“I’ve never signed on in my life, and I’ve worked every day since I was 15. I’ve worked more hours in a week than you’ve done in your life”

Spoken as if the words were to lacerate the throat of another, and lasso their tongue before it ran wild with accusations of idleness or dependency. Not all things are said in jest, and not all words were spoken together, yet in unison they speak of father and son.

Hereditary hate hidden here, for anything other than blue, when we speak it’s lain bare. For years the conversations were poorly controlled passes, their intentions always best placed just never received. It was a breakdown in communication and an evaporation of commonality with no real indicator as to its source.

I never felt the need to be similar to the others, but I knew the differences created distances.

“Why don’t you sign on?” seemed like an acceptance of failure, a challenge to my nature. It was never that, but the idea of working every god given hour was indoctrinated into me.

I had to unlearn it, because there was a dissonance that would dissipate.

This work has been made by Adam Neal as part of a Micro Bursary he was recently awarded. The bursaries are intended to share how artists are responding to the unprecedented circumstances of the current Covid-19 pandemic.

This work has been made by Adam Neal as part of a Micro Bursary he was recently awarded. The bursaries are intended to share how artists are responding to the unprecedented circumstances of the current Covid-19 pandemic.

We recently redirected the focus of our next round of Engine Micro Bursaries (a go-and-see resource in previous years) towards evidence gathering around the impact on artists’ livelihoods caused by the Coronavirus outbreak and the unprecedented measures taken to slow the spread of the disease.

We invited artists and arts professionals living in the West Midlands to share experiences of the current situation – case studies and points of view around practice in these exceptional times. The 10 artists selected to receive a Micro Bursary of £250 are:

Dan Auluk

Ania Bas

Helen Garbett

Dion Kitson

… kruse

Taz Lovejoy

Joanne Masding

Demi Nandhra

Adam Neal

Emily Warner

Almost 60 applications were received and the panel were very impressed with the strength and quality of artists’ responses to and stories of the current crisis right across the region. We were by turns moved, saddened and uplifted by what we read and the decisions we had to make were very difficult.

We are grateful to our panel of selectors which included Melanie Pocock, Ikon Gallery; Hannah Taylor, Asylum Art Gallery; Adelaide Bannerman, International Curators Forum; Anne de Charmant, Meadow Arts; John Cussans, University of Worcester; Mike Layward, DASH and Glen Stoker, AirSpace Gallery.

Our website and social media accounts will be places to gather focus points including the impact on studio-based artists, on freelance curatorial activities, on practitioners based in rural contexts, on the student perspective, and on artists and curators who are commonly disadvantaged due to race, class, gender identity, sexual orientation, religion and disability.

Each of the 10 artists will be supported to make and research within this unprecedented context. We will be sharing results of their work – be it video, text, audio, drawings, photography or other responses – on our website and social media channels over the next few weeks.

We recently invited artists and arts professionals living in the West Midlands to share experiences of the current situation – case studies and points of view around practice in these exceptional times. We are pleased to announce the 10 artists receiving support via our Engine Micro Bursaries scheme to share their stories.

Emily Scarrott reviews Adam Neal’s “In Loving Memory Of” at Coventry Artspace’s Arcadia Gallery, which took place during August 2019 as part of their graduate-in-residence scheme.


“Who Is Adam Neal and Why Is He Dead?”


“That’s what people keep asking me,” Adam says, grinning; “People keep coming in thinking that this is a memorial to someone called Adam Neal and they want to know what’s happened”.

“Who is the show in memory of?” I ask.

“I guess the working class as a whole really,” he answers. “The last generation of working class people are elderly now, after them it starts getting messy. This sort of working class doesn’t really exist anymore, it’s just leftovers now”.

Neal’s first solo exhibition, a culmination of his participation in Coventry Artspace’s graduate-in-residence scheme, grounds working class culture in the aesthetics which form his grandmother’s daily life. The exhibition focusses on lens-based documentation and display of an observed domestic practice, repackaging an environment in which the artist has grown up.

