Coventry Biennial presents OTOLITH 1

Coventry Biennial will be presenting OTOLITH 1 by The Otolith Group in the Chapter House at Coventry Cathedral from 14th until the 20th August 2020.

The Otolith Group

The Otolith Group, Otolith 1, 2003. Courtesy: Arts Council Collection.
©The Artists. Commissioned by MIR Consortium / The Arts Catalyst

OTOLITH 1, a film-essay made by The Otolith Group in 2003, originally commissioned by MIR Consortium and The Arts Catalyst, is now a part of the Arts Council Collection.

Made of historical, found and newly shot footage, conflating fact and fiction, OTOLITH 1 weaves personal and public histories together to explore future female identities and separation. These themes relate to our wider research while also resonating with the impacts of Covid-19.

Kodwo Eshun, the group’s co-founder alongside Anjalika Sagar, was affiliated with the Cybernetic Culture Research Unit at University of Warwick, highlighting another point of intersection with the research the team at Coventry Biennial are carrying out ahead of HYPER-POSSIBLE.

Ahead of this short exhibition, they have published the third in their series of communiqués, which is available to read, download and share from here.

Included in this issue is a new text by one of Coventry Biennial curator and director Michael Pigott and they are pleased to be able to share a section of Holger Schulze’s recent book Sonic Fiction which explores the aims, interests and work of The Otolith Group.

Ryan Hughes, Director of Coventry Biennial says of The Otolith Group:

“The Otolith Group are one of the most exciting collaborative practices working today. They have a huge commitment around working with other artists, academics, writers, musicians and actors creating an expanded knowledge base for each of their projects which have been shown in galleries, museums, festivals and biennials around the world. Kodwo Eshun, one of the co-founders of the group was affiliated with the Cybernetic Culture Research Unit at the University of Warwick in the 1990s and the work that The Otolith Group makes feels very ‘Coventry’ – you can glimpse the past and the future simultaneously.”

Ryan Hughes says of the artwork:

Otolith 1 is one of the earliest artworks that The Otolith Group made together. It’s a short science fiction film-essay that blurs fact and fiction and explores how conversations might unfold across generations through the media that we produce and leave behind. The work touches on themes of protest, global feminism, race and cultural history all of which are key ideas that will resonate throughout HYPER-POSSIBLE, the 3rd Coventry Biennial which will open in multiple venues in October 2021.”

Please note that they can only accommodate 8 visitors per time slot to the exhibition to allow for physical distancing. You’ll be asked to wear a face mask while in the exhibition and to leave your name and contact details as you arrive.

Booking in advanced is essential using this link

 

“Quinn: A Journey” at The Herbert Gallery

It was only just over a week and a half ago, pre UK Lockdown we got along to visit ‘Quinn: A Journey’ at The Herbert – an exhibition by award winning photographer Lottie Davis. On viewing this we were oblivious to how the following 10 days were to unfold. Looking back through the pictures we took during our visit, the exhibition feels even more moving and poignant than ever.

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‘Quinn’ takes you on an immersive journey through a series of moving image works, photography, audio/visual pieces plus an insight into this fictional character’s life through an installation of his living space, thoughts and personal belongings.

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As we meandered around the large-scale screens we joined him on his lonely journey across deserted British landscapes from South West England to Northern Scotland. The setting of his story is post-war Britain, responding to the trauma that people experienced – was this a worrying premonition of what’s to come?

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Even though his story is fictional, the work responds to the real-world experiences of trauma in the early 20th century and now. The works reflect on grief, isolation, loss and ironically the human search for meaning and the hunt for salvation by stripping back to our natural world and environment.

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Beautifully curated by Dr Rachel Marsden, and produced by Elizabeth Wewiora and Charlie Booth, we hope that if the current crisis blows over, we may get to view this again. Next time it will be with a whole new set of eyes, and greater appreciation for the harrowing themes that it explores.

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Our Q&A with Coventry Biennial

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#ArtChatCov is our monthly artist networking Twitter Chat where you can find out news and updates from Coventry’s artists and visual arts scene.

On Wednesday 25th September we ran a Coventry Biennial special #ArtChatCov featuring a live Q&A with the team behind the Biennial week ahead of it’s opening.

