The 154 Collective is a group of artists with varied backgrounds who have come together to collaborate on a variety of artistic platforms, including Theatre, Film, Publications, and Exhibitions. Not only that but 154 is also the number of miles that separate Barnsley and Newham and is the name of a new exhibition currently running at Barnsley’s The Cooper Gallery. This is very unique event celebrates not only the Newham Barnsley Partnership, but the aspirations of the people in both towns.
This is exactly the kind of all-inclusive exhibition I’ve been hoping to see at The Copper for some time and I don’t mean inclusive like the annual Open Exhibition is. I mean inclusive in a way that this exhibition is about everybody.
On entering the exhibition space, you can see that the Cooper has been totally transformed. Not only has the shape of the space changed but also the colour. Long gone are the standard white walls; now transformed into hot pink and a contracting black. It’s simple but stark and a reminder that it doesn’t take much to keep the space fresh and exciting.
In the (very pink) first room there is wide variety of medium on display, including two sets of mounted prose on the wall about experiences of both Newham and Barnsley. As someone who is born and bred Barnsley but has also been lucky enough to live in London for nearly six years, you’d initially assume how different each town is. Indeed, they are both very different in terms of culture, heritage and ethnicity but everything on display here shows actually how similar both are as well.
Hung next to these is a framed photomontage of thirty-five alternating images of Newham and Barnsley town life. It was actually something I’d love to have hung on my own wall and it was only on leaving for the next room that I noticed the skirting board was completely coated with cigarette card sized photographs too.
The back room was solid black and on the floor in one corner was over a hundred (154 maybe?) tiny easels and canvases, each inked images of what looked like royalty. I was aware that 154 Collective had held art workshops with children from Birdwell Primary School and Gallions School in Newham; this could well have been the results of their wares. Each tiny painting has lashings of charm and character and flows perfectly into the next display of five black and white photographed portraits. Each had a brown tag and on each side was a handwritten a story of a life in Barnsley and one of in Newham. Those stories may or may not have belonged to those pictured but I suspect that they belonged to each one of us; a collective we and our collective story.
On the opposite wall, many (154 again maybe?) miniature black and white artworks created using ipads. This was an amazing collaborative effort wherein artists can draw together over an internet connection, wherever in the world they may be. The images of fantastical landscapes have been produced in much friendlier version of cubism; all featuring the interactions of people, animals, transport, buildings, castles and also a crown motif and this all reminds me very much of Keith Haring and Jean Michel Basquiat; one of my favourite all time artists and this is no bad this of course. Basquiat has always been the perfect mix of high and low culture and is the kind of art that everyone from adults to the youngest child can get something from.
Before entering the final room, you are invited to sit down and leaf through a small album of postcards while listening to a recording. Each postcard has a poem-like passage written on the back of it about the town and the recording; a story of the aspirations of a young man and that is generally the idea the exhibition.
Whatever differences there maybe between Newham and Barnsley… and there are many, the artwork on display focuses on the similarities between us and the shared aspirations and hopes; those of our own and those of our children. The juxtaposition of the images of the different towns go on to concrete the shared notions of hopes and dreams (both real and fantastical).
This is shown again the final room, which although I think doesn’t fit into the whole scheme of things as well as the rest of the show, it is still as enjoyable. Four photomontages are made to look like paintings and a digitally painted landscape has a skyline which shares both Barnsley town hall and the equally majestic Newham town hall.
Then there are two strange artworks; one a triptych of images featuring a mythical boat under a sky raining tennis balls, floating down a London river straight into an altogether stormier landscape. Who knows whether or not that stormier landscape is Barnsley but it did remind me of Stanley Donwood’s woodcuts of an post-apocalyptic London. And then there are two very random mixed media works of creatures in a red forest which appear to have absolutely nothing to do with the exhibition but are enjoyable for me all the same as they remind me of the wonderful illustrations of Mary Blair.
