Svg patterns

We caught up with moving-image artist and researcher Onyeka Igwe ahead of her forthcoming show, history is a living weapon in yr hand which launches on 12 January, and runs until 2 March 2024.

A woman standing outside in front of a bush.
Onyeka Igwe portrait by Yasmin Akim.
  1. Where are you right now?
  1. How would you describe your forthcoming exhibition, history is a living weapon in yr hand to someone who is unfamiliar with your work?
    I’d say it was an exhibition about rehearsing the future through the lens of the history of black radicalism in 1940s London.

  2. How did you first become interested in moving image work?
    I always loved going to the cinema when I was a kid, it was a pleasure and distraction. I made films as a hobby at university but then my friend Thea said, “why not be a filmmaker?” in the last months of my final year of a politics degree. I thought I’d make documentaries but I was disappointed by the documentary world, and then I discovered art when I lived in a project space called Limazulu and that felt like the setting I wanted to explore the moving image in.

  3. What’s been the most rewarding part of creating your film, A Radical Duet?
    Working with all the cast and crew, the feeling I had on the set, and the very fact that my words on a page became real.

  4. What’s your favourite thing about being an artist?
    That my job is to think, follow my curiosities and share that.

  5. Which bands or musicians are on your playlist at the moment?
    I recently got my record player working again and so was listening to something I bought in the pandemic but haven’t spent so much time with, African Acid is the Future.

  6. What do you do when you have a day off?
    Pretend I know how to relax! I’m trying to find a new hobby after roller derby took over my life.

  7. What works or shows do you have in the pipeline?
    Next year I’ll be in the Nigerian Pavilion at the 60th Venice Biennale and touring history is a living weapon in yr hand to other galleries in the UK. I want to make the feature film version of A Radical Duet so trying to rustle up some funding!
Snakey Friends II (Banned From Britain), 2020.

For our Formations programme, led in partnership with the Postcolonial Studies Centre at Nottingham Trent University, we are delighted to launch a newly commissioned art work by Honey Williams, made in response to the programmatic themes related to Black History Month, Black Lives Matter, and the Decolonisation agenda.

The resultant work Snakey Friends II (Banned From Britain), 2020 (pictured above), will operate as an emblem for the Formations programme and will be displayed outside the entrance of Bonington Gallery for the entirety of the Formations programme, ending in September 2021.

To launch the commission, we asked Honey a few questions.

Can you give us an overview of your practice? What do you Physically do, and what are your influences and ideas?

My practice is illustration, painting, songwriting and singing, I am a multi-dimensional artist. When it comes to visual art I like to play with a mash-up of techniques such as collage, inks, graphite, acrylics and also digital wizardry. All of this amalgamates into a cacophony of mind meanderings, collected imagery over time. The nucleus of many of my ideas is conjured up from my diary. I like to vandalise my own work in a way because I am attracted to imperfection as it is a way to signify the truth. Riffing, sampling and including discarded things within a final piece.

Could you please talk to us about the work you have made, and how it progressed from the invitation that Jenni Ramone (Co-Director NTU Postcolonial Studies Centre) made to you. What was it about some of the thinking behind the Formations programme that informed this response?

It has been interesting to observe the reaction of various organisations that are remembering that black lives matter. I am as heartened by the response as I am sceptical, my work is in part a response to all of that. This sense of distrust reverberates throughout this current piece that I have created, I have intertwined this with my interpretation of the temptation of Eve. Eve is usually interpreted as an ethereal very pale pre-raphaelite, long-haired, white woman in a European country garden with a big red apple despite Ethiopia being the first Christian country on earth. This piece acts to flip social hierarchy upside down by decentering whiteness and maleness, redefining beauty and humanity as a highly intersectional black woman with jet black locs, full lips and shea buttered dark skin takes centre stage, commanding the piece as an act of womanism. Her eyes are deep, sceptical, cynical, distrusting of white power structures represented by union jack coloured snakes that dance across the piece. She is wearing a mask with the coat of arms usually found on British Passports that have now become a precious commodity due to the Windrush Scandal, she is literally being silenced by systemic oppression but at the same time experiencing privilege that a British passport gives to you. Interwoven throughout the piece are historical British figures both Black and White, colonial oppressive figures who have been lauded as heroes such as a young Churchill, Lord Nelson who wanted to keep slavery going and Fredrick Lugard who purposely de-industrialised Nigeria.

The Formations programme attracted me because it is a year long, I want to be a part of decolonising British history and making it generally much more reality-based, so Nottingham is as good a place as any to start.


You appear to collaborate a lot, and a strong element of your practice seems based on exchange and reaction to situations you find yourself within and invitations you receive. The impact of this can make a practice very alive, urgent and relevant. Can you talk about the role of dialogue and exchange with others in your work?

Collaboration is important to me, it excites me, exchanging ideas and locations, perceptions and ideals only further expands my creative landscape in ways that formal education in its current form cannot. The invitations I receive are often a result of an opportunity for permanent jobs that didn’t work out or temporary opportunities. This can be marginalizing but by being forced to work on the periphery of the creative world I have become a multi-dexterous, flexible artist. I have honed new skills, found alternative solutions in order to try to further progress in an industry that does not want to let big black British women in due to misogynoir and sizeism. My practice is ‘alive, urgent and relevant’ because every creative thing I do is an act of survival. If you threw someone in the middle of an ocean would they sink or swim?

We’re going to be launching the work at the end of October, which traditionally would mark the end of Black History Month. I really like this idea that your work represents the remaining 11 months of the year, and demonstrates that Black History is of 365 importance, which informs the year-long structure of Formations. This approach appears to be matching a growing attitude towards this thinking, somewhat expedited by the Black Lives Matter protests in June – prompted by the death of George Floyd and others. The Formations sub-theme for October is ‘Critical responses to Black History Month’, can you offer some thoughts regarding this change of attitude regarding Black History Month?

Black people were arguably the first people on earth, and an indelible part of Britain since Cheddar Man if not before, so it’s made even more nonsensical and preposterous for western history to have attempted to whitewash itself for so long in order to preserve a false narrative that keeps the system of racism white supremacist capitalist imperialist patriarchy firmly in place. Producing a climate of injustice and an infinite number of murderous human atrocities like the Facebook live murder of George Floyd and other Black people like Breonna Taylor, Sarah Reed, Stephen Lawrence and all of the other injustices Black people face throughout the world. As well as overt racism, age-old #karenism has been highlighted of late and microaggressions aka the slow poison that is death by 1000 paper cuts. If this piece acts to encourage a positive change however incremental that would be a good thing.

In the turbulent climate of 2020, the growing enthusiasm to make a change in terms of #BLACKLIVESMATTER may fade due to apathy but hopefully not for now.


Your work confronts a number of social and political issues, who would be your ideal audience for your work, and what effect would you like to have on the viewer?

I don’t have an ideal audience for my art, I hope that it connects with people who are treated like they are the unseen, the underestimated, the un-chosen, the unworthy and the un-catered for. And basically, people who cannot play the game because they have been intentionally shut out. As well as people who are unfamiliar with the topics raised in the piece.

The most prominent message of the image is the call to end structural racism in Britain. Do you see your work and your audience as UK-focused, or global? Do you see the problems your work addresses as UK-based, or global?

I think that the most prominent message taken from the piece would be viewed differently according to who the viewer may be e.g. if the viewer of the work is a dark skinned black woman the misogynoir or colourism or natural hair may be the topics that speak to you most, perception is intersectional too. The issues raised are global as well as local. There’s a really important article by Trudy Law (Black British Writer) called ‘How Anti-Blackness Shapes Heterosexual Black Men’s Dating “Preferences”’. She discusses how many black men internalise racism and often do not have the tools to unpack this. This often results in many black men wanting to imitate white patriarchal hegemony rather than to dismantle it to create gender and racial equality. This often leaves Black women the furthest away from the women who are seen as being of value in western society to face intersectional oppression alone.

After WW1 and WW2, I think that it is little known that the death toll for young white British ex-servicemen from Nottingham was high. Many black ex service men and black male British citizens from Jamaica went to Nottingham after being invited to Britain. This meant that Nottingham had a large black Caribbean male community. After surviving the trauma of British colonisation and enslavement Black Caribbeans brought with them a rich, globally influential culture but at the same time they also exported damaging pathologies. Colourism and sexism are two of said pathologies, which resulted in misogynoir. So this history of misogynoir is particularly pronounced in Nottingham and in part this history is a contributing factor that explains the existence of a high population of interracial couples (black Caribbean male/ white English woman) and mixed race people in Nottingham. This is why I chose to centre Black women in this piece.

Gyal Daughter Murals 1 & 2, 2019

If you were commissioned to make a piece on a similar theme in a year, or in 5 years, how different do you think it would look? Can you envisage progress? What are your priorities for change and for achieving an end to structural racism?

My priority is radical self-love, empowerment, freedom and confidence in my artistic expression and I want to use what privilege I have to help others. I imagine that others and I will reap the fruits of this in the future.

