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.

Friday, 20 June 2014

Manifesto #2 by Jane Lawson

To mark the closing of the recent AirSpace exhibition, PIGDOGANDMONKEYFESTOS, we held an event in the Gallery's green space - the Bird Yarden. The event - YARDENFEST - celebrated outdoor activism, and as part of a packed day, we put out a call for artworks that responded to both the Yarden and the manifesto format that had been so eclectically covered in PIGDOG.

One of those was Manifesto #2 - the work of Manchester-based artist, Jane Lawson ( The work sees a copy of Friedrich Hayek's key neoliberal text The Road to Serfdom inoculated with oyster mushroom spawn, where the fungus is used to to signify a detoxification of the global financial system;

Jane says,
"oyster mushrooms can detoxify a wide range of substances including hydrocarbons, making them an ideal candidate for tackling an economic system built on the cheap energy provided by fossil fuels."
On delivery and installation, the work looked simply like a well thumbed paperback, as Jane slightly sank it into the soft earth of one of the Yarden's plant beds.  Over the last 2 weeks, however, these little pink caps started to splurge from the pages offering a sense of growth and optimism from the midsts of an ideology which many believe to be the root of the modern world's ills.

Jane describes the the impact of Hayek -
The Road to Serfdom was written in the early 1940s and warned that government control of economic decision-making through central planning would lead inevitably to tyranny. In 1947 Hayek and Milton Friedman, among others, set up the Mont Pelerin Society  which played a significant part in developing and promoting the neoliberal economic orthodoxy that has given us our current highly unequal and exploitative financial system. Hayek and Friedman's ideas played a critical part in Margaret Thatcher's determination to “roll back the state" and in the deregulation of the financial markets that paved the way for the 2008 financial crisis and subsequent bank bailout.

It's interesting that the Oyster Mushroom was cultivated in Germany as a subsistence measure during World War I and today is a recognisable global foodstuff, lending a certain resonance to the work when considering the recent statistics from the US and UK - two countries in the top 5 richest in the world,  both of whom have a significant neoliberal economic past - regarding poverty levels and emergence of social welfare food banks.

Finally, for Jane,

Manifesto #2 embodies the unpredictability of trying to harness natural processes to human agendas;  whether the book actually goes on to produce a tasty crop of mushrooms will be dependent on the weather and on competing organisms such as green mould. It also represents the longevity of natural processes versus human systems; capitalism, although currently culturally presented to us as the only feasible economic system, is historically recent and globally anomalous, while fungi have been around for at least 1,000 million years and will almost certainly outlast us.
So, as well as looking forward to harvesting these pink mushrooms for dinner one night, it's really comforting to think that that in our busy lives, while we're otherwise concerned and thinking elsewhere, there's a patch of the AirSpace Bird Yarden which is tackling this divisive economic ideology.

Thanks Jane!

Thursday, 12 June 2014

In The Window # 1 'Walden-note Money' by Austin Houldsworth

'Walden- note Money' by Austin Houldsworth
Thursday 12th June - Thursday 26th June, 2014

In The Window#1 is the first of a series of newly commission work for the 2014-2015 'In The Window' exhibition programme at AirSpace Gallery.

The AirSpace Gallery Window reaches a large daily audience and our market research has discovered that our Window exhibition program is very positively received. The In The Window programme offers artists at all stages of their careers a chance to test ambitious new work in an established gallery setting.

Commissioned artist Austin Houldworth's ‘Walden Note-money’ presents a prototype payment machine from an alternative monetary system. A monetary system designed within the cultural context of B.F. Skinners’ Walden Two. The project imagines a payment system that challenges the established monetary function of ‘a store of value.’ Creating a new method of exchange that encourages people to actively destroy their money during a transaction. The process positively reinforces this behaviour through the creation of music, produced from the burning money within the transaction machine. During every transaction the seller is obliged to aid the buyer in the destruction of their money equal to the cost of the service or object he/she is purchasing. Through the destruction of money, musical notes are created which are linked to the coins denomination. For example a C is 1 Walden-note, a D is 2, an E is 3 and so on; these notes have two main functions. Firstly the pleasant sounds created help to positively reinforce this behaviour and secondly the burning money communicates the economic state of the society to the 'managers and planners'.

Walden-note Money is part of a 3 year research project, which focuses on the development of a new design methodology called counter-fictional design. It explores the artists current research focus of imagining and developing alternative monetary systems. The project is designed to challenge the classic economic functions of money and present alternatives.
The rationale for the work to be exhibited in this particular space, is to be seen by a wider audience; to be viewed by passers by who might not otherwise attend a private view or gallery opening, but might be interested in thinking about money in a different way. As ultimately money is a social technology, which should operate for the people who use it and not for a select few who manipulate it.

Austin is currently undertaking a PhD at the Royal College of Art. His work uses a design approach - without the market driven agenda most design practices focus upon. He employes design outside the context of the market place means the motivations of profit and money become a secondary concern - shifting the main focus towards social and cultural issues. The work he produces often incorporates a speculative element, with which the projects are intended to both critique the present state of affairs, but also suggest a practical and engaging alternative to the current status quo.
Austin has exhibited throughout the UK, London and France.

