GUEST BLOGGER – Adam Neal

We’re delighted to welcome special guest blogger Adam Neal. His practice revolves around issues of social class, nostalgia and loss. Neal utilises his experiences, upbringing and ephemera from traditional ‘working-class’ environments. These elements act as a vehicle for his practice, allowing him to generate work about the social, from within it.

Bay Leaves II

A Plebeian, Aware of his Milieu
Adam Neal

 Value

I’m glad I titled this text something convoluted, I like to believe it renders it that little bit more facetious. Facetiousness is a positive characteristic for an artist, and art to have, as everything seems to take itself so seriously.

“Artists are too in the mind of ‘isn’t it good this is happening’ instead of asking whether it should be happening at all, or evaluating it in any way. art doesn’t have inherent value, it’s always worth prodding” (The White Pube, 2018).

Self-reflection should be constant, in that same breath I ask myself, is the work I am making interesting, valuable, and really is it any good? In all honesty, I deem trying to produce artwork that is ‘good’ subjectively unattainable, and the question lies more so in does my work have any value and real life application.

The value stems from the context, the relationship between my Nan and myself, and its application to a way of life. I am using these pre-existing facets of my life as the value, and a way in which I can comment on a way of life that is now fleeting. Whilst, simultaneously, attempting to define how contemporary working class culture manifests itself.

In actuality, I’m still unsure what a lot of this means or how to define aspects of the subject matter. However I deem there value in attempting, in elucidating a way of life that has contributed towards and been affected by our current political and economical standing, as a country.

“I don’t see how this has anything to do with ‘Art and Design’, you’re not designing anything”. Nan usually proclaims as I walk around the house with my camera, or when I ask to borrow things to photograph. Value is added within these interactions. Our relationship becomes a closer one, and she begins to understand what I am (attempting) to achieve within my creative and professional life. I’m not attempting to turn my Nan into an artist, however it’s exposing her to what contemporary art can be (like I’m a bloody Turner Prize winner). I’m aware that at the moment the value can be perceived as personal, and this is an aspect I am attempting to ameliorate and add value to a wider demographic.

Place

“next is location: the centre point in the women’s lives, i.e. where they live. Their physical location becomes ever more important to them struggling to hold on to who they are and how they wish to be known, but so does their social location: where they are positioned in social space: they are always aware of ‘being looked down on’, and situated ‘at the bottom’. (Mckenzie, L, 2009, p.p. 14)

Lisa Mickenzie’s statement resonates particularly in terms of the relationship between physically and social space. ‘Working-class’ communities are seemingly locked into geographic locations, primarily as a result of occupation at the height of British Industry. However, this idea of being locked in or perhaps unaware of one’s social space is a trait often attributed to the ‘working-class’. Being more upwardly mobile is a trait connected often to the middle classes and upward, however with new social classes being formed characteristics are harder to attach to certain groups. We always generalise, I feel.

Analysing this is integral to my own position as an artist producing work of this ilk. Going through an arts education, I immediately become more upwardly mobile; I have access to new social spaces now due to connections made, my occupation and practice. However, where I live still encapsulates idea’s of the ‘working-class’. I am privileged, I acknowledge this privilege, but now feel uncomfortable crossing between these environments. I do not have any answer to this, and perhaps this tension and awkwardness is integral to my practice. It grounds me, allows me to self-reflect constantly, and probes what I do and its value.

Personally, I still deem my practice to be problematic in terms of its scope. Being cemented within academia until last June has resulted in me working only with my own locality. To an extent this was sufficient, but only sufficient relative to my abilities, understanding and position. Locality, and specificity is crucial for closer studies, and more focused methods of thinking, but for my practice I believe cast my net further afield also. Pierre Bourdieu’s approach of studying Kabyle communities in Algeria springs to mind, as I am convinced this level of cultural cross-examination would elucidate the pathway my practice needs to take, and aid in the enhancement of the contextual framework.

Process

Everyone’s a photographer now aren’t they? Whether it’s on your iPhone, or you’ve saved up money to buy a decent DSLR, just point, click and don’t worry about it pal. Joking, and generational generalisations aside, photography as a creative medium has never been so accessible, and equally over saturated.

“In other words, the photograph, as it stands alone, presents merely the possibility of meaning” (Sekula, A, 1984). Constantly, this quote slaps me in the face, and forces me to think deeper about the application of photography. Photography alone, presents the idea or possibility of meaning, Sekula here doesn’t tell us how to create meaning. There is no formula for activating the meaning within photography, this is purposely ambiguous and the space has been left open for personal interpretation.

