Tuesday, September 6, 2022

'Contingent Cartography' at 4WCoP 2022

For 4WCoP 2022, held this year on Sunday 4th September, the proposed project was entitled 'Contingent Cartography' that, similar to last year's 'Experience Mapping' Project, aimed to record the collective experience of participating in the congress.

Congress logo

This year events took place throughout the summer instead of merely within the designated weekend. Last year, participants were invited to send photographs that had been taken during congress events or during the journey to and from those events. Following last year's experience of translating the submitted photographs into drawings prior to their integration into the combined map, it was decided that participants would be invited to send hand-drawn maps that had been created in relation to some of the events occurring during the summer. In this way, it was hoped that more of the participants work and direct input could be transmitted into the final map and would, therefore, be more of a collaboration.

Contingent Cartography: Project description

The three submitted maps (ranging from abstract, to detailed, and to painterly) were deconstructed into component parts so that they could be more easily integrated with each other using ai. The final work combined all three images and was influenced in its nature by those same constituent maps. Unlike last year, which had been a logical and quite linear set of instructions (albeit instructions to walk within a non-existent, virtual environment), this year's final map was much more abstract, with no discernible start and finish. Anyone using this map could choose their own starting point, and destination and could interpret the directions in whatever way they felt the most interesting. 

Final Map

The project was presented on Sunday 4th September, online, and a recording can be viewed below, or on our YouTube Channel here.

Project presentation

Friday, August 19, 2022

'Sleep in Witness' at the Henry Moore Institute, Leeds, UK

 The presentation of work entitled 'Sleep in Witness' by South African artist Lungiswa Gqunta opened at the Henry Moore Institute, Leeds on 8th July and runs until 30th October.

The three rooms have each been treated as an installation, with a single work taking over each space as Gqunta continues to examine how colonialism has restricted and curtailed traditional knowledge systems.

The leitmotif running through this exhibition is water and this recurs constantly through the show in different forms and incarnations. As is described fully in the accompanying catalogue, water stands as a powerful symbol of destiny, for both the regenerative life and development of the region, but also for the terror and suffering inflicted upon people of the region, terror and suffering that came to the shores of Africa from overseas.

The first room of the exhibition opens suddenly before us as an earthen plateau composed of clay and sand, mostly flattened but also featuring cracked lumps seemingly descending into a state of higher entropy. Placed at intervals throughout the space are globules of blown glass in blue, purple and clear examples. The shapes of these globules are irregular, suggesting the liquid state from which they came and also referencing 3D pools of water, somehow remaining on the surface of the sand and clay. 

Lights shine on these glass globules increasing our awareness of their smooth, fragile surface and assisting in their likeness to water pools. The smooth nature of the glass globules seem to emphasise the gritty nature of the sand beneath them, while the sand and dry, cracked clay in turn emphasise the smooth, fragile surfaces of the globules.

As visitors walk around the room, their weight compresses the sand and clay, breaking down lumps and often cracking the surface. As we appreciate the installation, we also assist in the increasing entropy. Areas of the room begin to appear smoother, as the sand and clay begin to combine to form a hard surface as the soil of a countryside footpath hardens and smoothens over time due to the use it experiences and as the soil dries out. It is as if the nature of the materials slowly changes over time.

Zinodaka  2022 (Detail)

Zinodaka  2022 (Detail)

Zinodaka  2022 (Detail)

Zinodaka  2022 (Detail)

The second room changes dramatically once we enter it. The sensation is akin to walking across a beach towards the sea edge, where large waves crash down onto the sand. Walking into the room feels as if the visitor is being enveloped by waves crashing around them. We negotiate the waves by walking through the open spaces left for visitors to explore the remaining space of the room. Once we are accustomed to this division of the room's space, it is possible then to focus on details of the wave structures, barbed wire, wrapped in fabric dyed three shades of blue. The shape barbs are a warning that though these may be waves crashing onto the beach, they are also a barrier, we are unable to enter the water. 

