Hereford College of Arts graduate Bob Langridge embarks on a personal journey of reconnection with the natural world in his photographic series, Hell Lane. Exhibited at Birmingham Museum & Art Gallery as part of New Art West Midlands 2018, the project comprises hours of analogue exposure time within Dorset’s enigmatic hollow-ways.

Instinctively, Langridge turns to large format film in order to produce imagery that envelops a contemplative relationship with his subject. He slows down the often automated 21st Century processes of image-making, and reverts to a painterly aesthetic – one which captures the nuances of light and the motion of foliage over time. Langridge’s Hell Lane is on display until 6 May.



Selina Oakes: Landscape is a major part of your practice. What does the notion of landscape mean to you?

Bob Langridge: Landscape means something different depending on its context. A painter or walker sees it in a different way to a person working in farming. I began making work in landscape as way of experimenting. I wanted to use large format film and for me the best environment to do that was to work in a landscape as a photographer. What I discovered was that by using large format film I was forced to slow down and consider what I was doing. The slower I worked, the more I became aware of my surroundings. I began to notice the subtle changes of light and colour and those things photography cannot capture – like birdsong and the rustle of vegetation when the wind blows. This helped me to become more considered about composition. I also realised that I was looking for something else; a way to express more than just the geographical features. I was looking for a connection or a story and that is what landscape is to me.

Experimentation continued with Hell Lane. I decided to use a pinhole camera to see what I could produce. It would be flippant to say it is down to chance but one cannot look through the viewfinder of the camera I had, so I used a medium format film camera to check that the composition was okay. Exposure for the images was either eight and a half or 17 minutes. During that time the light can change significantly. It also allowed me time to sit and reflect on my surroundings. At some point it clicked that hundreds of years ago someone else would have trod the same path as I was now.


SO: The series Hell Lane was inspired by Robert Macfarlane’s book Holloway. How does this publication inform your work?

BL: I came across Holloway in a roundabout fashion. While photographing on The Long Mynd in the Shropshire Hills, I became interested in the little paths created by the livestock. I started to research the old trade routes beginning with The Drovers’ Roads of Wales by Fay Godwin and Shirley Toulson. This led me on to searching for local “green lanes” to photograph. My tutor, Clare Smith, suggested Macfarlane’s book. I found it wonderfully written and it has some fabulous illustrations. I became interested in searching for the sunken routes. Holloway was that intangible something extra I had been looking for. Macfarlane’s work, and that of Hamish Fulton, led me to question how I could represent a place in a way that went beyond documentary.


SO: Time is a significant part of your imagery. Can you discuss how time – particularly slow time – is folded into your artistic process and images?

BL: By its very nature photography is a two-dimensional art. Robert Adams writes that landscape pictures provide “three verities – geography, autobiography, and metaphor.” When these attributes combine, they “strengthen each other and reinforce what we all work to keep intact – an affection for life.” When working on Hell Lane I knew that I wanted to find a way of representing what these routes had come to mean to me. For me the use of long exposure times provides the images with more than simple reportage can. There seems to be a sense of something happening. I hope that I have managed to capture a sense of the place.

I wonder if in part my approach to my work developed as a reaction to the instantaneousness of current photography. We wander around and all we see is our screens – even our friends see our images minutes after they have been taken. As photographers, we learn that photography is a choice: a choice of what to include in, and what to exclude from, the frame. We choose where to shoot from and when to shoot. If we are lucky, we also realise that there are times when we need to put down the camera and be in the moment.


SO: As an artist, you have built a deep understanding of Dorset’s hollow-ways. What sentiments do you wish to communicate to the viewer?

BL: I don’t think at any point in the making of Hell Lane I considered what I wanted a viewer to get. I hope they are intrigued and drawn into the images.  The feedback I have had so far has ranged from being mysterious to being sinister.


SO: How has New Art West Midlands and the show at Birmingham Museum & Art Gallery supported the transition from Hereford College of Arts to life post-graduation?

