New Art Gallery Walsall
West Midlands

All art is political? – Yoke & Zoom – Mobile Cottage industries.

In the atrium of New Art Gallery Walsall you will find a caravan, but no ordinary caravan, a thatched, mock Tudor caravan. It is the work of Yoke & Zoom artist collaboration. Yoke and Zoom are Nina Coulson and Alex Johnson. Based in Malvern, Worcestershire, their practice investigates the politics of art production in the public realm. They have set out to create a small mobile cottage in the foyer of the gallery by renovating a 1957, 2-berth caravan. Their work is often in context, site-specific and responsive, it involves some sort of distribution and as in the assembling of the caravan post-production. In previous projects they have bred and sold four-leaf clovers and flown artworks by pigeon post. I have been visiting the gallery each week to track their progress, I have also been lucky enough to drop into some of the events and talks that the gallery had to offer.

On my first visit I went to a talk by Jessica Voorsanger who created a Karaoke stage as a part of the Celebrity exhibition. She talked about her work; a childhood obsession with David Cassidy, a pseudo-mocking of David Hockney and she also gave us a superb Karaoke. Downstairs sharing the atrium are another artist couple – Abigail Hunt and Kieren Reed. Under the joint name ‘KADN’ they have a kiosk, which is the centrepiece for an interactive art, which involves collaboration with the gallery going public. You can sit down with them or commission them to create art works for you, the subject of which is up to you. It could be political, protest or celebration; you could create a fanzine, rosette or placard. Kiosks are symbols of social art, information points, and news stations. Rodchenko famously designed kiosks of various size and grandeur, but they were never realised, here KADN resurrect this ideal with this modest but beautiful dark blue kiosk filled with a wonderment of utopian ephemera. If you get chance to catch the KADN kiosk in a future venue, stop and join in a protest, chat or celebration.

The following week I returned to New Art Gallery to see Yoke & Zoom’s progress. The structural work had been considered and it looked ready for the thatch application. The process of post-production in the open of the posh, polished atrium is a strange process, at one point two elderly sisters popped in to see Yoke & Zoom and re-visited childhood memories of holidaying in a similar caravan. The idea of conversion not only engages the public in the build like a ‘grand design’ but questions this idea of a national identity. The thatched Tudor cottage is a quintessential image of Englishness. The Tudor brand, the rose is familiar and romantic to the tourist visitors that enjoy places like the Cotswolds and Yoke & Zoom’s home county of Worcestershire. But how does this idea play out in the heart of the Black Country, a mobilised thatched cottage parked in Gallery Square in between a Wetherspoons and a Woolworths. The old and the new quintessential England?

On this visit I was lucky enough to catch another talk, Stuart Whipps was in conservation about his recent return and exhibition of photography from China and the reconstitution of the Longbridge Rover plant. The exhibition is in two parts, the hang and a book entitled Ming Jue. Whipps photography has a strong style and set format, it is quiet, contemplative and rich. The documentation of the Rover plant in both parts of the world is done seemingly without any attention to the economic politics involved, and during the talk the conversation was about the photographs, the quality and style. The site at Longbridge drew him in originally, ‘a monolithic scale’ this project then grew with the politics of closure and foreign investment that afforded Whipps with the re-documentation of the ‘new’ Longbridge site in China. The photographs are engaging, atmospheric and emotive, they are charged by this political legacy of the failed British car industry and now framed in the new politics of emerging superpowers. The talk was interesting but I found it odd that this work that feeds off these issues is not specifically about this in any way other than in context. I got the sense that the subject was far too divisive and complicated to enter into a political critique.

My recent time spent at The New Art Gallery Walsall has been really rewarding, looking at art and economic politics, art and the public realm and art and the politics of identity. It has been a real insight into the power of a local gallery, how a programme of events and talks can activate an audience. So all in all an excellent few weeks of shows and talks at The New Art Gallery Walsall, I went to see Yoke & Zoom and found myself involved in a range of talks and workshops, this gallery is really accessible and really make visitors relax, I can see why the people of Walsall are so proud of this gallery space.

Yoke and Zoom will be taking the completed Mobile Caravan outside into Gallery Square for visitors to enter and explore on Tuesday 1st July and Saturday 5th July 11am-3pm. Drop by for a slice of cake and a cup of tea! In the meantime, you can follow all the renovations made to the caravan by reading Yoke and Zoom's online