the sunny weather and cheery team members, I’d love to return in the Winter on my own to see it in full gothic horror-film mode. I did envisage my time there as being like Jack Nicholson’s in the Overlook Hotel, but it was too pleasant in reality. Its association with the Gunpowder Plot was intriguing, and I was tempted to make some work using fireworks and explosives on the premises, but the conservation team weren’t so keen on the idea…

Unititled (Preservation), Theo Ellison.

Due to the nature of the house and where it’s set were you restricted in how you could work? Did your ideas have to evolve/change as a result?

Yes, absolutely, my ideas evolved directly in response to the restrictions. The first day and a half on-site was overwhelming, and I remember getting the distinct feeling that I was shoehorning in elements of my previous work. It was also frustrating because, understandably, the restrictions over which objects I could get my hands on and what I could re-arrange were wide-ranging. The next day something clicked and I began to make this the focus of my work – that is; ideas surrounding preservation, conservation, and nostalgia. After that things fell into place and the experience helped to push the work forward.

The blue fabric in the photograph is a curtain designed to minimise the amount of light from entering the interior, which over time would gradually fade those interior surfaces. Certain curtains and window shutters would only be opened if strictly necessary, and this felt analogous to the house being set on life support or in solitary confinement. The rest of the project stemmed from there.

Blue Table Scan. Theo Ellison.

Is there anything you have learnt on this residency that you will take with you into other projects?

I learnt a great deal from this residency, particularly about working within my means and using restrictions to my advantage. It was and continues to be an invaluable experience. On top of that, I worked with some fantastic people and was able to utilise some cutting edge laser scanning equipment to gather the intricate details of Coughton Court, and push my work down some new paths.

The scans (pictured) were made using a large laser scanner mounted on a tripod and each room took multiple scans. Again I was looking at ideas surrounding conservation, preservation, permanence and nostalgia. These digital scans will in theory last indefinitely, while the actual Coughton Court requires continual maintenance to prevent it fading away. It is an exploration into our desire of maintaining what exists and of archiving as a response to the fear of loss. In that sense, the project looks to celebrate the educational, historical, and aesthetic value of Coughton Court, but also looks to interlink that with the murkier, more obsessional side of nostalgia.

The project is still ongoing and we scanned as many rooms and elements of the property as possible. I chose to dedicate most of the time to scanning the bedroom and drawing room as both bedroom scenes and game-playing scenes feature heavily within art history, which adds another dialogue and context to work with.

I would like to thank New Art West Midlands and the National Trust for giving me this opportunity; Tom, Rob, and Max from Mowma, curator Kate Stoddart who has been brilliantly supportive, and everyone at Coughton Court including Emma and Anna.

As part of New Art West Midlands 2018, five artists and alumni of the exhibition were awarded coveted residencies with the National Trust. Theo Ellison was awarded a residency at Coughton Court, an imposing Tudor house in Warwickshire closely associated with the Gunpowder Plot of 1605. We spoke to him about his experience.

Florence Straw, NT Mr Straws House, Film Still, Grace A Williams, 2018.

As part of New Art West Midlands 2018, five artists and alumni of the exhibition were awarded coveted residencies with the National Trust. The residencies are part of an ongoing dialogue that aims to support West Midlands’ artists as part of Trust New Art, the National Trust’s programme of contemporary arts.

Grace A Williams was awarded a residency at Mr Straw’s House in Worksop, Nottinghamshire. The modest semi-detached house was home to a grocer’s family, and has remained virtually unchanged since 1923. Grace has produced a short film of here time there, which can be viewed below:

Grace A Williams, awarded a residency at Mr Straw’s House, a National Trust property as part of New Art West Midlands 2018 shares her experience.

DASH Cultivate Day 2 © Upstream Photography Mentor Jane Ralls with mentee Alex Robertson

DASH Cultivate Day 2 © Upstream Photography Mentor Jane Ralls with mentee Alex Robertson

DASH has just brought Cultivate to a close, a three year mentoring programme for Disabled visual artists based in the West Midlands, made possible with funding from The Esmée Fairbairn Foundation and Arts Council England. Over three years 45 artists took part and 155 mentoring sessions were held by 12 highly skilled mentors.

The primary aim of Cultivate was to support and aid the development of disabled artists, whether emerging or already established. The mentoring made a huge difference to the artists, raising levels of confidence and supporting them to make successful grant applications. The film above, produced by R&A Collaborations, documents the impact of the programme on a selection of the Disabled visual artists mentored:

Mentee Fae Kilburn said:

I’ve had friends say to me I’m a much more confident person now to how I used to be… if I want something, I’ll go and get it, I’ll go and do it. I don’t let the disability hold me back as much as I used to. I finished my degree and then went on to do a Masters, I won a residency, and none of that would have happened without the mentorship.

Mentee Susan Kruse said:

I can’t tell you enough how profoundly that first mentoring session changed my practice and how I felt about myself and the work that I was making.”

An exhibition of Kruse’s new drawings can currently be seen by appointment at Width of Circle Gallery in Stourbridge until 21 July.

As a result of the success of the Cultivate programme, DASH is now planning a Midlands-wide mentoring programme called Cultivation starting in 2019, with the aim of supporting up to 70 disabled artists to develop their careers.


Preview image: Mentor Jane Ralls with mentee Alex Robertson © Upstream Photography.

DASH has just brought Cultivate to a close, a three year mentoring programme for Disabled visual artists based in the West Midlands. Over three years 45 artists took part, and 155 mentoring sessions were held by 12 highly skilled mentors. As a result of the programme’s success, DASH is now planning a Midlands-wide mentoring starting in 2019.

Director of Coventry Biennial of Contempoary Art Ryan Hughes talks to Ollie Noble, who in March exhibited works in the central piazza of University of Warwick, the first exhibition he has ever curated.

We have come to expect expertise in a subject to develop through intensive academic engagement. In the case of contemporary art, this expertise is usually shaped through substantial periods of time in art schools and art history departments. There are other ways of building and developing expertise, ways which lead to very different understandings of a subject and therefore the contexts within which it operates.

Ollie Noble, a fourth year Maths and Physics student at University of Warwick has developed a level of expertise and confidence around contemporary art, not through these ordinary academic routes but through frequently visiting exhibitions and festivals as an audience member. He likes contemporary art. He tells me he has “never actually studied art, I always remember being told that I wasn’t allowed to do it because I was so terrible at it”

Ollie describes being dragged to galleries as a child by his parents where he admits they would spend more time in the cafe than actually looking at the art work, but he also describes how this early experience made him comfortable in gallery surroundings. Later he started visiting commercial galleries in London by himself, eager to engage with contemporary art. He started talking to people during these visits and before long, met artist Neal Jones whilst visiting his show at Southard Reid. Neal encouraged Ollie to try, artists of course being all too aware that learning often happens through doing.

Fast forward to March 2018 and out in the cold opens on the central piazza of University of Warwick, this is the first exhibition Ollie has curated, with no formal experience, but he has managed to garner the support of Mead Gallery and has attracted the participation of high-profile international practitioners including Taus Makhacheva and Enrique Ramírez whose work he discovered whilst visiting the Venice Biennale in 2017.

The exhibition presents a showreel of moving image works which he explains aimed to “take art out of gallery spaces, and directly to the viewers. The aim was to show great art to people from all backgrounds, from regular gallery goers through to people who have absolutely no interest in art”

This mirrors Arts Council Englands aim of ‘great art for everyone’ but attempts to deliver that on a hyperlocal, independant scale, without their support. Why? Because Ollie understands, first hand, the value of looking at art. He explains that he was delighted at how approachable the artists were, he goes on that he “had assumed they would all ignore me, but I emailed them, and amazingly they replied saying they would love to be part of the exhibition. I had the opportunity to include five incredible artists – Fred Bungay, Taus Makhacheva, Enrique Ramirez, Tsubusa Kato and Nayoung Jeong. From the outset I had quite a good idea of what I wanted. With the exhibition being focused on encouraging a new audience to engage with art, I decided that first and foremost it was all about finding sharp contemporary art that had a critical eye and a clear story to tell. Especially in the university environment, I thought it was important that the exhibition showed art that could tackle modern issues head on”.

Ollie tells me what a huge learning curve that this process has been for him, and he speaks very highly of the university environment being a space which encourages this kind of cross-disiplinary, extra-curricula activity. When I ask if he will be curating exhibitions again, he says that he has a few ideas floating about – but echos a concern I’m hearing from artists and curators across the UK, access to space is a real issue.

