Wednesday, 25 June 2014

Conjunction 14 - An Announcement

AirSpace Gallery would like to announce the cancellation of this year’s Conjunction Biennial and to say that at this point there are no further plans to resurrect it.

On the surface, this might seem like a sad announcement, but we’d like to emphasise that this decision is a purely positive one.  In cultural terms, Stoke-on-Trent is almost unrecognisable from how the city looked a decade ago.  From its inception in 2006, Conjunction and its series of Biennial Festivals sought to fill a visual arts gap in Stoke-on-Trent and create a greater sense of co-operative partnership working in the City. In the intervening years, the arts situation has changed to a point where today, the city’s cultural output is brimming with activity. The British Ceramics Biennial is firmly rooted in Stoke’s cultural scene, having delivered 3 distinctly successful festivals celebrating the critical worth and exciting future for ceramics in Stoke and beyond. The Creative People and Places project, Appetite, is doing great things with a significant amount of Arts Council investment to enhance audience involvement and create exciting new cultural events and performances, whilst also committing to creating opportunities for the city’s current cultural providers and individuals. The Stoke Your Fires animation and film festival is going from strength to strength, there is Staffordshire University’s burgeoning annual Fringe Festival as well as a host of other arts festivals springing up all over the city – such as the London Road Festival in Stoke – which are all helping to create a vibrant mix of arts offering for the city.

More importantly, the sense of cross-organisational support among Stoke’s major cultural providers, key stakeholders, small groups and individuals has never been stronger – something which was right at the core of the ideology of Conjunction.

AirSpace Gallery remains fully committed to what we see is the crucial role that the Arts has to play in the ongoing successful regeneration of our city and, in particular will be continuing to work hard, in conjunction with all of those people and groups we have worked with before, to ensure the presence of high quality contemporary visual arts. We are also very excited to be a central part of a soon-to-be announced initiative for the City, which will further enhance the cultural output of Stoke-on-Trent through an embedded notion of combined strength through co-operation.

Finally, we’d like to say thanks to everyone who has been involved in all of the Conjunction activity, helping to make the events as enjoyable and successful as they were.

- The AirSpace Team


Conjunction actually started, in 2003 as a University exhibiting project by David Bethell, Andrew Branscombe,  Simon Kennedy and Timothy Brussels  seeing annual “open” exhibitions in 2003,04 and 05. This period of action research learning led the huge nationwide Conjunction 06, led by Bethell Branscombe and Matt Roberts which showed in London, Birmingham and Stoke on Trent and included over 50 local, national and international artists. Ultimately these early days of Conjunction led to the creation of AirSpace Gallery, as Bethell and Branscombe used the experience gained through the Conjunction shows to embark on the bigger project of creating and developing an Artist Led space in Stoke-on-Trent.

Identifying a gap in critical visual arts provision in the city, AirSpace Gallery’s mission was to the centre for the Visual Arts in Stoke-on-Trent and the region, providing gallery, studio, educational and meeting spaces.

AirSpace Gallery is still going strong, maturing into a nationally recognised and respected artist-led space and throughout the intervening years, Conjunction has remained a regular presence.  However, from the characteristics of its inception, by 2008, the ideas behind Conjunction transformed at this point from an exhibition project by its creators into an autonomous Bi-ennial of Visual Arts with a particular focus on creating organisational partnership working and a multi-venue structure in the City.  

Organisations and groups working in conjunction with one another.

The hope that this partnership working with several of the city’s existing cultural providers would put the contemporary visual arts at the forefront in Stoke-on-Trent at a time of post-industrial redevelopment and regeneration. But, moreover, it could foster a sense of co-operative practice which in turn would create foundations and a legacy of quality critical visual arts provision, with a sense of ownership across the involved organisations, that would endure in to the future.

Conjunction 08, with its theme Fantastic, Found and Fake Conjunction 08 was designed to shift perceptions in Stoke-on-Trent and to stimulate regeneration through contemporary art. The Biennial saw the works of over 40 artists and included 25 new commissions by artists of international, national and regional significance. In total, 11 venues hosted artwork, including The Potteries Museum And Art Gallery, AirSpace Gallery, the 18th century Bethesda Chapel, as well as an empty retail shopping unit and a public car park.  It was estimated the this first Biennial attracted over 5000 visitors to the city in just over a month.


Littlewhitehead. after the Good Samaritans
Littlewhiteheadafter the Good Samaritans# 56 [13 November 2008]
Good Samaritans Foiled by Art’s New Enfants Terribles

Last night two members of the public tried to rescue a man whose voice could be heard calling for help from the boot of a crashed car at Staffordshire University. The Good Samaritans smashed into the front of the car in order to reach the boot only to find that the voice was a recording on loop as part of the new art work by Littlewhitehead. The piece was commissioned as part of the Conjunction 08 festival, Stoke on Trent’s Arts Biennial organised by AirSpace Gallery and partners.