The people who created and continue to benefit the most from the white privilege that the system of racism white supremacy gives them have the most power to eradicate it. So the real question beyond this is: do the powers that be want to eradicate structural racism and patriarchy? And I would ask white people: what are your priorities for change and for achieving an end to structural racism?

Windrush Scandal, 2018.

You can follow Honey’s work through her social media:

All images courtesy of the Artist.

Yesterday we welcomed a fantastic panel of experts to lead a discussion on fashion, art, archives, and everything in between; from the ethics and sustainability of fashion, through to the importance and challenges of maintaining archives and thoughts on interdisciplinary working.

Chaired by Tom Godfrey (Bonington Gallery Curator and curator of CJ), the panel included Naomi Braithwaite (Senior Lecturer in the School of Art and Design at NTU and custodian of the FashionMap Archive), Ruby Hoette (Designer and researcher and Programme Leader of MA Design: Expanded Practice at Goldsmiths University) and Caroline Stevenson (Curator, writer and lecturer and Head of Cultural and Historical Studies at London College of Fashion)

Thanks to all who attended and got involved in the conversation!

C/J is open until Saturday 18 May. If you haven’t already, be sure to drop by!

Last week, Notts TV’s Charlotte Swindells popped down to the gallery to check out our latest exhibition, catching up with curator Tom Godfrey to find out more about the project.

Watch the video at the link below (segment starts at 27:40):

Curator, Tom Godfrey, being interviewed for Ey Up Notts by Charlotte Swindell

Watch the whole programme here via Notts TV.

Bonington Gallery curator Tom Godfrey recently caught up with Adam Murray, curator of our September – October exhibition, The Accumulation of Things. Read on to find out more about Adam’s approach to curating and his interest in representations of everyday life – particularly in the north of England – as well as his background in photography and experience as an educator.

Preston is my Paris zine.

Tom Godfrey: The most recent exhibition that you (co-)curated was North: Fashioning Identity that I saw at both the Open Eye Gallery and Somerset House locations. The exhibition took quite a pragmatic and museological approach to presenting a history of fashion (with associated disciplines) connected to a geographical context. The exhibition at Bonington appears to be much looser in concept and suggests a more intuitive approach to putting together an exhibition. I wondered if you could expand a little on these two approaches and what your initial motivations were behind the formation of The Accumulation of Things.

Adam Murray: I agree, the two approaches to the exhibitions, and indeed the exhibitions themselves, are quite different in some ways.  However, they are both very much linked by subjects that I have been interested in for many years and I do think that there are similarities, particularly in the way the artists deal with their notion of the familiar.

Since I moved to Preston for university in 2001, the north west of England has been my familiar and the years spent there have been very influential on the work that I have made in the past, for example, Preston is my Paris.  This was an ongoing project produced predominantly with Robert Parkinson that dealt with our everyday life in Preston.  This then motivated a strong interest in how everyday life and personal experiences inform creative work, as well as a strong interest in representation and identity of the north of England.  The latter of which became manifest with the North: Fashioning Identity exhibition that you mention.

Installation view from the exhibition ‘North: Fashioning Identity’, Open Eye Gallery, Liverpool, 2017.

With this exhibition at Bonington, I wanted to move away from being so geographically specific and but still engage with work that was clearly about the circumstance, experiences and personal histories of the artists.  In my work as a lecturer I also work with and encounter a lot of work by early career practitioners, so I saw the invitation from Bonington as a fantastic opportunity to showcase this.  The sourcing of the work has been an intuitive process yes.  I encountered all of in the last couple of years at either degree shows, in tutorials or through recommendations by friends.  It felt like it came together very naturally.

TG: As evidenced throughout your projects there is a focus and celebration of the so-called ‘regions’ and the practices and associated histories that dwell within them. I wondered whether you could talk about this further, what is it about these geographies that motivates you and the others you work with?

 AM: Primarily it is to do with my own experiences and places I have lived.  I grew up in Shepshed, a small town not too far from Nottingham, then moved to Preston for university and spent ten years living there.  Although I now live in Manchester and partly work in London, I am still active in exploring regional towns and cities.  As you mention, this has been a feature of previous projects and exhibitions, I think because I have spent the majority of my life outside of major cities.  This has developed my awareness that these places matter.  For me, it is not about creating a hierarchy, but it is about encouraging the same exploration of smaller places in a similar way to large urban centres.

As the major ‘creative cities’ are given so much coverage, it is often, not always, but often the work by people from places other than recognised centres, that can offer an alternative and therefore more innovative view on things.  I think that is reflected in most of the work in the exhibition.  It is also why I am excited to collaborate with Bonington, it is important for these spaces to exist outside of London.

From ‘Preston Bus Station’ issue of Preston is my Paris, 2010.

TG: The group exhibitions that interest me always present practices that extend beyond the objects in a room, so the individual contexts, networks and histories represented by the artists protract, conflate and interrupt what might be physically on show. I wondered if you could talk a bit further about how you have brought together this set of practices and what might be represented by the exhibition that we might not see physically in the gallery. The premise that you present at first glance is quite simple, but the array and depth to the practices represented by the exhibition reveals to me something much more complex and nuanced.

 AM: All of the artists in the exhibition have produced work whilst being based in Britain for the last few years, so I definitely think that there are a number of narratives and reflections on recent general experiences.  However, it was also important for me to work with artists from different backgrounds so that their own personal approach offers a variety of interpretation.

I always try to present work in quite a simple way, without being over theoretical with text etc.  It is important for me to create a space that doesn’t feel intimidating and respect that an audience will be able to engage with the work without the need for extensive direction from a curator.

Installation view from the exhibition ‘North: Fashioning Identity’, Open Eye Gallery, Liverpool, 2017.

TG: I closely consider Bonington Gallery’s context of being an ‘art school’ gallery when programming and identifying the practices we present. I’m always drawn to people who have a lot of cross-over in their practices, and have done different things and occupied different contexts. I wondered if you could talk about your background, and the different projects you’ve worked on over recent years, and paint a picture of your own relationship to working with/across different artforms.

AM: My background is mainly rooted in photography.  I studied photography at university in Preston and as mentioned before, the first major project after this was Preston is my Paris.

Since I was a teenager though I’ve also had a strong interest in fashion photography.  This has manifest in different ways but most recently in North: Fashioning Identity which I co-curated with Lou Stoppard.  The exhibition included a range of different media and art forms all linked to one subject, the influence of the North of England on Fashion.

I have also worked in Higher Education for 15 years.  To begin with it was on the photography course at University of Central Lancashire, then moved on to Fashion Communication at Liverpool John Moores.  Now I’m working on Fashion Art Direction at Manchester School of Art and pathway leader for MA Fashion Image at Central Saint Martins.  I find it a real privilege to be working with new creative talent, learning what they are about, what they want to communicate and then responding to that.  It also appealed to me that Bonington is part of a university.

The main two things that I think link all of this is collaboration and exploring the relationship between different practices.  My work simply wouldn’t exist without this and I think putting exhibitions together is the ideal way for me to engage with an audience.

From ‘You could be in London, You could be in Vegas, But you’re in Brierfield’ issue of Preston is my Paris, 2010.

The Accumulation of Things opens with a preview on Thursday 27 September, alongside Bonington Vitrines #8: House of Wisdom

All images courtesy of Adam Murray.

Last night we welcomed DJ, promoter and Butterz cofounder, Elijah for an engaging lecture and Q&A; tracing his journey into and through different areas of the music industry, exploring the importance of questioning everything, and what happens when “what if?” is turned into “why not?”…

Thanks to writer, critic (and grime fan) Jonathan P Watts for hosting, and to Ashley Holmes, whose 2017 film Everybody’s Hustling set the scene for the evening. It was great to welcome a lot of new faces to the gallery – so big thanks to everyone who joined us, too!

Find out more about Video Days Week Five screenings.

Images: courtesy of Elijah / Butterz

Bonington Gallery curator Tom Godfrey caught up with Sara MacKillop to discuss her ongoing fascination with objects, images, sculpture and printed matter (and the overlap between all of these things), ahead of the opening of Sara’s solo exhibition, One Room Living:

Sara MacKillop, Stationery Picture, 2016

Tom: I’m interested in this relationship between printed matter and the sculptural form that is prevalent in your practice. It’s something that you explore in both your publications and gallery exhibitions, where tropes are exchanged between these art-forms that challenges associated terms of engagement, i.e; a book is for handling and a sculpture is for looking at. Could you expand a little on this?

Sara: I think the starting point of this is that I am very concerned with presentation and display when encountering images and objects. Therefore, when there is a printed image I am immediately interested in what it is printed on, if there is something on the other side etc. This is maybe something to do with a use of found or altered objects or images of various kinds and looking at the wrong aspect of them – or approaching it in a non-straightforward fashion.

