Tuesday, 31 October 2017

FOUNT - a review by Selina Oakes

FOUNT, AirSpace Gallery

Elena Gileva & Mark Malarko

22nd September - 4th November.

Over periods of time, fountains have garnered numerous connotations – from sources of clean water and symbols of municipal status to sites of leisure and social interaction. In partnership with the British Ceramics Biennial (BCB), AirSpace Gallery has commissioned two artists to respond to the concept of public fountains – notably due to the fact that Stoke-on-Trent was once a major ceramic fountain manufacturer, and also because 10 minutes walk from the gallery is a well-known spot called Fountain Square. Ironically there's no fountain, merely a melancholic circular entourage of paving stones outlining the space where various incarnations have formerly stood.

Russian-born RCA graduate Elena Gileva departs from the comforts of stand-alone ceramics and experiments with the potential of clay in an immersive installation. In Cornucopia, visitors are invited to navigate their way through vividly coloured pools of blue slip – lain glistening and viscous across a laminate floor. These deep-blue pockets are playfully punctuated by nude-toned stepping stones and symbolic motifs such as a moon, a hand and an olive branch. These distinctive forms enable Gileva to remain loyal to her interest in the 'ornamental'.

Elsewhere, grey ceramic plumbing litters the space and leads the viewer's eye from ceiling to floor. As well as adding depth and height to the low-lying slip, these pipes, with their industrial aesthetic, are suggestive of the infrastructure and administrative components that regulate a city and public space. However, instead of being cold and metallic, these pipes are imperfect – curved and chunky, they challenge the regimented appearance of functional piping: they critique the conventions of both their real-life counterpart and traditional ceramic processes with irregularity.

At the head of the installation is a large-scale 'horn of
plenty', which is divided into three segments. Its gilded interior exudes richness and abundance, and yet the clay slip within it appears sparse and drained: it is left to the viewer to activate the work as the symbolic water begins to dry up. Members of the public are invited to make the precarious journey across the ceramic stepping-stones, suggesting alternative pathways and junctures for communities. While the liberating motion of water is not quite achieved, the work's imperfect nature questions what value public fountains – which are, for the most part, manmade structures – bring to city inhabitants.

Colour is a driving force in FOUNT: urban artist Mark Malarko's The Water in Majorca Don't Taste like What it Ought to is a chromatic haven with references to popular culture. A mod-rock archway – precariously dotted with glazed and headless miniature Mr Blobbys – marks a transition from Gileva's poetic mythological landscape and into Malarko's more rough and ready public enclave. Uneven and mottled in a Franz West style, the arch is adorned with lush pastel gradients which emphasise the structure's scale and ruggedness. Two 'fishy palms' – Yucca trees decorated with plastic fish, tin-foil and fluorescent gravel – reinforce the installation's reference to both water and commerce.

A central floor-mosaic stating 'The Fire Burns Upwards!' inverts societal hierarchies and promotes grassroots initiatives through its assertive message which invites viewers to become participants rather than mere spectators. While the comfort of a featured brutalist breeze-block sofa is questionable, its temporality inverts the essence and aesthetic of conventional public space. Instead of admiring a grandiose ceramic fountain that sits high above us, we are asked to collectively consider the fabric of public space as a misfit scenario that is – or should be – social, malleable and unpredictable.

It is only until we reach the rear of the gallery that a functioning fountain is visible: it is short, squat and made from poured concrete with a 'Costa del Hanley' counter-relief and three terracotta 'Biscuit Dog' each spouting water. Adjacent to this is a bronze-cast cabbage bowl – a familiar design from Stoke-on-Trent's pottery heritage. Sturdy and metallic, the bowl bubbles with mist to mimic a burning fire-pit – another reference to meeting points, plurality and community. Delicate, hastily made cups and pots are scattered throughout the installation to emphasise the notion that public space should feel something like 'home'.