That being said, Ollie wants to increase diversity in the arts, grow new events inspired by Tate Lates, Digbeth First Friday and London’s Art Night which increase engagement with a wide range of cultural activities and he will “just wait to see who I bump into and what opportunities come up”

Following this exchange Ollie agreed to undertake a short Curatorial Internship with Coventry Biennial of Contemporary Art during which he will be working towards an exhibition and event at the end of Summer 2018.

out in the cold ran from 11-16 March 2018 in The University of Warwick’s central piazza.

Director of Coventry Biennial of Contempoary Art Ryan Hughes talks to Ollie Noble, who in March exhibited works in the central piazza of University of Warwick; the first exhibition he has ever curated.

Flatpack Film Festival: Birmingham Arts Lab at Parkside Gallery. Image by Julia Nottingham

Birmingham Art Lab: the city’s artistic heritage


Birmingham, 1960s: most of the post-war, city centre buildings are being demolished and the city waits as the structures of the modern era begin to take shape. But as the city waits for its concrete renaissance, the artistic youth, impatient as ever, make things happen.


Flatpack Film Festival: Birmingham Arts Lab
at Parkside Gallery. Image by Julia Nottingham


In late 1968 five young members of the Midlands Art Centre, restless in the centre’s conservative programme, made plans for a new, youthful, avant-garde movement. Mark Williams, Fred Smith, Dave Cassidy, Tony Jones and Bob Sheldon decided to break away from the MAC and form Birmingham Arts Lab, which went onto shape the city’s art scene for a generation.


Birmingham Arts Lab, one of 40 or so Arts Labs across the country, was a space for young, interdisciplinary artists to experiment, collaborate and make work for the new era. Regular live events, screenings and exhibitions took place that allowed different art form to come together in new and experimental ways.


Tower Street


After six months of intense fundraising, which included gigs by bands including Coliseum and Fleetwood Mac, Birmingham Arts Lab officially opened in a single room in a Tower Street building. Over the next eight years it slowly grew to fill the whole site which included a cinema and theatre space, workshops, a coffee bar, and flexible exhibition spaces (as well as make shift accommodation for young artists who would appear from beneath the coffee bar!)


It was here between 1969 and 1977 that the Birmingham Arts Lab undertook its most ambitious projects and was the central hub for creative work in the Midlands. Young artists including Simon Chapman and Ted Little and cartoonists Steve Bell and Hunt Emerson found inspiration and the necessary facilities to launch their careers in the Tower Street studios and played a major part in the running of the Arts Lab.


As described by Stuart Rogers, former theatre programme manager at the Birmingham Arts Lab, the run-down Tower Street site provided the perfect space for young, experimental artists of the 60s to explore their creative projects:


‘Although we didn’t have anywhere near the revenue funding of most arts centres now, it seemed possible to programme anything. lf you wanted to do a national tour with three Peter Handke plays, take a mixed-media show to Switzerland for a one-night stand, or set up a huge outdoor festival of international performance art, you could. Unencumbered by the administrative baggage we carry today, and totally untainted by any thoughts of commercial sponsorship, we, and the funding bodies, were light on our feet – anything was possible if the idea was good enough.’1


Flatpack Film Festival: Birmingham Arts Lab
at Parkside Gallery. Image by Julia Nottingham


Gosta Green


In 1977 Birmingham Arts Lab moved to a new building on the grounds of Aston University.


A former cinema, the building in Gosta Green seemed the perfect fit for the Birmingham Arts Lab whose programme had become increasingly focussed on film and live art over the eight years at Tower Street.


However, it turned out that the Arts Lab had been reliant on the dilapidated, make-shift centre that had grown in Tower Street and could not survive the move to an established building. The reverential building restrained the creativity of the young group who had been accustomed to the freedom provided by their previous base.


Novelist Jim Crace recalled the move to Gosta Green and the subsequent demise of the Birmingham Arts Lab.


‘Of course, the Lab could not survive the transfer to the custom-built cinema-cum-bungalow at The Triangle. That was a building brimming with order and reverence. Abandon hype, all ye who enter here. Noisy people coming off the street went quiet. The queues were well-behaved. The coffee was not toxic any more. There was no longer any risk of fire. No dangerous and unattended spark would ever nurse and manifest its flame in there.’2


Due to creative and financial constraints, in 1982 the Birmingham Arts Lab merged with the university’s art centre to form The Triangle Arts Centre, a conventional arts complex that ran until 1994.


Despite the Birmingham Arts Lab’s demise in the early 80s, it was the longest running Arts Lab in the UK, gaining it a fabled reputation, and has had a lasting impact on the Birmingham arts scene. Birmingham continues to be a thriving base for experimental arts, with creative hubs in Digbeth and the Jewellery Quarter owing a great debt to the early pioneers of the Birmingham Arts Lab.


Flatpack Film Festival: Birmingham Arts Lab
at Parkside Gallery. Image by Julia Nottingham


Flatpack Film Festival: My 68


50 years since the birth of Birmingham Arts Lab, Flatpack Film Festival is paying homage to the group with exhibitions and events across the city. The ten day festival, which runs from Friday 13th April until Sunday 23rd April, includes artist talks, live events and exhibitions at Birmingham Open Media, Midlands Art Centre and Parkside Gallery.


Parkside Gallery’s exhibition ‘Flatpack Film Festival: Birmingham Arts Lab’ features iconic, original prints by some of the Art Lab’s most prolific artists including Bob Linney, Ernie Hudson and Ken Maharg.


At a time when Andy Warhol’s Campbell’s Soup Cans was still hot off the press, the printing press was a major part of the Birmingham Arts Lab. Initially used to print posters to promote events, the press soon became a catalyst for artistic output, being used to produce comics and artwork as well as commercial products.


Over a decade, the screen printed material became an emblematic strand of the Birmingham Arts Lab and helped define its brand and activity. This is reflected in the posters and comics exhibited at Parkside Gallery which build a picture of this creative, experimental hub and of the artists who worked there.


The pieces featured, on loan from Birmingham Museum & Art Gallery, include some of the best work produced by early-career artists who found creative freedom at the Arts Lab and went on to be international names in the world of design. The posters tell the story of the group’s creative journey as the Birmingham Arts Lab went from a one room arts space to one of the largest and most renowned Arts Labs in the country.



Flatpack Film Festival: Birmingham Arts Lab is open at Parkside Gallery until 25 May 2018.


Birmingham Arts Lab artists Ernie Hudson and Bob Linney will be in conversation, discussing their work and the Arts Lab on 13th April 2018, 17:00, at The Mockingbird. More information can be found at



Rogers, Stuart (1998). “Birmingham Arts Lab: Remembered”. Birmingham Arts Lab: the phantom of liberty. Birmingham: Birmingham Museums and Art Gallery
Crace, Jim (1998). “Birmingham Arts Lab: Remembered”. Birmingham Arts Lab: the phantom of liberty. Birmingham: Birmingham Museums and Art Gallery

Chris Ansell, Assistant Manager, Events and Exhibitions at Birmingham City University, reflects on Birmingham Art Lab: the city’s artistic heritage as part of Flatpack Film Festival.

Image copyright Inès Elsa Dalal

“Cultural identities come from somewhere. But, like everything which is historical, they undergo constant transformation. Far from being eternally fixed in some essentialised past, they are subject to the continuous play of history, culture and power.”*

Image copyright Inès Elsa Dalal

The narrative on diversity in the cultural sector is a well heard one: under-representation, social mobility, exclusion, ethnicity, gender, disability, class, sexuality; all have come under the microscope recently in the laudable aim of a far more diverse arts workforce that represents and engages with a far more diverse audience that is representative of the world we live in. The subsidised arts sector is more aware than ever of the relationship between the public money it receives and the relatively narrow segment of the public who traditionally partake of their activities.

This means the cultural sector is led by cultural leaders who do not on the whole represent the audiences who wish to engage with culture. A lack of visible diverse leadership has a direct correlation with a lack of cultural participation by diverse communities. As the 2013 Consilium Report for Arts Council England states “It is also vital that the arts and cultural workforce becomes more representative of the society it serves. In particular, we need to do more to ensure that entry routes into employment, and opportunities for people to further their careers, are fairer and more accessible to all. This is as true for the leadership and governance of the sector as it is for those entering the workforce”.

