19 October – 14 December 2019
GroundWork Gallery specialises in making connections between contemporary art and our changing environment. From its small industrial building, situated on the banks of 2 rivers, its latest exhibition explores the environment and culture of the edge.
Being edgy is to be at a frontier, at the avant-garde. Edges can also be confusingly mixed, places of danger, or places of opportunity. Edges can be fascinating as places where ecosystems collide. In the environment, edge-landscapes, for example by fields or forests, can be rich with diverse species, whereas edges of towns can be pleasantly green, or marred by ugly sprawl. This exhibition plays on numerous interpretations of edge-potential and edge-confusion. Some is literal, some is metaphorical, and the idea is both to question the way we create boundaries and divisions and to reflect critically on the way one environment or culture can seep into another. Does the edge create problems, or opportunities?
Adam King, who is based in Norwich, worked in residence, building sculptural constructions and images, structures and scenarios from paper, card and paint to create what he describes as ‘a brittle, architectural panorama’. Forms reminiscent of high rise buildings fuse allusion to urban space, with the organic and references to the digital. The work asks, ‘How do we make sense of relationships between physical and technological spaces, and where do we see ourselves as part of environments that are becoming increasingly fluid and remote?’
Antonia Beard sees no material as out of bounds for artistic investigation, moreover, she sees the creative exchange as a valuable opportunity to understand and contemplate the materials we use every day, understanding that no material is ever just as it seems. Each one links back to a wider cultural and natural history formed out of a series of complex processes. She likes to work as a site-specific artist, purely with what she finds in each location, to create works that challenge the ideas of place whilst coherently sitting within them. Over the last 3 years, she has been making work at Houghton Festival and has been inspired by her interactions with the local environment.
… because I’m part of this….
Happisburgh, one of the easternmost villages on the east coast of Norfolk, is truly on the edge, with a repeating history of vulnerability to storm attack. For years, this place was the subject of much controversy as the Government had initially refused to renew its coastal defences. Eventually it was agreed with residents, that via the government’s Coastal Pathfinder mitigation and engineering programme, they would be compensated for loss of their cliff-top homes, and the beach would be cleared. A proud terrace of Victorian houses and modern bungalows were demolished in 2012 and most villagers were rehoused. One resident in particular held out against this. Bryony Nierop Reading, a former teacher, had a bungalow at the end of the row, just before the steps down to the beach. Her remarkable story of resilience is told in Jayne Ivimey’s film.
Gordon Senior’s body of works Hand Tools of Unknown Use can be seen both as objects with potential, or as nonsensical hybrids. They are things at the edge of use and uselessness made from found objects that are deconstructed and fashioned, with a handle of roughly honed sycamore branch, into what is recognisable as a hand tool. Their function is left intentionally unclear. Are these tools a vision of a post-apocalyptic future when they are essential to farm, function and survive? The artist began to make these in 2002 when he first arrived in the United States to take up a post as chair and professor of fine art at California State University, Stanislaus. They were expressions of his confusion of feelings, at the same time being aware of his new responsibilities, but fearful of them, and questioning his own abilities to make work and settle in this new country. So he made this beautiful response on the edge of helplessness and resourcefulness.
‘On my arrival in Sheffield 30 years ago, the edgelands had penetrated deep into the core of this dying industrial city. Over the following years, I’ve observed this liminal space ever changing, as new developments are slowly pushing the edgeland back towards the edge again.’
‘My walking has taken me drifting through the edgelands, the transitional, liminal areas of space to be found on the boundaries of country and city. These places feel transitionary. Scattered with decaying buildings which once had purpose, they now wait for their next incarnation, not knowing when it will be. Fly-tippers have dumped undesirable goods from elsewhere to here, in the middle of the night. It feels ‘on the edge’, exciting, intriguing, full of narrative, fuel for the imagination. Nature seizes the opportunity to take the place back, plants growing around, over and through anything in their path.’
Edgeland Works is a growing sequence of artefacts. My natural instinctiveness is to create vessel forms – capturing moments in timeThese vessels suggest repositories for my walking, intuition, contemplation, curiosity
Fliss Cary lives at the western edges of Norwich in what is still a village with a proper central village green, but which is only just beyond the ring-road. On her daily dog-walks, she reflects on the troubling problem of encroachment as edges of built landscapes intersect aggressively with the country. Alongside the quiet river and the fields with cows is a power station, a bridge covered in urban graffiti, garages and lock-ups and the attendant commercial traffic. Factory outbuildings are expanding, bringing an off-the peg cheap industrial style of corrugated metal building in close proximity to the small brick terraces and cottages of the original village. Fliss Cary has recently turned to printmaking, taught by the Paper Works print studio in Lowestoft. In a very subtle way, she shows in her work how new shadows are cast over once open land.
Joanne Soroka, a tapestry weaver and author of a standard textbook on the subject, contributes work which connects cultural and environmental edges.
‘Migration’ is map-like, a layered, tufted land-mass, a tapestry in strong colours, about migration, movement, displacement. This contrasting colours and textures in this tapestry suggests movement between two areas, as well as the connections and displacement between them. The rising feeling is about the positive aspects of migration, but there can also be nostalgia for the old life. Joanne herself is culturally hybrid, her ancestors originating from Lithuania, Japan, Ukraine and Scotland and Canada, from where she herself migrated to Edinburgh where she was trained in the tapestry department of the University, later becoming artistic director of the famous Dovecote Studios, Edinburgh Tapestry Company. Often her work responds to the resolution of tension through the soft language of textile. She deliberately creates material expressions which use weaving techniques and languages to propose metaphorically how potentially opposing situations can be harmonised.
I wanted to respond to Islamophobia, one of the great evils of our age. How can a non-Muslim address this subject in a sensitive way? I have owned two threadbare prayer rugs for over forty years, Turkish kelims, woven in the same way tapestries are. Their use for prayer meant that they came to be a symbol of Islam for me. Maybe they could be the start of a work of art on my theme.I thought about repairing them, metaphorically healing or making reparations to the Muslim community. After many false starts, I remembered the Japanese technique of kintsugi, a way of mending ceramics by using gold to join the broken pieces together. Rather than hiding the fracture, it shows the history of the object, with the breakage undisguised. I decided to use gold linen thread to mend the rugs, rather than trying to do a conventional repair. It would be impossible in any case to restore the rugs to their original state. The mending is in an open weave, distinguishing it from the tighter weave of the original rug. I would also not repair every hole or tear, to show that nothing is perfect, as Islamic rugs deliberately never are, and to metaphorically address the fact that much hurt remains. Besides the gold thread, there is some additional interweaving of some of the original colours of the rug, in a ghostly repair of some areas. Another part of this project is that I am collaborating with the original weavers of the rugs, Muslim women. Although separated by time and distance, we have worked on the same pieces to create something together. The act of weaving itself is about joining and connecting, and repair is about making whole. This becomes a work of art that addresses the issue of Islamophobia by thinking about healing and about connecting with those affected by standing in solidarity with them.Joanne Soroka