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!

A conversation between Bonington Gallery’s director Tom Godfrey and artist and curator Cedar Lewisohn over email during October 2022.

Artist Cedar Lewisohn. Photo by Sophie Dawson, 2021.

Tom Godfrey: Hi Cedar, initially it’d be great if you could offer an introduction to your practice, including the mediums you utilise and the ideas you explore.

Cedar Lewisohn: I’m an artist, writer and curator. Curating is really my main ‘day job’, but for this conversation I’ll focus on my visual art, studio practise. But to be honest, all areas of my work feed into each other.

In the studio – my work is often centred around drawings, which I translate into wood carvings, books and publications. Recently, I’ve used the wood carvings as the basis to make a virtual space and moving images. The subject matter for the past five years or so has focused on reappropriating images from various museum collections. Often images related to African, ancient Egyptian or Mesopotamian collections in those museums. The idea of mixing the very analogue process of the wood carved images, and turning that into a virtual space really appealed to me.

TG: What constitutes your research ­– what types of things do you like to read, watch or listen to?

CL: I’m always researching in some way or another. I’ve spent lots of time over the past few years visiting historic museum collections, and sometimes speaking to curators, finding out about the history of objects, and how they came into the collection. I had no idea the debates about contested museum objects would explode into the public consciousness in the way they have over the last year or so, in the wake of Covid and Black Lives Matter.

In terms of what I read or watch, it’s very, very varied. I tend to listen to lectures and audio books. I like highbrow things as well as total trash. In my digital library right now, I’ve got Black Skin White Masks by Franz Fanon, Lucky Jim by Kingsley Amis, and I just really enjoyed David Olusoga’s Black and British: A Forgotten History. In terms of music, I flick between a bit of drill, like 67, lots of reggae and dub, like Scientist, also lots of bands I’ve been into over the years, like Autechre or Slowdive. I mean this list could go on for a very long time. It just depends on my mood and the day.

Cedar Lewisohn Untitled (Mesopotamian and Egyptian Gods) Hand Pressed Woodcut on paper with spray paint and ink, 2013.

TG: As you mention above, your overall practice encapsulates several different strands, including artmaking, curating and writing. Can you talk about what it’s like to work across these different areas – what overlaps, connections or separations may exist?

CL: To be honest, everything just feeds into each other, and it just makes sense for me. Curating is very collaborative, and really the area of curating I’ve mainly been involved with is in institutions. I enjoy bringing art projects to audiences and doing projects at scale. There are lots of negotiations and relationships, but when it works out, it’s extremely rewarding. I worked on a project called Dub London a couple of years ago, and that really got me into the history of Jamaican music and soundsystem culture. I never really knew the difference between, say rocksteady and ska before. But I’m really into rocksteady now.

As part of that research, I became more interested in Patois and the language used in the lyrics of the music. So, in the first lockdown during the pandemic, I did a course on Patois with a Jamaican poet and teacher Joan Hutchinson. It was fascinating to learn about the history of the language and the meaning behind many phrases in Jamaican English. So that is where the title for the exhibition at Bonington comes from.

With my studio practice, in essence, it is quite a tactile process. It’s physical and centres around things I make with my hands. The research I do for curatorial projects often feeds into my studio practice. I mean, all the time I spend in historic museums looking at objects and re-drawing them, could be seen as a form of curating. I also do lots of different types of writing, from short stories and fiction to straight up writing about art and culture.  Recently, I’ve been doing what I call ‘Rants’. They are short texts that are quite funny, and a place to vent. I have all these ‘notes’, that I was planning to use in longer texts. Again, it’s almost a curatorial thing, if I was visiting an artist’s studio, and they had all this writing, in the form of a few sentences, my advice to them would be, just show the texts as they are. So, I decided to take some of my own advice.

TG: I’m interested in the immediacy and boldness you employ when manoeuvring between the different medias in your practice. For example, going from a woodcut to a VR experience, and the ease at which you appear to move between these different platforms. Can you talk more about this please?

CL: I aways do a lot of things at once. So, it’s often about how the projects fit together conceptually. With the VR piece, it’s made using hundreds of scans of my woodcut prints. So, the idea is partly to creative a digital experience that is also quite handmade or analogue. It’s partly a daft idea that I’ve followed through with but I do think there is a difference between handmade moving image work and digital animation. If you look at early Disney animation for example, when the individual cells are hand drawn and coloured, they have an energy and beauty that is lost when the process is digitised. So, I wanted to take this idea, of bringing back the handmade to the virtual space. Obviously, it’s not very practical. But who wants practical art?

TG: I like what you say above “…if I was visiting an artist’s studio, and they had all this writing, in the form of a few sentences, my advice to them would be, just show the texts as they are. So I decided to take some of my own advice”. It seems as though you’ve been able to internalise some of the objectivity that being a curator often affords. This is usually applied to other people’s work, but here it seems that you are able to look at your work through the eyes of a different position. Is this fair to say, and what does being a curator bring to your art, and what does your art bring to your curating?

