Beneath the Surface: Art and Visual Culture
Issue 2 | November 2019 | Brill | FREE
Revisiting text later
ISSUE 2 CONTENTS
Editorial – Jill Howitt
Fish & Ships
Leonora Carrington: Lost and Found Michelle Dee and Anna Bean
Truelove – Cliff Forshaw
Did the City of Culture Really Happen? – Paul Collinson
Fish & Crits
Civic Pride – Michael Howcroft
Fairytale Freedom and Culture – Richard Lees
Art Post Climate Change – Colin Challen
Paragon Railway Station – Cliff Forshaw
Class of 2017 – Jennifer Hewson
Once upon a Time Jill Howitt
Drawing in between the Lines – Lauren Saunders
Present Tense: A Conversation about Liverpool European Capital of Culture, Ten Years On Laura Robertson and Mike Pinnington
The Last Judgement – Maja Spasova
Interview: Bankside Gallery
Readymade in Staffordshire Tony Rheinberg
Passed to Coventry – Denise Courcoux
Artist in the Middle Jake Machen
Issue 2 | Brill | November 2019 The Critical Fish is a collaborative project which promotes critical and accessible writing about arts and visual culture. Centered on Hull, The Critical Fish supports creativity and culture in the region but is also outward facing, inviting contributions and ideas from further afield. This journal is a forum for debate; connecting artists, writers, organisations and audiences through cultural conversations. Commissioners: Jill Howitt Lauren Saunders Editors: Mary Aherne Barnaby Haran Jill Howitt Design: Joseph Cox Contributors: Bankside Gallery, Colin Challen, Paul Collinson, Denise Courcoux, Michelle Dee and Anna Bean, Cliff Forshaw, Jennifer Hewson, Michael Howcroft, Jill Howitt, Richard Lees, Jake Machen, Courtney Randall, Laura Robertson and Mike Pinnington, Tony Rheinberg, Lauren Saunders, SHIPS in the SKY ( Esther Johnson and Leigh Bird), Maja Spasova Crit participants: David Cleary, Joe Cox, Barbara Grabher, Dom Heffer, Clare Holdstock, Jill Howitt, Nicola Gibbons. Film/recording: Juosaz Domarkas, Rebecca Hannant, Ben Lewis, Emilly Montgomery, Rob Moses, Cristina Popa Darren Squires, Say hello: thecriticalfish email@example.com
EDITORIAL JILL HOWITT Welcome to ‘Brill’, the second issue of The Critical Fish. Coinciding with the ‘Cultural Transformations’ conference at University of Hull, which will present the final evaluation of City of Culture 2017, we invited creative responses to the theme, ‘Afterwards, Afterwords, Afterimages’. Artists and writers were asked to reflect on how 2017 impacted on individuals and communities. We were interested in how events shaped or redirected artists’ work, and the unexpected moments that challenged attitudes and changed minds. It was important to give a voice to artists and writers, and make opportunities for new creative work. We were delighted by the responses – as much about current practice; the present cultural moment – than a commentary on City of Culture. ‘Brill’ includes interviews with Bankside Gallery, and Esther Johnson and Leigh Bird from SHIPS in the SKY. These projects epitomise the exciting, inclusive and creative work currently taking place in Hull that we want to celebrate. Separated by 55 years the post war glass tiled mural, and the colourful, expressive graffiti walls currently unfolding across the city, are ‘public art’ projects that foreground involvement and participation. Bankside developed from the interest ignited by Banksy’s intervention on Scott St Bridge at the beginning of 2018, and SHIPS in the SKY captures the social history connected to the former Co-op/BHS building, for which Alan Boyson’s Three Ships mural is such a striking and important visual signifier. Sadly both images are endangered as the Scott St Bridge has been found to be unsafe, and a very recent report has ruled that the presence of asbestos in the BHS building makes it impossible to save the mural. There will be challenges to this, and we wish Esther, Leigh and SHIPS in the SKY all the best for the coming months. For these articles we were able to broker some interesting partnerships. Our featured artist for this issue is Jake Machen, a Hull based illustrator, who we commissioned to produce an illustrated timeline of SHIPS in the SKY. We thought that Jake’s slightly manic, slightly crazy, detailed style was just right for representing this layered and hectic history. And Courtney Randall, a recent Fine Art graduate, joined me for the Bankside interview. Courtney paints ‘industrial landscapes’ from the Bankside area and her gritty, plaster and oil paint, monochrome paintings are shown alongside the interview. Also featured are the paintings and poetry of Cliff Forshaw. Cliff paints scenes of Hull, including a series of views from high vantage points. We are keen to include creative writing, and work that explores the intersection between the visual and the literary. EDITORIAL | JILL HOWITT | 3
There are articles that deal more directly with City of Culture. Michael Howcroft explores civic pride with particular reference to ‘Made in Hull’, the opening ceremony, and Paul Collinson asks ‘was there a City of Culture’, in an article that examines immediate experience and memory. Paul and Michael quite rightly ask us to look beneath the surface of our immediate pleasures and memories. My own article explores the participation of children in City of Culture and, like Michael, I investigate the utopian ‘what if’ – what if every child born in 2017 was also born into a city invigorated by culture with opportunities for everyone to be involved in cultural production? Our crit/discussion for this issue focussed on the development of Humber Street; a key focus for cultural regeneration during 2017. The impact of this was discussed by a panel with varied connections to the street. Extracts from the discussion are included in the magazine and a full film of the event is available on our website. It was great to receive articles from Liverpool and Coventry, our City/ Capital of Culture cousins. Laura Robertson and Mike Pinnington, from the well-established, Liverpool based, critical arts journal, ‘The Double Negative’, have recently published The Present Tense, in which writers and artists reflect on the decade that has elapsed since Liverpool’s Capital of Culture (2008). A version of the introduction, a conversation between Laura and Mike, features in this issue. This article, and the book as a whole, contains writing that is upbeat, realistic, and honest about processes that bring positive and negative outcomes, provide opportunities but create divisions, and involve forces we should be wary of. This is like a beacon for those of us facing similar confusion and contradiction. There has been much talk in Hull about a lack of criticality or a difficulty in being critical about cultural matters and City of Culture in particular. Richard Lees’ article deals with his experience
4 | EDITORIAL | JILL HOWITT
running a photography based social enterprise and the disadvantages that City of Culture brought to his work. He also reflects on the missed opportunity to do more for Hull’s ethnic minority communities. Denise Courcoux, from Coventry, writes in anticipation of Coventry’s City of Culture 2021, which reminds us of the responsibility to be positive, but honest and critical, and to build networks and conversations between artists and writers as the baton gets passed on. Not surprisingly, for an issue that explores impacts and imprints, several of our contributors reflect on climate crisis. Colin Challen, an artist whose current work focuses on rising sea levels, reflects on the environmental impact of biennials, festivals and Cities of Culture, that are built around tourism. Lauren Saunders traces her influences, citing the ‘Lines of Thought’ exhibition in 2017, and environmental activism, as crucial to her current drawing practice. Jennifer Hewson’s work is showcased in this issue. Jenny graduated in Fine Art in 2017. She works from nature, ‘botanical and biological’ subjects; finding connections between the external natural world and the bodily, perceptual and cognitive processes involved in drawing it. We wanted to show her creative journey by placing examples from her degree show alongside her current work. In different ways many of our contributors explore the theme ‘Afterwards’ by examining how their current work builds on and responds to a work(s) from the past. Writer Michelle Dee and artist Anna Bean collaborated on a performance entitled The Surrealist Bedsit, for ‘She Fest’ inspired by the Surrealist work of Leonora Carrington. In their essay Michelle explains her writing process and Anna provides photographs of the extraordinary props, costumes and backdrops involved. Reacting to a past moment was the starting point for Fountain17 (an exhibition which took place in 2017) where artists responded
to Duchamp’s Fountain through their own practice, 100 years ‘afterwards’. In his article Tony Rheinberg reflects on the legacy of this project – for the artists and their current practice, as well as the impact on industry partners. ‘Brill’ finishes with Maja Spasova’s The Last Judgement. This refers to a performance which has taken place in Stockholm and Berlin and is shortly to be performed in London. Coincidentally a facsimile of Michelangelo’s Last Judgement currently resides in Hull’s Holy Trinity Church and Maja explores choices and consequences in our current social, economic and environmental situation. There will be broad interest in the outcomes of the evaluation conference that provides evidence about how a City of Culture tenure can benefit a place and bolster pride and identity in challenging times. Individual experience suggests that consequences are often unexpected and the best can come from the worst, and vice versa. The present moment in our lives is the accumulation of many previous moments or causes, and not easy to ascribe to one factor, just as 2017 wasn’t a starting point but part of a continuum of events that paved the way for our current situation. In this issue our artists and writers have unravelled impacts, planned and unforeseen, on the city, on particular groups or communities, and on individuals and their creative work. Some of this is work in progress. We would like to keep up with SHIPS in the SKY and Bankside, develop further conversations about the place for children in the arts, whilst continuing to feature individual and collaborative practice. Our environmental impact, and the effect that we can have as artists, writers, individuals and communities is likely to play an increasingly urgent part in future issues.
Leonora Carrington: Lost and Found Writer Michelle Dee and artist Anna Bean respond to the work of Leonora Carrington.
‘I am a female, human animal’, she declares. This is a pivotal line in the performance as it pinpoints the moment in the artist’s life where a line has been drawn, and an understanding of physical and artistic self has been reached. It carries great weight for this performer, particularly when situated within the context of a wider event with sisterly solidarity at its heart. Her words may be interpreted in many ways. I believe when Leonora Carrington made this statement she was deﬁning her take on Surrealism, shedding some light on the chimeric beings that inhabited her work and domestic life, and decisively extricating herself from the role of muse within the male-dominated Surrealist movement. The Lancashireborn artist who turned her back on the privilege of 1930’s English society would go on to be heralded as one of the most important artists in Mexico with a distinguished career resulting in a body of work spanning seven decades. The ﬁrst UK solo exhibition of her work in over twenty years took place, four years after her death, at Tate Liverpool (6 March – 31 May 2015) as part of the Year of Mexico in the UK. It was an hour-long documentary, Leonora Carrington: The Lost Surrealist, broadcast on BBC 4 in 2018, which piqued my curiosity: the grand-sounding title hinting at something mysterious. Directed by Teresa Grifﬁths, it contained talking heads interviews to camera from a mix of people close to
Leonora’s story; cutaways of paintings, and old photographs showing the complicated relationship Leonora had with people who would be thought of today as the grandees of the avant-garde. Black and white and early colour photographs showed her sitting alongside Guggenheim, Miller, Duchamp, Breton, Ernst, Mondrian and many more. The documentary also used animated sequences bringing elements from her paintings to life, particularly in the asylum section of the story. In her memoir, Down Under (written in 1944, three years after leaving the asylum), Carrington describes the brutal therapies, sexual assaults and the hallucinatory drugs administered during her period of enforced incarceration in a hospital in Spain.I Early incarnations of my piece that would eventually become the affectionately titled Surrealist Bedsit – it was largely written on scraps of paper at 3am in the conﬁnes of my mangy ﬂat – imagined the artist drawing on the asylum cell walls. I could picture the imprisoned artist creating images in her mind and escaping through them and the walls of the institution into an alternate reality. It is entirely possible that, during her incarceration in the hospital in Santander, Spain, the young 23-year-old thought of doing just that. It is also clear from her depictions of apparitions in clinical guises, evident in some of the more disturbing paintings, that this torturous experience had a profound effect on her work, her
LEONORA CARRINGTON: LOST AND FOUND | MICHELLE DEE AND ANNA BEAN | 5
sense of self, the world and her place in it. While writing my piece about Leonora, I realised I would have to remove myself from each chronological detail in order to create a broader picture. I focussed on one of the main themes – rebellion. The early indications of Leonora’s deﬁant nature delighted me and I was further drawn by the way she consistently challenged the expectations placed upon her by others, how, post-trauma, she used the shamanic act of transformation in order to become more than she was. During my research in the weeks and months before opening night at East Riding Theatre for the inaugural She Fest, I learned many things about Leonora’s life including that she was a published author, that she had written a series of short stories and poems adopting a radical approach to her craft. My overriding concern, during the early research, was the elusive nature of Leonora’s life and work and the difficulty in producing a deﬁnitive story for her prompting me to note, ‘you Leonora are rather difﬁcult to pin down. Each time I believe I have you ﬁxed, you appear to metamorphose on the page…’. Once I had accepted that Leonora was not one to stick to the same cold hard facts, that she was prone to myth-making creating multiple and wildly differing accounts when telling her own story to the interviewers scattered throughout her life, I realised I too could take liberties with the text I was writing and rewriting. I reﬂect on how, before I’d even written a word, I was proposed for the inaugural ‘She Fest’ 2019 at East Riding Theatre, by photographic artist, friend and collaborator Anna Bean, and just how fearful I was of scrutiny; both of the writing and whatever performance resulted. I was also acutely aware of my trans-status, and whether my contribution would be deemed valid for a festival programme celebrating the work of female artists. I am very happy to report that my fears were allayed at the ﬁrst meeting with Festival Director Annie Kirkman, and subsequent interactions were characterised by feelings of warmth and camaraderie from all of the She Productions team. In the week leading up to the performance, the most nervewracking moment was when Director Caroline Ullyart read the text for the ﬁrst time. Thankfully she saw something she could work with and immediately began challenging me on how it could be presented. The examination of the text looked beyond voicing and posture, and considered what lay behind the words, asking questions about what is physically happening on stage; how I wanted the audience to feel; how I could build a narrative arc to affect their response? How could we entice them inside this fantastical world we had recreated: to believe in a dream world where hybrid creatures roam free? The response to Surrealist Bedsit was mixed but largely positive. Some audience members, while professing to enjoy the theatrical delivery and marvelling at the surreal nature of the bespoke set – each individual piece made and painted
by the brilliant Anna Bean – were heard to confess to ‘not having a clue’ what was going on, whereas others were utterly thrilled that we had successfully created, in a relatively short space of time, my ﬁrst one-woman show. It is crucial to capitalise on the buzz that built up during and after the show’s run at East Riding Theatre, so we have set about trying to take it elsewhere. After seeing the work for the third consecutive night, one of the founders of the theatre suggested that, with some further work and development, we could take Surrealist Bedsit further aﬁeld, remarking that they could see it as an Edinburgh Fringe show, or at Latitude Festival. Such accolades are not offered lightly in this business so I took it to indicate that these women, brought together by a shared admiration and fascination for the life and work of Leonora Carrington, no longer a lost Surrealist, were moved and impressed by the performance. It seemed I had confounded (my own!) expectations and produced a piece of work worth talking about.
END NOTES I Carrington, Leonora, Down Below, NYRB, New York, 2017, first published 1944
Images by Anna Bean – backdrop painted by Emma Garness Top left: ‘The masks emerge into the real world’ Top: ‘In the school room Listless and Levitating’ Bottom: ‘Behind the walls, the home of inmates’
LEONORA CARRINGTON: LOST AND FOUND | MICHELLE DEE AND ANNA BEAN | 7
Colin Challen – Drawing the Line 2018
Art Post Climate Change COLIN CHALLEN
How should artists address climate change? And does the word ‘should’ sound right in this question – is it suggestive of an obligation which we wouldn’t expect of say an accountant or a nurse? In many ways art reflects the age we live in, but we are now in an era which looks uniquely (and badly) human – the Anthropocene – which increasingly appears and feels filled with dread. Art is a redeeming feature of human nature but, facing the prospect of an unprecedented global calamity, how will artists be relevant in a world where the most basic of needs could be left unmet?
The psychologist Abraham Maslow posited that our physiological needs underpin all others and that these basic needs, such as food, shelter, clothing and the like, need to be satisfied before other, higher needs, such as safety, belonging and esteem, could be met.I In this hierarchy Maslow placed self-actualisation at the top. I would suggest the making of art aspires to and represents self-actualisation. From a certain standpoint I suspect that self-actualisation may be seen as a self-indulgence, and that much art produced in our post-conceptual times has destroyed what may have been a common perception of what art was meant to be. There seems to be no demand for art manifestos anymore. If the future is dead, there is no Futurism. But perhaps Maslow’s hierarchy can be inverted when, sometimes, the individual remains creative, even when their personal circumstances are desperate in the extreme. An example of this is highlighted in Heritage Times:
8 | ART POST CLIMATE CHANGE | COLIN CHALLEN
“One might find it hard to believe that a very human occurrence could be found in concentration camps during the Second World War. Art was seen as a way of survival and acted as a sort
of distraction from the brutal reality of daily life in the camps. This was a type of rebellion against the Nazi forces’ attempts to erase all details of prisoners’ personal lives. Some artists chose to paint even in the face of danger, as it was often life threatening should one be caught”.II There will be an abundance of cases where people, caught in dire conditions, find in art some form of an escape, a release. It is unlikely that art as a spark of humanity will ever be extinguished. Some of that art will be a direct response to climate change. Olafur Eliasson’s current exhibition In Real Life at Tate Modern, and his previous work, addresses the issue. In 2018, his piece Ice Watch, located outside the gallery, brought chunks of ice from Greenland and left them there to melt, illustrating the fragility of what was once solid and seemingly enduring. But Eliasson’s work, however inspiring, might come with some environmental cost. A hint of this is suggested on Tate’s website promoting the exhibition: ‘And once every other week you’ll be able to communicate with people from Eliasson’s 100-strong team in his
This sounds all very well, and whilst the true environmental cost of the exhibition may not be much in terms of the weekly live-link grilling of Eliasson’s team in Berlin, nor the locally sourced food, the fact is the vast crowds enjoined to visit the exhibition will not be locally sourced. Blockbuster exhibitions, biennales and festivals (even Cities of Culture) are designed by their very nature to boost tourism, with an inevitable price to pay in carbon dioxide emissions (fair disclosure: I am looking forward to going to see In Real Life).
galleries themselves are now seen as important drivers of economic activity) that there needs to be a reckoning. The 2017 Venice Biennale attracted 615,000 visitors. Some of them no doubt came on cruise ships. As we now know it is not merely those ships’ damaging carbon dioxide emissions we should be worried about, but the physical impact they have on the fabric of Venice itself. Not to mention sea level rise. This year’s Biennale, May You Live In Interesting Times, will no doubt see new visitor records broken. Its most controversial entry, Barca Nostra, a refugee boat in which possibly over 1,000 died, presented by Christoph Büchel, was described as ‘insensitive’.IV It is quite possible that this very ‘insensitivity’ is what excites the crowds. Art as controversy is always a tabloid hit.
Perhaps curators are in a no-win situation. The growing desire to ensure art reflects the world around us is mirrored by a desire to ensure as many people as possible see it. That must be a good thing, and certainly is a good thing for artists. Yet there is such a proliferation of these events (and
Büchel’s Barca Nostra, lifted out of the water and parked on the edge of the Arsenale dockside, captures some of the contradictions artists face. If you place hard reality in front of people without guiding them to some rational explanation, you may be accused of exploitation. If you do guide them, it
Berlin studio via a live link. The kitchen team at Studio Olafur Eliasson will also create a special menu and programme of related events for Tate Modern’s Terrace Bar, based on the organic, vegetarian and locally sourced food served in his Berlin studio’.III
could make your work purely didactic and may not encourage the viewer to engage with the questions it raises. In the context of climate change, there are no easy solutions, but the problem is all-enveloping. We will surely see more of the likes of Barca Nostra as time goes by. With a new, youth-driven awareness of climate change developing, led by the likes of Greta Thunberg, emerging artists I believe will focus much more attention on the crisis than their forebears. The art they produce will perhaps track the growth in public anxiety, which has so far been suppressed at least in developed nations by a sense that a few warmer summers may be no bad thing – in other words, an absence as yet of any sense of insecurity. Even the title of this year’s Venice Biennale is somewhat euphemistic, almost complacent. Barca Nostra, perched precariously on the edge of the Arsenale quayside, is a metaphor: almost like a lifeboat ready to be launched, but in fact a deathboat with nowhere to go.
Colin Challen – Drawing the Line 2018
ART POST CLIMATE CHANGE | COLIN CHALLEN | 9
In my own work metaphor plays a role. Drawing the Line, realised outside Hull’s City Hall in December 2018, explored the notion of Zeno’s Paradox of Motion (which suggests that if you travel from A to B, you would have to pass an infinite number of half-way points, so would never reach B). This is applied to the plight of refugees who face crossing one border after another and maybe never reaching their destination. The work invited members of the public to decide where they would draw a line through borders or barriers. The first iteration of this work took place outside the Arts Council’s conference No Borders, held during Hull’s City of Culture 2017. I have been trying to find ways of considering the issue of climate change which do not fall into clichéd portrayals of disaster. Surely the public must now be familiar with images of polar bears stranded on shrinking icebergs? The melting is real, and happening faster than was predicted, but still it is business as usual. By when is not yet known, but if the entire Greenland ice sheet disappears then a sea level rise of seven metres is forecast. Much if not most of Hull would be under water along with coastal cities around the globe. I am currently working on The Inland Lighthouses of Yorkshire, considering where new lighthouses may be sited. The design of these lighthouses will reflect the new chaotic age of the Anthropocene. The machines in Mad Max come to mind. The title of one of Jules Verne’s lesser known books also comes to mind: The Lighthouse at the End of the World. In that novel, a lighthouse was used, or extinguished, in the name of piracy. In a way, the victims of the Barca Nostra were amongst the first victims of our industrialised piracy, which has stolen their future. Writing in Prospect, Nathan Ma suggests, ‘despite its creator’s hopes, the Biennale’s big, bad boat exists more as an empty gesture than a reminder of anything but art’s limited material consequences’.V Isn’t this the dilemma artists face today – always wondering whether their creative act will ever have a material consequence? One thing’s for sure: we will need new lighthouses.