Gileva and Malarko respond to the Gallery's call-out in very different ways: Gileva draws on her technical training in ceramics to produce fired and glazed ceramic motifs that symbolise her own public space ideals. Yet, while she challenges the boundaries of clay by testing the longevity of wet, pigmented and oil-infused slip, her installation remains highly ornamental – similar to that of a stately public fountain whose aesthetic is valued more than its functionally. Still, its strength lies in its portrayal of connectivity: her motifs are joined by the sea of blue slip, and the notion of 'meeting points' is implied through the placement of stepping stones.

Malarko's interpretation of city fountains and public space is much more playful. He is abrupt with his medium, casting pre-existing forms and incorporating mass-produced objects in order to communicate the value in ad-hoc public spaces. As with Gileva, Malarko's work is also ornamental – but while the Yukka plants and Mr Blobbys
are decorative, items such as the concrete furniture provides audiences with a place to sit; the bronze cabbage-bowl and Biscuit-Dog lend themselves to functioning fountains; the cups can actually hold a cup of tea; and the mosaic, though aesthetic, represents a central table or hearth that ultimately brings people together.

Wednesday, 18 October 2017

First Month Done & First Blog Post - Amy Matthews

I am Amy-Lou Matthews and I am currently one of the artists on the six month graduate residency at AirSpace. I am in full swing into my second month on the residency with two exhibitions coming up in the next week to month.

So far on my time here I have been looking into sound effects, as my proposal for the residency was looking into the post-production techniques used in film and photography, to forget what your seeing is fictions, blurring the line between reality and fantasy.

So far I have been experimenting with recording my own sound effects and combined the use of images with the artificial noises produced. The images above are some of my experiments of using everyday items to produce certain sounds that reflect breaking bones and rainfall.

I am interested in using a images documenting the process of creating the sound with a image of the what the sound is intended while playing the recording between them both. Become a little playful with wondering what image has actually documented sound.

One my first month on the residency I took the opportunity to see ‘I Want! I Want! Art & Technology’ exhibition in Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery in early September. The show exhibited artists that have been influenced by the rapid developments in technology in the last twenty years. Here I was introduced to Rachel Maclean’s work ‘Feed Me’ (2015), where she explores with exploitations and sexualisation of childhood in culture in contrast with the immature behavior of adults. This hour-long film mashes several genres together, jumping from horror to reality TV shows. Maclean take on the role of each character with the use of prosthetics and green screen to compose herself into this hyper surreal world. I can not help but feel some connections, recognise similar elements with our behaviours, holding a mirror up reflecting an feverish version of our reality. For example where as a culture we can idolize celebs separating them from being a human being and more as a product to be consumed.

Later on in September I was able to visit artist lead spaces such as Blue Coat and Royal Standard in Liverpool. This was all arranged by New Art West Midlands, as away of connecting artist in this area and given opportunity to check out current projects artist are working on. Had the chance to see Abacus Exhibition in Blue Coat. The work exhibited all had the intention to inspire children into drawing, reading and making. Shifting the usual norm of a gallery setting, Blue Coat turned there show into the into a space where it allowed children to give into their intuitive nature through play. One piece that caught my attention was ‘Structures for Play’ (2017) by Emily Speed. This work consisted of several architectural spaces that would typically be for ‘adults’. These scaled down structure matching children proportions, are spaces that usually provoke a certain type of behavior while inhabiting them. These consisted of court, voting pole and chapel. These structures become quite theatrical, where children could take on the ‘stage’ as it were.

This piece has sparked off an idea of mine to create workshops that demonstrate sound effects later on residency with children. Show sound effects at play in video and how they are used to heighten a sense. Then create our own during the workshop, the use of everyday objects being manipulated to produce noises that can be used to create whole worlds and stories through the use of sound.

Things coming up…

One event that is coming thick and fast is The Last Bus Exhibition, that is opening on the 13th of October. Is going to be one last big event for Hanley’s old bus station before it is knocked down. This space for many years would have been interlinking space, connecting many people in the area together while the station was running. The space had very mixed feelings about it from the public and this is chance for the bus station to end on a high, letting people recapture those few happy memories experienced there. This week I will be installing my piece, which is made up of six separate rolls of bus tickets unraveling.

