Welcome to Paradise

Welcome to Paradise

The ‘new’ Art Gene Gallery is the culmination of over five years work to achieve a more functional and inspirational space through which we can share our research and engage our visitors. This inaugural exhibition was originally concieved to show new work which responded to and celebrated the new space created in collaboration with Research Design Architects, London.

Top image:  The Weight of History is Crushing Me in My Bed, 2009, by Stuart Bastik (UK). Graphite Diamond

Welcome to Paradise

The ‘new’ Art Gene Gallery is the culmination of over five years work to achieve a more functional and inspirational space through which we can share our research and engage our visitors.

This inaugural exhibition was originally concieved to show new work which responded to and celebrated the new space created in collaboration with Research Design Architects, London.

Art Gene commissioned Matthew Houlding and Leo Fitzmaurice to make new works and to collaborate with Stuart Bastik and Maddi Nicholson to develop the ideas behind the show.

It soon became clear that the exhibition should not only celebrate the gallery but also Art Gene‘s relationship with the town.

Following a tour of Barrow and it’s sand dune covered islands with Matthew and Leo a broken neon palm tree rusting on a derelict town centre nightclub stuck in our minds and the idea of creating an exhibition which extended that Welcome to Paradise was born.

Each of the pieces in this show establishes a dialogue with Barrow and the current effort to regenerate it: some primarily observe and reflect apon the social others the natural and most the built.


The Art Gene Gallery is our shop window, showcasing our projects and the work of artists and architects undertaking our collaborative research residencies.

Our research explores the role of artists, architects and communities in Re-Visioning the regeneration of the social, natural and built environment.

Our exhibitions provide a backdrop and context for a wide range of consultation and training events which promote and inspire the empowerment and mobilisation of individuals and communities in re-defining futures.

We are currently engaged in a range of ecological capital projects for schools, terraced housing, and unsanctioned vernacular architecture within Nationally recognised Nature Reserves. We are committed to enhancing the relationship between Barrow and its islands.

Situated at the end of what has been termed “the longest cul-de-sac in England” Barrow is a hitherto little explored and exciting location for artistic engagement. It grew rapidly across a peninsula and parts of a series of islands separated by natural harbours. It encapsulates huge contrasts: a coastal working town born out of the Industrial Revolution: the production of iron, the ship yard and most recently the production of nuclear submarines: situated beside a largely undiscovered natural coastline and idyllic countryside with a mountain backdrop.

Research Design Architects

The most important thing about a building is not how it looks but how it provides a setting for the activities happening within or around it. A really good building enhances activity.

It is by working with and for artists that we have learnt that observation of the small details of human life and interaction create the unusual and exciting incidents in a project. Artists have taught us the value of skills developed in our professional training: close observation and analysis. We are limited, however, in the expression of these insights by our formal training.

Our collection of traps is not a work of art. It is not presented as a group of ‘ready made’ sculptures nor as a contemporary installation nor as houses in miniature. We have several collections: a collection of cuttings and packaging started an interest in disposable ephemera that says a lot about who people are and what they were doing at a certain time. The mousetraps, by accident, are a focused study of the same interests. Other collections including wooden spoons, technical instruments and fishing floats (all cheap, disposable and varied) reflect the same interests.

The first trap was bought in a market in southern Spain (March 1993) because it was an unusual take on something familiar. It suggested different ways of killing (garrotting not chopping: this in turn is culturally specific) and making (drilling and slicing a block with minimal metal parts). Since then every trip we make has to include the purchase of new traps.

The holy grail of invention is the mousetrap: every year 400 patents are filed worldwide for new designs. Our interest is more mundane: collection requires hunting out shops and streets that we would not otherwise see; it involves talking to people or drawing if there are language barriers. It has lead to donations. We learn strange (insignificant but interesting) facts: most of our French traps are cages made by French prisoners. Some of these are lovingly made, others not so with key trapping parts missing.

The French traps lead us back to architecture. The French defined architecture in the eighteenth century as a series of typologies (types of forms of buildings: square buildings, buildings with columns…) and we can now see our collection in the same way. The traps can be arranged in typologies of function: choppers, garrotters, and entrapment with their sub-typologies of material and making (punched, cut, folded metal…) You may see them differently.