If you missed it on Twitter, here’s a quick recap on what we chatted about on the night…

What inspired the theme “The Twin” for this year’s #CovBiennial?

Coventry now has 26 twinned cities across the world. The first being Volgograd. This year marks 75 years since the historic bond of friendship was formed.

What better way to pay tribute to this!

We think so! There are so many cities that might take some people by surprise. Like… Kingston Jamaica.

It’s also worth remembering the quote by Bifo from our printed programmes about extinction and immortality. The Twin the double and feedback loops define our age, this feels urgent for a Social Biennial.

How did you go about selecting the artists you have chosen to exhibit at this year’s event?

The selection of artists for Coventry Biennial has been rooted in our curatorial research for the past 2 years. Lots of visits to studios, galleries and festivals – we see as much work as we can and then work out what makes sense together and in relation to the theme.

Must have been a busy two years then. How many artists are exhibiting in total?

More than 100 artists. Certainly an increase from 2017!

Where can people go to view the programme for this year’s event?

You can visit http://coventrybiennial.com for the full listings or printed biennial brochures are available now around the West Midlands and online at: http://bit.ly/2019BiennialBrochure

Lots to see and do! Including workshops, talks and screenings. There’s even Artist-led-yoga! All of the exhibitions are free to attend and many other events are, pay what you can.

Which Coventry venues will the Biennial be running across?

All of our venues can be viewed via http://coventrybiennial.com/venues/ BUT you’ll get to explore art galleries, artist’s studios, cafes, modernist buildings and medieval spaces. There are lots of places to explore this year. 21 in fact!

Could you recommend a starting point for people coming into #Coventry to view the exhibitions of the Biennial?

The two best starting points would either be The Row (an amazing ex-NHS building in the city centre) and The Herbert. These are our two biggest exhibitions. We’d fully recommend exploring the smaller spaces too. Weavers House is stunning!

Lovely to hear that historic venues such as Weavers House are part of the Coventry Biennial.

Yes, it feels really exciting to be working in some of Coventry’s historic spaces. Older building and very contemporary artistic practices seem to really work together and can provide something genuinely unexpected.

Are the opening events on 4th October open to anyone to attend? If so, do you need to purchase tickets?

No need to purchase, but you do need to register. Everybody is welcome. Some events have limited space just book in advance. The website is listed by date, so you have a handy guide of what’s on for the day.

Well thanks for joining us for #ArtChatCov this evening. We can’t wait till the opening night!

Thanks for having us #ArtChatCov. Please keep your eyes on our Social Media pages (@CovBiennial) for behind the scenes glimpses of the Biennial.

We’ll see you for the launch!

 

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Artist Spotlight: Ryan Hart

This year we’ve been seeing his work popping up in exhibitions all across the city, so we’ve tracked down Coventry-based artist Ryan Hart to find out more about the person behind the striking work we’ve viewed so far. Ryan is about to embark on his second year as a BA Fine Art student at Coventry University and has exhibited 8 times already this year. We’re excited to see what’s next to come!

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We’ve seen you’ve been having a busy year. Where have you exhibited so far in 2019?

It was very busy towards the start of the year but I’ve been giving more time to reading and working lately. I exhibited at Coventry Cathedral for refugee week, St Mary’s guildhall for Women’s week, the Coventry University Drawing Prize, The level 1 Coventry Uni show, Coventry Cathedral for Open Projections, The 2tone Village for my joint show with Japhet Dinganga, St Mary’s guildhall again and Friargate house.

Now that you are entering your second year as a BA Fine Art student, how has your experience been so far at Coventry University?

Uni has been amazing. It’s really helped to refine my work and build my knowledge base and interest in contemporary art. I’ve had some super interesting conversations with my tutors who have pushed me to think more about the details of my work and why I’m making it. Their encouragement has also been a huge part of my growth as an artist and being given Firsts in every module was also really encouraging. It’s exciting to be part of a community of artists all growing together and engaging with these conversations concerning the wider art world and society, it’s both symbiotic and challenging which is always good.

When did you first develop your passion for art?

