In July 2015, five writers were selected from an open call to a-n members to take part in the first a-n Writer Development Programme. They are: Lydia Ashman (London), Sunny Cheung (London), Anneka French (Birmingham), Manjinder Sidhu (London) and James Steventon (Corby).

This pilot programme, which is led by a-n New editor Chris Sharratt, will include three workshop sessions taking place between September – November 2015 at Jerwood Space in London, HOME in Manchester and Ikon in Birmingham.

Each workshop will explore a different writing task including reviewing, interviewing, feature writing and working with an editor, and while Sharratt will lead the first workshop, Frieze reviews editor Amy Sherlock will be heading up workshop two and Fisun Guner, visual arts editor at, will lead workshop three.


The third and final workshop in the first a-n Writer Development Programme took us to Birmingham’s Ikon Gallery on Thursday 19 November for a session led by The Arts Desk‘s visual arts editor, Fisun Guner.

All five programme participants braved train delays and stormy weather for an afternoon workshop that focused on profile writing, while also revisiting areas previously touched on, such as self-editing and pitching ideas to editors. Also present were programme organiser and a-n News editor Chris Sharratt and Stephen Palmer, a-n online content manager.

With live writing exercises and plenty of discussion, it was a fast moving and productive afternoon that, like previous workshops in London and Manchester, included a look round the gallery’s exhibition – in this case a fantastic survey show of Fiona Banner’s work which continues to 17 January 2016.

The show was the hook for writers’ post-workshop task – to write a 1000-word newspaper-style profile of Banner using multiple sources for quotes, information and opinion.

The writers had a deadline of Monday 30 November, which they all met – including Sunny Cheung, who filed from China where he was installing a show. Fisun then gave feedback to each writer before a final edit by Chris.

All the profiles will be posted below.

Fiona Banner profile

The Fiona Banner exhibition, Scroll Down and Keep Scrolling, continues at Ikon Gallery, Birmingham, until 17 January 2016


By Lydia Ashman

Fiona Banner has a special relationship with books and language. “I struggled away with making pictures for years and years and I found it incredibly complicated. The writing just started to come to the fore as a way through it,” she says. As a sign of her long-term commitment, she has her own ISBN (International Standard Book Number), which was tattooed onto her lower back in 2009.

In Banner’s art “language is stretched and pushed in surprising and often highly emotive directions,” says critic and writer Louisa Buck. Words are Banner’s malleable plaything: she blows them up, turns them upside down, writes them on fighter jets, nicks other people’s, and bathes them in disorientating light and soundscapes. You are even invited to sit on a full stop in her world. The results of these experiments are works that span installation, performance, sculpture, publication, film and drawing. 

Banner’s obsession with the problems and possibilities of language has served her well. Since graduating from Goldsmiths in 1993, she’s enjoyed plenty of successes: she was a Turner Prize nominee in 2002, partially on the strength of her blow-by-blow description of a porn film, Arsewoman in Wonderland. As part of her commission for Tate Britain’s Duveen Hall in 2010, she boldly hung a Harrier jump jet from the ceiling. In 2013, she appeared at the Venice Biennale as part of group show Glasstress, where artists including Cornelia Parker and Tracey Emin responded to the theme of light and heat. Now, she has her first survey show – which typically she describes as ‘an anti-survey’ – Scroll Down and Scroll Again, at the Ikon Gallery in Birmingham.

Unlike some of her fellow yBas, Banner hasn’t developed a tabloid-friendly celebrity persona; details of her personal life remain under wraps. Her own high-profile connections, including actors Brian Cox and Samantha Morton, are driven more by ideas than column inches. In the film Mirror, from 2007, Morton performs a poetic, sensual and funny ‘word portrait’ that Banner wrote as the actor posed nude in her studio the night before. Unseen by Morton until that moment, the actor appears amused, disconcerted and vulnerable all at once as she reads out intimate and explicit details of her own anatomy – “wide hips stretching her baby fucked stomach”, “knees that have been knelt on” – in the jerkily filmed, low-res recording.

Though you won’t glean much about Banner’s private life through her art, you might get a sense of the internal struggles that fuel her work. She admits, “I am very conscious of the brilliance and power of language, but I also find it very frustrating.” This is embodied by her flickering neon installation spelling The Bastard Word, complete with wobbles and flaws that reflect how Banner grappled with a material she is unskilled in handling.

Her work is riddled with such contradictions. Of the military helicopters that appear again and again in her art, she says, “my relationship to the Chinook is both celebratory and critical: I love it, I loathe it”. In her film Chinook, the heavy-duty aircrafts perform a choreographed, delicate ballet routine. By her own admission, her work is “very quiet”. But what about the deafening roar of the pair of Chinook propellers she installed side by side as part of her commission at Yorkshire Sculpture Park last year? From the ceiling of YSP’s Longfield Gallery, the powerful helicopter blades overlapped while narrowly avoiding collision as they sped up and slowed down in tandem.

The Vanity Press she set up to publish her work suggests a degree of self-indulgence, but she’s not afraid to poke fun at herself. She tells us that THE NAM – the weighty 1000 page wordscape describing famous films about the Vietnam War, for which she came to prominence in 1997 – is “unreadable” and “available at all major boobshops”.

Her humorous, intelligent and visceral foregrounding of holes and slippages in meaning are celebrated by many. “Banner’s art is full of ambivalences and complications. I’m all for them and they make art richer,” says Adrian Searle. Judith Nesbitt, curator at the Tate, claims her works “arrest the eye and the mind; they are both seductive and unsettling.” Even The Observer’s Laura Cumming, who once described Banner’s work as “outstandingly boring”, grudgingly acknowledges the artist’s popularity among critics, scholars and curators.

In spite of the praise and her success, making doesn’t come easily to Banner. Aligning herself with the great playwright, she says, “I find art incredibly difficult. I’m with Beckett: ‘Fail again. Fail better’.”

Perhaps this attitude, and her embracing of disappointment as “rich” and “underrated” is why her work continues to develop and surprise. Her current show displays her spirit of adventure. You see a recurrence of themes and ideas, but not in a rehashed or recycled manner. Rather, her revisiting adds nuances and layers to her work.

Banner has long used Joseph Conrad’s novel Heart of Darkness to explore the most disturbing elements of human nature. This fascination has most recently manifested in a collaboration with Paolo Pellegrin, the award-winning Magnum war photographer. In 2014, she commissioned Pellegrin to capture the City of London as a conflict zone to create a body of work for the Archive of Modern Conflict.

In installation, Mistah Kurtz – He Not Dead, Pellegrin’s black and white photographs are shown as a staccato digital projection, accompanied by a soundtrack of primal roars and ominous drumbeats. London’s financial district seethes with underlying violence, sexual tension and animal behaviour. Its protagonists lose their status as a powerful elite, becoming figures of mirth. In the graphite drawing, Pinstripe Face Bum, the motif of the city worker uniform is subverted, as Banner chooses to zoom in on a suit’s backside.

