AirSpace Gallery is pleased to be one of three hosts of New Art West Midlands 2018 – the 6th iteration of this showcase of exciting new contemporary art by Fine Art or visual arts graduates of the five University art schools in the region: Birmingham City University, Coventry University, Staffordshire University, University of Wolverhampton and University of Worcester and Hereford College of Arts.
Since 2013, New Art West Midlands has exhibited work by 149 artists, at seven venues to visitors in excess of 500,000. 15 expert selectors have been involved and £23,000 of prize money, nine bursaries and 20 opportunities (residencies, projects, membership and mentoring) have been awarded.
For New Art West Midlands 2018, 28 artists, all of whom have graduated in the past three years, have been selected to have their work on display at three prestigious local venues. Birmingham Museum & Art Gallery, The Herbert Art Gallery & Museum, Coventry and here at AirSpace Gallery in Stoke-on-Trent.
The nine artists selected to exhibit at AirSpace have all graduated from Birmingham City University and their work mirrors that of the whole exhibition selection - comprising a mix of existing works and new large-scale installations, sculpture, photography, video, animation, paintings and digital artworks, exploring themes of identity, artificial intelligence, blurred reality and more.
New Art West Midlands 2018 > AirSpace > Featured Artists
Installation tourism’….. ‘Local appropriation’
(2017) above left
Mixed media, found materials
George Caswell’s installations are inspired by his consideration of the ‘potential’ of raw materials and everyday objects. The objects that he selects, the photographs that he makes and the configurations that he subsequently constructs are the material forms of his ideas. His ‘art practice’ is the collection, combination and display of found materials.
The resultant installations are compositions of decisions and displays of materials that suggest possible interactions between them. Caswell aims to communicate a dialogue that implies agency, or a situation produced by an event. As well as their interaction, by assigning his objects and materials different roles, he aspires to activate certain properties in them. Working with materials found in AirSpace Gallery, George Caswell’s process combines the tools of ‘Action research’ and Installation sculpture. The site specificity of this work is crucial to the execution and reception. After having spent a number of days within the gallery, as a tourist of the space, Caswell endeavours to capture the foraging aspect of his practice. By presenting a souvenir esque archive of moments and found materials, the work gives an insight to the viewer on the nature of the artist’s experience. Often culminating in staged displays of materials that resonate with the site of the work, Caswell produces a platform for objects to manoeuvre on, but set against a backdrop of familiarity in materials with an aim to disrupt their associated functions with other objects and materials.
Caswell takes a conceptual approach to creativity, which involves his thinking broadly about the context of his work. He conceives of his drawings, paintings and photographs as preliminary visual research which produces ‘formulae’ for decision making about his use of materials in his sculptural installations. It creates opportunities for him to consider found materials just as he would consider, say, colour, line and form in the making of an abstract painting.
(2017) above middle
acetate projection on overhead projector, paper, wood, electrical tape, Lego.
Amrit Doll’s assemblages explore how things come together, and thinking through the act of constructing. Thinking is, itself, a process of constructing: it is a building, a putting together of parts with a purposeful sensibility and a responsiveness to form, a presence, a gravity, a mass through relationality.
In Doll’s installation ConstructionEditingThinking
(2017) objects exist individually and in a composition in space-time, and all the pieces taken together – the light, Lego, wood and blocks – form a relational entity. The installation, as Doll conceives it, becomes a flux to be followed – one that continues to present itself through its de-construction, de-materialization, entanglements and superpositionality.
Influenced by artists Sarah Sze and Helen Marten, the work is attempting to (re)solve itself through its relationalities and its discontinuities, which are similar. Doll writes, “The assemblage is active, it is activity. It is working, it is artwork-ing (the ‘-ing’ solving and resolving). It is elegant activity. Elegant and playful. Elegant, playful and thoughtful activity. That is what it takes to make and put together and how it presents as art. So the artwork is as much about its coming together as about its eventual presentation.”
few objects are fixed: they are usually leaning and resting. This adds a flexibility to the work and creates a potential energy that presents the assemblage as unfinished, just in the way that thinking can be (where threads can be picked up here and there, and re-attached elsewhere to a different concept).