Photography has a magnitude of applications within creative processes, from documentation to realisation. I do agree with Sekula in that photography, in isolation, is rarely enough especially within contemporary creative practices.

I am not discrediting photographers or photography as an occupation, it’s important to make the delineation between photographers and artists who primarily use photographic processes. As I consider myself an artist who uses photography as a primary process.

Coinciding with this, my stance is that photography needs activation within my practice; it needs another ‘thing’ alongside. Combining photography with disciplines such as sculpture, physical objects, or ready-made objects seemingly creates more dynamic dialogues between the work, which culminates in a more engaging and coherent overall communication of the ideas.

Gavin and Stacey, Series 1, Episode 4. The vicar in Stacey’s hometown church begins to ask the congregation what their favourite sandwich is. Ultimately it boils down to this: “The point is that the bread is the Holy Spirit, the mayonnaise/butter is the Father, and the filling is the Son. We all like different fillings but ultimately the bread remains a constant just like God”.

I’d like to attach this sandwich metaphor to process. Most of us will have our bread, a go to process we are either well versed in or simply enjoy, and this will remain a consistent. We should all, however, consider what our filling is, what accents the bread in a tasty way. What processes should we use to complete our sandwich, and both compliment and challenge our consistent.

I suppose the mayonnaise/butter also remains constant, the vicar didn’t really elaborate on this. Perhaps we should think of it as the theoretical and contextual frameworks. Either way, at this point I think you get the gist.

Book I

Introducing Ha – and their latest project “Re-tale”

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Ha is an artist led organisation based in Coventry, Warwickshire and the West Midlands and is led by artists Rob Hamp and Andrea Hannon. Ha will be exhibiting their latest project “Re-tale” at the Coventry Biennial of Contemporary Art. We’ve interviewed them to find out more about their work, and what they’ve got lined up for the Biennial.

How did you first meet and form as an artist collaboration?

We met in 2012 at Coventry University whilst both working in the area of Fine Art in the Faculty of Arts and Humanities. We formed Ha in 2015.

 What type of artwork do you create together?

Our work is responsive as a result of specific interactions/occupations/ inhabitations with existing people/spaces/places. We undertake and develop projects that focus on social/public engagement, with a particular interest in the relationship between the self, space and place in relation to how we occupy, use and negotiate the places in which we reside.

The artwork is of a documentary style, data gathering through the use of visual and textual documentation; video, photography and audio recording. Which is then developed further through installation based works.

Tell us about the project Re-tale which you will be exhibiting at the Coventry Biennial of Contemporary Art

Retail in cities is evolving due to regeneration and the ever-changing needs of society. In an age where technology means you can have what you need at the click of a button, closing down sale signs are becoming a common sight changing the landscape of the cities in which we live.

Re-tale focuses particularly on the city of Coventry asking the viewer/audience/customer to tell us their tales about Coventry as their city. Three questions; (What is your favourite thing about Coventry? What is your favourite building in Coventry? What is your fondest memory about Coventry?) will appear on a postcard in the carrier bag the viewer is able to take away. The answers will be shared via twitter and the cards collated for data gathering.

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The bags will be on display in the Glass box on Earl Street, which is set up as a ‘pop-up’ re-tale premises. They can also be collected from other venues Fargo and the CET building during the Coventry Biennial.

“Those who throw stones should not live in Glass Boxes”. The Glass Box originally purpose built, non-organically considered, as an architectural showroom for all people of Coventry to visit and air their views on the sample designs being considered for the cities redevelopment, for that reason is a fitting venue for such an undertaking. Now through Re-tale it is a mechanism for very similar gain and hopes to draw out once more on the fact that historically Coventry has been one of the most democratic cities in the world. This true, potentially hard-hitting anonymous data gathering exercise can be recorded and registered. All that is of importance is the answers the audience provides. Straightforward, transparent and leaving no opportunity for confusion. A basic and outreaching mode of data gathering occurs through an audience that once leaving the Glass Box (H.Q), Fargo or the CET Building, carrying their bag becomes a transient, active and integral part of the Re-tale exhibition.

