Wednesday, 27 March 2013

AirSpace Yarden - another donation

Its not only the lingering snow that makes the AirSpace Yarden think it's christmas - as another plant donation arrived at the gallery this morning.

Thanks to June Branscombe, we now have a holly bush - in this case an Ilex aquifolium or 'Ferox Argentea', a variegated English holly. The leaves are a deep green, with a nice yellow variegation, but the peculiar thing about this holly, is that the spines are not only on the edges of the leaves, but on the surface too.

Berries are obviously an important feature for us, in tempting birdlife to our space, and this male plant should ensure that the nearby female hollies are pollinated and bear plenty of fruit.

Some interesting holly facts

  • Holly berries contain alkaloidscaffeine, and theobromine and are somewhat toxic to humans, though their poisonous properties are overstated and fatalities almost unknown.
  • The Ferox Argentea has gained the prestigious Royal Horticultural Society's Award of Garden Merit (RHS AGM)
  • As a tree, it can exceed 10 m in height.
  • The sex cannot be determined until the plants begin flowering, usually between 4 and 12 years of age. In male specimens, the flowers are yellowish and appear in axillary groups. In the female, flowers are isolated or in groups of three and are small and white or slightly pink, and consist of four petals and four sepals partially fused at the base.
  • Holly is rarely used medicinally due to its toxicity, but is diuretic, relieves fevers, and has a laxative action. It contains saponins, the xanthine theobromine, and a yellow pigment, ilexanthin.
Thanks again to June for the generous donation, which is going to really add some substance, and a bit of pain, to the Yarden.

Tuesday, 26 March 2013

AirSpace Yarden - Plant Donations and the Brimstone butterfly

Work has frozen - literally - in the Yarden this week, as last week's glimpse of Springtime, proved to be a temporary blip. However, plans are going ahead, indoors, to create a full days'sprogramme of talks, and workshops for the Yarden's grand opening, on May 4th. More details to come.

Today we had a lovely gift from two AirSpace friends - Beryl and Geoff Stoker - who have been doing some research into butterfly friendly plants, and have donated to the Yarden a Frangula alnus or Alder Buckthorn.

During their research they came across a small family run nursery and arboretum in South Derbyshire called BlueBell Arboretum, run by conservationists Suzette and Robert Vernon and their family. Robert is a RHS committee member and Chelsea Flower Show judge, and recommended the Frangulus alnus as the perfect plant not only for butterflies but also bees and, thanks to the abundance of berries, birds.

the frangulus fruit - loved by the birds
Robert provided us with the following information on the Frangulus;

Formerly known as Rhamnus frangula, this large shrub or small tree, suitable for most soils, has pretty, mustard yellow autumn colours when the glossy red fruits turn jet black;  these are much enjoyed by our feathered friends.

This native hedgerow plant is the host plant to Brimstone butterflies which they can locate from over a mile away, (maybe they can read the label)!  They will only lay their eggs on this and one other closely related species, Rhamnus cathartica which their caterpillars use exclusively as food plants.

We purchased 30 Brimstone caterpillars in 1998, and now have an established colony of Brimstones using our Frangulas as host plants.  We've discovered that these spectacular insects, (the cocks are clear yellow and the females a paler, creamy yellow), are surprisingly territorial and they can often be seen here, usually during early May and again during late summer.

As beekeepers, we've found that the tiny greenish yellow flowers, borne during midsummer are an excellent food plant for our honey bees making it altogether one of the finest species for conservation planting.

Alder buckthorn has been an important plant in British culture & industry, as its' charcoal has been used in the manufacture of gunpowder and is still used today in the production of explosives.

Because it is  the host plant to ergot, a disease of organic cereals, in particular rye, during World War 2 it was compulsorily eradicated and is now usually found as an uncommon hedgerow species.  Because of modern agricultural practices and food hygiene, this is no longer a major concern.