The projected images relate to how ideas are formed, how they materialise and whether their physical manifestation is representative, or whether each idea exists as an individualised, independent entity unable to engage with others. Furthermore, they allude to the business of constructing and of the role and job of the maker, which is to be playful, and to use thinking as a means for exploring and assessing rather than to make reasoned and logical sense. The development of the work, Doll notes, has been influenced by some current inquiry in mathematics, quantum physics and logic and is directly informed by physicist Karen Barad’s research on diffraction.
We Are the Social Media Generation
(2017) above right
multi-media installation, paint text, moving image, mobile phone.
We Are The Social Media Generation
(2017) is a multi-media installation comprising vinyl text on coloured wall panels and moving image on a smartphone. Hanrahan chose the blue background for her text because of its association with Facebook and other popular social media sites. The painted wall is a fundamental element of the installation: the term ‘wall’ is used by Facebook to define the area on somebody’s profile where they, or anyone else authorised to do so, can post images, videos, thoughts, views or criticisms. Hanrahan’s wall provides a physical space for her display of text and video that critiques the ubiquity and influence of social media, which she considers to be inherently distracting. The video displayed on the mobile phone shows a human eye; in it is reflected a phone screen indicating that the person using the phone is constantly scrolling through images on a social media app. The macro-shot footage shows motions of the eye that are normally taken for granted: in everyday life we don’t notice these flickering movements, or the pupil dilating and contracting. While the model’s eye is transfixed by the phone, the viewer (caught in the irony of watching it on a phone screen) is transfixed by the eye. Hanrahan’s aim is momentarily to detach her audience from the act of scrolling through social media, and to cause viewers to connect with the human instead. In a world of technological dependency, even if just for a moment, she brings about enactment of a human relationship.
Hanrahan often uses single words in her art – short, poetic sentences or slogans – and partners them with photographs, objects and/or film to convey a story, memory or feeling. Her current focus on the relationship between humans and technology, especially on our use of social media and the internet, involves exploration of how these have changed the experience, behaviour and psychology of younger generations especially. She investigates how different surfaces, screens, projectors or light relate to the mechanics and materiality of the digital devices that are now so integral to the fabric of everyday life.
Mode of Revealing: Film Object Composition 5 // In Absence of…
(2017) above left
mdf surfaces, projection technologies, looped film
Informed by a sensitivity to technology and ephemera, McClure intends his work to be open-ended. There is a temporal component to its process and reception: its operation rests with the cumulative experience of the viewer. It centres on reframing an existent thing as delicately as possible.
Taking influences from Japanese philosophy and static cinema, his practice explores the poetry of the transient beauty in the fleeting moment, or, experiential event whilst questioning the encounter between affect and moving image technologies. He is interested in the absence of matter in the making of image. It is this awareness of impermanence, the ‘ah ness’ of event and experience that drives the concept for an affirmation of that which is unseen, to reframe, to reconsider, to make relevant that which is often overlooked. To prolong those specific moments and create a space for contemplation.
Instead of filling a space, it conserves it absence.
This new work is a continuation of the concepts born from his ongoing developmental practice, thus creating an affectual film-object where affect appears as the constant within the associated milieu, the co-arising relationship that takes place between artwork, viewer and conditioning environment, to create pure awareness made up of precepts and affects. As Edmund Husserl said ‘Instead of grasping matter, we grasp the corresponding subjective experiences in which we become conscious of them’.
(2016) above middle
acrylic on curved canvas, 228 x 158 cms
Olivia Peake’s art explores the illusionistic qualities of light, surface and space (shared preoccupations of modern architecture and modernist abstract painting). Peake describes her sculpture and installations as “sensory environments of reflective surfaces and minimalist neo-futuristic design, which disorientate the viewer’s perspective, distorting boundaries between media and disrupting spatial limitations.”
Works derived from processes of improvisation and intuitive responses to painting include the installation Emergence
(2016) and the bowed canvas Semblance
(2016), which Peake describes as seemingly having been blown in from the street to rest unsteadily against the corner wall. Her visual vocabulary is one of rhythms of repetition. These don’t just characterise her works’ formal arrangements, but also her aspired process of “creating a continuous flux of re-imagining and re-inventing. One work becomes the tool for making the next; every new discovery is the residue of repetition and every work can be viewed as the index of another.” Peake describes her approach as oscillating purposefully between control and playfulness, and her work between the virtual and the actual, the organic and the artificial, abstraction and representation, complexity and simplicity, the profound and the ordinary.
