Art Gene, Bath Street, Barrow-in-Furness,
Cumbria, LA14 5TY England, UK
In 2004 we decided to try and make our own contribution to a widely identified need to showcase and raise the profile of artists across the North West of England and established the first NW Open Prize in 2005.
In 2004 we decided to try and make our own contribution to a widely indentified need to showcase and raise the profile of artists across the North West of England and established the first NW Open Prize in 2005. Building on the success of the first Open Prize Exhibition we extended the remit to include artists from the North East and invited Paul Moss and Miles Thurlow of Workplace Gallery, Newcastle to curate the Art Gene Open Prize 2007.
Shortly after the exhibition opened, nominations for the first Northern Art Prize dubbed “the Turner Prize of the North“, which had some broadly similar aims as our own, announced it’s nominations. We were excited to find that nine of the twenty four nominated artists had recently exhibited or undertaken residencies at Art Gene.
Carole Romaya, Rushton & Tyman, Art Gene’s artist/founders Stuart Bastik and Maddi Nicholson were nominated along with Leo Fitzmaurice, Matthew Houlding, and Wolfgang Weileder; whilst exhibiting in the Art Gene Open Prize 2007 with Eric Bainbridge who was later shortlisted for this prestigious new award.
Carole Romaya, Emma Rushton and Derek Tyman were shortlisted for Art Gene’s first Open Art Prize in 2005 won by Ben Cove. Leo Fitzmaurice was shortlisted for the Northern Art Prize, 2011.
As Art Gene’s research remit continued to evolve there was another important aspect to these survey shows. Since Art Gene’s inception in 2002 we had been talking about the value of artists in society and we felt an increasing need to demonstrate that value through our programme and projects. We needed to find artists who could make significant contributions to our research remit and the collaborative projects which form the core of Art Gene’s ongoing practice. We needed to create opportunities which moved through the glass ceiling, beyond rhetoric and faith in ‘process’ and artistic practice – ones where readiness was afforded through opportunities to demonstrate the role artists can play in Re-Visoning the social natural and built environment.
In this sense the residencies awarded to winners are not so much a prize as a call to arms.
Guest curated by Paul Moss & Miles Thurlow (co – founders and directors of Workplace Gallery in Newcastle)
Paul Moss & Miles Thurlow (artists & curators), Emiko Kato (Japan) Curator-in-Residence 2007, Stuart Bastik & Maddi Nicholson (artists & founders Art Gene)
The Art Gene Open Prize 2007 includes works by artists born, living, working or who have studied in the North East and North West Regions as defined by Arts Council England. The exhibition investigates a recent tendency towards the use of architecture, urbanism and the social and built environment as a subject and means for art.
The great failings of post war internationalist modernity evident in much of our contemporary landscape have long since become a territory for artists. A once hubristic and arrogant social ideology now imbued with pathos and even humility has taken on a much more human characteristic.
In this exhibition civic bureaucracy, architectural models, precarious sculptural interventions, and cut and paste video clips of domestic horror film interiors all become proxy for states of being created by the complex alienating forces of mass global consumer society. The publicity image for the exhibition includes the words “Beacon of Hope” (taken from a work by Manchester based UHC collective) asserting an escape from the oppressive structures of our surroundings via a tactic of subterfuge disguise and camouflage, adopting the coded and distanced aesthetics of our surrounding cultural topography in order to imbue it with a new hope…
Barrow-in-Furness is a town undergoing one of the biggest regeneration projects in the UK, this exhibition is a timely showcase, one which will result in opportunities for artists to develop an ongoing association with Art Gene, in the realisation of future focused and experimental work in Barrow and elsewhere around the world.
Art Gene is an independent (inter)national artists’ research facility. Barrow is Art Gene’s primary ‘test bed’ environment in an ongoing exploration of the engagement of artists in re-visioning the social, natural and built environment’
Eric Bainbridge has been a prominent British Sculptor for over two decades. He is best known for his large-scale fur sculptures that transform household fixtures and fittings such as air fresheners and doorbell chimes into giant monuments to the domestic. In Untitled, Bainbridge deconstructs a Melamine Kitchen unit (including chip fat) and reconstructs it as a simple but instantly more complete architectural form.