It's great to know that people are really getting into the ideas and ethos behind the AirSpace Yarden, and really lovely to get donations of this sort. Hopefully after a few months the yard will be host to its very own population of Brimstone butterflies.

Thanks Beryl, Geoff and Robert.

Here are links to the BlueBell Nursery and Arboretum

Sunday, 10 March 2013

AirSpace Gallery - The Site is the Question and Yarden developments

The Gallery has been a hive of activity this week, as the "The Site is The Question" exhibition install got underway and the AirSpace Yarden project continued apace.

"The Site is the Question" is a presentation of a cross-disciplinary workshop and investigation of the Spode Factory Site that happened in September 2012. Entitled, "Resurrecting the Obsolete: Exploring the Site Specific and Associated Histories of Post- Industry" the workshop was lead by Adjunct Professor Neil Brownsword and Associate Professor Anne Helen Mydland in collaboration with the other members of the KHiB ( Bergen Academy of Art and Design, Norway) staff. 

The workshop lasted for 10 days, and 33 staff and students from  KHiB, The Royal Academy of Art Copenhagen, Muthesius Kunsthochschule Kiel, Sheffield Hallam Univerisity, University of Nottingham Trent and invited alumni/artists from KHiB, explored the Spode site's histories, industrial space and infrastructure.

Contributing artists are: Neil Brownsword, Anne Helen Mydland, Richard Launder, Øyvind Suul, Sabine Popp, Tøne Saastad, Johan Sandborg, Duncan Higgins, Rita Marhaug, Heidi Nicolaisen, Steven Dixon, Bjarte Bjørkum, Karen Harsbo, Kerstin Abrahams, Andrew Burton, Danica Maier, Traci Kelly, Toril Redalen, Caroline Slotte, Corrina Thornton, Anne Stinessen, Numi Thorvarsson, Erne Elinbjørg Skuladottir, Camila Holm Birkeland, Karin Blomgren, Sofie Knudsen Jansson, Margrethe Kolstad Brekke, Chloe Brown, Andrew Brown, Gwen Heeney

Click here to read the blog of the original workshop project

The install is being led by contributing artist, Corrina Thornton,  and she described the show at AirSpace  as a 3-D open sketchbook of the workshop findings, containing photographs, film, sculpture, sound installation and ceramic ware.  Watching the install, it is clear that the collaborative nature of this project is a central principle. Each of the contributors has been given a space to show some of their findings, and over the course, not only of the install, but the 2 week show, the exhibition will grow as new content is constantly added. It is a rare thing to get the chance to see the inner workings of artistic projects - the tests and reasonings and working processes which go into such a wide-ranging and exhaustive site specific project. 

"The Site is The Question" opens this Thursday 14th March at 6pm and runs until March 30th. 

The Yarden

Meanwhile, the AirSpace Yarden is about 5 weeks from its grand opening, and despite the wintry turn in the weather, building and developing has been continuing. This weekend, some finishing touches were applied to the 24 foot long raised planting bed, which is now just awaiting the addition of some compost, ready for the  bird-friendly planting.

We have also extended the yard's stage area, envisioned as a literal platform for future performances and events, and have enough timber ready for the addition of a bespoke pergola, to ensure that events will not be deterred by  the inevitable inclement British weather. Other developments include a specially designed seating area, combined with more vertical planting and bird-feeding platforms.

We have put a call out for submissions to respond to the AirSpace Bird Yarden, asking artists to create works which respond to the landscaping scheme of the Bird Yarden. These could be wildlife habitats or perching posts for birds, Yarden ornaments, signage, or other avian friendly interventions.
Successful applicants need to complete and install the work before April 17th. Click Here for full details.

