ANNA FRANCIS & REBECCA DAVIES
the Press Release
is a multi-media group exhibition bringing together the works of 7 artists to explore ideas of fooling, in an attempt to understand this moment in history.
We cannot have a meaningful revolution without humour
– bell hooks
FROM THE CURATORS...
When reality can be bleak, the artist can be a welcome symbol of hope, imagination and cosmic possibility. What the artist in this ‘court’ offers is one of a number of possibilities:
A playful and silly temporary escape from the present
A representation of now in magical or funny ways
A damning mirror dressed up as folly
An act of self-deprecating sabotage
A transformative space of possibility and challenge
The fool is all of these things and more; a shapeshifter, role player, beguiling imposter. The butt of the joke, class clown, impotent ass.
The fool holds a mirror up to what is happening around us, and creates a cathartic space for us to laugh at ourselves, and the absurdity of our lives. The traditional jester in the medieval court was afforded license to question and playfully provoke, to ask the question that no one else in the room dared, and would get away with it too, as no one took the word of the fool seriously.
When the political landscape we live in presents itself as a bleak panto – everything suddenly feels topsy turvy, and we are reminded that the methods a traditional fool might use, can be used by anyone. Even a country’s leader. And that, when mastered, the fool’s skills can be exploited – even to win over the majority of votes and in turn, make a ‘fool’ of us.
On Portland Street, in a neighbourhood just a 5 minute walk from AirSpace Gallery (and where our work as The Portland Inn Project/PIP began and operates), residents speak about the importance of “relief”. They talked about PIP’s programme and the artists we work with offering just that – a relief from reality, a way to see things differently and in doing so, a chance to hope.
We often talk about, as artists ourselves, how we feel like the fool in so many contexts we operate in. Creating our own court through our practices, by bringing more people to the table – and in doing so – collapsing the hierarchies that usually present themselves at those tables – institutional and otherwise. We relish in flipping ways of seeing – and creating space where we can encourage others to see things differently, but also to play the fool themselves.
Over the last few years in a testing context politically, socially and environmentally, we sought relief and were able to step back from the situation by fooling ourselves – seen in some of the works exhibited here. We also found hope, relief and escape in the work of others – some are part of this show.
The works here unpick some of the ways that The Fool has traditionally taken up a position in our society, and then go beyond that, to offer space for reflection on the role of the fool today. As well as being a space to consider the social and political context, we also aim for the exhibition and events surrounding and leading up to it, to be a space of respite from the dark times. We will always need the fool, to make us laugh, to make us sing, to make us think.
In the dark times
Will there also be singing?
Yes, there will also be singing.
About the dark times.
– Bertolt Brecht
Just as we will always sing, we will also always laugh – but there are many types of song, and many types of laugh. As you walk through, you may note an encounter with the cheap laugh, the belly laugh, the laugh of pathos or the laugh of joy – no matter which, we hope you feel better for it.
ARTIST SOUP KITCHEN
THE FOOL – A CURATORS' TALK
Saturday 20 August 12-2pm
A super special curators' walk and talk through the exhibition followed by Artist Soup Kitchen discussing the artist as 'fool'. Join the curators for this intimate tour of the exhibition followed by a hearty soup and open discussion–and a little bit of foolery for good measure.
FAMILY RAVE IN THE GALLERY!
Saturday 27 August 1-3pm
Come play THE FOOL - dress up, paint your face, let your hairs down and dance to a DJ set. Glow sticks will be provided. Suitable for all ages
Saturday 3 September 1-4pm
In this hands-on workshop, participants will work with artist MsDmeanr to suggest and enact new Public Art to better represent communities across the city. Join us to think about what's missing from our local landscape and create temporary interventions that will permanently stick in the public's mind!
LOLZ MIXTAPE FILM CLUB
Friday 16 September 6.30-8pm
Join Anna Francis and Rebecca Davies for a night of LOLZ as they share with you a mixtape of some of their favourite comedy. Film Club is an informal get together featuring guest curators opening up their interests, practices and areas of research and create space for questions and discussion with guests.
ARTIST SOUP KITCHEN
PROFOUND SILLINESS: THE FOOL AS AN EGG-SPURT
Saturday 17 September 12-2pm
Join AirSpace Fool-in-Residence, Huge Sillytoe and Cultural Theorist, Fabienne Formosa for a dive into the deep meaninglessness of fooling and rallying against the commonplace rejection of nonsense as trivial. Major themes will include (de)constructions of madness, anti-authoritarianism(s), eggs, and spurts.