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ENDNOTES I Maslow, A.H., ‘A Theory of Human Motivation’, in Psychological Review 50 (4): 370–96, 1943 II Katarina, ‘Art in concentration camps: form of survival or death sentence?’ in Heritage Times, November 2016, https:// heritagetimes.eu/art-concentration-campsform-survival-death-sentence/2016/nov/7 III Available at https://www.tate.org.uk/whatson/tate-modern/exhibition/olafur-eliasson IV Ruiz, Christina, ‘Fierce debate over Christoph Büchel’s Venice Biennale display of boat that sank with hundreds locked in hull’, in The Art Newspaper, 2019, available at: https://www. theartnewspaper.com/news/christoph-büchel V Ma, Nathan, ‘A supposedly poignant symbol of the migrant crisis, the Venice Biennale’s big, bad boat says more about bureaucracy than anything else’, in Prospect Magazine, 2019, https://www.prospectmagazine.co.uk/ arts-and-books/venice-biennale-barcanostra-boat-ship-migrant-criticism
Paragon Railway Station, Hull C L I F F F O R S H AW Paragon purrs: whooshed doors, whistles; mag-lev trains rise, aim at squares of wheat,
cross concourse, zoom high to where their Dinky hatch-backs are unstacked from sky.
are gone on the dot, toward sand-paper, wrinkles painted on the sea.
A couple of sniffs of cotton wool are caught on one lonely chimney.
Your chopper’s eye shows an immaculate reef-knot: motorways, A roads,
Back at Paragon, the face-lifted station is where the future seems
underpasses, flyovers slipped through each other to baize estates, leafy
to have run out of steam. From up there you’d see DIY factories:
neat neighbourly streets with health and leisure centres, Big Screen complexes;
Texas, Homebase, B&Q. And further, beyond where Spurn’s thin bird-bone of sand
escalators coil round marinas, malls, swoop to galleries, cathedrals,
drifts in from the east, the estuary, the night-bound ferry:
gleaming academic towers.
the wake from the lit-up P&O.
* Maybe to mock us, there are mock-ups of all this in the Mayor’s office. Balsa, perspex, card, wire, felt, Hornby 00 trees; hand-painted families
Painting by Cliff Forshaw
Class of 2017: Jennifer Hewson
Jennifer Hewson graduated from Hull School of Art and Design in 2017 with a 1st class honours degree in Fine Art. We thought it would be interesting to contact our 2017 graduates to find out about their creative journeys since leaving college. The images on these pages contrast Jenniferâ€™s current work with the work she produced during 2017 for her degree show.
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Artist Statement â€“ Cellf portrait My artwork acts as an outward tool in uncovering my intrinsic circuitry. I am perpetually drawn to biological and botanical qualities that synchronise my internal and external environments. I work by creating energetic drawings to express an instinctive process of thinking through the body. I feel this directly documents my innate thoughts before cognition can apply context. The resulting artwork has revealed my compulsion to control. In visually mapping out the tactile, fluid, textural organelles within, I am exposing myself to my unconscious autonomic systems and physically placing them into the authority of my own hands.Â
The Sixteen Thousand, 2017, Hull
ONCE UPON A TIME… the impact of City of Culture on young children JILL HOWITT The backdrop for this essay is the evaluation of 2017 and the imprint of City of Culture on individuals and communities. For me, one of the stand out ideas was Born into a City of Culture; an art work comprised of the footprint of every baby born in Hull that year. Each individual set of marks and shapes contributed to a collage, representing an imaginary landscape, where tree trunks and branches are formed by midwives’ handprints and the leaves are impressions from the babies they delivered. Reflecting on this composition brings me to consider the many questions raised by this project: what was the impact of 2017 on children? How will those lives unfold? What opportunities will there be for them to continue an involvement in culture? In Born into a City of Culture footprints become leaves just as clouds can morph into the face of an old man, if we are open to the interchangeability of things. In writing this I came across the ‘Theory of Loose Parts’ as defined by Simon Nicholson.I He proposed that children should have various indeterminate objects (also sounds, words and concepts) at their disposal to transform and configure in their unique ways. In this way a box might be a bus, or a stick a boat, and the child uses objects and spaces in personal rather than predetermined ways. In some respects this is an essay of
similarly loose parts which can be traced back to 2017, and in particular to Fountain17, a project I co-produced, where artists, students, prisoners and children responded to the work of Marcel Duchamp 100 years after his Readymade Fountain (a urinal) was rejected for exhibition. We were proud to exhibit work by 3/4 year olds alongside that of established artists.II City of Culture is an arts led regeneration strategy, inspired by the successes of Liverpool’s Capital of Culture (2008), where economic and social impact is on offer to places beleaguered by deindustrialisation or conflict. I locate transformation within education and passionately believe in art education. Like many I am concerned about cut backs at every level and the consequences of fitting arts experiences into units that can be predicted and measured. Children and young people should have art, and more generally ‘loose parts’ to construct their own worlds in keeping with psychologist James J. Gibson’s proposal that ‘environments and objects within them have values and meanings that are unique to the person perceiving them’.III Regarding impact, what are the early experiences that will shape the next generation, and what are the consequences of cutting back on making, imagining and representing in non-prescriptive ways?
Given my background as an art teacher it was exciting to see the commitment to children in the City of Culture bid and programme. In this writing I would like to recognise this facet of 2017 and begin to conjecture on its impact – on children, families and cultural institutions. The hope is that City of Culture will have a long term impact and even offset, in some ways, cuts to the arts in mainstream education. A sustained commitment would enable cultural initiatives for children to withstand the tide of austerity.IV However, Josef Ploner and Lisa Jones, from University of Hull, suggest that ‘the role of children and young people in culture-led regeneration and “place-making” schemes,
remains under-researched’ despite child friendly developments in urban planning.V Hull falls below national educational attainment figures, with a third of children growing up in poverty.VI The bid proposed that school age children ‘will be given the opportunity to be part of the City of Culture’, and the programme included the aim to ‘use the power of culture to generate a new population of thinkers and thinking in Hull’.VII The legacy plan, built on the programme outcomes, proposed that ‘culture, participation and learning are embedded into the lives of young people growing up in the city’.VIII This work with children and
“Given my background as an art teacher it was exciting to see the commitment to children in the City of Culture bid and programme.”
young people was called ‘No Limits’ and culminated in a learning festival called LIMITLESS, which took place in an old Argos building at the end of 2017. Ian Reed stated that LIMITLESS would explore ‘learning and creativity as a driver in transforming a city’, and that ‘through culture, creativity and disrupting some of the existing models of education, we can realise the collective potential of a generation’.IX The ‘Preliminary Evaluation’ captured the breadth of participation: at least 100 schools engaged in the No Limits programmes, amounting to 56,000 children and young people with a resulting 34% improvement in selfesteem. This feels like a force in the right direction. From this programme I would like to highlight the aforementioned Born into a City of Culture and The Sixteen Thousand. Both projects involved under fives and share the attractive feature that ‘everyone’ contributed; they also focus attention on the children’s futures. The Sixteen Thousand is an installation of 16,000 hand decorated and inscribed clay bricks. Every child under five in Hull was asked to produce a brick for the exhibition, which has similarities with Antony Gormley’s multiple clay forms in the 1996 work Field (one version was made by families in Humberside).XI The use of clay has both local and environmental significance, and potential for metaphor as a substance that undergoes transformation; yet it is also disappearing from all levels of education. The footprints project was a Creative Communities Project proposed by midwife Sallie Ward.XII They make me think of our carbon footprint and, like the bricks, our impact on the planet and the legacy we leave behind. 2017 stands out in our collective memory and history. It was also a year when individuals and families experienced life changing events; loved ones died, babies were born – including my own granddaughter Ruby. The footprints and clay bricks, in their individual parts and collaborative whole, highlight the intersection between Photo left: The 16,000, Hull, 2017
private and public; personal and collective experience. 2017 created networks and connections and these two works are about our relationships with each other and the world we inhabit. In some ways these projects lack creativity in the choices open to the children involved – in that they are carrying out a predetermined ‘script’ or instruction. However they are powerful, hope-filled gestures of possibility that this generation (including Ruby) could be born into a city invigorated by culture and these marks made with feet and fingers could be the first of many that shape and build individual and shared worlds in materials, actions, words and loose parts: perhaps representing a ‘what if’ rather than a reality. In order to examine these impacts and intentions I talked to a number of people working with children and art in Hull, initiating a set of dialogues that I would like to continue and expand. Before recounting them I should register that they took place with artists who work on the edges of mainstream education. Exciting arts projects take place in schools everyday but the focus of this writing is the provision that has developed outside the curriculum and the potential to compensate for education cuts. Of course there should be more time and resources for teachers to carry out this work with their pupils in their classrooms. Between 2010 and 2017 there was a 20% drop in the number of arts teachers and a 34% drop between 2010 and 2018 in those taking GCSE Arts subjects.XIII Andria Zafirakou (Global Teacher of the Year, 2018) explains that ‘the drive of the EBacc in secondary school has created a damaging perception that the arts are not serious subjects’.XIV Arts in primary schools is variable, it can be a real strength (some offer an Arts Award); but in a recent survey of 350 primary school teachers 68% thought there is ‘less arts provision than in 2010’, and 49% that ‘the quality of the remaining offer has got worse’.XV
Photo: BCAE, Made in Hull, 2017
My first conversation was with artist Dom Heffer, who runs workshops with children of all ages. Throughout 2017 he worked with Year 5 pupils in Wold Academy, Ainthorpe and Endike schools on a project called Pipe Dreams.XVI This was a collaborative giant sculpture in which individual pupils contributed segments of pipework representing and containing their hopes. They were asked to imagine ‘what if’ the pipes carried dreams rather than electricity, and the school could be powered by these ideas. Wold Academy was undergoing a rebuild, so the infrastructure and underlying workings of things were visible. These normally hidden networks became interchangeable with interior trains of thought, the private made public, and connectivity between individuals and schools. There was plenty of discussion/reflection, the pupils learnt about themselves and each other. The final sculpture was revealed at a ‘convergence ceremony’ and displayed at the schools and at NO LIMITS. Dom agreed that a large pot of the 2017 budget was spent on projects with children. He talked about this being their first introduction to the
‘power of the arts’ and the ambition was for them to look back positively at this interaction. Dom felt that the imprint of 2017 on children was a regular engagement with culture that created ease and familiarity with the arts. Schools were connected to a city wide extravaganza. Whilst ‘Absolutely Cultured’ and ‘Back To Ours’ continue to work with artists and children, Dom was unsure how much the momentum is sustained: 2017 was perhaps more a ‘one-off’ injection of culture, and afterwards many schools refocused on academic subjects. Dom works from his own practice, exploring and adapting studio ideas to school contexts. When working in a ‘residency’ capacity the children benefit from seeing him create his work as well as making their own. They also love it when their teachers are able to join in the activities he initiates. In both cases there is a blurring of the teacher-pupil boundary and a sense of working alongside each other. 2017 enabled Dom to deliver ambitious projects in schools that wouldn’t have been possible outside the special circumstances and gravitas of the year.
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I next met with Wayne Wolton, who has worked for 12 years as a Youth Arts Worker for BCAE, a registered charity, funded by Children in Need since 2008, with contracts of 1, 2 or 3 years.XVII This is a small charity that relies on partners to co-run projects and is impacted when these are cut back. Wayne works in different settings, including after school clubs, with children from 8 to 18. At least 90% have special needs, many have limited opportunities for social interaction, and all benefit from a relaxed atmosphere where they develop at their own pace. Some attend open access sessions, and others are referred by social workers. Wayne feels that art sessions change lives: ‘the whole point is that they find out about themselves’. During 2017 Wayne’s art groups contributed to Bransholme 50: a community celebration of 50 years of the Bransholme estate, including exhibitions and public art.XVIII Wayne commented that ‘Bransholme went to town’. The estate was also a venue
for performances from outside and he took his children to as many events as possible. Wayne suggested that the opening ceremony (Made in Hull) was important for igniting interest and breaking the ice for future involvement. He used 2017 events, such as Blade, as a starting point for projects, ‘an easy hook’ that inspired a whole range of new creative work. Like Dom, Wayne sees the positive legacy of 2017 in ‘breaking some barriers’ and changing attitudes towards visiting galleries. Conversely he sees a decline in arts provision in schools and youth settings, alongside increased uncertainty regarding jobs, organisations and contracts. ‘Things are going downhill’, he argued. We talked about one off sessions with children versus regular sustained input, and the differences in terms of pace and benefit. Wayne proposed that ‘what affects people’s lives is what happens on a day to day basis’. We discussed how this also applies on the level of cultural provision in a place.
Wayne has a strong personal practice rooted in drawing, humour and the everyday. He describes a ‘perpetual motion’, going back and forward between practice and community work – he couldn’t do one without the other. Earlier this year Wayne had an exhibition at Hull’s Central Library. Over the course of a week his drawing of Hull’s architecture and rooftops accumulated marks, layers and detail. His drawing spanned one of the walls and visitors could see it take shape from the early compositional markers through to the final highlights.XIX This took place during February half term so that his pupils could come and see him working as an artist in a gallery as well as witnessing the drawing process. Artists talk about having a practice, and it is beneficial for children to encounter this individuality of style or approach. The things that influence practice can be unexpected and unplanned. In education it’s often the artist recommended to you that proves impactful; for instance, when a teacher spots, through careful listening and watching, a connection between a student’s work and that of another practitioner. This recognises and legitimises the individual voice, in the same way that Dom’s or Wayne’s pupils see that we have unique and distinctive ways of responding to the world. Whilst there are cuts in arts provision in mainstream, further, higher education and youth settings it seems that activities for children in galleries are increasing. Ploner and Jones observe that traditionally galleries are places for grown ups: ‘ “culture” itself continues to be widely associated with traditionally “grown-up” conceptions of art, creative expression, or the intellectual achievements of “high culture”, which seem to lie at odds with the seemingly more “natural” developmental stages of childhood and youth’.XX In my own research into public art I’ve considered that children are also part of the current – not just the future – public and should be included as such (although Hull’s Fish Trail is thought provoking and playful
Photo: On ‘The Fish Trail’, Hull 18 | ONCE UPON A TIME | JILL HOWITT
if a lifelong engagement with art is good for individuals and communities, then adults have much to learn from children
for all ages). Gallery education is well established.XXI However there appears to have been a recent and notable increase in children’s sessions in local galleries which may be a response to the commitment to including children in 2017, and the resulting change in attitude towards art events. Of course institutions are also increasingly required to engage in outreach activities.
Photo top: The Saturday Club exhibit as part of Fountain17 at The Gladstone Museum in Stoke 2017 Photo bottom: The young persons gallery at the Ferens
The Ferens Art Gallery and Heritage Learning run sessions for schools, young children and families, including their ‘A Day in the Life of an Artist’ event. They have a great young person’s gallery with lots of loose parts play – objects with interesting properties that can be rolled, stacked,
drummed and combined – which triggers conversation and invention. The walls are covered by famous paintings and children’s drawings: the worlds of children and high art collide. I have discussed colour and shape in Victor Passmore’s work with Ruby, and played with interchangeability – as we transformed a Paolozzi sculpture into Pride Rock, with the help of some plastic animals. Similarly, Humber Street Gallery run ‘Fruit Factory’ sessions for school children and support young artists with mentoring and trips to artist led organisations in other cities. They also host ‘early bods’ for under 5s; and when we went it was the best kind of play with material, beads, cotton reels available for us to thread, tie, hang and wrap. ONCE UPON A TIME | JILL HOWITT | 19
Interchangeability and transformation are crucial to loose parts play where ‘the “affordances” of an object or space are all the things it has the potential to do or be’.XXII Similarly Artlink run outreach activities alongside ‘Explorers’ sessions in the gallery; children can make art works at Ground and Bankside report that some Graffiti artists are as young as 8. There are also ‘Tiny Treasure’ and ‘Young Creatives’ sessions at Beverley Art Gallery/ Treasure House alongside exhibitions accompanied by activities and objects that spark children’s imagination and involvement. It would be lovely to chart the impact of these activities on the future creative lives of those taking part. Children learn from the creative activities and people they encounter. But the reverse is also true – if a lifelong engagement with art is good for individuals and communities, then adults have much to learn from children. Francois Matarasso quotes Herbert Read who proposed that everyone should be an artist to ‘overcome a wholly mechanized and rationalised civilization’.XXIII Matarasso talks about art as a way of ‘being in the world’ where children feel powerless and things are unpredictable.XXIV He observes that art provides a ‘cyclical developmental process’, where children discover, process, understand, organise and share, and makes a powerful case for continuing this into adult life.XXV I marvel at the way children’s marks, dots and dashes so easily stand for things experienced in the world and which become part of the parallel world of the drawing; Ruby’s own spirals and squiggles of ‘Nana, Gaga and Bobby’ tear the paper with intensity and effort (and love). In one of the textile panels of her recently exhibited Journey to the Centre of the Couch at Humber St. Gallery, Ella Dorton juxtaposed a little boy lost in drawing his world of ‘1 million car parks’ with his busy mum thinking how difficult it is as an adult to return
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to child’s play.XXVI This little moment highlighted to me that adults and children benefit from play and creativity and the opportunity to represent themselves and their worlds (rather than have it represented for them). In this writing I have registered the focus on children’s involvement in City of Culture and raised questions about the impact and sustainability of that commitment against the broader backdrop of cuts to arts education and austerity. The essay is fuelled by my belief in the importance of art education and engagement for children and adults and ignited by two particular art works from 2017 where every baby provided a footprint and every under 5 made a poked/pinched clay brick. This focused my attention on the future for that generation, what we can best do for them and how, in turn, we can learn from them (this present moment of climate crisis and children’s action indicates that there is much to learn). I am going to end with a project that will shortly be displayed at Tate Britain, called Year 3, by Steve McQueen. Every year 3 class in London will be photographed in the traditional group portrait format and will contribute to a ‘large-scale installation, capturing tens of thousands of Year 3 schoolchildren in a milestone year in their development’.XXVII This speaks of children as a current and future audience for art, breaks down barriers, and ensures that thousands of families and children will visit the Tate gallery.
view) and where 12 children played ball, hopscotch and skipping throughout the open evening. David Hopkins sees this as an ‘incursion’ (similar to placing a urinal on a pedestal?), which ‘trespassed into the domain of conventional adult social behaviour and became disruptive’. XXVIII Reflecting on the phenomena of children trespassing on and disrupting adult territory is urgent and timely at this present moment of climate crisis action. Hopkins explores this intervention in relation to themes of work and play. Play and art are twin threads in this writing that could be further explored – but that’s another story for another day’.XXIX
Which brings me full circle. In 1942 Duchamp curated the First Papers of Surrealism exhibition in New York, with the famous Mile of String installation (which obscured the art works from
ENDNOTES I Simon Nicholson was the son of Barbara Hepworth and Ben Nicholson. In 1971 he wrote How NOT to Cheat Children – The Theory of Loose Parts, see: https:// creativestarlearning.co.uk/early-yearsoutdoors/simon-nicholson-and-the-theoryof-loose-parts-1-million-thanks/(accessed September 2019) II For more information about Fountain17 and its subsequent impacts see Tony Rheinberg’s essay in this issue. III See Casey, Theresa and Robertson, Juliet, Loose Parts Play: A Toolkit, available at: https://www.inspiringscotland.org.uk/ wp-content/uploads/2017/03/Loose-PartsPlay-web.pdf (accessed September 2019) IV Kenn Taylor discussed cuts to art education in his essay, Access and the Arts, in the 1st edition of The Critical Fish (May 2019). He particularly highlighted cuts to trips to cultural venues and the disadvantages for working class children. X Ploner, Josef and Jones, Lisa, ‘Learning to Belong? “Culture” and “Place making” Among Children and Young People in Hull, UK City of Culture 2017’, in Children’s Geographies, 2019, available at: https://doi.or g/10.1080/14733285.2019.1634245 VI Culture Place and Policy Institute, Cultural Transformations: The Impacts of Hull UK City of Culture 2017, Preliminary Outcomes Evaluation, University of Hull, March 2018, p.53. VII Ibid, p.5. VIII Ibid, p.62. IX Reed was Head of Learning and Participation at Hull 2017. ‘No Limits’ available at: https://www.visithull.org/ discover/article/join-us-limitless-festivalwithout-rules/
Available at: https://culturallearningalliance. org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2018/09/Artsin-Schools-Toolkit.pdf (accessed September 2019) XIV Zafirakou, Andria, ‘Power to Change’ in Tate Etc, Issue 47, Autumn 2019, p.19. XV See Romer, Christy, ‘Primary Schools Lament Decline in Arts Provision’ in Arts Professional, 17 January2019, available at: https://www.artsprofessional.co.uk/news/ primary-schools-lament-decline-artsprovision (accessed September 2019). XVI The project was jointly funded by the ‘Look Up’ Public Realm project and ‘No Limits’ See: https://ideasinthevoid.com/pipedreams/ (accessed September 2019) XVII Bransholme Community Arts Enterprise XVIII Bransholme 50 was also one of the Creative Community Programmes which received £10,000 funding from City of Culture. XIX See: Domes of Hull available at: https:// vimeo.com/323570296 (accessed September 2019) XX Ploner and Jones, op. cit. XXI ‘Engage’ champion and advocate gallery education through training and networking events. See: https://engage.org/aboutengage/ (accessed September 2019) XXII James J Gibson cited in: Casey, Theresa and Robertson, Juliet, Loose Parts Play: A Toolkit, September 2016, available at: https:// www.inspiringscotland.org.uk/wp-content/ uploads/2017/03/Loose-Parts-Play-web.pdf (accessed September 2019) XXIII Matarasso, Francois, A Restless Art, Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation, London, 2019, p.41.