From as far back as I can remember I was always interested in some form of art, mainly drawing. I’ve come to realise that I really did internalise the encouragement that I received from peers and family, I adopted the label of an ‘artist’ from a young age despite the lack of clarity regarding the meaning and function of an artist, which I still don’t know to this day. I see art as something that flows out from someone in certain circumstances, when certain triggers like reading, seeing, feeling etc result in an internal need for the work to come out. So I feel like it’s always been flowing from me in some way, causing an interest in artists, writers and musicians that speak words or sentences of the same internal language as myself.

How would you describe the work that you create?

I’d say that my work is contemplative and inviting. It offers aesthetic and auditory comfort to the viewer then confronts them with questions that are often avoided. It’s work that is intended to be felt but not always understood, a poetic discussion. It dances in liminal spaces and calls for the engagement of both the intellect and the emotion of those experiencing the work. I’ve never stuck with one medium but have always spoken the same visual/conceptual language through the medium which can speak it the loudest, the best communicator. Most commonly painting, drawing, video and sound.

 

 

What themes do you explore through your work?

I explore themes of obscurity and its effect on thought, contemplation as an effect of obscurity (or vice versa), race politics and POC experience, observations of everyday life, the human condition, familiarity and unfamiliarity, liminal spaces and the conditions which lead to existential questions. These themes are always in conversation with each other throughout my work.

What process do you go through when creating a new piece of work?

It always starts with a lot of messy note taking and reading. I don’t draw as much as I should but when I do it’s always very useful for preliminary drafts and ideas. Immersion in the work is always my best approach so I try not to think about things too much. I make the work then ask questions after as I begin to connect the dots between what I’ve been reading/seeing/thinking and the work that I make. It’s like a form of introspection.

What other artists are you inspired by?

In the world of contemporary Art I’ve been inspired by the work of Anri Sala, Hurvin Anderson, Francis Alys, Michal Rovner, John Akomfrah and Hreinn Fridfinnsson. I recently saw a Fridfinnsson show in Geneva, which really expanded my thinking in relation to the possibilities of Art, he’s an amazing conceptual storyteller. Picasso’s rose period work and the Bauhaus movement has also peaked my interest recently. The Coventry Artist Jack Foster has inspired me a lot in the past couple of years. He changed the way I view painting and art making in general. Really enigmatic work that you kind of get lost in, it’s always been work that has fascinated me for a reason that I don’t yet know.

Have you got any more exhibitions planned this year?

I’m having another group show with some Birmingham artists which should be really cool, their work is all very intriguing. I think it’s in October sometime but will keep updates on my Facebook (Ryan Hart). I also have a collaborative commission with my friend Japhet which will be displayed at a festival later this year. Other than those I’ll probably chill but I can hardly refuse commissions and exhibition opportunities so I’ll see what happens.

 Where can people go to find out more about you?

Facebook: Ryan Hart

Website: Link to be released on Facebook

Email: ryanclhart98@gmail.com

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Imagineer’s Bridge – a new outdoor experience coming soon to Coventry!

The team at Coventry-based production company Imagineer have given us a sneak peek into their exciting project ‘Bridge’ which will be coming to Broadgate in Coventry on 26th – 28th September.

Check out what’s in store…

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(Image credit – Tara Rutledge)

Bridge is an ambitious new outdoor experience produced by Coventry-based Imagineer Productions and created by artistic director Orit Azaz in collaboration with a creative team that includes choreographer Corey Baker, designer Dan Potra, writer Nick Walker, composer Peter Reynolds and circus director Paul Evans.

A beautiful bridge appears in the centre of Coventry, Grantham and Worcester, with a gap where the keystone would be. For three days, it is host to pop-up events and happenings that bring people together in new and playful ways including a free immersive headphones experience which offers people an insight into the meaning of the divided bridge.

On the Saturday evening, the bridge becomes the setting for an extraordinary and memorable outdoor performance. Gravity-defying circus acrobatics, dance, comedy, theatre and live music, inspired by local people’s stories, create a thrilling and moving montage of the courage, compassion, imagination and humour needed to bridge a divide.

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(Image credit – Andrew Moore)

Bridge is rooted in each community in which it is based. Hundreds of local people will make their own bridges and share experiences of bridge-building, in all senses. Using a specially made kit, inspired by Leonardo da Vinci’s design for a self-supporting bridge, people who wouldn’t normally meet will come together to build a bridge in public spaces in their neighbourhood.

