Monday, 29 February 2016

“Culture for all”: So why is the UK government moving one of the north’s finest collections to London? By Kenn Taylor


‘There Will Be No Miracles Here’ by Turner Prize nominated artist Nathan Coley is viewed by visitors at Tate Liverpool in 2007. Image: Getty
I can acutely remember my first visit to Tate Liverpool as a child. My mum, not a natural gallery goer, was looking for somewhere free to take me on a day out.
I knew little of famous artists – but one I had heard of was Andy Warhol, and I was deeply impressed to find that an actual thing made by this famous person was in the same room as me. Later I would realise that it was probably not made by him and indeed that was the point, but still, it left an impression.
It was not until much later, when I eventually found myself working in the arts, that I realised how lucky I’d been. Living in Merseyside after Tate Liverpool opened in 1988, I had relatively easy and free access to art works of international calibre. Not every regional city has a Tate.
I thought back to this when I heard that a big chunk of the National Photography Collection – around 400,000 items, currently held in Bradford at the National Media Museum – was to be merged with the V&A museum’s Art Photography Collection and transferred to the V&A’s West London site, thus forming what would be the world’s largest collection of the art of photography.
In the longer term, the merged collection will be transferred to a new “International Photography Resource Centre” at an as yet unidentified location – though the V&A’s planned vast new site in East London must be the most likely contender.
Meanwhile, the National Media Museum, a part of the Science Museum Group, will continue to shift its focus to “STEM” – science, technology, engineering and maths – and “concentrate on inspiring future generations of scientists and engineers in the fields of light and sound, as well as demonstrating the cultural impact of these subjects”. The Bradford site may even change its name, possibly to “Science Museum North”.
There is actually a logic in merging parts of the photography collections of the Science Museum Group and the V&A. The fact that the Science Museum holds the National Collection of Photography is largely down to the snobby historical anachronism amongst our national art museums: in the past, photography wasn’t seen as “real art”.

Cultural powerhouse
The National Media Museum, Bradford. Image: DuPont Circle/Wikimedia Commons.
There is also a logic to the National Media Museum re-imagining itself. It opened in 1983 as the second National Museum outside London (the first was the National Railway Museum in York in 1975, also part of the Science Museum Group). Since then, though, the Bradford museum has been overtaken by rapid changes in culture and technology.
For most of its history the institution was the National Museum of Photography, Film and Television. But it was renamed the National Media Museum in 2006, to reflect the rise in other forms of communication and image-making, and a new internet themed gallery was instituted.
Yet even these moves have barely kept up with the speed of change. So drawing out some of the more fundamental ideas and principles beneath such technologies, and investing in new galleries around these – a £1.5m light and sound gallery will open next year – is undoubtedly a good idea.
Important questions remain though. Why do such new developments have to be at the expense of celebrating the art that is made by these technologies, which remains for many the most engaging thing about them? Also, if these collections are to be merged – and no doubt quite a great deal of capital will have to be invested in creating an International Photography Resource Centre – why does it have to be situated in London?
Why not move the V&A’s photography collection to Bradford, where land is cheaper, and the cost of living for low-paid culture sector workers easier? Or if not Bradford, why not to Sheffield or Birmingham or Newcastle, which so far lack branches of National Museums?
This move doesn’t seem to fit with the noises coming out of the government and its agencies. Those are all about shifting public cultural investment from London to the regions – something that, in terms of museums at least, began with the opening of the Science Museum’s York and Bradford branches. As culture secretary John Whittingdale recently commented: “I do think there is a danger that too much is spent in London and obviously what we want to do is demonstrate that the UK has fantastic cultural offerings right across the country and not just in London.
Of course, the V&A can point to its investment in the vast new V&A Museum of Design in Dundee as its commitment to displaying its collection of some 2.3m objects in the regions. Elsewhere, huge investment is going into the likes of Manchester’s £110m giant new arts complex “The Factory” and a £5m new South Asia gallery at Manchester Museum which will display collections from the British Museum.
At the same time as these developments, though, Bradford’s collections are moving in the opposite direction – and elsewhere, there is even worse going on. The Museum of Lancashire in Preston, the museum of an entire county, is currently threatened with closure. The Museums Association has estimated that 42 UK museums have closed in the last ten years: the vast majority of these since 2010, and in the regions.