Our Re-tale premises in the Glass Box can be viewed as stark and baron, almost ready to close its doors for the very last time, let to us on a short-term lease because nobody loves it anymore. However there is nothing better to draw the crowds than a deal, a deal that ask only of the viewer/customer to parade our artwork through the city, answer our questions and in return we promise to supply your thoughts to the city.

Where and what dates will the exhibition run?

Throughout the duration of the Biennial (6th – 22nd October).

Do you have plans for any future projects together?

Yes, we have other projects in the pipeline. Re-tale in particular is a small part of a larger intended project. Watch this space.

Where can people follow you for more info? 

https://retaleha.wordpress.com

https://twitter.com/titled_ha

You can find out more about all the events in store for the Coventry Biennial here.

Coventry University MA Exposé – Postgrad Showcase

This week Curating Coventry was invited along to the Private Viewing of the MA Exposé Postgrad Exhibition. And boy, did they deliver! This incredible showcase of raw talent blew us away.

First stop was MA Painting display on the top floor of the Graham Sutherland building. We turned straight into a beautiful, vibrant collection of surrealist style paintings, which formed Tabi Lampe’s display. We got to chat to the artist and it was upon discovering what inspires her creativity that her work became even more exciting to view.

Tabi explores the different levels of human consciousness, and how the activity of regularly creating art pushes you through limitations and inhibitions. This results in a higher level of consciousness, self-awareness, acute intuition and inner freedom. It is escapism from the fear-driven mind-sets, and limited state of ‘being’ in which we have become conditioned to in today’s world. As you view her paintings, you really feel the sense of the release and freedom that the artist was experiencing, as she delved into the higher state of consciousness.

This amazing installation accompanied the paintings, featuring pinecones delicately emitting from the central figure – each pine cone symbolic of the pineal gland – that gland that was once know as the “third eye”.

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Round the corner was a charming collection by Jennifer Shufflebotham’s “Sri Lanka Series” – a result that has grown from the organic relationship of combining photography and painting.

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The process in which the artist took to create the final pieces is an interesting journey in itself. The photographs were captured during experiences travelling Sri Lanka. She creates composite images from photo combinations, in which working drawings are created. These are then adapted to paintings. The result is this wonderful series of fictitious scenes, and the combination of mediums results in an original and distinct style of painting.

Andy Farr, is another artist exhibiting a seriously impressive display, featuring a combination of different projects that he’s worked on.

“Lost Generation” was the first we explored – a project he ran with the Arts Council of England across a number of schools, designed to make WW1 centenary relevant to today’s youth. Dark scenes of the bloody aftermath WW1 battlegrounds, combined with scenes of a modern festival – mud-bathed fields with bodies strewn over the land. In the modern scenes, are the teenagers dead? Sleeping? Or is this just the morning after a heavy night partying at the festival?

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In contrast to this, his “Black Dogs” collection of paintings were created in response to reflections and experience of mental health issues. We particularly loved “Swing”, and “Carousel’ which combine a more abstract style with eerie dream-like scenes of an abandoned funfair.

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Andy has secured a Studio Space at the Meter Rooms in Coventry, so we’re looking forward to seeing more great work from him.

Other great work included a great collection of landscape scenes by Yue Haung, incorporating this wonderful painting installation of dark, foreboding mountainous rock scenes, painted into the gallery space.

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Samridhi Khandelwalgreat “Shadows” installation piece and an striking sequence of stunning modern figurative paintings.

Yiwen Chen’s display combines drapes of fabric with her paintings, and creates collections of delicate miniature paintings, combined together to form a single artwork.

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We then moved along to the Glassbox Gallery, which was exhibiting the Contemporary Practice MA. We loved the diversity and assortment of different mediums truly expressing the individuality of the artists on display. Artwork included audio-video installations, a digital fabrication of wearable sculptures, eerie dolls house of figurines made up from Barbie dolls, fairies, combined with military action-figures, plus more sculptural, installation art.

The combination such a variety of contemporary mediums resulted in wonderfully eclectic showcase of creative expression, which pushed through convention.

All in all this was such an outstanding showcase of the quality of work coming from the post-grads of Coventry University. We were really blown away by the pure talent and integrity of this impressive show, and looking forward to seeing more from these gifted individuals in the future.

