#AD Observe Experiment Archive – a photography exhibition at Sunderland Museum & Winter Gardens

Photography exhibitions for many years, were my comfort zone in art gallery spaces. In my late teens and early twenties, I didn’t feel empowered enough in my own creative sense of self to comment on paintings, sculpture, textiles etc. But photography to me always told some kind of a story! The first photographer that I ever became truly aware of as an “artist” was Sirkka-Liisa Konttinen, a Finnish photographer that ended up living in Newcastle and has an extensive body of work. I loved her depiction of Byker and the sense of place, people and home – she managed to create.

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Neon at Sunderland Museum & Winter Gardens

I’ve always been a fan of photography as a means to communicate and explore difficult issues – to display various shades of the same thing and of course, to capture a moment. In fact, I’m working up a project funding proposal at the moment with photography at the heart of it. But my love of photography and respect for it as an art form, has grown exponentially as a social media and marketing professional – it’s ALL about the high quality, visually impactful visuals. And that’s why I invest so much money and resource into the photography of events, projects, people, audiences, places, venues and moments. The right image can have far reaching impact and tells a story….

I was recently, invited to view Observe Experiment Archive – a group photography exhibition curated by North East Photography Network at Sunderland Museum & Winter Gardens – support by Sunderland Culture. For those Culture Vultures unaware, yes Sunderland Museum & Winter Gardens does have a beautiful gallery space so add it to your gallery culture crawl list…. It’s where the Da Vinci exhibition was housed AND they are one of three new venues, to have been selected to present work from The Arts Council Collection (first exhibition in February) until 2022!

It’s great to see how many folks have followed my “story” showcasing my exhibition visit and how many of you have followed up my social media posts, championing the exhibition, telling me that you’re going to visit or have visited!

Observe Experiment Archive is available to view until 5 January and presents multidimensional view- points of our ever changing world. It’s for the curious seekers, experimenters, future innovators and creative thinkers – my visit lasted over an hour, I read ever interpretation cover to cover, it got me thinking, reflecting and full of wonder for the natural world and how we have interacted with it in the past, present and the possibilities that lie in the future. The exhibition explores human interventions, innovations and inventions and the global challenges that can no longer be ignored.

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The exhibition showcases the skill and diversity that exists within contemporary photography, reflecting scientific and environmental concerns through both a modern and historical lens. I went in with an open mind – I’d read the blurb before going in, on the website, which in no way captured how truly fantastic this exhibition was. It’s certainly in my top 5 of 2019.

Beautifully curated, inviting and thoroughly interesting. The supporting pamphlet that you can pick up on entry, was the perfect thought fuelling accompaniment to the exhibition as I walked around taking it all in. All 8 photographers featured are very different in style, subject manner and provide a gateway for folks like me, to consider, explore and observe the world in a new way. I learnt a lot, thought about things that I hadn’t really considered in a world that is so busy and it certainly triggered my appetite to learn more.

This exhibition is in no way passive – it invites you to think, reflect, go on google, check out the photographers, participate in their narrative and really demonstrated to me, the unbelievable power of a photo to capture a moment, tell a story, challenge a pre-conception and to trigger thought and potential change. The thing I loved, is that the current state of play around themes like the “environment”, “intrusion of technology”, “human intervention”; the press and on social media present it in an often angry and preachy manner – things MUST change dogma and those who are not participating in the change…. Well, they are unfavourable. What this exhibition manages to do, is explore and present, many of the same elements, impacts and what humans have done, doing and may continue to do but invites you to question and reflect on WHY.

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I’m going to give you a little overview of my thoughts on each photographer’s work in the exhibition – without hopefully spoiling it, as you have until 5th January to visit so go go go! Order presented is based on how I worked my way around the exhibition.

