At the third writer workshop led by Frieze deputy editor Amy Sherlock, the participants were asked to file a 600-word of one of the two current exhibitions at Ikon Gallery, Birmingham.

This is Carrie Foulkes’ review Edmund Clark’s ‘In Place of Hate’.

In this haunting exhibition, Edmund Clark continues his ongoing investigation into the world of incarceration and its effects via a multidisciplinary presentation of new work spanning photography, moving image and installation. Drawing on Clark’s three years as an artist-in-residence at HMP Grendon, Europe’s only fully therapeutic prison community, it directly and profoundly engages with its topic while demonstrating an impressive creative range.

In Oresteia (all works 2017) a circle of chairs is arranged in a small ring echoing a group therapy discussion. Three of the chairs are occupied by television sets showing documentation of a psychodrama session. Members of staff perform the characters of Aeschylus’s Oresteia and the inmates, all masked, respond to the play’s themes of power, control, betrayal, innocence, revenge and murder in the context of their own narratives. The masks serve the dual purpose of concealing the identities of the men, as per Ministry of Justice requirements, while also remaining true to the spirit of Greek tragedy.

Two diagrams borrowed from the prison, ‘Personality Development Pathways’ and ‘Therapeutic Community Model of Change’, are also displayed in this room. The former diagram portrays a limited world of predictable pathways through life, evoking the confining warren of both personal trauma and prison architecture. However, the diagram and the exhibition as a whole suggest that while life may leave its scars, there are opportunities to change direction. This is what the Grendon regime hopes to achieve with the men incarcerated there, and the artworks on view provide a compelling insight into the process.

Vanishing Point, a video installation comprising five screens in a darkened room, traces the claustrophobic limits of the prison – its perimeter and narrow inner hallways. This concern with physical demarcations is also apparent in 1.98m2 – a powerful installation consisting of a waist-high lightbox sculpture. This hollow square with an entrance corresponds to the floor plan of a Grendon cell and when I step inside the piece I feel an embodied sense of the prisoners’ confinement. Pressed flowers and leaves from the prison grounds are displayed between sheets of Perspex on the lightbox, making visible their flaws and imperfections. I can’t help but think that the prison environment itself must be like a lightbox, in which the privacy of an unexamined inner life is unthinkable.

The pressed flowers from this first room reappear as images in the final installation, My Shadow’s Reflection, alternating with pictures of prison architecture and pinhole camera photographs of the inmates projected on to green prison-issue bedsheets. Clark’s use of pinhole camera photography enabled him to engage the prisoners as participants in the making of their own image. The portraits were made in a group context, with each man responding to questions from Clark and other inmates during the course of a six-minute exposure, resulting in blurry, ghostlike images.

These nebulous headshots suggest individuals in the process of evolution. The lack of identifying detail protects the anonymity of inmates, ostensibly for their own wellbeing. But this facelessness could also be viewed as dehumanizing. These contrasting readings – anonymity as liberation or oppression – are evident in the men’s vastly varying responses to their own portraits, as documented in the exhibition catalogue: “There is nothing in this photograph to identify me as a prisoner. I’d like them to see the essence, the spirit, the warm energy inside me”; “It’s someone who is stripped of their identity and lost in the cogs of the system.”

‘In Place of Hate’ raises uncomfortable questions about representation, voyeurism and power, but any disquiet is alleviated by Clark’s sensitivity and openness to the men’s own interpretations – the inmates’ voices in the catalogue return agency to the artist’s subjects and provide a well-judged counterbalance to this memorable body of work.

Carrie Foulkes

‘Edmund Clark: In Place of Hate’ continues at Ikon Gallery, Birmingham until 11 March 2018.


While all the other writers chose to review the Edmund Clark exhibition at Ikon Gallery, Rachel Magdeburg decided to focus her 600-word piece on an exhibition of works by the 19th century convict artist Thomas Bock.

This is her review.

Thomas Bock was living not far from where Ikon gallery now stands when he was found guilty of the crime that would see him transported to a British penal settlement. He had tried to force his impregnated mistress into miscarrying by consuming poison; mother and child survived and in 1823 Bock was sentenced to 14 years transportation. Bock (c.1793-1855) had previously demonstrated artistic competency, so upon arrival in Hobart, Van Diemen’s Land (Tasmania) his servitude was first in commercial design and then portrait commissions for free settlers.