BL: Being part of New Art West Midlands has been a real bonus. In revisiting my work and its predecessors as I prepared for the exhibition, I had moments of revelations and picked up bits that I had not noticed before. I have started to develop ideas for work that I had put to one side as I focused in on Hell Lane, so in that respect it has given me a real boost.

Hereford College of Arts graduate and New Art West Midlands exhibitor Bob Langridge speaks to Selina Oakes.

Jessica Eburne, TR (technology religion), 2017

A graduate of Fine Art and Illustration, Jessica Eburne is one of 28 regional artists to be selected for New Art West Midlands 2018. She completed her studies at Coventry University in 2017 and is pursuing an MA in Contemporary Art Theory at Goldsmiths College. Inspired by the digitisation of visual culture, Eburne engages with the modern-day technologies that have swamped our psychological and social consciousnesses. While recognising the merits of technology, Eburne emphasises the dangers of “electronic dissemination” and plays with comparisons between technology and religious traditions. Two of her works, TR and Rechnilgog, are on display at Birmingham Museum & Art Gallery until 6 May.


Jessica Eburne, TR (technology religion), 2017


Selina Oakes: Your practice revolves around “electronic dissemination.” What first drew you to this subject and can you expand upon this phrase?

Jessica Eburne: By using the term “electronic dissemination I refer to the global spread of electronic devices and the increasing use and reliance on these in everyday life. The most obvious of these is the use of smartphones and social media. My opinions of this dissemination are not completely negative, however I believe that some sort of moderation needs to be attained. With both TR and Rechnilgog, I aim to raise awareness of the overuse of these devices in a direct, yet sensitive manner.

My creative practice is largely influenced by my personal observations and theoretical research on society’s use of smartphones and social media. For example, when traveling on the tube, almost all of my “co-tubers” are entertaining themselves via digital screens. Furthermore, witnessing the “where is my phone?!” panic exemplifies this reliance. In today’s Digital Information Age, it appears that many people are growing increasingly connected to their devices.

The most significant theoretical inspirations for these works were drawn from pre-internet texts that portrayed concerns regarding non-digital technology. Many of these predicted a situation whereby society would be controlled by this technology. For example, in his text, Question Concerning Technology (1954), philosopher and seminal thinker Martin Heidegger states: “everywhere we remain unfree and chained to technology.” Even though Heidegger was speaking of fuel-driven mechanical technology, his views seem more relevant than ever today. My work is also influenced by contemporary texts like Brett T. Robinson’s Appletopia (2013) which describes how Steve Jobs’ own religious thoughts inspired Apple products and marketing strategies.


SO: Audience participation plays a major role in your work. Why is it important to involve the audience, while still toying with the notion of technological alienation?

JE: In terms of TR, I wanted to put the spectator in a situation where they are engulfed by technology and thus provoke a consideration of their own usage of technological devices. To achieve this outcome, I employed an audio file playing through headphones, visual light elements, and with Rechnilgog, interactive buttons. By their physical contact with the pieces, spectators get to add the final “wow” factor – it is almost as if the artwork is incomplete without them.

While the piece does encourage an understanding of how technology alienates people from one another, it can also cynically suggest that an intimate connection with a piece of technology could be a substitute for an emotional connection with a human being. Ultimately, for both TR and Rechnilgog, I felt that interactional elements would lighten the mood on such a serious subject and enable the viewer to dictate exactly how they would experience the artwork.


Jessica Eburne, Rechnilgog, 2017


SO: TR and Rechnilgog draw comparisons between technology and religion. What commonalities do these share and how might one inform the other?

