Wednesday, 2 April 2014

Samantha Donnelly: Sampling Imagery

Clare Nadal writes

Zabludowilz Addition, 2011. Image courtesy the Artist and Ceri Hand Gallery.

We are now busy installing in preparation for Samantha Donnelly’s solo exhibition Sampler which opens on Friday evening. Artistic Programmer David Knowles and I went to visit Sam in her studio last month to see what she had got planned for the exhibition.

For an artist so acutely in tune with our relationships to modern life and the impacts of advertising and consumerism on society, Sam’s studio location in rural Mosley, beside the Pennine moors, came as something of a surprise. Finally, after several wrong turns and confusion from sat nav, we reached the studio spaces housed within a grim imposing – and very cold – ex Lancashire mill.  

Though a tiny studio space, I was immediately struck by the wealth of material and imagery in Sam’s studio. Critical art books rubbed against fragments of sculptures, with collage and photographic material spread around. This notion of archiving, collecting and the found object is key to Sam’s practice as her sculptural work combines ephemera with personal trinkets such as tassels, beads and hair. In this way her sculptures form fragile, seemingly temporal structures – often remade/reassembled for each new setting - that seem to reference our own modern throwaway culture.
Long Player Lasting Finish, 2013. Image courtesy of the Artist and Ceri Hand Gallery.

Forming a key focal point in her studio was a cyanotype photographic series from images Sam captured whilst travelling in Japan. Quoting the camera and the act of looking, this series speaks of what it is to see and be seen in modern day life. The example of the Chinese and Japanese worship of material culture asks us to consider the new ‘religion’ of the commercial, of idolatry and shrines.
Studio Image 1

Studio Image 2

Studio Image 3

For her show at South Square, Sam has been very keen to consider the architecture and heritage of the gallery space, specifically its domestic and landscape associations, and the industrial and textile heritage of the Bradford region. The show’s very title ‘Sampler’ references this directly, whilst also highlighting Sam’s eclectic and experimental practice that brings together a multitude of cultural references to bombard the viewer.  With shifts in scale and direct intervention with the gallery space (including applying watercolour paint direct to the gallery wall!), the intimate sculptural works will form an installation in dialogue with itself, activating the space around it.
Install Image 1. Courtesy of the Artist.

In referencing the consumerist, Sam’s work speaks of the desired and the alluring – that which is so often humanised, associated with female sexuality. In many of the works a guiding arm with a pointing finger, or a beautiful outstretched leg asks us to come and look closer. Like all the mythical male sailors, enticed by beautiful sirens, we cannot help but draw closer. The meretricious, the idealised and the dreamlike combine together, yet whether we should embrace or fear the material is left unanswered.

Sampler opens to the public on Saturday 5 April and runs until 25 May 2014.

Friday, 7 February 2014

Featured artist: Lisa Denyer

Clare Nadal writes

Tonight is the launch of Lisa Denyer’s exhibition Geode at South Square Gallery. A recent graduate of Coventry University in 2009, Lisa has begun to establish a critical platform for herself in the North West since graduating. I took ten minutes midst the bustle of install to catch up with Lisa and speak to her about her artistic practice and professional experiences as a young emerging artist.

This is your third solo exhibition to date. Talk to me about the progression across these different exhibitions.
Geode marks a pointed departure from my previous shows that tended to be more landscape based featuring large canvases, often 5 ft in size. The work for South Square is smaller scale, more intimate and marks my development into abstraction. This has been a gradual transition for me that I would date from my move to Manchester after graduating in 2009. This was a key point in my practice as I encountered the urban architecture of Manchester for the first time. For some time I developed work that engaged with geometric abstraction. I also curated a number of abstract painting shows including Treatment at PS Mirabel.

Like many practising artists these days, you are also a curator. Tell me your thoughts on curating and this new ‘breed’ of Artist/Curator. How does one practice impact on the other and do you think it is beneficial?
Although ‘networking’ is something of a dirty word in the art world, it is something vital for survival and I do feel that working as an Artist/Curator has opened up many opportunities for me. It is definitely something I would recommend to artists when graduating from art school. I moved to Manchester straight after graduating and I found it very hard to get involved in the art scene there at first. I found that I needed to be incredibly proactive and also to think about making my own opportunities. To this end I set up PS Mirabel, an artist led project space, where I have been involved with a number of curatorial projects. I have also found that my curatorial work has very much led into my own artistic practice. With the abstract painting show Treatment I found myself influenced by the works I selected for exhibition.