Recently, through our work on programmes such as RE:Present and ASTONish – both schemes aimed at transforming the diversity of cultural leadership in Birmingham (and Aston and Newtown respectively), we (Lara Ratnaraja and Birmingham Hippodrome) have been committed to developing and nurturing diverse cultural leaders. We have noticed while delivering these programmes that the barriers we and they face is a slow-moving sector that has yet to embrace diversity as a creative opportunity and move beyond the permissions culture that is endemic in the arts.

The use of language in culture continues to exclude and “tag”: ‘diverse’, ‘marginalised’, ‘disadvantaged’ ‘hard to reach’ are words used to seek inclusion but also by default achieve exclusion. The language we have heard around programmes such as RE:Present and ASTONish has othered participants; the words “them” and “they” are used liberally, as is the implication that artists of colour are in some way “less,” (less relevant, lower quality or amateur) only relevant for community engagement contexts whereby the quality of creative work is in some way of less of value than it would be in main stream programming.

But with workforce data showing little change, it is evident that whilst policies such as Arts Council’s Creative Case, Race Equality Action plans and initiatives such as Changemakers and Evolve are making incremental changes, within the sector itself there is little change or perceived inclination to self-examine why the arts sector is so unrepresentative.

From data submitted by National Portfolio Organisations (NPOs) and Major Partner Museums (MPM) in 2015/16, 17% of the NPO workforce is Black and minority ethnic and 7% of MPMs (against the working age population average of 15 %). However, at senior levels just 8% of Chief Executives, 10% of Artistic Directors and 9% of Chairs of Boards are BME (Equality, Diversity and the Creative Case 2015-2016, Arts Council England, 2016) Birmingham, is under-served in terms of support for next stage leadership development in an area where 42% of the population self-identifies as non-white. The leadership of cultural organisations doesn’t reflect its audiences and this is reflected across the West Midlands.

As a result of this, in 2016, supported by Birmingham City Council and Arts Council England we ran RE:Present, a pilot initiative which was aimed at cultural leaders/producers and artist/leaders from diverse backgrounds who are currently under-represented in Birmingham and the wider Midlands region. This led to a network of over 40 artists, curators and producers who continue to reach new achievements, create new collaborations but also crucially are transforming the way cultural leadership is evolving in the city. From this we developed ASTONish. ASTONish is a programme of cultural leadership and creative entrepreneur training and development aimed at emergent and established artists, musicians and creative entrepreneurs in Aston and Newtown who have the ambition and potential to transform both themselves and the sector.

The regional art frameworks that seek to promote diversity are interventionist and generate from a cultural model of production that emanates from the centre. The arts in general uses distribution models that are based on an invitation “in”; a permission to view culture on their terms as regards location, timing and context. These frameworks don’t allow for a reframing of cultural identities and willfully ignore the “continuous play of history, culture and power.” In doing so they continue to disseminate a cultural picture that can be irrelevant or even hostile to diverse audiences.

Mark Sealy MBE, Director of Autograph, speaking at ASTONish event. Image copyright Inès Elsa Dalal

The othering of artists of colour means their practice is labelled as marginalised. It is either ignored, or presented as coming from outside the frameworks of culture that stem from white, hetero-normative patriarchal constructs. It is exoticised, or used instrumentally to engage with audiences of colour, (Bhangra and samosa nights for Asian people and spoken word, Windrush reminiscences and Hip Hop for African-Caribbean people). The medium might change but the song remains the same.

Inclusion narratives on diversity allow artists of colour in, giving them permission to participate. As well as doing artists of colour a disservice, this only perpetuates a huge cultural divide which alienates and divorces the arts from the socio-political transformations that are affecting society at large. Equally it muffles instead of amplifing a plurality of artistic voices to wider audiences.

But ignoring these voices isn’t silencing them. Artists of colour are creating new dialogues and communities and modes of practice. They are reframing their cultural identities on their terms and refusing to adhere to the colonial identities ascribed to them.

The time is now to co-create a new narrative on diversity and cultural creation and engagement. This narrative destroys the traditional permission and invitation-based inclusion model and provides a new cultural and creative dialogue which is based on collaboration, equality of discourse and equity of diverse cultural value to allow for a fluidity and intersectional cultural ecology.

“…identities are the names we give to the different ways we are positioned by, and position ourselves within, the narratives of the past.”*

Let’s change the song: instead of singing it “at” people, “reaching out” and “doing” singing to people, let’s listen for the songs we all carry with us, and figure out a way to make that music anew.

*HALL, STUART. (1990). Cultural Identity and Diaspora. Identity: Community, culture, difference. 2.

Lara Ratnaraja Cultural Consultant @lararatnaraja Helga Henry, Director of Organisational Development Birmingham Hippodrome @helgahenry Co-Producers ASTONish

Lara Ratnaraja and Helga Henry give their opinions on the narrative surrounding diversity in the cultural sector.

Artists Tony McClure and Suzie Hunt recently completed Birmingham Museum & Art Gallery’s annual Whitworth Wallis Residency for graduates from Birmingham School of Art. Selected by Lisa Beauchamp, Curator of Modern and Contemporary Art, Tony and Suzie are the first artists to have undertaken this residency as a collaborative one. They have been based in Gallery 15 throughout the four-week period of the residency.

Tony notes “The residency has been a very different way of working. It’s been a shift changing to making together after coming from 5 years of individual practice and research. But I was confident that we would work well together and we have been looking at many overlapping ideas.”

Rather than physically making work together, the artists have instead been researching, talking and developing public workshops together, combining their research from different perspectives. Period s of time spent apart have fuelled discussions the next time they met at the gallery.

The residency portion of the project has concluded with a display of work in progress in Gallery 15. Their display is a “live sketchbook of ideas, a place to pick out patterns and develop ideas really quickly,” says Tony. It comprises of drawings, photographs and text-based pieces on walls and table tops that map out their areas of interest, and has been a space where ideas and works have been constantly moving and altering. Both artists are working toward developing proposals to be shown as part of an exhibition at the gallery in the new year.

Suzie’s approach to the residency has been to seek out some of the hidden collections within the buildings that belong to Birmingham Museums Trust such as the very small collection of windows that let in daylight and the multiple light boxes that instead illuminate many of the spaces. Her photographs of frosted glass, ceiling lights and windows explore how the landscape and sky behind is framed, creating abstract views. Other of her works use drawing to map the movements of visitors through the different rooms of the gallery, considering the navigation of the space when looking at works of art. She notes that a visit to the Museum Collections Centre naturally “created the desire to look upwards at the shelves of objects; glimpsing upwards and noticing skylights that appear like paintings.”

Tony also began by looking at light within the building, shadows and glass lenses. He was interested in the ways that works were stored in the Museum Collections Centre – where a contemporary photograph might butt up against a historical painting, for instance. This layering of time has informed his approach to making. Considering how contemporary works are acquired because they are deemed to be of future historical significance feeds into a series of text based pieces which play with these ideas. The patina of a stereoscope once owned by Joseph Chamberlain and intermittent reflections of light on the wall of Gallery 15 that have created a camera obscura have also influenced this thinking.

Both artists will work on developing their proposals for exhibition. These will be considered by the boards of Birmingham Museums Trust and those that administer the Whitworth Wallis fund for a display in March 2018.


Artists Tony McClure and Suzie Hunt recently completed Birmingham Museum & Art Gallery’s annual Whitworth Wallis Residency for graduates from Birmingham School of Art.

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. 


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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.

Escamotage, 2014 © Grace A Williams. Installation at Birmingham Museum & Art Gallery

Earlier this year, artist Grace A Williams was awarded an Engine Micro Bursary to continue her practice-based research.

She visited the Society for Psychical Research (SPR) Archive at Cambridge University Library, the largest repository in the UK of material relating to unexplained phenomena.

In this video, she reports on her experiences and findings:

Grace A Williams visited the Society for Psychical Research (SPR) Archive at Cambridge University Library, the largest UK repository of material relating to unexplained phenomena. Watch her video report.

Sam Ivin. Zimbabwe from Lingering Ghosts, 2015. Fabrica, Treviso, Italy.

Following an open call, photographer Sam Ivin has been awarded a new residency commission in Stoke-on-Trent, a collaboration between GRAIN Projects and Appetite. The residency will see Ivin engaging with individuals and communities that moved to or migrated to Stoke from within the UK or internationally. Those who have made their home in the city and work in the city have made Stoke the diverse community it is today.

