Sunday, 9 October 2011

Returning to Drawing

Studies of model
Sarah Sander is a very good teacher.  In her drawing classes, 'Returning to Drawing' she holds a creative space for the participants, with a bit of input and introduction, a clear theme, a lot of encouragement and a non-judgemental attitude that makes drawing a pleasure for even someone like me who can be very anxious about it.

Drawing from a model

There are no rights or wrongs in Sarah's classes, only creative experiments.  She manages a good balance between individual support and group process.  Best of all, she is an enthusiast who is prepared to show her own work, a real mixed bag of scribble and doodle, drawing from life, experiments with movement and mood, and imaginative work. This reinforces the message that drawing can be anything, and the most important thing is to get started. 

Trying a bolder style

I definitely recommend Sarah's classes for anyone who is feeling in need of creative refreshment, or a bit of structure to help with discipline.  The classes are currently weekly at Rogue Artist's Studios.  See you there!

Drawing without looking

Saturday, 8 October 2011

Rogue Open Studios

Rogue was the first artists' studios I ever visited, way back when Richard Diggle ran weekly life drawing sessions, and I used to scratch away nervously, listening to the rhythm of the knitting machines in the floor above, and hoping no-one would look at my work.  It seemed like another world. and I never in my wildest dreams imagined that I would one day have my own studio there.

All my life I knew I wanted to be an artist, but I thought I would never be one, because I never actually made anything that I thought was art.

In the last 6 years, I've discovered that what needed to change was my definition of art. Those obsessions and interests that I have sometimes followed and mostly ignored, are now given permission to grow and they have become my practice.

Last night at my first Rogue Open Studio I was able to show in my own studio, a small body of work that I have allowed to grow out of my own individual fascinations, and it felt like a graduation!

Saturday, 24 September 2011

Dark Matters - Shadow_Technology_Art at the Whitworth Art Gallery

Dark Matters looks both backwards to the earliest fascinations with shadow and projection, and forwards to the newest technologies. The gallery is kept in an erie semidarkness and becomes a place of wonder and mystery which perhaps replicates the experience of the first viewers of the camera obscurer and magic lantern.

The exhibition showcases the work of 10 artists, whose work ranges from the small and subtle to the monumental. In a preview evening, the larger works are bound to make more impact, and I was captivated by Brass Art's new work, Still Life No. 1. A table is covered by human and animal figures cast in transparent material using new technology in digital mapping, and constructed by hand out of crushed cellophane  A rotating light source casts ephemeral looming shadows which transverse the gallery walls.  On the other side of the gallery, but equally impressive, huge monochrome watercolours depict shadows of the moment of contact between the artists and insects.

Kiss (2011) by R. Luke DuBois uses a digital rendering technique to animate 50 iconic film kisses, turning them into a spiders web of light, with the actors faces seen only in silhouette.

Daniel Rozin is showing two fascinating pieces, where we see ourselves, always the most interesting subject, reproduced in the work. Peg Mirror (2007) uses a tiny camera and 650 circular wooden pegs which rotate and tilt, and whose subtle shadows create a vague and pixillated image of the viewer. Snow Mirror (2006) uses digital technology to project an image made up of softly moving points of light, which coalesce into momentarily recognisable figures.

A performance piece by Ja-Young Ku uses layers of shadow and projection to interact with his own image, creating a playful and mesmerising exploration of reality and illusion.

The exhibition is fascinating and I highly recommend a visit.  I will be returning soon for another look.

Saturday, 17 September 2011

'Like you've never been away' - Photographs by Paul Trevor

On 17th Feb 2008, photographer Paul Trevor received an e-mail out of the blue.

"...In 1975 I was a young 13 year old and remember you coming to our street, Mozart St in Liverpool 8... You came out with the kids and parents on our street outings... I also remember you taking photos of my friends and me in our 'den'... If you are the same Paul as I remember I would love you to contact me because I would love to see some of the photo's if they still exist. Yours hopefully, Ian Boland."

The photos did indeed exist. Paul had spent six months in Liverpool in taking photographs for a project documenting inner city deprivation.  He had thousands of photographs of Toxteth and Everton, very few of which had ever been shown publicly.