Robert Zhao Renhui’s work is a colourful guide to the flora and fauna of the world – it presents a catalogue of curious creatures and their life forms mixing fact and fiction, whilst demonstrating the present and possible effects of human intervention. His pieces are visually stunning and thoroughly Insta ready and his work explores the symbiotic relationship between humans and nature. To accompany the exhibition, there is a wonderful A3 size hand-out which I skimmed over, but properly read when I grabbed a tea at Holmeside Coffee. Very interesting!

Robert’s work at Sunderland Museum & Winter Gardens

Maria McKinney’s recent projects have examined the relationship between humans and cattle collaborating with cattle breeders and genetic scientists. From this work, there is LOTS of learning, especially for me as someone who doesn’t have much knowledge around how humans influence breeding of animals and their genetics. Contemporary cattle farming is depicted in large scale animal portraits, which really do remind me of large scale cow portraits from 18th & 19th century, that can be seen in the collections of Bowes Museum, Northumberland and Laing Art Gallery, Newcastle.

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Maria’s work at Sunderland Museum & Winter Gardens (Robert’s in back ground)

Mandy Barker’s work, I found I kept on going back to on my visit to view again! Mandy’s work investigates and showcases marine plastic debris by collaborating with scientists. Her main aim is to raise the awareness of plastic pollution and effects of plastic on marine life. Her photographs are visually beautiful – it wasn’t until, I got up close that I realised exactly, what I was looking at. Whilst, we know humankind treats the sea, like our dustbin, seeing this…… well, it really demonstrates that fact and I think Mandy’s naming of this work, as “SOUP” is just perfect. You can see toys and possessions that I imagine at some-point were much loved and now, they end up floating in the sea creating a kind of “plastic soup” – the plastics float forever, attracting marine life to them, which will eventually lead to their death by poisoning or choking.

Mandy’s work at Sunderland Museum & Winter Gardens

Liza Dracup’s work, embraces an ethos very close to my heart and something, I try to practice as Culture Vulture in my own work; looking at the extraordinary in the ordinary (we are all extraordinary in some way) and the perfection that exists within the imperfect. Her work was full of colour, light and made me smile. This collection of work is inspired by Joseph Swan, inventor of the incandescent electric light bulb – which makes sense as the theme of light and bringing to light nature features in her work. Also loved that she had included the practice of taxidermy, as a means to connect the past and present natural world – I’m fascinated with the practice and it’s having a huge revival!

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Tessa Bunney’s work was super interesting – contemporary farming is not something that I really think about (I probably should – as you know, I rely on it to eat…). In her work, she showcases the faces and new world of farming, a mix of traditional practices, innovation and artisan. A theme that runs through this work concerns, the changing nature of rural life and how humans have really shaped that landscape. I’ve worked on a few “rural” arts projects recently so I’m aware of the disconnect between the rural work that we rely upon and the urban world, that for folks like me, is our work and playground.

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Penelope Umbrico’s work was one of my favourites- especially as I’ve just wrapped a large scale outdoor event that was all about celebrating the moon! Penelope displays screenshots of photographs since 2015 that are tagged “full moon” from Flickr. These screen shots are presented both in print and in digital form. I could have stared at the digital screen for hours – one moon with MANY different representations! Really interesting and beautiful – I liked the element of collecting content from a digital platform, consuming it and then sharing it with a wider audience…… in that way, so many people have contributed to the work and have ownership of it.

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Penelope’s work at Sunderland Museum & Winter Gardens

Sophie Ingleby’s work ‘Seed’, explores human fertility treatment. Now this is something that I am extremely aware of, with lots of my friends having fertility challenges (1 in 6 couples struggle to become parents). I guess, as a trigger warning, this element of the exhibition might not be right for you, if you’re very close to that journey right now or potentially at the recent closing of that capture – but none the less it’s fascinating, showcases the process, the science, the embryologists leading the way, the people hoping to become parents one day…..

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Sophie’s Work at Sunderland Museum & Winter Gardens

Last but not least, Helen McGhie’s work explores the nature of darkness and astronomical observation. Again, coming out of wrapping a project all about the moon which also explored space, time, the stars, and moon-landings etc. – this work was just fascinating to me. Helen captures her own personal encounters with the night sky, which are just beautiful to look at and also presents a collection of photographs of objects used as a Northern Astronomer. I spent ages looking at each object capture – really interesting and certainly a bag of tricks.