Ivin will create an archive of photographs during his residency between June and September for a subsequent exhibition. The archive will tell the participant’s stories of arriving in the city and where their journey started from.  A positive project, Ivin will celebrate commonalities using images from local people’s own photography collections, having them work with these images to present a contemporary archive and a work for exhibition.

We found out what he has planned over the next few months:


Can you tell me more about your proposed approach to the project?
The idea is for participants to take part in two workshops. In the first session people will share their stories of moving to Stoke and give their contributions to the archive to be donated or scanned/photographed, with some creativity involved of course. In the second workshop we’ll create artwork from the images given in the first workshop. If people prefer just to contribute to the archive there’s no obligation to attend the second workshop.

Which aspects of the process are you looking forward to?
Hearing people’s stories, discovering images and creating some new pictures! Already the range of people involved in the project is extraordinary – and we are only just beginning the work. Participants have migrated for asylum, love, work, study, the reasons are vast. As the stories are from people’s personal perspectives they are often relatable or at least help further understanding.

Sam Ivin. Palestine from Lingering Ghosts, 2015. Fabrica, Treviso, Italy.

What challenges do you envisage?
The main challenge will be finding enough participants to create a substantial archive of quality, we’ve had an encouraging response already though. The more participants, the better the archive in theory. And scanning, there will be a lot of scanning!

How can the residents of Stoke-on-Trent get involved?
If people have any pictures, other media, documents or even objects that relate to migrating to Stoke-on-Trent then please get in touch with me! These can be images of your ancestors, older family members or from your own experiences of moving and settling into Stoke-on-Trent.

What potential outputs do you hope for?
There will be an exhibition of the archive, artwork and stories at the Big Feast Festival, 25th – 26th August at the Hanley Argos building. This will showcase the project so far with the hope to grow it in the future. I’m hoping for a series of artwork, most likely portraits, from participants connected to each of their individual stories. Alongside this I’d like to create a larger piece connected with everyparticipant in the project but this is dependent on the contributions we receive.

What legacy do you hope might be achieved through the project?
Right now I’m focusing on the next couple of months and exhibition at The Big Feast Festival. I’m hoping the project will leave behind a high quality archive of pictures and exciting artwork that captures the stories of those who have chosen Stoke-on-Trent as their home. If this is achieved in the next couple of months the project can grow in 2018 to create a more extensive archive with some really special artwork.

If you have any pictures, documents, objects or stories you would like to contribute to the project, please contact Sam Ivin via –

Following an open call, photographer Sam Ivin has been awarded a new residency commission in Stoke-on-Trent, a collaboration between GRAIN Projects and Appetite. We found out what he has planned over the next few months.

Lucy McLauchlan, Birmingham Bt Pass showing at Centrala Art Gallery 8 July. Image credit Matt Watkins.

New Art West Midlands’ director Craig Ashley reflects on yesterday’s announcement from Arts Council England about investment to the region’s visual arts organisations through their National Portfolio for 2018-22.

Lucy McLauchlan, Birmingham By Pass showing at Centrala until 8 July. Image credit Matt Watkins.

Arts Council England’s National Portfolio for 2018-2022 will include thirteen West Midlands’ Visual Arts organisations, up from the current number of seven. This almost doubling of the visual arts contingent is great news for the region, and the sector is strengthened further through the inclusion of more organisations working under the categories of Museums and Combined Arts where there is increasing work in the widening realm of visual arts, and exploration of the innovative spaces between art forms.

With the exception of Birmingham’s The Drum, which closed last year due to a number of challenges and was consequently not in the running for this next round of funding, the current cohort of West Midlands-based National Portfolio Organisations working across Museums, Visual and Combined Arts remains unchanged and will continue to receive investment.

This is an active and positive endorsement of the great work being done in the region, and Arts Council’s decision provides a degree of certainty in uncertain times. Investment from other sources of income must continue to be a priority over the next four years, and the impact of this stabilising fund will allow the time to further develop and grow the opportunities for a wider and more diverse funding mix.

It is important of course that, within the context of some much needed good news for the arts, there is a balanced view. Where other areas of public funding for culture have been consistently cut in recent years, particularly the investment from our challenged local authorities, the National Portfolio money awarded through Arts Council demonstrates the absolute necessity of public money to secure and strengthen our creative output.

As recognised by the Creative Industries Federation, public money sits at the foundation of our £84b-a-year-and-growing creative industries sector, providing essential support at the start of careers and initiatives that go on to bring great success to Britain. Furthermore, anticipating the gap left by the withdrawal of EU funds beyond 2019 – subject of course to the ongoing Brexit negotiations – how do we shore-up and sustain future public investment in the arts? Arts Council England cannot do it alone, and a wider valuing of the arts in society must be a collective concern that we need to address together, within and beyond the visual arts.

The important and integral partnerships between our National Portfolio Organisations and others, both within and beyond the Creative Industries, will help to strengthen a platform for the visual arts over the coming years, and provide a firmer base to build upon for the future. From artists to arts organisations to educators and business, the benefit of the National Portfolio investment is channelled through the relatively few to the many.

So now is definitely a time to celebrate the achievement of those organisations and their supporters and partners that have strived to creative something crucial, critical and valuable. The National Portfolio status is something to be proud of, and an indicator of the valuable contribution organisations make as instigators, protectors, mediators, collaborators, risk-takers and trailblazers.

The inclusion of more organisations in the National Portfolio reflects the region’s growing confidence and the breadth of the work we do. Distinctively here in the West Midlands, the support for the smaller-scale, diverse, innovative and artist-led outfits bolsters the resilience of the visual arts ecology.

The collective strength of Birmingham’s Eastside organisations demonstrates the importance of working together to mutually support. Joining Eastside Projects in the National Portfolio are Centrala, Grand Union and Vivid Projects, all based in the Minerva Works complex in Digbeth, alongside Friction Arts at The Edge on Cheapside. This critical mass is a model that New Art West Midlands is keen to support elsewhere in the region, to ensure sustainability alongside critical success.

Our museums continue to get the support they desperately need and deserve, with Birmingham Museums Trust and The New Art Gallery Walsall receiving continued investment in the face of challenges with their respective local authority funding. Encouragingly, Wolverhampton Art Gallery receives an uplift from 2018 and they are joined in the National Portfolio by Culture Coventry (The Herbert Art Gallery) and Compton Verney, both of whom become regularly funded through Arts Council for the first time.

The region’s reputation for distinctive festivals shines through the Portfolio, with BE Festival and Fierce now joined by Flatpack, Shout, Capsule’s Supersonic Festival, and the Stoke on Trent-based British Ceramics Biennial. And in terms of innovation, BOM and Hereford-based Rural Media are supported to continue their leading roles in developing the territory within the scientific and digital realms. Wolverhampton’s Newhampton Arts Centre adds to the region’s complement of multi artform venues, widening the cultural offer in the Black Country.

These decisions demonstrate Art Council’s commitment to diversifying the National Portfolio, in terms of practice and geography as well as the protected characteristics including disability, ethnicity, gender and sexuality. Among the existing National Portfolio, the Shropshire-based Disability Arts organisation DASH has received a significant uplift in their regular funding to expand their partnership work to commission disabled artists. DASH’s director Mike Layward commented:

“[This] is not only great news for the organisation as it secures our work across England for the next 4 years, but it’s also great news for the disabled artists we work with. The uplift will allow us to develop a new area of work with disabled children and young people who will be the disabled artists of tomorrow.”

New Art West Midlands’ director Craig Ashley reflects on yesterday’s announcement from Arts Council England about investment to the region’s visual arts organisations through their National Portfolio for 2018-22.

100 Masters, a landmark campaign from Creative Black Country, the organisation behind the much celebrated Desi Pubs project, is looking to identify and profile the best contemporary craftspeople, makers and thinkers from the Black Country area. Anneka French caught up with Creative Producer, Liam Smyth, to find out more.

Working with public nominations from across the Black Country, the 100 Masters project will culminate in an expo at Starworks in Wolverhampton in November this year. It includes presentations from the individuals selected, as well as the results of a series of artist commissions.