X Culture Place and Policy Institute, op. cit., , p.14.
XI The project worked with nurseries, schools and other early years’ provision, was led by Andrew Shimmin and Alex Hallowes from McMillan Nursery School and supported by Hull City Council. The 16,000 exhibition took place 2 Oct – 5 Nov 2017.
XXVI Ella Dorton’s exhibition at Humber Street Gallery took place from 25 May to 7 July, see: http://www.humberstreetgallery. co.uk/exhibition/journey-centre-couchcouches-good-ideas/
For more information about Gormley’s Field see: Searle, Adrian, Field for the British Isles, 1996, available at: http://www. antonygormley.com/resources/essay-item/ id/108 (accessed September 2019) XII The project was a Creative Communities Project, which means it was supported rather than initiated by City of Culture. For more information see: https://www.hey.nhs.uk/ news/2018/01/22/final-panel-unveiledborn-city-culture-artwork/ XIII See ‘Arts in Schools A Bacc for the Future, Cultural Learning Alliance and WHAT NEXT?’ Toolkit. The 3 organisations produced an advocacy kit for arts in schools: they present statistics concerning the value of the arts to the economy and the individual against those demonstrating cuts to arts education.
XXV Ibid, p.42.
XXVII ‘Steve McQueen: Year 3’, available at: https://www.tate.org.uk/whats-on/tatebritain/exhibition/steve-mcqueen-year-3 (accessed September 2019) XXVIII Hopkins, David, ‘Duchamp, Childhood, Work and Play: The Vernissage for First Papers of Surrealism, New York, 1942’, in Tate Papers, no.22, Autumn 2014, available at: https://www.tate.org.uk/ research/publications/tate-papers/22/ duchamp-childhood-work-and-playthe-vernissage-for-first-papers-ofsurrealism-new-york-1942 (accessed September 2019) XXIX This is how many of my stories to my own children, and now to Ruby, end.
BANKSIDE GALLERY One of the most significant cultural developments in Hull over the last two years has been the growth of graffiti on Bankside. This has provided opportunities for local artists and is having a huge impact on the area. We wanted to find
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out more. For this interview The Critical Fish were joined by Courtney Randall. Courtney has just graduated from Hull School of Art and Design â€“ her paintings examine the Bankside area and accompany this interview.
The Critical Fish: To what extent is the Banksy on Bankside a response to City of Culture and how much is Bankside a consequence of the Banksy intervention? David Harrison: I’ll take your second question first if that is ok? The arrival of the Banksy brought so much interest from the general public to graffiti and street art, which had never been shown before on this scale locally. So all of a sudden you had thousands of people going to take photographs, or viewing it on line, or just being down that area. People started appreciating an art form which had been around in the city for ages. So we used the Banksy as an opportunity…. like a springboard to help showcase other work by local artists, and we did that by getting agreement for legal walls from local land owners. I wouldn’t say it came as a direct consequence of City of Culture (CoC), more that we used it to our advantage. And on the first question – I don’t really know whether Banksy had any correlation to the City of Culture, I doubt it. He may well purely have done it as a consequence of political things going on in the UK…if he intended it to be about Brexit. It could have just been a cool, fairly unique spot to paint – a permanently raised bridge. Or, he may well have had a contact with someone who is from the city. I don’t know really and it isn’t something we really look in to.
open to something different, than they were prior to CoC. I think for us we just saw an opportunity. There was a coordinated effort to get a network of legal walls – which maybe had been lacking before. In so doing it carried momentum and people got increasingly interested in it. And the more that was painted, the more people wanted to be involved from a land owner’s perspective. It also encouraged other graffiti artists to come out of the woodwork and get involved. CF: But there is a long significant and history of street art and graffiti in Hull, particularly in the 90s, are you saying it just wasn’t an organised phenomena as it is now? Is that right? DH: Yes it has been around in Hull for decades and there are many well renowned artists who have gone on to do other things and moved away. Hull has a very big reputation as a place where graffiti has taken place and flourished over the years. But I think in terms of securing legal wall space on this scale – it hadn’t really been done locally and there aren’t many cities
in the UK which have an extensive network of legal walls which are organised by a group. We have created that structure. CF: Were you involved in the street art/graffiti movement before? DH: I’ve always had an interest, but in February 2018 I linked up with some friends who were long standing graffiti artists and had been painting the city for a long time, Ollie Marshall and Kain Marshall (from Spray Creative). We came together on the back of Banksy. We could use my contacts as a reporter, and their contacts in the graffiti world, to create something really good, and hopefully create opportunities for artists to get their work seen…a free attraction for the city, and help regenerate areas of Hull through graffiti. A combination of artistic talent and my contacts created what is Bankside Gallery today – but none of it would have been possible without all the city’s graffiti writers and street artists coming out to paint regularly.
CF: Personally I like the fact that it came afterwards. Like it’s linked to CoC in my mind, but it is a kind of unsolicited intervention. DH: It’s maybe coincidental but it’s a nice thing to have on the back of CoC. CF: Is Bankside an unforeseen outcome of 2017? DH: I don’t think it is necessarily 2017…I think people are more welcoming and warming to graffiti and street art because they were thrust into so many weird and wonderful things during 2017, that they are maybe more
Banksy on Scott Street Bridge. Photo credit: Anete Sooda
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CF: How do you involve artists? Do you directly invite them? I know a lot of it must be word of mouth but is there any direct inviting of particular artists? DH: So it is a mixture. We have legal wall space which is free for anyone to paint at any time – we have got permission from the land owner. That literally could be anyone who wants to paint and we’ve created a map online showing where they all are. Anyone is welcome to do so. We then organise events too – people then either contact us from other cities saying they want to paint or we put some feelers out in some cases. It’s very relaxed and often an open door. We get contacted regularly now by people in the country, and further afield, to ask where is it legal to paint, and can we come and paint in Hull? Just yesterday there were some artists from New York. Ree 2, one of the original graffiti writers from New York in the 1970s/80s. He was on a tour of the UK and caught wind that things were happening in Hull, and came here along with two well know graffiti artists, Pulse and Craze. CF: So just in terms of communicating with artists is there any sense in which you vet artists who paint in Bankside or curate what happens? DH: Bankside is not necessarily curated. What we do is ensure there is nothing offensive or bad, profanity wise. We just keep an eye on that and if anything does appear we will make sure
it is cleared off as soon as possible. In terms of curating we have what we call “Permission walls” which is basically a more semi-permanent piece, left for six months at a time or a year. These kinds of pieces are a lot bigger and take a lot more work to do. We invite artists or artists contact us, and we have a collection of those around the city. But largely – particularly the run of the mill stuff, the legal status – is free for people to paint, so anyone who wants to paint can just turn up. If we have an event, on certain occasions we will designate a wall for a certain artist, but largely it is an open platform and the barriers to painting are not really there. CF: Excellent. In our next issue we are interested in how CoC might have changed attitudes and opinions, resulting in people seeing things differently…I know you have already covered this, but is there anything that you might add in terms of your experience on Bankside? DH: I just think people are a lot more willing to try something different than maybe ten years ago. I don’t think you would have had people coming in their droves, people my Granny’s age, wandering down an industrial estate in Hull looking for artwork. People now are a lot more open. They have been put in front of so many things they hadn’t expected with CoC – so now graffiti is less scary to them and more acceptable.
CF: How do you categorise or label the work on Bankside? Is it graffiti or street art or public art? DH: I think there is a real confusion. Anything that is painted with spray paint is technically graffiti. So that could be a tag on a wall done illegally, or could be a huge mural painted over a wall in four days in a legal space. All of it is graffiti. I guess there are different layers – lettering is the beating heart of graffiti, but then you have the more pretty picture stuff (characters or portraits) which people would more likely class in the street art bracket of graffiti. We have a bit of everything – from stencil work and paste ups to graffiti lettering and more mural style street art pieces. Street art is more palatable for some people to say they like, when in fact what they’re looking at is graffiti. You hear people say, ‘I don’t like graffiti but I like street art’. What they mean is they don’t like tagging but they do like a piece on the side of a gable end. CF: And would you think of it as public art? DH: Yes it is very much that; it is so accessible. You don’t have to pay to go and look at graffiti. You just turn up, walk down your street and that is the beauty of it. It is a free attraction for people…it is ever changing and you don’t have to have money in your pocket or travel to a gallery. CF: I think of it as more “public” than some public art – it involves the public more…the public can be the artists DH: Very much so. The thing about legal wall space is you don’t have to be invited to paint. You just go as a member of the public and paint. It is painted by members of the community, not an artist brought in at a huge cost. It is painted by artists from a local area on subjects that mean more to them. CF: For me it’s that involvement …that breaking down of elitism that, makes it “public”. DH: It is the easiest form to digest as you don’t have to go anywhere; you don’t have to pay; you could be driving down your street and just see it.
Paintings by Courtney Randall: Top to bottom: Industrial Landscape No.2, 2019, 123.5 x 122.5 cm Industrial Landscape No.3, 2019, Oil and Plaster on canvas, 122.5 x 123.5 cm Industrial Landscape No.5 2019, Oil and Plaster on canvas, 122.5 x 123.5 cm
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CF: Is there any relationship between Bankside and the history of the area or even the history of the river Hull as a site? DH: No not really and I think that is what often gripes some local graffiti artists and young people in general in the city. A lot of the time people want to see a historic thing about the area, but to many young people, they are painting things that mean something to them. Historic pieces have a place if you are doing a historical commission, but in this area they can do a painting that means something to them…their own thoughts. Many young people don’t really have any connection with the past – because maybe they didn’t grow up in the days of the fishing industry or the Blitz etc. They have their own way of expressing themselves – their own culture and freedom of expression. So that’s what all this is, people painting whatever they want. CF: It is interesting the number of different kinds of artwork that have appeared in the Bankside area over the last 20 or 30 years – most of them temporary – but what they have in common is that they have shared this space. Have you got any thoughts on the impact on this area of Hull? DH: Already it is a much more colourful and pleasant place – it brings people to an area in Hull where they would never have gone, thousands of people have passed through to take pictures and potentially stop off in a local pubs such as the Whalebone. There are many people who would never have dreamt of going down Bankside and Wincomlee a few years ago, but now go on the weekend with their children. As a result, it will have had an impact on some local businesses – pubs have said they have had an upturn in business and trade, car garages with more customers, Gate 5 night club has been relaunched because they realised it is becoming a cool and cultural spot to be. There is even talk of a coffee 26 | INTERVIEW | BANKSIDE GALLERY
place, a brewery and other businesses possibly trying to find space to open… so it is not only bringing people there, it could actually bring business to the area and help regenerate it. People in other cities now have also heard of Bankside and it’s an area which is known as a place to paint. CF: Do you have any relationship with other cultural centres in the city or organisations like Humber Street Gallery, or Ground on Beverley Road? DH: We all know each other and at times you find people from places like Ground often end up painting on Bankside. Hull is such a small place, so we try to support each other as best we can. We have held events where people from those sorts of places have attended, and people who paint on Bankside have subsequently held graffiti events on Humber Street. We don’t directly work together though. CF: We had a conversation for Fish the other night, about regeneration and Humber Street and some issues around gentrification. Can you imagine having that conversation in Bankside in a few years’ time? DH: On that note I think Bankside is different. Think of where Humber Street was at the time. Humber Street was essentially a bunch of empty warehouses with a couple of pubs and ‘Fruit’, but logistically there wasn’t much going on in the empty spaces. If you look at Bankside, the area has got really viable businesses slap bang in the centre, like Riks and Crown, and they’re not really moving anytime soon, so it will keep that industrial feel for some time yet. There might be pockets of development and that would be welcome – for example if a cool brewery or coffee shop popped up it would just add to the area, but I think it will always have a grittier edge just because its more out the city centre and there are too many big industrial businesses still operating and doing well there.
CF: For me Bankside is one of the most exciting cultural development since 2017: the opportunities it creates for local artists, the scale of transformation, the kind of involvement and the anti-elitism. Can I ask you what equivalents are there in other places either in Britain or further afield for this scale of organised operation? DH: I can’t speak for the rest of the world but there are pockets of activity in the UK in different cities…so in Leicester they have a place called Graff HQ who are doing great things down there, they also have a festival called ‘Bring The Paint’. We are in touch with places like that and they’ve come up to our events. There are a number of stand alone festivals too, dotted around the country and there will certainly be other examples in cities like London and Bristol – which have hugely active and established scenes. But one thing visiting artists have said, from many other cities, is that what Hull has at the moment is quite unique – there aren’t many places you have this number of legal walls & centrally organised. It’s seen as pleasantly unusual by people who come to visit here, so I guess we’re very lucky. CF: Another thing I like about it is that it is internal and external artists. I think there should be a mixture of both…some people from the place and some from outside, which is what you have got. What proportion do you have of each? DH: It is impossible to say but our bread and butter are pieces by local artists. It would not be the place it is if not for the tireless work of local artists who go out all year round in all weathers. But we are getting an increasing number of people from outside the city wanting to paint. Sometimes they don’t even contact us – they just turn up and paint, which is brilliant because it shows that the word is spreading. We want to make sure that local artists get all the opportunities going. We
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want Hull to be on the map and that people know this is a place that graffiti is flourishing in. But it is the local effort that is the key for it becoming the success it is. Local artists are at the heart of Bankside Gallery and deserve credit for all the effort they put in, for free don’t forget as well. CF: Do artists tend to be old or young, black, white, male female…is there any pattern? DH: It’s a complete mix. So for example at our last event we had about 60 artists: women, young kids aged 11 who were painting for the first time, people there to just watch, people my granny’s age in their eighties, who maybe wanted to have a quick spray, and people from the city’s multicultural communities in Hull. CF: So you do have a significant number of children involved? DH: If kids want to come along, get involved and paint they are absolutely welcome. We have done talks in local schools and there have been countless school trips along Bankside documenting and seeing the artistic transformation of Hull. In fact what’s happening with graffiti in the city and Bankside Gallery is now actually being taught in local schools and is being used in art classes. CF: What has been the response of local residents, businesses, the street art community and then the arts community? DH: Largely the public response has been brilliant and well received – testament to the amount of people who have come down and taken photographs and the amount of legal walls being donated. There are one or two people who don’t like it but most are very positive. None of this would have been possible without the graffiti community being on board. The graffiti community have been very welcoming to us. Because there are connotations that graffiti is illegal, people are often apprehensive, but when they see that it
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is being run legally there is an element of respect and positivity about what has been done from the wider community. CF: Can you tell me a little bit more about the temporary nature of it? So things might last for 6 months, some for longer, some might be just for a day…how does that work? DH: We designate walls for certain things. Legal walls can be painted over and over again. With graffiti there are unofficial rules that say you go over the oldest piece first. If you paint over someone you should make sure you do a good job of it and not just trash the wall. We also have larger spaces which we call permission walls which last for six months or a year, before it gets repainted and then there are more permanent pieces. We don’t have many of those; it is largely legal walls and permission walls. So you get a turnaround of walls and there is always something new to look at. Otherwise people wouldn’t want to go back. CF: I saw some threads on FB about a design…I think it was the Spring Bank mural, someone asked about meaning, and you talked about it as an exciting or pleasurable visual experience. I wanted to ask about the meaning of the work. DH: Some pieces could have a loaded meaning. A lot of the pieces are graffiti lettering. Graffiti lettering means something to the artist because it is their graffiti name. Everything will have a different meaning. Some pieces are just colourful pictures, someone’s thoughts on that day, some are just the artist’s name which they will adapt using colours and different styles to add their individuality to it. CF: For me it’s interesting that the graffiti writing is more visual than it is literary... DH: The more artists develop their lettering the more it can be difficult to read. It’s not necessarily there to be
understood…it’s just someone pushing the boundaries and trying out their capabilities and new styles on the wall. To many people it may seem illegible but for the graffiti artist, and the scene, it’s about pushing the boundaries and expressing themselves. Having fun really. CF: I’m interested in words you can’t read in conventional ways. We are surrounded by words we can read, that communicate in a particular way, so it’s nice to have words that connect in a different way. I also thought about the meanings of the individual pieces and also their meaning as a combined whole …the sum of the pieces says something… they work as a collective…would you agree with that? DH: Sorry I’m not sure what you mean. CF: So each individual piece has its own particular story, or it might mean something to the artist, but the whole project, has got a meaning...a powerful thing to say. Just as an exhibition has a number of individual paintings which might combine to tell a story overall. I was wondering whether we could think about Bankside in that way? DH: I don’t think we look into things as deeply as many art circles do. We literally view it as a collection of works and a space for people to be creative and have fun – no meanings. CF: Can I ask about the repositioning of the Banksy? DH: The bridge itself is structurally unstable, so it has to move from where it is. The council wants to potentially rebuild a mock bridge to remount the Banksy on in the future (if feasible). It’s an interesting idea, but I don’t know whether it’s necessary. The nature of graffiti is that it’s a temporary art form – so if it goes it goes. It should not be in a gallery as the meaning of it is supposed to be on the streets. It is probably better to keep it in the vicinity of where it is was painted rather than
putting it in an enclosed space. There is also the argument that many people make, that it is supposed to be temporary and maybe it has had its time. If it has to go, it has to go, like if you paint on a legal wall in Hull your work might have to go in a fortnight… CF: Have you got anything to add? DH: I guess just a thank you to everyone who has believed in us, supported us and got involved with the project. We have had thousands of pieces of artwork painted, many people have painted them from all over the city and country – bringing visitors to Hull as a result. This is helping to regenerate the area, it has reduced the instances of fire and anti-social behaviour in the Preston Road area, and it’s hopefully helping inspire a new generation of artists in the city. We know there are lots of artists who are now getting commissions after their pieces have been spotted on Bankside, which is great. The events we have put on have brought people to the city, who have spent money in shops, pubs and hotels, contributing to the local economy. So we think that graffiti is having a positive impact on Hull. CF: And its completely grass roots isn’t it? DH: Yes it’s only me, Olly Marshall and Kain Marshall who organise Bankside Gallery, but it wouldn’t be possible without the support of all the artists who’ve taken the time to paint, paying out of their own pocket. We’ve done everything we’ve done with pretty much no funding – we’ve had a minimal amount to put on things like Preston Road, but nothing really. Bankside Gallery is built purely on effort, the goodwill of local people, artists who paint for free, and firms like Crown Paints who have donated paint. It is very much grass roots.
For more information about Bankside there have been some excellent articles in Browse magazine, for example see Jamie Potter’s ‘ART: BANKSIDE GALLERY HULL – HULL’S STREET ART QUARTER’ available at: http://browsemagazine.co.uk/art-bankside-gallery-hullhulls-street-art-quarter/
Thank you so much to Bankside for the interview
INTERVIEW | BANKSIDE GALLERY | 29
Top: Mike Chavez Dawson, Duchampâ€™s Ring(s) Right top: Adele Howitt, Mademoiselle Rrose Selavy Right bottom: Jacqui Symons, The Gilded Pissoir Left: Russell Coleman & Rob Walton, Concrete 64
30 | READYMADE IN STAFFORDSHIRE | TONY RHEINBERG
READYMADE IN STAFFORDSHIRE TONY RHEINBERG
Picture this … a Saturday afternoon in May 2017… a long procession of people walking along Humber Street, many dressed in black. At the front of the procession are two figures carrying a urinal that has been anointed in black paint. They follow a ghostly figure of a lady also dressed in black, in a Victorian dress with black veil. As the sombre group walk in the direction of the estuary they appear to be chanting a mantra: “Buddha in the Bathroom, Buddha in the bathroom” rings out over the busy street. The procession stops and the urinal is lifted to the end of the quay before being slid into the Humber…
anniversary of Armitage Shanks (who manufacture urinals) in the year that Hull was City of Culture.
Thus ended the closing ceremony of Fountain 17; the close of the Hull exhibition and the end of an extraordinary journey for all of us involved in its making.I
I will begin by looking at how each of the parties collaborated during the project and whether this was a positive or a difficult experience. Part of the brief invited artists to work in the Armitage Shanks factory in Staffordshire, to help those producing ceramic artworks – often modifications of existing factory produced urinals. We arranged many factory visits, beginning with a trial run with Dom Heffer and Andi Dakin working in the modelling area of the factory, followed by an information day when around a dozen artists came to the factory and then individual sessions for each artist to work on and/ or seek advice on their artwork.