Helen’s work at Sunderland Museum & Winter Gardens

This exhibition was organised by North East Photography Network (check out their insta!) who were established in 2009 to promote and develop photography in the North East of England and beyond. They work with photographers, artists, curators and a wide range of cultural partners, to create a lively and informed context for photographic activity and to encourage new audiences for photography. NEPN are really going great things – providing commission opportunities, ensuring visibility of photography within the cultural landscape and showcasing what contemporary photography is and could be in the future. Observe Experiment Archive is not only an opportunity to check out an amazing exhibition, but it’s also an opportunity to get a sense of what NEPN is all about. So if you’re an aspiring photographer or photographer in the North East, they are THE organisation to connect with.

Observe Experiment Archive is on to view until 5th January at Sunderland Museum and Winter Gardens, check it out this week or this weekend….you honestly won’t regret it! It has certainly, reignited my interest in photography and given me A LOT to think about.

 

An interview with rising star actress, performer & lush lass Katie Powell…

It’s been a little while since I interviewed anyone from the theatre sector….so when I met actress Katie Powell in 2019 and found out, she started off her career in Live Theatre Newcastle Youth Theatre, I thought she’d make an interesting subject and added to my “must interview list” – yep I actually have one such list. As someone who REALLY champions the impact and importance of Youth Theatre opportunities for young people, it’s really LUSH to meet folks who have used it as a spring board and actually pursuing a paid acting/performing career in the North East. Katie is also walking, talking proof that there are PAID acting jobs in the North East (truth bomb alert) and that also, there are opportunities for folks to make their own “companies” and devise work….. just takes proper GRAFT, passion and overcoming a “worrit” or two….

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Melva (Katie) – Mortal Fools – Photocredit Jason Thompson