There is much I have missed out on, but I’ll leave that for you to discover in what is a highly recommended, thoughtful and interactive exhibition and I hope one of many art interventions to come from the Newham Barnsley Partnership. It is also the highlight of The Cooper Gallery’s displays so far this year.
The exhibition runs from 2nd June to 1st September.
So this is my final day covering the IMMOVABLE block. Today will feature many of the performers and local people that have been involved in this weeks intervention.
I’ve managed to speak to a lot more people today including both performers and facilitators. First up is Chris who is 37 years of age and is one of Mind the Gap’s actor/performers.
Chris was on top of the block this morning. He described how he sat on top the block in a wheel chair. Chris isn’t a wheelchair user but many of his friends are and so he says the message is the same regardless. ‘Many people stopped and watched and some even came up to me and chatted. A couple of kids shouted “are you going to get arrested for being up there”, which was funny. I played along with their perceptions and pretended I didn’t know how I got up there. Lot’s of people took photos and I really enjoyed performing up there for everyone.’
I asked Chris what kind of message he would like to get across to people by being on top of the block. He explained, ‘I have a learning disability and I hope that anybody that also have a disability will think that they can do anything on that block; like when the people ask how someone in a wheelchair got up here… Well why can’t someone in a chair get all the way up there?’
Chris has travelled down from Bradford daily to be here. Chris has been a member of Mind the Gap for around seven years. Originally he wanted to go into engineering but couldn’t because of his disability. His social worker introduced him to the group and since then has completed work experience and training in all aspects of stage production and has also taken part in a number of productions, including Animal Farm. He goes on to say, ‘Mind the Gap has taught me skills in public speaking; I now go into schools and talk about the group. I’ve been so much more confident now since I came to Mind the Gap.’
Another person I have really wanted to speak to was Dave Searle. Backstage Dave is the Production Manger for Mind the Gap. To the audience, he is one of the manager Shifters wandering around his in cap and brown workcoat. Dave doesn’t usually perform and is more often than not backstage but because this is such a big production with many interventions, this was the best way to be in the middle of the action.
Dave had just been helping group performer Alan Clay off of the block after a second performance this week of him playing in an inflatable paddling pool on top of the block. This time round he was much more adventurous in splashing the many passers by. It was absolutely hilarious.
Dave has been with Mind the Gap for just over three years now. Dave controls every technical aspect of Mind the Gaps productions. he explains that ‘all of the Shifters that you see here work for Mind the Gap. All of the people involved in our interventions are either that of the theatre company or on the student training course.’
I asked Dave how he originally got involved with Mind the Gap. ‘I was originally a freelancer and had a job for Mind the Gap. I thought the place was amazing but cheekily told them that they really needed a technician. Two months later I was working with them’
‘How often do you do shows outside of Bradford?’ I asked.
‘Well, me are nationally touring company. We tour once or twice a year. Last year we toured our productions of Of Mice and Men and Stig of the Dump.’
‘Other than IMMOVABLE, what other projects do you have lined up for the Cultural Olympiad?’ I asked.
‘Immove sponsors us and they are a Yorkshire based initiative that is part of the Cultural Olympiad. Irresistible which is Immovable’s sister show, which you will see part of later, will be shown at the Unlimited Festival which takes place just before the Paralympics. We’ll be performing at the Queen Elizabeth Hall on the Soutbank, London and also at the performance space outside of the National Theatre.’
At that point Dave had to rush off and prepare the next performances. What followed was a number of staged interventions that all featured Mind the Gap performers. A couple sat on top of the block and had a romantic meal, Alison Short did a horticultural based performance(!) and the Shifters one again attempted to solve the knitted Rubik’s Cube; this time with company actor Susan sat on a bench on top of the block knitting away new squares.