What is your experience of developing as an artist since graduating from art school. Do you have any advice to offer recent graduates?
For me, since graduating I have found myself being much more spontaneous in the way I work. This has been important for me in reflecting on my practice more critically in terms of honing in my interests. I have been influenced by non-Western art forms after watching a documentary entitled ‘Outsider Art’ and have found myself endowing my art with a childlike spontaneity. In terms of advice, after graduating I was able to join the Castlefield Galleries associates scheme in Manchester, which has been enormously beneficial. They have opened up a large number of new art spaces across the city for which they provide opportunities for emerging artists like myself.

Tell me a bit more about Geode and its position within your work as a whole.
Geode is all new work from 2013 onwards and draws upon my background as a landscape painter. There is a sense of contrast between the micro and macro as I look at both geological and microscopic formations alongside mountain panoramas. These inspirations transfer into my methods of working as I now paint on found stones, which in their rugged shapes closely resemble the contours of a mountain range.

This interest in found objects is key to my practice at the moment, as I scavenge for found stones and plywood. I am fascinated by the marks, fractures and faults in these materials. Rather than viewing them as flaws I like to see how the paint reacts and responds to them.  The stones are also significant in being scavenged from the local area and thus reference the quarrying heritage of the region. Referencing this post-industrial landscape more directly, the exhibition features the inclusion of found coal placed as a sculptural artefact within the gallery space. Challenging coal’s status as a polluting fossil fuel, these individual pieces have been cleaned and display an unexpected beauty as they shine like gemstones.

The exhibition also features a new limited edition print, specially made for the show. Being primarily a painter what was your experience of working with lino prints?
I’d not worked with printmaking since my degree show in 2009 so it was a really fun experience, providing me with the opportunity to work more experimentally. I was quite innovative and used vegetables as well as placing paint on the prints. In this way they fit more closely with, and can be seen as a direct extension of my painting practice.

What future projects do you have lined up and is Geode likely to inform and direct them in any way?
I will shortly be doing a sixth month residency in Federation House in Manchester with Castlefield Galleries. From engaging with the stone heritage of Thornton and the surrounding area I have began to consider ideas of masonry and architecture, thinking of particular man-made spaces and shapes such as doorways and windows. I am also keen to use this residency to consider my interests in found objects further, specifically thinking about surface and materiality within the damaged found boards I paint on.

Geode opens on Saturday 07 February and runs until Sunday 02 March. 

Thursday, 5 December 2013

‘My Head is an Animal’: Reality and Performance

Clare Nadal writes

From Shrines. Rebecca Cusworth, 2013. 

This Friday evening is the preview night for ‘My Head is an Animal’, my first curated exhibition project, featuring the work of established artists Linder and Margaret Harrison, alongside nine regional emerging artists. I would like to take this opportunity to reflect on the experience of curating this project and provide a little sneak preview of what can be expected on Friday.

The ideas behind the exhibition came from a diverse range of influences that have informed my academic and professional practices. These are at once highly personal to me yet also universal, addressing questions of humanity and our place within the world, which naturally reach out to the wider collective imagination. I am interested in our desire to shape a self and control and influence our identity and how this is influenced by society’s constant desire for youth, beauty and success.

A choice of title for the exhibition was obvious: the words ‘My Head is an Animal’(a direct quotation from the Finnish band Of Monsters and Men) kept haunting me, repeating themselves in my head. This fascination with dreaming ourselves as Other and animalistic was something that interested me; the wealth of cultural myths of half humans, fauns, centaurs, talking animals, beavers that have sewing machines, pigs that go to market. It felt appropriate for the exhibition title to be a song lyric, since popular music and culture was a key influence on the show. I like to think of song lyrics as ‘a 21st century poetical form’, akin to the poetic inspirations that have long informed artists across centuries of art history.

Two songs seemed particularly pertinent: Lana del Ray’s ‘Young and Beautiful’ (commissioned for Baz Luhrman’s 2013 film adaptation of The Great Gatsby), and Marina and the Diamonds’ Teen Idle’. I would like to take the opportunity here to display them in full as I feel is their due:

~Lana Del Ray ‘Young and Beautiful’

 I’ve seen the world, done it all,
 Had my cake now.
Diamonds brilliant
Unbelieved now.

At summer nights, mid July,
When you and I were forever wild.
The crazy days, the city lights,
The way you’d play with me like a child.

Will you still love me when I’m no longer young and beautiful?
Will you still love me when I got nothin’ but my aching soul?
I know you will, I know you will, I know that you will,
Will you still love me when I’m no longer beautiful?

I’ve seen the world, lit it up,
As my stage now.
Channelling angels
In a new age now.

At summer days, rock and roll,
The way you played for me, all assured
All the ways I got to know
Your  pretty face and electric soul.

Dear Lord when I get to heaven
Please let me bring my man.
When he comes tell me that you’ll let him
Father, tell me if you can.

All that grace, all that body,
All that face makes me wanna party
He’s my son, he makes me shine,
Like diamonds.