Littlewhitehead are muliti sensory installation artists who play with ideas of reality and fiction. This is the second time that the Glaswegian duo’s work has caused extreme reactions in the public. Their work in the New Contemporaries exhibition, as part of the Liverpool Biennial, has recently been attacked by members of the public; where visitors to the exhibition were seen punching and kicking life size hooded and balaclava clad figures

Conjunction 10 – With its theme of Escape, built on the multi venue/organisation structure and added to it with the involvement of one local gallery, the use of Staffordshire University’s brand new Cadman Gallery, and, highlighted the approach further by touring a large group of visitors around 6 City Centre venues, including a skate shop and a  vacated former hairdresser’s premises in its Live Art Day.

A memory - ADAM JAMES, A Beggar's Belief 
taken from

Artist Adam James had taken over an old hairdressers, filling it with piles of old clothes - creating a fabulously deranged landscape.As we arrived on the street where the space is I was surprised to find the madness leaking out onto the street, and not being contained within the space - in relation to what we had just seen the energy here was oozing out in all directions. Adam James had assembled a troupe of performers, musicians and VJs - creating a world of fallen heroes - gods, now crazed run amok in the old hairdressers. Each god had their name printed on the back of their coat - like boxers.Displayed on the walls were details of each character - telling us about them as gods and then relating them to a more contemporary [fallen?] hero. Each character was wrapped up in their own revelry -occasionally interacting with each other and implicating the audience equally in the excesses.Feeding each other alcohol and ambrosia, screaming, crying, bawling - sometimes one of them would try to take you aside and get you involved in their particular brand of madness. All of this was accompanied by a backdrop pf music making, and digital visuals being beamed onto the walls - a bombardment of the senses was completed by the stench of rotting textiles.At first our happy band of live art revellers seemed to enjoy the experience - laughing at the 'performers' commenting on the repetitive nature of their ramblings.Then everyone was herded upstairs into a small space - where the gods became even more exaggerated in their behaviours - almost egged on by their captive audience.At this stage a number of people left, feeling it was too much. I think we were in the Hairdressers for less than an hour, but time stood still in that time. We were voyeurs in a crazy world, but unable to remain passive - as the performers demanded a reaction. This was the species of vagabond that is found in cities - no social inhibitions remain, they demand attention, food, wine, whatever.

Conjunction 12 took place in the midst of the Financial Crash and the city of Stoke was hit harder than most. This air of financial uncertainty was represented in the festival’s theme – The Art of Survival, as artists sought to respond to the natural world, the economy, and the artworld, considering the role of conservation, recognition of resources and grass-roots activity in creating future sustainability. The festival’s main partners and venues were joined this time by two local independent public houses, whose parent industry is well familiar with ideas of survival in an age of austerity and the local city Park – Hanley Park, which had degenerated to a point where its reputation as a safe family friendly had all but disappeared and its supporters were desperate for ways for it to transform its fortunes.

A Memory - 

Doyle and Mallinson's Neo Dawsonian Archive - wickedly funny set of interventions in to the Potteries Museum and Art Gallery's collection, challenging notions of institutional authority.

Over 6 years and 3 Biennial festivals of contemporary visual art, Conjunction has worked with, exhibited and provided support and opportunities for well over 200 local, national and international artists, across more than a dozen of the city’s venues. The cultural landscape of Stoke on Trent has changed significantly in that time, from a sense of fragmentation and isolated activity, to one where each of the city’s major cultural players recognises the presence and role of each other, as well as the importance of smaller active groups and individuals, with an increased sense of organisational support for the benefit of the city as a whole.  Conjunction can’t claim to be the sole reason behind this change, but it can claim to have played a significant part.


The AirSpace Team – Andrew Branscombe, Anna Francis and Glen Stoker - would like to say a particular thanks to all the contributing artists, too numerous to mention individually, and to the following, without whose help it would have not been possible.

David Bethell
Arts Council England
Stoke-on-Trent City Council
Ian Vines and the Potteries Museum and Art Gallery,
Catherine Fehily, Mark Webster and Staffordshire University,
John Booth and the Friends of Bethesda Chapel,
Jason & Sallie Keenan at the Glebe Hotel
Steve Yeo at The Exchange,
Pauline Withington, Tom Pine and The Friends of Hanley Park
Phil Rawle, Sara Austin, Ian Brown, Katie Shipley and all of the invaluable volunteers.

1 comment:

Mr Adam James said...

A truly tremendous time was had by us all at Conjunction 2012. Cant sing it and the people at Airspaces praise highly enough x

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