I often wonder what Marcel Duchamp would have thought of Fountain17 – a collaboration in 2017 involving Armitage Shanks and Hull School of Art and Design, in which artists, poets, sculptors and musicians responded to his infamous urinal Fountain, which had been rejected 100 years earlier by the New York Society of Independent Artists. The idea for Fountain17 came from a number of anniversaries and happy coincidences that synchronised in 2017 – the 100 year anniversary of Marcel Duchamp’s urinal, the 200 year
Jill Howitt aptly referred to the project as ‘a chance encounter’ in her introduction to the Fountain17 catalogue and marvelled at ‘the connections between these disparate worlds’.II Two years on we thought it was time to look back at Fountain17 and reflect on peoples’ experience of the project. What did they learn, how did the ‘disparate worlds’ work together, and has there been any ongoing influence or impact on the participants’ subsequent work?
enjoying the process. In the factory workers enjoyed the challenge of solving new problems and having the freedom to develop ideas away from the normal restrictions of manufacture, whilst the artists marvelled at the deep understanding of materials and the precision required at every stage of production to continually improve processes and outcomes. This meeting of mass production and individual craft was an inspiration for Louis Shultz from Assemble who was surprised by the amount of craft still involved in products that are mass produced:
‘Manufacturing and individual crafted pieces are often presented as two ends of the spectrum. But we didn’t see that in our encounters with the factory. We saw as much craft in mass production as in small scale production, with each and every operative continually challenging and refining their part of the process’. Louis went on to explain, ‘far from a dystopian vision from the film “Metropolis” workers in the factory seemed to understand their role clearly and the importance their contribution made to the end product’.III
These working sessions proved to be a great success with each of the collaborators (from industry or the art world) learning from each other and READYMADE IN STAFFORDSHIRE | TONY RHEINBERG | 31
Mike Heaton, Head of Ceramic Engineering at Ideal Standard, discussed the collaboration from his point of view:
‘Working with the artists was a motivating change for the technical team. We learned a lot about the use of transfers and the capabilities of modern printing technologies applied to our industry; some of the artistic creations presented a major challenge for the team. We were all delighted when we successfully fired some very complex pieces such as Adele Howitt’s urinal which had baby’s legs, leaves and other foliage glued on. When we first saw this piece we were horrified by the prospect for processing it but it was great to rise to the challenge and ultimately succeed’.
Impact on practice We can safely assume that for many of the collaborators Fountain17 was a positive and enjoyable experience; but how much did the project and exhibition impact on the artists’ practice and their work today, and how useful was the project for Ideal Standard? To attribute a direct causal impact from one event can be quite difficult; what we have found is that for many of those involved in Fountain17 the experience has either reinforced the direction they were already heading in or, in some cases, changed their way of thinking. Russell Coleman worked with Rob Walton to produce Concrete 64, a magnificent slab of concrete made out of, ‘two urinals, ground spoil from china clay quarries, a coffee cup and other materials’. He found the experience of deepening his knowledge of Duchamp led him to, ‘think of several projects based on this process of breaking and restructuring an item’. Rob went on to describe one of the projects that he is currently working on, in which he uses the ‘accumulated trimmings,
over stocked items, sand pigment and general bits and bobs accumulated in the last 30 years as aggregate in large concrete blocks. They will be polished and used in a larger set of artworks later this year’. Graeme Brooks, ex Head of Art at HMP Humber’s Graft Studio, who pioneered a collaboration between the prison service and Fountain17, talked about a definite impact from the project:
‘The opportunity to show work alongside professional and established artists was an inspiration to all, raising our status and legitimising our studio practice and ideology. Following Fountain17, with confidence high, we began discussing the ‘ I AM THE COYOTE ‘ collaboration with Bill Beech and Richard Demarco which has proved to be the most progressive and radical education initiative ever imagined within our sector’.IV
Mike Chavez-Dawson had already worked on the foundations of an anniversary Duchamp exhibition in Bury when he worked with us on Fountain17: ‘Fountain17 for me came at an incredibly pivotal moment in my research in to the various mythologies around ‘Fountain, 1917 – 1964’ and Duchamp’s legacy in general. It not only provided a perfect and prestigious platform for two existing works, it allowed me to create a series of other works, that came together as a performance, song and later ‘artist moving image’. All these components later went on to be part of my major soloshow ‘Fountain, fountain…’ at Bury Sculpture Centre and Art Museum, 2017’.V
32 | READYMADE IN STAFFORDSHIRE | TONY RHEINBERG
Finally Jacqui Symons, creator of the Gilded Pissoir – a urinal elaborately decorated in gold mosaic tiles – has since had enquiries about producing mosaicked urinals ‘as a product for high-end hotels and bars’. She reflects how this is ‘a paradoxical and ironic reversal of Duchamps’s original idea of the readymade urinal as art – art being used as a urinal’. For Ideal Standard the project impacted in unexpected ways. Undoubtedly the large numbers of crowds it pulled in raised awareness of the company locally, but probably the most beneficial result was to make us rethink how to communicate to architects. The launch of Fountain17 in London attracted over 100 architects to our London Showroom making us recognise that the obvious way to attract this audience was to give them a subject they are interested in. Architects were fascinated by the exhibition which focussed on something unexpected and was far less obvious than a conventional bathroom event. This undoubtedly reflected well on Armitage Shanks and brand perception. Ideal Standard has worked with artists previously, for example, with Adele Howitt on Casting the Past, to create a new art work for the Craven Park Community Centre. They have also worked with the Royal College of Arts and Helen Hamlyn on a project called ‘Bathroom Indulgences’ between 2004 and 2007. So the combining of art and industry was not new to the company but, as Robin Levien points out , Fountain17 has made us ‘expect the unexpected’. Reflections Fountain17 was a somewhat strange, whimsical and eccentric project that was born out of some unexpected coincidences resulting in an unusual but happy collaboration. The process that took us from concept, through to call for artists, to exhibitions and performances, was itself an open, roughly guided journey ever changing as events unfolded. It brought together unlikely collaborators who thankfully engaged in the openness, unchartered
approach we took, resulting in a performance day and three exhibitions enjoyed by more than 10,000 visitors. These exhibitions involved work by established and emerging artists; students, school and nursery children, community and prison learners. Contributors largely enjoyed the experience and as well as the more obvious impact it had on artists’ future work, I would like to think the exhibition afforded a brief period of optimistic collaboration, some very great pieces of art and above all a lot of fun… Would Duchamp have approved? In ‘The Creative Act’ (1957) Duchamp proposed that the making of art is a shared act between artist and viewer and that the work isn’t complete once the artist has finished his or her bit.VI This spirit of collaboration and unfinishedness framed our project which used Fountain as a starting point for new creative work. Fountain17 also introduced art and questions of ‘what is art’ to a broad non-typical art audience. We hope that Duchamp would have appreciated that.
Reflections on Fountain17: Rob Walton One thing I can tell you is Collaborative making ticked my boxes. Getting together with them there organisers to go through this and that. Conspiring with Russ Coleman, Scunthorpe sculptor-cum-public artist. Combining with Kirk clicking like Caravaggio. Assembling assortments of porcelain pissoir parts and concrete: magic aggregate ingredients. Artists from Hull and here and there aiming arrows in one direction or other. Congregating with students and other decidedly swell sorts at some sort of seminar of sorts. Colliding and colluding with Duchamp in the past and the present. Mooching with Marcel and dancing with Dada. Cocking a snook or six at convention with words and design and ideas. Come together.
Robin Levien Designer for Ideal Standard looks back at meeting Antoine Monnier, the great step son of Marcel Duchamp… My strongest takeaway from Fountain 17 is to ‘expect the unexpected’. With Duchamp’s hugely important contribution to modern art in 1917 when he submitted a Bedfordshire urinal to an art exhibition, and the possibility that Armitage Shanks had made it hanging over us, it was with some excitement that Tony Rheinberg and I headed to Paris to meet Antoine Monnier. Antoine runs the Association Marcel Duchamp. We met at Café Beaubourg and were intrigued to learn that Antoine has strong memories of sitting on the great man’s knee. With urinals at front of mind we were rather disappointed to hear that Antoine was very bored with the focus on them whenever Duchamp was discussed.
ENDNOTES I The closing ceremony of Fountain17 took place in May 2017. This symbolic performance which suggested the dispersal and continuation of Duchamp’s ideas was curated by artists Mike Chavez-Dawson and Ruby Tingle II See: http://www.fountain17.com/fountain-17-catalogue/ III The quotes from Fountain17 artists and Ideal Standard personnel were all taken from personal interviews that took place in August/September 2109 IV I AM THE COYOTE’: THE ART OF THE SPECIAL UNIT ’74 AND HMP HUMBER’S GRAFT STUDIO 2019, for more information see: https://culturenet. co.uk/events/i-am-the-coyote-the-art-of-thespecial-unit-74-and-hmp-humbers-graft-studio-2019 V ‘Fountain fountain’ at Bury Art Gallery and Museum, see: https://buryartmuseum.co.uk/fountainfountain VI Duchamp, Marcel, ‘The Creative Act’ (1957), in, Sanouillet, Michel, and Petereson, Elmer (eds.) The Esential Writings of Marcel Duchamp, London, Thames and Hudson, 1975, p.138
With the launch of Fountain 17 coming up I pondered on the Eurostar back to London how we might launch it with the appropriate message from Antoine. I asked Tony if he could send me down a couple of unfired urinals. At the London launch at The Bath Room on the 26th May 2016 we displayed the two clay urinals stuck together, back to back. On removing the cloth I announced that it was my latest design...a Face to Face urinal. I explained that for Duchamp a piece of art only had meaning when there was an audience and that I needed a collaborator. Reluctantly a lady stepped forward to whom I presented a hammer with the instruction that she should smash the Face to Face urinal. With a back swing that nearly took out the flat screen monitor on the wall behind her she delivered a few blows that helped to deliver the message. Bart who managed the showroom was keen to keep some of the pieces as a memento of the event so was dismayed the next morning to discover that the cleaners had thrown all the remains of the clay urinals away. As the original Bedfordshire urinal that was submitted by Duchamp has disappeared I thought it was rather appropriate that these had too.
READYMADE IN STAFFORDSHIRE | TONY RHEINBERG | 33
Passed to Coventry DENISE COURCOUX
On 7 December 2017 it was announced that my hometown, Coventry, was going to be the UK’s City of Culture in 2021. The following week I caught the train to Hull, in a late dash to see the Turner Prize exhibition and the tail-end of Hull, City of Culture, with thoughts of what that title might mean for Coventry in the forefront of my mind. Having got my first arts job in Liverpool during 2008, the city’s year as European Capital of Culture, I know how thrilling it is to experience a year of cultural immersion, and the excitement of a city you’re close to having its moment in the spotlight. UK City of Culture was launched in the wake of Liverpool’s immediate successes, in a bid to spread some of the magic beyond Merseyside. I also know what it’s like, however, when the fireworks burn out, money dwindles, and cultural organisations shrink or close entirely. It’s not all grim, but it is definitely a story of mixed fortunes. I lived in Coventry for my first 18 years and, looking back, my formative arts experiences were mostly removed from home: school trips to big cities like London (Tate and National Galleries) and Birmingham (John Cooper Clarke at the Hippodrome; highly recommended for any teenager). The Herbert Art Gallery was ever-present in the city centre, but – I’m not sure why – I don’t remember going much. The one cultural event that I engaged with during my early years in Coventry was a big one: a tightrope walk between two of its famous three spires to see in the new millennium. As a decidedly uncool 17-year-old I had no new year’s parties to go to, and so went into town to watch Frenchman Ramon Kelvink – a tiny figure in a white suit, way up above – steadily traverse the void
between Coventry Cathedral and Holy Trinity Church. It was a memorable moment, performance as spectacle; a collective engagement with art that generated warmth and enthusiasm, like the giant puppets of Nantes on their visits to Liverpool over the last decade. Kelvink said ahead of the event: ‘I think it will be a symbol of hope to the people of Coventry. Everyone needs a symbol to cling to going into the 21st century’.I Almost two decades into the 21st century, it feels as though hope is needed more than ever. Can culture help fulfil that need? As a Coventrian, I feel a kinship with places like Hull. If there is an art world tree in the UK, metropolises like London, Glasgow and Manchester sit firmly at the top; then the big cities with an established cultural offer like Liverpool, Leeds and Birmingham. Then come Coventry, Hull, and so many other cities and towns across the UK. Sometimes, as in the case of Coventry and Hull, these places are the punchlines to lazy jokes. The phrase ‘sent to Coventry’ never helped, and as I grew up, I discovered that people who didn’t live in Coventry held a perception of the city which was mostly still rooted in the Blitz of 1940 and its continuing effects. Any mention in the national press was invariably because the city centre had ‘won’ an award for its ugliness; for being a post-war concrete eyesore. Hull has much in common with Coventry, and indeed Liverpool, in terms of the lenses it is perceived through. A decline in the industries that lent so much to the identities of these cities – fishing in Hull, carmanufacturing in Coventry, shipping and shipbuilding in Liverpool – coupled with extensive bomb damage during the Second World War, dramatically
34 | PASSED TO COVENTRY | DENISE COURCOUX
reshaped these cities during the second half of the 20th century. The impacts of these seismic changes are still felt deeply. Recently, it seems politicians can’t get enough of regional towns and cities, promising a volte face from decades of neglect and decline. This year alone has seen the launch of the ‘Stronger Towns Fund’, announced in March by Theresa May, to allocate needs-based funds to towns across the North and the Midlands, yet derided by the New Local Government Network thinktank as a ‘token substitute for proper devolved funding’.II In July, Boris Johnson pledged financial support for one hundred ‘left behind towns’. In September, the recipients of the government’s ‘Future High Streets Fund’ were announced, including both Hull and Coventry. Investment is, obviously, welcome, but why the sudden interest? At a time of unprecedented political turmoil, it might reasonably be seen as a ploy for electoral support, with a noted focus on marginal seats. These towns and cities deserve better than being pawns in a messy and cynical political game. Their citizens need sustained investment and support, and the arts can and should be central to this. In August 2019, Sir Nicholas Serota, Chair of Arts Council England, made a convincing case in The Guardian for the role culture can play in reviving Britain’s towns.III He cited not only the economic benefits that City of Culture brought to Hull but, just as importantly, the reported boost to the pride and confidence of the city’s residents. So what of my visit to Hull, almost two years ago? Well, I loved it. I’d visited Hull once previously, for work, and it exceeded my outsider’s expectations then. Now, visiting for pleasure, I was able to spend some time properly
exploring the city. The enthusiasm from the staff and volunteers at the Ferens Art Gallery was genuine and palpable, and I had some wonderful conversations with them about the Turner Prize displays. I saw hugely enjoyable photography exhibitions by Olivia Arthur and Martin Parr in the new Humber Street Gallery. I also experienced the assets that Hull has always had, but don’t get shouted about enough – its stunning waterfront, and the independent businesses that give a real sense of identity to the city centre. I nearly missed my train getting a pie from Hull Pie (what else?), and it would have been worth it. Though the long-term effects of City of Culture remain to be seen, I left hopeful about the prospects for Coventry; the promise of shining a light on all there is to celebrate about the city, and of changing the conversations about my hometown.
Photo top: Lubaina Himid, Ferens Art Gallery, Hull
ENDNOTES I CWN, ‘Coventry to Celebrate Millennium with Tightrope Walk’, January 1999, https://www. cwn.org.uk/community/ news/9901/990107-tightrope.htm
Photo middle: Humber Street Gallery, Hull Photo right: Peeping Tom Clock, Coventry
II Brady, Dominic, ‘Stronger Towns Fund slammed as “pathetically small”’, Public Finance, 4 March 2019, https://www. publicfinance.co.uk/news/2019/03/strongertowns-fund-slammed-pathetically-small III Serota, Nicholas,’Why the arts can lead the revival of Britain’s towns’, The Guardian, 2019, https://www.theguardian.com/ commentisfree/2019/aug/26/art-revivebritain-towns-hull-margate-creative-highstreets-nicholas-serota PASSED TO COVENTRY | DENISE COURCOUX | 35
Fish & INTERVIEW
We were delighted catch up with SHIPS in the SKY and the opportunity to hear about the progress of their project. Our featured artist in this issue is illustrator Jake Machen and following meetings with Esther and Leigh we suggested that Jake produce an illustrated timeline of SHIPS in the SKY for the poster insert for this issue. The interview questions come from Jill Howitt (editor The Critical Fish) and Clare Holdstock, a local artist, whose interest in modernist architecture informs her work. This interview took place at the beginning of September, since when the council has decided that the external mural can’t be saved due to the presence of asbestos.
SHIPS in the SKY overview Initiated by Hull artist and filmmaker Esther Johnson, SHIPS in the SKY is a social history arts project inspired by the trio of Alan Boyson (1930–2018) murals situated on and inside the now-empty former Hull & East Riding Co-operative Society store, later a BHS. The structure has had many lives – a department store, a market, a dance hall, music venue and nightclubs: The Skyline Ballroom, Bailey’s and Romeo’s & Juliet’s. On closure in 2016, the building canopy acted as shelter for the homeless and now lays empty ahead of imminent demolition and redevelopment. Boyson’s murals are emblematic of Britain’s postwar rebuilding, and of the rich seam of Hull’s maritime heritage, a city no longer with a fishing fleet. Evoking peoples’ navigation and memories of the public realm, SHIPS in the SKY aims to connect local residents with the city’s unique built environment, stimulating new perspectives of the familiar. The project strands include a collection of 80+ oral history recordings undertaken with ‘Untold Hull’; an artist film and photographic series; memorabilia connected to the building; memory sharing events; and a commissioned poem by Vicky Foster. There will be a exhibition in late 2020 showcasing these project elements.
Jill Howitt: What are your thoughts on the vision for the external mural? Is it public art to improve everyday spaces or marketing/branding to attach status to the building and the shopping experience? Or a bit of both? Esther Johnson + Leigh Bird: We think Boyson’s mural is both an effective piece of public art, and an optimistic symbol of the philosophy of the Cooperative Society. Post-war Modernist buildings commissioned by forward thinking companies and architects have a strong history of incorporating art and artistic architectural detailing into them. Strengthened by the seminal Festival of Britain in 1951, the post-war period was a time of renewed optimism, and it is a time synonymous with public art murals; though many have now been destroyed or lost. Being the second most bombed city outside of London, this optimism in rebirth unsurprisingly resonated very strongly here in Hull.
“It’s immediately recognisable and is geographically and emotionally at Hull’s beating heart.”
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A movement to recognise and document murals such as Boyson’s Three Ships was instigated in 2012 by the ‘Twentieth Century Society’ with their ‘Murals Campaign’ to highlight those deemed at risk, and their website states that, ‘Post-war murals are an endangered species. Although paintings and sculpture from this same period are seen as fit subjects for gallery display and academic study, murals – often by the very same artists – are still frequently ignored and even destroyed’.I Both historian Lynn Pearson, author of A Fieldquide to Postwar Murals and Historic England, in their publication Public-Art-1945-95, have championed Alan Boyson as an important artist and a key proponent of innovation in post-war murals. Boyson was frequently engaged by architects and retailers to come up with flexible and meaningful ways to enhance buildings and the built environment. More recently the 20th anniversary edition of the British Association of Modern Mosaics journal Adamento included the Three Ships within their top twenty mosaics of the UK. JH: To what degree are these intentions tied to the Co-operative movement and the building’s starting point as a Co-operative Society Store? EJ+LB: The whole Co-operative ethos is geared towards the community, and their brief to Boyson was to, ‘unite the community through art’. The Co-op are also well known for the quality of finishing in their stores and artworks, incorporating artistic and quality cutting-edge materials into their retail spaces, most prominently seen in their post-war buildings. Uniquely, Boyson made three murals for the Hull store – the only three Boyson works still in existence in one place – but the Three Ships is the most celebrated and widely known. When we interviewed Philip Andrew – Boyson’s good friend and the CWS architect who designed the Hull Co-op – he was thrilled with Boyson’s Three Ships mosaic, saying that he, ‘...had to turn the corner, and the two elevations were so banal. I thought, I
can’t just take those round the corner we have to do something. So, we did something. And the idea of a mural just followed, and the idea of getting Alan to design it, naturally, because anything I could do to get Alan involved in I did, because I admired his work so much…. I imagine it’s the colour of under water, there’s no attempt to represent the sky, the sea, the horizon and the sky, no, that would have been banal. This is an imaginative interpretation of an industry’. Ultimately Boyson’s Three Ships provided the Co-op’s flagship store an appropriate air of gravitas and modernity. JH: In what ways do the murals connect to the identity of Hull or the North in general? Of Boyson’s three murals in the Hull Co-op, only the recently found abstract sponge-print mural is purely decorative. Incidentally this was rediscovered due to the interview we undertook with Philip and ceramics historian and Boyson expert, Christopher Marsden. The Three Ships and Fish murals have obvious links with the city. The fish are magnificent both in terms of aesthetics and in their novel craftsmanship. We are thrilled
to know that Hull City Council are set on preserving the Fish and abstract sponge-print tile murals. The Fish mural is particularly typical of Boyson’s work of that period, incorporating his trademark outline and skeleton graphic style, using a medley of hand-made ceramics, and recycling fragments of tiles and terrazzo. We believe this mural sits equally with his most recognised work, the Tree of Knowledge in Salford, which was grade II listed in 2009. We love how the Three Ships trawlers are represented in a reductive abstract way that absolutely matches the outline of trawlers of that period, with their double cross-masts and swing boom. The Three Ships, despite being ‘ships in the sky’, is a very grounded, accessible and down-to-earth work. Regardless of its massive 66x64ft.scale, the mosaic is elegant and understated. There is no gaudy flashiness here, and thus very representative of Hull and the North in general. This is possibly one of the reasons the mural is so loved and still works artistically over 50 years later. It seems to optimistically point to the future, and is absolutely timeless and yet unique at the same time.