Jane Hytch, Chief Executive Imagineer said: “Bridge takes its inspiration from many different sources, from engineers and artists to people who are bridging social, spiritual and political divides. It is hugely exciting to see the project taking shape with such accomplished engineers, artists, performers and communities.

“At Imagineer we are interested in producing new and extraordinary outdoor work through creative collaborations in order to transform spaces and most importantly for us to build human connections where you might least expect them. Bridge will certainly deliver this as well as creating some unforgettable experiences along the way both for those involved and those who experience Bridge in Grantham, Coventry and Worcester.”

At the centre of the project is a surprising, beautiful and (in engineering terms) almost impossible, broken bridge structure. Sydney based designer Dan Potra (Gold Coast Commonwealth Games 2018 Opening Ceremony, City of Unexpected 2017) worked alongside structural engineer Neal Fletcher, circus specialist Tarn Aitken, engineers from ARUP and a skilled team of theatrical technicians and fabricators to create a workable design for the bridge.

Imagineer - Bridge. #ImagineBridge. Photo Credit Andrew Moore (1)

(Image credit – Andrew Moore)

The size, scale and specialist requirements of the bridge has resulted in Imagineer creating a pop-up Creation Space – the likes of which did not previously exist in the Midlands – to enable the development of the Bridge performance, which includes high skill aerial and acrobatic circus performed at a height of up to 12 metres. Imagineer’s pop up creation space, with training facilities in a range of unusual circus disciplines including Chinese pole and Cradle, allows the international cast of 9 circus, dance and physical theatre performers and 3 musicians to rehearse and train whatever the weather.

Orit Azaz, Artistic Director for Bridge said: “Bridge has been imagined by artists; created by designers and engineers and inspired by people’s stories, it really is a project for our time and is already bringing people together in unexpected and joyful ways. Bridge is about the gap between two sides – the bit that is broken or unfinished – and the effort, good humour, courage and imagination of people needed to connect across the gap.

“In order to realise the project, Imagineer have created an unprecedented environment for the creation of the final bridge performance. Bringing together a world-class team, Imagineer’s pop-up creation space is a fantastic achievement. This is hugely exciting, not just for the development of our project but Coventry as a City of Culture and the UK outdoor arts sector as a whole.”

Councillor Matthew Lee, the Leader of South Kesteven District Council, said: “Working in partnership with Imagineer has provided a unique opportunity for local creative artists to develop their skills and for community groups across Grantham, and the wider district, to be part of a wonderful Outdoor Arts experience.

“Bridge will add further lustre to South Kesteven’s already celebrated outdoor arts offer and is not to be missed.”

Chenine Bhathena, Creative Director at Coventry City of Culture Trust said: “Coventry is a city known for building connections across communities and bridging global divides. This project from Imagineer will be an opportunity for people across the city to come together, share their stories and experience a brilliant new work by this nationally renowned company. We are delighted to be supporting this project. Bridge will bring people together, demonstrate the innovation that exists in the city and throw a spotlight onto the great creativity of artists based in Coventry.”

Further information on Imagineer’s Bridge can be found at www.imaginebridge.co.uk

 

Imagineer - Bridge photographer credit Andrew Moore (1)

(Image credit – Andrew Moore)

Artist Spotlight: Jack Foster

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Coventry artist Jack Foster has recently returned from a month-long residency in Dresden, Germany as part of the Coventry-Dresden Arts Exchange. This artist-led grassroots initiative was set up by Coventry-based artist John Yeadon back in 2012 to develop dialogue and establish collaborative partnerships between artists from both cities.

We visited Jack’s current solo show “Dresden Paintings” at Classroom Gallery, and have interviewed him to find out more about his stay in Dresden, and this wonderful collection of paintings produced during his residency.

How did you enjoy your stay in Dresden?

I went to Dresden without knowing how I’d respond to seclusion of various kinds- spatial and societal, for the most part. I spoke some German but not enough to hold a conversation worth having. A month is a long time to run an experiment like that on yourself but I learned a lot.

My hosts, Anne and Christian Manss, could not have been more welcoming. They kept me alive for a month whilst I got the painting done.