This captivating exhibition at the Walker Gallery in Liverpool documents both the photographic record of that period, and Paul's experience of returning to Liverpool to find some of the people he met and photographed nearly 40 years ago.

I loved the exhibition.  And people clearly loved and trusted Paul.  As he said in the film which is a central part of the exhibition, it would be impossible today to take these pictures of children playing.  But in the 70's there was no such limitation, and as a result, two very different cultures came together, either side of the camera, and got to know each other.  And they clearly still felt connected. One woman said "It's like you've never been away, Paul.", giving the exhibition its title.

The poverty shown in the photographs is quite shocking, the dirt, the clothes full of holes, the dangerous play of the children, leaning over the balcony of a tower block, setting a fire in an empty house.  But others show great joy and community cohesion.  Paul also discovered some sad stories on his visit back to Liverpool, the boy looking through the frame who died young of a drug overdose, the breakup of communities for 'redevelopment'.

I hope that the project which began in 1975 and was revived by that 2008 e-mail will continue, and that Paul will take more remarkable pictures of this now dispersed community.

All photographs copyright Paul Trevor

Sunday, 4 September 2011

Manchester Cloth, an exhibition by Gemma Lacey, Helen Mather, Mandy Tolley and Kiran Williams

For the last year, Gemma Lacy, Helen Mather, Mandy Tolley and Kiran Williams have been exploring their practice in a collaboration called the Exquisite Corpse Project. They each brought to their first meeting a piece of unresolved work. Each piece was passed on to one of the other artists, to work with, work on, develop or deconstruct as they saw fit. This process happened four times, so that each artist has contributed to each sub-project, and the whole was exhibited for a day in Chorlton, Manchester this weekend.

Of the four pieces my favourite was 'Rabbit Hood. It began as a hessian cap with bunny ears attached, the next artist evoking memories of dressing up as a child, added a cloak and some printing of butterflies.

The third artist, inspired by the darning on an Egyptian top in Manchester Museum, added darning and photographed the hood and cloak in a wood with a backdrop of autumnal sunshine and leaves creating a 'beakbook' which is folded such that part of the content is hidden.

The final artist took the hidden and secretive quality of the book, and created a finished piece in which a beautifully constructed lining is hidden within the cloak and the hood. The cloak also has a row of buttons which close the garment completely. On opening the cloak, a complete fantasy scene is revealed, an interpretation of William Morris's 'Strawberry Thief'.  The darning on the hessian is revealed with lined peepholes, sewn into the lining.

The artists also recorded the process in a blog which, though brief, gives some insight into the way the artists worked together.

This is a fascinating collaboration, not just because of the outcomes, which were visually very rich, but also because of the level of openness and trust that the artists have shown, in their lack of 'preciousness' about their work, in their joint 'ownership' of the the work, in their generosity towards each other.  I'm looking forward to seeing more collaborative work by this interesting group of artists.

Monday, 29 August 2011

Salford Dérive

'One of the basic situationist practices is the dérive (literally: "drifting"), a technique
 of rapid passage through varied ambiances. Dérive involves playful-constructive
 behaviour and awareness of psychogeographical effects, and are thus quite different
 from the classic notions of journey or stroll.'

Published in Internationale Situationniste #2, 1959

I am always interested in exploring the underside of the city, particularly when it 
includes rivers. Today on a rainy Bank Holiday Monday, we set off along the Irwell,
to find out what happens to it beyond Victoria Station, where it disappears on the
map. This usually means it is culverted, but in this case not.  There are so many 
bridges that it almost disappears, but there are no tunnels, and to our delight, we 
kept refinding it. 

Once the river has gone under New Bridge Street, there are riverside paths on both sides, 
green and lush, giving the impression of being far from the city. 

But then the path takes us back to the margins of the city, the edgeland, which is
 mostly overlooked. 

Saturday, 27 August 2011

The Age of Revolution 1789-1848 by Eric Hobsbawm

Book Review

Reading Eric Hobsbawm's book 'The Age of Revolution 1789-1848' is like swimming in a rough sea. The next wave of information hits you before you have surfaced from the last one leaving you overwhelmed and a little disorientated! It is a dense book. Each paragraph merits a chapter of its own, and each chapter a book. But if you are looking for an overview of a period of history that did more than any other to shape our current situation, then this is the one.