CL: I love making art and I love organising art projects. These are separate disciplines that relate to each other but are far from being the same thing. I think most artists have to have a certain self-criticality and ability to self-edit.  I also think artists can often be great curators. For me, having quite a lot of institutional curatorial experience, this does feed into my studio work. Some of my research processes, looking at historic museum collections and objects, could easily been seen as a curatorial practice. In terms of my art influencing my curating… Sometimes it seems like 90 per cent of curating is bureaucracy – so it takes an artist to cut through and just say, “here’s a crazy idea, let’s do it…”  Which does loosely fit my curatorial approach.

TG: Without giving too much away, could you talk a little about some of your ideas and thinking for the exhibition at Bonington. The title ‘Patois Banton’ appears to highlight the ease you have in mixing together different reference points in a respectfully irreverent and generative way.

CL: During one of the [Covid-19] lockdowns, for some reason I decided to do Patois lessons. Because my heritage is Jamaican, there is something slightly ridiculous about this. Imagine an English person wanting to have lessons in how to speak Cockney. But still, I couldn’t speak Patois, so I did some lessons. I found an amazing tutor in Jamacia, and we did the classes online. Joan Hutchinson, the tutor, is a poet in her own right, and takes the subject really seriously. It was great to dive into the subject. It was quite academic, looking the history of words, grammar, all sorts. But also, folk stories, songs, and lots of meaning behind these things. There is so much Patois used in the English language, in music and conversation. But people often don’t know the history and context of these words. ‘Banton’ is a word people might, or might not be familiar with, it just means storyteller, something like the griot, in West African tradition. So, Patois Banton seemed like a good title for the show.

TG: Some of the source imagery that you use for your drawings, I’m thinking of the Black Drawings that you produced whilst on residency at the Jan Van Eyck Academie in Maastricht, are dense monochrome renderings of paintings by European Expressionist painters (although I think you include a Basquiat in this series). What is it about this group of artists that you have chosen to reference, and, by reducing these works to a singular form of execution is there any potential commentary/criticism being paid towards the established and widely adopted, western-centric/European cannons within art-history?

CL: The Black Drawings series was an exploration with the European fascination with so-called ‘Primitivism’ from the first part of the 20th Century.

The series came about quite spontaneously but due to having time and freedom of being on a residency at Jan Van Eyck Academie, I was able to fully explore. Before starting at the JVA around 2014, I saw a Hannah Höch exhibition at the Whitechapel Gallery in London. Some of her collages which included images of African women intrigued me, so I took a few photographs. Obviously, the Höch images inspire lots of questions around cultural appropriation, depictions of the black body by white artists and so on. It started a train of thought about huge numbers of Modernist artists, who had done the same thing. So, when I was in Maastricht at the JVA, I spent a lot of time visiting museums and collections in that region, places like Cologne, Brussels, Aachen, Liège.

I kept seeing more and more work, sometimes by quite surprising artists, who you would not associate with African imagery, such as Fernand Léger, or Francis Picabia, Lots of German Expressionists, The Blue Rider Group. They all had works with African influences. So, I just re-drew them, but almost entirely in black. It was my way of re-appropriating the works, or “stealing them back,” as I used to say at the time.

It was not a super critical attack on the artists I was looking at. I was not trying to “take them down”. I actually love many of the artists’ work I was looking at. It was more about pointing out this massive influence of African imagery on Modernist aesthetics.

Cedar Lewisohn, Excerpt from The Marduk Prophecy, published by Slimvolume, 2020.

TG: I like your reference to early animation, that would turn hand-drawn cells into cinematic films. It would be great if you could go into a little more detail about the relationship between your lino-cuts and VR experiences. It feels that the ‘gulf’ you present between these mediums is wider than early Disney, and I guess these chasms will only grow as technology develops.

CL: The link between early animation and the digital space is something I’ve been thinking about fairly recently. I was doing some curatorial research a few years ago into early film and moving image, which is what perhaps first sparked my interest.

When we look at early hand drawn animations, there is a certain magic in the movement of the images, that to me, seems lost when the process is digitised. It’s the analogue v. digital debate, I guess.

With visual material, I do think there is a certain aura that we subconsciously recognise when the human hand has made something. With AI art and image production, this is an area I think more and more people will become concerned with. If AI can an make any image or object that that can be imagined, what is the actual point of having a human do it? Humans are kind of a pain in the arse, in comparison to a nice subservient AI programme. AI programmes don’t need lunch breaks, they don’t ask for pay rises and so on.

So ultimately, I’m trying to think about analogue virtual spaces, that have to be handmade by me.  It’s a slightly ridiculous proposition at this point, but with the virtual space that uses woodcut and lino prints in the exhibition, we can see a type of prototype of what I’m thinking about.