Central to the gallery space is a weekly Aldi shop in a basket, positioned on a plinth that has been annotated with a list of items, handwritten by Neal’s grandmother. This part is important; It is the tone-setter of the exhibition, dictating the balance between what the artist finds humorous and what he finds precious. Whilst there is a clear joy in exhibiting his nan’s shopping, a tenderness towards this woman is shown in Neal’s practice of care towards the artwork. On the day of my visit, he had ensured that he left the house early to go (specifically) to an Aldi before opening to buy a packet of pork pies to replace the previous ones which had gone out of date the day before.

I spend a lot of time with gigantic copies of half completed pages of an “Arrow Word” puzzle book, getting to know the character of the elderly woman who I have never met. These samples act like anecdotes of an older generation and build a clear picture of their place in the world of their descendants. Certain answers are lost on younger adults, and both the artist and I admit to each other that we weren’t familiar with a lot of the content. With answers like Danny La Rue in the now 2019 world of Ru Paul’s Drag Race, the puzzle books evidently know their audience and document a wave of pop culture knowledge which has been forgotten, changed or rewritten.

Neal points out his favourite parts of the images: changes in biro colour mid-answer which shows his nan’s thought process throughout the page.

There is a fond spark in the artist’s eye as he speaks about his grandmother. The achievement of their grandchildren is both the legacy and the death of the working class, with their daily graft providing the opportunity for education and success in younger generations. This support is honoured in Neal’s curatorial choices for his work; The biggest declaration of which can be found in a sleek series of large-scale photography hung using an (authentic) collection of kitsch souvenir fridge magnets at each corner. The transformation from nan’s fridge to gallery wall pays homage to those matriarchal homemakers who nurtured the abstract thinking of their families and encouraged it’s professional development by displaying early prototypes in their nest.

Coventry’s City Arcade is the perfect frame for this body of work. Surrounded by shops that still cater specifically to the needs of this fading generation, the exhibition bemuses passers- by as they aren’t quite sure what Adam Neal, a gracious host armed with a camera and his Nan’s net curtains, is doing on their territory. These are the moments when art spaces like Arcadia are most effective, providing an experience of the uncanny for the community which inspires questions rather than immediate alienation.

“And has your Nan come to see the show?” I ponder, wondering what such an experience must feel like.

“She’s seen pictures,” he smiles proudly.

“Did she like it? Any feedback?”

“She says it’s good, but mostly she just wants her fridge magnets back”.


Emily Scarrott reviews Adam Neal’s “In Loving Memory Of” at Coventry Artspace’s Arcadia Gallery, which took place during August 2019 as part of their graduate-in-residence scheme.

Artist Adam Neal speaks about his autobiographical body of work exploring social class ahead of his exhibition ‘In Loving Memory Of’, opening at Coventry’s City Arcadia later this month.



How has the residency at Coventry Artspace shaped your work since you completed your BA at Birmingham City University?


After the completion of my Fine Art BA at Birmingham City University I was thrown into the mire of what real life art practice might look like. The residency with Coventry Artspace has aided in that adjustment and has given me a framework to work within that has directed the trajectory of my practice. The nature of my practice hasn’t changed greatly, however it has become more reflective, biographical and intimate. I’ve placed my own class construction and role as an artist under a microscopic lens within my practice, perhaps in an attempt to forge some form of identity and perhaps to continue this inquiry within social class. In terms of my process, my practice has become increasingly concerned with photography and its processes. This may have stemmed from time and financial constraints; nonetheless it has led me to an interesting point in my practice where I am now questioning the relevance and application of photography within issues of social-class representation and translation. The freedom of the Artspace residency has allowed me to shift my practice slightly, generate personal work that concisely comments on a myriad of social-class issues.



What can visitors expect from the exhibition at City Arcadia?


