The November 2013 exhibitions of The Big Society and Here, again at Edge Hill University in Lancashire represented the first in a series of informal exchanges between curators, associates and creatives at the university and Bank Street Arts in Sheffield, featuring photography, text, poetry, design, sound and performance. There’s no (obvious) connecting thread between the shows in a conceptual sense, but rather than being straightforward facsimiles of their South Yorkshire/ West Lancashire incarnation, each exhibition will be expanded, constricted, chopped, changed, and tinkered with according to the vagaries of whim and circumstance. After their show at Edge Hill in October and November, Helen Newall and Mark Edward’s Dying Swans will be the first to make the trip Eastwards to Bank Street for an exhibition this September. Plans are also underway for it to be followed by The Unforgotten Coat, a collaboration between Clare Heney, Carl Hunter and writer Frank Cottrell Boyce, based on his acclaimed children’s book.
Ahead of this, following his show at Bank Street Arts in early 2013, Jim Mortram’s Small Town Inertia opens at Edge Hill on 3rd March for a 4 week run in the university’s Arts Centre. Jim’s tireless work on the project- subject of this recent feature in The Guardian- has meant that much new work has been generated since last year, so the Edge Hill show will feature photographs that weren’t included in the Bank Street selection. On June 2nd, The Motorway Service Station as a Destination in its Own Right, a series of photographic responses to Simon Armitage’s volume of poems of the same name, crosses the Pennines for its second exhibition. As well as featuring the work of an extremely eclectic group of photographers, the show also includes Simon reading from his poem Gymnasium, accompanied by sound artist and Bank Street resident Ian Baxter.
Just the title of Simon Armitage’s 2011 poetry pamphlet The Motorway Service Station as a Destination in its Own Right is enough to conjure a sequence of images flashing through the mind’s eye: the motorway signage, the layout of the car parks, the caffeine bleariness, the piercing neon of the petrol forecourts, the relentless drone of the road… but how often do we think of motorway service stations as destinations… and how often as destinations in their own right?
John Clark thought that all this might provide the basis for a photography project and a couple of years ago asked me if I was interested in contributing to and curating an exhibition. With the blessing of Simon and Peter Sansom of The Poetry Business, we invited a group of photographers to respond to Simon’s eleven word title: The Motorway Service Station as a Destination in its Own Right. Some chose to work using the title alone as a starting point, navigating maps of their own design, while others explored connections they’d made with Simon’s original poems…
Si Barber, David Barnes, Andy Brown, Simon Carruthers, Richard Chivers, Alex Currie, Jessa Fairbrother, Sam Mellish, Andrew Robinson, and Tribble and Mancenido are those taking part. My own contribution, The Drive, features a soundtrack by Simon Armitage and Ian Baxter.
The Motorway Service Station as a Destination in its Own Right opens at Bank Street Arts on Tuesday 14th May and runs until 30th June, partly coinciding with Sheffield Poetry Festival, which runs from 1st- 8th June. There’ll be an event to mark the show and which is part of the Poetry Festival’s programme, between 17-1930 on Saturday 1st June.
A Facebook page, featuring interviews from the participants, is here.
The book’s available in very small numbers and can be bought online and at Blackwell’s Book Shop, Cupola Contemporary Art, and The Old Sweet Shop in Sheffield. Buy one of the copies of the book that are available online and you’ll also receive a print, bookmark and a link to download the book for iPad.
An exhibition opens on 15th January at Bank Street Arts.
Last summer my residency at Bank Street Arts took me into a series of schools around Sheffield to deliver Photo Finish, an educational project that introduced over a thousand 6-11 year olds to sports photography. The project, developed in conjunction with Sheffield Children’s Festival, resulted in a series of exhibitions in venues across the city, turning a group of junior school children with little previous experience of photography into exhibited artists.
There’s a lot of baggage with ‘Children’s Art’. Amir Bar-Lev’s documentary My Kid Could Paint That tells the story of Marla Olmstead, an almost supernaturally precocious child producing abstract paintings that most involved seemed to think were way beyond her four years. Suspicions that Marla’s paintings were really made by her artist father dog the film, which becomes as much about meaning, value, and the fragile vanities of people trying to get a leg up the social ladder through the acquisition of art as it is a little girl painting pictures. My Kid Could Paint That represents something of an extreme example of the responses that can accompany art made by young children, and on a much more down to earth level, if Children’s Art isn’t being patted on the head with well-meaning condescension, there’s a tendency for it to be regarded as little more than a primitive by-product of a child’s growth and development.
I’m not sure that any of this can ever be avoided, but with Limpsfield Photography Project, Thomas Mann and I wanted to design a project that could at least put four classes of children from Limpsfield Junior School in a position to be as creative and unselfconscious as possible. Jonah Lehrer reckons that ‘there’s a cost of maturity, an unintended side-effect of being able to exert self-control that also stifles our creativity, that represses the imagination’, so junior school children are ideally placed to throw themselves into creative art projects… especially when they’re handed intuitive digital cameras and asked to photograph the very simple details, colours, patterns and shapes around them. Focusing on subject matter of this sort, we hoped, would also to some extent level the playing field, directing the viewer’s initial focus towards the photographs instead of the age of the people who took them.