Nominations so far include Sandwell-born artist Gillian Wearing, Walsall’s Paralympic swimming champion Ellie Simmonds OBE, Wolverhampton journalist and author Sathnam Sanghera and David Pearce, the Walsall schoolboy who designed the new £1 coin emblem. The full list of nominations will be reviewed by representatives from the community, with the selected masters revealed in July.

A number of artists have also been commissioned to make work in response to the project’s nominated masters and the context of the project more widely. Artists include photographer Laura Dicken, performer and video artist Amelia Beavis-Harrison, digital hackerspace Urban Hax and Juneau Projects, who bring a wealth of experience working with multi-disciplinary projects to 100 Master. As lead artists, Juneau Projects, will use augmented reality animations to bring the project to life. A special collaboration with the Express and Star newspaper, for example,  is providing an interactive platform that will raise the profile of the project, particularly with audiences who are less familiar with creative and visual arts projects.

100 Masters aims to be a celebration of the excellence of creative work already happening within the Black Country and hopes to be a driver for the future development and retention of creative talent.

Liam Smyth, Creative Producer at Creative Black Country, said:

“We are looking to increase aspirations in the local area through 100 Masters. We would like to grow the number of master makers and thinkers within the Black Country. It’s an industrial area of course and there is a lot of attention paid to its design and manufacturing heritage but there is less focus upon current creative practice. We want to acknowledge this and unearth the secrets of creativity and making that are happening today, to show people that the Black Country is an ideal place to live and create amazing work.”

Applications to nominate a ‘master’ from the Black Country are open until 30 June:


100 Masters, a landmark campaign from Creative Black Country, is looking to profile the best contemporary craftspeople, makers and thinkers from the Black Country. We speak to Creative Producer, Liam Smyth.

Jamal Harewood, The Privileged - Portrait (Yarahmadi)

Vivid Projects, and VIVID before that, has always had a rich programme of artists exploring new media including performative work. Vivid Live is another step in this – dedicated strand for artists making live/performance work that I have the pleasure of curating.

Kate Spence

There will be touring work and new commissions, artists’ development and an ethos of collaboration that has always been a big part of Vivid Projects. As time goes by I hope to involve the Black Hole Club members and to some extent match make artists to see what they come up with together. Forming connections with other artists is so valuable and this is something I want to encourage, especially when artists have different skill sets such as film makers working with performance artists and so on.

This year Vivid Live launches next month with a Live Lab session on 15 July. There is an open call right now for artists who make live/performance work to give short presentations – up to 9 artists at each session – so I can get to know them better and see if they might work within future programming. There will also be footage from the Vivid Projects archives of past performance work to view so it is open to the general public.

Jamal Harewood, The Privileged – Portrait (Yarahmadi)

The first artist in the 2017 programme is Jamal Harewood. He is touring his work The Privileged and I’m so exited to bring him to Birmingham! That will be on 2 November for Digbeth First Friday. Jamal is a performance artist who creates temporary communities through participatory events that focus on ideas of identity and race; believing that these events should be a playful experience that allow everyone to get involved. He has a keen interest in abolishing the performer/audience hierarchy that frequently occurs within theatre. The Privileged, I think, is one of the most outstanding pieces of performance to come out of the UK in the past few years, and Jamal is really pushing boundaries with his work by creating these situations to have conversations around race and privilege in a less clinical and more involved situation that cultivates a space for people to be slap bang in the middle of – not detached from – the issues at hand. It is an hour long performance followed by an optional hour long audience-led discussion and there will be tickets available in the months leading up to it.

Then in December we have new commissions by Priya Saujani and Grace A. Williams as a joint show. This will also be for Digbeth First Friday, on 1 December. The work is being made as we speak so I can’t tell you yet exactly what the show will entail. I like working like this as a curator, this is a bit of the artist match making I mentioned earlier. Priya is a performance artist and Grace is a visual artist and researcher. They will both be making performance work for this show but as they have the run of the space I’m looking forward to seeing how they use it and what this triggers for them. Grace is making work inspired by the mythology of the female body submerged including the mermaid and sea siren – the type that lure men to their death, and Priya has a rich body of work subverting power dynamics, often in the guise of the Goddess, an all powerful figure, capable of creation and also destruction.

Grace A. Williams

All the artists I have programmed this year are people whose work I have followed and wanted to bring to Birmingham for a long time, so it’s very exiting to finally be able to do so.

As well as working on Vivid Live, I am also an artist myself and one half of Home For Waifs And Strays, a live art initiative in Birmingham. This year I will be performing a new work, #Challenge, at Sluice_, in London in September (precise date tba). This is a performance by myself and Co-Director (HFWAS) Aleksander Wojtulewicz. We have performed together before but this is going to be much more intense! We are both somewhat endurance artists and will be really pushing our limits with this one! We had wanted to perform this last year but I just wasn’t ready after the birth of my son. I’ve just finished a residency at The Wig as part of GESTALT’s curatorial placement. During this time I really focussed on training and getting my body into a physical state to perform again, so now I’m ready! We hope to tour the piece to some degree after Sluice_. I would like to bring it to Birmingham but it really will be brutal to us as performers so not something we will be able to perform too regularly.

Kate Spence








Artist and Associate Curator Kate Spence speaks about Vivid Live, a new live art strand she is curating at Vivid Projects later this year.

Image credit: BOM



It’s a busy time for BOM (Birmingham Open Media) with major projects across the globe, and much closer to home. Annabel Clarke met with Louise Latter, Head of Programme to find out about their ongoing work with the British Council in Indonesia, as well as their future plans for the space.


Image credit: BOM


Last year BOM were approached by the British Council who wanted to initiate some work around women and technology in Indonesia. There are currently many barriers for women to get into the creative industries, and BOM were approached to help sustain and support the practice of women in the Republic.

BOM’s Director Karen Newman and Louise were invited to Indonesia for ten days in November 2016. During this time they attended the V&A’s Digital Design Weekend in Jakarta. There they handed out postcards to men and women asking questions such as – What it is like to be a woman in Indonesia? What barriers are there for women wanting to enter the creative industries? As well as general questions on culture, society and politics.

They met with Lifepatch, a citizen initiative in art, science and technology which has members in several cities across Indonesia. At the time they were working on a project along the river in Yogyakarta with local communities undertaking DIY bio experiments to check the safety of the water. The river is the lifeblood of the region, but unfortunately is also used for direct sewage disposal in an area with poor sanitary provision.

Over the last two months, three female Lifepatch members have been in Birmingham on a research residency. All are producers creating work within their communities. During their time in the UK, BOM have introduced the trio to practitioners based on their interests, such as performance artist Sergina whose practice investigates cross-dressing and drag. Whilst in Indonesia Karen and Louise learnt that in some areas there is a common belief of there being five genders, although this idea has been quashed over the years due to the growth of Christianity and Islam.

Image credit: BOM

Louise said “We were blown away by our trip to Indonesia as well as the two months we have spent with Al, Mara and Sita. We can’t wait to get started with our collaborative projects. The scope of complex and fascinating social and cultural areas of interest mean we have extremely fertile ground to work with.”

The producers will return to Indonesia shortly with BOM supporting their programme. Their upcoming projects will look into queer performance as well as tackling Islamaphobia through art and technology. Over the next five years BOM hope to offer West Midlands based artists the opportunity to visit and support the projects in Indonesia as part of their British Council funding.

Image credit: Sergina

Later this year, BOM itself will be transformed with building works that will benefit the staff, Fellows and visitors. All three floors will be made accessible and new rooms opened up.

Susan Kruse, Gallery Supervisor is currently undertaking research into making the space more accessible to autistic people. An autistic artist herself, she is working directly with the space’s architect Alessandro Columbano of Birmingham City University to design the refurbishment.

More information about BOM their upcoming programme can be found here:


Annabel Clarke met with Louise Latter, Head of Programme at BOM to find out about their ongoing work with the British Council in Indonesia, as well as their future plans for the space.

Subodh Gupta. Chanda Mama door ke (From Far Away Uncle Moon Calls), 2015

The ‘gig economy’ is receiving a lot of coverage in the media at the moment. How can you be an artist in this environment? We reproduce Sarah Shalgosky, Curator at the University of Warwick’s Keynote from The National Association for Fine Art Education annual symposium ‘Artist as Superconnector/Superconductor’ held in March.

The image above shows a work that was installed in the Mead Gallery over a four day period by six freelance Gallery Technicians … who are local artists. This is one of the main art related gigs that is offered to artists and is how many of them support a discrete artistic practice.