Hobsbawm is not the easiest of writers, but I've had this book for probably 20 years, and as an introduction to the difficult reading I'm going to have to do once I start my MA, I decided to tackle it, and set myself a 30 page/day challenge. In order to fulfil my timetable, I had to accept that I would not absorb much of the information, but the broad picture did sink in, and it has been a fascinating read.

The Marxist credentials of the writer are never far from the surface, but considering the period covered by this book, they provide an ideal structure for political and economic analysis. In particular, the chapters on the Industrial Revolution, Nationalism, the Labouring Poor, and Secular Ideology really helped me to understand what happened in Manchester and why.

Nearly 50 years after its publication, this book is still a goldmine of information, and a great starting point for further study.                                              

Friday, 26 August 2011

Leaf Street, Hulme

I've been feeling creatively frustrated recently, so to get a bit of perspective,  I wrote down everything I've done over the last year. I realised that alongside the collaborations which have been really great fun and really successful, I've done a lot of research that for one reason or another, hasn't translated into actually making things. So I've decided to use the research for the 'Placed' exhibition proposal that has yet to find a home, and make another artists' book.

When I showed 'Cow Lane, Salford' last year, lots of people asked me if I would make a book about Hulme, so I've been studying maps looking for an appropriate street. I've found the perfect one, just next to where I used to live. Leaf Street was laid out in the 1830's when the new district of Hulme was being planned. It's seen a lot of changes, but  has kept it's original location. The book will show the three waves of development in Hulme from 1819 to the present day.

I'm hoping to get it finished in time for the Manchester Artist's Book Fair in October, and if possible, have copies for the Rogue Open Studio. It will be similar to the one I made about Cow Lane, Salford, and I will be using what I learnt to speed up the production process! I've done the research this week and have already started drawing the illustrations, so am on track to meet my deadline.

Monday, 25 July 2011

Installation at Farfield Mill, Sedburgh.

On Tuesday morning I picked up a transit van, loaded it up with 2.5 tonnes of sheets, with the help a few friends, and drove up to Farfield Mill to set up my latest installation.

Building these sheet installations takes time and energy, so I was pleased that Farfield Mill had found me two volunteers, Dan and Jenny, who both had the ideal mixture of patience, creativity and stamina. The three of us, plus my partner B, spent Wednesday and Thursday developing a piece that responded to the local landscape, and the results can be seen below.  We tried to incorporate elements that can be seen in the Howgill Fells, crevasses, shale hillsides, waterfalls, and gentler lowland pasture.  You can see the results here.

Sunday, 24 July 2011

Manchester Time Piece - update

We launched Manchester Time Piece in style on Midsummer's Day, 21st June.  With over 400 twitter followers, and lots of media interest, Tern Collective followed the shadow of the Beetham Tower from 7am to 7pm, mostly via maps and shadow plots due to the absence of sun!

During the day we had visits from the press, and were featured in the Guardian and MEN, who created an animated shadow map based on our shadow locations.

The project was also part of the Manchester Art Crawl and we will be hosting a round table discussion about the project on Tuesday 26th July at the Burlington Fine Art Club

We are delighted with how the day went, and are now starting to think about how to document the project, and where it might take us next.

Monday, 13 June 2011

Manchester Time Piece

It's all go now for the new art project 'Manchester Time Piece' which launches on 21st June. It is a project of Tern Collective, which is made up of me, Jude Macpherson and Jacquline Wylie.  We've been working together for about a year now, and this is our first big project.

On Midsummer's Day, we will turn Manchester into a giant sundial using the shadow cast by the Beetham Tower, also known as the Hilton Tower, at 47 floors, the tallest building in Manchester. The project grew from another project proposal we made which never took off, but this one certainly has. We submitted it for the Manchester Art Crawl and the Burlington fine Art Club - both fringe events for the Manchester International Festival, and it was accepted by both!

We have been experimenting with social media, and that seems to be working really well, the project is getting lots of interest on twitter, and we have a blog and a facebook group which so far are a bit slow, but hopefully will pick up.