Tuesday, 5 March 2013

AirSpace Yarden - some goldfinches and a blue tit - and a brief pigeon

                                      Birdlife in the AirSpace Yarden - 05.03.13

The AirSpace Yarden is coming along nicely, and certainly has the approval of a series of feathered visitors. In a break from some studio work this afternoon, I grabbed a cup of tea, and took in some spring sunshine. My break was accompanied by about half a dozen goldfinches, greedily tucking in to the sunflower seeds in the buddleia garden's bird feeder. The lone blue tit was soon chased away, but the pigeon that dropped in was more than happy to sit underneath, and await the inevitable falling scraps.

A great thing about this project, is the knowledge that in those times when the gallery is closed, the yard is still going to be a hive of unhindered activity. And that's part of the point really, as the space will work in two ways - firstly as a communal, creative place, but just as importantly as a thriving inner city sanctuary for the city's bird-life, and other complementary components of the local eco-system. In the last week alone, we've spotted goldfinches, blue tits, blackbirds, dunnocks, magpies and pigeons - who knows which other types are visiting when we're not there.

This weekend, we'll be finishing off the large raised bed, ready for planting out our assorted flora, and starting on the building of a bespoke stage, perfect for future performances, outdoor talks and workshops.

And, excitingly, the team from Bergen Academy of Art and Design who are here to install their findings from their Spode Works  investigative workshop for the forthcoming exhibition "The Site is the Question", will be enacting an archaeological dig in the yard this week, in the hope of unearthing some long lost ceramic treasures.

Sunday, 3 March 2013

Coming soon at AirSpace

The Gallery's Spring programme has now been finalised and we can confirm three great new events and shows which will take us up to the end of May 2013.

The Site is the Question - 14th March - 2nd April, 2013

First up is "The Site is the Question" - an international, multi-artist exploration of the socio-economic histories, industrial architecture, and production and material remnants of the Spode factory site in Stoke Town, Stoke-on-Trent. Bergen Academy of Art and Design (KHiB) in Bergen, Norway, have been invited by The British Ceramics Biennial to deliver a series of events for their 2013 festival. 

In September 2012 the first of three interdisciplinary workshops at the former Spode Works, was led by Neil Brownsword (UK) and Anne Helen Mydland (NO), in collaboration with staff and students from KHiB and other partner universities in Britain, Denmark and Germany. 

Encompassing a variety of artistic practice, including mapping the site through various media, object appropriation and re-contextualisation, lens-based work through to performative gesture, "The Site is the Question" exhibition will be an exhaustive presentation of the workshop's findings and a fascinating and invaluable insight into the history of one of Stoke's iconic sites.

Installation for "The Site is the Question" begins at AirSpace this week, with the opening night on 14th March from when the exhibition will run until April 2nd.

click here for more information.

[OCCUPIED] - 14th-17th March, 2013

Running concurrently with "The Site is the Question", AirSpace is hosting a part of [OCCUPIED] in the Gallery's resource room exhibiting space. [OCCUPIED] is a 4-day, 7-artist, multi-venue event, where each exhibition component is a response to the space in which they occupy, encompassing a range of artistic approaches; installations, sculpture, photography, video, performance and live painting. The artists are all final year fine art  under-graduates from Staffordshire University.

For the full schedule, and venue details for [OCCUPIED] visit -!schedule/cj8l

Speaking in Tongues - A Solo Exhibition by Sarah R Key

"Speaking in Tongues" is AirSpace's first major exhibition of 2013 and presents a two-part series of paintings by 2011 Threadneedle Prize nominee, Sarah R Key. The exhibition presents a mix of new, previously unseen paintings as well as previously exhibited works.

Goldfinch No. 17, oil on canvas 30cm x 25cm

In Bird Songs To My Father Sarah presents a series of beautiful paintings of birds taken from a list made by her father of birds he had spotted and noted down in the back of his bird spotting book while visiting Gibraltar Point Nature Reserve, on the East Coast of England one weekend in 1976. The paintings of the designated birds are numbered according to where they fall in the list. The works highlight themes of human behaviour, and a sense of archiving, but is also a personal response for Sarah, as she notes that, 

"The list, written in the back of my father’s bird book is his only remaining personally authored document, a snapshot of a longstanding preoccupation with something."