When making a publication I am very concerned in finding the correct format for what I am going to present and in some cases, the publication can be almost all format. As a result, my publications can appear like a mess of stuff – this wasn’t a plan, but I quite like it. Sometimes a publication is presented as a sculpture in an exhibition. The sculptures quite often have a temporary feel, but can also be presented in more than one way or adapted each time they are shown.

Sara MacKillop,Window Display, (foreground) Pen Fence, (background) Stationery Picture, 2016

Tom: This exchange between sculpture & printed matter, with its subsequent challenge on a pre-conceived status of sculpture – making it into something that is adaptable and ephemeral – is really interesting.

I wondered if you could talk a bit further about the connection the exhibition makes to the wider environment of the university. The introduction text references an analysis being made towards how the institution’s function is represented across a multitude of different spaces. Could you expand on this and also describe this process of observation you have made from your visits to the gallery?

Sara: On my first visit to the Bonington Gallery I was very conscious of the different uses of space I encountered on the way to the gallery – the cafe, art shop etc. When you arrive at the gallery itself you walk downwards into the space, and there is a series of doors leading to different spaces with different uses from the gallery. In a way it made sense to me for the exhibition to appear as a repository for motifs of these spaces and I am interested to see what happens when they overlap. I had been working with some of these motifs (images of art supplies from promotional material) prior to the exhibition, but the work is mainly developed after initial site visits.

Sara MacKillop, installation view, Window Display, Haus Der Kunst, 2016

Tom: I’ve followed your work for nearly 15 years and have witnessed what feels like a sustained enquiry into a certain type of source material that could perhaps be described as ‘every-day’. Whereas some artists fetishise certain systems, objects or brands into their work as an attempt to command ownership over them, you manage to preserve an open and democratic feel to your varied output that becomes more reflective of the idiosyncratic attachments we form with certain objects and images we all encounter on a daily basis.

Could you talk more about this ongoing commitment and interest in the materials and source material that informs in your work?

Sara: My interest in an object or image can be initiated by a recognition that it presents something in a way that is better than I could achieve myself. This is often an unintended consequence of its design or presentation; again a result of looking at something in the wrong way or purposely misunderstanding it. It’s not really about identification where I feel it speaks to me – I usually become concerned with how an object or image functions where I’ve seen it, and how it was displayed. I then make changes to the framing / presentation, sometimes working within and/or disrupting the parameters of the format itself, and finally move on to something else. Pen Fence is a good example of this, although I am continuing to use different versions of this.

Sara MacKillop, Pen Holders, 2016

Tom: Accompanying the exhibition in the main gallery is a presentation of all your published & self-published materials from the past 9+ years. Could you talk about your history within self-publishing? 

Sara: The first publication I made was 50 Envelope Windows in 2008. I had all these images of envelope security patterns scanned through the windows of the envelopes, and I hadn’t found a fitting way of presenting them until I tried them as a book. The slight differences and sequences fitted to the turning of the pages of the book perfectly. After that I started having ideas that the end format was a publication and that has continued until now. There are now around 35 publications in total. The publication itself is the artwork. I was working at Donlon Books at the time and they stocked a lot of artist books. It was a good way into learning about the rich history of artist publications.  

Also, X Marks the Bökship provided a great place to meet people who make publications and see what was being made. I am attracted to the kind of publication which can have many forms; the way that for quite modest means you can make something, distribute it easily to pre-existing communities and then move on to the next project. I organise the Artist Self Publishers (ASP) Fair with artist, Dan Mitchell. We make a fair that offers free tables and focuses on the publication as artwork. We’ve done it for three years now and hope to continue. I’ve valued the experience of artist self-publishing and the groups of people I have met through it, and so wanted to share this. 

Tom: We held a discussion in the gallery in 2015 (to accompany Foxall Studios’ Publishing Rooms exhibition) that looked at the ‘changing importance of printed matter and whether it still holds up as a relevant and vital contemporary media format’. Do you have any views on this?

Sara: Yes – I think printed material is still a very vital material.  The availability and affordability of print on demand makes it accessible, which makes it vital. The new context of printed matter as one of many formats to produce and distribute to me actually makes it more interesting.

One Room Living will open with a preview on Thursday 2 November 5 – 7 pm. The exhibition will remain open until Friday 8 December, visit the webpage for more details.

All images courtesy Sara MacKillop.

Ahead of their forthcoming solo exhibition Artificial Sensibility, curator Tom Godfrey caught up with Camille Le Houezec and Jocelyn Villemont from It’s Our Playground to ask them a few questions about their practice and what to expect from their exhibition…

Tom: I’m interested in this term ‘hybrid learning process’ that is referred to in the exhibition text. How are you considering Bonington Gallery’s own context of being a gallery situated at the heart of an existing learning environment?

It’s Our Playground: The show is titled Artificial Sensibility in reference to artificial intelligence. It echoes the way we seek to find a sensibility in everyday interactions with our technological devices, and the way they are more and more precisely trained to mimic human behaviour.

The starting point of the exhibition is ‘image recognition’, a process used to identify an object or a feature in a digital image. A toddler will only need to see the image of an apple a few time before naming it, whereas a machine will have to inspect hundreds of apples in order to identify it. Both the human brain and the computer rely on the shape, the color, the pattern of a thing to recognise it. We find it interesting that humans create machine learning processes based on brain function. The show focuses on how the flaws of these automated techniques can lead to misunderstanding, create confusion or even poetry.

The prints hanging from the corrugated sheets of plastic within the exhibition have been made using stock images bought on the internet. These pictures of natural elements have been superimposed in order to produce big collages which might actually trick recognition systems.

As artists, there is another way of learning that we like to use : collaboration! This exhibition is built around the idea of a collaborative process as a way to generate complex artworks.

Given the location of Bonington Gallery, an exhibition space situated on a university campus, we thought it would be a suitable context for the show.

Tom: The generative result of ‘misunderstanding’ and ‘confusion’ feels an appropriate theme to explore within an art-school where these positions are cited as being advantageous in the early development of work.

Could you talk in more detail about the comparison between how a machine and a human might perceive and (mis)recognise an object? And how this could be a potential analogy for how we view artworks?

IOP: Like artificial intelligence, we have to train our senses from the early stage of our lives to perceive and recognise objects and people precisely and to name them. The way we feel emotions, the way events orientate our actions have a direct impact on our behaviours.

We strongly believe sensibility, education, taste, intuition influence the way we perceive events, trends and we can stretch it to artworks. Emotion, intuition, sensibility is exactly what still separate us from machines. In an art school context, misunderstanding, confusions, or even mistakes are considered positive experiments, these can make you take ways you would not have taken, make choices you would not have made.

Now imagine an art-teacher robot, we guess it could generate very relevant questions in a critical review setup and it could also teach you facts : names, dates or historical context.  The computer program will describe the shape, colour and possibly identify the object or art piece, but it won’t be able to teach you how to look at a work of art, nor how to interpret it. What interests us in the context of the show is when the computer creates a gap between what it ‘sees’ and the actual object, when the machine’s deduction leads us to consider the object (or artwork) differently. As long as the human will not be able to teach machines how to express feelings, subjective matters, you will need a human brain to interpret its failures as poetry.

Tom: It’s Our Playground is a practice that straddles that of an artist and a curator. The side-effect of this appears to be that you treat materials and artworks in equal measure, and often in quite an irreverent way by positioning other peoples artworks within environments that you create, and not necessarily in ‘optimum’ conditions that a lot of artists might aspire to.

Can you talk about how you ‘treat’ other peoples works, and your attitudes towards this?

IOP: Our attitude towards curation comes from our experience of dealing with images of artworks or documentation of shows on our website the same way artists have appropriated historical facts or artistic practices in art history. From the beginning of our collaboration, we created a setup where we could experiment freely, publicly, and independently.

As artists, we consider the exhibition as a medium and we treat other artists’ artworks as precious materials displayed in what we consider being interesting/relevant conditions for them, environments the artists themselves would not necessarily have thought about. We prefer thinking about our projects as new contexts for the artists and artworks we like and respect, a way to give a new point of view on artworks we do not consider unequivocal. It is important, as an artist to show your work several times in different places but we can be sceptical when it comes to what is considered ‘optimum condition’ which often means an empty, bright, white walled space. These conventional, often commercial spaces are far from being problematic but we believe our role as artist is to challenge these and try a different approach, imagine new things.

Most of the time, we come up with a specific context and present it to the artists, to determine which piece could work in such exhibition.

Very often and when possible we dedicate budget to new productions. To be honest we consider our practice as being often close to collaboration in many ways and at every stage of the working process.

Tom: Can you talk further about the collaborators that you are working with on this exhibition?