All events are FREE to attend. Some events require booking your place due to restrictions on numbers. Click the relevant links above for booking info.
A LOOK INTO HEADQUARTERS, 2021
The work was inspired by the modernist concept of the body as a machine. Beginning in the 1920s, this idea would appear on posters, and in anatomical books and popular science journals, illustrating the human body as a factory populated by tiny workers, operating machinery representing organs, glands, and biological processes. So how does the machine body of the 2020s function? Are the little people inside our heads still working away in efficient factory-line roles, or are they a bit more isolated, staring at their screens, and trying to get used to their strange new workplace?
A goblin called Bogpax goes for a sales assistant job interview.
SNOB (DJ), 2019
This installation continues McGinn’s exploration of euphoria by depicting a kinetic caricature of DJ Annie Mac, conductor and priestess of the dance floor. These inflatable characters examine the culture of raving, and the joy of dance as a means of escapism. The title ‘SNOB’ derives from the infamous Birmingham nightclub SNOBS.
THE MOUNTAIN, 2019
Depicting ‘World’s Strongest Man’ The Mountain,
i.e Hafthor Bjornsson - the viewer controls whether the weight is lifted high above his head or whether it crushes him into the ground. Looking again at this loop of agony and ecstasy... super-human achievement or crushing defeat.
Empty hands make light claps
THE BEN SADLER COLLECTION, 2016-2022.
For the first time in history, the almost complete sculptural, painting and film works of acclaimed artist Ben Sadler, are brought together in The Ben Sadler Collection. Comprising 45 paintings, 45 sculptures and 84 films, The Collection will be held at AirSpace Gallery for the duration of The Fool exhibition and managed by The Collections Officer. Access to individual works will be granted by request upon visitation of the exhibition and perusal of the Collection Catalogues.
Ben spends most of his days working with his friend Phil as one half of the artist duo Juneau Projects. In the evenings he makes small paintings and sculptures in his living room. The sofa is his studio and the television is his soundtrack. His work often features his daughter, his cat, other cats, monsters, cartoon characters, hot dogs, skeletons, pot plants, ghosts and rainbows. At the weekends he often makes videos that celebrate his love of music.
SHIPALA-SHIJALA-FALAJALA-VALAMAYA- VALAJALA-VALAMALA-YA!, 2022
Some say that Shipala is a full body giant mask, mobile puppetry tent, fabric clown-jukebox, vehicle of unexpected interactions, spasm of interruption in the flow of the normal, hiding place for anarchist fugitives, exploration of erotic subjectivity, emblem of total poetic liberation, or example of a species on the verge of extinction. The truth is that Shipala is all these things and more.
HOW TO DO WHAT WE ARE NOT ALLOWED TO DO, 2022
In this video Shipala-shijala-falajala-valamaya-valajala- valamala-ya, can be seen exploring various sites around Stoke-on-Trent. They are lost but they know exactly where they are. They are asked what their cause is but they do not respond. They are mistaken for an elephant on numerous occasions. In the audio track, Shipala tells a tale from their series of stories entitled HOW TO DO WHAT WE ARE NOT ALLOWED TO DO, exploring themes of righteous rule-breaking, kindly subversion, and foolish hope.
The works made and exhibited here resulted from a 4 week residency at AirSpace Gallery in the summer of 2022.
ELECTRIC BLUE, 2019
SOUVENIR. (CRAZY WAVE), 2019
TUNNEL GATE, 2020
Joanna Whittle’s paintings explore transient rituals concealed within the structures we leave in the landscape. She unravels traditional landscape tropes, creating rich and seductive small-scale paintings which draw the viewer into an uneasy, unpeopled world. The temporary fairground structures and tents depicted sink into motile, flooded land, acting as fragile ruins of the recent past, or even present with lights illuminated and the unsettling sense of a recently departed presence. Elements give way to each other, creating a disquieting impression of imperceptible movement or undercurrent in dark, watery reflections. Time slips within these scenes where still illuminated structures sag under the weight of overgrown foliage whilst little gleams of presence or habitation flicker.