The work itself is ‘Chanda Mama door ke’ by Subodh Gupta. These days, the artist’s role is not only to make work for the exhibition; the gallery presses them to engage directly with its priority audiences. It’s our practice to invite a school from an area with particularly limited access to cultural provision to come to the gallery on the day the show opens, to participate in workshops and to meet the artist. Subodh Gupta was understandably reticent but agreed to meet the children. He spoke a little about his work and then a child asked him a question: “how long do you have to practice to become an artist?” Subodh Gupta thought for a while and then said, “I don’t know but I’ve been practicing for 24 years”. And the children gasped.

So, how long do you have to practice to become an artist? To become an architect you have to undertake 5 years of study and a further two in an architects’ office. To become an artist …. do you decide for yourself when you have stopped practising and claim the role?

A traditional route to the status of artist is via the university degree in an art school. However, with tuition fees, accommodation and living expenses bringing the cost of a degree to an out of town student to around £50,000 (with subsequent interest rate of 3% per annum on the debt), for many it now seems an uneconomic choice. I’ve been working with a young artist who attended a major London art school. She has argued that she got very little out of her degree. She feels she has become an artist through working in a much older tradition as assistant to a senior artist. In their studio she has learned techniques and skills, has been exposed to visits from curators, gallerists and collectors, participated in discussions about the work.

Marvin Gaye Chetwynd. The Folding House, 2010

Degree apprenticeships were developed in 2015. Looking through the list of subjects offered, there is one in bespoke tailoring and cutting based in Savile Row but nothing else connected to overtly creative practice. However, in Stoke on Trent, a crowd-funding campaign has been launched to support Clay College. It aims to open in autumn 2017, offering a skills-based, full-time ceramics course taught by professional potters. I was interested in this assertion. In my experience, the tutors and most of the technicians in art schools are always professional artists. Is the difference here the focus on the rapid development of craft skills? Interestingly, Clay College seems to be a hybrid with an arts venue, offering classes and lectures to local audiences as well as an outreach programme and formal apprenticeships, creating a broader environment in which people can engage with artists – seemingly filling a space that would once have been occupied by a municipal arts organisation, with one led by artists.

Clay College and degree apprenticeships aim to reduce the cost of a degree by structuring it over two years instead of three. But how long do you need to practice to become an artist? Does two years of study give students enough time to reflect and develop and for their practice to mature? Can it provide enough of a foundation for maximising later experiences and challenges? Indeed, is three years enough? Many artists lose momentum and turn to other professions in the years immediately following graduation. So after an intensive degree, how might artists sustain their practice and perhaps engage with a critical context for their work?

Over in Birmingham, Eastside Projects has developed The Syllabus in collaboration with Iniva, New Contemporaries, S1 Artspace, Spike Island, Studio Voltaire and Wysing Arts Centre. Shaped by the artists that participate in the project, it includes intensive weekends hosted by each of the partner organisations that aim to provide an open, supportive space for experimentation and critical reflection. Its name suggests the ongoing process of self-education undertaken by artists throughout their careers and prioritises the role of the artist in shaping these opportunities.

A similar phenomenon generated and run by an artist was the The Russian Club Gallery in Kingsland Road, London. Ostensibly a set of photographic studios available for commercial hire, they were managed by Matt Golden, a graduate of the Royal College of Art. He persuaded the owners to agree to monthly salons when established, emerging and student artists would meet for extraordinarily ambitious events involving pop up exhibitions, talks and performances.

Artists are among those who, through taking a multiplicity of jobs to support their largely unpaid practice, presaged the gig economy; the term obviously derives from the music industry. Currently, over 16% of British workers are non-salaried, freelance employees and it is estimated that by 2020, 40% of Americans will work in the gig economy. It is argued that the rise of digital technologies has uncoupled job from location so that freelancers can select from a wider range of temporary jobs and projects while employers have access to a larger pool of workers.

Potentially, this could be good news. More temporary jobs that will allow artists, actors, musicians, to earn a living if their artistic practice is unpaid. Ideally, the gig economy allows independent workers to select jobs that they’re interested in. Perhaps, more realistically, people find themselves in a situation where, trying to balance the time they need to develop their work with the income they need to survive, they pick up whatever temporary gigs they can get. Data entry may pay the bills but how does it enhance and extend someone’s art practice?

Many musicians give music lessons in schools and colleges. For some it’s a vocation, for others … it’s a gig. It is notable that at primary school level, art is rarely taught by artists. You may have young graduate musicians teaching everything from keyboard to the steel pans but art is left to the class teacher. Last year I developed a project that took artists into three primary schools in north Coventry over a three week period to support children in year 6 to make work in response to our exhibition about the California Light and Space movement. Evaluation focused not only on the benefits to the children but to the teaching staff who discovered new ways of working, new techniques and strategies, new ways of talking about art to children and a far wider view of what is possible for a child to make. As secondary schools start to strip out those areas of the curriculum that are not mandatory, there does seem to be a space opening up for ad hoc organisations where artists can help young people to develop their artistic practice.

A major concern for me is the gap between professional practice and the art to which people are exposed in mainstream education and which is the foundation for their interest in art in later life. As an organisation funded by the Arts Council, I need to show public demand for what I do. I have to say, that no-one has yet requested a show of work by artists including Louise Bourgeois, Beverly Buchanan, Heidi Bucher, Marvin Gaye Chetwynd, Rachel Feinstein, Nan Goldin, Klara Liden, Hilary Lloyd, Sarah Lucas, Joanna Piotrowska, Penny Slinger, Andra Ursuta, and Francesca Woodman. But that’s what we’re showing this term because I believe it’s good work by interesting artists. And some of my unsuspecting audience will discover this for themselves.

Talking to the artists who were on the Syllabus programme in Birmingham, I asked what they felt about audiences and public perceptions of their work. The majority suggested that this concern belongs to curators; it’s my job to connect audiences to art rather than that of the artist. However, it’s easier for institutions with a specialist interest in contemporary art to ride out antipathy than it is in a local authority gallery facing appalling choices. I think programmes are becoming safer, they are certainly becoming longer; the range of art to which audiences are exposed is substantially diminished and opportunities for artists are fewer.

In March, Coventry published its Cultural Strategy and it was announced that the city has won over £1million to start to put some initiatives in place. Reading through the strategy, it’s exciting and visionary and perhaps, unsurprisingly is full of things that the City Council, the universities and other agencies can and will do. Hunting for the word artist, I found imperatives such as:

  • Supporting artists in developing targeted health education projects with children and young people and older residents.
  • Leveraging the role of artists in leading peace and reconciliation initiatives.
  • Annual residency for leading artists focusing on the architecture and heritage assets of the city.

There is a sense of state benevolence: that Coventry will create its own gig economy for artists to deliver objectives for the people of the city. Artists are our instruments for public good. And that can be taken to extremes. I remember in 2014, the call for artists to boycott the Sydney Biennale when its founder and principal sponsor won the contract to provide the mandatory offshore detention camps for migrants. Notwithstanding the fact that Biennales cannot take place if there are no security staff, no public facilities, no venues and above all, no visitors … the artists were the ones called upon by Sydney arts educator, Matt Kiem, writing in the Sydney Herald, to express concern at a national policy, implemented by a private company, by withdrawing from a significant, possibly career-changing event.

Perhaps, rather than using artists as vehicles for policy outputs, they – and the public – would be better served by involving them in the development of policies. In Margate, Turner Contemporary has developed a project where children at four primary schools were invited to select different artists to work with them to imagine the social and physical changes that their town needs to make over the next decade.

Heidi Bucher. Untitled (Herrenzimmer), 1977-78

In supporting the project, the town council agreed that the children could present their ideas to them in a formal meeting and they would find ways to include them in its development plan.

Thinking about the city itself as a gig economy for artists, I believe there are many areas of existing practice that could become gigs for artists. From contributions to the built environment, to involvement in local businesses, it should be possible to look at every sphere of activity and find a space for an artist. And we all need to be active in this.

Last year I managed to persuade the university executive to stop commissioning pens, umbrellas and pointless cubes of glass as corporate gifts and instead commission work from a young graduate maker, Rhian Malin. The small porcelain vessels that are now given to contacts across the world are far more representative of the university’s values: they demonstrate support of creativity, of young graduates and of the local economy. The engineering department has just turned two of its lecture theatres into studios where students and staff will work alongside each other to experiment. They are considering an option to open this space up to artists in the region to work alongside the engineers and to see what this proximity to creative practice engenders.