JH: I view post-war public art as quite heroic, allied with a commitment to social change and accessibility. What do the murals have to tell us, or teach us today? We certainly agree that much postwar public art, including Boyson’s work, has a heroic quality about it. As per the ‘tonic to the nation’ and Tony Benn’s ‘Years of Hope’, postwar art frequently embodies a sense of pointing towards a bright new future.II At the same time there are wistful glimmers of treasuring what some folk might hold dear, whether it be Lady Godiva or the Legend of King Arthur – what might be called ‘polite modernism’. In addition there is a revelling in new materials; experiments that break with tradition including wondrous examples of engineering such as the infamous ‘Skylon’ made for no other reason than to ‘wow’.III As to what public art has to teach us, we believe it’s more about the capacity of what it can prompt for discussion, evoke or conjure up for the community that see and live with it everyday, rather than public art having a didactic lesson to tell, unless of course the work is in the realm of propaganda or monument. How public
INTERVIEW | SHIPS IN THE SKY | 39
art can evoke a conversation and connect communities is really what’s at the root of SHIPS in the SKY. The project isn’t just about the murals, or the building per se, but rather about what an aspect of the built environment has meant to so many generations in Hull, looking at how the public realm can affect our relationship and memories of the places we inhabit. The Three Ships has become almost totemic for people in Hull, and we’ve chosen it as the emblem for our project. It’s immediately recognisable and is geographically and emotionally at Hull’s beating heart. It’s been a joy to connect with so many people who’ve played out important and everyday moments in their lives inside that building; from the clubs and gigs where romances were kindled or indeed ended, to wedding parties and the purchasing of baby clothes, to Santa’s grotto and special visits to see the store window and food displays. It’s a place that really has been with some folk from cradle to grave. In fact expert on Hull’s connection to the Co-operative Movement, John E. Smith, told us when interviewed for the project that, ‘It was often said that you could get things at the Co-op that other stores didn’t have…It was the Coop’s mission to provide everything that people wanted from the cradle to the grave and so they really tried to live up to that. So they had a pharmacy, they had a large photographic department, they had an optician, they had hairdressing, two branches, one for ladies and one for gentlemen, a café on the firstfloor balcony which of course BHS kept in the same position when they moved in…so lots of departments for people to look at, there was even a wig boutique’. Sometimes we need new icons, but sometimes we need to keep what we have and continue to hold it dear, as well as examining things in a new light and with the hindsight of passing time. For some the mural represents a buried, but respected, period in our
city’s history, for others it’s a tangible reminder of a time and people we’ve loved, and lost, and for others it’s still a beacon of hope and a source of civic pride. Good art continues to resonate throughout time, yet also moves with the times. Boyson’s Three Ships really is a prime example of this. JH: Tell us about the intentions of your project and what you hope to achieve. EJ+LB: SHIPS in the SKY is all about connecting with peoples’ histories and we’re reaching out for people’s memories connected to the various guises of the building. The central theme looks at how architecture shapes and is shaped by local and cultural identity, and at how public art can effect people’s navigation and memories of the public realm. The aim is to highlight the stories that you don’t hear about, from the perspective of people who designed and built the store, the individuals who frequented the clubs in the building, and those that once worked and shopped in the store. We aim to highlight what Hull folk think of this building, and in particular, the impossible-to-miss Three Ships mural made from over a million glass tiles. The project has multiple strands that are slowly expanding as we go along. With ‘Untold Hull’ we’ve been recording oral testimonies and have so far built up an archive of 80+ interviews covering all aspects of the building’s history throughout its 72 year life, from the temporary post-war Co-op prefab built in 1947, up until the present day. We’ve held miniexhibitions in libraries across Hull so as to reach as many communities as possible and encourage folk to come forward and share their stories. All contributors get a special Three Ships badge which, we’re chuffed to see, have become very popular. We’ve commissioned Hull poet, Vicky Foster, to write a new poem and have given her access to these oral testimonies to use as a springboard,
inspiration and source material for her new poem, which we’re very excited about. We’re also developing a film, and aim to hold exhibitions next year that will premiere the film alongside archive materials, photography, and artefacts connected to the building. In addition to oral history interviews, we’ve been reaching out to folk for exhibition donations/loans of memorabilia connected to the building. We’ve received Co-op overalls and employment papers; Co-op/BHS badges; placemats; newspaper clippings; photographs; cine film; and Co-op publicity materials. We also have access to architectural plans and archive photographs of the building being built. We’re looking for, but not limited to: photos; cine film; branded products from Co-op and/or BHS; shopping bags and receipts; store leaflets and/or posters; clothing from the Co-op and/or BHS – either items worn by staff or items bought in-store; items connected to the clubs such as gig posters, coasters, ashtrays, match-books; clothes folk might have worn to go clubbing in; records; and autographs collected at gigs – especially in the Skyline Ballroom. During the exhibition we aim to host a public event covering many of the themes in the project including: public art; modernism; people’s history; place heritage; importance of design for the built environment; psychology of space; changes in retail; women and the workplace; the Co-operative Movement; and architecture as featured in British New Wave Cinema. JH: Do you see any connection with other examples of public art in Hull and what is the potential for the murals to be the starting point for new creative work? EJ+LB: There are certainly other examples in the city of public post-war art, but also contemporary examples such as the vibrant Bankside Gallery and of course the Hull Banksy, and more recently Andy Pea’s work down
Newland and Chanterland’s Avenue. The latter includes a lovely gold leaf depiction of the Three Ships. In terms of post-war art, there is a medley to be seen around the city, which in part is due to the urgent post-war rebuilding with the centre being bombed so badly. As a flavour of some of our top-spots there are: six wonderful carved stone panels in Queen’s Gardens by then Hull College of Art Lecturer Kenneth Carter; at the same time these were made, three concrete reliefs were commissioned for the back of the pond at the end of Queen’s Gardens made by Robert Adams between 1958-59; and above the entrance of Hull College (designed by Frederick Gibberd), there is a beautiful resin panel of nautical and mathematical instruments designed by the wellknown muralist, William Mitchell. Finally, there are multiple University of Hull Modernist buildings, including the Brynmor Jones Library, with exterior bas-relief sculptures by Willi Soukop, including a stunning owl. As part of SHIPS in the SKY, we aim to host a Modernist tour of the city which will include some of the built environment gems we cherish, and hopefully the Three Ships, if it still remains in the new development. JH: It strikes me that the murals challenge notions about what is art and how we value different aspects of visual culture. Does your project similarly challenge representations and values within history? EJ: How and what people value as art and as worthy of being in the history books is such fascinating territory. Much of the subject matter in my work relates to social and people’s history, the stories that get left behind or are forgotten. I think these are the stories that can connect communities; stories that often get to the nitty gritty, stories we can relate to, empathise with, and that potentially speak a little of our own past and/or conflicts.
EJ+LB: For us murals can be a really prominent feature of the built environment helping communities to connect and ask questions. Of course there are also parallels to political use of murals as seen in the gable end artwork of Northern Ireland. This political use speaks volumes in itself – art that says something in an in-yourface inescapable manner. There is a tension in certain quarters about whether public art is ‘proper’ art so-to-speak. For instance one could ask why Tate Britain has very little public art in their collections.IV In some quarters there is a defiant championing of the importance of public art, and murals in particular are preserved and collected in many media in countless institutions; usually museums rather than art galleries. In fact the argument of who owns public art is rather contentious. It is interesting to see that supporters of the listing of the Dorothy Annan panels [see below] included then director of Tate Britain, Penelope Curtis. We plan for the finished output for this arts project to take many forms. However, it’s the intangible element of people’s memories and lives that is, in many ways, the hardest and most emotional thing to capture; and why projects like this, and the work of ‘Untold Hull’ is so important. We’ve been blown away that the British Library have chosen to archive the project website (which keeps on expanding) and Twitter account; it’s gratifying to know that every facet of what we’re doing will be captured both locally and nationally. Clare Holdstock: How do you feel about the idea of a replica of the original Alan Boyson artwork replacing the old tiled glass mosaic structure? Would recreating an original modernist public structure in modern materials devalue the piece? EJ+LB: We think this suggestion can only appeal to those for whom the budget is the prime consideration, or people who don’t really know
of, or appreciate the artistic and historical importance and uniqueness of Boyson’s Hull works. It’s hard to imagine this happening if this scenario were in London, Manchester or Birmingham. Boyson’s works are simply irreplaceable. CH: Plans are being made to keep the original façade/artwork; but the structure of the building itself including the ‘handkerchief’ roof is extremely unique. Is there anything we can do to save that as well? EJ+LB: With outline planning permission being granted to demolish the building, we are sadly too late for that. It would have been wonderful to see the building repurposed as part of Albion Square, but that now looks unlikely. Preserving the murals in situ would have been wonderful, but we do have confirmation of the next best thing, which is a Council who have recognised the artistic importance of Boyson’s Hull works, and are committed to doing what they can to preserve and relocate them safely. There are examples of other mid-century mural works being relocated – notably Dorothy Annan’s London Fleet Building telecom tile murals, which are Grade II listed, being relocated to the Barbican Centre.V So it has been done, and the knowledge is out there of how to do this safely with as little damage as possible to the artist’s works. JH: Bob and Roberta said that public art punctuates the public world – how do the murals and your research project shape or reflect ideas concerning public space, the public realm and public histories?VI EJ: I’d agree with Patrick’s statement and this chimes with art being a form of free speech. Public art can be extremely powerful in both democratic and undemocratic spaces. It can completely change one’s sense and relationship to the public environment you inhabit, and can also change or ask you to question your sense of history of, or belonging/
exclusion within a place. There is also the question of at what point do certain works of public art become monuments or memorials? These are all very complex and, at times, sensitive sites of enquiry. For SHIPS in the SKY, there is a sense of celebration of a site, and of the interweaving stories over decades that relate to both Hull, and to the broader history and changes seen in post-war Britain. The building and Boyson’s works are a portal, a lens, or a diving board to launch into many realms of enquiry. But these threads still all connect. Some histories are difficult to articulate, or can only be fully told or understood with hindsight. The beauty of working on this project is that the history spans decades. There might be a very different council view of what to do with such a space as the Hull Co-op/BHS premises 72 years into the future. LB: It’s interesting that you mention Bob and Roberta, who were a key part of Hull 2017. They tweeted about the Three Ships, saying “It’s a beautiful part of Hull’s post war commitment to rebuilding the city for the people of Hull to enjoy. It’s a Phoenix risen from ashes”.
Thank you to Esther and Leigh – we hope to catch up with the project as it nears completion in 2020.
FUNDING The project is funded by the James Reckitt Library Trust in partnership with Untold Hull at Hull Libraries.VII We’re currently in the process of seeking further funding to extend the scope of the project. LINKS http://shipsinthesky.weebly.com @shipsinthesky63
Instagram and Twitter
42 | INTERVIEW | SHIPS IN THE SKY
ENDNOTES I For the ‘Twentieth Century Society’ see: https://c20society.org.uk/ about-us/. For the ‘Campaign for Twentieth Century Architecture – Murals Campaign’ see: https://c20society.org.uk/murals-campaign II Gerald Barry, director of the Festival of Britain, 1951 claimed that the Festival would prove a ‘tonic to the nation’, see: ‘The Festival of Britain’ available at: https://player.bfi.org.uk/free/film/watchfestival-of-britain-1951-online Benn, Tony, Years of Hope: Diaries, Letters and Papers, 1940-1962, Hutchinson, 1994. III The steel and aluminium ‘Skylon’, was interestingly built 2 years after Labour passed the Iron and Steel Act which led to the nationalisation of Steel. In 1952 the Skylon was dumped into the River Lea in East London, which some might argue, could be seen as a metaphor for austerity that followed the veiled optimism demonstrated throughout the Festival of Britain. IV For a definition of ‘Public Art’ on the Tate website see: https://www. tate.org.uk/art/art-terms/p/public-art V For more information on Dorothy Annan, see: https://en.wikipedia. org/wiki/Dorothy_Annan#Fleet_Building_telecom_murals See also: Kennedy, Maeve, ‘Dorothy Annan murals listed as former telephone exchange faces demolition’ in The Guardian, 25 November 2011, available at: https://www.theguardian.com/culture/2011/ nov/25/dorothy-annan-murals-listed VI Cited in Out There: Our Post-War Public Art (exhibition catalogue) p.24. The exhibition of the same name took place at Somerset House, 3 February – 10 April 2016 VII For more information on ‘Untold Hull’ see: https://untoldhull.org
In 1847 a young married couple Memiadluk and Uckaluk arrived in Hull aboard a local whaler, the Truelove. The following year they set sail for their home on Baffin Island. Uckaluk died following an outbreak of measles on board. There are casts of their heads in Hull Maritime Museum and on the Humber near the spot where they landed.
Among the dreams of hulks, Inuit voices still ring in the ship’s bell: Memiadluk and Uckaluk, this couple off the Truelove, strange honeymooners stuck in Hull. After the outbreak on board, alone, on a trawler’s whale-back, he rode the cold whale-roads back home. What’s left could be death masks: the eyes in their heads are closed, cast in plaster like dirtied Newfie snow. Now, down by the Humber, another pair of heads fetch up, in battle-ship grey beheaded on a bollard that might as well say Greenland or bust. They’re a long, long way from home, that Esquimaux lad and his lassie, blind to glass case or estuary, pondering, since 1847, Jonah, whalebone corsetry, what the preachers tell of Heaven,
Painting by Cliff Forshaw
this place called Hull, what they warn of Hell.
C L I F F F O R S H AW
Did the City of Culture really happen? PA U L C O L L I N S O N
This might seem a rather mischievous title as all of us who were in Hull during 2017, even for one day, experienced something of Hull’s tenure as UK City of Culture: and even if you did not experience first-hand any of the events, performances, exhibitions or concerts during that year you would have seen something in or on media platforms. Yet it is not meant as a solipsistic subjective turn but rather a take on how experience and memory effect change in, and affect, each other. In his introduction to Religion and Critical Psychology: Religious Experience and the Knowledge Economy of 2007, Jeremy Carrette states that it is through our questioning the idea of experience that becomes the ‘process of the ongoing imagining and re-imagining of ourselves and the world’ (whilst Carrette may be exploring religious experience I have merely substituted the art experience in its place as both rely on fideism –knowledge based on or gained through faith, and related systems of knowledge).I This questioning is for us as whole human entities, not just receptors with a brain that receive stimuli. It is generally accepted that we now live in an ‘experience society’, and by default our economy is predicated on us all having a positive experience as consumers. We don’t consume objects or goods any more, we consume experiences. In ‘Welcome to the Experience Economy’, an article in the July/August 1998 issue of Harvard Business Review, Joseph Pine and James Gilmore present a guide on how business can create a memorable event and be cost effective. The article 44
helpfully includes a chart showing the ‘Four Realms of Experience’ along with ‘Characteristics of Experience’, and an accompanying ‘Designing Memorable Experiences’. It also relays that any company must charge the “guest” a fee for the experience, otherwise it is not an economic offering. Accordingly, ‘the richest experiences – such as going to Disney World or gambling in Las Vegas – encompass all aspects of all four realms’.II The Four Realms of Experience are entertainment, education, escapism and the aesthetic. They are correlated with customer participation – passive to active, and connection or environmental relationship – absorption to immersion. The ultimate aim for the experience economy is an ‘indelible impression’ – the memorable experience via positive cues. In his TEDx presentation of 2010 sociologist and economist Daniel Kahneman explains how the memory of an experience can create happiness in our ‘two selves’: our experiencingself and our remembering-self.III The experiencing-self is the here and now, whilst the remembering-self concerns the stories that are created thereafter. The aim of each is to generate happiness. He exemplifies with a study of two patients who underwent a colonoscopy, which found that one of them had better overall impression of the event even though both had similar painful circumstances. Needless to say a bad experience at the end was remembered more vividly than one earlier on in the procedure. This remembering may be useful in future decision making in achieving happiness for ourselves. But as
Kahneman points out, the attainment of happiness through the stories we make up in our remembering-self and the fulfilment of our expectations and decisions in our experiencing-self are two completely different things. This duality of experience and memory, and their inter-relatedness, was originally popularised by German historian and philosopher Wilhelm Dilthey in the late nineteenth century. He used the German word erlebnis to mean an immediate, lived sensation (Leben – to live) rather than the more commonly used word erfahrung that translates as a more cognitive judgemental and learning process from past experience (Fahr – the journey). This duality of use is still present in German sociology and philosophy as indicated by Gerhard Schulze’s work of 1992, Die Erlebnisgesellschaft (The Experience Society). Schulze argues that our societal and individual need is for the immediate visceral here and now: we buy the experience holiday, the unique once in a lifetime event. Even the act of consuming necessarily becomes this ‘indelible’ experience in Schulze’s analysis of the comfortable life. Yet essentially it is an individual undertaking for, even as Pine and Gilmore recognise, no two people have the same experience, although for them this is not down to complexities of personal history, experience and neuroscience but the individual’s ‘state of mind’.IV The individual that Pine and Gilmore are talking about is the ‘in-worldly’ post-Kantian subject who discovered ‘themselves’ and the relationship between themselves and the world. Kant’s eighteenth-century Transcendental Idealism looks inward to the mind’s role in structuring experience. Objective knowledge is not found by discovering the world as it is ‘in itself’ (for we can never truly know what things really are) but by our own interaction with the ‘out there’ as autonomous individual human beings.V This has meant the questioning of what experience is, and, more importantly, what it is to be human.
Theodor Adorno’s materialistic Marxist approach to aesthetics recognises that the experiencing of artwork was mediated through being ‘conscious of the history immanently sedimented in them’.VI This accretion may be ‘within’, immanent of the autonomous object, yet the artwork does need the viewer because, as Adorno states, the ‘aesthetic experience becomes living experience only by way of the object, in that instant in which artworks become animate under its [the observer’s] gaze’.VII And it is this relationship between artwork and observer that is crucial for ‘artworks may be all the more truly experienced the more their historical substance is that of the one who experiences it’. VIII The aesthetic becomes a mediator between artwork and observer that transcends the artwork itself and demands a change in the observer. However this is not historicism, that which may make older artworks better or more worthy of experience, nor is it that more experienced observers are more virtuous. Adorno explains that ‘the bourgeois world of art is ideologically blind even in the supposition that artworks that lie far enough in the past can be better understood than those in their own time’.IX Knowledge of their origins is not necessary, nor of the labour involved in creation, for this is the reification, the making manifest, of production. This acknowledges the Marxist idea of art’s social function, and its production, in social relations in a capitalist society, whilst at the same time, importantly, promoting the ‘art for art’s sake’ autonomy of the artwork. He uses Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony and Picasso’s Guernica to exemplify the relationship the individual may have, which brings about a ‘shudder’, something that is ‘radically opposed to the conventional idea of experience (Erlebnis)’, of ‘isolated stimuli and responses’, and ends in the recipient forgetting themselves and ‘disappearing into the works’.X The ‘I’ perceives its own ‘limitedness and finitude’ and sees the world as it is through the work, the truth or untruth, as an instantaneous shock through a ‘fully comprehending experience (Erfahrung)’.XI
This Erfahrung is a more immediate self-reflection rather than something taken away and remembered at leisure. It is not the ‘indelible memory’ of gambling in Las Vegas, of visiting the commodified and paid for experience of Disneyworld, nor even of the colonoscopy: it is the antithesis of the spectacle, an ongoing counter to the culture industry. In Guy Debord’s Society of the Spectacle the “spectacle” is not actually the accumulation of images, events, or performances presented to us as experiences, but the reified social relationship between people that is mediated by these experiences.XII In our capitalist society the ‘spectacle’s function is the concrete manufacture of alienation’, to create the isolated individual as commodity who ultimately becomes the spectacle – a living representation of itself.XIII So our experience becomes commodified, just something else to be absorbed by the modern culture media. The cultural mega-event as seen by Fabian Holt and Francesco Lapento is an attempt at a more ‘authentic social experience’ that demands the individual’s immersion and participation in creating an unforgettable memory for itself.XIV This is through creating a ‘fiction [that] takes on a performative dimension through liminal behaviour, participant role-playing, installation and costume’, to create a mythical experience outside of reality.XV In their “sociological discourse” Holt and Lapento provide approaches and concepts for the study of cultural events that recognise the status and context of such undertakings in our neo-liberal capitalist society. The obsessive collection of data now defines a cultural event, but, just as sociologists can never know society, or words can never describe an artwork, data can never know the experience of the individual. It is a mereological fallacy based on invalid inferences of the individual’s experiences as spectacle themselves. Adorno is correct when he states that ‘science could hardly think up anything more alien to art than the experiments
that presume to measure aesthetic effect and experience by recording the heartbeat’.XVI Kahneman seems to agree: attempts by state and corporate policy at delivering positive cultural experiences for improving citizen well-being are wrong. He points out that a positive experience can deliver good memories but well-being depends on our overall life-satisfaction, which is predicated more on our social and economic circumstances within the broader political world. This has important implications for the cultural event: as Adorno and his colleague Max Horkheimer pointed out in their The Culture Industry: Enlightenment as Mass Deception of 1944: ‘to be pleased means to say Yes’, and this positive ‘impression’ must act as analgesic so as to ‘not think about anything, to forget suffering even where it is shown’.XVIII
ENDNOTES I Carrette, Jeremy, Religion and Critical Psychology: Religious Experience in the Knowledge Economy, Routledge: London, 2007, p.1. II Pine II, Joseph B, & Gilmore, James H, ‘Welcome to the Experience Economy’, Harvard Business Review, July-August 1998, p.102. III Daniel Kahneman, ‘The Riddle of Experience vs Memory’, Ted Talk, 1 March 2010, https:// youtu.be/XgRlrBl-7Yg?t=244 (accessed: 28 September 2019). IV Pine and Gilmore, op.cit., p.99. V Freeman, Timothy, ‘Kant and the Enlightenment’, University of Hawaii Lecture Notes, 2019 http://www2.hawaii.edu/~freeman/ courses/phil213/17.%20Post-Kantian%20 Philosophy.pdf (accessed: 29 September 2019). VI Adorno, Theodor, Aesthetic Theory, Continuum, London, 2007, p.85. VII Ibid., pp.175-176. VIII Ibid., p.183. IX Ibid. X Ibid., pp.244-5. XI Ibid. XII Debord, Guy, The Society of the Spectacle, Zone Books: New York, 1994, Thesis 4. XIII Ibid., Thesis 32. XIV Holt, Fabian and Lapento, Francesco, ‘The Social Experience of Cultural Events: Conceptual Foundations and Analytical Strategies’, in Sundbo, Jon and Flemming, Sorensen (eds), Handbook on the Experience Economy, Edward Elgar Publishing Ltd., Cheltenham, 2013, p.363. XV Ibid., p.369. XVI Adorno, op. cit., p.244. XVII Kahneman, op. cit. XVIII Adorno, Theodor, & Horkheimer, Max, Dialectic of Enlightenment, Verso, London, 1997, p.144.