Last week we had the opportunity to go to the top of the tower, which was amazing - we will be going back to take photo's of the shadow as soon as we get a decent day. In the meantime, here is a photo of the view down Deansgate.

If you want to follow us on Twitter, the project is @McrTimePiece. The Facebook group is Manchester Time Piece and our blog is at

Wednesday, 18 May 2011


Today was the installation day for 'Flood' created by me and Jane Lawson on the bank of Chorlton Brook, for Chorlton Arts Festival's Big Art Walk.  After weeks of planning and making, it is finally up and it looks great.  We are hoping it will survive for the 10 days of the festival, as it is very vulnerable to vandalism!

The piece refers to the history of Chorlton which is situated on a flood plain of the Mersey River. Chorlton Ees, now a nature reserve, was used as a flood meadow until the river defences were built, which ensures  that the Mersey no longer overflows.

For the installation, we turned a tree into a giant flood gauge by cladding it in a knitted sleeve made from copper wire with bands marking the levels of contemporary and historic floods. The floods we have represented are one local historic flood, the 3ft flood that overflowed Chorlton Brook in 1961, and three recent floods, the 6 ft flood in Sheffield in 2007, the 8 ft flood in Cockermouth in 2009 and the 10ft flood in Pakistan in 2010.

By showing how high the water rose in these recent devastating floods, the audience has a glimpse of the visceral experience of seeing familiar landmarks underwater, and it brings into peoples consciousness the real impact of flooding. We used copper electrical wire to make the connection between one of the causes and one of the effects of climate change.

On Saturday we will lead a group of people on a flood walk from the installation through Chorlton, following the contours of different flood risk areas, showing which areas are currently vulnerable to flooding according to the Environment Agency, and how flood risks may increase in the future. We will be assisted by local climate change experts.

It has been a great experience working with Jane, one of my closest friends, and I think the piece looks fantastic. It is up until May 30th, so go and see it if you can.

Tuesday, 17 May 2011

Laurie Anderson, Trisha Brown, Gordon Matta-Clark - Pioneers of the Downtown Scene, New York 1970's

Not the most catchy title for an exhibition, but the show is pretty diverse.  The exhibition covers the work of the three artists from the beginning of the 1970's to Matta-Clark's untimely death in '78, and includes installation, drawing, sculpture, and performance.

The artists were peers during a difficult period in New York's history, when the city was struggling with poverty and violence.  New York represented danger and risk, and it was a long time before the 'I heart NY' tourist campaign began to transform people's idea of the city.

The other side of the economic meltdown, was the availability of cheap space for artists, dancers and performers who moved in en mass, turning the city into a laboratory for new creativity. Trisha Brown, a dancer who moved to New York from California in 1961, took dance out of the studio, for example, in 'Roof Piece' which stationed dancers on rooftops across the city, performing a synchronised improvised dance, or in 'Woman Walking Down a Ladder' where she walked horizontally from a water tower on the roof of a building, suspended by an invisible rope.

Three of her performance pieces are shown in the gallery, all involving an element of arial work.

Matta-Clark, an architect by training, was interested in the fabric of the city, as well as it's inhabitants.  After helping to design and build a loft space for dance and performance, he established a cafe called 'Food', which was both an extension of his artistic practice, a flexible employer for freelancers and a place for artists to gather and socialise.  Amongst his other work was 'Splitting', which involved dissecting an entire house.  The four corners of the house's roof are presented in the gallery as sculptural objects, complete with chimney, roof tiles and wallpaper.

Laurie Anderson's sound pieces stretch from the domestic, 'Duet for Door Jamb and Violin' where the sound of the bow hitting the door frame as the musician stands in the door way creates a precussion for the piece, to the monumental, in 'Stereo Decoy: a Canadian-American Duet' which sees a piano suspended on a crane across the River Niagara.  All her work is illustrated with beautifully executed drawings, showing the skill that got her work as a political cartoonist while still a student.

The exhibition is fascinating, and has particular resonance as we enter a new economic crisis. It is an example to artists of how we can use even the most dire situations to create exciting and innovative work. 