In my first senior role, back in 1985, I was working at the Mappin Art Gallery in Sheffield. I was invited to a meeting with the somewhat anxiety inducing title, “Sheffield Artists Are Angry”. They saw themselves as a brilliant and innovative resource for the city and demanded that its institutions availed themselves of it.

As President Obama said recently, it’s not enough to be angry; you need to organise. Perhaps the problem with the gig economy is that it’s perceived as a one way street … an orthodox construction of demand and supply. As a superconnector-superconductor, might it be possible to challenge what this economy asks of artists, to set new agendas and to open up ways in which other people can engage with artistic practice?

Room, at the Mead Gallery, University of Warwick runs until Saturday 24 June 2017.

The ‘gig economy’ is receiving a lot of coverage in the media at the moment. How can you be an artist in this environment? We reproduce Sarah Shalgosky, Curator at the University of Warwick’s Keynote from The National Association for Fine Art Education annual symposium ‘Artist as Superconnector/Superconductor’ held in March.

Birmingham City University graduate Hannah Honeywill exhibited work as part of the 2016 New Art West Midlands exhibitions. As as result, she was selected for a residency at the Barber Institute of Fine Arts. We caught up with her to hear about the residency, and her new piece Tumbleweed which is currently on display at the gallery.

The curators from the Barber Institute selected me from the New Art West Midlands 2016 exhibition for this residency. I was asked was to submit a proposal for a new piece of artwork responding to the Barber and its collections.

As I walked through the Barber’s galleries, I was surrounded by the different narratives within the paintings and sculptures – for example, you are sharing the final intimate moments of John the Baptist on his deathbed with just his closest family, and then across the room is a painting of Alexander the Great in his bright pink leggings. In another gallery I encountered a fragment of 1900s realism as if captured on surveillance camera: a private and intimate moment of a woman picking fleas from her body and then drowning them. These narratives are not happening out loud – they are happening visually and silently in the quiet gallery. It felt like I was being whispered at from various centuries and realities.

The challenge was to incorporate these reflections into a new artwork. Within my practice I use objects that already exist, especially furniture, as using familiar everyday objects creates a ground from which I can queer / reshape into sculpture. When I make a change to an existing structure, I question its expected function and it subsequently occupies a new space, raising questions about its identity.

I started by looking for the furniture within the Barber, but the very nature of the architecture and purpose-built design of the interior and furniture is so cohesive and seen as one that I felt no one piece could be manipulated individually.

I then turned to the artwork, and saw that the gilt frames were the common denominator of all the paintings, encompassing the diverse narratives and points of view: the frame harmonises the collection of works. Picture frames were traditionally made by furniture-makers to protect, enhance and preserve the painting within. This legacy makes them perfect material for reshaping into a sculpture, reflecting the materials and methods of my practice of reshaping furniture. The gilt frame’s sense of being part of the institution, informing the atmosphere and influencing how people conduct themselves within it, also provided the perfect ground for me to queer. By cutting or reshaping a frame I would be committing an act against the frame – it would no longer have value as a frame but instead have a new destiny that rebels against the expected.

The eclectic nature of the Barber collection brought to mind the economist Rumens’ metaphor of queer theory being a form of “intellectual tumbleweed”, collecting different influences, experiences and ideas as it rolls around academia, culture, politics and feminism as well as other areas where you might not expect to encounter it. The tumbleweed struck me as a fitting physical form for the sculpture to take. My proposal was therefore to make a beautiful, intricate tumbleweed sculpture using reshaped picture frames echoing the styles hanging in the Barber Institute.

In addition to creating a new artwork, the residency has given me the opportunity to give a public lunchtime gallery talk and take part in a children’s Arts Award workshop that was developed around Tumbleweed. I will also be running a days drawing and creativity workshop with adults and presenting in a Pecha Kucha-style event at the Barber on Saturday 20 May along with four other contemporary artists who have been working with the Barber and the University of Birmingham.

Tumbleweed is on display in the Beige Gallery at The Barber Institute of Fine Arts until 4 June 2017. New Art West Midlands 2017 continues at the Waterhall, Birmingham Museum & Art Gallery, mac birmingham and Wolverhampton Art Gallery until 14 May 2017, and Worcester City Art Gallery until 3 June 2017. Applications are also currently open for New Art West Midlands 2018.

Birmingham City University graduate Hannah Honeywill exhibited work as part of the 2016 New Art West Midlands exhibitions. As as result, she was selected for a residency at the Barber Institute of Fine Arts. We caught up with her to hear about the residency, and her new piece Tumbleweed which is currently on display at the gallery.

Longbridge Light Festival reportage

The Longbridge Light Festival Shadow Factory (LLF) in October 2016 marked the near culmination of 5 years of the Longbridge Public Art Programme (LPAP). LPAP and LLF are interrelated, devised and produced by independent art organisation WERK, who specialise in working site-specifically in the urban realm.

The large-scale LLF event featured 35 artists and took place across a range of public, retail and education spaces both indoors and out. Its intention was to encourage visitors to explore the urban landscape through light, art and curious encounters in unusual places.

In the past 5 years, LPAP has encompassed a long-term artist residency and public event programme embedded within one of the largest regeneration schemes in the UK, and within one of the most historically significant areas relating to British car manufacturing – Longbridge in the south of Birmingham. Once the site of a thriving motor factory (1905-2005), Longbridge has been in the midst of massive regeneration after a long fallow period. WERK’s creation of both LPAP and LLF are at their heart about the history, transformation and recreation of Longbridge. They are also, perhaps most importantly, for Longbridge.

Core objectives for both the project and festival were to explore place making, socially engaged and new genre public art practice by placing this approach at the heart of this unique and complex development. Within the long-term artist residency and guest artist programme, incremental artist commissioning has involved a wide range of artistic practices, with the intention to mirror important junctures within the regeneration scheme and the significant transition of the area.

LLF 2016 and its theme Shadow Factory curated by Claire Farrell, WERK, related to the history of Longbridge and explored the multiple social, physical and political narratives that are embedded within the area including its industry. Shadow Factory featured an ensemble of installations, interactions, fleeting interventions, performance and experiences devised and made by artists from Birmingham, elsewhere in the UK, Spain, Germany and the USA. The result was a notable body of newly commissioned temporary and permanent work for Longbridge.

Many of the artists were part of the LPAP long-term residency programme making work through extensive research, sensitivity and close collaboration with members of the community and local groups in response to the population, heritage and possible future of the site. The festival further included a series of dance and music performances, street food and family activities assembled to activate the new built environment.

Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter, General Public, 2016

One of the centrepieces of LLF, for instance, was a community parade devised by artist duo General Public who brought a touch of 1960s idealism with their ‘very civil’ rights march. Taking its title from a Martin Luther King quote Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter, the parade featured local community groups and school children marching with banners and placards, made by the people that took part, highlighting the things that are important to them.

Among other works, artist Cathy Wade developed a community garden at Longbridge train station, created and tended to by local residents and showcased three other commissions as a result of her long-term residency. Wade’s Star Map is a visualisation of the night sky over Longbridge at the time of Lord Austin’s visit to select the site for the car plant, while Found Sculpture: Sightlines of Longbridge used light to transform redundant elements of local architecture into markers of industry and as an enduring signal of the ingenuity and creativity that evolved industry in Longbridge. She also devised a permanent lighting and planting scheme situated across the regenerated site.

Artist duo Industry of the Ordinary spent time with Greenlands Select Social Club and installed new sculptural doors on its façade that record the names of every member in its history alongside oral history recordings emitted during LLF. Longbridge TV, a project by Emily Warner and Sarah Taylor Silverwood, saw the creation of a playful video project made in collaboration with local residents who shared advice, tips and hacks with their community shown on a large screen outside Bournville College.

Partnerships with businesses and other on-site organisations have proven vital and unique site archives have been mined by the artists working commissioned for LLF and LPAP. Matthew J Watkins’ commission using archival photographs, for example, was shown on digital and slide projectors for Marks & Spencer’s large window and is testament to the effective partnership working that LPAP has achieved. Sited within a multi-storey carpark, Bobby Gardner and Anna Schimkat’s experiential work featured a choir of local voices, sound and coloured light. Ian Richards exhibited Serodiscordant and A New Death in an empty retail unit in Longbridge, a series of new text-based works that suggested a clandestine domain of secret languages and communication systems. Stuart Whipps developed a number of audio, photographic and process-based works exploring Longbridge in the 1970s with multiple archival sources and the help of former plant workers who have generously volunteered their time.

