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

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

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

And are they new walks or familiar ones?

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

What has been the structure of the walks?

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

How have you been choosing the collaborators?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Is there anything further you’d like to add?

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

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

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

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

The Staffordshire Hoard

The Staffordshire Hoard in focus. Apollo Magazine pick their favourite virtual and digital museum resources. – via Apollo Magazine


ACAVA has announced that planning permission has been granted for the further development of studios and workspaces in the historic former Spode Pottery factory in Stoke – Spode Works.

Middleport Pottery

Six museums and heritage organisations across the Midlands have been selected to take part in Meeting Point, an Arts Council England funded programme that partners museums and artists, resulting in the creation of new artworks, each inspired by an individual venue and its collections.

The programme, led by contemporary arts agency Arts&Heritage, aims to attract new audiences to the venues by placing contemporary artwork in unexpected spaces, and also helps museum staff to gain skills in commissioning and working with artists. The six participating venues are Middleport Pottery in Stoke-on-Trent; Cromford Mills in Matlock; Ilam Park in Ashbourne; The Naseby Battlefield Project in Welford; The National Holocaust Centre and Museum in Laxton; and Warwickshire Archives in Warwick.

Carolyn Ewing, Archivist at Heritage & Culture Warwickshire (HCW), said:

“The team at Heritage & Culture Warwickshire are delighted to have been selected for Meeting Point. We are really excited by the prospect of working with a contemporary artist to help us deliver a fresh and innovative approach to exploring the many narratives, however challenging, to be found within our superb collections and site of our County Record Office. The project will underpin one of our key objectives to widen and enhance our appeal to new and existing audiences. Importantly, by enhancing our skills base within Heritage & Culture Warwickshire, it will provide a solid foundation for developing our community engagement work in future.”

The museums will participate in a series of workshops and visits to artists’ studios, before working with Arts&Heritage to commission an artist to work with them on the creation of a new piece of artwork. The artists will be selected by the museum teams from a range of submissions put forward by interested artists and nominators.

This is the fourth Meeting Point programme, building on the success of previous and current programmes, which have seen 25 museums working with more than 50 museum professionals to create 25 new artworks and over 100 workshops. Arts&Heritage is funded by Arts Council England.


Six museums and heritage organisations across the Midlands have been selected to take part in Meeting Point, an Arts Council England funded programme that partners museums and artists, resulting in the creation of new artworks, each inspired by an individual venue and its collections.

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.

Hyacinth Stone by Sam Ivin

We speak to photographer Sam Ivin about Settling: Exploring Human Migration, a new exhibition with individuals and communities of Stoke-on-Trent. The exhibition is now open at The Potteries Museum & Art Gallery.

Noor-al-ain Waheed, Maryam Waheed and Amara Waheed, Libya early 1987 by Sam Ivin

Can you tell us more about the origins of your project ‘Settling’ and your interest in working with migrants and asylum seekers?

The project began in 2017 when I was selected for a residency with Appetite, a local arts organisation in Stoke-on-Trent and GRAIN Projects, a Midlands organisation that commissions and curates photography. A local resident Val ‘Nicky’ Basnal had approached Appetite with an idea to create a collection of images focusing on the Sikh community in Stoke. This inspired Appetite and GRAIN to launch a national call-out for artists and photographers to create work on migration to Stoke, which would be shown at Appetite’s Big Feast Festival 2017.

When I applied for the opportunity I had finished my Lingering Ghosts work the year before, that project explored how long periods of waiting effected those applying for asylum in the UK. The work began after visiting a refugee centre in Cardiff in my second year at University. I was shocked to learn how long some people were waiting whilst seeking asylum in the UK, without the right to work or travel: 4 years, 7 years, 12 years. I’ve recently met someone who’s been waiting 18 years. The injustice of this is what got me interested in human migration and refugee rights.

The residency seemed like a very organic and fitting progression for Lingering Ghosts, from a more positive standpoint. The stories and images I came across were so fascinating and poignant I decided to expand the work with an Arts Council England grant in 2018.

Walerian Val Tyminski by Sam Ivin

How have you identified and worked with the individuals and communities in the development of the project? Has this been targeted or more organic?

Appetite were very helpful at linking me with community groups in the initial residency. There’s a group called the Burslem Jubilee Group for example, (who meet once a week to socialise with and assist asylum seekers and refugees) they’ve been great and really involved right from the beginning.

I contacted local groups and try to visit them as much as I can. Sometimes you may be at a community group and someone says they’re interested on the spot or knows someone who might be appropriate to contact. Other times people email you to say they’re willing to help. It’s targeted but I allow room for the organic individual meet-ups to happen too.

