- Stryx, Digbeth
- West Midlands
- a person or thing that mixes things together, in particular an electric mixing machine used in food preparation for liquidizing, chopping, or pureeing.
- BLENDER is 2019’s serving of the SOUP residency, designed by Stryx, an artist-led gallery and studios in Digbeth, Birmingham. The programme, supported by Arts Council England, combines a selection of artists, encouraging them to develop a new body of work within a shared space and thus generating new and invigorating creative flavours. On the menu this year was a delicious blend of Matthew Gale, Gemma Jones, Lucy Andrews and Kurt Hickson, creating an immediately delightful aroma of mixed practices.
Each incarnation of SOUP delivers a new pathway for the participating artists and, as a member of the growing SOUP alumni, I was excited to interact with this year’s bowlful.
Now in the fifth portion of the SOUP residency, artists completed a two-month residency featuring three public exhibitions. Following which, each artist is exhibiting a summer solo show hosted by The Asylum Art Gallery, Wolverhampton. This partnership grows from successes within SOUP VI, highlighting the potential for both artist and organisation progression within the region. The opportunity to exhibit unaccompanied adds a new and professionally encouraging opportunity to the residency’s participating artists, allowing each member of the cohort to further develop their new body of work whilst considering how to negotiate the transition into a fresh space.
Photograph by Marcin Sz.
So… How is a group artist residency like a blender?
A blender takes several elements and creates a single combined substance. It is a producer and unifier, acting in a way which allows the strengths of each component to contribute to a triumphant whole. Inheriting its name from a machine which interacts with ingredients, SOUP Pt V: BLENDER signified a refreshing return to the contemporary use of material within the practices of participating artists. A puree of obnoxiously coloured silicon, spilt spray paints, earthy aluminium and an unnerving amount of pink satin was seasoned with a zest of the natural world; Melting sea water jelly and mushrooms created a sensory delight for the viewer, born of the contrast between nature and the man-made.
Throughout the manipulation of material, participating artists shared exploration in perceptions of gender. In the final group exhibition, we were treated to a performance of heightened femininity, contrasted with a secretive, dark and graffitied man cave. Meanwhile, the gallery was quietly overrun with depictions of women in historically typical working roles, scattered amongst fantastical depictions of the domestic future, welcoming the sci-fi queering of lifestyle in order to preserve our environment.
Combined, the artists presented a professional and slick bowl of SOUP which reflected on humanity’s contemporary crises: how we perceive ourselves and how those selves direct our social and biological environments. This definite self-awareness of mounting tensions was apparent throughout the residency, developing the gallery into a habitat which juxtaposed both utopian and dystopian aesthetics.
As the chefs of SOUP, Stryx directors Karolina Korupczynska and Anna Katarzyna Domejko create a nurturing environment for participating artists, with a programme which encourages critical thinking of practices within the project, whilst encouraging social interaction across Birmingham’s many creative professionals. Alongside group curatorial meetings, the participating artists were mentored by Ikon Gallery’s Exhibitions Manager Roma Piotrowska. This continues to be a valuable asset to the development of the artists both individually and as a collective, providing specialised insight on the professional presentation and direction of artwork.
Alongside this, Stryx invited SOUP alumnus Fred Hubble to speak with the cohort about his personal successes both during and following his residency. Creative practitioners are generally too well familiar with the anti-climactic feeling which follows a busy and successful project and so introducing this discussion amongst the programme of the project encourages an extended momentum and forward-facing attitude amongst participants. Integration of previous participants alongside the latest group shows the development of the SOUP residency as a feather in the cap of Birmingham-based artists, creating a particular shared fondness for Stryx and those that have occupied the flexible and encouraging space throughout the years.
This friendly atmosphere is inviting to the audiences of the residency, as the artists initiated each exhibition opening by publicly speaking about their artwork and experiences. This stimulated conversations about the concepts and processes that we were served in each spoonful, animating the discussions of the space whilst promoting another bold and assured group of SOUP artists.
Meanwhile, Stryx have actively shared the life, humour and personality which occurs behind closed doors via the introduction of new social media strategy. Utilising the storytelling talents of Ed Wakefield, marketing and project assistant, the gallery has invited their audience to share in the joys of the SOUP programme. The delivery of this platform, including regular vlogging, tweeting and Instagram stories, encouraged audience awareness of the project’s qualities. Paired with online publishing of professional photography from Marcin Sz, Stryx provided an alternative accessibility to the residency for those who were not able to experience the exhibitions in person.
Now, with the group exhibitions behind us and the solo shows in full swing, it is evident that Stryx have served another successful (and tasty!) bowl of their signature dish. Within their depictions of a bizarre and colourful future, the BLENDER residency artists have shown that a platform providing space and time to respond to our situation is increasingly necessary. A clear depiction of why the SOUP residency remains so important within the development of both Midlands-based artists and Stryx Gallery, the SOUP Pt V cohort are moving forward as confident practitioners with individual pathways. It is true that, once blended, it is impossible to return ingredients to their original, separate state and that remains evident here; Embarking solo, the artists retain fiercely supportive bonds and irreversible friendships which can only enhance their ventures out of the bowl and into the kitchen.
More information and images can be found at www.stryx.co.uk or @stryx_gallery
Review by Emily Scarrott