‘In Loving Memory Of’ will provide an insight into a fading way of life, that of the traditional working-class, whilst beginning to highlight how that exists amongst contemporary societal shifts. The exhibition will consist of photography, film and objects in order to create a form of amalgamated comment on the issues at hand. I anticipate the exhibition to be visually jarring to some degree, so that it mirrors the eclectic interior of my Nan’s house. Equally, I’m trying to mask or underplay the larger thematic at hand with somewhat playful visuals and display mechanisms, in the hope that everything attempted to be conveyed is done so in a palatable manner. I’m conscious of not wanting to become too preachy or patronising with this subject matter, so I’m actively trying to avoid this. Equally, a key attribute of working-class culture is its ability to use satire and self-deprecate to a certain extent so I do want this to be evident within the exhibition.



Your statement describes your approach as ‘generat[ing] work about the social, from within it.’ Can you unpick this a little?


This stemmed from an initial acknowledgement of my position as an artist, and also being cemented within a traditional working-class community. During my final year on my BA I wrote this statement because I was working part-time within a local social club and managing a local children’s football team therefore I was an active member of the community I was producing work about. I do not work in a social club anymore, however I do still manage the football team so I am still an active member of the community. Operating as an artist and producing work about this community placed me in a precarious area in terms of my identity and also conjured ethical implications. I deem this to have defined my approach, as I have never sought to document people directly, only objects and locations that talks for and about people. I’ve been constantly torn between two very contrasting worlds, the art world and the traditional working class environment I have been raised within, and I’ve been attempting to ameliorate the chasm between them. Although I’ve realise that at this point amelioration is some way off, and it’s more pertinent to acknowledge and comprehend first.


Do you feel that the body of work is a portrait of your family and/or yourself? Or is it more about a cultural and social moment in time?


Currently I do feel like the work is more of an autobiographical reflection and a translation on the issues I’m investigating. At this point in my practice I deem that to be an appropriate perspective to take on the subject, as my area of investigation stems from my relationships, environment and experiences. Therefore being able to fully understand how my perspective on social-class has been constructed underpins this current body of work and any future development. Additionally, presenting a more intimate and personal translation on the issues has the potential to the viewer to project their own relationships, perspectives and experiences onto the work. Although I’ve acknowledged the work is autobiographical, I do believe there can be wider cultural and social issues extracted from it, as it unpicks issues surrounding national identity and social mobility in small doses. The work needed to be personal in order for me to produce it in a concise and coherent way, however this body of work is only a departure point for work of this ilk and within this area of investigation.


 What are you working on next and what are your longer-term goals for your work?


Saturday 17 August, sees John Hammersley (artist and chair of Coventry Artspace) and myself engage in an ‘In Conversation With’ event, at Arcadia, Coventry. This will be a conversation that challenges social class construction and its placement within a creative context. Whilst Saturday 7 September will see Helen Kilby Nelson and myself run an open workshop titled ‘What do Artists do all Day?’ where we will be discussing the transition between graduate artist to practising artist and how you bridge that gap.


Once my exhibition and residency finishes with Coventry Artspace I will be undertaking a Graduate Residency with Grand Union in Birmingham, I will be starting a Film and Photography MA at the University of Derby in September and producing new work for an exhibition with Ort Gallery early next year. Crucially, as a result of the residency Helen Kilby Nelson and myself have started working collaboratively and have devised what we deem to be a crucial project around graduate artists and residency programming, and we believe this project proposal has real impetus.


Longer-term I want to continue the investigation into social class and its placement within a creative context, and to be able to draw on public issues within my practice. Currently my work is heavily autobiographical and I have been questioning how far this goes to making comments on the wider, more public issues. I am undertaking this MA on a part-time basis, so that I can maintain a practice outside of this and also bridge the gap between academia and the ‘real-world’, in a hope that this will allow me to produce work that creates more considered social statements that reverberate outside of my own social sphere and understanding.


‘In Loving Memory Of’
Arcadia, Coventry
Opening: 15 August 6pm – 8pm
Continues: 16 – 24 August 2pm – 6pm Daily (except Sundays)


Artist Adam Neal speaks about his autobiographical body of work exploring social class ahead of his exhibition ‘In Loving Memory Of’, opening at Coventry’s City Arcadia later this month.