Can you tell me more about the works themselves? Hyacinth Stone, for instance, looks to be overlaid with painted marks?

The pieces are designed for exhibiting and are made up of two frames. One on the left is a manipulated portrait, on the right is a large square frame filled with each person’s own photographs, filled with their own images at different sizes. Reflecting on their story of migration and finding home in Stoke-on-Trent.

The 12 photographic portraits are manipulated using paint to emphasise a person’s story, situation or feelings. Hyacinth loves gardening for example, so I decided to create a wall of foliage that almost envelops her.

Hyacinth Stone by Sam Ivin

What can visitors expect from the exhibition?

A place to discover fascinating stories and photographs of human migration. There’s the series of 12 works, a projection, a wall of Polaroids and display cabinets with original photographs and test artwork. Visitors are also encouraged to share their own story of migration.

What are your ambitions and hopes for the project?

I hope that someone can read the stories, look at the pictures and understand more about why people make these journeys to live in foreign places. I believe it’s important to record these images and stories for future generations too. I’d also love to show the exhibition in other places around the UK.

We speak to photographer Sam Ivin about Settling: Exploring Human Migration, an exhibition at The Potteries Museum & Art Gallery in partnership with Appetite and Grain Projects.



Artists have revealed their vision to transform a rundown city centre pub into a vibrant community hub – complete with a dedicated space for producing pottery. The Portland Inn, in Hanley, is to be given a new lease of life as a social space and ceramics workshop with an area for artists and designers – via The Stoke Sentinel.


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

Smoke and Mirrors, Amy-Lou Matthews

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

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

Smoke and Mirrors, Amy-Lou Matthews

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

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


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

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


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

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


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

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

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

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

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


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

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


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

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


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

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


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

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


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

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

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

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

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


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

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


SO: Where do you go from here?

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


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

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

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



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


A series of short documentary films from The Guardian focusing on Stoke-on-Trent including, among others, artist Anna Francis, Community Maker and the Portland Inn Project.


Josh Halliday reports for the Guardian on the benefits of making and a creative education in the context of the British Ceramics Biennial and Stoke-on-Trent’s Capital of Culture bid.


British Ceramics Biennial 2017 in Stoke-on-Trent

Sara Jaspan, Exhibitions Editor at Creative Tourist, previews the upcoming British Ceramics Biennial in Stoke-on-Trent.


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


The Stoke Sentinnel features this new artist-led project taking place in Stoke-on-Trent.

'We Are Hull' by Zsolt Balogh - projections on Hull City Hall for the launch of Hull City of Culture 2017.

On Friday evening the shortlist for 2021 UK City of Culture was announced. Five out of the original list of eleven bidding cities were selected. In exciting news for the region, two West Midlands cities, Coventry and Stoke-on-Trent made the shortlist. Other contenders include Paisley, Sunderland and Swansea.

Laura McMillan, Manager of Coventry City of Culture Trust, said:

“We are delighted to be on the five-city shortlist, and that has made us even hungrier for the title in 2021. We know what a great year Coventry could put on, what a great impact it would make on all of our communities and the huge social, cultural and economic benefits it would bring. It’s estimated that tourism alone would be boosted by £80 million, but there is much more to winning than the economy; we want to see a step-change in culture, health and community cohesion across Coventry. The time is right for Coventry. We have the people in place, we have very strong local and regional support, and now it is up to us to create a compelling final bid and to show that we have the whole of the region behind us.”

Stoke-on-Trent City Council Deputy Leader Abi Brown, Chair of the city’s bid said:

“We are absolutely delighted to be shortlisted to be UK City of Culture in 2021 and will now be working hard to make our final bid the very best it can be. Winning would be the start of a legacy with far-reaching impact that benefits the whole city – it will bring more jobs, more visitors, more top quality cultural activity, boost skills and capacity and increase collaboration, pride and self-confidence across Stoke-on-Trent and beyond. We now need to build on what we’ve done so far to achieve a strong, ambitious final bid that shows the UK exactly what Stoke-on-Trent can do. We know that this is a unique, fantastic city and want to make sure everyone else knows it too.” 

On Friday evening the shortlist for 2021 UK City of Culture was announced. Five out of the original list of eleven bidding cities were selected. In exciting news for the region, two West Midlands cities, Coventry and Stoke-on-Trent made the shortlist.

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 – sam@samivin.com

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.

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

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


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


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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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


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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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


What are your hopes for the exhibition?

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


And your upcoming plans?

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

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

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