The rationale for this exhibition at a contemporary art gallery emerges within the context of Ikon’s complementary show, ‘In Place of Hate’, by artist Edmund Clark. Both exhibitions focus on the role of the artist within a juridical system. Clark is artist-in-residence at HMP Grendon, Buckinghamshire; Bock convicted felon.

The museum-style Bock exhibition is brimming with modestly sized, identically framed, drawings and watercolours. A handful of Degas-esque nudes of Bock’s second wife openly permit the viewer to indulge in her solid form and his dexterous dabs of white pencil-highlights elicit lifelike hips and bottoms. These skilful observations are conventional in subject matter, but beguile in their virtuosity and mimicry of glowing skin. Also included are colour-tinted daguerreotypes, a logical progression for Bock in his quest for verisimilitude.

The gallery includes sketchbooks enshrined in vitrines. Open pages reveal, initially, un-remarkable pencil sketches of a man’s head, tilted backwards, presumed asleep. The title, ‘Alexander Pearce Executed for Murder July 19th 1824’, signals their drama. These are post-mortem recordings of a hanged man. Pearce was a thief, transported to a notorious penal station, escaping twice and surviving both times on human flesh. They were commissioned by a colonial surgeon to reveal the corpse’s psychology. However, Bock’s journalistic stilled-life observations record the cannibal unsensationally. Another restrained but emotionally charged memento mori is of Edwin, Bock’s deceased son.

Inside another case, beneath a light-shielding cloak, is a full-length vulnerable watercolour of a child, wearing a vivid Western-style red dress, posed obediently, school-photograph style. Ikon’s gallery assistant nicknamed this exquisitely painted face, the ‘Mona Lisa of Tasmania’. The enigmatic expression belongs to seven-year-old Aborigine Mithina, ‘adopted’ in 1842 by wealthy colonialists who commissioned Bock’s painting. Mithina’s governors left the colony, abandoning her to a wretched fate. This tragic interference epitomises how British settlers imposed themselves and their customs upon native populations.

On the gallery’s surrounding walls is Bock’s terrific portrait series of Aborigines, commissioned by George Augustus Robinson in 1831-35, who instrumented their exile and ‘resettlement’, betraying the indigenous people ultimately to prison-style conditions and persecution. In one painting, the deeply furrowed brow of Manalakina (Mannalargenna) looks directly at the artist, therefore us. His multiple neck jewellery, deftly braided hair coated in red ochre and smoking bush-fire stick is ethnographically revealing. Other realistically modelled Aborigines wear kangaroo furs and clasp spears. However, these were never intended as works of art, and you wonder what the sitters would think about being gawped at in a post-colonial UK contemporary gallery.

Thomas Bock didn’t portray Aborigines as exotic, or unlawful, but empathetically as proud and healthy individuals with names, characteristics and accessories. Bock was a criminal, forced to relocate, so how could he pass judgement? By showing this exhibition in the UK at a time of great anxiety over migration, prison capacities and uncertainties over identity and borders, this exhibition of drawings made almost 200-years ago in a colonised land, has a contemporary resonance to match its historical significance.

Rachel Magdeburg

‘Thomas Bock’ continues at Ikon Gallery, Birmingham until 11 March 2018.


During the third writer development workshop at Ikon Gallery in Birmingham, all the writers visited the current exhibitions at the gallery (‘In Place of Hate’ by Edmund Clark and ‘Thomas Bock’).

Frieze deputy editor Amy Sherlock led the workshop and asked the writers to file a 600-word review of one of the shows, written as if for the Frieze reviews section, which Sherlock edits.

Seven out of the eight writers chose to review the Edmund Clark show. Following feedback from Sherlock and a light edit, this is Cardiff-based Bob Gelsthorpe’s review of ‘In Place of Hate’.

Don’t worry about the fish, they don’t know any better. Imprisonment, represented by goldfish in an aquarium, is a tired anthropomorphism on show at the entrance to ‘In Place of Hate’, an exhibition by the British artist Edmund Clark. Placed on the gallery’s reception desk and hallways, Hantarex monitors, formally akin to a boxy fish tank, show five looped one-minute videos of fish circling a bowl. The gravity of this pithy visual metaphor is only stimulated on exiting the exhibition.