IOP: Always looking for new experiments, this time we wanted to involve other practitioners in the exhibition making. Rather than building the display and showing other artists’ work, we were interested in producing artworks with people who do not call themselves artists. We came up with the concept, a title and some ideas for pieces but we started discussing it with collaborators in the early stage of the project so they could properly be involved in the forms we would produce together. For example, Camille Garnier and Alex Paraboschi, both graphic designers made the double sided prints with us. We talked about Artificial Sensibility and what it could mean in the context of a show and decided that we would select natural elements which gave their names to colours and each of us would be responsible for designing the front or the back of the print knowing that these would hang from transparent corrugated sheets of plastic which would affect slightly the way we see one side or the other.

Collaboration is also a way for us to learn new techniques we are not familiar with. Benoît is a designer and founder and we were interested in working with him for a while so we thought this could be the opportunity we were looking for! The prints we produced with Camille and Alex needed hooks to hang from the plastic walls and we designed those together with Benoît. We agreed on these pointing shapes like computer arrows, human hands, crab claws and biface tools. For the show we also wanted to explore a more technological aspect, and invited Thibaut to react to the context. Being a creative technologist, Thibaut is very knowledgeable when it comes to, coding, web designing, new technologies, the Internet, he is also a musician and we thought this show would [provide] the occasion to work together once again (Thibaut has been working with us on websites for the past eight years). After weeks of discussions brainstorming we agreed that Thibaut would be working on a soundtrack, an environment inspired by the ‘noises’ of a thinking computer, an interpretation of the learning process we talked about earlier. Working with members of the family and friends (both Benoit and Thibaut are Jocelyn’s brothers) has been a great experience because it’s very straightforward; we understood each other well along the way and were able to take the project further.

Tom: You appear to work in the virtual and physical realm in equal measure. Could you talk about how you approach working in these contexts, the differences and whether you’d consider these contexts becoming more aligned?

Right after graduating we both moved from France to Glasgow and working online seemed like a great substitute to a physical space at the time. We started doing shows on our website as a way to continue working in a city we didn’t know without having to look (and pay) for a studio/gallery space. It was mostly a very good way to connect with other artists on the other side of the planet!

Then after a couple of years we had the opportunity to run SWG3 Gallery and get our programme funded and our online activity became more of a “subject” rather than a “space”. We started exploring the relationship between the virtual and physical realm with Dovble Trovble at CCA and in 2012 where we asked the artists involved to produce a work that would exist in both contexts at the same time.

It’s hard to disconnect our project from their online presence, and it is a reality for a great number of artists. Mostly because any project will find its way online and we like to think this step is a decisive one. For us, it is a starting point when we use actual exhibition views and artwork documentation from other artists as raw material to create new works and sometimes including the online potential of the exhibition in its concept (Screen Play at SWG3 Gallery, 2014; Visual Matter in Piacé, 2016; Reconstructive Memory at Galerie Valentin, 2016). Our recent web projects could even be seen as algorithm-based publications (cf Infinite Memories, Exhibition Gradient)

We do not see much difference between working online or offline, releasing a new website is as exciting as opening a show!

Tom: I’m interested in the idea of ‘strategy’, particularly in terms of what you say about the online projects being a way of connecting with artists you want to work with, building a community and avoiding isolation.

There is a clear lineage between your early web projects and the more physically ambitious projects you are doing now, and there appears to be a number of relationships you have with artists that have galvanised over time, via repeat projects.

Maybe a fitting way to conclude this interview is to expand on the idea of strategy, in terms of pro-active ways that anybody can employ that can help expand context for what you do.

IOP: We both felt quite early on (while in art school) that unity was force! So we started working together feeling we could be more ambitious, do things faster. Obviously we both had very different practices, but we also had complementary knowledge and skills.

We probably started organising shows with other artists for the exact same reasons. We like the idea of learning from someone else’s practice, gathering talented people and have interesting (often challenging) conversations, building long lasting and strong relationships over work. Most of these relationships with artists emanated from exhibition projects rather than already established acquaintance as the Internet has always allowed us to reach artists we never met before but whom we liked the work of.

After a while, this “strategy” became the core of our practice. We rarely do things on our own; inviting artists, makers, writers, designers is now totally embedded in our work. And while our practice became more hybrid (being successively curators, producers, scenographers…) it can now interfere with different contexts and allow us to be more free.

Artificial Sensibility will open with a preview on Thursday 21 September 5 – 7 pm. The exhibition will remain open until Friday 27 October, visit the webpage for more details.

All images courtesy It’s Our Playground.

Ahead of the opening of You’re Gonna Need a Bigger Boat, we caught up with Jason Evans to ask him a few questions about the exhibition….

Most people will know you as a photographer, but this exhibition seems quite different to most of your work – can you tell us how the idea came about?

Thankfully, most people don’t know me at all. While my work has many strands there is a foundation in my relationship with photography that probably colours how I approach my various outputs. In my work I often use photography to combine objects/ideas within a picture, in this instance I am combining objects/ideas in a room. 

Over the last couple of years I have been drawn to these materials which felt both in and out of step with ‘the times’ and I wanted to see what happened when I combined it all, that was the basis for the show. It struck me that there were potential conversations lurking between these things about where we’ve been and where we’re headed. 

What has the process of putting the exhibition together been like? Has it been a challenge to think as a curator as well as a photographer / image-maker? 

The process of making the show has been smooth and enjoyable. It is a privilege to be able to materialise my thought processes in Nottingham, which I do not take for granted. I have previously curated shows on 90s British documentary photography and contemporary Japanese Photo Books amongst other things, so it was not much of challenge for me, particularly as Tom Godfrey has been a supportive, and cheerful, sounding board.

What can people expect to see when they enter the exhibition?

No spoilers, that is for them to find out… I can promise a bloody big rope and some narrowboat painting. Some of the exhibition is happening off-site around Nottingham, people could unwittingly find themselves in the audience…

Sounds interesting… can you tell us a bit more about what you have planned away from the Gallery?

If you work in the gallery system one big white room can look and feel pretty much like another, regardless of if you’re in Korea or Canada. I look for a reason to be in a specific place, to find out something about the culture beyond the exhibition. I want to make relevant work. I often invite visitors to take something from the gallery out into the community, so the gallery becomes a point of departure that encourages reflection through participation. 

In this instance [Philip] Hagreen’s work lends itself to reproduction on t-shirts and so his work will circulate locally in that way. I am looking forward to meeting the volunteers and making portraits with them.

Other than it being ideal to reproduce on a t-shirt – what else drew you to Hagreen’s work?

His work feels relevant. Hagreen made his politically charged ‘lampoon’ prints around the time of the second world war, a time of crisis and austerity. As a nation we are currently engaged in war plus we are, arguably, in crisis and we face an imposed austerity. Go figure…

Can you tell us about your binary prints? What inspired these?

I have been working with diagonally divided blocks of colour painted onto the wall since my first solo show in 2008 and it was the right time to turn this process into objects. I had them industrially screen printed onto display board using a colour palette culled from a Japanese commercial design guide. To me they look like signs, and belong to a colour-way described as ‘pretty’. They are reductive image/text pieces, each one has a two word title, though it remains ambiguous as to which word relates to which colour, a subjective response is encouraged, in that way I think they are photographic.

Your photos often have a similar graphic quality to them in the use of contrasting colours and shapes – is this something you thought about when making the prints?

I guess the way I am hardwired predisposes me to certain aesthetics. While disparate my output has these themes running though it. At times I work in high key ways, enthusiastic for shapes, patterns, repeats, multiples, high contrast and deep saturation… this is one of those times. I also go though periods of producing more nuanced monochromatic work. Last year I got to marry those aesthetics in my Tool Shed Dark Room project.

Jason Evans, The Daily Nice. Via WE FOLK
Jason Evans, The Daily Nice. Via WE FOLK

Can you tell us how/why you first came across Clark Brothers, and what it’s like working with them/the materials they produce? You produced a zine with photos from inside the shop in 2016 – was this the first time you visited the shop?

I first visited Clark Brothers in 2015. It’s just around the corner from the (excellent) Piccadilly Records in Manchester.

I think you find what you need in life, if you are paying attention, it’s all there in front of you. 

The window display caught my eye, it was like I had died and gone to heaven when I walked in, total time warp. I recommend a visit, it’s a very specific and poignant cultural experience. 

Despite the digital/internet transitions of the last 20 years the business has continued to hand produce promotional materials for the trade industry on the premises and has no online presence. I get a wonderful sense of nostalgia in the place which somehow dodges the long shadows of digital marketing technologies and the property development of the Northern Quarter in Manchester. When I took some of their posters to the New York Art Book Fair with the zine in 2016 they sold out on the second day, somehow it’s also ‘right for now’.

Jason Evans, Clark Brothers of Manchester, 2016

Any final thoughts about the exhibition?

I am looking forward to seeing how the various elements of the show bounce off each other, and I’m curious to see what the audience makes of my new sculpture and prints, it’s the first time I’ve not shown any photography. I wonder what people will make of the [Dick] Hambidge archive – it’s never been seen before. We are encouraging visitors to redefine and redistribute the content with their smart phones; there are specific photo opportunities within the show and relevant hashtags (#youregonnaneedabiggerboat) are suggested. It’s going to be fun meeting the Hagreen volunteers wearing the special t-shirt edition that we have produced to take the show into the city, and hopefully encourage the city to come and see the show.