Despite her ISBN, it seems Banner resists easy categorisation and evades a simple reading. Amidst her subtle and brash, funny and serious explorations of the unreliability of language, however, there’s a very clear message: don’t judge a book by its cover.

By Anneka French

Fiona Banner did very little work at art college. “Next to no work,” she admits. “I struggled away with making pictures for years and years and I found it incredibly complicated,” she says.

Making art has come a little easier in the intervening 25 years – she was nominated for the prestigious Turner Prize in 2002. Recently, Banner completed an artwork that she almost made at Goldsmiths College – a video aptly titled Intermission. The artist’s largest ever solo exhibition opened at Birmingham’s Ikon Gallery in October and her output is these days rather prolific. Timing is everything.

Language has been integral to Banner’s work since the 1990s. “The writing just started to come to the fore as a way through,” she explains. Indeed, one of her best known artworks is THE NAM (1997), a 1000-page book in which Banner transcribes filmic interpretations of the Vietnam War, including Apocalypse Now and Full Metal Jacket. Every action is recorded in her words. A tongue-in-cheek press release written by the artist describes the enormous book as ‘unreadable’. Writer David Barrett said The Nam has the “impact of a comic, and yet does so without relying on pictures. You don’t read the text, the text comes out at you.” The same can be said for many of the artist’s provocative works. Interpretations of violence and military technologies through language are consistent themes.

THE NAM was the first in a long line of works produced by the artist’s publishing company, The Vanity Press, set up after her first solo exhibition, Pushing Back the Edge of the Envelope, in 1994 at City Racing, an artist-run space in Kennington, South London. Often, Banner’s editions are actual books but sometimes the objects produced with ISBNs are books without pages that cannot physically be read. “I’m as interested in the object of a book as much as the content,” she notes. THE NAM can be found in various iterations within the Birmingham exhibition. The book’s pages are pasted across the gallery walls, copies are stacked up as a kind of cardboard cut-out and the book also appears as a large sculptural block. The latter is something that the critic Adrian Searle takes credit for, having apparently once written that THE NAM is “not so much a coffee-table book as a coffee-table.”

The book as an object in its own right has been reworked and rethought by Banner. She also makes life-drawing books without any pages that she describes as ‘dummy’ books. At Ikon there are works on paper printed with individual ISBNs, as well as large wall-mounted ISBNs made with eye-watering, hand-bent neon lettering. Banner has even assigned a unique ISBN to herself in a work titled Fiona Banner.

A long series of ongoing works, Legal Deposit, chart some of the difficulties Banner has had with ISBNs. As the Observer critic Laura Cumming notes, “The Legal Deposit Office requires a copy of each work” yet for many of Banner’s pieces “there is only ever one original”. For Cumming, “the futility of this conundrum, and particularly of publishing a complete catalogue of the ISBN artworks with its own ISBN … is as depressing as the works themselves.” Cumming, though, misses the playful riddling at which Banner is so adept. As Guardian critic Jonathan Jones more positively points out, “Banner turns … apparently dry philosophical musings into exciting, intense, funny art.”

The seating that accompanies Banner’s videos of Chinook helicopters, wind socks and the encyclopaedic military aircraft books, Jane’s All the World’s Aircraft, are, for instance, artworks too. Large black beanbags take their form from the full stops of different typefaces. Previously shown as cast bronze sculptures, they now offer a series of inviting pauses within the exhibition – objects through which to think about how language is a squashy, unbalanced, physical, keenly felt thing as much as a spoken phenomenon. Another series of chairs include textual inscriptions that derive from her ‘nude portrait’ of the actress Samantha Morton – an uncomfortably intimate portrayal of the actress’ body told through words rather than images.

A further unlikely figure crops up in Banner’s work. Charles M. Schulz’s Peanuts gave the world Snoopy. Snoopy was all the rage when the artist was a child in Merseyside, says Banner. The 1966 hit single Snoopy Vs. The Red Baron by The Royal Guardsmen has provided a rich source of inspiration for the artist over the years. Her works of the same title bring together a fascination with historical conflict, military aircraft, humour and language. The mute character of Snoopy is for Banner “a mouthpiece” within her work, yet he speaks only through thought bubbles. Banner neatly explains, too, that the drawing of the character is “so minimal that he is like a glyph or a sign.”

The visualisation of language is vital to Banner – typefaces or fonts reoccur throughout her work. Her recent Frith Street Gallery exhibition was titled Font. A marble sculpture, Font (2015), opens the exhibition in Birmingham. The baptismal sculpture is inscribed with the word ‘font’ in a new typeface designed by Banner and also titled ‘Font’, setting out her approach to making as one that engages repeatedly with the subtleties of language. Banner’s typeface is an amalgamation of many she has “deployed” before, as a nod to the survey nature of the Birmingham exhibition, she says. She describes its lineage as “a family tree arrangement where the child of Avant Garde and Courier mates with Peanuts and Didot’s child. Bookman and Onyx mate; their child mates with Capitalist and Klang’s offspring – the final font is an unpredictable bastardisation of styles and behaviours.” As Searle remarks, “She’s a tease, that Banner.”

Banner has had, as the writer Lily le Brun summarises, “a career that has been spent considering the peculiarities, possibilities and limitations of language.” So what comes next? “The world would have us busily productive all the time. But that’s not always a good thing,” Banner says. “I’m going to try and not make any work for a bit. I’ve just made a load and now I’m going to play with it.”

By James Steventon

What do Full Metal Jacket’s Private Joker and the artist Fiona Banner have in common? In the midst of a war zone, Private Joker’s thoughts drift back to “erect-nipple wet dreams of Mary Jane Rottencrotch and the Great Homecoming Fuck Fantasy”. Banner’s current exhibition at Birmingham’s Ikon Gallery treads the same ground, with works ranging from 1000-page book THE NAM, a scene-by-scene description of well-known Vietnam War films (as well as Full Metal Jacket it includes The Deer Hunter and Apocalypse Now), to the more tabloid-friendly Arsewoman in Wonderland, a written transcription of a pornographic film. Like Guardian critic Adrian Searle, I can’t help thinking, “she must like all this stuff: words, engines of war, testosterone-laden war movies and porn flicks”.

In Channel 4’s short interview with Banner when she was nominated for the 2002 Turner Prize, the artist lists her favourite words as “ricochet, spunk, daffodil”. Of all the great words to choose from, these three perhaps stand as a lexical Venn diagram, with Banner existing in the areas of overlap.

“I’m very conscious of the brilliance of language and its power – I mean, it is the blood to our thoughts – but also I find it very frustrating and I have a lot of fear about language and communication.” If etymology is the study of the history of words, Banner’s 2007 phrase in neon, The Bastard Word, is a statement of intent. The art rather than the science of language; words of questionable origin.

Language’s eternal struggle to describe experience is Banner’s ‘spunk’, where the discrepancy between real life and its description generates a rich, but often crude, vocabulary. Pornography cannot accurately describe a sexual encounter, and certainly not love. But for Banner that is the attraction. Indeed, when reflecting on her own intimate moments, Banner names fonts as the “things that I’ve spent many, many hours in a one to one relationship with”.