Branch lines
Back in the day, Britain’s regional cities didn’t need London museums to open “branches”. Their industrial wealth, and the patronage and tax base that came from it, paid for museums and collections that once in many ways rivalled those held in London.
Liverpool’s Walker Art Gallery. Image: Rept0n1x/Wikimedia Commons.
The Walker Art Gallery in Liverpool, for example, has one of the finest collections of art outside of the capital. Yet its ability to continue to buy new work in the later part of the 20th century was curtailed by industrial decline. The same went for other regional museums across the country – if they could stay open at all – hence the need for branches and partnerships with national collections.
Of course, such partnerships and collaborations should be encouraged. But with such severe local authority cuts, must regional cities merely hope to borrow what London can spare? Meanwhile, with the National Media Museum itself under threat of closure as recently as 2013, can even branches be sure to have a secure future?
The problem is cultural investment in the English regions has been sporadic and inconsistent. Vast new grands projets are happening in some places, while much loved institutions are shuttered elsewhere. Some cities are experiencing a cultural boom; others are approaching cutting it off completely.
The classic argument for locating the likes of an International Photography Resource Centre in London of course is that more people will visit it. Hard to argue with that, but it’s not hard to achieve either, when a city has a population of over 8.5m and an endless supply of tourists.
The counter-argument, from Conservative Bradford councillor Simon Cooke, is that it means more to have significant cultural facilities in the regions. “You could – had you had the guts and vision – have based this new resource centre in the north, in Bradford, where they would have been loved and cherished it in a way you in London can never understand.
If the state funds culture through the taxation of the entire population and through the Lottery, which has a disproportionate number of players in the regions, then surely arts funding should be distributed in a way that ensures maximum benefit to the entire population? Even whilst accepting that a bigger city will generally always have more culture and thus deserve a fair chunk of funding, shouldn’t public funding look to support places where it is less easy to access and find other sources of funding?
No young person interested in photography or media in London will go short of places to find inspiration. In Yorkshire or elsewhere though, they might. As the only person from a family of engineers who works in the arts, I applaud the fact that the government seems finally to want to reverse decades of decline in this area – and indeed, there are many high-tech companies around Bradford who need a new generation of STEM students to be inspired.
But must only the technically inclined be inspired? Computer games, one of Britain’s biggest software sectors, needs artists as well as programmers. Or, is Bradford expected to supply the technicians and London the artists?
What Britain needs is a long-term plan of cultural investment across all of the regions.One that develops and sustains institutions that are geographically accessible to all, provides regular funding that develops and retains talent, and ensures that quality collections are shared across the whole country. Without such a plan, pet projects and grand statements from our leaders about “culture for all” will just be empty gestures.
Whether this will actually happen remains to be seen – but a good start might be locating the International Photography Resource Centre in Bradford. My gut tells me, though, that East London will likely win the day. Because in the end, London always wins.
This piece was published by City Metric, a New Statesman website, in February 2016.

Sunday, 28 February 2016

Drawings from workshopping performance ideas

Trying out costume ideas for Circus Between Worlds

Given that my original proposal induced horrid feelings of nausea for the performers, I am further developing my ideas for my performance that will be part of Circus Between Worlds in Glasgow International Festival of Visual Art in April. 

I am interested in creating sculptural forms for the performers to wear that a restrictive in some way. 

This funnel shape blocks out all peripheral vision, and impacts on the performers spatial awareness.

Thursday, 25 February 2016

MA & Other Post Graduates 2016 exhibition at the Atkinson Gallery, Somerset

My work, Strut your stuff, is currently exhibited at the Atkinson Gallery, Somerset as part of the MA & Other Post Graduates 2016 exhibition.

Proudly maintaining its ethos of promoting the next generation of artists, the Atkinson Gallery presents the annual MA & Other Post Graduates contemporary art show. Showcasing the work of students who express particularly fresh, innovative ideas, the exhibition reflects the talent and wide range of work being produced in art schools today.

The 2016 MA & Other Post Graduates show promises to be as exciting and diverse as previous years, with artists having been selected from eleven of the top art universities around the country. A celebration of contemporary art, this exhibition provides the public with a unique opportunity to see current work in painting, photography, design, printmaking and sculpture.

The exhibition runs 22 February – 19 March 2016.

For more information please visit

Sunday, 21 February 2016

Gareth Hudson - Everything was Beautiful and Nothing Hurt - work II at The Globe Gallery

Following the breathtaking first part to his trio of films titled Everything was Beautiful and Nothing Hurt,  Gareth Hudson had a hard act to follow. Part two fails to disappoint. It is visually stunning, intellectually engaging and emotionally powerful. An amazing experience.

Exchange / Kate Bajic: Lichenology at the Royal Botanic Gardens in Edinburgh

The Royal Botanic Gardens in Edinburgh currently has an interesting exhibition about lichen.  Jeweller Kate Bajic has created a range of brooches inspired by her research into lichen. A few of her sketchbooks are also included in the exhibition, offering an insight into her working process and development of ideas.


Saturday, 20 February 2016

Rhythm in Research by Rachel Duckhouse

Rachel Duckhouse is a Glasgow based artist working in a range of media including drawing and printmaking. The complex patterns and systems in nature, human behaviour and the built environment form the basis of her practice.

She makes responsive, research based work that reveals hidden patterns in specific contexts. She uses the physical processes of drawing and printmaking to investigate relationships and flows of energy within real or imagined spaces and situations.