Many believe that science and religion are dichotomous. My interpretation of religion is that it is formed upon both individual and collective beliefs, ideologies and norms. Many religions promote attaining a higher human self – or involve worshipping a “superhuman” being. Through this understanding, I interpret technology and religion as sharing many qualities, including:

Quantity People’s behaviours are often determined by quantitative analysis. It could be said that the more one posts on social media, the higher their social “score.” Similarly, in some religions the more you pray and worship, the closer you supposedly are to an arbitrary higher self. In terms of recording, uploading and sharing information, in the book Homo Deus (2017), Yuval Noah Harari states: “people want to be part of the data flow, even if it involves giving up their privacy, their autonomy and their individuality.” The more likes and shares one gains, the more powerful their stance on social media. Furthermore, he also suggests that “traditional religions assured us that we were part of some big plan.” Technology also seems to suggest that every part of data exchange is meaningful. Being part of the network is a mode of being, and for many, to be disconnected from this flow means losing their meaning in life.

Usage I compared technology use to a ritualistic religion. A religious belief can direct or dictate our actions to the point of becoming a habit, and similarly technology use appears to impose certain habitual practices in our day-to-day lives. These include checking one’s phone at regular intervals, using applications that prioritise and reward users based on the quality of their input, and consuming online and digital content as a priority to other forms of entertainment. Many applications and devices today remind users to use them via notifications: I describe these as a technological “call to prayer.”

Visuals – The most obvious link I found was in digital retail stores, most specifically at Apple stores worldwide which shared many design similarities to a church or temple. Most Apple stores are designed in the form of long aisles of tables, with their products placed in dedicated spaces as if for worship. There are brightly coloured images of Apple products displayed on the walls, similar to stained glass windows or murals, and the stores are lit so as to illuminate their products in a (unintentional or intentional?) halo.


SO: TR has a retro-futuristic aesthetic. Where have your visuals come from and how do you wish them to be interpreted?

JE: My work for TR was quite heavily inspired by that of Nam June Paik and the technology available around the 1970s and 1980s. Paik practiced a future-forward form of technological art and it is apparent that his vision for the future – i.e. today – is dystopian. By emulating the aesthetics of guardedness and uncertainty exhibited towards technology in the 1970s, I highlight the need to return back to that cautious mentality towards technology.

I continue to be inspired by the work of Elsworth Kelly, Aristarkh Chernyshev, Bruce Nauman and John Bock. I also looked into modern clamshell computer/mobile device design, including design elements borrowed from Amazon’s Echo and Apple/Android smartphones and decided to produce, what I felt, was a rudimentary, oversimplified version of the same. I also included elements of modern devices such as backlights and accent lighting. One could also suggest that combining this into a retro-futuristic style is an attempt at dumbing down modern technology into its simplest form, either for easier digestion by buyers, or to disseminate a message of warning.


SO: How has your participation in New Art West Midlands at Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery impacted your practice and future aspirations as an artist?

JE: In terms of exposure, New Art West Midlands 2018 has been an outstanding opportunity that has enabled me to promote my art practice to the wider art world following university. I’m aware that my work has been seen by a variety of artistic personalities and I have met some inspirational people. Being selected for the exhibition has proved to be a huge confidence booster for me as a practicing artist in the future. I am currently producing work for an upcoming show in London and have a few projects in the pipeline for this coming year. On one hand, I have pursued a different creative style for these future exhibitions and moved away, at least for now, from creating digital or technological artwork. Nevertheless, New Art West Midlands has led me to employ interactivity and effective audience communication in a far superior manner and I have pursued audience-forward artworks since then. Going into the future, I wish to continue producing independent projects and remain hugely interested in modern human and cultural conundrums and issues. 

Jessica Eburne is showing as part of New Art West Midlands 2018 at Birmingham Museum & Art Gallery. Selina Oakes caught up with her to find out more about her influences and ideas.