After the performance, I got a few words from Shifters Howard and Amjad. Howard 44, has been with Mind the Gap for three years, and is currently on a four year training course in theatre production. As well has performing, he and the many others on the course, get the opportunity to learn stage craft, film making, confidence building in areas such as communication and working in groups and support in other practical skills such as using computers and travelling independently. Amjad is 26 and is also playing the part of a Shifter and has been with the group for one year now. He had done a little acting before at school but being a part of the group has allowed his confidence to grow in a way it may never had before
The final performance of the week saw every Mind the Gap actor and performer present take to the streets to accompany Jez Colborne’s production Irresistible. Jez is an actor and musician and has a learning disability called Williams Syndrome and has very sensitive hearing. However, that hasn’t stopped him composing a symphony of songs using air raid sirens! Here we got a taster of a show that will be playing, not only at The Cow & Calf Quarry Theatre in Ilkley next month but also at the Queen Elizabeth Hall on London’s Southbank in September as part of the The Unlimited Festival in the Cultural Olympiad for the run up to the 2012 Paralympics. The performance was a great achievement, not only in song writing but in bringing a smile to everyone who saw it.
And is the end of IMMOVABLE. I’ve really enjoyed it and have found it both humbling and enlightening. I’ve met many very inspiring people from Mind the Gap and many people from the local area who have contributed their ideas and talent and time.
When I started Alternative Barnsley six months ago, I was hoping to cover as much art and theatre and music and unfortunately there hasn’t been enough to compete. However, this week has seen a plethora of street theatre, yarn-bombing, surrealist comedy and some fantastic painting.
Hopefully, there’ll be another project soon.
CHECK OUT THESE LINKS FOR MUCH MORE INFOMATION…
also read my previous blogs about IMMOVABLE, featuring interview and images:
Mind the Gap. They are an award-winning theatre company, which since 1988 has been working with learning disabled and non-disabled artists as equals.
Now the project itself
So, as I was watching the live feed when I got home, I saw what looked like a group of kids gift wrapping it. It also looked like a couple of people were giving them shit for it. So, I decided to get myself back on down there and chat to them.
As I approach them another group of teens had just crudely drawn a penis on the side of the Cube with a cheese biscuit. They told them off and said not to spoil it. It made me wish I was ten years younger. This close knit group of friends were scattered around the already gift wrapped cube and embellishing it with ribbons, bows, and a motif saying Celebrate Difference. I asked them if they were art students.
Surprisingly, they weren’t. One of the used to work for an IT company but was recently laid off, the other were students and six formers. When I asked one girl, Kelly I think her name was, if she was at college, she said ‘no, I’m doing A-Levels. My mum says I’m not allowed to be creative.’ When I asked her if she knew she was here with the Cube, she said she had an exam in the morning but she knew she was going to do fine with it so came here instead because she wanted ‘to make Barnsley look pretty.’ And the Cube definitely has been prettied up. Kind of looks reminiscent of Tracey Emin quilt.
I asked them about the man earlier with the roller. ‘He’s the cleaner. He must work for the Cube. He removed what had been put on it the day before to give others a chance to paint on it.’
‘So after they’ve removed your gift wrap, do you have any other plans?’ I asked.
She explained, ‘one idea is me and Crissy are going to paint it white and put on it different equality symbols.’
They were eager to show me photos on their phones of what they did yesterday. One lad showed me photos of the rubix cube everyone had been talking about. That was them too! Then I was told I should talk to Stefan, as apparently he was the one performing parkour on it.
Everyone was so eager to talk about what they had done and Stefan was no different. He said that ‘yesterday we made it into a giant rubix cube. People were puzzles by it and so we came up with the idea of actually making it into a puzzle.’
Stefan found out about IMMOVABLE after walking past it on Monday. He instantly decided to start doing back flips off it and attracted a crowd. He later looked it up on the internet and has been tweeting updates to Mind the Gap since. ‘With the rubix cube we came up with the idea of using chalk and tape. No paint. That way we don’t permanently damage the cube and it can be washed off. We respect the cube! Today I just came down to help out my friends who’ve done this. I was meant to be meeting up with someone to talk about this cube for an inteview but they never turned up. Apparently there is a big event on Saturday; maybe Sunday, which is when I think the Cube is removed.’