Working with found objects and painterly aesthetics, she works with precision in computer-aided design and with the haphazard and playful in her paintings, exploring the relationship between colour, paint and support. Works made of wood and radiant light film such as Residuum
(2016) utilise light as a medium to form small, phenomenological curiosities. Peake intends them to fuel her further investigation in their “slow unveiling of the mysteries of manipulated surfaces that intervene in the architecture of the white cube space.”
Bodies of Pleated Matter
(2015) above right
4 channel video projection, 16 mins, 30 secs, 1 m x 7 m screen
Sarah Walden’s art making is influenced by experimental film-making and post-structuralist philosophy(1). She notes that her video installation Bodies of Pleated Matter
(2015) considers “surface as a plane of immanence and a space of pure creativity, and explores how temporal relations, conceived as folds in the fabric of surface, create differentiated occasions of sensory experience.”
Walden uses celluloid film as the literal surface upon which random connections can be made and understood: “used in conjunction with digital moving image, film presents the possibility of dialogue, interlocution and relation in ways that follow the flight and speed of the connections of the brain. Moving image has the power to circumvent linguistic rationality (that which can be said in words) and hit the unsayable – the space where the ability to speak of felt experience breaks down, which is also the space where experience (rather than the representation of it) starts.”
Her work explores the interplay of celluloid film and digital/electronic ‘glitch’; Walden thinks of them “not in the traditionally antagonistic sense but rather as thresholds for each other – their synergistic application enhances intrinsic qualities and moves the result into a new ‘occasion’, something that is ‘both/and’ rather than ‘either/or’. Unexpected nodal connections occur when the digital surface is folded in on itself. Multiple channels overwhelm each other and the medium behaves in unexpected ways.” Her moving images of water and the human body “draw on situated knowledges of neurodivergence to question how pleated and folding surfaces make sense, or non-sense of our experience of them. Temporality presents another surface upon which we can choose to play or which we can disregard.”
For Walden, multi-channel glitch enables moving image to be open-ended, de-territorialised and performative. It circumvents the tropes of cinema, taking moving image away from product and back into process.
(1) As well as Gilles Deleuze’s and Felix Guattari’s description of rhizomatic thinking in A Thousand Plateaus (1980) and Deleuze’s work on sense and the accretion of matter (creative principle) in The Logic of Sense (1969) and The Fold (1993), respectively, she has also drawn on: Jean-François Lyotard’s work on surface and skin in Libidinal Economy (1974); Martin Heidegger’s move to site identity in difference rather than sameness in Identity and Difference (1957); and Alfred North Whitehead’s work on temporality (‘occasions’ and interdependency) in Adventures of Ideas(1933). Her work also pays homage to experimental film-maker Stan Brakhage.
2017 above left
toilet roll, PVA, paper, sand, latex balloon
Lily Wales’ art addresses language use and appropriation associated with nuclear weaponry. She makes play of the contrast between weapons’ deadly purpose and the benign, often childish nicknames that they are accorded: the M65 atomic cannon built by the United States and capable of firing a nuclear device was commonly known as Atomic Annie and atomic bombs have gone by the names of Mr Plumbob, Romeo, Smokey and George. She explores the absurd language of US government civil defence videos made to demonstrate how best to survive when under atomic attack.
Using photomontage techniques, Wales “re-describes” the content of defence videos and public information films as a means of understanding how language can anaesthetise and dislocate public perception of nuclear warfare. For New Art West Midlands 2018 she has recreated Radioactive Rhonda
(2017): comprising the sphere of a giant balloon, its surface covered with papier mâché photomontage, Wales conceives of her work as “a hyperreal tumour containing imagery of atomic warfare”. Radioactive Rhonda is similar in size to the nuclear device nicknamed Gadget, a six-foot wide sphere with a grapefruit-sized plutonium core used in the first ever nuclear detonation, codenamed Trinity. The significance of the balloon structure relates to its usage in nuclear testing: to ensure the most destructive impact an atomic warhead must be detonated while off the ground. Radioactive Rhonda
aims to mock the procedures of atomic bomb development and to render absurd the civil defence public information campaigns associated with it. Rhonda’s surface is covered with images of the imaginary characters that Wales has assigned to Atomic Annie, Mr Plumbob and others. While the characters are products of her imagination, the bombs to which their names are attached are real, and the prospect of nuclear Armageddon is thus a persistent presence.