However Youth Theatre opportunities are not always about a career in performing and often are a channel for creative expression, developing communication skills, developing confidence, a safe space to make sense of the world and their identity, socialising with like minded folks, not to mention a place to experience devising, performing, tech, lighting, set design, directing etc. But for some like North East based actress Katie Powell, it was the start of her adventurer into performing….
I met Katie, face to face, during the read through before the recent 2019 tour of Melva  – a Mortal Fools‘ theatre show and touring theatre schools package, for 7 – 11 years old and their families. Melva tells the story of a 10-year-old girl (played by Katie) whose struggles with anxiety, or ‘worrits’ as she knows them, keep her from leaving the house. Her Grandpa has grown so worried about her that he fakes his own disappearance in the hope that it will compel Melva to leave the house and overcome her ‘bad worrits’. What follows is a funny and poignant adventure for them both, where each learn how their ‘worrits’ affect them and new ways to tackle them separately and together.
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Melva (Katie) – Mortal Fools – Photocredit Jason Thompson
So, I thought ahead of Melva, storming into 2020 for a school’s tour in partnership with Children’s North East and having a public outing at the wonderful Gosforth Civic Theatre Wed 4 & Thu 5 March 7pm (get your tickets HERE), I thought I’d catch up with Katie for an interview as I work my way through my “must interview list”….
So step forward Katie Powell – a star on the rise with really good energy…. she also manages to pull off wellies like no other….
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Katie Powell
So well hello, for my fellow Culture Vultures – who are you? 
I’m Katie Powell. I’m 26. I’m an actor and theatre maker from Washington – Sunderland but now living in Newcastle.
Tell me about your journey into theatre making? Are you a trained actor?
I went to Gateshead College and did a BTEC in Performing Arts from aged 16 to 18. I was also a member of Live Youth Theatre and Northern Stage’s Young Company around the same time.
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Katie Powell
Tell me about your mortal fools involvement with Melva?
I rehearsed and performed Melva in a pop-up venue on Prudhoe high street over Christmas 2017 during the first iteration of it, when it was directed by Anna Ryder. When Mortal Fools, got the successful Arts Council Funding, I re-rehearsed and toured Melva in Northumberland in Autumn 2019 as well as participating in the delivery of school’s workshops afterwards with pupils.
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Melva (Katie)- Mortal Fools – Photocredit Jason Thompson
Why did you audition for the part of Melva?
I auditioned for the part because I love children’s theatre; some of the best theatre I’ve ever seen was made for children and when it’s done right it can be life changing. I thought the team working on Melva were lovely, talented people that I really wanted to work with and learn from.
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Melva (Katie) & Feggis (Eilish Stout-Cairns) – Mortal Fools – Photocredit Jason Thompson
Tell me about your Melva character?
Melva is kind, brave and clever. In the beginning she’s very nervous and it makes her grumpy. She soon learns she is resourceful, capable and the world outside isn’t all bad.
My type of gal…. What do you think about your new animated/graphic designed version of Melva designed by Swaddle Creative in the promotional materials and school resources? I work with Laura Swaddle a lot and she does a lot of the graphic design for Mortal Fools– I think she’s really NAILED IT….
It’s brilliant. I’ve always wanted to see myself as a cartoon. The animations and graphics really add another dimension; they frame the show beautifully.
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Melva designed by Laura Swaddle – Swaddle Creative
You were part of Melva in its 2017 form and now in the new version in 2019 – from your perception, what’s different?
I feel like the whole show has matured a little bit. We’re all a bit older and a bit wiser. We know which bits worked and which bits didn’t so much. We know how brilliant the story is and the impact it can have. We now have a renewed confidence and pride in sharing it.
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Melva (Katie)- Mortal Fools – Photocredit Jason Thompson
What were you like as a younger person (Melva’s age)?
When I was 10 (11 tomorrow) I was quite similar to Melva. I felt very anxious about what people thought of me, but at the same time I thought I was the cleverest person who ever lived. Not much has changed.
Sounds like me as a mini too…..Why should people come and see the show at Gosforth Civic Theatre Wed 4 & 5 March 2020? Or why should schools book the show?
Melva is about children’s mental health. We show the children how to take good care of themselves and talk about it. And what could be more important than that? Melva herself is funny, cheeky, brave, vulnerable and clever. The children will leave having gone on a great adventure and having been firmly reassured they’re not alone.