Here and there it is possible to pick out small collections of silver coins, hanging amid the waves. Are these coins the flotsam from some shipwreck or could they be offerings cast into the sea from the beach? 
It is also possible to identify orange threads hanging within the wave structures, the orange resonates against its complimentary opposite - the blue of the wave, increasing their visibility. Could they be signals, or way-markings? Or are they further items of flotsam being tossed around randomly in the turbulent sea? 
As the visitor reaches the far side of the room, rhythmic song can be heard from the third room. The song draws the visitor towards the final, small room and there is the definite sensation of having crossed a barrier, overcome an obstacle, reached a destination. 

Ntabamanzi  2022 (Detail)

Ntabamanzi  2022 (Detail)

Ntabamanzi  2022 (Detail)

Ntabamanzi  2022 (Panorama)

After the physicality of the previous two rooms, the final room feels like a refuge. A bench allows the viewer to sit and relax while taking in the HD video. As the rhythmic singing drifts through the space, large cream-coloured sheets appear to billow in the wind. After a few seconds there are glimpses of figures who seem to be manipulating the sheets, perhaps communally drying them? This work reflects upon the ritualisation of repetitive, domestic activities such as washing and folding sheets on Sunday afternoons in South Africa.
The sheets also resemble waves or even ships' sails being buffeted by the wind. The poetic, sensitive way that this exhibition has been constructed and curated continually throws up metaphors such as these. 

Gathering  2019 (Photo of Video Projection)

This is an enjoyable show and well worth the visit. A lot has been condescend into a relatively small exhibition. 

There are some free research events organised to coincide with the exhibition:

A panel discussion on Wednesday 28 September at 6pm / An exhibition tour on Wednesday 12 October at 6pm / and an online conversation event with Lungiswa Gqunta and Melanie Keen (Director of Wellcome Collection) - date to be announced. Book your place here.

Thursday, August 4, 2022

'Assembly' - Wakefield Cathedral, West Yorkshire, UK

The term 'assembly' could be used to describe a group of people gathered together for a common purpose, or a set of components that could be combined into a larger, loosely or tightly integrated object or relationship. 

At Wakefield Cathedral, the term was used to describe the collection of work submitted from 16 members of the Yorkshire Sculptors Group. Each piece of work sought to respond to, blend in with, or even react with (or against) the beautiful cathedral. 

'Assembly' - Wakefield Cathedral
Exhibition Poster

Following on closely from the exhibition at Sunny Bank Mills in Farsley, a piece was created specifically for the cathedral environment and, in particular, for the north-east corner of the building. The grid formed by the stone floor, the masonry blocks of the walls and especially the memorial plaques attached to the walls at regular intervals were the inspiration for the white relief panel that was created for this exhibition and presented on a simple, wooden easel.

The colours that are usually such a feature of the 'District 7' panels were in this case erased, leaving a monochrome surface of painted wood and mdf squares that emphasised the undulating surface of the work.

Once installed, the piece seemed to work well in the environment. What was not anticipated was the incredible luminosity of the work as the sun traversed the building through the day and eventually focused a glorious shaft of light onto the panel. It is always a pleasure to discover an accidental quality such as this, one that renders the work in a far more sympathetic way than was ever planned or hoped for. 

I would recommend a visit to Wakefield to see this exhibition before it closes on 29th August 2022. There are many other wonderful works to investigate, sited throughout the interior of the cathedral, some of which are discreetly hidden, awaiting discovery.

A pdf of the exhibition catalogue can be viewed here.

The Yorkshire Sculptors Group website can be found here.

'District 7, 11x8, White Relief', 2022
Installed in the North-east corner of the Cathedral

Closer view of the work

'District 7, 11x8, White Relief', 2022 - Detail
(Photo courtesy of Vincent James)

Wakefield Cathedral in all its glory

Monday, July 18, 2022

'Raw Edge' - Sunny Bank Mills, Farsley, Leeds, UK

Sunny Bank Mills was founded in 1829 and specialised in worsted spinning and weaving until ceasing in 2008, when it began to be transformed into creative spaces and eventually hosted its first art exhibition in 2012.

