Burton Art Gallery and Museum, Bideford
South West England


The gallery is a large, square room and as I entered I saw a collection of objects and wall-based work. They were mostly monochrome and the lights were focused on the work leaving areas of the gallery in dusky light. A table by the entrance with feedback forms and a basket of ‘Bideford Black’ rock made me feel welcome, where the work did not initially. I looked for a place to begin and was drawn to the mark-making action on the 5 screens ahead of me. The noise of an artist making repetitive movements overlaid the space with an eery, other-worldly atmosphere.

This exhibition shows the work by commissioned artists who explored the local pigment ‘Bideford Black’  over the course of a year. Given that there was a year of activity, the exhibition seems at first quite sparse and the artists’ ‘representation’ must have been carefully chosen as I’m guessing that each artist could have used up the whole gallery space. A commissioned filmmaker, Liberty Smith, documented the artists’ exploration and the resulting film is screened in an attached room. Watching this film made all the difference to how I felt about the exhibition. I changed from a rather disengaged (though happy with my stick of rock) visitor to a fully converted fan of the artists and their work. I know that there’s an argument that art shouldn’t have to be ‘explained’ but frankly I reckon it has its place, and its place was most definitely here.

The accompanying A4 information leaflet acknowledges that visitors may find the exhibition challenging and refers to the work of Joseph Kosuth’ s 1965 ‘One and Three Chairs’ which consisted of a chair, a photograph of a chair and a printed dictionary definition of a chair.

It states:

Not all of the works you are experiencing here are Bideford Black pigment as found in its natural state. The pigment is more than a medium. We might describe these works as a collection that together provides a three dimensional portrait of the material, seen through the minds of the artists.

Three-dimensional it certainly is, and more so… I would say four-dimensional and it is these ‘4D’ experiences within the exhibition that meant I left inspired and stimulated. When I sniffed a drum of coal and got a nose-full of perfume I cemented my lasting memory and chosen ‘favourite’ work. Created by Sam Treadaway, who imagined the original scent of the foliage and trees in the Carboniferous period that compacted over millions of years to make the Bideford Black pigment. I loved this. And having already heard about this work in Liberty Smith’s film meant I was open to a zing-ping moment and to viewing Bideford Black in a totally unexpected and exciting way.