For more information and to see more works, visit Austin's website at

Monday, 2 June 2014

YARDENFEST - The Micro Commissions

gar·den [gahr-dn]

1. a plot of ground, usually near a house, where flowers, shrubs, vegetables, fruits, or herbs arecultivated.

2. a piece of ground or other space, commonly with ornamental plants, trees, etc., used as a park orother public recreation area: a public garden.

3. a fertile and delightful spot or region.

4. British , yard2 ( def 1 ) .

yard [yahrd]

1. the ground that immediately adjoins or surrounds a house, public building, or other structure.

2. an enclosed area outdoors, often paved and surrounded by or adjacent to a building; court.

3. an outdoor enclosure designed for the exercise of students, inmates, etc.: a prison yard.

4. an outdoor space surrounded by a group of buildings, as on a college campus.

5. a pen or other enclosure for livestock.

YARDENFEST is the closing event for Shaun Doyle and Mally Mallinson's PIGDOGANDMONKEYFESTOS exhibition, currently showing at AirSpace Gallery. PIGDOG was originally conceived as a response to the curators' perceived dearth in manifesto writing in contemporary art or at least in what, historically, we consider a manifesto to be. Yardenfest continues the theme and responds in particular to themes of the possibilities for and viability of solutions to outdoor space.

Sited in the Gallery's Bird Yarden - a transformed Victorian Yard Space, YARDENFEST promises a day long social gathering and celebration full of activities, workshops, music and food.

As part of the event, from an open call, AirSpace has commissioned 5 artists/groups to make and permanently site a YARDENFESTO - or manifesto for the Yarden.

Responding to themes such as, but not limited to, -ecology/ eco systems, endangerment, intervention, gardening activism, DIY, reclaim-/re-cycle, sustainability and survival, community gardening environmental concerns, the future, protest, the 5 selected artists artworks are:

Martin Gooding

Milton Friedman, the father of free-market capitalism, spoke frequently on the power of the individual, promoting a greed-centric market designed only to profit the shareholder. This economic system is the backbone of modern western society. Free-market capitalism provided the perfect environment for the financial problems currently effecting modern Europe. It works on a system of self-regulation and economic freedom that is unheard of in everyday life.

“Corporate Growth” pits the uncontrollable power of capitalism against the unstoppable force of nature using moss as a medium, combining eco-friendly art techniques with traditional protest art.

Mr Friedman’s many texts on capitalism have been condensed and brutally simplified into ten “rules” strongly influenced by the use of manifestos in mainstream and alternative politics. These rules illustrate the essence of the world inhabited by Friedman’s natural heir, the bankers, and provide an insight into a world so self-interested that most viewers couldn’t imagine following these rules on a day- to-day basis.

The demonic and haunting image of Mr. Friedman and his teachings, are slowly consumed by the anarchistic powers of nature, torn apart and destroyed by the unrelenting growth of the moss. Eventually there will be only moss, framed as a testament to the powers of nature.

The cut and paste aesthetic harks back to past anti-establishment movements such as the zine culture prevalent in the late seventies that provided a platform for the downtrodden and ignored. All materials are reclaimed or collected staying true to the artist’s DIY ethos providing a new life to rotting and dead timber.

Martin Gooding - an abstract painter and collagist working and living in Stoke-On-Trent as well as a keen community and participatory artist working with the local community. Works are predominantly anti-capitalist and anti-fascist using strong political and religious imagery, working primarily using aged photocopiers and repeated layering and image destruction.

Danijela Vunduk

The piece ‘self-contained studio flat’, comments on the difficulty of owning space in our overcrowded and out-priced cities. The ‘flat’ board and standing space serve as the smallest possible living space to support a human life and all its possessions. Surrounding the crime scene style androgynous shape is an investigative collage of the material bits and pieces that fill our homes, some not necessarily essential others we have come to regard as such.

The chaotic placement of found and recycled objects and images encroaching onto the inhabitant’s personal space refer to the claustrophobia of modern life, the only empty space being the ‘human shape’. The structure itself, formed out of reclaimed wood, is coffin-like and rigid. It draws uncomfortable parallels with ancient burial plots in which the deceased is surrounded by items used in life. If we de-cluttered our lives, loosened our material ties would we feel freer, less suffocated and stressed?

Not solely a criticism of city living as this installation also focuses on human ingenuity, our ability to adapt and find solutions to limited space. The standing space a pallet, referring to the design brilliance of shipping container homes. An object transformed from one use to another in a form of recycling and multi-function. Playing on the same ideas, ‘Self-contained studio flat’ comes complete with a vegetable garden beneath, fertilised by the occupant- during every shower among other things…

Danijela Vunduk is a props and costume designer/maker based in

Jake Kent
(Banner & Performance)

A squat in Amsterdam bears a banner that reads JULLIE WETTEN NIET DE
ONZE! – translated as YOUR LAWS NOT OURS. It rests above a stage where bands now play, however it was once at the front of a march against anti-squatting laws in The Netherlands.