Dresden was beautiful but extremely cold at the time (February) so I lived between my guest room at and my studio, which I shared with Christian and Anne. I met some great people in Dresden and the experience was invaluable.

Before travelling to Dresden, did you set any objectives, that you wished to achieve through your residency?

I hadn’t had too much time or space to paint in the months leading up to the residency but I had a few sketchbooks filled with ideas. My main objective was to see where I was as a painter. My work tends to tread a line between figurative representation and painterly abstraction and I go back and forth between the two.

Previous to Dresden, I addressed painting in a slightly more playful way, I wasn’t painting with any serious technicality or concern for colour theory. The work that I made was largely based on background figures and drapery in old masters paintings so I wanted to re-learn how to paint, to a degree.

My palette was stripped back to four or five colours (as opposed to my bags of hundreds of tubes that I usually work with), this forced be to get the most out of those colours and figure out new ways to use them. The decision to limit myself in this way also negated most of the decision paralysis when it came to mixing up colours due to the fact that I was mostly working in tone.

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What projects did you work on during your stay?

The sketches that I compiled previous to the residency were of draped fabrics, background figures and areas of light and shade- all lifted from old masters paintings, drawn and re-drawn out of context until they became their own image.

These were my starting point and I wrestled with them for a month.

‘Economy of mark’ is a phrase that my friend Mircea Taleaga used when he came to give a guest lecture about his work at Coventry university where I teach. The phrase, as far as I can see, originated with him but I’ve adopted it as a really useful way of talking about the amount of brush marks used to suggest form.

In a lot of classical portraiture, the faces could be said to have a low economy of mark (lots of marks to create the forms) whereas the drapery, background figures and even the sitter’s hands often had quite a high economy of mark (fewer marks to create the form, often tonal sketches).

I am interested in using the spectrum of this economy in different ways. Looking at a painting in this way works like a visual map of time spent in various places, it’s a sort of document of attention.

How do you feel that your time in Dresden benefited your creative practice?

It’s rare to get so much time to think about painting.

I’m able to do things with paint that I simply couldn’t do before, the time spent with just a few colours has been almost as important as the years spent with my collection of hundreds of colours.

What themes do your paintings explore?

Previous work has been about pattern seeking and superstition, In life, literature and In painting. I’ve painted a lot of Skinner Boxes- animal boxes from BF skinner’s famous experiments. I show these boxes alongside some paintings of drapery with suggested figuration.

I like to take things out of images when they should be there and put things In when they shouldn’t be.

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Draped fabric appears in many of the paintings in your solo show. Tell us a little more about this.

The draped fabrics started to come into my work as a bit of a joke, I painted a few which looked like a kid’s terrible ghost costume or something but the paintings looked more serious. There was no foot coming from underneath the sheet and the proportions weren’t human so they were just these draped forms, moving without an author.

They were also sort of about the way people approach semi-abstraction when looking at paintings, there’s almost a frustration for the image to be fully explicable.

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What’s next for you now as an artist?

I’m making more sketches and I’ll figure out what they are later when I try to paint them. After that I’ll try to show them somewhere.

Where can people go to find out more about your work?

For now my Instagram is the best place @jack_foster_artist

 

Jack’s solo show “Dresden Paintings” is currently on display at Classroom Gallery, open Tuesdays and Thursdays 11 – 4pm, or viewing by appointment, until the end of April 2018.

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This week’s exhibition round-up

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So it’s been another busy week for art lovers in Coventry! We managed to get along to three private viewings:

Thursday evening saw the opening of “Visual Stream” by Jeff Dellow at the Lanchester Gallery, and was wonderfully curated by Matthew Macaulay, Director of Class Room, Coventry. A vibrant collection of abstract paintings, layering geometric shapes with brash criss-crossing patterns. Dellow’s paintings feature contrasting colours and forms, interwoven and broken up through more subtle and delicately placed shapes and layers – lightly exposing the harsher patterns underneath. We managed to get hold of a copy of the exhibition brochure, which features a great write-up of Dellow’s work and Matthew’s enlightening interview with the artist.

The exhibition will continue to run Monday – Friday, 11am – 4:30pm until the 2nd of Feb. Be sure to check this out!