'Raw Edge', the current exhibition, brings together work by members of the Yorkshire Sculptors Group, responding to the concept of boundaries and raw edges. This concept has been approached and examined in a variety of media and by employing a variety of methods and processes by members of the group. 

The two 'District 7' pieces on show in this exhibition subtly raise the question of when a work is a painting and when it is a sculpture, where do we place the dividing line? Is there, or rather, should there be a dividing line between the two? Can a work simultaneously be a painting and a sculpture? 

Robert Rauschenberg constructed 'Combines', as he called them, which were much more overt in presence. They seemed to remove distinctions between one medium and the other, making it extremely difficult to categorise the work. 

The 'District 7' tiles are more modest in nature. From a distance, it could be assumed they were small, square paintings. Up close, the various levels of the tile components can be discerned. These are clearly solid and therefore the piece has been constructed using wood and/or MDF panels. In the past, paintings were often made of wood, the 'Mona Lisa', for example, was created with oil paint on a small panel of poplar wood. The two pieces here, however, have been deliberately built up to create a modular grid that varies in thickness, and have been painted in acrylic. They are certainly paintings and yet they have also been constructed as sculptures. 

We can therefore ask ourselves how we would categorise them and how important we feel that categorisation process is. It seems to change the perception of the work and also its meaning. As with any work, we begin by asking ourselves what is that we are looking at here and we then progress by asking further questions. From that point on, each viewer's 'meaning' of the work will be developed individually, according to the different answers proposed to each question in turn. 

It is definitely worth seeing this exhibition. Each work asks pertinent questions and makes for a very enjoyable day out in Farsley.


'Raw Edge', Sunny Bank Mills, Exhibition Poster

'Raw Edge', Sunny Bank Mills, Invitation

'District 7, 3x3, Tile 3', 2020

'District 7, 3x3, Tile 9', 2020

Installation shot of the 'Raw Edge' exhibition
(Photo courtesy of Sunny Bank Mills)

The two 'District 7' panels hanging on screens 
in the centre of the gallery space
(Photo courtesy of Sunny Bank Mills)

Friday, July 15, 2022

'Soanyway', Issue 12

 It was such a thrill this month to see one of my photographs on the cover of the latest edition (#12) of 'Soanyway' - the journal edited by Derek Horton and Gertrude Gibbons.

The cover photo was taken in Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon) in an apartment complex called 'Skygarden', found in District 7 of the city. A small, empty chair forms the only immediately recognisable element within an otherwise quite abstract space. The muted colour palette adds a touch of melancholy to the scene that also possesses an almost painterly quality.  

The theme for issue 12 is: 'Recording' and 'Documentation', and contains engaging articles by the editors and others on topics such as site-specific sculpture, photographic observations of the New York subway, documenting urban landscapes, along with reviews of exhibitions at Leeds Art Gallery, University of Leicester, and an examination of the rituals and roles of archives.

I would highly recommend reading this issue and past issues of this excellent journal.

Read the current issue #12 here.

The Soanyway website landing page can be found here.

Monday, June 27, 2022

Summer Solstice Walk 2022

 As part of his '52 More' walking project, Blake Morris invited people to walk on the summer solstice, Tuesday 21st June at whatever time was convenient. 

The walking 'score' for the day was created by Melanie Mowinski and participants were invited to interpret the contents of the score as they walked their chosen route at their chosen time. The way these scores can be interpreted in a multitude of ways has fascinated me since I began following and creating them. 

My chosen route on this occasion was a short section of the Leeds - Liverpool Canal, beginning at Granary Wharf, walking west toward Armley. 

To engage with this activity, try to match up some of the lines in the score with what was observed in the images below. What did you notice?