Darren Banks works across genres and mediums. Using a cut and paste system he creates sculptures, drawings, installations, and films that both borrow and re-work found material and look again at how it is possible to push the boundaries of the information around us. In his video Interiors, he has collaged scenes from famous horror movies into and endless building of suspense where nobody is present.
Sally Barker introduces us to existing spaces in all kinds of landscapes and then through low-tech everyday material invites us to fantasise about how buildings might grow if we left them to it. Her strange additions borrow from the landmark architects of recent times such as Norman Foster and Frank Gehry asking a question about what they might do when presented with a more everyday environment.
Cath Campbell’s drawings and architectural models take modernism as a point of departure. Her architectures are constructed either from memory, imagination, or from an encounter with plans of places that are closed off and inaccessible. The works occupy a space both poignantly romantic and pointlessly throwaway representing secret and intimate spaces, into which we may pass through but never question.
Joe Clark’s photographic works take the spaces bordering urban dwellings and industry as their subject. Taken at night on long exposure with a large format camera, Clark spends his time walking away from cities, getting lost in his explorations of places foreign and unknown to him and often returning empty handed. Once photographed Clark’s work is then subjected to a lengthy, filmic, post-production. Perspective and symmetry are subtly altered so the viewer is confronted with a scene, dramatically lit, yet without event. These are works that occupy and explore the memories experienced primarily through the dramatic mode of cinema and film rather than reality.
David Raymond Conroy’s bookshelf delicately balanced in the corner of the room held up with a prop. The books on it carry weight – both literally and metaphorically. Set up ready to fall this most basic of architectures affirms and undermines Post – Minimal works such as Richard Serra’s One Tonne Prop. If a book where to be removed chaos would ensue.
Charlotte Dawson’s paintings are contemplative studies of scale and light. The works presented here take two perspectives on architecture one from a great distance rendering a huge Le Corbusier style architecture to a modernist grid skewed into perspective; revealing the beauty of its formal structure and the light that falls on it as it sits in the landscape. The other painting is an extreme close up of the wall next to an interior window, the cold white of the wall blends in a steady gradient with the shadow from the surrounding space revealing a core concern in these paintings of how light falls on the spaces and buildings surrounding us.
Leo Fitzmaurice’s work is part of an ongoing research into consumerism, removal and abstraction. By cutting away all text from common packaging materials such as toothpaste or cigarette packets Fitzmaurice liberates their design from the consumer driven mechanisms of mass marketing and moves them towards high abstraction and colour compositions reminiscent of Art Historical movements such as Suprematism or Constructivism. Through the placing of objects in grid formation or configured as fleets, Fitzmaurice plays with the convention of the high formalism of the Modernist grid and the more playful pictorial depiction of car parks or rows of buildings.
John Hall constructs stadium like sculptures from kitchen dish drainers, filing in-trays and other domestic and office equipment. Then taken as photographs from an aerial view, the works are uncanny representations of Football Stadiums, reminiscent of the helicopter view of match night broadcasts. These works, reproduced as small images for this exhibition, have a double take effect on the viewer that leads one back to the simple object from which the work began.
Matthew Houlding’s fantasy architectures are built from salvaged domestic materials such as cardboard tubes, plastic bottles and melamine sheet. Brightly coloured and reminiscent of TV series such as Thunderbirds or Blue Peter, Houlding’s work posits an ideal, a place where we would like to be.
By adopting the mode of fantasy and escapism Houlding’s work immediately implies the place from which one is escaping. In this way Houldings work begins to talk meaningfully about reality and the banal and ordinary situations from which we must daydream, and the cultural conditioning that influences the forms with which we construct our ideals.
Joe Hillier’s Cloud is constructed from laser cut steel plate laminated together to form a solid object in the form of a cloud. Hillier’s object is at odds with its subject observing the often-contradictory nature of form and substance. The seemingly impenetrable citadels of high-stacked cumulus clouds are in contrast with their inherent ethereality of water vapour. Hillier heightens this paradox by constructing his cloud from steel plate exploring the nature of matter and its resistance to our imaginings and conversely our ability to transform any object into an image of reality.