Thursday, 28 April 2011

The Map as Art: Contemporary Artists Explore Cartography by Katherine Harmon and Gayle Clemans

Book Review

If you like maps, this is the book for you.  If you love maps, you will be in heaven! 

The book is thick and weighty, and every page is a delight. It contains work by over 150 artists or artist groups and is divided into 7 sections including Conflict and Sorrow; Animal, Vegetable, Mineral; Inner Visions.  There are also 5 longer essays about artists who work with maps.

It is almost impossible for maps not to have a political content, which is perhaps why I love them.  William Pope.L's 'The Great White Way: 22 miles, 5 years, 1 street (2002) is a documentation of the artist crawling across New York on his belly, in a piece that refers to immigrant history and the endurance required of African Americans to survive.  

Guillermo Kuikca, an Argentine artist who grew up during the brutal dictatorship of 1976-83, and who is featured in an essay, creates work which exposes a lack of human connection. While Brazilian artist Vic Muniz works with local youth to make huge installations depicting maps of the world, made from junk found in the surrounding area.

Qin Ga followed the Long March Project's recreation of the Long March, a 6000 mile journey across China which resulted in the rise to power of Mao Zedong, by tattooing the journey across his back. Paula Scher makes geographic paintings to help her deal with the overload of information.

The variety of work is vast, but the theme holds together and results in an inspiring and beautiful book.  Highly recommended!

Tuesday, 26 April 2011

Archiving for beginners!

Last week I heard that some friends had been burgled.  They didn't lose much considering the lovely art pieces they have been collecting over the last 15 years.  But they did lose their iMac.  My friends were very well organised and had everything backed up on an external hard drive. Which was also stolen!

I have a similar arrangement to them, computer on my desk, back-up drive next to it, the only two complete records of my work utterly vulnerable to a break in.

A lot of my work is in the form of installations, which means that photo's are my only record.  I have literally thousands of photos.  So the misfortune of my friends is the motivation I've been needing to get myself organised, archive my work and store it securely.

This is my strategy.

First I am going to copy everything, without any discrimination, onto CDs.  This will be my master archive.  I will keep the discs at my house, in a separate room to the computer.

Next I'm going to sort out my best images from those which are just records of process. These best images will be useful for publicity or applications, so I want them accessible. They will stay on my computer in named files, so that I can get at them easily. The process images, once they have been copied onto the master archive will be deleted from my computer - freeing up useful memory.

I'm also going make two copies of the best images onto CDs. One copy will be stored in my house, next to the master archive.  One copy will be given to a willing and responsible friend with whom I have a reciprocal arrangement.  We will each keep a copy of the other's best images in case of very thorough art-loving burglar or fire.

So my best and most precious images will be stored on my computer, and on my external hard drive back up, two further copies in my house, and an additional copy in my friends house.  Does that sound like overkill?  All I know is that it will be a big relief!

Now, what about you?

Saturday, 19 March 2011

Lime Residency

I've had an long interest in art and health.  I've experienced the healing properties of creativity and seen it in other people too, so when I saw the Lime residency advertised, I applied. It was one of those last minute things, where you press send and then remember all the other stuff you should have said. But I was lucky, I got an interview, and to my surprise and delight, have been offered one of their four places.

I spend a lot of time in hospitals, due to a variety of health issues, and my journey to being an artist began because of illness and the need to change my life. I love to see creative work in corridors and spaces, and I hope that during the next two years I will be able to make my own contribution to making the hospital experience more bearable.

Lime offers free studio space, and a flexible connection to the organisation and its work. It will be fascinating to see how my practice develops in this setting.

Thursday, 17 March 2011

Flood - awash with feelings

This beautiful image was found on the internet.
I don't know who the photographer is.
In the last few weeks, Jane and I have been getting down work on Flood, the installation we are creating for the Chorlton Arts Festival. Jane is mainly responsible for the climate change research, and will be doing the bulk of the making, and I'm doing the historic research, creating the flood map, and material for the flood walk. A large part of my subconscious has been mulling over flood questions. Where do you measure a flood from? From the top of the bank or the normal level of the river?  How do you measure the 'normal' level of a river?  Is the height above sea level more important than the influence of the river?  Do floods travel upstream?