The walking score created by Melanie Mowinski

The final lock gate that opens onto the River Aire

The basin at Granary Wharf, looking towards the final lock gates

Way-marker on the Desmond Family Canoe Trail

Emerging from under the rail track viaduct

Looking back under the main rail tracks entering Leeds Station

Grafitti decorated wall separates the rail tracks from the canal

Four routes line up: The rail tracks, the canal, 
the tow path and the River Aire on the left

Passing under the Monk Bridge Viaduct that once 
carried trains into the old Leeds Central Station 

Sid and Nancy with their six cygnets, 
local celebrities now thanks to Facebook 

Approaching St. Ann Ings Lock Gates

Moorhen family raising their five chicks by the tow path

Beautiful wild teasels, with fully-spent flower heads


Gorgeous wooden posts along the tow path

I bet the birds love these berries

Portage this way, don't forget your two-person canoe

Next to the new, there is the old attempting to retain dignity. 
Let's hope it survives

On our return to Granary Square, 
a female mallard duck challenges us to a race

Back at the bridge next to lock no. 2, 
bathed in the lovely afternoon sunshine

Thursday, May 26, 2022

The Walkbook

 Thursday 19th May 2022 marked the launch of The Walkbook - a book of 'recipes for walking and wellbeing'. The book of recipes was launched on the second day of the #WalkCreate Gathering - a '2-day event in London and online on the 18th and 19th May 2022, which shared and celebrated the use of creative walking to enhance wellbeing'.

30 artists from across the UK were commissioned to create and contribute 'recipes' that addressed one or more of the following research challenges:

Walks for inclement weather / walks when there's nowhere to walk / Walks when you are bored of walking / walks when you are bored of walking the same route / walks when you are shielding / walks when you cannot walk very far / walks when you are anxious / walks when you don't have much time / walks when you can't be bothered / walks for inspiration / walks as an act of self-care / walks for a social bubble / walks for the physically distanced but socially connected / walks to make others smile / walks for the isolated / walks for the lonely / walks for busy people / walks for escape / walks for winter / walks in the rain / walks when it is dark / walks for indoors / walks with children, babies and/or teenagers / walks to work something out / walks in a place you feel uncomfortable or out of place / walks of welcome / walks for all the senses / walks to read your environment / walks to know your environment / walks to combat fear / walks to build your confidence / walks to manage pain / walks to expose obstacles / walks to bridge communities / walks to acknowledge slower pace / walks to start a revolution...

The organisers also stated "we recognise that 'walking' refers to a diverse range of approaches and needs. While not all recipes may be suitable for everyone, our aim is that the majority will be".

The front cover of the The Walkbook

The #WalkCreate Gathering

Nina and I worked on a recipe for the book and we identified our chosen challenge as relating to 'walks to know your environment'. Our aim was to create a series of questions posed to the reader/walker that could hopefully stimulate a better awareness and understanding of the environment. It was therefore necessary to create a recipe that did not specify a particular type of environment too clearly, aiming for an adaptable text that could be adapted to a variety of locations, places and spaces.

Besides the textual triggers, or provocations, we also devoted time to the visual layout of the recipe. We felt that the visual nature of the recipe and how the text is received by the reader is crucial to the creation of the relevant approach to the walk. We imagined each walk beginning at an entrance or gateway and later ending at roughly the same place. This meant the layout of the questions would be arranged in a circular pattern to suggest the cyclical quality of the walk. 

Each block of text was placed within a hexagon. This decision was deliberate and referenced classic board layouts used in games of strategy. These were all physically linked to emphasise how each question/experience blended into the next. Graphic arrows were placed in order to emphasise the link between one hexagon and the next. The order of the hexagons was arranged clockwise from the bottom of the page, to mirror the layout on many classic board games. 
The arrows were also created in green, in contrast to the blocks of text, to add a sense of depth to the composition and to focus attention onto the text. Small, colourful icons were also placed at intervals around the page to add a ludic sense of fun that we hoped the reader/walker would experience.

Below is the final artwork as submitted to the editors:

'A Walk to Know Your Environment' - Final Artwork

After waiting eagerly for the launch of the The Walkbook, we were so happy to receive the launched publication as an online pdf. At first we didn't recognise our contribution until we matched up the published text to the one we had created. 
Unfortunately, all of the visual elements we had considered, developed, modified and incorporated had disappeared and overall, the recipe now seemed quite sparse and minimal. 