Will you still love me when I’m no longer young and beautiful?
Will you still love me when I got nothin’ but my aching soul?
I know you will, I know you will, I know that you will,
Will you still love me when I’m no longer beautiful?

 ~Marina and the Diamonds ‘Teen Idle’

I wanna be a bottle blonde
I don’t why but I feel conned
I wanna be an idle teen
I  wish I had an insult clean.

I wanna stay inside all day
I want the world to go away
I want blood, guts and chocolate cake
I wanna be a real fake.

Shopping, shopping  a teen teen  idle,
Shopping  a prom queen fighting for the title
‘Stead of bein’ sixteen and burning up a bible
Feeling super super suicidal

The wasted years, the wasted youth,
The pretty lies, the ugly truth
The day has where I have died,
Only to find I’ve come alive.

I wanna be a virgin pure,
A 21st century whore
I want back my virginity
So I can feel infinity.

I wanna drink until i ache
I wanna make a big mistake
I want blood, guts and angel cake
I’m going to puke it anyway

I wish I wasn’t such a narcisst
I wish I didn’t really kiss
The mirror when I’m on my own
Oh God I’m gonna die alone

And then a sense,
A little loss of innocence
The ugly years of being a fool,
The youth until you’re beautiful.

Both of these songs speak of the experience and state of living in the modern world - disillusion, dislocation and ennui. They also have a darker psychological level that speaks of paranoia, suicide and disassociation. It was for these thoughts, as well as her strident feminism and redefinition of self that I was attracted to the work of Linder. Born Linda Mulvey, she became ‘Linder Sterling’ and then just ‘Linder’, a fantastical being living in the mystical ‘Linderland’.

It was for Linder’s critique of gender values that I began to start considering the relationship of her work to that of another northern feminist artist – Margaret Harrison. As two different generation feminists with similar issues of concern, it seemed an exciting dialogue to open up, particularly as their work has rarely ever been shown together before.  With my own cross-historical practice, I was also interested in the way both artists engage with art history as a subject matter to then rewrite and redefine. Linder’s latest body of work has drawn upon her research into her “household god” Barbara Hepworth, which has informed her recent exhibitions at The Hepworth Wakefield and Tate St Ives.

Barbara Hepworth/ Hannah Bateman as The Young Girl.
The Ultimate Form Study 1
, 2013. Photgraph by Christina Birrer.

Recent exhibitions of Margaret’s work, including On Reflection at Payne Shurvell, London and her work for the 2013 Northern Art Prize have explored the role of the mirror as a composition device in Western European painting and depictions of the male gaze in canonical works such as Manet’s Olympia and Waterhouse’s The Lady of Shallot. Margaret produces feminist reimaginings of these works that subvert the male gaze and question the patriarchal power hierarchy implicit within them.

After securing the support and involvement of Margaret and Linder, I composed an open call to send out to recruit other artists for the exhibition. After receiving over 40 proposals I selected nine artists to work with: Mette Sterre, Holly Slingsby, Samantha Donnelly, Sarah Eyre, Jamie Crewe, Rebecca Cusworth, Elizabeth Hudson, Lorna Barrowclough and Anna Turner. Mette works with costume to create fantastical performances; Holly is a performance artist interested in deconstructing and critiquing religious and classical iconography. Samantha works in mixed media and sculpture, creating pieces drawing on consumer culture and media; Sarah explores cultural definitions of feminity and the uncanny in everyday objects. Jamie uses print and sculpture to examine representations of homoerotic desire throughout history; Rebecca uses sculpture, photography and reinactment to explore female Otherness. Elizabeth explores the cultural significance of ruins and relics; Lorna creates sculptural works that reflect upon the nature of transformation and anthropomorphism; and Anna Turner has a materials based sculptural practice that explores the human qualities of inanimate objects.

It was a fantastic experience bringing the show together – it grew, expanded, mutated and shape shifted. It still is in the process of evolving and will very much likely continue to do so for the duration of its display and in its afterlife also. Many alternatives were explored before the final curated project came into being; processes of dialogue and engagement with artists occurred as works were chosen and alternative narratives were discussed. Works like Lorna Barrowclough’s ‘A bed, a knot, a charm - fanciful coquilles’ (a series of intricate oyster shells that interact with found objects and their gallery location) will move throughout the show to form new formations; whilst Elizabeth Hudson’s 'Can't Wait Till All The World Is Like This' are living plant sculptural pieces that may grow or wither away during the course of the show. In the final week of January the show will be recurated and reconfigured as a reminder of its temporal nature (and that of exhibitions more generally), thus performing itself a new identity also.   

'My Head is an Animal' opens on Saturday 7th December and runs until 2nd February. The opening night is Friday 6th December 6-9pm and there will be a closing event on 31st January 7-9pm.