You’re Gonna Need a Bigger Boat will open with a preview on Thursday 13 April, 5 pm – 7 pm. 

Jason Evans Site Visit – 26 October 2016

In anticipation of his curated exhibition at Bonington Gallery next year, esteemed photographer Jason Evans paid us a visit to see the gallery, discuss ideas and explore the city. Here’s a collection of images he took during his time here:

As part of Krísis, artists Annie and Alessandra of Something Human interviewed many of the artists involved with the exhibition. Bellow you can find a selection of these interviews.

Krísis Conversations: Tuan Mami and Boedi Widjaja

28 November 2016

As part of Krísis,Tuan Mami and Boedi Widjaja reflect on the state of ‘crisis’ in relation to movement in liminal spaces via their new performances and artworks.

Something Human: Both of you are visual artists and performers whose work utilise a form of ritual or “processual” approach that invites the audience to engage with the works. What does this process mean to your practice, and why do you seek to engage audiences with it?

Boedi Widjaja: Process means to me, first of all, a way to get into a dialectical state of mind. It is about finding unusual connections, thoughts and ideas out of conflicts, contradictions and contrasts. A good process tends to suggest new paths for navigating opposing histories and contexts. Process may be described as a series of methods that generate connective material, enabling forms, ideas or expressions to be made out of newly found relations between subjects. Process is also a space that the audience can enter, to experience the dialectical tensions that make up an artwork. 

Tuan Mami: Actually, in my old works, I have used a sort of ritual setup or ritual approach but in something more like a normal daily activity. For example, I invited audience members to sit with me one by one in a private space and collaborate in sort of celebration for our shared moment, or I invited 100 old ladies to visit an art opening to create a shared moment of exploration. But recently I am working more with ritual as part of mythology, to present the relationship between environment/object which is closely intertwined with the relationship between human and nature in the world, where one could perceive on a physical level as well as that which exists in the imagination. For me, ritual is a sort of special moment or environment when I could focus on the meaning of my art, it is also the oldest form for our art. I get a lot of feeling in experiencing through the ritual form, me-my work-the audience we are all in the same level/same journey of experiencing the subject/object.

SH: You both hail from Vietnam and Singapore respectively, and Boedi, you also have a personal and professional relationship to Indonesia. These countries have witnessed different periods and outbursts of internal political conflict and debate within its borders, and are situated within same region that has recently seen an escalation of political tension. How do you think your practices address the recent socio-political issues? 

BW: Southeast Asia is a diverse and politically complex region. The twentieth century saw countries in the region gaining independence hence nationalistic politics is de facto. The region continues to ring with echoes from the Cold War, as seen in the tension at ASEAN’s meeting with China over the South China Sea, America’s drive for Trans-Pacific Partnership, the U.S lifting its ban on weapon sales to Vietnam and Philippines’ rhetorical leaning towards China. 

A series of works that I am currently developing is Imaginary Homeland—one that looks at Indonesian political history since the nation’s independence in 1945. The series explores nationalism, identity and memory, through mass media imagery. It inevitably looks at Indonesian military history, and how the Cold War has impacted the personal narratives of so many. 

TM: My works are based on research, which takes place on a certain topic or in an area between human and its reactions, between daily life and imagination, so I look at socio-political matters as a central point in my exploration. But I get into the issues in indirect way. I often adapt the ephemeral senses to create a moment, which presents an ambiguous reality, the one you could experience by yourself by traveling between the past-present-and the future. I see socio-political matters as basic human matters, looking at it as a researcher to review or reveal in a poetic dialogue.

SH: For this exhibition you have been invited to reflect on the notion of ‘crisis’. Could you please tell us more about how your artworks and performances reflect on this condition?

BW: I am presenting 2 works in Krisis: (Post) Path.7, New Ground—a documentation of Path.7, New Ground, a live art work that I performed in London in 2015—and Imaginary Homeland: 谢谢你的爱,  a new live art work. 

Path.7, New Ground indirectly addressed the migrant crisis in Europe, as I contemplated my own diasporic experience. I walked from east London to the Barbican, lugging a 30kg bag of lump chalk with a 1.5m helium balloon tethered to me, culminating in a performance by the Barbican lake. The work was visceral—the weight of the chalk and the balloon’s movement resisting my forward trajectory, speaking of the weight of motherland and the disorienting force of nostalgia. (Post) Path.7, New Ground looks at the abstraction effect that media has when representing a live event. I wanted to draw out the camera—the primary device that tracked my durational walk and through which we comprehend all forms of crisis today. I did this by arranging individual frames from the documentation videos, cropped tightly around the balloon’s movement, in a regular grid. 

Imaginary Homeland: 谢谢你的爱 is a new work from a series that looks at the impact of mass media images on memories and personal narratives. The work is about the dialectics between image and corporeality—bodily movement complicating the image surface even as the latter choreographs the former.   

TM: I’ve been invited to make a second chapter of my last research-based project which I had been working on in the area between the Cambodian and Vietnamese border. I had researched about the long controversial history of the relationship between the two countries and also the conflicts that exist nowadays. For the ‘Krisis’ exhibition, I’m going to create an ambiguous notion of the “Border”. On one hand, it is a construct based on human forces that create man-made borders for protection, which in turn, becomes a threat. On the other hand, it is about human instinct and its memory. Since border issues are getting more intense in the world recently, my work is an ironic voice to twist the matters into a playful game or a ritual moment where everyone could join in to de-construct the material issue into an ephemeral moment of peace and respect for all kinds of people and nature. I want to create an experience for people go through time, space and sharing together of the imagination of freedom geographically and spiritually.

Images credits: Boedi Widjaja and Tuan Mami

Nicola Anthony

25 October 2016

Something Human: As an artist who has lived and worked in the UK and Singapore, and have had the experience of both the European and Southeast Asian regions, what are your thoughts on the recent states of crisis in both places, and as an artist, how has this impacted your practice?

Nicola Anthony: The current moment in time seems to be on a precipice, whether we look at things socio-politically, environmentally, or on a very human level; our time is certainly one filled with crisis. There are so many troubling things in our world, and yet people go on: trying to adapt, many suffering, and others denying. This is a classic reaction to trauma – on an individual or mass level. Somehow human beings are wired to continue through adversity however they can, when instead we logically could be telling ourselves (as the Auden poem goes):

“The stars are not wanted now: put out every one;
Pack up the moon and dismantle the sun”

Through my artwork, I do not try to make political or cultural statements. Instead, I try to get to the essence of the issues, and somehow imbue my artwork with something of that feeling, that experience of that moment or emotion.

An image showing three circular pieces layer on top of each other. Two of which are blue, and one a beige-green. These objects are made of oy a translucent material which you can see through them. They all have different textures.
Courtesy of Nicola Anthony

SH: For the Krísis exhibition, you will show 50 skies : 50 scars, a large 6 metre aerial installation, as a reflection on the notion of ‘crisis’. Could you please tell us more about how your artwork reflects on this condition?

NA: Crisis is ineffable. It is frequently repressed or erased from our minds as our meddlesome brains clear paths to allow us to move forward. It is not a condition which can be summed up neatly. It is varied, difficult, and individual. After much consideration I decided to find a symbolic way to blend together the elements which can be experienced during crises  – ruptures, scars, a cycle of time and duration, resulting in the repetition and normalisation of crisis.

Waving my arms and my nostrils around, I took my time to use my paper burning technique, for which I use incense sticks. (These to me are already heavily scented with ideas of spirituality, prayers, or simply freedom and hope). With this method I created ‘scars’ on the paper skin rather than writing a story as one might usually do on chinese calligraphy paper.

In some cultures, burning is the way to send offerings to the Gods or to the dead. In other cultures burning is synonymous with destruction and loss.

To hint towards time, I created the scars to exist in a linear progression, suspended overhead with their blue colour referencing the sky. I wanted to go a step further and actually capture some of the sky, as well as the movements of the sun (so significant in the daily cycle, the passing of time). To do this I crafted sunlight lenses inside the artwork, which filter beams of light through the glass window to create a shimmering patina on the paper surface.

SH: 50 skies : 50 scars is described as hand-burned incense drawing, watercolour ink on calligraphy paper, charred paper, charcoal, embroidery hoops and handmade sunlight lenses. In your work, you frequently use techniques that are time-consuming, delicate and require prolonged periods of concentration, could you please tell us why you are drawn to create work with this kind of painstaking process?

NA: That is a good question and one that I frequently ask myself… I can say with certainty that I am drawn to that working process: it’s not a conscious decision, more an instinctive one. I am constantly looking to bring meaning and significance to my materials and artworks. I feel that they should undergo a transformation whilst becoming an artwork – and in some cases the artist goes through a transformative process too. Even though my art is most often sculptural, there is a big element of performance in what happens behind the scenes in the ‘the making of’.