More familiar than most with the actuality of the pornographic film, ‘Britain’s Biggest Porn Star’ Ben Dover suggests a more cynical interpretation of Banner’s Arsewoman in Wonderland text. “Porn attracts publicity, everybody knows that. The media furore that gathers around it, that is the work of art.” When pressed on the subject, Banner complains, ”That was one piece! And they’re still calling me ‘the porn artist’! I just think that sort of kneejerk, oo-er missus reaction is not helpful, really.”

Then what of ‘ricochet’? Although more phonaesthetically pleasing than ‘spunk’, for Banner the word concerns an uglier context. It’s what Head of Learning at Ikon, Simon Taylor, describes as “the contradictory relationship she has with the military and its hardware”. As much as Banner delights in bellicose emblems, such as the decommissioned fighter planes she displayed in Tate Britain for the 2010 Duveen commission, “on another level I’m horrified by them”.

Banner recalls walking in the Welsh mountains with her father when she was younger. “Suddenly a fighter plane would rip through the sky, and shatter everything. It was so exciting, loud and overwhelming; it would literally take our breath away… At the time Harrier jump jets were at the cutting edge of technology but to me they were like dinosaurs, prehistoric, from a time before words.”

For all Banner talks of military paraphernalia as the “opposite of language”, the associated vocabulary is as rich and often analogous to that of the porn world. ‘Arse to Grass’, ‘Begging Dog’, ‘Backwards Take Off’ – all lines from Banner’s RAF Waddington wall text. At Ikon this accompanies her 2013 video Chinook, in a kind of The Art of War meets Karma Sutra-style concrete poem, used to describe the “extraordinary aerodynamic function” the helicopter is able to demonstrate.

Porn films and military flying machines – both are traditionally rooted in the masculine domain. As perhaps is 2007’s slightly crude Mirror, Banner’s descriptive word-portrait of Samantha Morton, which the actor then read aloud – “her tits spill out from behind her massive hands”. Had a male artist written this, the reading would have undoubtedly been different, if no less awkward. So does Banner consider herself a feminist? “No. It’s not that I’m radically unfeminist or anything – it’s because I think feminism belonged to a particular point and time. And I can’t afford to be part of any ‘ism’ as an artist.”

This freshness may not be for everybody. Kim Howells, then minister for culture ,famously described Banner’s 2002’s Turner Prize work as “conceptual bullshit”. The Observer’s Laura Cumming was equally dismissive of Banner, saying “nobody with any love of the visual could spend more than second in this trap”, perhaps falling into it herself. Banner’s work is not about obvious beauty. It’s about the failure of language to articulate it. Yet in the filth, in ‘Nam in the fog of war, or under the shadow of a phallic military machine, that is where Banner’s ‘daffodil’ emerges – in the small observances that language adds to sensory experience.

Banner describes the eccentric compulsive hoarder Edmund Trebus as an inspiration. “The council kept coming over and emptying out his garden, which was full of trash and rats, and they’d come the next year and it would be full up again. There was something very beautiful about the way he was living.” Or as Private Joker would put it: “I’m in a world of shit… yes. But I am alive. And I am not afraid.”

By Manjinder Sidhu

Headlined ‘the porn artist’ by the tabloids after her controversial 2002 Turner Prize entry, Arsewoman in Wonderland, Fiona Banner’s canny take on violence, vulnerability and voyeurism is continually insightful. As female artists are celebrated in major galleries worldwide and as overworked city-dwellers flock to life-drawing classes, Banner continues to re-invent the nude – a genre traditionally associated with the male gaze. The artist’s timely retrospective at Birmingham’s Ikon Gallery, Scroll Down and Keep Scrolling, obliquely chronicles our changing politics on sex and war.

In fluoro-pink script on a huge billboard, Arsewoman in Wonderland is the moment-by-moment description of a porn film. In explicit detail, Banner describes who does what to whom and what effect it has on them, such as ‘he cums in her face, she moans and rolls over’. Banner uses words – as opposed to line and colour – to side-step the image. Knowing the historical context of the nude in high art and refreshing the complex artist-model relationship, her work is distinct from the ‘raw’ figure paintings of Jenny Saville and Lucian Freud, and goes beyond John Berger’s juxtaposition of female nudes from old master paintings with porno shots in Ways of Seeing (1972). Berger famously said: “Nakedness reveals itself. Nudity is placed on display. The nude is condemned to never being naked. Nudity is a form of dress.” Banner, though, is not convinced. “I like it [the quote], but I don’t agree with it,” she says.

Questioning the authority and ambiguities of pre-existing images and art forms is key for Banner. As if trying to master cinema’s power, she got involved in looking at and describing the human form through watching war films and creating ‘wordscapes’. THE NAM (1997) is a 1000-page scene-by-scene description of famous Vietnam war films – including Apocalypse Now, Full Metal Jacket and The Deer Hunter – spliced together in a hefty tome that’s Biblical in scale. This epic 11-hour ‘supermovie’, unashamedly deemed unreadable by its creator, was followed by Trance (1997), a live 13-hour unabridged reading of the text. Further blurring ideas around performance, theatre and live art, in 2007 Banner collaborated with actor Samantha Morton who posed for a life-drawing session while Banner wrote a description of what she saw. The following night, under spotlights in front of a live audience at Whitechapel Art Gallery, Morton exposed the fresh text. Reading it out loud, she performed what Banner has described as “a kind of striptease in words”. Lily Le Brun, reporting on the event for Modern Painters, wrote:Morton is visibly uncomfortable, struggling for ownership of the text while negotiating the personal information that reveals itself as she speaks.’

Conflict, ambiguities, power and the fetishized objects of war fascinate Banner. Obsessively archiving all the war planes in service throughout the world – as Airfix models – she toys with war’s absurdities and contradictions. Chinook (2013) is a film of this odd double-bladed helicopter, an engineering phenomenon, performing ballet-like moves in a military display; showing-off its dexterity despite cumbersome looks. Her intelligent play with context and embodied space unanimously stirred critics when, in 2010, she installed a real Harrier and Jaguar fighter plane in the neo-classical Duveen Galleries at Tate Britain. ‘One plane, the Harrier, hangs from the ceiling like a trussed bird while the other is displayed belly-up on the floor like a wounded animal,’ The Guardian’s Mark Brown reported. Patricia Bickers, in Art Monthly, likened the spectacle of the Harrier to ‘an upended version of Leonardo’s drawing of Vitruvian man’, standing arms outstretched in perfect human-scale proportions. The evocative power, however, on coming face-to-face with these monumental, beautiful objects that are designed to kill – but impotent – is unavoidably unsettling. Ingeniously, subtle feather-like drawings on the Harrier’s wings subconsciously invited viewers to come-up-close, to embody emotional and physical intimacy.