The works on Ikon’s second-floor galleries are a cultivation of the observer/ subject relationship. A lightbox traces the size of a cell at HMP Grendon, Europe’s only wholly therapeutic prison, and its title reflects the cell’s exact size: 1.98m²(2017). It feels small because it is small. Weeds, grasses and flowers found around the prison, between the barbed wire and brick, are lit on the lightbox which is waist-high like a vitrine.

The piece sidesteps any empty rhetoric about value structures, our interaction with the work addressing the issue of permission with brutal clarity: who has access to what space? The inmates at Grendon, despite its progressive approach, are still very much in detention. Their access to the natural detritus displayed in the lightbox is limited and so it is a choreographed image of detention itself – it shows the proximity and distance to a free life that inmates must constantly physically and mentally deal with.

Clark was artist-in-residence at Grendon for three years. Established in 1962 as a ‘democratic therapeutic community prison’, Grendon represents a shift in attitudes from championing the value of detention to investing in rehabilitation and understanding. Part of Clark’s residency involved him running art groups at the prison, always observing, as he states in the accompanying exhibition catalogue, “…the binary of the good and evil that afflicts the discussion of criminal justice…”.

The video installation Oresteia (2017) is formed of comfortable, low, blue seating arranged in a circle, just like any group therapy meeting – which is exactly what it is taken from. Three of the seats are occupied by more Hantarex monitors. Masked actors in psychodrama therapy present personalised versions of the Greek trilogy of plays that the title comes from, covering justice, revenge and never-ending cycles.

Two wall-mounted posters from Grendon are designed with intervention in mind. Untitled Diagram 2 (2017), shows a path of life in the style of a London tube map. It starts with either ‘Born strong’ or ‘Born vulnerable’ and ends in ‘Life’, ‘Lifelong personality disorder’ or ‘Suicide’. This visual representation of personality development pathways breaks the heart. Its place in this exhibition is an empathetic juggernaut.

All prisoners have consented to be in Oresteia, with their identity concealed. They even consented to be in Grendon as all inmates volunteer to be transferred there. But this final layer of consent – the filming – keeps throwing back difficult ethical questions. The deep complexity within the psychology of the offenders’ leaves me feeling somewhere between a participant and voyeur.

Clark rejects the binary perception of prisoners as good or bad, stable or unstable. Yet the opposing forces of inside/outside are rife throughout ‘In Place of Hate’; they clash and attempt to take into account the ethical complexities of incarceration itself. Addressing those complexities is what gives the exhibition its slippage, as opposed to its purpose. Just as in the personality development pathways poster, it is possible to deviate from a cycle. All it needs is total commitment and total attention – ‘In Place of Hate’ demands the same.

Bob Gelsthorpe

‘Edmund Clark: In Place of Hate’ continues at Ikon Gallery, Birmingham until 11 March 2018.


Stemming from the second writer development workshop at Jerwood Space in London, Carrie Foulkes decided to write a profile of the Newcastle-based artist Nicola Singh – one of three artists chosen for the 3-Phase programme.

Working across performance, sculpture, installation and text, artist Nicola Singh is known for her process-driven installations and innovative performances. Concerned with the unique characteristics and energy of a space, Singh facilitates encounters between bodies and objects. A collective approach to making work is important to the artist, who says: “I love it when I can see that an object has been through something, that it is part of a conversation of minds and bodies.” She holds that “the body is a thinking thing” – the body holds knowledge and can express that knowledge in multiple ways.

Born in Newcastle in 1986 and still based in the city, Singh recently completed a practice-led PhD in Fine Art at Northumbria University, for which she submitted a dissertation by performance. A sensitivity to place and intuitive use of sound is noticeable in her work, informed by her previous studies – an MA in Curating from the University of Sunderland and a BA in Contemporary Music Performance and Visual Arts from Dartington College of Arts.

Singh is one of three artists selected for the Jerwood 3-Phase programme and her exhibition at London’s Jerwood Space is the first of three that form the award. Her installation (Sweet Spot, 2017) features drapes of pink fabric bearing outlines of human bodies inked in white. White wooden bars are fixed to two opposing walls and an oblong cushion is propped against a third wall. It feels as if something is going to happen in this space, or that these objects are the detritus of an event that has already unfolded.

The sense of being in a room full of props is confirmed during a performance by Singh and two collaborators – Jenny Moore and Harriet Plewis – on a November evening at the gallery. Dressed in matching denim costumes handmade by Singh, the three women sing, chant and move in the space, playfully interacting with each other and the installation. Phrases are repeated; fragments of text are sounded in unison. These phrases have their origins in a workshop in Newcastle run by Singh with four women artists. She initiated an automatic writing exercise and then condensed these writings into a single text. A recording of her reading this text serves as a soundscape for her installation.