‘Rhythm in Research’ presents screenprints, etchings, lithographs and drawings created in response to several artist residencies and self-directed research projects she’s recently undertaken in Scotland and Canada.

As artist in residence for Watershed+ in Calgary, she worked with City of Calgary water engineers to research and develop a series of drawings and prints describing the complex flows of the Bow River through city infrastructure.

As Associate Artist at Glasgow’s Gallery of Modern Art (GoMA) she worked with gallery staff to create a series of drawings based on their complex relationships to climate change, within the context of the GoMA building.

Most recently, as part of an on-going research project ‘Multiple//Parallel’, making work based on the geology and hydrology of southeast Canada.

"I'm interested in the patterns and rules that govern the universe as we understand it, from a molecular to planetary scale. I often work in series; posing a question or exploring a concept, devising a set of parameters or rules, and testing out a series of variations on the theme. The result is a set of images that work together to pull and push an idea in different ways. To make just one image would suggest a definitive answer to a question. To make several suggests there are an infinite number of possible answers."

Thursday, 18 February 2016

Erwin Wurm: Wear me out at Middelheim Museum

The open air Middelheim Museum in Antwerp features works of Austrian 
sculptor Erwin Wurm in the exhibition, ‘Wear me out’. The 20 pieces on 
display highlight consistent and interconnected topics in the artist’s work, 
such as the body, colour, and clothing: these themes are further developed 
by a new collaboration with Antwerp based fashion designer 
Walter Van Beirendonck as well as  two original projects installed at the 
location’s Braem pavilion. With a contemporary interpretation of classical 
sculptural tenets, the forms and the materials in wurm’s work yield results 
that both examine and push the boundaries of the medium, ranging from 
extremes of permanence and transience. Arranged throughout  the sculpture 
garden, the engaging works are well suited to the interactive site.

‘fat house’ side view (left) and detail (right)
image © jesse willems

‘melting house’
image © jesse willems

Using materials of bronze and polystyrene, wurm gives human-like 
qualities to non-living objects such as houses  (‘fat house’, ‘melting house’),
 boats (‘misconceivable’), and clothing (‘big sweater’). These everyday 
forms are instantly recognizable to the viewer, but striking for their 
transformation in scale and volume. walking a fine line between form 
and formlessness, Wurm also renders the human physique in works 
like ‘big gulp’or  his ‘big psycho’ series. These pieces consistently 
depict unusual postures, examining the sculptural potential of 
revealing psychological mood through body language.
‘big gulp’ (2009)
image © jesse willems

‘big psycho 10′ (left) and
‘big psycho 8′ (right)

images © jesse willems

(left) ‘big pumpkin’
(right) performative sculptures 
by erwin wurm and walter van beirendonck
images © jesse willems

Wurm’s depiction of the body is not limited to durable materials, but also 
flesh and blood. drawing in viewers with colour, Wurm collaborates with 
walter van bierendonck is in the creation of living ‘performative sculptures’, 
or five hired actors wearing oversized costumes made of ruffled tulle, 
whose texture and form explore the human body’s role in transforming 
objects. This new series extends Wurm’s ‘one minute sculptures’, which 
can exist only if an audience member participates: if sculpture  is all 
about volume and space, then anyonecan be an artwork, simply by adding 
or removing clothing and weight.

performative sculptures by erwin wurm and walter van beirendonck
image © gazet van antwerpen / jan van der perre

performative sculptures by erwin wurm and walter van beirendonck
(left) image © gazet van antwerpen / jan van der perre
(right) image © jesse willems

performative sculpture (2011) 

image © elfie semotan / wallpaper

‘knitwear ceiling’
image © studio wurm

The artist uses textiles inside the museum’s Braem pavilion as well, 
creating a gigantic ‘sweater’ by covering the ceiling in pastel purple 
knitwear. On the ground below are a completely new series of 
‘möbeln performative sculptures’, in which the artist converts 
second-hand furniture into hybrid objects that act as performance 
stages: by the artist’s instructions, someone takes on the guise of 
sculpture, around, in or on the artworks on every day of the exhibition. 

performative sculpture
image © studio wurm

performative sculpture
image © studio wurm

The possibilities of sticky notes

Following my recent blog post showing my sculptural experiment with sunflower seeds and sticky notes, a friend sent me the link to this video where sticky notes are taken to the extreme.

Tuesday, 16 February 2016

Sunflower seed sculptural macquettes - contrasting colours and surfaces

This form began as a flat slip of paper but as I applied the rows of sunflower seeds to the surface, the paper began to curl naturally.

Here I have used black sunflower seeds on one side and white sunflower seeds on the other.

I enjoy the contrast between the natural colours of the sunflower seeds and the overtly unnatural fluorescent post it notes. I also appreciate that the direction of the post it notes is at odds with the direction of the post it note