 

Friday evening we got along to the opening of Warwickshire based artist Tammy Woodrow’s exhibition of her latest sculptural work; “Concatenation: interconnected things at City Arcadia Gallery. A collection of miniature sculptures, which appear reflective of the constructivist movement. On the other hand, there is an exploration into the idea of the way in which everything in the universe in interconnected in some way. Found fishing floats used in her sculptures could be symbolic of rippling water – a comparison of the “butterfly effect” and “string theory”. The way in which they are presented in the gallery space is as if each sculpture is floating in a white universe.

Throughout the duration of the exhibition, Tammy will be creating a series of drawings inspired by the sculptures and handing them out for free to the public.

The exhibition will run every day 10am-4pm until Thursday 18th Jan, when she will be holding an exclusive experimental sculpture workshop – see her website for more details:

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After visiting the opening of Tammy’s exhibition we then headed over to the CET Building for the opening of “Prelude” a mid-year showcase of the 3rd year Fine Art Students at Coventry University. The room was packed and saw over 150 people attending the Private View – a great turn out for the students. An impressive collection of artwork spanning from both figurative and abstract painting, photography, digital imagery, plus some thought-provoking installation pieces. Again, the level of talent this year is really high. This will be open until Tuesday 16th January. We’re looking forward to seeing the final degree show now this summer!

Artist Spotlight: Alan Van Wijgerden

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Renowned local photographer Alan Van Wijgerden has been capturing images of the Coventry for decades. His vast collection of hundreds of thousands of images, tell stories of the history of the city from over 40 years.

He is currently exhibiting a collection of work titled “Fun Factory” at Class Room Gallery (open until 14th Jan 2018). This captivating selection of images are a documentation of the lives of Fine Art students in Coventry in the 80s. He captured protests, gritty student accommodation, music gigs plus a record of work at the degree show.

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We’ve chatted to Alan to find out a little bit more about his photography. Here is what he had to say:

When did you first get into photography?

I first got into photography when I was about 12 with a brownie type camera cutting people heads off which I still hate now.

What type of photographer would you describe yourself as?

Primarily a documentary photographer, although I have done a lot of architectural photography.

We were fascinated by your “Fun Factory” exhibition at Class Room GalleryWhat was it about the lives of the Fine Art students in the 80s that drew your interest in?

I first became interested in Fine Art when I met students in the art-fac canteen then the best cafe in the poly. It was interesting and exciting, very active politically.

What other subjects and themes has your photography explored over the years?

Mainly architectural and demonstrations.

What and who do you draw inspiration from?

I draw most inspiration I would say from the Magnum photographers and Walker Evans.

Have you got any future projects in the pipeline?

Yes there’s several photo projects in the offing and also several videos.

Where can people follow you to find out more?

YouTube – https://www.youtube.com/user/wijgerden

Flickr – https://www.flickr.com/photos/134520525@N07/

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Coventry Biennial of Contemporary Art #TheFuture

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As the inaugural Coventry Biennial of Contemporary Art draws to a close, we have reflected on the excitement that such an ambitious, large-scale visual arts event brought to the city. The festival’s vast programme consisted of 13 exhibitions and over 60 events, featuring a diverse selection of local, national and international artists. The Biennial launch night alone saw over 1,000 attendees! One thing is for certain – the event sure drew in the crowds.

“The Future” was the key theme running through the festival, and made title for the Biennial’s central exhibition at the former Coventry Evening Telegraph building. What an incredible and fitting venue this made. This vast maze holds abandoned offices, eerie-dimly-lit corridors, and huge industrial print spaces, still hosting machinery from the now out-dated print industry. It provided such an interesting juxtaposition of the old vs. the new, where the now redundant, media-production was replaced by so many contemporary pieces of artwork, reacting to “The Future” theme, and created in response to the building itself.

You were free to roam the whole building, and experience each piece of work in it’s setting, a vast majority of which were site-specific pieces. In experiencing the sheer scale of such an immense showcase, we soon began to understand the hard work and vision that the Director Ryan Hughes, and his team, had put into curating such a vast and diverse exhibition.

Mira Calix’s installation dominated the former press hall, an incredible audio/visual immersive experience “By being in two places at once”. Contrasting sounds echoed through the hall, while a twisting network of wires leading to different screens represented the idea of the way in which we occupy both our physical and non-physical environments.