The burning technique takes patience, can result in loosing sections of drawing, setting my hair on fire, or scorching my wooden desk. The flame needs to be controlled. But the process of burning the paper skin can be almost meditative: synchronising with the breath; and filling the art studio with the redolent scent of sacred spaces; controlling the perforations.

Image credit: Nicola Anthony

Prof. Duncan Higgins, Dr Roy Smith and Dr Anna Ball

21 October 2016

On Friday 28 October, as part of the Krísis public programme, there will be a one-day symposiumtitled Krísis: critical interventions organised by Prof Duncan Higgins, Dr Roy Smith and Dr Anna Ball (Nottingham Trent University) in collaboration with Something Human. The symposium brings the international network of artistic practices and narratives from the Krísis exhibition and public programme into a day of talks, presentations and performative lectures.

Something Human: The state of ‘crisis’ and its corresponding terminologies have certainly entered our common vocabulary in the last decade. With your research interests in the diverse fields of visual arts and the social sciences, how have you been thinking about this contemporary state?

Duncan Higgins: For me ‘crisis’ is always going to be a very relative question, ‘crisis’ in relation to what? Where? When? Who? And how? My own motivation is to try and avoid any generalisation of such issues; this question feels too big without more context. In respect to research, education, visual arts and social science I suspect each generation has always indicated or described ‘crisis’ as a condition of practice. For example, in my experience the art school has always described itself to be in a state of ‘crisis’ for one reason or another and not always out of necessity.

Roy Smith: ‘Crisis – what crisis?’ highlights both the widespread use of the term, plus the fact that what may be perceived as a crisis scenario for some may be barely noticeable to others. Media reports of numerous humanitarian crises, environmental crises, refugee crises et cetera run the risk of producing what has been described as ‘compassion fatigue’. With the huge expansion of media outlets, including increased use of social media and citizen reporting, audiences are at risk of feeling overwhelmed and disempowered by the enormity of these issues. Whilst not underestimating the situation for those directly impacted by crises, for example in Aleppo or Haiti, for many observers these are issues that are happening in faraway places and with little or no immediately apparent consequence for their daily lives. Such an attitude appears, for some, to be reinforced by a retreat from internationalism and a global outlook to more inward-looking attitudes of ‘taking back control’, as demonstrated in the recent EU referendum debates and the current rhetoric of the Donald Trump campaign.

Anna Ball: My current research is concerned with creative representations of refugee experience, particularly in the context of the contemporary Middle Eastern refugee crisis in Europe. Today, refugees from Afghanistan and Syria comprise some of the largest populations of those fleeing violence and terror, but their encounter with Europe is itself a site of crisis: a point of contact at which the forms of biopower and necropolitics exerted by the State, and by more illicit sources of power – human traffickers, for example – render those subjects supremely vulnerable. In turn, the encounter with European subjects – one which is often mediated (and reduced) by visual representation in the media – becomes a site of disjunctive and often alienating exchange, whereby the humanity of those seeking refuge is racialized and politicised in ways that are dehumanising and unjust.

Within my current research, I’m particularly interested in mobilising a materialist, corporeal and haptic critical lens that pays attention to the suffering, feeling, tangible, beating body – particularly the bodies of women and children, which are often reduced (visually and in other representational terms) to figures of the radical subaltern, though they in fact experience very particular modes of biopower and bodily suffering. (Women’s ‘flights’ may, for example, have been prompted by forms of sexual violence or indeed maternal vulnerability that may drive them to seek refuge.)

I’m interested, therefore, in how intimate, personal crises, experienced in tangible, material terms, can be represented and felt against the vast backdrop of dehumanising political crisis that currently marks the contemporary Middle Eastern refugee crisis in Europe. My project is a drive towards recovering the presence of the human, and humanity, in terms that are necessarily attentive to smallness and individuality.

From an Arts and Humanities / Social Sciences perspective it is clear that the impacts of crises are felt and experienced very differently by various groups and individuals. In part this can be determined by the randomness of being born in a particular part of the planet, into differing socio-economic and cultural contexts where attitudes towards race, class, gender, sexuality, age or numerous other factors may be relevant to how likely you are to be involved in a crisis situation. This also relates to what support mechanisms are available to you and how resilient you and those around you are to manage and survive a crisis. Increasingly the factors that will determine how a crisis is addressed and, hopefully, resolved are often beyond the control and agency of those at most risk from such crises. The nature of many processes of globalisation means that they bypass local and even national authorities. Trans-boundary pollution and the free-flowing of capital around the world is now more representative of contemporary life than the ongoing state-centrism being focused on by most mainstream media outlets and, understandably, national politicians. At one level the ‘taking back control’ agenda mentioned above can be seen as a direct reaction to certain aspects of globalisation and the sense that they are the cause of many locally experienced problems. However, the risk of reverting to such narrow-minded worldviews is that this emphasizes difference rather than commonality.

The challenge for Humanities / Social Science disciplines, and related fields of the visual arts, is to acknowledge andcelebrate what makes individuals and communities different while at the same time showing that difference does not mean opposition. It has been said that crises can bring out the best in people and communities. Maybe so, but this is more likely to be the case when they can see commonalities between them. Taking back control to meet the many crises that are evident around the world is something to be welcomed. The danger is that by thinking and acting only at the local level this will overlook, and probably exacerbate, the international and global processes that are leading to the very crises that these locally-determined policies and actions are trying to address.

SH: The Krísis exhibition and public programme, which is a culmination of the MOVE W I T H (OUT) project that took place from 2013-2016, aim to unravel multiple perspectives on the notion of crisis and possible futures. Why did you think this project and its themes were relevant to Nottingham? 

DH: What Something Human have set out for the exhibition and programme is I feel a desire and ambition to listen to others and be heard by others, for me this is an essential route of knowledge exchange and for me defines intercultural dialogue. That this is a ‘doing thing’ rather than an ‘owning thing’, where uncertainty and not knowing become creative principles of discovery. For NTU this is essential and consequently it is the creation of new opportunities to see and listen beyond what is known that has the potential to lead to the creation of new knowledge both personally and culturally. For NTU to be a place for creative knowledge exchange is my firm belief and understanding of the fundamental role of universities and art schools to host, facilitate, frame and enable exchange. So to bring the themes, questions, examples and creative practices to NTU and Nottingham is part of a necessary dialogue we all need.

RS: Nottingham is a vibrant multi-cultural city with a long history of engaging with the wider world, not least in terms of the many international students studying here. Yet at the same time the city of Nottingham voted to exit the European Union, albeit by a very small margin. It would be too simplistic to say that those voting for Brexit did so solely due to immigration issues, although mainstream media portray this as one of the key factors in determining voting preferences. Despite the ‘leave’ vote the city is known to be generally welcoming to migrant communities and whenever groups such as the English Defence League have  attempted to hold demonstrations in the city they have always been met by much larger counter demonstrations. There are multiple support networks among the many communities that share Nottingham as their home, both newer arrivals and longer-term residents. Resistance to austerity measures and related cuts in public sector spending highlights another potential set of crises, but also creates spaces for creative and positive future visions.

AB: One of the reasons that I find the exhibition to be so pertinent is because it operates at the levels of both the international and the local, and seeks to draw connections between, as well as find specificity within, particular places. In my work, I am interested in trying to recover a vocabulary of ‘small’, personalised experience that is local as well as international in nature. To me, that is indicative of Nottingham as a site of cultural crisis and international exchange. In some senses, Nottingham is no different from any other space: it, like most major cities, has a significant population of refugees and asylum seekers, who render the refugee crisis local, as well as international. What makes Nottingham significant, though, is the network of international and inter-organisational connections that create their own maps and structures of support around this community. The work of the Nottingham Refugee Forum, for example, or Nottingham Beyond Borders, along with the annual Refugee Week events, which often enter into dialogue with organisations such as the universities, the New Art Exchange, Nottingham Contemporary, Five Leaves Bookshop, or the Nottingham Festival of Words, construct crucial sites of personalised, local exchange and encounter that are mobile in temporal and spatial terms. They invite people to engage with alternative maps of crisis-ridden experience and community that also exist within the city, and to engage with them in terms that are affirmative and constructive of solidarity. The central motif of the Move With(out) exhibition – the act of dragging a trunk containing a mobile exhibition within it around the city – in some senses therefore serves as a microcosmic metaphor for so many of the activities that already take place within the city.

SH: The symposium offers a mix of perspectives from academics, artists and activists in order to explore the Krísis exhibition’s themes and encourage a rich dialogue on art as a transformational tool for research on contemporary societal matters. What place do you think art can occupy in relation to academic research?

DH: It is fundamental to academic research.