I asked him ‘have you got any more ideas?’
‘We submitted an idea on the Mind the Gap’s website about taking the Rubix Cube idea further and making it into a dice or into a Question Mark Cube like on Super Mario. People think the cube is mysterious, so it’s a play on that idea.’
‘Did you see the mouse that was washed off it earlier this morning?’
‘Yeah… that was my friend Janna. She tweeted it on-line. I thought it was pretty cool. She used chalk too.’
I asked him if he had seen any of the negative feedback on We Are Barnsley?
‘I know people are complaining about the taxi rank but it’s a waste of time. Why can’t they see that it’s bringing such creativity out of people? And look at this enthusiasm. The market and this area will be knocked down soon. It’s so bland here and I think the block represents Barnsley.’
I told him about my idea of IMMOVABLE being people’s unwillingness to accept change, difference and new ideas.
‘I agree’ pointing to the Celebrate Difference motif on the cube. And at that point someone came to tell us that ‘the guy who put the block here has turned up.’
So, this gent, Tim Wheeler of Mind The Gap, was one of the people that had plonked the block into the middle of Barnsley. He greeted Stefan and told him that he enjoyed watching the footage of him leaping off of the cube and at that point some elderly fella with one of those big red beer noses barged in. ‘Who’s bloody idea was this? Well, ah tell thi wha’… it’s put ninety bloody pence on my taxi fare this bleeding thing. It’s disgusting. If ah’d a bomb ‘ad blowing the fucking thing up.’ And then he trundled off.
Tim explained, ‘The gift wrap will be removed this afternoon and a group of people with learning disabilities will be coming to do a performance. So, hopefully you won’t mind us removed the wrapping paper?’ And in unison, they all agreed that that’s why it was there; for everyone to use.
And suddenly he got a barrage of questions about what’s inside it, when is it moving, is there a prize for the best idea of what to do with the block and the only question he was willing to reveal anything about was what the stone is made from.
‘Where’s the fun in giving everything away. I’ll tell you what it’s made out of. It’s made out of Yorkshire stone. It’s quarried nearby here and it was in a quarry up until just before Christmas. The stone is over twenty million years old.’
Someone asked, ‘What’s inside the stone. Steel?’
‘I have no idea,’ he knowingly laughs.
I told him it looked suspiciously like West Yorkshire stone and not South Yorkshire; the kind Bradford is built on.
He laughed. ‘No, no. Bradford is millstone grit. This is sandstone. I’m a stone nerd. I know, this southern Yorkshire stone is much smoother.’
Tim went on to photograph the group before their contribution was removed.
I said goodbye to everyone and I was still pleased at how friendly and excited everyone was about the project and I hope everyone else will be too.
I think the project is fantastic. Yes, it encourages the usual debate, blah blah blah, but anything that encourages the kind of enthusiasm and outpouring of creative energy and ideas that these young people had, well… we really should think twice before being too negative about it.
They even asked Tim if the Cube could be moved to The Civic’s Mandela Gardens after the project was finished, so they could keep on using it.
In ways, IMMOVABLE reminded me of Antony Gormley’s installation The One and Other on the 4th plinth at Trafalgar Square, wherein he invited members of the public to do absolutely whatever they wanted for an hour at a time. Some protested about a particular cause, some performed, some stripped. Even one of our own Barnsley residents took a trip on down to That London to spend an hour raising awareness about breast cancer in front of an audience of many from all around the world.
This is the kind of project Barnsley needs and we should definitely encourage this kind of participation.
Since its total overhaul a few years ago, Yorkshire Sculpture Park has become arguably the UK’s finest outdoor art space; bringing to the public a variety of revolving and permanent exhibitions of both traditional and the best of contemporary sculpture.