Banner’s own imprint, ironically called Vanity Press, gives her the freedom to break publishing’s rules and experiment relentlessly, without compromise. Allying with Beckett’s maxim, ‘Fail again. Fail better’, her output is prolific. Following all the required bureaucratic procedures, she officially registered herself as a publication, ‘Fiona Banner’, and defiantly tattooed her own personal ISBN code onto her lower back. Attracted by the formal rather than literary, Banner says: “I’m as interested in the object of a book as much as the content.” Her collection of Jane’s All The World’s Aircraft encyclopedias – a publication begun by Fred T. Jane in 1909 – features in numerous works, including 1909-2015 (2010-2015), a four-metre high stack of the books. It is a sculpture representing history, perhaps, but with the imminent possibility of collapse.

Banner’s dexterity with language is born of an ongoing struggle with words and meaning, as she attempts to fix something that can’t be fixed. “Personally, I am very conscious of the brilliance of language and its power – I mean it is the blood to our thoughts – but I also find it very frustrating,” she says. Hence, The Bastard Word (2007), which glows warmly in neon across the entire wall at the Ikon gallery. Unlike Barbara Kruger’s feminist slogans (‘Your body is a battleground’; ’I shop therefore I am’) or Jenny Holzer’s LED billboard text-works, Banner’s neon has a tender, DIY aesthetic. Deliberately imperfect, she made the piece without any prior training so the letters are wobbly, timid and uncertain, resembling perhaps an early form of language.

Banner’s approach is in contrast to faultless art neons, professionally produced so the material becomes invisible. “Sometimes, by doing things badly or unprofessionally, you reveal things,” she says. Her latest ‘bastard’ is a cross between two typefaces to produce Font (2015), created for the Ikon show and generously available as a free download. In Scroll Down and Keep Scrolling, we see Banner’s forever-inventive approach, a contemporary take on Marshall McLuhan’s ‘the medium is the message’. Revisiting her infamous Arsewoman in Wonderland with a sly twist, she’s physically turned the idea on its head: installing the work upside-down in what the Guardian critic Adrian Searle kinkily describes as a ‘a literary 69’.

By Sunny Cheung

Conflict, sexuality, power – for over two decades Fiona Banner has explored various ways in which language can be manipulated around these recurring themes. By her own admission, she “struggled away with making pictures for years and years… The writing just started to come to the fore as a way through it”.

Although the themes expressed in some of her textual works have the potential to be weighty (sometimes literally, as in her seminal work, THE NAM, a 1000-page transcription of Vietnam war films published as a book in 1997), Banner also has a witty streak. Guardian critic Jonathan Jones has said that “Banner turns such apparently dry philosophical musings into exciting, intense and funny art”.

While many of her works explore a love of language and typography, Banner’s ideas never seem deliberately clouded by obscure intellectual references. Her works visually exhibit a strong DIY punk aesthetic, which have the potential to shock or elicit strong emotional responses. “Art? It’s basically shite…” proclaimed the adult movie star Ben Dover upon viewing Banner’s piece Arsewoman in Wonderland (2001), a wall-sized text description of a porn film. “I think it’s clever… porn attracts publicity, everybody knows that. The media furore that gathers around it, that is the work of art.”

Banner is often closely associated with the YBA generation of artists such as Damien Hirst, Tracey Emin and Sarah Lucas, many of which graduated from Goldsmiths during the late ‘80s and early ‘90s (Banner completed an MA at the college in 1993). In 2002 she was nominated for the Turner Prize (which that year was won by Keith Tyson). The then culture minister Kim Howells wasn’t impressed, writing on a comments card: “If this is the best British artists can produce then British art is lost… It is cold, mechanical, conceptual bullshit.”

Banner, now in her late 40s, has changed little since her Turner Prize nomination. She still sports richly black shoulder length hair that frames her handsome features. She talks, according to art critic Matthew Collings “a bit macho in real life”. A photograph of the artist peering from behind a tall stack of copies of THE NAM – a book described as “unreadable” – certainly gives the impression that she’s sincere about its contents. Collings has said of the book: “You can’t tell if it’s rubbish or serious, and that’s always good in art.”

Banner’s intellectual exploration of the British Library and the mechanics of UK publishing led her to register herself as an official copy of a book. It was “a sort of portrait as book” the artist explains. The number 0-9548366-7-7 is the official ISBN of the work Fiona Banner (2009), registered to her at The Vanity Press publishing house (the name is itself a play on the term for self-publishing). Interestingly, the paperwork she filed for the ISBN shows that she is “Not for Sale”, but on the other hand she states that she is also worth £0.00.

It is these incidental splashes of humour that balance her interest in deeper political themes and makes her artwork still very accessible. It’s the same recipe for success that has allowed artists such as Banksy to thrive – who incidentally stencilled ‘Mind the Crap’ outside Tate Britain during the Turner Prize in 2002.

Banner has received praise from both the art world and the public. In the 2010 exhibition 50/50: Audience and Experts Curate the Paper Collection, at the renowned Walker Art Gallery in Minneapolis, chief curator Darsie Alexander was interested in “taking advantage of the natural impulse people have when encountering art to form an opinion”. Banner’s Break Point (1998), based on the cult movie Point Break (1991), won the public vote.

Banner’s interest in representations of sexuality has meant that she has worked on a few high profile collaborations of “nude” portraits, including with model Lily Cole and Samantha Morton. The Hollywood actress performed what Banner describes as “a kind of striptease in words” live on stage. Banner recounts the tale of how Morton “came to my studio and posed for me, without any clothes. So I made this portrait of her in words, and she left without reading it… it’s odd because she didn’t actually act it…”

By notating portraits rather than drawing, Banner hopes to “stall time long enough to make some kind of reflection, assert some kind of control over our own mortality, in a way that is absurdly literal but also tender”.

Banner is perhaps best known for her 2010 commission for Tate Britain’s Duveen Hall, which involved an unexpectedly grandiose installation of a full-size Harrier jump-jet suspended nose to tail, completely filling the height of the hall, feathers etched onto the wings. Curator Judith Nesbitt described Banner’s work as “seductive and unsettling” and her pieces as “works that arrest the eye and mind”. It is this empathy with the public that led to her being commissioned to design a London 2012 Olympics poster along with a host of other YBAs.

“I’m always surprised when people refer to me as a sculptor,” says Banner. A bell cast from a melted down Tornado plane, Tornado (2010), and Chinook (2014), which consisted of choreographed rotor blades installed at Yorkshire Sculpture Park, certainly do little to change that view. According to Banner, the Chinook is “visually a contradiction; it looks clumsy and prehistoric, and yet is able to perform the most extraordinary aerodynamic function”. In many ways it seems a fitting statement to make, for it mirrors her own way of working and her interest in the transformative way of seeing things. She disassembles her subjects from their regular day-to-day forms, sculpting them with notions of recorded time and then finally allowing them to exist in our thoughts as renderings of poetry.


The second workshop in the a-n Writer Development Programme took place at Manchester’s newest arts venue, Home, on Wednesday 28 October 2015.

The afternoon session was led by Frieze magazine reviews editor Amy Sherlock and the focus was on reviewing for the specialist art press.