RS: Various forms of art have long been associated with conveying political messages and assertions of identity, either repressed, struggling or liberated. Just as crises are experienced differently by various stakeholder so is art variously presented and interpreted. The Krisis exhibition and related presentations, performances and discussions offer a striking example of how different disciplines can collaborate and produce multifaceted approached to understanding and commenting on aspects of crises and their potential solutions. As a public exhibition this is also likely to draw in people who might not normally engage with some of the themes and issues raised by the artworks and various media linked to the exhibition.

 AB: For me, as a ‘postcolonialist’ who functions in a very interdisciplinary framework, art and visual representation more broadly are powerful tools through which to intervene in dominant modes of ‘knowing’ and ‘seeing’. Thinking about the refugee context specifically, visual media is often employed in a way that seems to offer a reductive immediacy in the way that we access human identity. Even when images incite an extreme emotional response (the photograph of Aylan Kurdi, for example, the little boy fleeing Syria whose body was washed up on a beach in Turkey, prompted international political outcry) their isolated and repeated representation has a tendency to conjure a limited spectrum of ‘types’ of refugee (‘innocent’ or ‘deserving’ refugees) that limit the human complexity of identity and experience.

In stark contrast, more reflective artistic practice has the potential to unsettle and complicate these kinds of immediate media snapshot. I would even venture that the time required to reflect on art, in all its forms – the ambiguity that circulates around it, and the necessity for active, engaged interpretation that sometimes might prove impenetrable or inconclusive, but is necessarily so– operates as a powerful alternative mode of apprehending the individual. It is this kind of slow, considered, deep engagement that I think we need to seek in academic research across the forms – textual as well as visual. It offers a vital counter-discourse to immediate and reductive media discourse in particular, and fosters more intimate dialogues and exchanges as we seek to forge meaning through collective interpretation rather than isolated response. This is why I am particularly excited about the interdisciplinary aspect of the Symposium.

Image credit:
Sama Alshaibi, Al-Tariqah (The path), 2014
Courtesy of the artist and Ayyam Gallery

Collective Creativity

17 October 2016

As part of the Krísis public programme, Collective Creativity will be facilitating a free workshop, titled ‘Surviving Art School’. This is based on the publication of the same name made in partnership with Nottingham Contemporary, which will also be launched during the symposium on 28 October 2016.

Something Human: Evan, Raisa, Rudy and Raju – as Collective Creativity, you are an ‘informal non-hierarchal collective space’ that has been formed ‘out of necessity, to carve collaborative space outside of the institutional framework where a specific Black QTIPOC voice and experience could be nurtured’. When did you start your collaboration and how has your work developed so far?

Collective Creativity: Collective Creativity is a group of QTIPOC (Queer, Trans*, Intersex People of Colour) artists who have been working together since 2013. It was initially set up by Raju Rage and Evan Ifekoya, and later extended to Raisa Kabir and Rudy Loewe as a core group with many other participants. We have run roundtable sessions that nurture intergenerational dialogue, conducted extensive research into countless archives and generated discourse in our collective voice that draws from collectivity but also our individual practices, creating a knowledge that responds to legacies and archives of Black British art in the UK through a feminist and anti colonial lens. We do this work by creating a middle ground between lived experience, radical practice and theory and rendering the historical as an encounter in the present, specifically in how our current practices connect to our legacy beyond the white canon, and critically negotiating and navigating institutions and the art industry as queer and/or transgender artists of colour.

SH: You were in Nottingham previously, and you worked in collaboration with Nottingham Contemporary. Could you please tell us more about your work in this city and how you think the audience responded to your critical provocations then?

CC: We worked with Nottingham Contemporary in 2015 around the Glen Ligon exhibition ‘Encounters and Collisions’ facilitating a workshop with local art students of colour entitled: Politics of the Art School: Black Arts Movement Then and Now. We also held a panel with key members of the 1980s Black Arts Movement such as Keith Piper, Said Adrus and Claudette Johnson, and ourselves as part of Collective Creativity, offering critical reflections on this history and the contemporary circumstances under which students and other people of colour experience contemporary art school curriculum from the perspectives of QTIPOC creative practice. We engaged in a critical conversation both on the panel and in the workshop and created some textual, oral and visual responses that have been edited into a publication ‘Surviving the Art School’ that will be launched on Oct 28th 2016.

SH: Crisis can be thought of in terms of the personal, societal and institutional. How do you interpret the term ‘crisis’, and how do you think your practice related to the notion of crisis? 

Raju Rage: We are truly in a moment of crisis, globally and locally, economically, politically, socially and personally. Whether we are connected to institutions or not, we are impacted by this crisis in every aspect of our lives; what we eat, how we live, how we move around inside and outside our racialised, gendered and classed bodies in the world and how we basically survive on a day-to-day basis. My work creatively responds to this urgency of being in crisis by exploring the body, intimacy and everyday life experience to uncover and unpack in what ways we are impacted in our everyday lives, how we struggle and survive and as an attempt of resistance to the crisis we genuinely face.

Image: Collective Creativity

Lynn Lu and Marija Milosevska

12 October 2016

The Krísis project brings together two other ongoing Something Human projects: the performance programme, Cross-Cultural Live Art Project (CCLAP) and MOVE W I T H (OUT), the travelling exhibition and performance programme. CCLAP was a three-year project aimed to connect the live art and performance practices of artists from the UK/Europe and Southeast Asia, and MOVE W I T H (OUT) brought its explorations of migration and movement to multiple cities to connect with local artists, who would create new performances in response to its themes and their local topographies.

Artist Lynn Lu worked on the 2015 edition of CCLAP, and Marija Milosevska was the artist for MW Skopje in 2015. We spoke to them separately about the work they will be presenting in Nottingham.

Lynn Lu, The Friction of Distance, performative installation, 2016

Something Human: Lynn, you brought to the 2015 edition of CCLAP a socially engaged live art intervention built around the notion of care and post-natal depression. This year in Nottingham, you will be responding to the notion of ‘crisis’. How have you approached it? What does crisis mean to you?

Lynn Lu: For the Nottingham exhibition, I will present an interactive installation, a live performance for the opening event, and deliver a performance lecture for the symposium. Reflecting on the current refugee calamity as a starting point, the three separate works explore ideas surrounding migration, nomadism, the attraction of unknown regions, topophilia, and the ‘homing instinct’. In the performance lecture in particular, I examine the impetus for migration across species and the accompanying precariousness. As David Welcome describes in No Way Home (2008), the migrant travels without any knowledge of what may happen to her homeland, or what might await at her destination. . . “ Migration is an act of faith after all, a hardwired belief that there is somewhere to go, and a way to get back”.

SH: Distance, memory and the ephemeral are evoked in your work,  ‘The Friction of Distance’. How do you feel these are explored in the stories and journeys of refugees you are bringing into our consciousness, if only briefly?

LL: The Friction of Distance will be a live performance, during which – over the course of several hours – I bring to light the names of perished refugees inscribed on the brittle pages of Homer’s Odyssey.

SH: In your practice, you address human and societal conditions that affect people and community both intimately and in the public sphere. Do you see your work as socially engaged? Do you think art can help during ‘crisis’?

LL: I seek to create experiences that will be personally relevant to my audience, often by using their individual histories and/or the specificities of our shared context as content for the work, and the resulting performances or installations themselves frequently draw my audience out of invisible spectatorship and into active (if absurd) collaboration. So on an intimate level, yes my work tends to be socially engaged. And yes, art – especially during crisis – can absolutely be therapeutic and cathartic.

Marija Milosevska, Piece of Krísis, performance, 2016

SH: Marija, you are a visual artist and performer whose work utilises a form of ritual that invites the audience to engage with the works. What does ritual mean to your practice, and why do you seek to engage audiences with it?

Marija Milosevska: Ritual, for me, is the very process of learning and creating through which I get to know the audience with the being of my work through expression of the current/temporal perception of living in the broadest sense, starting from the individual origin and culture, collective heritage, which is then incorporated in a new era of art – filigree. The original manner of fitting the filigree work into the context of tradition found its expression in the cult. The unique value of a work of art is based on the ritual, where the work got its initial and first usable value. My jewellery is the undiscovered in me, part of the ‘collectiveness’. It is a conductor and it is a reaction. It can be an installation or a performance whose completeness is obtained through the contact with the audience.

SH: You hail from Macedonia, where there has been a recent escalation of internal conflicts and precariousness both within its borders and in the context of its related region. How do you think your practices address the recent socio-political issues? 

MM: My practice addresses the transformation of the barbed wire and I really want to transform it, not just in the contest of borders but in any kind of its association for separation. In Macedonia, everywhere there are barriers, borders, separation, crisis and the process is continuous and non-stop. We need something to change but we are powerless in the vacuum of space where culmination is looking for the exit. The world is shaking, the earth is opening, but the exit we should seek is inside us, and transforms us into human beings.

SH: For this exhibition you have been invited to reflect on the notion of ‘crisis’. Could you please tell us more about how your artworks and performances reflect on this condition?