Image gallery below: 
Welcome to Paradise 
exhibition, Art Gene Gallery, 2009

Useful Beauty, 1993-2009 – by Research Design Architects.
Ongoing collection of mouse traps from around the world

Take Me To Your Future, 2009 by Matthew Houlding.
Commissioned for the inaugural exhibition in the new Art Gene Gallery

The Scapegoat, 2009, by Maddi Nicholson

Paradise, 2009, by UHC Collective,
written in map pins pushed into Art Gene Gallery wall


Matthew Houlding

Matthew Houlding takes the idea of the architects model but subverts both the material and the function, taking us on an adventure into uncharted territory. The works celebrate the idea of concept architecture and the pursuit of personal utopian ideals.

Houldings works summon desire and hope, intricately constructed from disparate found materials gathered over time: cardboard packaging, weathered timber, found postcards and colour photocopies from forgotten books on holiday destinations, all of which have landscapes written into their surfaces, reminding us that everything and everyone has the potential for another life.

With an instinctive feeling for material, Houlding shifts meanings and creates new forms. In addition to his critique on architecture, he creates dreams of spaces, backdrops for stories and new ideas, neither of yesterday nor of tomorrow but set in a time of their own.

This work is dedicated to a synthesis of art, design and architecture, a belief that art is capable of leading mankind to a brighter future. Matthew Houldings art offers models of thought. It invites us to reflect on our experience and environment and unveils our longing to retreat to a man-made haven.

Matthew Houlding lives and works in Todmorden, West Yorkshire.
He has exhibited widely in Britain and Europe.
He is represented by: Ceri Hand Gallery


Maddi Nicholson

Nicholson’s hybrid, anthropomorphic characters seem to inhabit another world in parallel to this. Yet this is similarly a community of individuals: Fledglings surveying the world from their rooftops ready to set forth.

Nicholson’s work is both playful and contentious; focusing on the kitsch and bizarre, she lives vicariously through these creatures and imbues childhood toys with new meaning, giving us her strange slant on human condition. Like a ventriloquist she takes a back seat: the sculptures talk for her.

The works exhibited have developed or been regenerated from every day plastic detritus ‘an unrequited childhood passion’ a complusive collecting of plastic toys and objects from 1950s tourist souvenirs to replica foodstuffs that spill from the walls of her studio.

Heads are often hidden, disguised, decapitated…’didn’t we all want to chop up our toys as children’ says Nicholson ‘now I can…it’s liberating being a ‘grown up’, you can eat cake & curry for breakfast and take a hacksaw and chop heads off your toy pigs’.

Known for her innovative use of inflated and painted plastics, cladding castles, London tower blocks, galleries and vehicles she openly embraces new materials and techniques.

She works as a creative consultant with Industry, business and the public sector on all manner of research and development, art education and design related issues. Undertaking public realm projects, commissions, exhibitions and residencies in social and educational contexts. In 2008 Nicholson was an invited speaker at the Labour party conference, speaking on behalf of the Government’s flagship initiative Creative Partnerships, education and the arts.

Nicholson is currently commissioned by Tullie House Museum and Art Gallery, in Carlisle to create a half scale inflated replica of a Barrow-in-Furness terraced house and other works in her one person show ‘Going Home From Here’ 26th Sept-6th Dec 09. Tullie House Museum and Art Gallery, Castle Street, Carlisle, Cumbria.

Ultimate Holding Company

“Paradise is exactly like where you are right now, only much, much better.”

Laurie Anderson (Language is a Virus)

Ultimate Holding Company are a designer/artist’s group from the UK, Sweden and Holland. They are based in Manchester and work collectively across multiple disciplines on socially engaged projects, which critically interrogate urban regeneration and neoliberal control of public space.

Paradise was created to launch UHC’s residency project It’s Not As Rough As It Used To Be. It was the first work to be made for the then unfinished new Art Gene Gallery and is a response to the group’s exploration of the places of Barrow, the gallery itself, and our interest in local hidden assets as geographical points, places in time and opportunities.

