Sheffield takes its name from the River Sheaf, which can be traced back to the Old English word shed; as in water shed. Of course watershed also alludes to the evening airtime of adult-content T.V in Britain. I’d like to think this relates to the purpose of my blog: to explore the critical, un-edited and fast-flowing current of contemporary art running through Sheffield – and my practice, currently situated there.
I recently interviewed artists at the exhibition “Where is the work?”, the degree show for Sheffield Hallam University’s MA Fine Art programme. My review can be found on Interface, here is the link:
More Sheffield shenanigans to follow soon!
“Then there was a long silence”
I have, as you can fathom for yourselves from the chronological chasm in my postings, been away. My last post on this particular blog was a year ago to the month, in fact. It was also one of my first. The “great ambitions” this blog held were left, it seems, to linger without a voice.
But life does not always play the game fairly, and sometimes we must simply swallow our pride, accept our misfortune and move on.
So, despite an incredibly challenging 2012 involving a creative breakdown, the loss of a job, the loss of some things more personal than that and, to top it all off, the defacing of a Rothko mural by a homeless Russian artist, I am here, re-emerging like a slightly bedraggled phoenix from a recently dampened fire and, in the words of Lewis Carroll’s White Rabbit, “I’m late”. So let’s get on with it, shall we?
Sheffield based artist Richard Bartle created a truly awe-inspiring exhibition, which launched on the 15 December 2012 and continued until recently (23 February 2013) at 20-21 Visual Arts Centre, Scunthorpe. It will then, as far as I’m aware, be re-opening in Dublin at the Irish Museum of Contemporary Art on the 2nd of April. The title of the collective works, Deities at the bottom of the garden, is a playful-cum-political heading and it sums up double-edged qualities you are likely to find when viewing the work. Twelve minute, intricately hand-made garden sheds, each containing a religious temple of worship, sit silently in space, resting on their very own shrine – the plinth; a homage to the contemporary idols of the art world.
Yet beyond their beauty lurks a complex dialogue. The sheds converse with one another, uncovering the similarities and conflicts that emerge between the aesthetics of their religious traditions, and challenging the viewer to confront his/her own idea of personal vs. public faith. In a world where tolerance is regarded as the gateway to civilization, where wars are fought over doctrine and land, where people are persecuted for believing in a higher power and the ever prominent concept of ‘individual faith’ is favoured, this show provides an incredibly refreshing, honest window into the soul of art.
I wrote the text for the catalogue accompanying this exhibition, and after several months contemplating the multilayered, multifaceted surfaces of Bartle’s work, I am still surprised by the wonder of its scope, poetry and finesse. Seeing the exhibition in the unique space of 20-21 Gallery, itself a former church, I felt a shiver run down my spine. After years of painstaking, committed labour, the faithful artist could see his vision fulfilled – it was a privileged moment to bear witness to.
I would be interested to know how the work fairs on tour, and if the necessary tensions between its physical and philosophical form remain intact.
In the mean time, please visit the press release for further information:
Or purchase a catalogue, itself a carefully crafted relic of the show:
Read more about the catalogue, including an excerpt of my essay Being and essay on the subject of Deities at the bottom of the garden, on my website:
Argh! I have so much to write about yet no time. Deadlines are steaming past me like herds of wildebeest intent on catching the last train home. Or something.
Sheffield is alight with events of peaceful protest against the cuts in funding, and artists are busying themselves with various opportunities. And though it may be late, I shall write of them here soon.
In the mean time, from one blog to another, you can read an article I’ve been working on. It’s for the Sheffield mag Exposed, and features S1 Artspace and their new show by Jennifer West: Aloe Vera and Butter. Check it out here:
Right. got to dash…I can see another deadline trying to hide behind a gnu in the luggage rack….
Last night I went to see The Artist, by Michel Hazanavicius at The Showroom Cinema. As a motion picture, paying homage to the golden silence of the pre-talkie era, The Artist was bewitching. It captivated and beguiled, using exaggerated narrative to sweep the audience through the eccentric world of the silent star.
However, I was catapulted back into the world of noise half way through, when a lady at the front of the cinema was taken ill and the projectionist had to pause the film until an ambulance arrived. In this moment, when hushed whispers changed to audible concern, we were ushered into the bar to wait and I found myself thinking about the potency of life without words.
A few days go I visited the Site gallery to see an exhibition by Zoe Beloff: The Infernal dream of Mutt & Jeff. In the gallery were a 16mm film projection and a cartoon playing in the corner. The projection, made up of old industrial training films which Beloff had rescued from scrap, was set into motion with a narrative that explored the productivity of movement, objects and the factory. The cartoon was an old clip of a Mutt & Jeff sequence, in which the comic pair found themselves trapped in hell by a devil (whom they ended up tossing into a frying pan in a bid to stay alive).