As part of this workshop the women drew around each other on the pink fabric which was then put on view at Jerwood, traces of the human form suspended from the beams. In this way, Singh’s installation simultaneously serves as a set up for a performance and a documentation of something that’s already transpired.

The preparation for the performance consisted of one afternoon of ‘hanging out’ with Moore and Plewis – Singh wouldn’t refer to this as a rehearsal – and improvising in the space. She instigated conversations, an invitation to explore the terrain of the exhibited works, rather than giving specific instructions: “It’s so refreshing,” I overhear a fellow audience member saying to Singh after the performance, “to see something so spontaneous and fun.”

Singh’s openness to chance and collaboration is evident in previous works such as FIGURE FOUR presented at Baltic39 in 2017, one element of which was a workshop for artists in which the practitioners were invited to respond to a prompt from a Paul Thek work to ‘make a monkey out of clay’. Interactions with the clay and each other became a starting point for discussions around pedagogy. The clay monkeys themselves, after spurring these conversations, appeared as ‘moments’ in an installation.

A further show at Baltic39, ‘The sounds here are bouncing around us and Susan and Anne and that Object’, was conceived of as a ‘performed or workshopped exhibition’, experimenting with the ways in which ‘language can be heard, visualised and choreographed’. Writing for Corridor8, reviewer Eleanor Benson comments: ‘Interestingly, what resonated throughout each installation piece was the importance of their devising as a fluid process, over traditional aims to generate a self-conscious final aesthetic.’

The unique challenges of exhibiting performance are well known to Sarah Williams, head of Jerwood Visual Arts and a 3-Phase selector. The opportunity to exhibit at Jerwood offered Singh a new way of working. Williams says that Singh “does something with the space that no other performing artist I’ve worked with has done”. Singh’s diverse involvement with performing arts includes the founding in 2010 of the organisation Tender Buttons alongside artist Tess Denman-Cleaver, hosting workshops, installations and public interventions in a wide range of settings including ‘warehouses, galleries, train stations and headphones’.

Singh’s subsequent role as lead artist and curator of collaborative research project Life Without Buildings saw her devising a series of events including a collective bike ride, an acoustic performance in a disused building and a procession. All these events explored ways of thinking with and through movement and sound in relation to architecture. This focus on collaborative practice, present in her earliest public works, continues to be a vital element of her work today.

Singh is keen “to meet the room with the objects”, a site-specific approach that fits well with the 3-Phase challenge for artists to, as Williams puts it, “respond to different locations, gallery contexts, social and architectural spaces” over the course of the three exhibitions at Jerwood, Workplace Gallery and Eastside Projects. Once dormant in the gallery, Singh’s sculptures invite touch and participation. Singh replaced the existing audio with a new audio recording of her Jerwood performance, creating a new layer of this evolving piece, vestiges of performed events, of bodies and voices held and witnessed by the room. As with so many of her previous projects, the space is both a repository for the echoes of past gestures and a springboard for the next phases of development.

Carrie Foulkes

3-Phase was at Jerwood Space, London, 8 November – 10 December 2017. Nicola Singh’s solo exhibition will be at Eastside Projects, Birmingham in autumn 2018.


Gateshead-based writer Rachel Magdeburg chose to write about the Newcastle artist Nicola Singh for her 3-Phase artist profile.

Language is thrilling and pivotal to the artist Nicola Singh, and her words and those of others are used with precision to create multiple meanings in her work. Sweet Spot is the title of her recent installation at Jerwood Space, London, but the connotation here is less racket sport and more female body, specifically the voice.

Singh is one of three early-career artists selected for 3-Phase, a programme of development delivered by Jerwood Charitable Foundation, WORKPLACE, Gateshead and Eastside Projects, Birmingham. This accolade is a tribute to the commitment Singh has given to her practice since completing her MA in Curating Performance at Sunderland University in 2011, when bringing artists together shaped her subsequent ideas. Since then, she has appeared in a dizzying number of events, projects and partnerships in various guises: artist, DJ, writer, educator, mentor, performer, researcher and sound producer.