For our featured conversation for this issue we discussed cultural regeneration and the “transformation” of Humber Street.
W H AT I S A C R I T ? A crit (or critique) is a discussion or conversation that takes place in front of an art work or exhibition in order to analyse, interpret and contextualise the work. This shared interrogative experience often provides participants with new perspectives and alternative ways of approaching the work. In this issue our starting point was a concept rather than an art work.
The site between Humber Street and the river Humber was once a thriving area and included a wholesale fruit market. In keeping with waterside sites in other cities, these warehouses became empty, docks closed and the derelict disused area became the focus for regeneration plans. However these stalled in 2010 following financial crisis and spending cuts. The council opened the area to cultural groups for cheap rents – which reinvigorated the site. This included three small artist run galleries and studio spaces, and ‘Fruit’, a night club and music venue. Prior to 2017 exhibitions, workshops, studios and music events were held on the street (labelled “stop gaps” and “meanwhile users”); which was also central to Hull’s festivals – Sesh and Freedom. Humber Street was again a focus for regeneration as City of Culture approached. During 2017 the street gained Humber Street Gallery, lost The Museum of Club Culture, Eleven moved next door and Oresome stayed put. Subsequently KAG moved on, Fruit closed for refurbishment, Juice Studios were established, and
several independent and creative businesses opened up, as well as bars, restaurants and new housing developments. The reasons for organisations moving on or closing wasn’t always related to City of Culture or regeneration. The purpose of the discussion was to reflect on the nature of this change, and to ask who benefits and how. We were interested in the detail of local developments and experiences – how have broader social and economic forces played out in this part of Hull? The full conversation was filmed by Culture Zone Productions and can be accessed via our website. Some extracts are included here. Full discussion is here: https://youtu.be/H5rveYQpnts
C R I T PA R T I C I PA N T S DC
David Cleary: David is an artist, a Juice Studio holder and works at Humber Street Gallery Joe Cox: Joe owns and runs Form Shop & Studio, and has been central to the setting up of Juice Studios. Barbara Grabher: Barbara is a Phd student researching in to the gender dimensions of City of Culture, as part of the GRACE project. She is also research assistant at CPPI University of Hull, working on the evaluation and upcoming conference.
Dom Heffer: Dom is a Hull based artist, attends events on the street and coordinated the KAG gallery for a number of years
Clare Holdstock: Clare is also a Hull based artist, who has worked at Eleven and currently works at Humber Street Gallery.
Jill Howitt: Jill edits ‘Fish’, is a Phd student and ex lecturer at HSAD, and attends events on the street.
Nicola Gibbons: Nicola owns Tessies boutique which is relatively new to the street.
FISH ‘N’ CRITS
46 | THE CRITICAL FISH | FISH ‘N’ CRITS
Edited Extracts from the Conversation:
Photo: Dom fellowes
I wonder why we can’t have everything? I think for a city’s arts ecology to thrive, you need your artist-led spaces, you need your small independent galleries, you need your big publicly funded galleries, and you need your museums as well in order for it to be a varied arts ecology. So, in the context of regeneration…why can’t existing spaces, like RED gallery before it was flattened, be incorporated into the spaces – like the Bonus arena – that replaced them? Why can’t we have it all? I think we can to an extent. I suppose it’s down to finding those opportunities. For example, the Fruit Brokers unit down Humber Street has been used for pop up art exhibitions and the things that Feral Art School are doing, which feels like the next step from KAG – even though it’s very different because it’s more educational – but there’s a connection. And elsewhere in the city places like Ground have popped up as others have disappeared. I do wish RED was still around... it’d be nice if it was a part of the arena and had held on there, like you say. You made the important point earlier Joe that this entire floor has kind of been given as a gift by the developers. I think that its important, having spaces that don’t constantly feel like they’re under threat. When we had KAG we knew that it wasn’t going to be forever, but the fact is that we had five years – we were just starting to get audiences that knew they could come down here and know we would be down here. I think pop ups are great but the downside of those is that they don’t cultivate a regular audience.
That’s the tricky bit, no? They generate a vibrancy but they don’t generate an atmosphere where life and experiences are brought to the place. I mean, walking down the street recently once or twice a month has been fascinating to me. You always see something changing, so that’s quite an exciting experience... but at the same time I don’t intend to go there to be encountering those things. I’m facing a lot of pop up situations – where you’re never really sure what’s going to happen – where you basically run into them by accident. I think that’s something that needs to be addressed when looking at the regeneration and the cultural regeneration element: that what you want to create is actually intention.
That’s interesting to me because we have been on the street for two years and we still get asked if we are a pop up. It’s only in the recent months that things are starting to get nailed down here though. I think there’s an idea that the street is just pop ups. Apart from the likes of KAG and Studio Eleven, there were lots of empty warehouses, ones that were kind of occupied and the ones inbetween would get used for Freedom Festival or for other events, which were the only time you would come down here unless you were art engaged and were part of that scene.
The Fruit Brokers unit was always creating a situation where you’re surprised. It’s a place where you can easily change around quite a lot of things... so that’s an interesting example of how stable situations can interact with those pop up situations.
THE CRITICAL FISH | FISH ‘N’ CRITS | 47
Humber Street Gallery have used that space for some exhibitions as part of the actual 2017 programme. But it’s in the nature of temporary pop up spaces that it’s usable until business comes in. East Street Arts in Leeds do a lot of temporary studio spaces. Because they are a charity, developers give them discounted rent, which they then give to artists to use as they please – for display or as an opportunity to experiment a little with something exciting – but obviously only until a business comes in, meaning the artist has to move again. It’s not a sustainable model for an individual but I think it is for a charity or an organisation to help facilitate arts in the city. I think we are in a unique position in Hull because the city centre is easily traversable – I don’t want to sound like the old fossil of the group, but I remember when there was events and openings in one side of the city and then openings on the other side of the city. You would regularly bump into people – in varying degrees of inebriation – and it was nice as people were circulating the city and you felt like ‘the arts are happening tonight’. I saw an advert about two openings happening at the same time and how transport was organised between the two...I think it would be so good to have a dedicated bus that takes people around those events like they do in Whitechapel.
I had a good view over the city today and I thought ‘you know what, Hull is not actually that big’. But I think there’s almost a psychological distance here that separates places, whereas in any big city you will happily travel 30-60 minutes just to go from point A to B.
You might think it’s just a psychological distance but the public transport in this city is horrible – what the prices are, how many people have cars and how bicycle lanes barely exist. And then you have to think about how the transportation actually works – you can’t go east-west, only to the city centre and then back out again. In terms of the distance, I am convinced that public transportation, or transportation in general, affects a lot of how we perceive distances in Hull.
Photo top: Fruit prior to refurbishment (2018) Photo middle: Fruit Market branding (2017) Photo bottom: Kingston Art Group during Humber Street Sesh (2015)
Generally the shop units and bars down Humber Street are used by the more affluent communities of Hull. It would be interesting to see how the less affluent communities viewed Humber Street?
I think there’s a question here about who feels entitled to use these spaces. Arts spaces and festivals are considered to be approachable but there is still the sense of ‘that’s not for me’, not just in the sense of ‘that’s not for me because its not my interest’ but in terms of ‘that’s not for me because I do not belong there and they do not want me there’... and I think that’s something to be tackled. We can keep prices low and do things for free but we have to work on those other barriers because it’s not just about money, it’s also about the question of self entitlement – although I feel self entitlement is not the right word.
You do hear people say ‘oh, it’s so expensive’ about the street. But there are also free and cheap events happening on the street. There are expensive places and there are cheap places – why should everything on the street be for one type of person? I don’t think it’s just a matter of how expensive it is. There’s another symbolic line. It feels like something that was a positive from City of Culture is that people’s open-ness in going to cultural events definitely increased... but how long that lasts, I don’t know. But I believe people still go and visit exhibitions in galleries, who wouldn’t have done perhaps prior to 2017, so that feels like a positive.
I think it takes a long time because it works around building trust. I’m thinking of my recent experiences working with Back to Ours in Bransholme. People register that you’re there at first but maybe not engage. Then maybe they come to scope it out and say ‘hi’. And then maybe next time have a coffee and not even look at the work. Over time it gradually teases people in. But the longer you’re there and the longer you are around the more likely they are to have a positive experience with the arts.
It’s back to that thing where there’s a one-off explosion of spectacle verses the consistent, longterm, sustained input that people learn to trust and incorporate into their lives. In terms of audience development, the kinds of discussions that goes around it is quite interesting because they always start from the idea that you have to get people through the door. I was recently at a conference at the Barbican in London where the entire presented idea of audience development was about footfall – but it didn’t ask about what happened once they were through the door or if they’d come back again. It’s more interesting to think about what happens in that space than whether or not you can get targeted groups of people into your establishment. Can you engage with them with a spectacle? It’s much easier to attract someone to fireworks than to something that is more culturally intimate. If the question around audience development is not about numbers but rather quality, you want to ask about getting people back. Not about getting them to see the fireworks and then go back home again.
I can contribute a little bit from the statistical side. If we look at the preliminary and upcoming evaluations, it’s quite an interesting question. Interest in the arts has increased, significantly increased when compared to national numbers. But there is already a so-called “cliffhanger effect”. Basically the idea that there’s a kind of an acceleration in 2017 but there was already a drop at the end of 2017, and another drop in 2018. I think that’s really interesting in terms of this kind of hunger to attend. I suppose the question is how do you keep those people – who may say ‘this wouldn’t normally be my thing but I’m going to go’ – keep feeling like they can attend stuff? How do you keep those audiences coming to a space that’s more highbrow, for lack of a better word?
Humber Street Gallery
I’m wondering how much the developments in Hull have been led by grassroots groups, local businesses and local artists? It’s a really hard one, because a lot of the bigger presences feel like they have come through funding or organisations or things like that. But it’s how much they have engaged with the grassroots, isnt it? For example, I was asked to develop Juice Studios and help set it up. The first thing I did was go and talk to as many people as I could, so while it may have been triggered by an organisation, I feel like this was informed a lot by the conversations I had with the grassroots of the city. I think it’s hard for grassroots to get to this stage without it taking a really long time. I think that established ‘creative industries’ are things that businesses and developers feel like they can tap into, rather than the sort of scuzzy, unpolished, grassy rootsy type of organisations that they can’t. I think that ‘creative industries’ is the new buzzword in new neo-liberal capitalism, isn’t it?
RED was an independent artist led gallery/ organisation that opened on Osborne St in 1997 and closed in 2016 to make way for the new Hull Venue. Red has continued to contribute to the culture of the city – but without a permanent space.
KAG or Kingston Art Group is a group of artists who used to have a gallery and studio spaces on Humber St. These closed in 2018 and currently they have studios on Park Avenue and Barmston St.
Interrogating the commonplace use of the term 'resilience' and what it really means for practising artists in Yorkshire and Humber, have you read Resilience is Futile yet? A collaboration with Corridor 8, featuring Smizz, Alice Bradshaw, Kerry Harker and Thomas Hopkin, you can download a PDF version from our website: yvan.org.uk/activity/resilience-is-futile Yorkshire and Humber Visual Arts Network (YVAN) is a support network for the visual arts sector in Yorkshire and Humber, part of the national Contemporary Visual Arts Network. We advocate for the visual arts sector, delivering a programme that eďŹ€ects change in the proďŹ le, reputation and sustainability of the visual arts and artists in the region.
YVAN has supported 250 artists with 14 micro grants, 1 publication, 2 commissions and 7 events in the last 12 months. If you'd like to be part of the network, get in touch: firstname.lastname@example.org YVAN is pleased to support the second edition of Critical Fish.
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‘Made in Hull’ The opening ceremony 2017
Galvanizing civic pride amongst the people of Hull was a key aim throughout the entire UK City of Culture initiative. As an ideal of local government, or identity signifier, civic pride is part of what defines and shapes cities, forming an important lens through which they are imagined and governed. However, as Tom Collins points out, its meaning and significance can sometimes be overlooked and the term lacks theoretical investigation.I Often undefined and ambiguously
examined, its emotional meanings and values can also be left ignored or unexplored. In this article, which develops from my PhD research on the contemporary political cultures and cultural behaviours in Hull, I investigate what civic pride could mean in the twenty-first century and explore how, why and with what consequences it might have been generated, mobilised and measured through Hull’s year as UK City of Culture.
The Politics of Pride At a national level, mobilizing feelings of pride of membership is a key objective for many governments and, as David Lloyd and Paul Thomas describe, involves culture contributing to a regulative ‘idea of the state’, which entails cultural institutions and artefacts serving as ‘exemplary objects of pedagogy’ in the ‘formation of citizens and the legitimization of [that] state’.II In other words, being a
proud citizen requires a devotion to the common cause and to treating its cultural symbols, such as flags, anthems and figureheads, with respect. Discourses, representations and everyday practices of pride are a central element in such constructions of legitimacy. Pride ‘calls you into being as a citizen’ and reinforces appropriate citizen behaviour such as going to school, entering the military and paying taxes.III Pride can also provide the means for imagining alternative modes of being and belonging. In Utopia in Performance, theatre and performance scholar Jill Dolan illustrates what she calls the ‘utopian performative’: ‘Small but profound moments in which performance calls the attention of the audience in a way that lifts everyone slightly above the present, into a hopeful feeling of what the world might be like if every moment of our lives were as emotionally voluminous, generous, aesthetically stirring and intersubjectively intense’.IV Dolan suggests these moments can provide space in which ‘people constitute themselves as citizens’, which may also ‘model civic engagement in participatory democracy’, and argues for theatre’s role as a site of hope to a community of spectators by affording opportunities for civic engagement.V Her argument for revitalizing humanity, centres on utopia as a ‘ “what if”, rather than the more limiting, finite “what should be” ’, and that theatre and performance can act as a site for exhibiting and inspiring social change.VI Writing elsewhere Dolan has challenged: ‘For what is our field if it doesn’t demonstrate modes of embodied civic engagement?’VII I think Made in Hull, the epic sound and light installations projected onto the city centre buildings, came close to this performative utopia. Its collusion of video, sound, audience, site and space produced an overwhelmingly positive feeling of wonder that opened a re-
examination of Hull at the start of the City of Culture year. Other examples of ‘embodied civic engagement’ through Hull2017 might include The Last Testament of Lillian Bilocca at the Guildhall, the lighting up of the Great Thornton Street Estate with I Wish To Communicate With You and, at a very human level, the City of Culture volunteers. The ability to imagine another world in order to enact its formation, is a vital element in questioning what Mark Fisher called ‘capitalist realism’. Writing after the financial crash in 2009, Fisher described the inability to see any realistic alternative to capitalism amounted to a naturalization of neoliberalism, engendering a depression across the political left.VIII This depression was compounded by Tony Blair’s Labour government, which is seen by some to have ignored the realities of socially produced poverty in acceptance of the Thatcherite notion of TINA (There Is No Alternative) that still dominates social and political thought today, limiting the possibility of serious systemic critique. Whilst Dolan’s utopian performative is somewhat (and self-admittedly so) romantic, for a city such as Hull that has experienced years of stigmatization, in part due to the TINA orthodoxy, the potential benefits that pride might bring, should at least be considered. National and Civic Pride In comparison to civic pride, theorists have long debated the origins and role of pride in the nation. However, attempts to develop a general theory of national pride have suffered from a failure to separate the concepts of nationalism and patriotism and the concepts of nationality, ethnicity and race. Some scholars suggest that pride in one’s nation reveals itself in different forms. For example, patriotism can be considered a positive force that has no negative prejudices towards outsiders, whereas nationalism (and most especially ethno-nationalism of the kind advocated by the likes of
Steve Bannon, Marine le Pen and Nigel Farage) can result in hostility towards immigrants.IX This distinction between the different forms of pride on a national scale could prove useful when applied to smaller locations such as towns and cities. In an ever more urbanised world, where cities compete for people and investment and social tensions surface, encouraging the most cohesive and progressive kind of pride could be essential. Researching the social impacts of local authority events in Bradford in 2006, Emma Wood also acknowledged that there is no clear theoretical definition for civic pride.X In response, she defined the phenomenon by using references to social capital, city pride and social belonging, stating that ‘civic pride is based upon an inclusive sense of being “Bradfordian”, and that in this way it offers a single shared identity to a diverse population’.XI This description is perhaps the most succinct I have identified in the literature, and is more suitable for twenty-first century Britain than the elitist, exclusionary version understood by the Victorians, for whom civic pride was entwined with visions of power and formed an important part of their bourgeois ethos. We Are Hull In Imagined Communities, Benedict Anderson uses ‘imagined’ in the sense that people may only know a few of the many who comprise their community but nevertheless share a common bond.XII A familiar example is the passionate singing of national anthems during international sporting fixtures where “the nation” comes together, or the weekly meeting of football fans accompanied by the performance of songs and chants expressing a collective kinship with their club. For Helen Nicholson, these collective acts of identity making can forge a deeper sense of community belonging, specifically because of their shared interpretations of experience.XIII Hull 2017 presented numerous opportunities to forge such community
belonging, to be Hullensian, and pride worked contingently in the process. Again, I am thinking here particularly of We Are Hull, which, in its exploration of the city’s chequered past, enabled the audience to collectively remember and acknowledge their local histories. In the broadest sense, Made in Hull was about reconstituting pasts, acknowledging milestones and expressing desires for the future. It was an experience akin to what Rebecca Schneider has called ‘the hauntingness of history’ and the ‘ “something living” of the pastness of the past’.XIV In Queen Victoria Square, arguably the historic, civic heart of Hull, it served as a moment in which times touched and this act of touch partially collapsed ‘the distance marking one thing as fully distinct from another’.XV Hullensians of all eras, living and dead, had assembled, marking the introduction to public record of a collective re-identification for the city, looking forward with hope and pride. Civic Pride and City Boosterism Yet, by appealing to the emotions of pride and place, which are bound in subjective notions of identity and status, City of Culture initiatives potentially limit critical engagement with the very real political, social and economic problems facing cities. To take one example, pride and gentrification often accompany each other through these projects, appealing to the well-off, tourists and business interests, which can often exclude local concerns. Albeit in a small way, I think we are witnessing some of this in Hull now, with the construction of luxury city-centre housing, office blocks and hotels promoted as developments, which will provide the city with the facilities and infrastructure that, we are told, will rival the best in the country. Whilst Hull’s current experience is still a long way from the gentrification concerns facing cities such as Liverpool or Manchester, where the rapid building of apartments for middleclass professionals has priced locals out of the housing market, we can see
similar strategies at work in the glossy brochures of city marketers here, for whom association with Hull now means identifying oneself with something new, bold and better than anywhere else. Of course, the economic boost such outside investment might bring will be much welcomed, especially if it can re-populate the city centre and energise Hull’s night-time economy, but I argue that we also need to remain alert to such culture-led regeneration processes as they happen in order to ensure that the benefits can be shared by everyone. Such boosterism is not new. Managing pride amongst the people has been an objective of those in power for hundreds of years. The Victorians certainly knew a thing or two about it. Pride creates feelings of belonging, making it a powerful instrument of social structuring as well as a binding force for community cohesion. Whilst not overlooking the potential benefits to communities that economic investment might bring to Hull, it is vital to draw attention to the functioning of power inherent in the redefinition of the city. If not, as happened in East London after the Olympic Games, and is happening in many major cities with the rapid rise of generic student accommodation blocks owned by offshore interests, there is a danger that Hull’s much lauded transformation will not include those who operate outside of a politically sanctioned “culture” and who cannot be incorporated into the re-branded city image.XVI Although Hull is not the only city in which there has been a ‘conscious and deliberate manipulation of culture’ to an economic end, the dramatic transformation of the city’s sense of self by way of pride boosting initiatives through 2017 raises many questions about the relationship between cultural production, emotional manipulation and urban policy.XVII Where the original bid for Hull 2017 suggested that hosting UK City of Culture will enable the city to ’come out of the shadows’, Hull’s cultural and civic identity has arguably been through a process of
recreation rather than being simply put in the spotlight. Such strategies risk reducing multiple, diverse social realities and lived experiences into a readily consumable package. If Hull is in the process of being (re)created as part of a (re)branding exercise, then it is vital to be aware of the contradictions that emerge alongside attempts to reconcile a culturally oriented regeneration strategy with a more entrepreneurial rationale. It is particularly vital to remain alert to the emotional manipulations of cultural producers, however well meaning, especially when those emotions can render the human subject uncritical. As Nichola Wood has shown in her examination of national pride, music can be particularly effective and affective in generating non-conscious, visceral emotional attachments, sometimes evoking sentiments despite ourselves, such as feeling unaccountably aroused by national anthems.XVIII This sense of ‘losing oneself’ might then be exploited outside of our awareness. Solidarity The eminent geographer David Harvey has argued that localised identities, especially when conflated with race, gender, religious and class differentiation, can develop dynamic bases for both progressive political mobilisations, and reactionary, exclusionary politics.XIX As my research evidences, regional and civic identities played key roles in the 2016 referendum to decide the UK’s future relationship with the EU, the result of which has dominated UK politics ever since. Of course, the side of the argument that you sit on may determine whether you think Hull’s 67.6% Leave vote was progressive or reactionary. For example, and to return to Fisher, there are some who believe that Brexit signals the demise of capitalist realism and that in the global race for economic growth it has been replaced by ‘a populist scramble to preserve cultural identities and a sense of economic agency’.XX As such, if we are to believe him, Prime Minister Boris Johnson, architect of Brexit Britain,
now claims to ‘fuck business’ and jokes about racialised others in order to appeal to “traditional” English voters. I am not convinced such bombast (or Brexit) indicates capitalist realism has disappeared at all. Rather, I agree with those who suggest that we are moving into an era of hyper-neoliberalism and that many in Hull who voted to leave the EU, did so in frustration at their lack of access to the riches of global free trade. This brand of capitalism on steroids is surreal, and its pumpedup, Trumpian bravado is rapidly losing any sense of logic or credibility – not to mention legality. This is Capitalist Surrealism, where reality, satire, and hyperreality become increasingly indistinguishable.XXI Thus, I believe that an inclusive civic pride, of the sort defined by Emma Wood, is needed now more than ever. It could bridge political divides and shape a genuinely progressive political landscape, from
which community-led civic agendas may emerge that are based in values of social justice and civic solidarity. Before his untimely death in 2017, Fisher had been working on a book called Acid Communism. This was Fisher’s term for a utopian sensibility that ‘rejected both the conformism and authoritarianism that characterised much of post-war society and the crass individualism of consumer culture’. XXII Fisher’s ‘acid’ is a way of being, akin to the effects of psychedelic drugs, an attitude of ‘improvisatory creativity and belief in the possibility of seeing the world differently in order to improve it’.XXIII If acid is the mindset, then pride could be the means, for as Dolan reminds us, pride can provide the mechanisms for at least imagining these alternative modes of being and belonging; and seemingly small interventions can
make important contributions. As the continuity of the hugely successful Hull2017 volunteer programme has shown – especially in the volunteerled projects such as the recent Chatty Hull, which saw volunteers all over the city commit small acts of kindness; and with the work in Hull of social activist groups such as #thehullwewant, Time Bank Hull and East Riding and many others working with a ‘we-notme’ ethos, there is an alternative.XXIV Ultimately, and to conclude here, such an ethos takes love and loving, which (to summon the magnificent bell hooks), in the current political climate has itself become a radical act. Loving is not simply a feeling; it is a practice – a way to choose to act.XXV Radical love overcomes fear. It disrupts and subverts power and creates new possibilities for life, peace, and community. Dare I say it, alternatives that we can be proud of.