MM: It was very challenging for me to make a connection with the theme of ‘crisis’ and my medium of presentation – wire. I create jewellery with the filigree technique. Sometimes the pieces are for someone’s need for protection from crisis or a something to remind us who we are, where we come from, and the impact that we made in society through our behaviour. It is a sign that represents and transitions between what we had been given in the past to keep us, and as what we are today. In my exhibited piece of crisis, the public can see 5 phases of ‘crisis’ and the performance will be the coupling of the transformation of ‘crisis’ through the filigree process of making the pieces of crisis.

John Clang and Sama Alshaibi

8 October 2016

For the Krísis exhibition, we’ve been very interested to look at how the photographic image can depict very different notions of crisis, and then also thinking about how to show the image in different ways within the exhibition.

John Clang, Street Vendor, Silhouette/Urban Intervention (Black Tape), 2009

Something Human: How do you work with the photographic image as a medium? What is your creative process?

John Clang: It is interesting that you ask about the photographic image, rather than photography, as a medium.  Photography, to me, is a recording and an archiving process of materials to form my thoughts. What I do next with the materials is my reaction/response to my thoughts. So, in principle, I always work on images created by me, not found images.

Sama Alshaibi: If I’m being honest, I don’t consider the medium first. I am more concerned with what I want to question and then I consider the possibilities of outcomes derived by various mediums. However, I’m quite comfortable with most cameras and the photographic image, or even the moving image (such as video) to aid me in asking such questions. The ideas I’m concerned with are already articulated in a puzzle in their final, visual expression. I’m not providing easy to read photographs to my audiences.

Photographs, as a mean of delivery, are second nature to me, because I have been making them since I was a child. Using the camera, instead of sculpture for example, eliminates irrelevant uncertainties and allows me to concern myself with the pressing issues that motivated me to make the work in the first place. I know how the language of photography operates, but that can be a trap in itself. I often ask myself, how do I remain sincere and authentic to what and who I’m hoping to be in dialogue with through a medium that is second nature to me? It isn’t an easy answer. In Silsila, the change of space and place that were so alien to me was humbling. It wouldn’t allow me to be complacent.

SH: In your works, you depict certain conditions of the world around us. What is your motivation for doing so? What do you think art can achieve?

JC: I’m interested to create a body of works that inform future historians or viewers of the mindset, the thinking process of another human being living in this specific period of time – somewhat similar to those cave drawings that’s being done 30-40,000 years ago.

We have no lack of images nowadays so my focus has always been about the recording of our inner mind rather than our physical world. Art can help us understand and tolerate one another a bit more.

SA: My motivations are simple no matter the complexities in achieving it through art. I’m driven to fight for justice, but I’m not naïve enough believe I could achieve that alone, by any means of struggle, let alone just through my art. But I do believe that artists, through their choices in art making, can strive for a “just” contribution – to bring balance, even within the horrors of the human and social conditions that are part of being alive. Whether through representation, contextualised through a visual argument of why that representation is lacking, or asking the early and meaningful questions society is not ready to address, art always contains the potential to surpass the status quo. It can do more than depict and inform. It can also inspire. It can tap into spaces and possibilities not apparent in the moment of suffering. While many live in conditions in which inequality have devastating effects, even if born from dissimilar causes that result in various suffering, in the end, it is still suffering. My art practice, at its best, is not about me, even if I’m the one that makes the decisions of what to produce. I haven’t produced the conditions we live in, but through my art, I can imagine other conditions and ask my audience to consider that too.

Sama Alshaibi, Ma Lam Tabki (Unless weeping), 2014, Courtesy of the artist and Ayyam Gallery

SH: Atmospheric backdrops/landscapes and anonymous humans are referenced in your works presented in the Krísis exhibition. How do you relate to the notion of ‘crisis’ in your practice? How do you think your works address this human and environmental condition?

JC: There are many angles from which to look at crisis. My focus is on ‘internal crisis’ resulting from the changes in our bigger environment, over which we have little control. I am not interested to create work just depicting the issues or crisis in the world. I’m interested in negotiating the nuances in our response to these crises or shifts.

SA: The “faceless” body is a strategy I use in my work to implicate all of our positions and bodies – the universal us – in a dialogue of crisis. Not just me, the artist, but all of us, as stewards of the planet in our current reality and what the future provides/condemns for those who will come after our own moment on earth. ‘Crisis’ could be perceive as a threatening term, but I hope it has the effect of demanding a confrontation with what we must deal with now.  Especially the environmental catastrophe that undoubtedly shapes the conditions that humans will face politically and economically, resulting in the social and bodily impact. I ask myself, is it enough to just be aware of a crisis, or represent it through my work? My photographs in this exhibition are relics of testing my own body and its vulnerabilities in communities and physical spaces struggling in crisis. However, I can’t ever represent it in a manner that truly speaks to such difficult circumstances, no matter my favourable intentions. I aspire to communicate effectively with a sensitive audience willing to engage in empathy. The complexities and specificity of any topic addressed in my work is only compelling (by my own standards) if the audience realise it is just as much about them, albeit in a different context. Our environmental circumstances are interrelated, as are our personal ones, and all suffering is in the end, the same.

Something Human’s coming to Nottingham!

4 October 2016

Annie: Hello, we are Alessandra and Annie, and we’re Something Human. We’ll be “taking over” the Bonington Gallery blog as we are guest curators for the exhibition Krísis, which opens with a preview on Thursday 27 October 2016. In the following blog posts, we’ll be sharing some insights and reflections from the different artists involved in the project, and also some of our thoughts as we prepare to come up to Nottingham to install and open the show.

First off, a little about who we are. We’re independent curators based in London and we work together in partnership under the rubric of  ‘Something Human’. Something Human was started in 2012 as a collective, based on the shared interest in the idea of “movement across borders”, and it sought to create cross-cultural collaborations and conversations with curators, artists, practitioners and thinkers. It was called Something Human because initially, it was a bunch of people from all over the world and we were struggling to find a name that could represent all our different aesthetics, ideas and principles – and somehow, we alighted on ‘something human’ as a commonality – and the name stuck!

Alessandra: I joined Something Human in June 2013 and I was thrilled about the idea of starting to work together on an open and independent platform interested in exploring movement and relationships across boundaries, through a multidisciplinary and experimental approach in collaboration with artists.

Since joining in June 2013 we have worked together on the stopovers of a nomadic project whose finale instalment has now brought us to Nottingham, three years later – the MOVE W I T H (OUT) project. This is a travelling exhibition project with site-specific performance interventions that has now taken place in ten cities: Berlin, London, Rome, Venice, Belgrade, Singapore, Budapest, Skopje, Lisbon and now finally, Nottingham. We’re very grateful for the invitation of Professor Duncan Higgins and Dr Roy Smith at the Nottingham Trent University for inviting us to bring the project to Nottingham.

Images credits: alikati

Annie:  Over the different instalments of the MOVE W I T H (OUT) project, we had the privilege of connecting with the artists and arts scenes of different city centres, which led to many deep discussions regarding the arts and the city, and the different socio-political-economic factors as push-pull forces that instigate migrations of people to, from and across cities. As we were making this journey, it also became apparent that larger narratives of crisis were escalating across the world, whether it was the increasing representations of violence and conflict in the media, the humanitarian refugee crisis or social and political tension in different countries. It did make us question – how can art make a difference? Indeed, can art, and therefore, artists and art producers, make a difference?

Alessandra: Working on all the iterations of MOVE W I T H (OUT) made me feel that it has been impossible to avoid the term ‘crisis’. It forcefully entered the public vocabulary as well as my personal one with strength and as a constant presence, such that it was time to deal with it. What better opportunity than co-curating a show and public programme where we can involve artists to help address and respond to it? And if asked “why art?”, I would borrow Boris Groys’s definition of what the avant-garde’s role could be today: ‘Artists do not and cannot predict the future for us but rather demonstrate the transitory character of the present and thus – hopefully – open a way for the new’.

Images credits: alikati

Annie:  For Krísis, and indeed for the MOVE W I T H (OUT) project that has led up to this final culmination, we’ve been very fortunate to work with incredible artists from all corners of the world. For Krísis, our artists bring their practices from different national and cultural contexts, which have also been informed by their movements across the global contexts in their work.

They will bring their reflections via very different mediums and forms, from installation to video, photography to performance and participatory interventions. We’re also excited to be working with Professor Higgins and Dr Smith on the symposium where NTU researchers, visiting speakers and artists will all address the theme of the project with their different perspectives.

Alessandra: The invitation we received from NTU and Bonington Gallery to curate the Krísis exhibition and public programme as a final reflection on the MOVE W I T H (OUT) project came at a moment when we really wanted to map the lines of this incredible journey that has been shaping our understanding of both curating in public and private spaces, and the network built of relationships with interesting international art scenes.

Nottingham will be an incredible opportunity to share our experiences and the practices of artists we have met along the way, via a series of artworks, performances, workshops and a symposium free for everyone to attend. We do hope the local, national and international audience will join us!

For more information on Something Human visit