Also present was a-n news editor and programme organiser Chris Sharratt, a-n staff member and artist Pippa Koszerek, and four of the five programme participants. (Unfortunately, Manjinder Sidhu was unable to attend.)

A lively, busy session with plenty of discussion, the workshop covered writing for different markets, pitching ideas to editors, and that perennial for any reviewer – how to pen a killer opening paragraph.

The latter part of the day saw everyone visiting the current Home exhibition (12 September to 1 November), I must first apologise… by Beirut-based artists Joana Hadjithomas and Khalil Joreige.

The writers were then given 30 minutes to come up with the opening hundred words or so of a 700-word review; these were then discussed among the group.

For ‘homework’, Lydia, SunnyAnneka and James were tasked with completing the review, to be filed by the following Thursday.

After initial feedback from Amy and a light edit by Chris, the finished reviews are published below – four different perspectives on the same exhibition.

Joana Hadjithomas & Khalil Joreige:

I must first apologise…

Home, Manchester, 12 September – 1 November 2015

By Anneka French

“I can’t trust anybody … My husband left me a large amount of money … Thanks to free internet access I can speak to you to ask you for your help.”

This is the beginning of an investigation into deception – one in which digital correspondence has real-world effect. I must first apologise…, an exhibition by Beirut-based Joana Hadjithomas and Khalil Joreige, navigates the murky exchanges of the internet scammer via data collection, creative fictions and bent truths.

The darkened opening room contains a multi-monitored installation of amateur actors from various backgrounds. This parade of faces appears throughout the exhibition, sometimes in larger projections that conjure an emotive and discomforting presence. Each narrates a personal monologue detailing their entrapment and the ways in which you, the reader, can help them – and get rich doing so. Arranged around a central web-like structure from which are suspended 100 speakers, The Rumour of the World (all works 2014) overlays a disorientating clamour of voices. Snatched fragments can be discerned, their often heavily accented language littered with hyperbolic terms of respect and gratitude, marking the testimonies as falsehoods. Though it is hard to resist a cry for help, it is perhaps harder to comprehend the gullibility of those taken in by such widely-circulated and well-known scam tactics.

Geometry of Space purports to visualise the geographical spread of internet scamming with a constellation-like series of wall-drawn marks and oxidised steel sculptures in the rough shape of a globe. The attempt to map and materialise the slippery practice of scamming is a curious and futile one, echoed in the artists’ temporary marks and rusted metal – forms that lack the malleable complexities of the videos. That Geometry of Space references global peaks of online scamming in 2005 and 2008 is indicative of a decline in their traction – strategies that are overplayed and overworked. Much of this material feels familiar.

‘The attempt to map and materialise the slippery practice of scamming is a curious and futile one’


The majority of the work on display focusses on the actions of the scammers (the effect upon the victim is always implicit). An installation of wall-mounted scrolls and glass wayfinders that comprise The Trophy Room has an alternate nuance, moving the exhibition away from hackneyed regurgitations of the scam. The Trophy Room focuses on a group calling themselves scam baiters – a vigilante band that seeks to scam the scammers. The scrolls present a series of email exchanges between the baiters and the scammers. What unfolds is a troubling portrayal of the lengths to which the baiters will go to drain the resources of the scammer. At one end of the spectrum, the baiters force scammers to make objects and perform plays, and at the other, to get tattoos with humiliating acronyms and pose in sexually demeaning positions as proof of ‘good faith’. The work documents the result of a cruel revenge process, riddled with power problematics and twisted intentions. It leads me to think about the consequences for the scammers and about the reasons someone might have for turning to this ‘industry’ in the first place. Perhaps there is a finer line between hope and greed than any of us might care to admit.

The idea is followed through in Fidel, one of the videos in Hadjithomas and Joreige’s It’s All Real series. The knots of the exhibition are both tightened and untangled in this work. According to the exhibition literature, Fidel, an amateur actor who appears as a recurring cast member in the videos, was a scammer in Lebanon. That Fidel is also ‘occasionally a stripper’ paints a rather different picture of his life and the choices that are open to him. His testimony indicates a sense of entrapment and a desire for release from his difficult circumstances. Fidel shows remorse for his scamming past. The xenophobia that vaguely niggled in the opening room is foregrounded here – for each of the actors in the videos are immigrants. The countless reports of financial extortion in exchange for passage to safety from war and political disenfranchisement, and the consequent loss of life, provide the most urgent, though entirely unstated, context for I must first apologise…


By James Steventon

Dear Friend,

Please allow me to introduce myself. I am inhabited by the ghost of the late and respected critic Brian Sewell, and I am writing to you to inform you of Joana Hadjithomas and Khalil Joreige’s exhibition at Home in Manchester. I must first apologise…

Since 1999, the artists have collected correspondence similar to the above from over 4000 junk email scams, purportedly from famous politicians, dictators or their families. We’re all familiar with these scams, and their ubiquity raises questions as to the relevance of this collection in 2015. However, the exhibition tackles this issue head on. Upon entry visitors are confronted with a poster-sized reproduction of aJerusalem Letter’, locating the so-called ‘Nigerian scam’ within a literary tradition dating back to 18th century France. The persistence of these hoaxes through 300 years of junk mail filtering suggests it may still be fertile ground to plough.

The exhibition begins with The Rumour Of The World, a disorientating installation in a darkened room where multiple screens and 100 loudspeakers present various non-professional actors reciting scams. The multiple voices vying for attention mirror the volume and confusing nature of the email archive. As we pass close enough to make eye contact with an actor, an overhead loudspeaker helps reveal the scam from the mêlée of noise in the centre of the room. As the actors are heard struggling to convincingly deliver their lines, the ruse is revealed.

‘The multiple voices vying for attention mirror the volume and confusing nature of the email archive’


Many of the other works in the exhibition repeatedly mine the same resource but the outcomes are often far less convincing. Geometry Of Space, for example, includes stretched oxidised steel sculptures, three-dimensional trajectories of the emails’ circulation that resemble globally connected data visualisations literally seen the world over. The wooden casts from which the sculptures were made are also presented, but while they may complement the curved wall of the gallery space, they only repeat an idea already well visited.

Another recurring presence is Fidel, a contributor to The Rumour Of The World. Filmed in the artists’ home country, Lebanon, he demonstrates the few degrees of separation in the online scamming world, revealing to the artists his past life as a scammer in Nigeria and his familiarity with the script he was asked to memorise.

He also appears in both (De)Synchronicity and It’s All Real, works housed in later rooms. Lacking the immersive quality of The Rumour Of The World, these were less successful. Yet while the repetition of the idea doesn’t take us anywhere new, Fidel’s persistence in the exhibition points to the durability of the scams worldwide. Sometimes we don’t want the truth, we just want to believe.

Another video work, Fidel, presents an opportunity to further address its namesake – however on my visit the piece was temporarily out of order. The promise here of Fidel detailing the genuine methods behind his scams was tantalisingly out of reach.