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Martin Green’s installation “How do I know if I’m addicted”, and live-curation the following week, presented a fascinating project created from years of collecting categorised found objects. He displayed a huge array of double-sided paintings, each positioned like miniature sculptures, balanced upon found laughing gas canisters. They formed a series organised around the words “acquiesce” and “dissent” – reflecting the many “distractions” in which he says he is defined by.

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Artist collaboration Georgiou/Tolley’s “Magician Walks into the Laboratory” delves back into the cold war era, a time of global anxiety. This haunting, engaging audio/visual installation was created using CIA transcripts from ‘remote viewing’ sessions, and was voiced by the famous actor, Jack Klaff, acting as the fictional CIA agent. The project reflected issues surrounding mass surveillance, data gathering, biased media and even pseudo time-travel. From speaking to the artists prior to the event, we also felt gained an insight into concerns for the future, as technology continues developing at it’s alarming rate. Some really mind-blowing issues were raised.

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There was a degree of sardonic humour in some of the work, including Daniel Salisbury’s “Zen Garden Litter Tray”, incorporating a Chinese “Lucky Cat” statue amongst a sand-tray of discarded human litter – fag-butts, empty cans and food packaging.

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Joe Fletchor Orr’s neon light “Turnt Down”…

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and Kurt Hickson’s “Shit Neon”.

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Local photographer Natalie Seymour (who we have interviewed) exhibited a series of photographic collages aiming to capture the essence of the Coventry Telegraph building prior to its change of use and modernisation.

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Birmingham artist Paul Newman displayed a series of paintings in which he incorporated imagined, and sometime futuristic landscapes exploring a contradictory push-pull of pictorial space and abstraction.

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Local artist John Yeadon paid homage to the oldest working digital computer in the world, with his 2017 version of his painting “WITCH” – he initially created a painting of this computer back in 1983, as a satire on modernism, a parody on “computer art”. The re-invention of this painting became a homage to the history of this mechanical national treasure, and fitted perfectly in it’s setting in the exhibition space, alongside the building’s original modular electronics.

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Other exciting site-specific installation works, which pleasingly occupied their exhibition space included:

This untitled mixed media installation by James Lomax,

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Katie Holden’s installation created with concrete and found metal supports,

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and Matt Gale’s “Fatball” piece which trickled out to it surrounding outside the building and could be viewed looking through the windows.

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Thirty-five different artists exhibited in total, so we’ve barely scratched the surface here, but the team behind the Biennial have put together a great Instagram Tour looking at each piece of art on display.

Other impressive exhibitions that we visited during the Biennial included “Laws of Motion in a Cartoon Landscape” by Andy Holden at The Box, FarGo Village: An hour long lecture delivered by the artist’s avatar guided through an animated landscape populated by iconic cartoon characters. Laws of physics were studied and questioned while he investigated how retro cartoons gave us a “prophetic glimpse’ into the world in which we now live.

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In contrast to this, London-based artist, Fiona Grady had a wonderfully unique site-specific display at the Tin Music and Arts, “Light Shifts”. The work consisted of hand-cut vinyl window stickers made up from geometric shapes, replicating the grid-like window shutters found in this lovely exhibition space. Throughout the day they brighten and glow, when viewed from both the building’s interior and exterior, altering with the daylight and weather changes. The interior walls of the exhibition space map how this light is projected on the walls throughout the day.

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Re-Tale by artist collaboration Ha, was another project that took place throughout the Biennial, occupying The Glass Box gallery as it’s exhibition space. To view, it appeared stark and barren, the sorrowful sight of a showroom ready to close, with simple carrier bags lined up along the walls. The project is in fact part of a data-gathering exercise, which the people of Coventry were encouraged to take part in. We interviewed the artists prior to the Biennial to gain further insight. Read more here.

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The Class Room gallery at Holyhead Studios hosted another remarkable exhibition by the artist James Faure Walker – a renowned international artist now based in London. Since the 1980’s his work integrated computer graphics with oil paint and watercolour. Using exuberant colours, and graphically influenced abstract imagery, this provided a unique and interesting collection in this wonderful gallery space.