The references to board games and the integrated game mechanisms that we hoped to suggest, had all disappeared. This was initially very disappointing but on reflection we are incredibly pleased to be included in the The Walkbook and we would love to hear from anyone who has tried out our recipe. 

Please let us know how it went and how the experience modified how you might now approach, experience and 'know' the environment in a new way.

Below is the artwork as published in The Walkbook:

Final recipe as published in The Walkbook

Tuesday, April 26, 2022

'A State of Matter' at the Henry Moore Institute, Leeds, UK

 The exhibition 'A State of Matter' runs from 18th Feb - 5th June 2022 at the Henry Moore Institute in Leeds, UK and is divided into three rooms that represent the three states of matter, solid, gas and liquid. 

The exhibition proceeds to demonstrates how glass can be explored in those three states via the utilisation of a range of techniques and processes. The exhibition also revives the argument surrounding glass as a material and on which side of the craft / art divide it lies. For me, there is no divide and I approach all works with the same attitude, seeking to allow the work to speak to me (or not) and then following that thread as I attempt to construct meaning.  

I have chosen a handful of examples from the exhibition to photograph here, though I would recommend the reader to visit the show themselves rather than relying on my selection of representative works.

Elliot Walker was the winner of the Netflix series 'Blown Away' and manipulates glass with ease. His work 'Spillage' suggests pop-art style graphic representations of still life, with an interesting commentary on the materiality of glass and its solid/liquid, almost contradictory, existence. In this still life, which elements are solid and which are liquid? He manages to represent and contrast both states with a single material.

Spillage, 2019 - Elliot Walker

Silvia Levenson's work dramatically embodies fragility, the fragility of childhood, the fragility of democracy, the fragility of freedom, the fragility of life itself.  Subtle drawings are encased within the object, like nostalgic dreams or memories, and the work lies protected within an acrylic box as though in an effort to prevent those dreams and aspirations from being shattered. 

Untitled, 2007 - Silvia Levenson

Since I saw a large exhibition of Mona Hatoum's work at the Tate Modern in 2016, I have been entranced by the poignancy and poetry of her work. I love the way she balances often unsettling combinations of materials in relationships that seem almost inevitable. In the piece presented at the Henry Moore Institute, we are presented with blown glass forms that suggest internal organs with their haemoglobin colour and which, on closer inspection, appear soft, lightweight, and delicate. These are locked in zinc-plated steel cages and the intense contrast between the soft globular forms and the rigid steel box triggers a feeling of discomfort and pain.

Cells, 2014 - Mona Hatoum

Czech artist Petr Stanicky combines a surreal biomorphic form with a car window, with the molten mirrored object appearing to take a bite from the car window and it this action that animates the arrangement and causes it to rise up from the plinth. Once again, we are reminded of the versatile nature of glass. The car window is familiar to us and therefore we read it as inert, while the biomorphic form takes on the appearance of a living form and we interpret the conjunction of the two objects as a 'bite' in order to make sense of the scene. 

Mirror-Mondeo Bite, 2014 - Petr Stanicky

As an art student in the late 1970s I was introduced to conceptual art by the work of Joseph Kosuth. His work introduced me to semiotics, and how we construct meaning from what we see, how we develop preconceptions, how we understand what we think we know and how these thought processes stimulate the interpretation of the world around us. I was pleased to see his work included in the show and his work was the first and the last I looked at when I visited the exhibition. It was a great way to 'book-end' my visit and my reflections on the work of the artists represented. Often we are so seduced by the work of talented creators as we marvel at the incredible virtuosity and skills on display, that we forget to ask the simple questions such as what am I actually looking at? what are the materials used? What associations do these materials have for me? How have these associations been reinforced or subverted by what I have seen here? 
As I left the building my head was full of questions about the work I had seen and what they suggest to me individually and collectively, and I couldn't ask more from an exhibition.

Any two metre square sheet of glass to lean against any wall, 1965
- Joseph Kosuth