In The Trophy Room, the tables are turned on the scammers. ‘Scam baiters’ deliberately respond to scammers’ emails in order to waste their time or money, often humiliating them in the process. Souvenirs of their ‘victories’ are displayed in vitrines like fresh kills. Accompanying the trophies are long prints on rolls, allowing the reader to physically scroll through the ongoing correspondence between scammer and baiter. Ludicrous, amusing and often cruel activities are requested as a show of good faith, eliciting an empathy with the scammers’ will to believe in a genuine connection.

This is reflected by a charming inclusion in the show, …About Love, a wholly conceptual work existing only, as curators Omar Kholeif and Sarah Perks describe it, as ‘the ghost that haunts the exhibition’. It is representative of the many people who have fallen victim to these scams, ‘like a love story or an addiction’, each victim believing that despite their better judgement this time is different since ‘they are the only remaining trustworthy person’.

With art as with email scams, a suspension of disbelief is required in order to participate. We are required to have the will to believe. Whether in ghosts or in love or in the prospect of several thousand Nigerian Naira, ready to be wired into our bank accounts.

Yours faithfully,

James Steventon


By Lydia Ashman

Can acts of generosity exist without reciprocation? Can we read them without a subtext? A group of homeless people and activists recently squatted Manchester’s former stock exchange, a grand building that ex-Manchester United footballers Ryan Giggs and Gary Neville are transforming into a boutique hotel. Instead of evicting them, the pair have given the group permission to stay over winter. It’s a good-news story, but on hearing it I immediately became cynical – what’s in it for the footballers?

Down the road at Home, Manchester’s newest arts centre, Beirut-based artists Joana Hadjithomas and Khalil Joreige explore our responses to requests for help and tales of suffering in their exhibition I must first apologise… Taking as its starting point an aspect of modern life we’re all familiar with – those unsolicited emails that recount dramatic events, an unexpected fortune and the inevitable financial proposition – the show was the culmination of 15 years of research into the practice of online scamming.

Consisting of ten works ranging from photography and sculpture to film and installation, the artists want us to spend some time with the protagonists of a practice that they claim has an overlooked and strange history. Coming to prevalence in the 2000s, online scamming might feel slightly dated as subject matter. It is, however, interesting to read the show in the context of how we cope with and interpret the countless narratives and requests for time, money and compassion that flow into our lives – whether via our inboxes, the media, politicians or the person on the street canvassing for Greenpeace.

‘The novelty of hearing these emails anew means that it’s inviting to temporarily comply with the illusion of truth’


The Rumour of the World (2014), a sound and film installation in the first room, cleverly encapsulates the experience of multiple storytellers competing for our attention. In a large, dark space populated by 100 loudspeakers and 17 screens, you are greeted by the recorded voices of non-professional actors simultaneously reading out scammers’ hyperbolic emails. Disorientated by the cacophony, you can only decipher a storyteller’s plight by standing face to face with them. Do you, like me, veer towards the stereotypically more trustworthy women and the downtrodden-looking young man? Although the stories are fiction, the novelty of hearing these easily discarded emails anew means that it’s inviting to temporarily comply with the illusion of truth.

One of the piece’s ‘aliases’ is Fidel, a good looking, charming young man who appears throughout the exhibition. A Nigerian ex-scammer, he now works in a gym and as an occasional stripper in Lebanon. You might question his scammer’s remorse, however, when he enthusiastically explains the psychology and ‘magic’ behind the practice in the film, Fidel (2014). He also features in It’s all real (2014), a film piece dedicated to authentic stories from six of the faux-scammers in The Rumour of the World. In contrast, these films are played one-by-one in a more intimate, calmer space. This intimacy is reflected in the films’ locations, which connect us to the protagonists’ realities. Young friends Omar and Younes recount their stories in the Beirut basketball pitch that they meet up in, while Fidel dons sportswear and stands in front of gym equipment. Free from the awkward English and predictable narrative arcs the scammers use, these storytellers communicate in a language they are comfortable with, such as dance or even silence.

Listening to these personalised accounts of hardship feels urgent as thousands of Syrian refugees, each with a story to tell, continue to make the dangerous journey to Europe in search of safety. As well as containing details of scams themselves, the show highlights the broader factors that shape patterns in online scamming. In Geometry of Space (2014), steel sculptures and subtle pencil marks on the walls map the dates and claimed locations of 200 scams from 2005 and 2008. Clusters of marks and steel correlate with spikes in global instability, showing how scammers ground their stories in religious, political and economic conflict to make them seem more credible. The piece mirrors the myriad narratives that circulate during a situation like the refugee crisis, which can disguise or distract us from the truth.

For me, though, it’s not the reframing of scammers’ repetitive emails that provide the most interest in the show. Instead, the grey area that Fidel embodies – between reality and fiction, cynicism and compassion – is a richer seam. It’s worth seeking out these nuances among the din of voices, emphatic language and formulaic structures.

By Sunny Cheung

Philip Zimbardo’s infamous 1971 Stanford prison experiment involved the reversal of roles between two groups of people selected to be either prisoners and guards. Exploring the consequences that can arise from fluctuations in power, the experiment gained notoriety when it had to be shut down after only six days due to the psychological torture the ‘prisoners’ were made to endure by their captors.

In their exhibition I must first apologise – curated by Omar Kholeif and Sarah Perks – Beirut-based artists Joana Hadjithomas and Khalil Joreige explore similarly troubling power relationships, albeit in a very different context. Taking its title from a typical opening line used in scam emails, it draws an archive of 4000 messages amassed since 1999. And while these emails may seem like a modern phenomenon, the artists point out that such scams can be traced back to the handwritten ‘Spanish Prisoner’ and ‘Jerusalem Letters’ of the 19th century.

The large-scale installation, The Rumour of the World (2014), starts the show ambitiously. The raucous cacophony requires that you move closer to a sweet spot of sound situated above each screen, in order to pick out the individual voices of these pleading monologues. The actors – who also feature in other pieces in the show – always end by asking for a money wire transfer.

There are echoes of the duo’s previous work, Wonder Beirut (History of a Pyromaniac Photographer) (1998-2006), a series that coherently represents reality and fiction through photographic storytelling and the performative. The Trophy Room (2014) shows what can happen when a seemingly fun vigilante cause goes astray and ethical and moral considerations become subsumed into a form of entertainment. The piece touches on aspects of what we now call ‘trolling’ and the implications of what Jaron Lanier, in his 2010 book You are not a Gadget, refers to as ‘cybernetic totalists’, a term that refers to the collective online lynch mob.

‘The artists aren’t offering any easy answers when it comes to how the scamming issue can be effectively confronted’


The crux of the piece involves the baiting of ‘419 Nigerian’ scammers – named after the district of Nigeria it originates from, with internet cafes being the main sites that these performative fictions originate from (as explored in the piece (De)synchronicity (2014) in the adjacent room). The ruses in this ‘trophy room’ are portrayed in the form of photos mounted on pedestals and printed photographic scrolls, inducing a more intimate, lo-fi reading of the work as you physically pull the stories towards you. One humorous example involves a scammer being tricked into sending a hand carved Commodore 64 (an 8-bit ‘80s computer) to the scammer. The example seems particularly apt as the scammer has in some way been ‘gamed’.