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

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


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


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

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

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


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

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

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


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

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

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

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


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

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


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

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

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

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


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

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

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

Jodie Wingham, Unbuttoned Shirt, 2016

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

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


Jodie Wingham, Unbuttoned Shirt, 2016



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


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


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



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


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

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

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


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

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

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


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

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

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


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


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

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


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

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


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

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


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


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

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


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

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

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

Smoke and Mirrors, Amy-Lou Matthews

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

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

Smoke and Mirrors, Amy-Lou Matthews

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

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


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

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


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

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


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

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

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

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

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


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

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


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

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


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

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


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

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


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

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

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

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

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


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

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


SO: Where do you go from here?

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


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

Instagram –, Twitter – @amyloumatthewsaWebsite –

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



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

Selina Oakes reviews the Coventry Biennial of Contemporary Art for a-n news.

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

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.

Sheela Gowda, Ikon Gallery, 2017. Photo: Stuart Whipps

Selina Oakes reviews Ikon gallery’s current exhibition of work by Indian artist Sheela Gowda.

Sheela Gowda, Ikon Gallery, 2017. Photo: Stuart Whipps

Resembling abstract cut-outs from a constructivist painting, Sheela Gowda’s newest work draws an unwavering line between geometric form and everyday materials. The circular bowls that litter Ikon’s concrete floor – lain down in a choreographed and communal manner – bare the markings, scathes and scratches of their previous life as metal drums used to transport resin and oil across vast distances. Flattened into uniform sheets and reformed into traditional ‘Bandlis’ – objects used to carry building materials in India – these pieces create a synergy between mass transportation and individual craftsmanship. Whilst the sourcing of these materials remains undisclosed to the viewer, there is a sense of a conscientious recycling of materials and skill-sets.

Much of Gowda’s work looks at handmade processes – typically those from her hometown of Bangalore – and how, in a fast-paced and technology-driven society, these local skills can be revered, transferred and shared with new audiences. At Ikon, the bowls within Gowda’s walk-through installation have been shaped by hand-operated machines; their perforated counterparts lay propped on the walls to provide a ‘workshop’ aesthetic. Whilst tarnished with abrasion and rust, the drums’ original colours are used to their optimum potential; they become layered, sculptural gradients reminiscent of a symmetrical Rodchenko graphic revamped into three-dimensions by a John Chamberlain workmanship aesthetic. The material’s uneven surface is made uniform through Gowda’s composed pulling together of objects. This also reflects on themes of community; the bowls in particular resonating with the mechanics of a communal meal.

An interconnecting room filled with plaster-covered objects creates a displaced purgatory; one that is colourless and almost formless as the white props fade into their stark background. The familiar shapes of bowls can be distinguished amongst items that resemble piping – all of which lay propped unceremoniously on the outskirts of the space. The viewer’s desire to rejoin a sense of colour is met by vivid, jauntily-cut bunting which half-heartedly clings to a collapsing black frame. Oddly enough, this make-shift assemblage – titled It Stands Fallen – simultaneously hints at a dystopian abandonment of place as well as a celebratory and ritualistic space. The intentional convergence of abstract line and colour creates an installation where interior and exterior aesthetics collide: the red pigmented fabric provides a reminder of the domestic and handmade, whilst its unsteady support enables the bunting to pour outwards, into a violently-strewn pile on the floor.

Opposite, a riot scene of lawyers throwing stones at the media, and in conflict with the local police, suggests a breakdown of society; their censored eyes adding an element of obscurity and anonymity – a visual that displaces culpability and is perhaps suggestive of the media’s irresponsible free reign across digital platforms. This vast print, which spans the width of the room co-occupied by It Stands Fallen, contrasts harshly with the highly sculptural and handmade aesthetic of Gowda’s other pieces. It does, however, establish a political and social backdrop with which these handmade traditions and rituals must now compete; perhaps Gowda’s intention is to illustrate the potential of age-old craftsmanship to reference humankind’s ever-changing yet cyclical way of life.

The exhibition runs until 3 September 2017.

Selina Oakes reviews Ikon gallery’s current exhibition of work by Indian artist Sheela Gowda.