And now the rest of the world is sharing this dreadful fascination with floods. I've tried not to turn the Japanese experience into some sort of voyeuristic fetish.  But when I was sent the link to this film, I finally understood the power of the sea.  The images have lodged so strongly in my mind, that last nights walk home from work was full of shadows of rising water.

By the time the installation is put up, something else will be top of the news, but I hope it will bring to mind what we have learnt in the last days and contribute to the campaign to halt climate change.

Flood will be showing at the Chorlton Arts Festival Big Art Walk from 19th - 29th May

Saturday, 5 March 2011

Methods and Theories of Art History by Anne D'Alleva

My well thumbed copy!
Book Review

How many times have I started reading an article or book on art, only to be blocked, sometimes at the first sentence, because I don't understand a term on which the whole meaning hinges?  I've never had any education in this field, and though I have tried to learn on my own, it has been hard to get started.  It all seemed a bit unfathomable. While writing my MA application, I looked in vain for an art theory dictionary or glossary to help me.  New Keywords: a revised vocabulary of culture and society; eds Morris, Grossberg, Williams and Bennett, was a help but there were still lots of basic elements I didn't understand.  Then I found this wonderful book by Anne D'Alleva.

D'Alleva writes for students and as she says in the introduction, she offers a starting point for approaching theories of art history.  She writes enough to give an overview of each development of thinking about art, but not so much as to overwhelm the first time reader.   The book covers formalism, semiotics, Marxism, feminism, psychoanalysis, reception theory, hermeneutics, structuralism, postmodernism and much more besides.  I particularly loved it that almost every time I read a word or phrase I didn't understand, it was followed by an short explanation. For example, 'Gramski developed a theory of cultural hegemony - that is, influence or authority gained via cultural practices rather than by law or force - to explain how the bourgeoisie continued to dominate society.' How can you fail to love a woman who makes it so clear! In the final chapter she gives very practical suggestions on how to integrate art theory into essay-writing, and even analyses real student essays to explain how to produce good work.

The book is written in a warm facilitative style with an emphasis on clarity.  If you want to get the tools to enable you to learn more about art history, art theory and art movements, then this is the book for you.

Friday, 25 February 2011

No competition!

British Art Show 7, Hayward Gallery, South Bank.  
British Art Now Part 2, Saatchi Gallery, Kings Road Chelsea.

Maybe we were wrong to try and fit the Hayward in at the end of a busy day of exhibition viewing, but on the other hand, maybe it was just a difficult show to follow.  In order to appreciate contemporary art, I either need to enjoy the aesthetics of the work or value the skill of the making, or I need to be guided through the makers ideas.  There was some interesting work in the show, but overall, I felt mystified.

Our visit to the Saatchi Gallery the next day was a wholly different experience. They seem to have a strong commitment to making the work accessible to the general viewer. Take for example, the guide.  Sure, you have to pay for it. But at £1.50 it is within most people's reach.  And once you have bought it, you have a black and white image of every piece in the show, with 150 words of description and explanation, often including quotes from the artist about their intention for the work.

So the viewer has the possibility to give the piece some good attention, make his/her own interpretation, and then see how it matches the artist or curator's comments.  Of course, it can also be used as a shortcut to forming one's own impression, but that is the risk, and who can say that it is not a valid way to view the work.

Of course, the Saatchi gallery also has the advantage of space, which cannot be underestimated.  Even in such a big show, nothing was crowded together. Each piece is a new experience and that helps the viewer make sense of the whole.

I suppose the bottom line is that if I have no way of coming to an understanding of the work, it makes me feel stupid.  Shows that give me the tools to appreciate the work, make me feel I'm entering into a partnership between artist, curator and viewer. British Art Now did that very successfully.

My highlights from the Saatchi show: Des Hughes, Endless Endless - ragged effigy; Ximena Garrido-Lecca, The Followers - wall of shrines; Caragh Thuring, General Scenes of Unloading - fragmentary painting on bare linen.

Thursday, 10 February 2011

Flood alert!

I heard today that the proposal that Jane Lawson and I made to the Chorlton Arts Festival has been accepted.  It will be called Flood, and will involve an installation on the banks of Chorlton Brook, a flood map and a flood walk.  It will make a connection between the flood history of the area, the recent serious floods in the UK and worldwide, and the effects of climate change on the sea level.