The work quickly takes on a more sinister slant, with the scammers-turned-scammed asked to show photographic evidence that they’ve tattooed their arm with an acronym for Christians Uniting New Territories (C.U.N.T). Pain is etched on their faces. There is no sense of justice being done here, just a feeling of revulsion – it is apparent that the artists aren’t offering any easy, neat answers when it comes to how the scamming issue can be effectively confronted.

While the performative fiction concept does start off interestingly, works such as The Rumour of the World, (De) Synchronicity and A Letter Can Always Reach its Destination (all 2014) point to similar meanings. As a result, the theme starts to become repetitive. This may be the artists’ intention, rather like reading the slight variations in the similar prose of the various scams.

A second curatorial strand involves the mapping of the scammer’s communications. Strange pencil marks are scribbled on the walls of the gallery, curiously dated. It is initially unclear how these are related. Decoding with the ‘scam atlases’ provided reveals that they are two-dimensional representations of the scams’ global ‘journeys’. The criss-crossing steel rods that form the sculptures in Geometry of Space (2014) are a refreshingly analogue take on big data computer visualisations. They show that with computer technology, the world has become a much smaller place – geographically and economically – as thousands of individuals can be indiscriminately targeted without the drawback of upfront mailing costs.

Yet the exhibition also implies that the scammers and victims, although culturally far apart, do not act so differently after all. They are driven by similar urges, desires, insecurities – or perhaps the need to act this way through financial desperation. We must remember, then, that the fictions presented in these letters are much more than mere tales. They have been paid for with real currency, betrayal, and for some with blood.

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As part of the first workshop in the new a-n Writer Development Programme, the five participants each produced a piece of writing in response to the Jerwood Drawing Prize 2015, now available as an A5 printed booklet, a downloadable pdf, and also online. Chris Sharratt introduces the work of a-n members Lydia Ashman, Sunny Cheung, Anneka French, Manjinder Sidhu and James Steventon.

The first of three workshops as part of the inaugural a-n Writer Development Programme took place at Jerwood Space, London on Wednesday 23 September 2015.

Led by a-n News editor Chris Sharratt, it was a lively afternoon of writing tasks and discussions that culminated in all five writers on the programme – Lydia Ashman, Sunny Cheung, Anneka French, Manjinder Sidhu and James Steventon – visiting the Jerwood Drawing Prize 2015 exhibition.

As a final task of the day, the writers were asked to each produce a short article (300-500 words) in response to the exhibition, to be edited and brought together as an eight-page A5 booklet.

Working to a deadline of Thursday 1 October, they were given a very open brief, the only specific stipulation being that the article shouldn’t be a review.

Instead, they were asked to use the show as a springboard to explore a related theme or a particular artist’s work, the intention being to add another layer of exhibition interpretation through five diverse pieces of writing.

You can read and download a pdf of the booklet below. Or, if you’d rather read them online, the five pieces are also published on this blog.



Ancient & modern: the myths & reality of drawing

By James Steventon

Legend has it that the ancient Greeks Zeuxis and Parrhasius once held a competition to establish who was the better painter. Zeuxis unveiled a painting of grapes so realistic that the birds flew down to peck at them. Zeuxis, keen to reveal Parrhasius’ painting, grasped at the curtain, not realising that it too was a painted illusion.

The story offers us a means to navigate this year’s Jerwood Drawing Prize. One could easily substitute Zeuxis for Roland Hicks’ image of the detritus of drawing activity – the shrapnel of broken pencil lead and the skirt of a pencil shaving, seemingly trapped under a strip of Sellotape.

As Parrhasius, Daniel Crawshaw presents the object itself: an old pan, the base of which has been scratched through a lifetime of use until it now resembles the surface of the moon, touching on both the sublime and the everyday.

In the tale, Parrhasius is deemed the victor: Zeuxis deceived the birds but Parrhasius deceived Zeuxis. However, the Jerwood exhibition is not attempting to deceive. Rather, it is an investigation into what drawing can be. As such, the artists are in collaboration rather than competition.

The material qualities of drawing are at times examined, with rough and dirty media such as graphite, chalk, 
charcoal and carborundum. There are digital prints, too, as well as wool 
and thread – even burnt light on 
paper (a photograph?).

Thomas Gosebruch’s entry is rendered in oil paint, that staple medium traditionally signifying painting. What sets these works aside as drawing is the intention of the artists to question rather than answer.

Selection panelist (and painter) Dexter Dalwood notes: “An important condition of drawing is that… it is explorative”. Fellow panelist Salima Hashmi adds that “one is compelled to test it by presenting to a wider audience”. Drawings are an exploration of territory, whereas a finished work might be seen as a definitive proclamation of the explored, like a conquering flag, only to be eventually usurped by another, just as Parrhasius’ curtain followed Zeuxis’ grapes.

A number of works in the exhibition also test the potential of drawing to express realism, whose shadow often falls upon those who feel they ‘can’t draw’. But seen in the light of investigation, who would ever claim that they couldn’t explore?

As marks made on a surface to test and resolve ideas, writing too might be considered a form of drawing. Certainly this writer does not seek to provide a definitive answer, but to invite the audience to consider what drawing may be and to take part in the exploration.

Hands contain knowledge: exploring the drawings of Lee John Phillips

By Anneka French

Washers, nails, screwdrivers, tubes of glue and electrical socket covers fill the sketchbook pages of Lee John Phillips. But while the subject might on first mention appear mundane, this is an extraordinary and nuanced undertaking.

The first volume of Phillips’ work, The Shed Project (2014-15), on display as part of the Jerwood Drawing Prize exhibition, is a lovingly drawn and numbered inventory of 3672 objects found in the shed of his late grandfather. Drawing in fine black ink and sometimes working up to 15 hours a day, by the end of the project Phillips will have catalogued more than 80,000 separate objects.

Traces of the artist’s grandfather are recorded through these meticulous drawings across 88 sketchbook pages. The accumulated smudges, dents and chips refer to the material memory of each object and of time spent making; the tools and parts left abandoned by Phillips’ grandfather reveal the potential of projects never started and never finished.

This is a catalogue of emotional memory too; a slow and considered way of coming to terms with loss. Drawing and making coalesce on Phillips’ pages, metaphorically layering two sets of working hands in time; family hands that mirror each other.

Our hands, as the artist and maker Linda Brothwell noted, contain knowledge. Hands are to be trusted: they are our most direct interface with the world and the basic vehicles for making everything, from a line drawing to a chest of drawers.

This recognition of the hand made, of ‘hand skills’ and hand tools – be they a pen or plane – is important within the context of the Jerwood Drawing Prize.

As ordinary lives become increasingly dependent upon the digital, our hands are still vital in the clicking of keys and the swiping of screens. They remain the finest tools we have at our disposal – and especially when it comes to making and to drawing.