Cedar Lewisohn, The Marduk Prophesy cover.

TG: Finally, I’d like to hear more about your use of the book format. Due to their scale, the experience of looking and ’reading’ becomes a very physical and shared experience. By showing drawings in this way, the viewer(s) can only experience 1-2 images at a time, and not the full series in one go around the walls of a gallery. As a comparison, Andy Warhol’s ‘Shadow Paintings’ come to mind for how they are shown at DIA Art Foundation, but they could almost be pages from a book – or maybe cells from an animation.

CL: Books and printed publications have been something I’ve always enjoyed as an alternative display space. Again, it’s mixing curatorial and studio practice. Playing with the scale of the books adds a level of drama and spectacle that I really enjoy. When you have these massive books, just the act of looking at them and turning the pages becomes a performance. It turns the act of looking into a physical experience. It also slows down the way it’s possible to view the images and pages. So, it asks a lot from the viewer. But books suit me as a medium. Books are somewhat undervalued as a medium right now, but I have a long-term self-belief that the appreciation for the medium will increase.

Catch Cedar’s exhibition Patois Banton in the gallery from 21 January – 11 March 2023.

Cedar and Jamaican writer and teacher Joan Andrea Hutchinson will be holding a free in-conversation event to discuss Jamaican Patois on Thursday 16 February.

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.

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.

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.

Juliana Sissons spoke to BBC Radio Nottingham’s Alan Clifford about her ‘London’s Calling’ Vitrines exhibition and wider creative practice. It’s available to be listened to on the iPlayer for 28 days from today, here.

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:

Alan Kitching and Monotype: Celebrating Five Pioneers of the Poster opens in just under 3 week’s time! Ahead of the opening, Alan sat down with LeftLion to discuss the origins of the exhibition, the changes in design over the last century, and what it takes to stand out as a designer – plus much more…

You originally showed this exhibition in 2014, where did the concept come from?

In 2013 I was invited to New York by Monotype and Eye Magazine as part of a week of seminars, talks and things, and Monotype asked me to participate in one of their publications. I told them that I don’t do books but I’d do a series of sheets folded up in to a slip case, and they agreed to that. When I got back to London I had to think of what to do. My girlfriend then was Naomi Games, the daughter of Abram Games, the English poster artist. She had written about her father extensively, and in her latest book the very first sentence said that when he was born in 1914 there were four other designers born in the same time: Paul Rand in America, Josef Müller-Brockmann in Switzerland, Tom Eckersley in Britain, FHK Henrion in Germany. They were all were very influential and important graphic designers, all born in the same year, and they more or less all died around the same time.

So, for the Monotype publication – 2014, when we published this series, it was their centenary – I invented five monograms based on their initials to go on the sheets, and this is where the idea for the exhibition came from. Although they were all graphic designers, they all did very different work and I based the monographs on their style of design. On the other side of the sheets was a little biography, and that’s also part of the exhibition. The rest of the exhibition is the work that these five guys did – posters, books and whatever to show the background of what they did and where they came from, to make more sense of my monograms.

Graphic design, and typography – like all art, goes through fashions. Do you have a favourite period?

Rand, Eckersley and Games and so on, they were artist designers, if you like. And it changed, the whole thing got more commercial, so by the time the sixties arrives, new designers came along. I was brought up in the design of the sixties which was Fletcher Forbes Gill, and Derek Birdsall. They were the hot shot designers when I first came to London – the scene had started to change. Graphic design wasn’t what it is now. The clients were different, they were more of a commodity and used in corporate ways. Now it’s almost come to its conclusion but then it was still in an embryonic stage. There were very individual styles, you could recognise their work, it had a very distinctive touch to it whereas nowadays it’s very difficult to know immediately who’s done something.

Can you pinpoint what it is in a designer/their work that elevates them to something more than the standard?

It is difficult. To go back a bit. The designers I knew – Birdsall, Fletcher, Gill – they were all very well-read people. They were intelligent. They were very smart. They were bright. … You have to have a certain amount of intelligence to do design, you have to be well-versed in all sorts of levels of knowledge. The good designers have got that, they can draw on references – they know about music, literature, all sorts of things which they can pull on and make connections with. This shows in people’s work.

It’s not just a question of being good at visual manipulation of images anymore, you have to understand the background to it all. … An American artist called Ben Shann … did wonderful lettering, he used Hebrew letters and Arabic letters, and all his lettering is kind of wrong. The stress is wrong. It’s all back to front and odd, but very beautifully done. What I’m getting to is, to do something like that, a very refined version of something, you’ve got to know where it’s coming from – you’ve got to know how to do something the correct way before you can do it wrong.

You can read the full interview in the September issue of LeftLion, or download a digital copy of the feature (pdf).