In The Artist, there were moments that slipped from silence to sound so seamlessly it was as though the world had momentarily put on a pair of glasses and seen life through a slightly sharper, more three-dimensional lens, before blinking and sinking back into the comfort of a familiar image. A glass clinked, a chair scraped, a feather fell with the deafening thud of a meteorite – and the world swam underwater once more.
Similarly, Zoe Beloff highlighted the significance of cinematic apparatus as a sensory tool, moving the viewer between reality and a dream-like state in which objects took on a life of their own. Objects and tools forged a dialogue between motion and its co-conspirator – line.
Through line, animation can cause the total destruction of law. Characters can die and then spring back into life, tunnels can be dug through the sky and chickens can fall from the sea into the sun. Anything can happen. Motion becomes excessive, and reality is transformed into potentiality.
Beloff is, it seems, very much concerned with the crashing world of materiality. Her films demonstrate a need to re-construct language out of something cast-off, and re-imbue it with a sense of life and philosophical integrity. The cartoon becomes a meta-narrative for the motion-driven world in which we find ourselves plummeting. Motivational factory footage is given a new voice in a new institution – the gallery.
In The Artist, the idea of a new voice speaking is a site of trauma for the protagonist, George Valentin. His dreams are nightmares in which the whole world can speak but him. Just as Beloff gives life to the discarded object, Hazanavicius gives sound to the sets and props surrounding Valentin. His world is temporarily animated and in it he thrashes around, a mute entity.
When the film screening was interrupted by last night’s incident, I thought about the lady who lay still on the floor, mute while the world busied itself around her. I thought about how the reality of sound, or movement, can seem like a foreign land. Valentin feared the acceptance of his own voice, as much as the presence of it. Beloff’s work feared the lack of a human voice, exposing it through the movement of an object or line.
We are never really able to hear our own voice, and in this way we are reliant on the echoes and reverberations cast around us to navigate our way. A moving image and an audible sound both tell us something of the silence in which we really exist.
I lived in London for seven years. I moved down there to study Fine Art, and went on to discover a passion for writing. By the end of my Masters, I found myself in a bit of a black hole. The recession was in full swing, the lease on my flat was up, and most of my friends had moved on to procreate, settle down or ‘find themselves’. There was no question – if I stayed in the capital, I would have to work day and night to pay the rent, and live with a bunch of strangers. It was “No deal, please, Noel” for me. I closed the box.
So here I am, at the start of a brand new year. And where is here? Sheffield. My home town. The last place on earth I thought I’d ever be. Not because it’s horrible, or bleak or anything. But because, well – when you leave home for good, you don’t much think of going back as moving forward, do you?
But, and here’s the irony of life, since coming back up north I’ve felt more like myself than I have in years. I’m not saying it’s all down to moving location, no one ever really finds themselves in India – they just go there because they know they’ve got to look somewhere, and they say a change is as good as a rest. Well, Sheffield HAS changed since I was last here – and despite all the familiarity, there’s so much I don’t recognise.
When I left Sheffield, I was a timid teenager with all the social graces of a startled rabbit. I endured an education in which learning was considered very uncool, and only lead me to bury my head in as many books as possible, thus earning the griping nick name “boffin head”. To me, Sheffield was a place where art meant the completion of a paint-by-numbers picture and a successful stint in the sandpit. No one gave the time of day to contemporary art in my life, it was almost a dirty word, relegated to the spitting red-faced bloke with the builder’s bum who might mention “modern art”, but only to mock it with common phrases such as “what a load of *&%$£!” Or “my dead grandmother could paint better than that.”
So when I left for London I was utterly shocked to discover that not only did people talk about art, they made it too. And leaving seemed, well – a ridiculous idea. And leaving for Sheffield? Why would I want to do that?
But it’s been a real eye-opener, coming ‘home’. Yes, I’ve had to suffer the social embarrassment of moving back in with my family in my late twenties, but in all honesty, it’s given me the freedom to jump off the racing rat-wheel and take a look around. And I am really starting to like what I see!
Only this morning I read an article on the guardian about the North’s rise in studios, artists, creative outlets and opportunities – and all this during the biggest political catastrophe since the nation mistook Mrs Thatcher for an actual woman. Great stuff! I’ve even interviewed a few bright young things of the art world myself this month, in preparation for a new article, and discovered a genuine support structure running through the city, encouraging artists to develop their work.
I’m pretty excited. This isn’t London – and yes, I do miss it – but it is starting to feel like a place in which my life can thrive, for however long I’m here. So – whilst I am here, I thought it might be a good idea to kick off some dialogue and share the scene.
It’s my ambition that this blog might eventually become a bit of a voice for critical integrity in Sheffield – there’s a lot going on in the city, but written commentary is still sparse. If I was going to dream, (and you’ve got to, haven’t you?) I’d say that this is a starting point for the Sheffield based art/writing publication I may eventually find the resources to run. . . nudge, nudge, hint, wink.
So come back soon and “read all about it”! This will be my Sheffield Review.