ENDNOTES I Collins, Tom, ‘Urban Civic Pride and the New Localism’, Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers, 41:2, 2016, p.175. II Lloyd, David and Thomas, Paul, Culture and the State, Routledge, London, 1998, p.10. III Duchene, Alexandre and Heller, Monica (eds), Language in Late Capitalism, Routledge, London, 2013, p.5. IV Dolan, Jill, Utopia in Performance: Finding Hope at the Theatre, University of Michigan Press, Ann Arbor, 2010, p.5. V
VI Ibid., p.13. VII Dolan, Jill, ‘On ‘Publics’: A Feminist Constellation of Key Words’, Performance Research, 16, June 2011, 182-85. Available at Dolan’s website The Feminist Spectator <http://feministspectator.princeton. edu/articles/on-publics-a-feministconstellation/> (accessed 30 August 2019). VIII Fisher, Mark, Capitalist Realism: Is There No Alternative?, O Books, Ropley, 2009. IX De Figueiredo, Rui J.P., and Elkins, Zachary, ‘Are Patriots Bigots? An Inquiry into the Vices of In-group Pride’, American Journal of Political Science, 47:1, 2003, pp.171–188. X Wood, Emma H., ‘Measuring the Social Impacts of Local Authority Events: a Pilot Study for a Civic Pride Scale’, International Journal of Nonprofit and Voluntary Sector Marketing, 11:3, 2006, pp.165-179. XI Ibid., p.169. XII Benedict Anderson, Imagined Communities: Reflections on the Origin and
Spread of Nationalism, Verso, London, 1991, pp.4-5. XIII Nicholson, Helen, Applied Drama, Palgrave Macmillan: Basingstoke, 2005, p.94. XIV Schneider, Rebecca, Performing Remains: Art and War in Times of Theatrical Reenactment, Routledge, London, 2011, p.60. XV Ibid., p.35. XVI For more information on East London and the Olympics, see: Penny Bernstock, Olympic Housing, Routledge, London, 2014. For an example of ‘studentification’ and its impacts on a local working-class community in Shieldfield, Newcastle, see this report: David Whetstone, ‘The Amount of Student Housing in Newcastle Once Again in the Spotlight, Chronicle Live, 7 June 2019, available at: https://www. chroniclelive.co.uk/whats-on/arts-culturenews/amount-student-housing-newcastleonce-16390840 (accessed 29 September 2019). XVII Kearns, Gerry and Philo, Chris (eds), Selling Places: The City as Cultural Capital, Past and Present, Pergamon Press, Oxford, 1993, p.3. XVIII Wood, Nichola, ‘ “Once More with Feeling”: Putting Emotion into Geographies of Music’, in Bondi, Liz (ed), Subjectivities, Knowledges and Feminist Geographies: The Subjects and Ethics of Social Research, Rowman and Littlefield, Lanham, MD, 2002, pp.57-71. XIX Harvey, David, Seventeen Contradictions and the End of Capitalism, Profile Books Ltd, London, 2014.
XX Barrett, Nicholas, ‘Did Brexit kill Mark Fisher’s Theory of Capitalist Realism?’, New Statesman, 13 August 2018, available at: https://www.newstatesman.com/ politics/staggers/2018/08/did-brexit-killmark-fisher-s-theory-capitalist-realism (accessed 28 September 2019). XXI Hoare, George, ‘Capitalist Realism (Almost) Ten Years On’, Medium, 29 August 2018, available at: https://medium.com/@ gthoare/capitalist-realism-almost-tenyears-on-a91b86e83a38 (accessed 28 September 2019). XXII Jeremy Gilbert, ‘What is Acid Corbynism?’, Red Pepper, 2 September 2017, available at: https://www.redpepper.org.uk/what-isacid-corbynism/ (accessed 28 September 2019). XXIII Ibid. XXIV Hughes, Gill, ‘Desperately Seeking the Good Society’, Local Economy, 33:6, 2018, pp.636-654. For more information see Twitter @thehullwewant and http://www. timebankhullandeastriding.co.uk/. There are many other initiatives demonstrating active resistance to capitalist surrealism in Hull worthy of promotion here including The Warren (www.thewarren.org), Hull Beats Bus (www.beats-bus.co.uk) and Rooted in Hull (www.rootedinhull.org.uk). XXV hooks, bell, All About Love, William Morrow, New York, 2000.
Fairytale Freedom and Culture WORDS AND IMAGES: RICHARD LEES As Hull’s festival season draws to a close, Richard Lees – artist, activist and Chair of the independent Creative and Cultural Company – argues that the narrative of Hull’s ‘cultural transformation’ is a fairytale that needs fixing.
This November, The Culture, Place and Policy Institute of the University of Hull will be hosting a conference Cultural Transformation – What’s Next? Having sat through the original Cultural Transformations conference last year and, more recently, the Freedom Festival Symposium, my view is that these review/evaluation events tend to be uncritical, overly optimistic and congratulatory, with a lack of awareness of what’s happening in Hull outside of the bubble created by such occasions. The Hull transformation myth goes something like this: before CoC, Hull was a ‘Craptown’, a backwater stagnating at a cultural dead end.I Then, along came CoC, heralding a new year,
a new era of total ‘transformation’; a year that could not have been more successful for everyone in Hull ; a year that triumphantly over-achieved on every possible cultural level and in every possible cultural way. Where there was once a wilderness, there is now a properly branded cultural oasis. The reality behind the hype, of course, is very different. When CoC left town, grassroots arts organisations, like my own, could only reflect on the opportunities missed and the real damage done. The group I chair is a not-for-profit, volunteer run social enterprise, based in Princes Quay; we run photography classes, workshops, several gallery spaces
So if ‘culture’ has been appropriated, commodified, rebranded and sold back to us, what’s happened to ‘freedom’?
and an annual photography festival in the city centre. When Hull City Council first won the CoC bid, like many other grassroots arts groups, we were excited by the idea of developing community projects with, hopefully, some funding from CoC. Pipe dreams. In the end, to have survived the onslaught of a powerful, fiercely competitive, publicly funded, corporate behemoth was something of a minor miracle. Not only did we lose volunteers to CoC, we lost a key sponsor, tempted away by the promise of a CoC project. We also lost an important exhibition partner, again lured away by promotional promises, and, most damagingly of all, we lost a key exhibition space in Princes Quay, to one of the ‘Look Up’ installations – great for the individual artist, but bad for our annual festival. That year, our festival programme included exhibitions on sex trafficking, Palestinian resistance, alternative family models and Dougie Wallace’s polemic on the obscenely wealthy. We tackle pressing social issues regarding injustice, discrimination and prejudice and feel these values should be at the forefront of any City of Culture. Of the multi million CoC budget, what wasn’t spent on branding, marketing and bureaucracy, looked like it was lavished on wave after wave of crowd-pleasing public spectacles – big firework displays, heritage light shows, wacky giant puppet parades, big top circus style street events. Some CoC supported projects, undoubtedly, had a positive impact. The first national Pride festival in Hull, though heavily branded by corporate sponsors, was really effective in positioning LGBT culture within the local mainstream, inspiring confidence and creating a strong campaigning platform. However I suggest that the same support wasn’t offered to Hull’s ethnic minority communities. Hull’s genuine cultural transformation over the last 15 years has been the establishment of significant Kurdish and Muslim, Polish and Eastern European communities. During 2017 reported Race Hate Crime in the UK rose by 29%, and in Hull and Humberside it spiked by a staggering 62%.II More could have and should have been done to support and promote the Kurdish, Bangladeshi and Polish communities’ cultural contributions to the life of the city. This is maybe the tip of an iceberg as last year Humberside Police reported that disability hate crime in our region increased by 132%.III
Hull’s very first Freedom Festival in 2007 was memorable for many reasons: the grassroots music and arts festival in Pearson Park; explicitly anti racist film, music and art events at the Adelphi, the Ferens and the Lamp; and centre stage, both literally and metaphorically, Kurdish music and language, Kurdish costume and dance, Kurdish stories and traditions, which welcomed the newly arrived community to what had been a largely mono ethnic city. Contrast this with the last Freedom Festival – if you’d attended most events, as I did, you’d have been hard pushed to find a Muslim family among the crowds or hear a Polish voice, which is hardly surprising since there was insufficient at the Freedom Festival for Hull’s minority communities, the people whose basic freedom to live without fear is most at risk. What the arts bosses really need to wake up to now is that whatever they thought they were doing about “bringing people together”, it simply isn’t working; watching fireworks and circuses won’t do anything to address divisions. What might work is if the arts establishment started supporting more genuine community arts projects that reach out to our most vulnerable and embattled communities, making their voices heard and putting their cultural contributions into the mainstream of the city’s cultural life. I would like to argue that more resources involved in “one off” events, like City of Culture, and in the ongoing work of arts organisations in towns and cities, should be directed towards grass roots, local organisations and artist led projects. I would also suggest that there are great opportunities to support and promote the cultural contributions of minority, marginalised and maligned groups that are sadly being missed.
ENDNOTES I See Wainwright, Martin, ‘Hull heads list in bestselling ‘crap map’ of UK’ in The Guardian, 2 October 2003, available at: https:// www.theguardian.com/uk/2003/oct/02/ britishidentity.regeneration II Spereall, David, ‘Staggering rise of hate crime reports in Hull and East Yorkshire’, in Hull Live, 24 October 2017, available at: hull dailymail.co.uk III Corcoran, Sophie, ‘Humberside Police reveal a massive 132 per cent increase of disability hate crimes,’ in Hull Live, 15 October 2018, available at: https://www.hulldailymail.co.uk/news/hulleast-yorkshire-news/humberside-police-revealmassive-132-2109379
Drawing in between the Lines L AUREN SAUNDERS
Made in Hull It was January 2017 - the start of the City of Culture celebrations - and my head was a shed. I had returned to Uni after a directionless four-year gap year to do a part-time top-up degree in Fine Art, at the Hull School of Art and Design (HSAD). I had spent the four months since the start of term wildly experimenting, but my enthusiastic mind felt cluttered with what felt like a hundred ideas, all pulling me down different avenues. It was almost like I was trying to think creatively whilst also trying to master every discipline and process at once. Mindboggling. The direction of my work was blurred and unclear, which combined with the pressure of needing to focus, led me to experience choice paralysis. I had “checked in” with my work just before Christmas 2016, reflecting on the predominately Surrealist work I had made so far. I worked out that what I actually seemed to be interested in were ideas around perception and experience, so I made the decision to start afresh with that as my prompt. Additionally, I decided to temporarily
restrict myself to what I felt was the most “stripped back” and basic of art forms; drawing. But I didn’t intend on staying there for long, it was literally just to improve my skills until I found something a bit more captivating. As a HSAD student I was invited by Heritage Learning to engage in a workshop which was programmed as part of the ‘Lines of Thought’ exhibition at University of Hull. For those who didn’t catch it, ‘Lines of Thought’ was a touring exhibition coordinated by the Bridget Riley Foundation, showcasing some of the drawings from the Prints and Drawings Collection at the British Museum. Shown at the Brynmor Jones Library Gallery between 3rd January and 28th February 2017, the exhibition showed a selection of 70 works spanning a 500 year period, including work ‘from Dürer to Degas, Michaelangelo to Matisse, Rembrandt to Riley’, celebrating both traditional and contemporary drawing practice.I The works were thematically grouped into categories based on their purpose as a thinking medium: ‘The Likeness of a Thought’, ‘Brainstorming,
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Enquiry and Experiment’, ‘Insight and Association’, and ‘Development and Decisions’. It was a significant and ambitious exhibition that opened the celebrations in the first weeks of 2017 and was shown in Hull as a result of the City of Culture status. Considering I was intending to improve on my drawing, it was good timing! Roots and Routes I’d be lying if I said I remembered exactly what we did in that workshop (except that it involved carbon paper, a collaborative wall collage and that I really enjoyed it). But what I do remember is walking around the exhibition and feeling incredibly taken aback, inspired and totally engrossed. I was in and out of that exhibition space for about five hours that day, and felt like I’d only properly encountered about half of the work. I wandered around absorbing the works, learning from the greats by practically pressing my nose up to the frames to breathe in their lines, working out the what’s, why’s and how’s of their gestures. I had never seen a collection of marks like it. I leant into the quiet confidence and
laser sharp focus of drawing and felt that this was exactly what I needed at that moment in time. When I walked in, drawing was the stop-gap, but by the time I left, I didn’t want to do anything else BUT draw. In the space of an afternoon, this City of Culture exhibition lifted me out of a state of creative anxiety and inspired me to walk down a brand new path that I didn’t realise was there. As a long-time avid reader of philosophy, I easily drew connections between the concepts of perception, epistemology, and the “thinking” qualities of drawing: ‘its immediacy allows artists to act almost at the speed of thought, their choices legible in every line’.II Drawing is thinking. Drawing is observation, is experience, is knowing. Is drawing the closest we can get to the nature of reality? Intellectually, the dots joined up. I just needed something relevant to base it on. Freedom I turned to my personal and professional knowledge regarding the experiential practice of meditation.
There is a well-known contemporary mindfulness practice involving the mindful consumption of a single raisin; noticing how it looks, feels and smells before discovering how it really tastes, before mindfully swallowing it. Supported by my extensive reading list, I soon began by drawing raisins from observation. However, although I find value in traditional drawing processes, I found myself rejecting traditional, representational drawing as I became increasingly convinced that it doesn’t accurately represent anything, especially the nature of reality. I experimented with more interpretative contemporary drawing methods onto a variety of surfaces before deconstructing and rearranging the lines to better reflect the distorted and subjective nature of reality. I pushed the use of line into more experimental realms of drawing (such as projection, sculpture, audio and film) right up until my end of year show, seventeen months later in June 2018. I discovered that my natural approach to drawing – heavily experimental and ‘of thought’, whilst rooted firmly within the act of drawing – sits within a little-
known realm called the ‘Expanded Field of Drawing’. This term is loosely based on the work of art theorist Rosalind Krauss.III It will be three years in January 2020 since the ‘Lines of Thought’ exhibition, and I still draw in the expanded field, and my work is still based in ‘thinking’, more specifically philosophical thought.
If I were a wind-up toy, ‘Lines of Thought’ turned the key and set me down on the penciland-charcoal drawn path towards a rich contemporary drawing practice. There were other experiences afforded me during the City of Culture year that I feel have influenced me and my practice. I saw many examples of great art (‘Lines of Thought’ aside), from COUM to Mueck to Bacon, the Turner Prize, and exciting uses of materials through exhibitions like ‘States of Play’, ‘Paper’ and
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‘Fountain17’. I saw how community can be brought together by the likes of the Opening Event and ‘I Wish to Communicate with You’. I got to meet and work with Bob and Roberta Smith and Jessica Voorsanger and actively interact with other incredible artists such as through ‘One Day, Maybe’ and ‘2097’. There’s plenty of lessons learnt and ideas formulated during 2017 that I’ve stored in the bank for future use! I had never experienced that level of art and culture on my doorstep before (and that’s coming from a Londoner), that enabled me to stretch and push my own thoughts, ideas and preconceptions about art and communication in a really accessible way. Tell the World As my degree show began wrapping up, I started turning my attention away from raisins and towards the earth. I was already a big lover of nature and a supporter of environmental causes but something changed in early 2018 – I still don’t know why, but I felt great empathy and a sense of grief towards the planet. I sensed unease. I felt I needed to step up and
actively do something. But before long it was clear that drastically reducing my plastic use and cycling more wasn’t cutting it. Little did I know, I wasn’t the only one feeling this sense of urgency – it was around this time that socio-political climate activism group Extinction Rebellion (XR) was established. Soon after in October 2018, the terrifying Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report made clear that the world needs to reduce carbon emissions to net zero by 2050 to have a decent chance of limiting global warming to 1.5°C (compared to pre-industrial levels). The research shows that a warming of 1.5°C isn’t exactly great – there will still be a huge loss of life and a negative change to the world as we know it – but it’s better than the 2°C degree figure outlined in the Paris Climate Agreement (which would cause a much more devastating loss of life and even higher sea levels).IV This sense of urgency has unsurprisingly found its way into my art practice. As I’ve already emphasised, drawing is synonymous with thinking in many ways. And I find
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myself thinking an awful lot about the climate emergency. Drawing is the way that I observe, record and make sense of the complex socio-political tapestry in which we exist. Through mark making, I track and reflect upon my thoughts about the planet itself, the current critical situation and our relationship with it. This is connected to an inspiring branch of philosophy, known as environmental ethics, which has informed a core part of my contemporary drawing practice.
I find myself increasingly inspired by realworld objects found through outdoor activities such as beachcombing, foraging and bushcraft. I am also inspired by ideas such as Naess’ Deep Ecology, current environmental research and through my own contributions to XR.V
I use line to think through and understand these objects, processes and concepts, and to communicate the things I’m discovering. This heightened understanding and respect for the world has increased the sense of responsibility I feel as an artist to practice sustainably. I challenge myself to use low impact and sustainable processes and biodegradable, natural and/or recycled materials where possible. I feel this ethically-rooted decision also makes intellectual sense considering the themes I’m exploring. I have recently developed a concept that I call ‘living line’, an experimental notion exploring how drawing can be used to support life or otherwise benefit nature. However, the more I draw, the more I feel I have a grasp on what’s actually happening, and the more I am convinced that I have no choice but to take additional real life personal and organised action beyond the studio. Supported by ever increasing reams of scientific evidence, countless people across the
world feel the same. Within the last year in particular, we are beginning to act on our consciences, pouring out into the streets to demand climate justice from governments and industry in search of a cleaner, better world. This climate emergency may be the thing that motivates me to make work, but I consider the ‘Lines of Thought’ exhibition to be the initial catalyst in guiding me to where I am now, helping me to recognise and shape a big part of my identity as an artist who draws in the expanded field.