Rachel Lancaster’s paintings take their subject from the world of Film and TV. She extracts cinematic moments from movies through the use of digital photography often taken directly from the screen, which are then taken by Lancaster and then copied into oil on canvas paintings. The images that Lancaster gravitates to are the commonplace unimportant moments of movies, a blurred image of a corridor from Teenwolf or a car bonnet from The Sopranos. The resulting paintings elevate the ordinary towards poignancy, whilst interrogating the cult status of the image, testing whether it holds up when reduced to its most insignificant and questioning our desire to connect the work with a bigger story.
Camilla Lyon plays with matter and history in this work: a concrete model of a modernist diving board. Placed high in gallery space the work plays humorously with its former function and shifts between status of sculptural notions monument and nonument.
Paul Merrick’s paintings and sculptures are notable for his ongoing investigation of surface and substance through repeat procedure. In previous works the impasto mark is sanded back to an absolute flatness at odds with its own image. Built from sheets of aluminum scavenged from junkyards and riveted together, Merrick’s recent sculpture has taken a darker turn. IKEA tables are sawn into jagged shapes then screwed back together turning a useful household object into an investigation into form and colour, form and function.
Steve Messam’s artwork consists of documentation of a conctrete military pill box sited in an idyllic Cumbrian landscape. Around the architecture is a bubble of inflated polythene. At odds with the military use of the structure inside, the thin membrane of the surrounding bubble questions what is being protected from what? Though ironic the work finds a deeper meaning in its ecological and political context, all to the indifference of the surrounding sheep.
Like many of Thurlow’s works, Mitt is as much about process as it is product. A complex procedure of careful selection and repositioning. His work asks pertinent questions of our cultural establishments and their relationship to artists.
William Titley’s Glenridding Hybrid Landscape #1 is a photographic scene mounted on steel with magnetic protagonists and props on its surface. In a subversively understated fashion the artist invites us to reorganise the work creating chaos from the placement, displacement, and reconfiguration of objects and individuals that in some ways reflects a truth about the absurdities of the situations we encounter daily.
UHC Collective make politically engaged work that is heavily influenced by design. Characteristic of their practice is the studied critique offered in The Thin Veneer of Democracy. The work charts in parquetry and drawings on an oak board-room table the ‘family tree’ of significant Manchester political figures – positing them as complicit in the undermining of democracy. Beacon of Hope is a black scaffold tower beacon, with circular mirrors and neon, laid down on its side with ironic significance, signalling a failure of the utopian ideal through utilitarianism and collective effort.
Wolfgang Weileder’s photographic series House derives from a growing list of ambitious temporary architectural projects and commissions. In each case a building is simultaneously built, turned on its axis, and removed, the resulting work being a super long exposure of images burnt through a pinhole lens onto film during the duration of the project. Through his practice Weileder challenges us to accept activity and project as photograph, and thus accept photograph as sculpture. Weileders works bleed into each other; documentary and actuality substitute one another. Interrogating architecture and the impulse to build Weileder renders buildings as object, and therefore invests them with the same values, inadequacies, and impermanence’s, revealing the sad truths intrinsic to the spaces which we inhabit.
During her curatorial residency Emiko Kato (Japan) was able to join the Art Gene Open Prize 2007 selection panel. At the seminar for the opening of the Art Gene Open Prize 2007 Emiko made a presentation featuring recent projects she has been involved in curating in Tokyo. Entitled Art and Society, her presentation focused on how art and artists can become effective catalysts for change through working from within and as part of the communities in which they live and work. Stuart Bastik also made a presentation about Art Gene’s recent projects in the social, natural and built environment.
“We are very pleased to announce UHC Collective as the winners of the 2007 Art Gene Open Prize Exhibition. Their work has made a significant contribution to the show and has added our understanding of the role of artists in the regeneration of the social and built environment. We very much look forward to working with them as they undertake their residency and beyond.”
Stuart Bastik, 2007
UHC Collective, as winners of the 2007 Art Gene Open Prize were awarded a two month research residency working collaboratively with Art Gene. The exhibition featured some of the most celebrated artists in the North of England. Although we had not previously known UHC’s work the selection panel were impressed by its directness, activism, poignant commentary and the rigor of the research which underpinned their submitted pieces. Following the prize-giving we met with the whole team a few days later.
Cumbria, LA14 5TY England, UK
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