Highlights from Spon Spun

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Last weekend we set out to explore the Art Trail of the second ever Spon Spun festival. What a super adventure that was. We met a wonderful and diverse collection of artists with a really impressive selection of work on display. From sculptural installations to digital creations, the beautiful handcraft created at local workshops to cutting-edge docu-photography. There really was something for everyone. Unfortunately we ran out of time to visit every location, however we got to see what we missed at the follow-up exhibition at City Arcadia Gallery (showing until 30th Sept). Would really recommend stopping by when you are next in town.

See their Facebook event page here.

So here’s how the day went…

First stop – The Ruined Chapel – Michelle Englefield’s enchanting sculptural installation “Dwelling”. As you step inside and engaged with it, it took on a whole different perspective. The nature-like quality of the dome sat perfectly in this beautiful setting, so you really got a feel of how she adapted the piece of art to it’s environment.

Our next find was find was this wonderful digital piece “Loop the Loop” by Carol Breen, placed in the window of Spon End Chip Shop.

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Third stop was with local artist and poet, Mary Courtney. We got to leave our mark on “The Big Draw” – dozens of people had got involved and added their sketches – all of which were stories and memories they had to share from experiences in Spon End.

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Next stop was the Albany Theatre where we got to view some wonderful images by local docu-photographer Thomas Tierney, as part of his project “Spon End Stories”. He captures both the hidden beauty and reality of everyday life in Spon End.  Sadly we arrived too late for the tour to see the performance at the theatre, so had to swiftly move onto the next location…

Coventry Men’s Shed – the organisation was set up to help with the health and wellbeing of men aged 30 and over. They work to regain a greater level of confidence and self-worth through engaging in creative activities. What an impressive collection of arts and crafts they had on display! We have so much respect for what they do.

We then walked up through the park and stumbled upon these lovely textile pieces which were created at workshops at Weaver’s House. A charming addition to the playground.

We then wandered up to St John’s Church to view this wonderful painting by Chiara Grant, “Trust and Friendship for a Game”. Another really talented local artist – a recent graduate of Fine Art & Contemporary Practice MA. Hope to see more great work from her again soon.

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Before running out of time we managed a visit of Holyhead Studios. The first exhibition we visited there was – “Neighbourhood”, by local urban docu-photographer Alan Van Wijgerden. This work was curated by Coventry artist Kate Hawkins who has a keen interest in human geography. “Neighbourhood” looks at the history and evolution of the post-war built environment in Spon End. Really interesting, and informative display.

Then our final stop was the top floor at Holyhead studios where we got to chat to renown local artist Martin Green about the project he is currently working on for the forthcoming Coventry Biennial. This will be on display at the old Coventry Evening Telegraphy building. His studio is fascinating to view, with vast collections of categorised found objects. These form the medium in which he works, combined with painting and sculptural pieces, which can be engaged and interacted with. Really looking forward to seeing what’s to come at the Biennial.

To sum it, this was a wonderful showcase of local talent, and a perfect example of the depth and range of the city’s visual arts.

Artist Spotlight: Rob Hamp

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Rob is currently exhibiting his work in Drapers’, Coventry and will be exhibiting in the forthcoming Coventry Biennial of Contemporary Art (as part of a collaboration with artist Andrea Hannon).

We have interviewed Rob to find out more about his own practice. Here’s what he has to say…

What type of artist would you describe yourself as?

I am an author – artist – constructor, my practice resonates visually with constructivist works, however due to my written work that underpins it, it is in fact far closer to the Suprematist movement.

What mediums do you use?

My work is purged down into materials, both new and used depending on the written work. “Truth to Material” is paramount in selecting object and material, natural for a truthful statement and man-made for the untruthful.

What themes do you explore in your work?

The truth and untruth played out with humour and tragedy.

Could you describe a real-life situation that inspired you?

It depends what dimension I am playing out? What is real-life and what is merely make believe? “On the face of it”

What other artists have you drawn inspiration from?

Tatlin, El Liszitsky, Rodchenko, Malevich, Shakespeare, Beckett and Pinter.

What are you currently working on?

I am currently exhibiting at Stryx. Title: Un-scene (phase one) with Halina Dominska, (phase two) is on the 17th of September.

“Van Trip” has just been funded as phase two of “From East to West with Love” and more news will be available very soon.

Where can we see you exhibiting next?

Stryx, Birmingham now.

Drapers’ now.

Coventry Biennial of Contemporary Art as “Ha” – A long-term collaboration with artist Andrea Hannon.

Find out more here … https://coventrybiennial.com/re-tale/

You can view more of Rob’s work on http://robhamp.co.uk/

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