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The Coventry Biennial intertwined with parts of the Scratch the Surface festival, so some exhibitions were covered by both programmes, such as Wen Wu’s Literary Paintings at CCCA Fargo Village, the END//BEGIN – Dialogue at City Arcadia, and the screening of the first ever FilmZine – you can read more about these exhibitions here.

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This is just a small section of the festival’s sixty events that we thoroughly enjoyed attending. There were parties, performances, tours, workshops, lectures, artist supermarkets, yoga, plus a host of family workshops inspired by the artwork of some the Biennial’s artists.

Before we wind up we’d like to say a massive well done to Director Ryan Hughes and his team. Thank you to all involved in executing an event of such magnitude – you drew in crowds, not just locally, but from across the country. This is just what was needed for a city bidding to be the City of Culture 2021, and will keep us talking for weeks to come.

Artist Spotlight: Talking Birds

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Talking Birds is a collaboration of local artists based in Coventry, whose most recent project took place at the Coventry Biennial of Contemporary Art. We interviewed Janet Vaughan, Co-Artistic Director to find out more about them and what they do.

Who are Talking Birds?

Talking Birds is a company of artists based in Coventry, with a 25 year practice exploring the complex relationships between people and place. The company is well known for its site-specific Theatre of Place; its interactive works for festivals (which includes a giant aluminium whale-shaped theatre on wheels); its pioneering mobile captioning tool the Difference Engine; and its smaller sociable events which bring people together for unexpected conversations in unusual places – most recently with pop up social space. The Cart, which has been touring the city inviting people to sit down with a cuppa and have a conversation about what culture is or c/should be.

What type of performance art do you do?

There isn’t really a typical Talking Birds project – and although we are a theatre company, our work doesn’t always involve performance. We tend to work with people and place to find the right form for the ideas and spaces we are exploring. We want to find a way to bring people together to look afresh at a familiar place – to give them a reason to talk to each other, and we want it to be enjoyable but also gently provocative. Because the company is led by a designer and a composer, the way things look and sound is really important.

So far this year we have made performance guided tours during residencies at the Warwick Market Hall Museum and the Albany Theatre in Coventry; taken The Cart up into the Ikea restaurant to sketch the city skyline and compose haikus with diners; made an outdoor telling of the story of Hannah Snell who dressed as a man to join the army in the 1740s and fought fiercely, undetected, for 5 years; and toured a piece about prisons and mental health in the 1850s, which we made in partnership with researchers and historians from the Centres for the History of Medicine in England and Ireland.

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Previous work includes:

– The Virtual Fringe, an imaginary festival for Coventry designed to make people think about how art and cultural events could animate the city;

– site-specific pieces or tours in unused or about-to-be-knocked-down buildings such as Whitefriars Monastery, the Bishop Street sorting office and the Coventry & Warwickshire hospital;

– the FarGo Space Programme – a series of curated residencies for Coventry artists in an empty space at FarGo prior to the redevelopment;

– participatory web artworks exploring online spaces and behaviours, such as Helloland and Web Demographic;

– We Love You City at the Belgrade Theatre, telling many city stories of the day Coventry City won the FA Cup.

– Market Forces residency on a stall at Coventry Market collecting radios and stories to make a city symphony for the Radio Orchestra.

Talking Birds, Backstage at the Albany

What was your project at the Coventry Biennial of Contemporary Art?

UnFound was one of our smaller sociable events bringing people together for unexpected conversations in unusual places. Billed as a secret event for artists and creative thinkers and created especially for the inaugural Coventry Biennial of Contemporary Art, it happened in a secret location in central Coventry, and involved intrigue, food, conversation and some consideration of the future.

What future projects have Talking Birds got lined up?

There’s an instalment of our Festival of Ideas series of panel discussions coming up in November – this one exploring art, culture and climate change; then next year we’re making a handful of guided tours of the city which allow people to see Coventry through the eyes of someone else and walk in their footsteps. We’ll also be re-making Capsule, which is an immersive experience for an audience of six at a time – with a twist; and continuing to test our mobile captioning invention The Difference Engine.

Where can people follow you for more info?

w: http://www.talkingbirds.co.uk

Twitter: @birdmail

Instagram: @birdmail

Facebook: TalkingBirds

Godiva Festival 2016