The Dalston Myth

By Lydia Ashman

The uncomfortable tangle of limbs and torsos in John Close’s drawing invokes Centauromachy, a drunken brawl from Greek mythology. When the Lapiths invited their Centaur cousins to a wedding feast, the guests overindulged in wine. Their barbaric nature was unleashed and a bloody fight broke out.

Intriguingly, Close has chosen Dalston, the notorious East London neighbourhood, as the setting for the classical battle in his work Dalston: Battle of the Lapiths and Centaurs. A Hackney native, he has experienced changes in the area and seen its shifting demographic.

Though he doesn’t object to the transformation of Dalston, Close is aware of the resulting inequality. Despite the relatively high level of deprivation in the ward, the average home is now sold for over £500,000.

He is also sensitive to divisions between communities. “As an artist,” he says, “it’s dismaying that Hackney has a worldwide reputation for arts and culture, but many local people who are so geographically close to it find the art world baffling and alienating.”

These cultural and economic gaps breed tension, misunderstanding and conflict. Recently, protesters in neighbouring Shoreditch attacked a café, Cereal Killer, and an estate agent. Angry with the rising cost of living, they saw these businesses as representative of the ongoing gentrification of East London.

Close wanted to present these clashes without resorting to the caricatures or cliché that Dalston is often subject to. In the last ten years, the area has been dubbed both one of the worst places to live in Britain and the coolest neighbourhood in London. Now, some assert that its star is on the wane.

Yet these one dimensional headlines do little to encapsulate Dalston’s true nature. Though Close’s drawing presents a fight, the figure in the top left-hand corner looks like she could be experiencing reverie in movement. Like Dalston, it can be tricky to tell what’s actually going on, even while you’re looking at it.

Similarly, class, creed and race are largely absent from the drawing, as are some of the stereotypes you might expect in a portrayal of contemporary Dalston. There are no extravagant beards, eccentric shoes or Turkish restaurateurs; no city workers, Rastafarians or Ridley Road Market traders.

Instead, the figures are connected only by their participation in conflict. Close is keen for us to focus on the futility of the fighting itself, and question why and how the altercation might be taking place.

Close’s ambiguous drawing encourages a more nuanced, considered and pluralistic reading of Dalston, and the wider issues concerning cities and gentrification. By eschewing well-worn narratives, he avoids perpetuating the Dalston myth.

Titular transformations

By Sunny Cheung

There are many ways to read an exhibition. In the Jerwood Drawing Prize 2015, for example, 40 (or 69%) of the selected artists have surnames that 
start with the letters A-M; 18 (or 31%) 
of the artists have surnames which 
start with letters in the N-Z range. Statistically, this almost adheres to the 80/20 Pareto principle.

A perhaps more enlightening way to read the show would be to explore the titles of the drawings in it. Considering the wealth of visually and conceptually imaginative works, there is a surprisingly large number of literal descriptions, from Lois Langmead’s Pelvis to Tom Harrison’s From Andrew’s Flat, Singapore, this year’s winner.

This is not to suggest that a work’s title is any gauge to the artistic merit behind the work – that would be nonsense. Some pieces would be impenetrable were it not for a descriptive title. Yet the title of Hannah Blight Anderson’s sculpture, 1 Minute, offers significant clues as to its method and meaning, without giving the whole game away. In this case, the method involves traced head motions captured over a one-minute period.

Daniel Crawshaw’s Moonshine, meanwhile, is a wonderfully thoughtful piece made with the most unusual of materials – a well-used frying pan. The title simply acts as a confirmation of what is represented, and thus simplifies the work as an etched image presented to the viewer, rather than exploring the phenomenology of perception so cleverly exploited here.

However, that is not to say that a literal interpretation of a work is necessarily to its detriment. On the contrary, as well as being descriptive the title can also become a conceptual driving force, bringing further implied meanings and readings.

A good example of this – not featured in the Jerwood show – is Janek Schaefer’s 1995 work, Recorded Delivery, which traced the aural journey of a Royal Mail parcel. Its title references both the method of production and the subject matter itself.

Robert Battams’ work for this year’s show, Space for Redevelopment, highlights this potential for visual and literal play. While the hand-cut paper piece has an obvious architectural quality and Escher-like allusions, the title adds a slightly ambiguous quality, playing on real-world ideas of gentrification as well as the physical spaces that occupy the sculpture itself. It also adds a potentially psychological component to the work.

Although mostly rooted in architectural systems, Battams’ wider output meanders between the sculptural and the gestural, the commercial and artistic. Seen in this way, the lines in the work coalesce like the firing neurons in a human brain, alluding towards the psycho-artistic development of his output.

Titles, then – as well as being able to cause great anxiety in those involved in naming a piece – can transform the viewer’s experience of a work. Even, perhaps, when the title in question 
is Untitled.

Is drawing today a noun 
or a verb?

Manjinder Sidhu

Beyond semantics, the question ‘Is drawing today a noun or a verb’ invites you to reframe your experience of the Jerwood Drawing Prize 2015 exhibition.

In the late 1970s, as the materiality of the art object was keenly reappraised, the artist Richard Serra famously described drawing as a verb: “Anything you can project as expressive in terms of drawing – ideas, metaphors, emotions, language structures – results from the act of doing.”

Art as process, that is art that bears the traces of its own making over time, was everywhere in all art forms. Artists were making concrete what could not be considered material: translating artful actions into art objects.

In 2002 at MOMA (New York), the exhibition ‘Drawing Now: Eight Propositions’ challenged Serra’s interpretation. Curated by Laura Hoptman, it was a show of contemporary drawings that rejected his orientation towards process: “By and large these drawings are finished and autonomous and to some degree representational,” she explained.

Hoptman described contemporary drawing as projective; depicting something that has been imagined before it is drawn, as opposed to being found through the process of making.
Beyond the realm of fine art, these 
artists were creating works that 
were directly responding to and communicating something about the language and life of the world around them. Boldly opposing Serra, Hoptman suggested that contemporary drawing is a noun.

Exploring the fantastic variety of works in the Jerwood Drawing Prize show, what is drawing in 2015? The three judges on this year’s panel viewed 3072 works over two days, finally selecting the 60 drawings you see in the exhibition – work that communicates drawing at this moment in time.

Looking around, transgressing the seductive formal qualities of the work itself, is it possible to identify key issues unique to our world now?

How, for example, has technology such as CAD influenced what you see here? And what of globalisation, migration, the media, economics, the environment? If drawing is a way of seeing the world, what is the work saying about our relationship with that world?

And as a final reflection, what of that opening question? Is the drawing here a noun or a verb? Or is it, perhaps, both?

Jerwood Drawing Prize 2015 continues at Jerwood Space, London until 25 October.

The inaugural a-n Writer Development Programme was launched in May 2015 with an open call to a-n members. Five writers were selected and were given a series of writing tasks from June-August prior to the first workshop in September. Two further workshops (at HOME, Manchester on 28 October and Ikon, Birmingham on 19 November) will be followed by more commissioned writing tasks from January to March 2016.