In a house in Berlin there is a poster of Robert Mapplethorpe, that one with the machine gun, with added text – CHRISTIAN TAKEOVER? STRIKE

BACK! Next to this, another, featuring an image of a bulldog with a police hat and the words KILL YOUR INNER COP. This is not the only residence of these posters; they are pasted on the walls and street-objects of the city.

In a university building in Nottingham, there is a 6-metre banner with the same words KILL YOUR INNER COP. This is a work that was made with the aforementioned images in mind, along with others found on the various cultural pursuits I find myself engaged with. It also calls forward Foucault and his use of the panopticon as a “metaphor for modern "disciplinary" societies and their pervasive inclination to observe and normalise”. To act upon this work is to undo a bind, one that is internal and often unnoticed. Like Adam Curtis said “There is a policeman in all of our heads: he must be destroyed”.

To accompany the banner and using the phrase as an usher is a performance- cum-action. This consists of cycling in the city centre on a bike with a custom flag, commission for this event, inviting people to Yardenfest and handing out remaining PIGDOGANDMONKEYFESTOS newsprints like disseminating political propaganda.

Jake Kent is an artist based in Nottingham and co-runs Triple O.G. with John Harris.

(h)edge keletiv

Is a collection of vivarium each taking inspiration from one of six, selected art manifestos of the 20th Century (Surrealist Manifesto, Situationist Manifesto, Cheap Art Manifesto, Fluxus Manifesto, Maintenance Art Manifesto, Stuckist Manifesto), in a ‘Chelseaesque’ themed garden exhibition. Each one is hidden amongst the flora and vegetation of the AirSpace Bird Yarden, which is itself a ‘tiny’ green refuge within the city- each vivarium waiting to be discovered and examined.

This intervention explores the notion of space within space and unexpected sanctuaries- both public and private, interior space- a space within, a sense of place and the landscape within a frame.

It plays with the idea of discovery; the magical wonder of encountering objects and texts that discreetly twists your expectations. To come across something you didn’t realize was there, poses a question- what else is there to find? This decentering, this questioning leads to activation and to participation- it persuades the viewer to look – to see; it exposes an effect- the suspension of belief in things and places and the notion of potential and alternative possibilities.

This is our celebration and representation of manifestos. Coded declarations that encapsulate greater, wider, bigger ideas: manifestos fascinate us. They are poetic, anomalous and militant; written like streams of consciousness, directly from the heart to the hand. Their meanings have to be wrested from the shape of words: the artist intentions are grasped like a sense impression rather than through the sequential arrangements of the words.

They also critically delineate a position on the cultural map, rejecting normative values and approaches and asserting the role of artist as an activist. Our microcosms celebrate this defiance by symbolically locating representations of artist manifestos, in a space created to challenge the idea that humans cannot exist in harmony with the environment.

(h)edge kelektiv are a performative arts group with a specific interest in places, people and things that are on the verge. The work is in the trajectory of the situationalist movement and poetically tests theories through practice; using traditional skills, we interrogate paradoxical realism and narrative in contemporary environments and contexts.

Jane Lawson

Manifesto #2 is the second in a series of manifestos inspired by Pigdogandmonkeyfestos. It also part of a larger body of work which I started in 2012 with Bioremediation I, in which I detoxified the global financial system (in the form of twelve portraits representing institutions such as ratings agencies, governments and banks) with oyster mushrooms, and exhibited the resulting oil painting/fungus ecosystem alongside a timeline showing the development of the financial system since the evolution of homo sapiens. Oyster mushrooms can detoxify a wide range of substances, including hydrocarbons, making them an ideal candidate to detoxify an economic system built on the cheap energy provided by burning fossil fuels, with the attendant disastrous consequences for our climate and ecosystem.

Manifesto #2 is a copy of The Road to Serfdom inoculated with pink oyster mushroom spawn; by the time of Yardenfest it should have been thorougly colonised with mycelium. Beyond this, there are no guarantees; pink oyster mushrooms prefer warm temperatures, so what happens next will be down to the glorious British summer. To maximise the chances of a healthy crop, I have supply sawdust inoculated with brown oyster mushroom spawn – this takes longer to fruit, but can tolerate lower temperatures

One of the ideas Manifesto #2 presents is the longevity of natural systems versus human systems; capitalism, although currently culturally presented to us as the only feasible economic system, is historically recent and globally anomalous, while fungi have been around for at least 1,000 million years and will almost certainly outlast us. Manifesto #2 also illustrates uncertainty and the unpredictability of trying to harness natural processes to humanb agendas.

The book itself will degrade over time, feeding the surrounding micro-organisms and plants

Jane Lawson is an artist based in Manchester working to make visual sense of the complex processes and systems underpinning human existence and seeking to embody alternatives to the dominant cultural narrative which claims that the present economic system, although flawed, is our only realistic option.