The Philosophy of Constant Movement, 2012, oil on canvas,  60cm x 50cm
Birds are also prevalent in the series of paintings comprising The Sky Is Falling In, though the focus here is less personal and more conceptual and theoretical, investigating themes of failure, hope and the abstraction of death and the ability of painting to adequately communicate these ideas. Sarah says about this series, 

"The impossibility of using painting to make pictures that can cope with these subjects, leads the work into areas of digression: And to imagined scenarios and relationships between people, animals and birds."

Over the past decade, Sarah has developed a profile in contemporary painting, both nationally and internationally, exhibiting in major art venues in London, Stockholm and Dresden. Sarah’s work is represented in numerous private collections, has been awarded Arts Council Grants, as well as garnering art prizes and nominations over the past five years.

In 2010 her work was selected for the Royal Academy Summer Show; in 2011 for the prestigious Mostyn Open and Threadneedle Prize, where Sarah was a shortlisted finalist. Sarah has had four solo shows since 2009.

Currently Senior Lecturer and Award Leader in Fine Art at Staffordshire University, Sarah has been teaching in higher education since completing her MA in Painting at Wimbledon School of Art in 2001. During this period she also completed a PhD in Fine Art at Loughborough University.

Speaking in Tongues opens on 20th April and runs until May 11th and has been commissioned as the final act of Conjunction 12 to coincide with the grand opening of the Bi-ennial's YARDEN project which is looking at the transformation of an unused small urban space into a communal creative activity space with a focus on becoming a haven for local urban birdlife. 

Saturday, 2 March 2013

AirSpace Yarden - paint, plants and a pond

The sun shone all day today, as Springtime reached Stoke-on-Trent, and in the Yarden, a bit of spring cleaning was top of the agenda. We had decided that the gallery's rear wall, which is a mix of bare brick and a big patch of rough plaster, could not only do with a bit of sprucing up but, if we painted it white, could also help to reflect a bit of much needed light into the space, which due to its close proximity to such a tall building, is predominantly shady. It took no time at all to do, and once finished, looked great and gave us the feeling that the yard had got a new hat.

Earlier in the week, Anna and Andy had made a start on bringing in some of the designated plants, chosen in particular for their suitability for a variety of birdlife. Trips to Trentham Gardens Garden Centre, and Bridgemere Nursery and Garden World proved really fruitful, in particular at Bridgemere where the most helpful of workers took the time to go and find out for us the RSPB's top ten plants for birds.We were encouraged that we had already identified most on the list, but a couple were new to us, such as Knapweed (Centaurea), Flowering Tobacco (Nicotiana) and Millet (Panicum miliacium).

the yarden plan

Once the wall was painted and the main part of the yard was cleared, we started to lay out the breeze blocks which are going to make up the base structure of the raised planting beds. We aim to have these mortared into place next week, ready to be painted. The bed is going to be about 6 metres long, and about a metre at its widest, but tapered across the full length due to the shape of the yard. At a depth of about half a metre, there will be plenty of root space for a variety of plants. These will include, echinacia, cotoneaster, lavender,  salvias, clematis, honeysuckle, dog-rose, jasmine and pyrocantha, plus a few astrantias and some alyssums. We also put together a bench from some rescued slates and 2 halves of a pallet, which we can use as a work station.

Late in the day, we turned our attention to installing the pond, which sits in a sunken spot in the Buddleia garden, and which we hope will attract some dragonflies and, hopefully, some amphibian life. And we managed to get some plants into this part of the yarden too -  a couple of ferns, a whitecurrant and redcurrant and a flowering helleborus.

Today's feathered guardians were a tiny dunnock, who accompanied us throughout the day, keeping a watchful eye on our activities, and a few goldfinches who sat impatiently, chirping away on the gallery roof, waiting for us to finish up so they could make inroads into the replenished stock of sunflower seeds.