Other notable works were produced by Juneau Projects, Gizzago, Sam Williams, Joseph Potts, Mark Murphy, Dan Newso and Luke Perry. Barcelona-based collective PlayMID presented their large-scale work Axial made using beams of light and reverberating sound to animate Longbridge’s outdoor space. This was one of the most striking works from LLF and served as a dramatic tribute to Longbridge’s industrial past.

Text by Anneka French




Watch a new video highlighting the light-based artworks commissioned for Longbridge Light Festival 2016.

Anna Berndtson, Self Stress Relief (Performance, 2015). Image Hannah Levy.

Disability, diversity and the institutional gatekeepers of the mainstream.

Ahead of next month’s Awkward Bastards II symposium at mac birmingham, New Art West Midlands’ Director Craig Ashley shares his thoughts in praise of awkwardness and on making a creative case for diversity for our region and beyond.

Anna Berndtson, Self Stress Relief (Performance, 2015). Image Hannah Levy.

On Thursday 12 March 2015 the eagerly anticipated Awkward Bastards symposium arrived at the Midlands Arts Centre (mac) in Birmingham. Commissioned by the Disability Arts organisation DASH to rethink ideas around diversity, the event took place in mac’s main theatre auditorium with accompanying exhibitions and performances happening across the busy public spaces and galleries of the arts centre. With contributions from artists, academics, curators and historians, the programme explored different perspectives on the current state of Disability Arts, and the wider subject of diversity in the mainstream.

In planning the symposium with my co-organiser and collaborator Mike Layward, Director at DASH, we set about foregrounding a conversation about what constitutes the mainstream, and how it is constituted in the realm of the arts and culture. We talked at length about the absence of Disability Arts from the institutionally-shaped canon of artistic movements, and the problems with defining oneself as a disabled artist – the perceived challenges such an association might present, and the possible barriers that may inadvertently be put in place.

At the same time I was developing a retrospective exhibition of the work of the Manchester-based artist Qasim Riza Shaheen, which showed at mac in the autumn of 2014.  The curatorial approach explored ‘awkwardness’ as an alternative critical framework in which to situate a body of work that had been largely classified and typecast as queer.  Awkwardness presented an opportunity to readdress the artist’s work without the baggage of a highly loaded term, and to consider it more in relation to an engagement with the audience – a difficult transaction or encounter within the mainstream, rather than a limited and unchallenging position outside of it.

Awkwardness therefore appealed as an alternative starting point for a symposium tasked with rethinking ideas around diversity.  This shift or transference of focus, from the difference or impairment of the artist to the audience and the passively observed conventions of the mainstream arts experience, was a critical point to locate in the debate.  The social quality of awkwardness seemed to us to be readily aligned with the social model of disability – a recognition that disability is an unhelpful construct of society, rather than an objective diagnosis of psychological, physical or sensory ability relative to the external world in which we live.  Extended to the wider territory of diversity in the arts, and appropriated as a social model for the purpose of this discussion, awkwardness provided the neutral ground upon which to begin a new conversation, one that reflected upon and scrutinised the societally-defined context of the arts environment, alongside the concerns of artists that were centred largely on identity, self-definition and classification.

We felt there was a question around legitimacy that also needed to be framed as part of the conversation, to acknowledge the historical context of exclusion and subsequent civil rights action in Britain during the post-war period.  In his appropriately provocative symposium title, Awkward Bastards, Mike Layward referenced legitimacy, or rather a perception that groups or individuals operating outside of the mainstream were considered in some way illegitimate, or otherwise implicated as bastards by the establishment.

Our public-facing arts organisations and agencies, acting as intermediaries between the artist and the audience, tend also to be the institutional gatekeepers, tastemakers and trendsetters with a significant and collective influence upon the mainstream.  Is it possible, we wondered, to dispel the perceived correlation between legitimacy and the mainstream, or is it necessary to continue to broaden the mainstream to include the last of the outsiders?

For those who had travelled to attend Awkward Bastards from across the UK, as well as the many viewers online who had tuned in to receive the live broadcast, there were perhaps no real surprises amongst the evidence and experiences presented throughout the day.  Speakers echoed time and again the widely-held view that there is still much work to be done in creating equitable opportunities around leadership and access in the arts, as indeed there is across society more generally.

However, despite the familiar and persisting challenges associated with diversity in the cultural industries, the overarching tone of the symposium was a hopeful one.  A shared sense of optimism accompanied the difficult conversations about representation and inclusion, and mainstream arts organisations were positively acknowledged on the whole for continuing their work in beginning to shift the institutional ground in relation to matters of gender, race, class and disability.  Slow though it may be, progress was happening and seen to be happening on a number of fronts.

Referred to frequently on the day was Arts Council England’s Creative Case for Diversity, an initiative that speaks about the need for diversity in the mainstream.  The Creative Case, the shortened name by which it has become known, has located diversity as a strategic goal for each of the 684 arts organisations currently in receipt of regular funding – the National Portfolio Organisations and Major Partner Museums.  Between 2015 and 2018 diversity is firmly cited by Arts Council as ‘a key issue in relation to the programming and audiences, leadership and workforce of all our funded organisations.’[1]

In the introduction to her short presentation about her own personal history of diversity in the arts, connected to the Blk Art Group and the Black arts movement in the UK, the artist and curator Marlene Smith declared her belief in revolution and made the following provocation: ‘It is an open secret that our cultural infrastructure was founded upon and still rests on a tower of elitism. In the UK we cling for dear life to the old order, pay lip service to the notion of change and quake in our boots at the thought and consequences of revolution.’[2]

Whether the Creative Case will be effective in helping to bring about a revolution, and demolish the so-called ‘elitist tower’, remains to be seen.  Clearly it will take some time to measure the impact of the current endeavours in affecting change, and navigate the resistance that it will face.  Nevertheless, the determination of Arts Council and others to address diversity at a national and strategic level is surely a good thing.  From the artists and the artworks commissioned, to staff and the contractors employed, there appears now to be a concerted effort to move beyond a superficial addressing of diversity – a move away from the purely project-based model that would often see activity delivered by and for ‘diverse groups’ in isolation, to an earnest dialogue that recognises the value of a wider set of perspectives and cultural experiences as integral and mutually beneficial.

This is perhaps an overly optimistic note on which to end.  Events such as Awkward Bastards all too often conclude in a positive manner with groups of likeminded people agreeing cheerfully that the world is a slightly better place than it was at the beginning of the day.  As a sector and as a society, we do need to be watchful and vigilant, to be certain that progress continues to be made, but also to ensure that the intricacies and complexities of culture – not just its reductive facets and features – are acknowledged, respected and made visible.  The sentiment of the Japanese author and novelist Jun’ichirō Tanizaki resonates here. In his 1933 essay In Praise of ShadowsI [3], the reader is invited to consider the nuanced qualities between light and darkness, and to appreciate the subtleties within the shade.  While these passive observations allow us to monitor change from a distance, there is a need for activism and intervention too – and here the merits of awkwardness as a catalyst for change should be recognised and applauded. By taking a position of awkwardness, we are empowered to ask difficult questions, to challenge the legitimate ground where it is assumed or outmoded, and to propose alternative territories for the mainstream.

In Praise of Awkwardness is one of 3 essays featured in The Incorrigibles: Perspectives on Disability Visual Arts in the 20th and 21st Centuries, a new publication from DASH available to purchase here. DASH Director Mike Layward has served on the Advisory Group committee for New Art West Midlands since November 2016.

[1] Arts Council England. 2014. Creative Case for Diversity 2015-18. [Online]. [Accessed 2 June 2016]. Available from:

[2] Smith, M. 2015. Rethinking Diversity. [Online]. 12 March, mac (Midlands Arts Centre), Birmingham. Awkward Bastards symposium. DASH and mac. [Accessed 2 June 2016]. Available from:

[3] Tanizaki, J. 1933. In Praise of Shadows. London: Vintage Classics.

Ahead of next month’s Awkward Bastards II symposium at mac birmingham, Craig Ashley shares thoughts in praise of awkwardness and the creative case for diversity for our region and beyond.