As well as The Last Bus I also be preparing for the open studios in AirSpace on the 14th of October. This a day where the public are invited to have a look ‘back stage’ of what goes on in the studios. A peek into the space we artist test and push their ideas.
The next big push will be the interim show that Natasha Brzezicki (artist also on the residency) and I while be taking part. This work will look at giving a possible taste of what our shows may be exploring in late January 2018.

Thursday, 5 October 2017

Month one: Graduate Residency at AirSpace Gallery - Natasha Brzezicki

It’s been just over one month since I began a six month graduate residency at Airspace Gallery in Stoke-on-Trent. It’s been busy: finding a temporary home, moving into the studio, becoming familiar with new surroundings, and picking up my practice again for the first time since leaving university in May.

Aims and plans:

During the residency I’d like to manufacture an immersive space for listening carefully, or looking closely, at subtle sounds, objects and writings, hoping to initiate a sense of introspection. I want to build on my ideas based around language, sound, sculpture and human relationships, and explore hands as subject matter. Hands are emotive and gestural, involved in communication, physical touch, the senses – but also the most important body part in physically making and crafting in the arts. I am interested in how this links to Stoke-on-Trent, with its rich history of hands-on making.

The Last Bus:

This exhibition is fast approaching and as part of airspace studios myself, Amy (who is also undertaking a graduate residency) and several other artists with studios at airspace are exhibiting work too. It’s happening across a series of disused buildings in Hanley before they are knocked down. I have been making a series of journeys by bus and on foot through the 6 towns of Stoke-on-Trent collecting stones along the way, from which I will build cairns – the journeys themselves being documented in the form of a book.

Cairn: a mound of rough stones built as a memorial or landmark, typically on a hilltop or skyline.

Liverpool: Bluecoat and The Royal Standard

New Art West Midlands funded travel for Amy and I to visit Liverpool in mid September. We visited ‘Abacus’ at Bluecoat, an exhibition encouraging playfulness and interaction, and Kevin Hunt, whose work was included in the show, gave us a tour of the print studios and various other spaces within the gallery. We then walked over to The Royal Standard – a complex of studios and other spaces for creatives. It was interesting to see how the artists work in their own spaces, and compare it to the clean and polished exhibition at the Bluecoat. I felt inspired by the raw ideas and the lesser finished works, feeling keen to get back to my own studio.

Meeting with Terry Shave:

Last week Amy and I both met with Terry Shave, who is on the board at Airspace, to discuss our ideas so far and where we hope to take them during the residency. It was great to speak with Terry, to hear his insights into my ideas and felt positive to go through the process of explaining why I make the work I do, which I think is important to constantly reaffirm to yourself when making. Our conversations centred around cultures of display in the museum/the art gallery, how writing can be framed as art, the assignment of value to objects, to feelings, to tangible and to intangible, the possibility of collaboration with scientists or musicians, and we discussed how I might really use the environment I’m in to impact the work I make by drawing in some elements of site-specificity.

Bee Works – Klaus Weber

I was making a coffee in the studios’ kitchen when I stumbled across this book – it was a pleasant surprise. Following on from recent work exploring the visualisation of sound in human language and bird calls, musical scores and spectrograms (you can read more about this here) – I have been wanting to create a ‘natural’ or ‘chance’ composition. A musical score or similar which is exposed to natural beings and to the elements. The score would capture traces of what has been. I would then translate these markings into musical notes, similarly to how I worked from the spectrograms, being left with sound crafted from visual data. Weber’s Bee Works consist of canvases set up to catch bee droppings made at a particular time of year, similar in this intention to capture and record the environment, working with nature.

Clay college:

Hoping to develop some technical skills using clay I enrolled onto an evening course at clay college based at Middleport Pottery where I am learning to throw on a wheel. This is a skill I have always had an interest in and it seemed fitting to try my hand at it whilst I’m staying in the potteries! Below is one of the many wonky pots I’ve thrown.

Currently reading: Landmarks by Robert Macfarlane

I’ve really been enjoying the focus on language in this book – there is something undeniably human about the birthing of a word and the attachment of it to an object, emotion or landscape. I’ve become interested in what it means to use language and particularly what I am referring to in my work as the ‘duality’ of language, words with double meanings that cross the line that separates the human and natural world. ‘To engulf’, ‘to burrow’, ‘to grow’.