Some of the results of Limpsfield Photography Project are currently on display at Bank Street Arts in an exhibition that features a selection of individual images and large-scale prints of these 4 composites:
The children’s photographs will be in Bank Street Arts‘ atrium and Juniper Gallery until 5th May. They’ll then be exhibited for a second run from 1st- 17th June. We’re currently working with children at Sheffield Children’s Hospital on Look Again, which will be exhibiting in the hospital’s Long Gallery later this summer.
Following the opening of his Bank Street Arts exhibition of The Big Society- ‘A document of the credit crunch. A visual riposte to Cameron’s imagined nation and a critique of the voodoo economics which took Britain to the edge of moral and financial calamity’- Si Barber was in Sheffield for a week of activities in support of the show. These included lectures and Q&A sessions at Rotherham College, Sheffield Hallam University, Norton College, as well as a discussion group with PhD students from Sheffield University. In this short clip, from Si’s session at Norton College, he talks about caravans, flags, holidays, Sarah Ferguson, the English psychological state, and Britain’s imperial past:
The Open College of the Arts recorded this excellent audio interview, and Si has included a BBC Radio Sheffield interview about the exhibition on his blog. The Leeds-based Culture Vulture ran this article, which notes that the show’s ‘honest, raw imagery highlights the differences between how we live, and how we think we live.’ Not all feedback was so positive, and one of the more critical comments that sticks out from the college lectures was that the project was ‘cynical and exploitative’. Come and find out for yourself. Bank Street Arts is open until 17th December when it closes for the holidays and reopens in early Jan, when the show continues until 13th January.
Copies of Si’s The Big Society book and exclusive prints are available from Bank Street Arts’ shop and also via Si’s site.
Next Tuesday 15th November sees the opening of Si Barber‘s The Big Society exhibition that I’m curating at Bank Street Arts in Sheffield. The show runs until January 2012 and includes more than 40 photographs from Si’s independently-produced book of the same name, some of which I’m delighted to say are exclusive to the Bank Street Arts show. This is just a few of the images that will be featured:
The catalyst for the project, which examines the inherent problems and contradictions of the coalition government’s intention to build ‘a big society that will take power away from politicians and give it to people’, came as Si ‘was listening to the radio when Prime Minister David Cameron was describing the way he wanted to reshape Britain. I found his nostalgia for the certainties of his privileged upbringing quite sinister really. It reminded me of an Enid Blyton story.’
Si will be in Sheffield for a few days to give lectures and take part in workshops with local colleges and universities, culminating in an open afternoon at Bank Street Arts on Friday 18th November. This will run from 3-7pm and anybody with an interest in the project is very welcome to come along and talk to Si about the exhibition and his work on The Big Society.
If you follow either my Twitter feed or Bank Street Arts’ you’ll have the opportunity to win a signed copy of The Big Society book, plus find out about the related projects we’ll be rolling out at Bank Street over the coming months.
An exhibition of Sabine Dundure‘s photographs of the Sheffield Karen community is taking place at Bank Street Arts in Sheffield this September. The photographs will be accompanied by transcripts of Sabine’s conversations with her subjects, reflecting on their experiences both back home and in the UK.
I Am Karen has been exhibited before in Sheffield, at the Creative Spark event during summer 2011. The Bank Street show differs in that it will feature 6 curator’s texts produced by a group of Bank Street’s resident artists, hence the ‘re-interpreted’ subtitle. The texts will be expanded throughout the show’s duration, and one will feature a conversation Sabine and I had about her work on the project.
The show runs from Tues 6th September to Fri 30th September. More information and details of the residents involved can be found here.
Feedback from some of the Sheffield schoolchildren who took part in Photo Finish earlier this summer:
Unlike a more conceptual children’s photography project I worked on last year, Photo Finish featured a heady cocktail of adrenalin, sweat, ear-splitting noise, and children instinctively photographing rapidly moving subject matter with very basic compact cameras. It also involved working with sufficiently large numbers of children to require the involvement of two assistant photographers- the unflappable Sabine Dundure and Tim Logan- to guide the children, help manage the sessions, and process a dauntingly high volume of photographs.
From 21st June, photographs that the children took are being displayed in venues around Sheffield, including Bank Street Arts, the Winter Garden, Ponds Forge, and Sheffield Cathedral. This is a handful of them:
As well as demonstrating the liberating creative effects digitisation has had on photography, Photo Finish also underlined just how instinctively children are able to get to grips with technology. Each session kicked off with a short introduction that outlined the absolute fundamentals of photography before each child then had just 30 minutes to document the sporting activities in front of them. Some of the children who took part in the project were as young as 6 years old, yet were very quickly able to respond to an extremely challenging set of tasks.
More schools photography projects at Bank Street Arts are currently being developed. Contact me at andrewdconroy[at]yahoo.co.uk for more details.
You can download a brochure with details of all this year’s Sheffield Children’s Festival’s projects here.
I’m delighted to announce that I’ve been appointed photographer in residence at Bank Street Arts in Sheffield. The broad aim of the residency is ‘to put photography back at the heart’ of Bank Street’s activities, giving photographers in the area a platform to work from and a focal point for discussions around lens culture.
Several events are under development and the residency starts with an exhibition of Finding Lost Time.
Click here to read more.