Listening to the disembodied, deep tones of Nicola Singh’s voice that persist throughout her 3-Phase exhibition, I’m made conscious of my hunched posture; as she accurately claims, the monologue “puts you in your body”. The spoken words were taken from Singh’s recent practice-based PhD at Northumbria University, where she innovatively performed her thesis. Trained as a singer and interested in how sound and words operate, her prosaic, unwavering delivery is all over the space. The words are sensual, arousing: “I push my buttocks open, my lips are open and I drool, I drool on you… Open my legs, drop down, legs apart”.

Something had clearly occurred at Jerwood Space before the exhibition opened, hinted at by white crime-scene body outlines and peachy domestic objects, all suggestive of a body’s presence. Singh describes these as “small moments that act as sites for performance” and the props were later used in a live event with artist and musician Jenny Moore and regular collaborator Harriet Plewis.

Her exhibition ‘the sounds here are bouncing around us and Susan and Anne and that object‘, staged earlier this year at Newcastle gallery BALTIC 39, had the onomatopoeic phrase ‘Slapping Noises’ stenciled out of wheat fronds on the wall, in a font reminiscent of heavy metal band typography. Other words Singh uses are spoken, sung, printed or acoustically and digitally manipulated, and the titles for her projects illustrate her methodology and humour.

Singh’s relationship with Gateshead’s Baltic Centre for Contemporary Art has taken many forms: student, performer, exhibitor, invited speaker and regular freelance artist for educational activities. In her own words she “loves” working with children as “there is no bullshit” and workshops are a two-way exchange.

Singh almost always works with other people and artists want to work with her. After a recent Embodied Listening workshop, part of artist Sonya Dyer’s ‘Claudia Jones Space Station’ project, I spoke with a mother and daughter who had been drawn in by Singh who promised an “unexpected experience”. They had originally intended to visit the gallery shop.

Born in Newcastle and with strong connections throughout the North-East, Singh is well-known within the fresh and pulsating artistic community. Much of this thriving activity revolves around the NewBridge Project, BALTIC 39, Vane, and Northern Charter where Singh has her studio, alongside other performance artists Susie Green and Tess Denman-Cleaver.

In 2010 Singh co-founded the performance company Tender Buttons with Denman-Cleaver, its current artistic director. The pair have known each other since they both attended Dartington College of Arts, where Singh studied Experimental Music and Visual Art (2005-2008). Denman-Cleaver marvels at Singh’s work ethic and her “care for the people involved, the complicated cobwebs of collaborations she maintains, and care for how ideas are borne out… this includes the delicate phrasing of an invitation to collaborate, the food and blankets she provides when you get together, and her attention to the difficult questions of authorship that arise within collaborations”.

For Singh, such collaborations are reciprocal and sociable. Sunday afternoons are spent singing, sharing curry and having “movement conversations” with other female artists. She works within a feminist discourse and feels most at ease with these invitees, orchestrating scenarios for them to work with and within.

In person, Singh is alluring, articulate and fashionable, and her performance costumes (wrestling masks, day-glo pink shell-suits, floating capes, bleached denim) are equally striking. She speaks openly about the adrenalin of performance, “harnessing the energy”, “owning the space”, which is the “bedrock” for her activities.

Northumbria University’s postgraduate artist community has established itself with a strong reputation for performance, led by practitioner Dr Sandra Johnson. In a formative durational performance at BALTIC 39 in 2014, whilst she was studying an MRes in Fine Art, Singh responded to the exhibition RIFT with her hypnotic work ‘Chasing Waterfalls’. Wearing a flowing garment and mimicking waterfalls, her movements were soundtracked by Enya’s equally mesmerising ‘Orinoco Flow’.

In the past Singh has said she will “resist as much as I can the urge to make an exhibition”. An exhibition instead is “an expanded performance” and her upcoming solo project will be at Eastside Projects in autumn 2018. When probed on what this might be, the gallery’s director Gavin Wade coyly says there are “no fixed plans, which is how Nicola and I like it!” Also coming up in the new year at Sidney Cooper Gallery, Canterbury, is a new exhibition using Dada artist Elsa von Freytag-Loringhoven’s poem ‘Appalling Heart’ as a starting point. As Denman-Cleaver aptly says about Singh, “her shit is on fire atm”.

Rachel Magdeburg

3-Phase was at Jerwood Space, London, 8 November – 10 December 2017. Nicola Singh’s solo exhibition will be at Eastside Projects, Birmingham in autumn 2018.