We have been thinking about this piece for a couple of years, and are very excited about having the chance to put it together at last.  The Chorlton Arts Festival is a great local event, and is growing every year.  Last year I did some fundraising for them and as a result, CAF 2010 had their first artist in residence.  And this year will be my first time as an exhibitor.  The festival is in May, so we will be starting to plan over a cup of tea on Saturday.

Friday, 4 February 2011

The Body Electric - Len Lye Retrospective at IKON

I'd never been to the IKON before, but it has won a place in my heart.  The building is a beautifully converted noegothic school in the heart of the new canal district in Birmingham.  The exhibition spaces are very well laid out, and the restaurant was so lovely and staff so friendly, that we went back for a meal in the evening.

Their current exhibition is the first UK retrospective of Len Lye's work, and includes film, paintings and kenetic sculpture.  Lye (1901-1980) was a New Zealander who travelled widely in the Pacific before settling in London in 1926, becoming friends with artists such as Henry Moore and Barbara Hepworth.

The most surprising aspect of the exhibition is the film work.  Produced between 1929 and 1937, the films which are a riot of colour, pattern and movement, could easily be mistaken for contemporary work.  Given the technical limitations of the time, they are extraordinary.  Len Lye developed his own style of 'direct' film making, where he painted directly onto the celluloid, which combined with layering of images, created an exciting and sometimes frenetic montage.

Lye's first film, Tusalava, a 10 min black and white animation made in 1929, shows the influence of Pacific Island and Aboriginal imagery, weaving continuous patterns that show a kind of evolution of growth, division, development and death.

In the 30's, Len made a number of advertising films for the GPO, including 'Rainbow Dance' (1936) using a real actor alongside animation to show the sort of leisure activities which would be affordable if one saved using a PO Savings Account. Trade Tattoo creates a complex multi layered journey through the industrial and commercial work day, with a big band jazz sound track providing the fast paced rhythm, and ends by encouraging the viewer to remember to post letters before 2pm.  The advertising copy in the final scenes of the films adds yet another surreal quality.

Equally fascinating are his kenetic sculptures, made from the 50s onwards which bring sound and vision together as metal clashes, vibrates and rings out.  In Fountain, (1976) long stainless steel rods splay out from a central point in a base which periodically rotates clockwise and anticlockwise, causing the rods to swish and sway and crash into each other. Lit from above, the shadows add a further element to the piece. Universe (1963-66) involves a steel band, looped into an oval and fixed centrally in a low bench.  As an electromagnet is activated, the huge structure rolls back and forth, sometimes being squeezed upwards and hitting a ball suspended above it, with a resonant chime.

Each piece in the exhibit was a joy to behold, and the whole exhibition felt like a celebration of life.  The IKON deserve a big thanks for bringing Len Lye's work to greater attention.

Sunday, 30 January 2011

'Rotor' at the Whitworth Art Gallery

The Whitworth Art Gallery goes from strength to strength, with consistently exciting and innovative shows, and the current one is no exception.

'Rotor', created by Siobhan Davis Dance, includes dance, poetry, installation, video and contemporary composition.  The highlight for me was a dance piece 'A series of appointments' choreographed by Siobhan Davis in collaboration with the four dancers in the piece.  Performed in silence with the simplest of dance technique, it nevertheless conveyed a whole world of human relations, harmony and discord, fear, confidence and creativity.  Characters merged and changed, one might be suddenly stifled, and seek to escape from the group, and at another moment lonely and striving for acceptance. Dancers running together suddenly became competitive, then desperate, then unconcerned. The moments of stillness were breathtaking.

Alongside the performance are some other strong pieces including an amazing installation by Clare Twomy, where unglazed pots are filled with water and gradually collapse, and a very moving poem by Alice Oswald which can be listened to in a small room complete with leather armchair.

A captivating exhibition, which is only on for ten days, and definitely shouldn't be missed.