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Melva (Katie)- Mortal Fools – Photocredit Jason Thompson
As well as being the lead character in Melva, you’re also leading on some workshops – how have young people been responding to Melva?
It’s been really lovely to meet the children after they’ve seen the show. I love answering their questions and seeing how much information they’ve absorbed and how exciting the day has been for them. Also, their banter is brilliant.
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Melva (Katie)- Mortal Fools – Photocredit Jason Thompson
What are “worrits” and what are yours?
Worrits to me are little worms of anxiety that wriggle in your tummy and sometimes go up to your head where they can grow bigger and take over if you don’t take care. I have loads of worrits. I often worry that I’m not good enough at playing Melva or that the children in this school won’t like me.
The core team of Melva is so lush – does it feel like a family? The giggles you have with Stan/Gideon seems to continue off stage?
Going to work with the Melva team everyday has been the best part of the job. Absolutely everyone is lovely, enthusiastic and hard working. We have lots of laughs. Stan/Gideon picked me up before 7am most mornings on the tour so we had plenty of half asleep, coffee fuelled hysterics.
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Melva (Katie) & Gideon (Stan Hodgson) – Mortal Fools – Photocredit Jason Thompson
So onto the rest of your work….tell me about Your Aunt Fanny? What is it?
Your Aunt Fanny is an all-female theatre company made up of 7 women (sometimes 5, sometimes 6) from the North East. In the last 18 months we’ve written an hour long comedy sketch show “Minge Unhinged” and taken it on a summer tour. We have just finished “Bonnie and Fanny’s Christmas Spectacular”, a full length alternative Christmas show in collaboration with another local theatre company – Bonnie and the Bonnettes – and commissioned by Live Theatre.
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Katie in Your Aunt Fanny for Bonnie & Fanny’s Christmas Spectacular
How did Your Aunt Fanny unite and first start?
We formed in 2013 and performed as part of Live Youth Theatre for 2 years. We reformed in Autumn 2018 because we are all best friends and Your Aunt Fanny was the most fun any of us had ever had on stage. At this point we started to write our own material and realised we had lots to say and lots of experiences we needed to laugh about.
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Katie Powell in Love Spell (a short film)
AND super excitingly, you’ve just filmed a little something for Channel four – tell us more?
Channel 4 commissioned one of our sketches to be filmed for their social media platforms. This was with a project called North East Comedy Hot House in collaboration with Northern Film and Media. We’re really proud of our sketch and hopefully it’ll be up soon so you can all see it!
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Filming for Love Spell (a film short)
You’ve collaborated with Bonnie and the Bonnettes for some Christmas shenanigans – are more collaborations planned?
Minge Unhinged is going to Vault Festival in London in February in association with Northern Stage. We are performing as part of a double bill with the Bonnies newest show “And She”.
Aside from that, we 100% plan to work together again in the future; working together was joyful from start to finish. We realised almost immediately we have the same approach to theatre making. They’re also just lush people.
You’ve just announce an Aunt Fanny show in 2020 – tell my fellow Culture Vultures more?
We are in the process of making a brand new, hour long, comedy sketch show to take to the Edinburgh Fringe Festival 2020 with previews at Live Theatre in July. We pitch our shows as “a night on the town with your wildest, oldest, filthiest friend”; some of our comedy is clever, some of it is bizarre, some scary, poignant, empowering, uplifting – but overall you’ll leave having had an absolute hoot.
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Katie Powell in Sketch character
What’s next for Katie in 2020? What’s next for Aunt Fanny in 2020?
In February Your Aunt Fanny are taking “Minge Unhinged” to Vault Festival. Then I’m back touring Melva (woo!) with 2 performances open to the public at Gosforth Civic Theatre in March. Then from June I’ll be back with the Fannies making our new show.
I have also just finished a short film called “Love Spell” which was funded by the BFI and will come out in 2020. If anyone wants to hire me for a lovely acting job in between these dates I wouldn’t say no. Or otherwise I’ll be answering phones in an office (which I do actually quite enjoy and gives me great writing material). I also hope to go on a lovely sunny holiday.
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Katie Powell on stage
Well thank you Katie – a lass on the rise in the North East; excited to see your next Your Aunt Fanny show….. follow Your Aunt Fanny on social to keep up to date with their shows and you catch catch Melva at Gosforth Civic Theatre on 4 & 5 March 2020 and tickets are available from HERE.