It’s hard to believe it but YSP’s latest exhibition, Miró: Sculptor, is actually the first ever exhibition of the surrealist masters sculptures in the UK; confirming both Yorkshire and it’s Sculpture Park’s importance in contemporary art. The exhibition follows two major art events in 2011; the first major retrospective of the Catalan artist’s work in almost 50 years at Tate Modern and the opening of Hepworth Wakefield; a major exhibition space which celebrates Yorkshire as the birth of British sculpture.
YSP already did a wonderful job of celebrating Yorkshire and the best British sculpture with its plethora of permanent displays by Barbara Hepworth, Henry Moore, Anthony Caro, Andy Goldsworthy and Antony Gormley among many, many others and the opening Hepworth Wakefield only confirms Yorkshire’s importance in British and international sculpture. However, Miró: Sculptor gives YSP a whole new level of gravitas.
The show is impressive; not just because of the work displayed but also in the curation of said work. YSP doesn’t hold back. They hit you straight off with three of their largest works on display in the very first room; showing off both their amazing gallery space and the sheer enormity of what they have here. As the light comes in through the lakeside windows and floods the ‘Underground (the space is actually dug out of the hill side facing the lake) Gallery’, three solid black bronzes against a white background dwarfs the visitors with all manner of obtuse lumps, limbs and contortions. It’s the perfect first move.
The following rooms showcase Miró’s first encounters with Dadaist found objects and his early attempts at bringing a new dimension to his form of surrealism. We see not only the evolution of found objects to plaster maquettes and small scale bronzes but also the transformation of many of these into some of the monumental bronze and resin works which are displayed in the park’s beautiful gardens. This process will enlighten fans of sculpture, those already hardened Miró fans but also those out there that may still find contemporary art a struggle.
A surprise feature to this show is the juxtaposition of sculpture with many of Miró’s etching and lithograph based work; an experimentally creative (albeit commercial) venture which many of the masters took up in their later years. There is one specific room which uses both print works and sculptures to full effect. The prints are of particular interest to me because I used to sell them in London galleries. The medium of print became just as much of a creative and experimental medium for Miro as sculpture but more notably in his later years. Though as good as they are, by no mean is this show about the prints. These are used as a tool to highlight the creative process; something which has been attempted (and failed) many times before with other artists in other galleries; most notably Dali.
My only gripe, and believe me it is very minor one is other than a video, there isn’t much in the exhibition to shed light on the artist’s fascinating and tragic past in war torn Catalonia or the period in which while he was at the peak of his adventures in sculpture, he literally “strove to destroy painting through an art form that transcended the two-dimensional plane”, intentionally painting canvases just to then burn them to ashes. And yes, I realise that this exhibition is a focus on the sculptural process but I feel this would have highlighted Miró’s importance at a creative force in all art forms, just as the print work displayed tries to.
In a year when the Olympics will be drawing all attention to the many overtly British exhibitions taking place in London this summer, such as Damien Hirst and Edvard Munch at Tate Modern and tourist monsters such as The Queen at National Portrait Gallery, do not let Miró: Sculptor at Yorkshire Sculpture Park get lost under your radar… you will be missing out on one of the year’s most important art exhibitions outside of the capital; right in your own back garden.
The exhibition is free entry with a payable parking charge of £5, which is a bargain considering similar shows in London would be £10 - £13 per person. As well as Miró: Sculptor, there much more on offer, with a couple of smaller exhibitions by other artists and designers and the always brilliant permanent displays within the park and grounds around Bretton Hall.
All images courtesy of YSP. © Jonty Wilde
Photo credits. Top - Bottom:
- Joan Miró, Personnage Gothique, Oiseau Eclair, 1976 © Successió Miró/ADAGP, Paris and DACS, London 2012
- Joan Miró, Personnage 1970 © Successió Miró/ADAGP, Paris and DACS, London 2012. Photo Jonty Wilde
- Joan Miró, Project for a Monument, 1979 © Successió Miró/ADAGP, Paris and DACS, London 2012. Photo Gabriel Ramon