Friday, 21 January 2011

Salford's Streets Museum

On Thursday I met Lawrence Cassidy at the lovely Left Bank Cafe in the Peoples History Museum, to talk about our common interests.  Lawrence is the initiator of the Streets Museum which documents the demolition of over 1500 streets in Salford in the past 50 years.  The Streets Museum archives and preserves images, film, oral history and artefacts of the lost streets, and supports people to commemorate and mark the passing of their neighbourhoods.

Lawrence was inspired by the District Six Museum in South Africa, which collects memories of the once-thriving district which was wiped out in the Apartheid era.  Lawrence saw a parallel process of social engineering happening in own area, and was inspired, first to study the phenomenon, and then to establish the Streets Museum.

I gave Lawrence a copy of my artists book, 'Cow Lane, Salford' for the Streets Museum collection.  The book shows some of the things that Lawrence is highlighting in his project, the way that vast communities can disappear completely because they no longer fit the model of economic activity in the city.  And yet, every person, every relationship is unique, and once people are moved and relationships are interrupted, they can be lost altogether.  I think the Streets Museum is a really important project.
Check out the Streets Museum website at

Sunday, 16 January 2011

Sarah Winchester's strange world

Review of INTERVAL; A narrative psychosis. Cornerhouse, Manchester.

Kai-Oi Jay Yungs exhibition, sadly just finished, lived up to it's subtitle. It was disorientating, confusing and noisy. However, it also offered a delightful and intriguing glimpse into the lives of Sarah Winchester, heiress to the Winchester Rifle fortune, and of other eccentrics in a series of videos, running simultaneously, mostly in small rooms built into the space.

Winchester, in an apparent attempt to mollify the spirits of people killed by Winchester rifles, began a building programme which continued day and night for 38 years.  Starting with a unfinished farm house, she built upwards and outwards without any apparent plan, until at her death, the house had 160 rooms, 47 fireplaces, 17 chimneys, 10,000 window panes, with many other rooms and features having been built and then demolished as the project progressed.

Though there were other characters to absorb the viewer, for example, Marigold Verity, a collector of harps, and the Fung Shui master and reader of faces, Sarah Winchester's story held the key to this exhibition.  Her obsessive building, a spectacular example of the extremes that compulsive behaviour can achieve when money is no object, parallel both the form of the installation, and its content, the viewer becoming drawn into the obsessions of both the subjects and artist herself.  We were all accomplices in the madness. But the questions raised about identity, reality and fantasy will continue to resonate in my mind.  I loved it.

Friday, 14 January 2011

new year, new website!

Finally, I've restructured my website and put up some new images.  And now I've got my new blog, I have linked it all together.  You can see it for yourself by clicking the link above.

I've been putting the job off for the for the last few months because it seemed so daunting, but now I'm working part time again, I've had the energy and time to get it done.  

I was also inspired by Artonomy's '5 essential goals for art success in 2011', of which the first goal is:
  1. Get your website and blog polished up.  
Check out the website at

I'd love some feedback.  Is there too much up there now?  Should I be more selective about images or merge some projects together?   

Ok, off to the studio.  Better late than never.

Thursday, 13 January 2011

making progress...

Jackie Wylie, Jude Macpherson and I met this evening to discuss our proposal for a exhibition about the urban landscape.  We sent it to a gallery a few weeks ago, and it was sent back for more development, which at the time felt really disappointing.  But after tonight's meeting, and our brainstorming session, I am think we have improved it a lot, and I'm glad we have had this opportunity to work on it some more.

It's also a delight to be working with Jackie and Jude.  They both have much more experience than I do, having come to this art thing relatively late. I'm learning so much from them.

We popped into my studio to have a look at it, and found that there is light! So I'll be there tomorrow, sorting out boxes and moving furniture.

My new blog

Welcome to the first entry in my new blog.  I'm still working out the technology, which is why it still looks a bit clunky!  

I have just moved into a new studio at Rogue Artist Studios in Manchester, a lovely space overlooking the canal basin.  We are waiting for the electricity to be sorted out, so I can't get much work done there at the moment.  But I am getting it organised.  
I’ve not thought much about the aesthetics of my studio before, but I was inspired by someone at Cow Lane Studios, whose studio was beautiful, almost like a gallery.  So I'm working on creating a studio I won’t be embarrassed to invite people to.  As you can see, I have a little way to go.