Interview with street artist & graphic designer Mul – “if people hate what you do, do it more”

If I have one piece of advice for you Culture Vultures for 2020, it’s put down your phone, get outside more and be a tourist in your own city. Northern cities are FULL of beautiful street art – work by amazing regional, National and International street artists are waiting for you to discover. Actually the North East is well known for its street art and I discovered recently, big name street artists actually visit here, seek out mural spaces and create their own mark on a NE city or town.
And if like me, you spend way too much time with your head down in your social media feed, you’re actually missing out on this lush art to discover, different styles AND the urban landscape is ever changing with new murals.
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Alex Mulholland mural in Ouseburn (near Tyne Bar)
Over the summer, I worked on a project exploring Ouseburn Valley and all the street art there – I visit the Ouseburn all the time, but largely in a passive auto pilot manner, as I’m looking at my phone and scrolling my feed. Over the Summer, I decided to put down my phone and suddenly, paths that I’d walked MANY times before sprung to life with pieces of work and street art, suddenly popping out; they’d been there YEARS but i’d never seen them before. I discovered SO many new artists.
One of those Ouseburn street artists is local artist Alex Mulholland a.k.a. ‘ Mul’! I’ve been a fan of Alex over the last few years – his bright murals brighten up my day when I’m walking around Ouseburn and Heaton and his Insta is just lush – he regularly posts new work. He’s got such a beaut style; Alex is graphic designer, street artist and he makes prints of his work too. He also takes commissions.
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Alex Mulholland – Mul
I first properly discovered Mul when i found out he was going to be spraying a design on the side of Thought Foundation caravan in their yarden! I wish children’s play areas were as cool as that when I was a mini….no rusty nails with a broken swing and instead street art, colour and lush space to play.
Recently, reached out to Mul for an interview to find out about his practice, what inspires him and to connect with him as an artist massively on the rise, getting commissions Nationally.
So over to you Mul….
Hi Mul, for my fellow Culture Vultures, tell me who are you and what’s your practice?
I’m Alex Mulholland or ‘Mul’ and I’m an artist and freelance  graphic designer from Newcastle.
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Alex Mulholland/Mul’s work
Tell me your journey into the creative arts?
I probably started my journey when I was about 12 years old, that was when I discovered graffiti. Since then I have completed my degree in graphic design at Northumbria University and I started working for myself.
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Alex Mulholland/Mul’s work
Your pieces are so lush and bold – where do you get the inspiration from for your pieces?
I guess inspiration comes from everywhere; I never seem to find it when I’m looking though. It always suddenly pops up out of nowhere; like a van driving past with something on the side of it. Apart from those random occurrences, music can also be very influential for me alongside travelling to new places and seeing art on the streets.
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Alex Mulholland/Mul’s work
You designed and sprayed Thought Foundation in Gateshead caravan, how did that commission come about?  I know what is used to look like before, you’ve done an amazing job!  
Thought Foundation was an interesting one. I’d never painted a caravan before but always wanted too after seeing ones Sickboy had done. I wanted to make the piece as colourful and crazy as possible and it was actually just made up there and then.
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Alex Mulholland/Mul’s work
Tell us a bit about your big piece in the Ouseburn (near Tyne Bar in Newcastle)? What was the inspiration? 
That wall as really fun; I prefer painting bigger as there’s more space for creativity. I didn’t go into painting that wall with a sketch, I wanted to freestyle it and make it up as I went along.
I always have the most fun when I do that, as I’m not beating myself up if something doesn’t look how it does on the sketch.
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Alex Mulholland/Mul’s work
You have a very distinctive style, I think you can always tell your work from a mile off – how did it develop?
The current  ‘style’ has only been developing since January 2019. I hit a bit of a turning point with the art I produce and stopped what I had been doing for the previous four years. I think that if I hadn’t done that and made that decision, I’d still be stuck in the rut of doing the same thing over and over again.
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Alex Mulholland/Mul’s work
And where is the fun in that!? Do you like the mystic surrounding street artists? Often the pieces and style is recognised – but the person remains unknown….
I do understand it yes; I do think it’s more of a legal thing rather than the artist necessarily wanting to remain unknown (but not in all cases). The art I produce now I happily put my name to because it’s me and not an alias if that makes sense.
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Alex Mulholland/Mul’s work
As someone who champions and celebrates the North and loves street art – I’m thrilled people are seeing it as the exciting art form it is. There is a real buzz around street art and murals at the moment in the region – do you feel that too?
I’m glad this is becoming more accepted and celebrated up North. Places like Bristol and areas of London have been like this for a long time and I always love going to paint in places like that as it’s almost received with open arms.
Also having travelled and painted all through Europe you get a sense of how accepted it is in other places. Most cities now have designated areas for it and people travel from all over to paint and see the pieces.
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Alex Mulholland/Mul’s work
One thing I’ve always wondered is that outdoor art pieces have to survive the elements, but I do love it when it ages with it’s environment – do you enjoy the creative challenge making outdoor art?
Yeah! I mean my generation is lucky where that is concerned; we get the best paint for the cheapest price, delivered to your door and most of it will stand the test of time.
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Alex Mulholland/Mul’s work
Do you take commissions? How would people get in touch if they wanted you to create a piece for them?
I do take commissions; the last ten months have really been great for that, lots of people are seeing my work and getting in touch for a whole range of fun projects.
You can contact me through my website http://www.mul-draws.com  or drop me and email at: alexmulholland@mul-draws.com
Alternatively I’m also on Instagram and Facebook @Mul_draws
Alex Mulholland/Mul’s work
Tell us about other street artists that inspire you?
I guess my biggest inspiration would be Keith Haring; he really pioneered street art in New York back in the 70’s and 80’s. His style is fun and bouncy which I guess is how I strive my work to be.
From the UK, artists like Stik, and D-face. I couldn’t leave Shepard Fairey out either, as he was probably my first exposure to street art way back in 2006 when he and other artists did the ‘Spank the Monkey’ exhibition at the Baltic.
Some of my favourite street pieces in Newcastle are still standing from that exhibition- The Obey paste-up mural on Falmouth road in Heaton and numerous Space invaders dotted around Newcastle and Gateshead. I think that they were the first pieces I saw and have definitely stuck in my mind ever since.
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Alex Mulholland/Mul’s work
Do you have a fave piece that you’ve created? If i had a gun to your head and you had to pick one?
Yeah one springs to mind but it was under another alias so I can’t reveal.
Alex Mulholland/Mul’s work
Why do you think street artists are typically male identifying? There are some fantastic female identifying street artists too – but they seem in the minority.
Street art stems from graffiti, which is well known for being egotistical. I would love to see more females doing it especially up North. I can only name maybe one or two that do it up here which is a shame really.
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Alex Mulholland/Mul’s work
Any advice for future creatives and street artists?
If people hate what you do, do it more.
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Alex Mulholland/Mul’s work
Highlight of 2019 so far?
I had a great client that I’ve designed some hockey sticks for and a clothing line that will hopefully be going to the Olympics in Tokyo next year. I also got to produce a mural for them in Shoreditch, which was amazing.
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Alex Mulholland/Mul’s work
Final question….what’s next for Mul in 2020 – anything you can share?
I am working on a few projects for 2020 at the moment that I can’t talk about at the moment but you can expect lots of big walls and collaborations. So make sure you follow @mul_draws on Instagram to stay up to date with that.