The map pin or ‘push pin’ has become a symbol for the whole UHC residency project, referencing geographical place, the transformative journey from A to B, and when used in large numbers to create Paradise – co-production and the collective.

Leo Fitzmaurice
‘…Yet I Know This Much Is True’, Leo Fitzmaurice (UK), 2009

Leo Fitzmaurice’s work has long been looking at the relationship between space and information. Information, as we are all aware, is carried by numerous objects and placed around our visual environment, a walk around most urban environments results in being bombarded with offers and promises. Fitzmaurice’s work focusses on these urban situations and particularly in the area of advertising, where information is at its highest pitch. Most recently, at Art Gene, he exhibited a floor-based landscape constructed from ‘de-texted’ packaging. Elsewhere he has made sculptures from blank road signs and ‘drawings’ by eradicating the text on flyers. In each situation his aims seem to transcend the original message of this material thereby leaving us the opportunity to enjoy it in its own right; The opportunity to think our own thoughts. His intention seems not to confront this material full on but to obliquely and quietly undermine it.

On a visit to any gallery one is faced with the gallery’s relationship to regeneration in the surrounding area. With Art Gene this is a facet that is positively highlighted and responded to as part of the programme. A tour around Barrow’s bleak charms was, for me, an oddly uplifting experience. Like Liverpool, Barrow seems far bigger than it needs to be, and similarly it appears to be spread quite thinly. I got an odd sense that it was going bald. Not surprisingly, a memory of recent losses here seem to override potential for developments. Perversely all new developments bring with them a fear of loss and this is particularly true in Barrow where subtraction rather than addition looks like the mostly likely starting point. For me though, this point, the potential for removal rather than addition, is precisely what I find interesting.

Walking around Barrow I became aware of ‘for sale’ boards: many had been up so long they had begun to fade. I was interested in these simple wooden frame and ‘correx’ board structures whose sole function is to hold up words. What if these frames were put to another use?: Could they be used to create a dwelling rather than simply advertise one?”

Leo Fitzmaurice


Stuart Bastik

Between drawing and sculpture: The Weight of History is Crushing Me in My Bed has an elemental presence which belies the humour of its title without which the work would seem to be much less about something than to simply be something. There is, however, a mysterious alchemy here. The work carries a warning as it has been known to discharge a powerful static electric shock when touched – bringing a new poignancy to the often used phrase “do not touch the artwork

As we all know, graphite and diamond are chemically the same and herein lies a raft of possible comparative metaphors that it is tempting to attach to the work – ones relating to social class, colour, heavy industry – or more literally thoughts around the ‘value’ of graphite (the raw material and that of the art made with it) over that of diamonds – let alone black ones?

Graphite is also a very effective lubricant. This work is certainly slippery in evading a single reading.

This is an ‘industrial’ heavyweight and Bastik’s interest in the form extends beyond the Gallery: envisioning its use as a means of coastal defence remeniscent of the famous natural Giant’s Causeway in Ireland or as floats for a contemporary pontoon style jetty. The diamond could be used to mark ‘hidden gems’ around the coastline of Barrow and its islands.

Special Thanks

To Clinton Rimmer (volunteer) for all his hard work in helping to make The Weight of History is Crushing Me in My Bed and in assisting the artists and architects in installing many of the works in this show.

To Carla Nizzola (MA placement from Lancaster University) for bringing new audiences to our recent events with UHC around Barrow and its islands and for helping us promote and capture our recent programme – pen and video camera in hand.

External Links

Matthew Houlding  
Matthew Houlding
Leo Fitzmaurice 
Research Design 
UHC Collective


(Image gallery below)
It’s Not As Rough As It Used To Be (Event Three)
UHC’s Map Pin in Reed Beds Nr Cavendish Dock, Barrow.  Photo: David Oates

I Need You But Not the Way You Think, (series) by Leo Fitzmaurice

…Yet I Know This Much is True,  by Leo Fitzmaurice

The Weight of History is Crushing Me in My Bed, 2009, by Stuart Bastik (UK). Graphite Diamond

Image below (footer)
 (L-R) White Zone, Take me to your Future & Warrior on the Edge of Time, 2009, Matthew Houlding.
Commissioned for the inaugural exhibition in the new Art Gene Gallery


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