(2016) above middle
screen print on aluminium, stainless steel, 183 x 122 x 30 cm
Sitting Crossed Legged
screen print on acrylic, MDF plinth, 183 cm x 122 cm x 20 cm
combines printmaking with unconventional methods of display playfully to distort images and turn them into sculptural forms. Wingham has continued her interest in psychoanalysis and her examination of the pleasure taken by human beings in ‘looking’: she describes her imagery as having “voyeuristic tendencies” and her art as seeking to generate “the kind of private moments when people tend to be unaware that they are being observed”.
(2017), depicts a man’s shirt with a button undone, revealing the naked flesh beneath as a dark crevice. Here, it is Wingham’s intention to explore the satisfaction that we experience when something usually unseen is revealed to us, when we are provided with a glimpse of the hidden. The flash of skin is meant to seduce, to spark curiosity: “you can’t help but stare at the button that shouldn’t be open”. Viewers witness an act of revealing – an experience reinforced by their negotiation of the work’s physical form, which cuts diagonally into the wall. To trace its form with the eye is to mimic the curve of the open shirt of the image. Wingham intends her combination of printmaking and method of display, wherein an image becomes sculptural form, to transform viewers into voyeurs – because it requires their active, physical participation to decipher the work’s full context.
(2017) comprises a screen-print resting against a flesh-coloured MDF plinth. This arrangement subtly speaks to the imagery of the screen-print itself and viewers’ negotiation of the work as a whole serves to emphasize their visual perception of the crease between the woman’s bare legs. The screen-print image is intended by Wingham to be “a modern representation of a woman rooted in the real-world actions of a woman’s daily life”. She looks to her viewers to interpret a narrative embedded within the image, informed by their twin viewer/voyeur role. While providing the freedom to stare, through its methods and materials the work nonetheless intends to problematize the business of staring. It isn’t as easy as viewers had perhaps hoped.
(2017) above right
etched mezzotint (plates and prints), photopolymer gravure (plates and prints) , etched acrylic, solvent transfer 210 x 110 x 3.5 cms
Darren Withey contends that “our mental well-being often depends upon how successful we are at rationalising distorted, anamorphic thinking. The mind is in a constant state of flux and reconfiguration as we respond and react to our physical environment, as well as to the cultural, social and political terrains in which we find ourselves.”
Currently making work that incorporates drawing, photography and printmaking, Withey’s practice endeavours to address the issue of mental illness. Contested II
(2017) and Contested IV
(2017) refer to contested land and draw comparisons between nation state and state of mind: one might, for example, regard mental illness as occupying a territory, describe the mind of someone suffering from schizophrenia as contested or, for that matter, describe a territory or a nation state as schizophrenic.
In the larger of the two works being presented in New Art West Midlands 2018, Contested IV, mezzotint, etched copper and photopolymer gravure printing plates, together with laser- cut and etched acrylic are mirrored by, and adjacent to, the prints that have been taken from them. Plates and images, many comprising oddly shaped fragments, are arranged according to a map-like grid. The form of the work as a whole is strongly reminiscent of a Rorschach ‘blot’. The well-known inkblot test used by Rorschach in the diagnosis of schizophrenia shares an obvious affinity with the materials and processes of printmaking, and it seems fitting, Withey suggests, that Rorschach’s psycho-diagnostic plates should serve as a point of departure (or arrival) in a gallery setting in which the viewer assumes the roles of both analyst and analysand.
Places and their histories also inform the works, the forms of which are more broadly derived from cartography. The delineation of the shapes of Contested II is not arbitrary: the cut along the central section follows a portion of the demarcation line drawn during the Armistice Agreements between Israeli and Arab forces in 1949. Similarly, the colouring of both the plates and prints of the larger, Contested IV
has special significance: the orange of the copper, the white wall behind the acrylic and the green of the photo-polymer correspond to the colours of India’s flag, whilst the dark green and white of the prints reference those of the flag of Pakistan. The central ‘contested’ territory is Kashmir, with India below and Pakistan to the side. The plates and prints invite close inspection: the surface imagery – signifiers of cultural identity – is itself contested, occupied by another layer competing for one’s attention. What appear to be networks of roads and rivers correlating with geographic locations could just as easily be neuronal networks, a central nervous system, or a cross section of the cerebral cortex. Place names have all but been erased, yet the fragments of words and odd letters and numbers that remain add further complexity – and this ciphered content, neither fully described nor defined, returns one to the ambiguities of the Rorschach test.