ANNA FRANCIS & REBECCA DAVIES
Anna Francis and Rebecca Davies are definitely NOT the curators of this exhibition. However they were delighted when the internationally acclaimed curator duo - whose identity will be revealed on the opening night - invited them to contribute to this exhibition. Peppering the show will be a mixed media display of works created by Anna and Rebecca, specifically for the show, but also pieces made in recent years.
Joe grew up in Watford, England, did a Foundation at Central Saint Martins in London and then a BA in Communication Design at the Glasgow School of Art in Scotland, where he now lives. His multi-disciplinary practice, encompassing drawing, films and model-making is a reflection of how his work is driven by ideas, and how best to present them. He is interested in the worlds we create and choose to spend time in. The inside of our heads for instance, or the internet, or the fantasy realm of Dungeons & Dragons. He aims to portray issues of the real world through the lens of these imagined worlds. By overlapping the fantastic and the mundane, the work made often has an absurd and humorous tone.
Rosie McGinn lives and works in London. McGinn’s practice follows a fixation with the human tendency to chase heightened moments and the psychological drives underlying euphoria. Scoring a goal, winning at Bingo, going to space, raving, getting on a rollercoaster, lifting an unimaginable weight; these rituals observed within the work often pursue human transcendence and extreme human achievement. This can take form through a range of mediums including kinetic sculpture, inflatable installation, puppetry, video, painting and text.
The work has often gravitated towards [British] sport and leisure whilst observing the provincial areas and communities where rituals, such as Bingo, going ‘out out’ and football, provide a fleeting sense of faith and collectivism. Within the context of the last few years, this curiousness with our cultural restlessness has altered and shifted towards quieter forms of escapism.
Ben Sadler is an artist who lives in Birmingham with his wife Katy, his daughter Hazel, and their three-legged cat Oscar. Ben spends most of his days working with his friend Phil as one half of of the artist duo Juneau Projects. In the evenings he make small paintings and sculptures in his living room. The sofa is his studio and the television is his soundtrack. His work often features his daughter, his cat, other cats, monsters, cartoon characters, hot dogs, skeletons, pot plants, ghosts and rainbows. At the weekends he often makes videos that celebrate his love of music.
Born and raised in Durham, Huge Sillytoe is now itinerant, based during recent years between New York, Buenos Aires, Mexico City, and London. They hold a practice-led PhD in Performance Studies from the University of Glasgow. Huge Sillytoe is a large, foolish toe. They are also a multidisciplinary artist working across performance, clowning, puppetry, poetry, music, storytelling, and visual art. They specialize in live art, often performing with masks, costumes, and interactive sculptures built from found materials. Harnessing their unique artistic position as a shape-shifting oversized and daft toe, they seek to toe open the pathway to a stranger and fairer world through performances that playfully defy normative expectations. Meanwhile, they regularly assist others to trample this trail further via facilitating workshops where new practices of transgressive, emancipatory performance are nurtured collectively.
Joanna Whittle is a painter who explores transient rituals concealed within the structures we leave in the landscape. She unravels traditional landscape tropes, creating rich and seductive small-scale paintings which draw the viewer into an uneasy, unpeopled world. Throughout her work Whittle explores themes of ungroundedness and loss; of shifting perspectives and hidden activities and their fragile residue in the landscape and through an almost forensic attention to detail she attempts to hold this fragility in a frozen but elusive moment.
Joanna is Sheffield-based and a member of the Contemporary British Painting Society. She is currently undertaking a funded period of research in collaboration with an archaeologist at Sheffield University as well as undertaking a research project with the National Fairground & Circus Archive which will culminate in a solo exhibition in 2023, supported by Arts Council England.
ANNA FRANCIS & REBECCA DAVIES
Anna Francis is an artist and researcher whose work aims to create space to discuss and reframe city resources, through participatory art interventions. She creates situations for herself, the public and other artists to explore places differently. Through this, Anna aims to gain an understanding of the role of artists, arts organisations and communities in the development of places. Anna leads The Portland Inn project with artist Rebecca Davies, and is Associate Professor of Fine Art and Social Practice at Staffordshire University.
Rebecca Davies has a deeply embedded and collaborative practice that crosses illustration, design, performance and event. Her work explores the role of art in making change, as a device and platform, to represent and communicate complex stories and politics.