ENDNOTES I Seligman, I., Lines of Thought; Drawing from Michelangelo to Now, Salamanca Arts Centre, Thames and Hudson, London, 2016. II The British Museum, available at: https://www. britishmuseum.org/about_us/tours_and_loans/ uk_loans_and_tours/archive_tours/lines_of_ thought.aspx. III Krauss, R., ‘Sculpture in the Expanded Field’ in October, Vol. 8 (Spring 1979), p.30. IV Ipcc.ch. Global Warming of 1.5 ºC , Available at: https://www.ipcc.ch/sr15 V See: http://www.deepecology.org/deepecology. htm
PRESENT TENSE A Conversation about Liverpool European Capital of Culture, Ten Years On
Laura Robertson and Mike Pinnington from The Double Negative, a critical arts journal based in Liverpool. LAURA ROBERTSON: The title of our new book, Present Tense, came out of this weird frustration you and I seemed to be having with Liverpool as a European Capital of Culture. Mainly, what can we pinpoint as culture now, and why? There’s a lot to consider. Last year was the tenth anniversary of the city gaining the title. It’s been franchised; other UK cities, like Hull, have undergone a similar process with City of Culture. Brexit was (and still is) on our minds. Europe’s stamp on the city is enormous, ploughing at least £1.6 billion into construction and restoration – like the airport, cruise terminal and arena, two cathedrals, the Bluecoat and St 62
George’s Hall – between 1994 and 2000. Brussels has helped rebuild the city by brick and by reputation. Culture has made Liverpool one of the Rough Guide’s top three cities in the world to visit. It feels like we’re still emerging, blinking, from this metamorphosis. What does it all mean? MIKE PINNINGTON: By commissioning six different writers – three established and three early career – we’re hoping to get to the bottom of these, and other questions pertinent not only to Liverpool, but to the arts, and society as a whole. We asked for reflections on the decade while not being tied to the past. It was important that the essays that made this book had something to say about now and the future while not forgetting the historical context, and lessons that can be learned from it.
LR: It’s a fresh memory for us, but not for everyone. Those arriving in the years following 2008 have seen the city as a more complete offering. We’ve seen the changes because we were born and grew up here – the poverty of the 1980s and ‘90s, how elated everyone was when Liverpool was announced as the Capital of Culture recipient, and the preparation, the demolition and construction. We saw all the action, the parties, and it was really exciting. But I remember having no idea about who was benefiting on an artistic level. In ‘08 we were doing our thing – you were writing for various publications, and your own blog, and I was a new studio member at The Royal Standard, trying to draw and curate exhibitions and take part in group crits. Our friends were artists, writers, musicians. It was bizarre to see this award take over, with such a huge spotlight in the press, celebrating ‘culture’, but not explicitly our culture. That slippery word. MP: Even more slippery is the definition of a particular place’s culture. Liverpool, known for so long culturally for the Beatles, its football clubs and its stagnation in the ‘80s, had been showing signs of green shoots and had begun to mature, fighting back from the toxicity of those years. Capital of Culture seemed to be the public face of that, but obviously, the scale and the pressure to get it right leads to an increased scrutiny. What is the legacy, what are the measures of success? I remember the word and questions of legacy being bandied about immediately, but it’s only really now that you can point to changes and developments in the city’s cultural make-up and say that without a galvanising factor, such as Capital of Culture, this stuff might not be going on. Or might not be going on in quite the same way. LR: Our working title for this book was Fuck Legacy... [LAUGHS] Maybe there’s still time to change it back.
MP: I think there has been and continues to be a legacy though, don’t you? Would there have even been such a thing as The Double Negative? I’m not sure – even if you don’t like all aspects of it – whether there would have been a development such as the Baltic Triangle without ‘08. LR: That’s also a perfect example of how culture can be commodified. The Baltic Triangle is at real risk of descending into some kind of cultural theme park. The studios, music venues and bars that make it special: Baltic Creative, Constellations, 24 Kitchen Street among them, are inevitably contributing to the gentrification of Toxteth, making it a magnet for developers and hastily-built accommodation. The fear is that in the next ten years, people who live and work in the city centre and its edges will be priced out and moved on. MP: That said, that part of the city was in desperate need of investment. Spaces such as Ceri Hand Gallery in Everton and A-Foundation (one of the pioneers of what would become the Baltic Triangle) had been outliers; they didn’t, unfortunately, precipitate others joining them. The infrastructure and clear motivation for that to happen simply didn’t exist.
After the Cup Final 1988. Photo © Tate Liverpool
After the Cup Final 1988. Photo © Tate Liverpool
Wake Up Together (2018) at Open Eye Gallery, Liverpool. Photo © Scott Charlesworth
Wu Tsang, Under Cinema (2017). Installation view: Under Cinema at FACT, Liverpool (26 October 2017–18 February 2018). Courtesy of the Artist and Galerie Isabella Bortolozzi, Berlin. Photo © Jon Barraclough
LR: Things change and must change, I understand. But slowly, creative spaces are being pushed out of the way as building owners take advantage of rising rents. Post-‘08, the two biggest losses we’ve felt have been 57–59 Victoria Street, home to loads of affordable artist-led spaces like A Small Cinema, Re-Dock, Crown Building Studios (CBS), and Wolstenholme Square, with Cream, The Kazimier and other music venues being moved on. Seemingly without thought, culture is disappearing from the centre. It either pops up again further away (like The Kazimier’s Invisible Wind Factory) or is unable to recover and vanishes altogether (A Small Cinema, Red Wire). Why can’t we handle this better, with more vision? Why can’t Liverpool diverge from the same old tropes of compromised regeneration? I don’t want shit architecture, empty student flats and displaced artists to be the legacy. MP: ‘Legacy’ practically became short-hand for criticism in ‘08 in certain quarters, but suggestions of how a positive legacy could be achieved seemed thin on the ground. The word implies something handed down. What’s been handed down from the award? LR: The Double Negative! It absolutely emerged from the intensity of Capital of Culture, and some of the post-award disappointments. A kick-back. Literally us saying ‘Where is the Guardian or the Art Monthly of Liverpool! Who’s actually critiquing all this art getting churned out?’ MP: It’s been pleasing to see the introduction of other Northern-based critical publications, especially in the last couple of years, like The Critical Fish, The White Pube, the Fourdrinier and Un_Bound. What hasn’t yet materialised is a space in-between the small artist-led galleries like Output or The Royal Standard and institutions such as the Bluecoat, FACT and Tate Liverpool. The city could accommodate a place where an artist would say ‘That is where I want – need – to show my work.’ I suppose I’m coming at this from the perspective of a constituent and consumer.
need sizable, regular and long-term funding, and they have to make lots of compromises. We talked about Glasgow a lot when Liverpool first won the award, as an example of what a good “art city” might look like: one of the main ingredients being a variety of venues who collaborate. More than that, artists who use the city as a base for international careers; a spectrum of publishing; current and relevant festivals; a world-class art school. Liverpool’s great at some things, like sincere and effective collaboration, and it has skilled, energetic people. But we still have a lot of work to do. We could fill the venue gap and provide better access and education for artists and cultural critics. We could make better use of our international contacts, our bigger organisations’ little black books, to directly nurture individual artists – in the way Biennial’s Associate Artists programme has proved. MP: Maybe we’re being greedy! LR: No, we’re not. There’s so much room to grow, capacity for more production, education, skills development, networks, physical and virtual platforms. That’s the great thing about a city that shouts about culture: there’s always space for more, and in fact, we will be energised by more. You can’t have enough art or music or theatre or gaming. And where there’s culture, there’s always scope for critical reflection. I think the essays in this book prove it.
Excerpt taken from Present Tense: A decade since Liverpool EU Capital of Culture… What now? Available now in a limited edition run of 250 copies, priced £14.99 from: www.thedoublenegative.co.uk/2019/09/presenttense-2019-paperback-14-99/
LR: That said, ambitious, medium-sized galleries and studios, for example Spike Island in Bristol,
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THE LAST JUDGMENT P E R F O R M A N C E B Y M A J A S PA S O VA
100 000 paper leaves, half with the text guilty and the other half with non-guilty, to be thrown from a helicopter over the central part of London, late autumn 2019. The Last Judgment is a commentary on global turbulence and a questioning of ethical values. It addresses collapse and change. The Last Judgment can be seen as a commentary on the present situation in UK. The wind acts as a judge, deciding where the paper leaves will end up. The leaves affect the receiver inadvertently, blindly, by chance. The Last Judgment is street theater encouraging participation and personal interpretation. The simplicity in the performance contrasts with the associations born from it. In the revelations of Johannes on the Day of Judgment people are judged by their deeds, and divided into good and evil. In The Last Judgment the leaves provide a choice by letting chance and our own sensitivity come into play. The Last Judgment has been already staged in Stockholm and Berlin.
The last Judgment, Berlin. From the TV tower, photo credit bildTeam Berlin
Our Contributors ANNA BEAN
Anna Bean aka Bluebeany is a freelance artist. Her photographic work recalls a long tradition of staged narratives and theatrical role-playing in art. She utilises the camera and various tools of the cinema and theatre, such as makeup, costumes, props, and scenery, to create dream-worlds filled with Gothic horror and surreal humour.
Leigh Bird delivers marketing strategies to small businesses and artists. Her work on the campaign with Hull Heritage Action Group to preserve Alan Boyson’s Hull artworks has given Leigh a unique insight into how Boyson’s work resonates both locally and nationally.
I am a painter living and working in the city of Hull. I have shown artwork nationally and inernationally. I have worked for various visual art projects and studio groups, and curated/organised visual art events and exhibitions nationally. I have written for a-n and The Double Negative. My current work, ‘Dreaming of the Middle Ages’, examines parallels between the current political and social worldviews of Britain and Europe with those of over six hundred years ago in the late-Medieval world.
DENISE COURCOUX Denise Courcoux is a writer and arts professional based in Merseyside. She is one of The Double Negative’s Fellows for 2018-19, and has recently been published in a book of new arts writing: ‘Present Tense: A decade since Liverpool European Capital of Culture... What now?’. Denise has worked in museums and galleries for over ten years, specialising in exhibitions.
MICHAEL HOWCROFT I am a third year PhD Student at the University of Hull. My thesis, ‘Civic Imaginaries of Hull’ looks at contemporary political culture and cultural behaviour in the city. I am interested in how people are thinking about their futures post-Brexit and postUK City of Culture and my most recent research has been exploring how the key emotions of pride, shame, fear, hope and love work within these imaginings. I am also a theatre director and this year am directing Cinderella at Bridlington Spa with Didi Conn! www.michaelhowcroft.com mjhowcroft
JENNIFER HEWSON Jennifer Hewson is a 24 year old artist from Hull. She was part of the Behind White Walls degree show, graduating in 2017 the City of Culture year with a First Class Honours and David Hockney award. @jenniferhewsonart www.jenessence.wixsite.com/ jenniferhewsonart
COLIN CHALLEN Colin Challen is an artist based in Scarborough. He was formerly an MP and was the founding chair of the All Party Parliamentary Group on Climate Change. His book Too Little, Too Late: the Politics of Climate Change was published in 2009 (Picnic Publishing). On leaving parliament Colin resumed his long-held ambition to return to art making (an ambition first attempted in Hull in the 1970s and 1980s). He had solo shows at Humberside Theatre. His most recent solo show was at Woodend, Scarborough and featured drawings in Drawing on Myth. He is now studying for an M.A. in Fine Art at the MIMA School of Art, Teeside University.
CLIFF FORSHAW Cliff Forshaw is a poet and painter. After various jobs in Spain, Mexico, Germany and New York, and freelance writing in London, he took a doctorate in Renaissance literature at Oxford and taught at English at Bangor, Sheffield and University of Hull. He has been: Djerrassi Artist-in-Residence (California); International-Writer-inResidence, Hobart, Tasmania; twice a Hawthornden Writing Fellow; guest poet at the 2016 Festival Internacional de Poesía de Granada, Nicaragua; Welsh Academi John Tripp Award Winner; and held residencies in France, Kyrgizstan and Romania. He is currently Royal Literary Fund Fellow at York University. Poetry Collections include Satyr (Shoestring, 2017), Pilgrim Tongues (Wrecking Ball, 2015) and Vandemonian (Arc, 2013). For the last 5 years Cliff has been part of Hull College’s Professional Practice programme run by Andy Fairbanks and Chris Wiles www.cliff-forshaw.co.uk
MICHELLE DEE Michelle Dee Co-producer of Women of Words. Regular blogger for Humber Mouth Literature Festival + Heads Up Festival. Highlights include writing/ performing at BBC ‘Contains Strong Language’ in 2017/18 and Gary Clarke’s Into The Light LGBT50. A tireless ambassador for all arts, latterly energising contemporary dance locally. Recently three nights of new one-woman show Surrealist Bedsit at East Riding Theatre during She Fest 2019. www.culturemarathon.co.uk msmichdee
ESTHER JOHNSON Esther Johnson (MA RCA) is former recipient of the Philip Leverhulme Performing & Visual Arts Prize, and is Film and Media Arts Professor at Sheffield Hallam University. Working at the intersection of artist film and documentary, Johnson’s poetic portraits illuminate the relationship between history, memory and storytelling. Her work has exhibited internationally in 40+ countries, and featured on Radio/ TV. Recent projects include 14-18 Now WW1 arts commission, ‘ASUNDER’ a feature documentary with music by Field Music and Warm Digits, and The Cornshed Sisters. www.blanchepictures.com BlanchePictures
RICHARD LEES Richard Lees is Chair of Hull and East Yorkshire Stand Up To Racism, Chair of The Creative and Cultural Company and Hull Print Collective, a trade union officer with East Yorkshire NEU and a printmaker. His exhibitions this year have included: ‘No More Separation’, Palestine Prints at the HIP Gallery; Hull Rock Against Racism Posters exhibitions at the ‘Engage For Change Festival’, ‘Bean and Nothingness’, the ‘Arts and Activism’ season and at the inaugural event for Hull’s Spanish Civil War Memorial; and The Beautiful Resistance Exhibition at Warner Brothers Music in London. Images from his ‘McCarthy Iconoclast’ exhibition will appear in the international academic publication Women’s Studies an Interdisciplinary Journal next year. www.richardleesprints.co.uk
MIKE PINNINGTON Is a writer, editor and arts writing consultant based in Liverpool. He is the co-founder and editor-in-chief of The Double Negative. He has been published in The Art Newspaper, Art Quarterly, ArtReview, Ocula and byNWR, amongst others. From 2013–18 he was Content Editor at Tate Liverpool, working with the Exhibitions and Media & Audiences teams on exhibition guides, catalogues, gallery interpretation, web content, and in-house publication, Compass. In 2018 he worked on the development and delivery of Tate Collection display Ideas Depot.
Courtney Randall is a local Artist, whose work draws attention to Hull’s Victorian and postmodern industrial landscape, through painting, drawing and printmaking. Her current practice, which employs a monochromatic palette on a large scale, combines the grittiness of plaster with the fluidity of oil paint, embracing accidental marks, drips and lines as spontaneous elements. Courtney graduated from Hull School of Art and Design with a BA (Hons) Fine Art Degree in October 2019.
Maja Spasova creates art for the urban public space. The point of departure is an idea where the message has both poetic and existential character. Her desire is to reach people who aren’t part of the professional art system and to eradicate the differences between art and life.
LAURA ROBERTSON is a writer based in Liverpool and London, and the co-founder and contributing editor at The Double Negative online magazine. She has been published in international magazines Frieze, Elephant, Hyperallergic, Art Monthly, ArtReview and a-n amongst others; is critical writerin-residence at Open Eye Gallery; and is studying MA Writing at the Royal College of Art (2018–20). She is a former director of The Royal Standard Gallery & Studios. thedoublenegative.co.uk
With more than 100 solo shows at art museums and galleries in Europe and overseas, Maja Spasova has participated at numerous international exhibitions and festivals such as Venice Biennial, ARTEC Nagoya, Dak’art Senegal etc. She is represented in public and private collections all over the world. Born in Bulgaria, Maja lives and works in London, Berlin and Stockholm. Education: The High School of Fine Art, Sofia 1974 – 78; The Academy of Fine Art, Sofia 1979 – 84; Guest-student at The Royal University College of Fine Arts in Stockholm, 1986 – 87. www.majaspasova.com
TONY RHEINBERG Tony Rheinberg works in marketing for Ideal Standard and looks after the commercial sector sold under the Armitage Shanks brand. Armitage Shanks has a factory in the village of Armitage in Staffordshire which manufactures a wide range of ceramic sanitaryware including urinals. The factory was founded in 1817 and is the last mass producer of ceramic sanitaryware in the country.
MANY THANKS We would like to take the opportunity to thank the following people and organisations:
Our steering group and all those who have provided invaluable advice and feedback.
All those who stock, distribute and help promote The Critical Fish.
To Arts Council England for the initial funding that got us off the ground and to City Arts and YVAN for their ongoing support. We would also like to mention Humber Street Gallery and Artlink who also continue to support us.
Our crit participants: David Cleary, Joe Cox, Barbara Grabher, Dom Heffer, Clare Holdstock, Nicola Gibbons.
Phil Hargreaves and Tony Rheinberg for transcribing.
Barnaby Haran and Mary Aherne for editing and proof reading. Our designer Joe Cox and Joe and Alice for all their help and use of Juice Studios.
Culturezone Productions: Juosaz Domarkas, Rebecca Hannant, Ben Lewis, Emilly Montgomery, Rob Moses, Cristina Popa, Darren Squires.
Thank you to all our readers. Please get involved – send us ideas and feedback and consider submitting for the next issue. Help spread the word!
Our writers and artists, SHIPS in the SKY, and Bankside Gallery, and to Jake Machen for his amazing illustration
Co-producer of The Critical Fish, freelance artist and arts advocate, Lauren is an award-winning emerging visual artist from London who lives and works in Hull.
Barnaby is a senior lecturer at University of Hull in the American Studies department, where he teaches histories of art, visual culture, film, and cultural politics. He is the author of Watching the Red Dawn: the American Avant-Garde and the Soviet Union (Manchester University Press, 2016). He is currently writing on American documentary photography from the 1930s, and has received funding from the British Academy and the Terra Foundation for research for several articles and book chapters. He also co-edited the Fountain17 catalogue with Jill Howitt.
Joseph Cox is a graphic artist based in Hull with 10 years’ experience in the creative industries.
Her work explores big philosophical questions and tackles society’s complex issues by drawing in the expanded field as a starting point, for both critical dialogue and artistic output. She has exhibited work locally and nationally and has worked professionally in healthcare, theatres and community settings. Since graduating in Fine Art from the Hull School of Art and Design in 2018, Lauren has been awarded the Roland Box Prize, The David White Memorial Award, the Emergence Bursary and studentship on the UNION 2019 programme in recognition of her socially-engaged arts practice. www.laurensaundersart.co.uk Jill Howitt Since leaving a long career in arts education Jill has focused on her interest in writing about art by project managing Fish, running workshops and freelance writing. She is also researching into public art in northern coastal cities for her PhD. In the past Jill co produced Fountain17, an arts project for the City of Culture year in Hull, and a film to document the public art works that were commissioned for the Open University ‘University of the Air’ celebrations in 2013.
Mary Aherne Mary Aherne writes poetry and short fiction and her work has been published in various anthologies and journals including Hull, City of Poets, South and Grindstone. She has edited and contributed to a number of Humber Writers’ collaborations including Hide, Postcards from Hull, Under Travelling Skies, Slipway and Incoming, commissioned for the Humber Mouth and Beverley Literature Festivals. She teaches Creative Writing at the University of Hull. Recent projects include Shards, a collection of poems celebrating Hornsea Pottery, a number of which have been included in a public art trail, and ‘The Beauty of Indifference’ for Fountain17, a response to the work of Marcel Duchamp.
He co-founded Form Shop and Studio, where he creates prints and products for the shop as well as working on commissions for a range of local and national organisations. His work includes branding, design and illustration for local organisations such as Humber Street Sesh urban festival, Viking FM, HullBID and others. Joe has also been central to the setting up of Juice Studios on Humber Street. www.heyform.co.uk @josephjcox
ARTIST IN THE MIDDLE Jake Machen Jake Machen is an Illustrator and cartoonist who lives in and studied in Hull. Regularly working with bands and musicians, his work includes record artwork and merch designs for the likes of The Hubbards and La Bete Blooms, as well as screen print designs for independent apparel shop Beasley’s. Issue 1 of his zine Hoarder Bros produced with his brother Max is now available. @jakemachenart
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Supported by: CREATIVE
The Critical Fish is an artist led project which promotes critical but accessible research led writing. We are proud to present this collaborative journal as a forum for debate about the arts and visual culture. In this second issue, Brill, our artists and writers have responded to the theme â€˜Afterwards, Afterwords, Afterimagesâ€™ in the context of the evaluation of City of Culture 2017. We are interested in creative, critical and collaborative writing. Inside you will find essays, painting poetry, photography, illustration, interviews and conversations. Enjoy!