Wednesday, 4 October 2017

AirSpace Graduate Residency 2017/18 - Meet the Artists

In August 2017, we selected from open call, two new graduates - Amy Lou Matthews and Natasha Brzezicki, for the 6th instalment of our Graduate Residency Programme.

Now more than a month in, and preparing to show work in their interim Residency exhibitions, they set out their practice and plans.

Amy-Lou Matthews
(graduated in 2017 from Staffordshire University Fine Art)

My practice is based around film, photography, choreography and staging, where acts of playful nature are used in the performances. In the past, I have used performances within my practice to explore the archetypes of identity. This experimentation has evolved into a fascination of the more absurd, by using myself in the performance and the demonstration of how these can be constructed.
Past works such as the ‘Four Shades’(2016) used post-production techniques to merge different recorded performances into a single constructed time period, overlaying the footage to connect together separate actions and forming an cohesive group performance. Later works explore with green screen as space of endless potential while physical in our reality is typically a very bleak and bear stage. I find the whole concept of a production set in it self is a stage, stripped of visual elements to become abstract in our reality to later exist in reality very absurd.

On the residency I will be following on with my past themes of the absurd, exploring further within digital works as well as set designs working alongside one another. I plan to develop my knowledge and use of production techniques that are used in cinematic films and bring them into a gallery. I would like to explore further with green screen as a stage of endless potential, that objects acting as ‘stand ins’ for other props even have the opportunity to act in these space, Investigating Bertolt Brecht's theory of ‘distancing affects’ and question if we as a culture are becoming lost in the smoke and mirrors of digital advances in entertainment where fictional stories appear realistic. 



Natasha Brzezicki
(graduated in 2017 from Coventry University Fine Art)

Natasha's interests lie in the notion of the artist as translator: a mediator between scientist and the layman. The practice is interdisciplinary, maintaining a closeness to science and a sensitivity to the organic world. A compulsion to identify and categorise within her practice leads her to subject nature to human notions of order; likening human nature to the slow formation of a stone shaped by the sea. Currently, she is researching the intricacies of birdsong, exploring its parallels to the human voice to find a method of ‘translation’ that depends on strategic allocation of data with a particular interest in an idea of emotion vs. physicality, the transferal of a sentiment into an object and how ‘sentimental value’ is comparable to monetary value.

During this residency I would plan to develop my enquiry into the intricacies of language: how birdsong can be ‘translated’ into human text and vice versa. I would be keen to bring the outdoors inside and capture new field recordings of birdsong before manipulating them digitally; crafting the pure and the natural into something ordered and human. I would use the time to delve deeper into ‘sound as art’ and aim to perfect the creation of a truly immersive environment; how to manufacture a space for listening carefully to subtle sounds and the introspection that naturally accompanies this.


AirSpace Graduate Residency - a recap

Since 2012, AirSpace has been running an annual Graduate residency scheme, which looks to target a problem with Graduate retention in the city whilst also offering an opportunity for new graduates from outside Stoke-on-Trent to come and work here, in a new city.

Each year we offer a graduate from Staffordshire University's Fine Art course and a graduate from one of the the UK's many and varied fine art courses, a 6 month residency which comprises free individual studio space, monthly mentoring meetings with both Gallery staff, and independent external artists. There is a continual focus on professional development support, with help to access funding and encouragement and opportunity to exhibit outside the Gallery. Finally, each graduate is offered two exhibiting opportunities - a mid residency, interim short run exhibition, either in the Gallery window or in our Resource Room, and then a culminative solo exhibition in the main gallery space. The all important solo is delivered with full backing from the Gallery ( technical, marketing and promotion) and also with the assistance and mentoring curatorial support of a practising artist selected through conversation with the Graduate.

We can point to some real success stories since our programme started - as residents have gone on to continue and progress successful arts practices.

At this link you can meet each of our residents so far and see what they've been upto since their time with us. And in the next post meet the 2017/18 residents, Amy-Lou Matthews and Natasha Brzezicki