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Alex Mulholland/Mul’s work
Thank you Mul; that is ace and I’ve got some amazing street artists to check out from your recommendations and if you’d like to discover more street artists, put your phone away and get exploring your city, you’ll discover loads of street art. A good place to start is the Ouseburn; you’ll see Mul’s piece there too – tell me what you think of it!? AND why not, swing by Thought Foundation and check out their Mul designed caravan; they also have a lush cafe, shop, exhibition on and events programme too.
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Alex Mulholland/Mul’s work
Until next time Culture Vultures……

Dan Cimmermann – artist interview; colour, rebellion, street art and re-imaging British historical figures…

You may have noticed over on my social media accounts that I’ve been selected to be one of two bloggers in residence over at The Biscuit Factory in Newcastle. Basically, I have the glorious opportunity of creating content on Culture Vulture (and on their platforms) championing their artists, commissions, exhibitions, art of sale, residencies etc. As a passionate advocate for independent and original art – it’s a match made in heaven!

The Biscuit Factory holds a special place in my heart and lots of happy memories – it’s an independent gallery space (the largest indie commercial art, craft and design gallery in the UK); it is enabling and doing great things for the artistic community in the region, alongside bringing people like me National and International artists and their work into their gallery. Housed in a former Victorian warehouse, they showcase and sell the work of over 200 artists and makers in seasonally changing exhibitions. They champion independent, original and handmade. It’s a space that I’ve discovered so many new artists and art forms……each exhibition is an eclectic mix of art, prints, sculpture, interiors, craft and jewellery.

One of the artists currently on display at The Biscuit Factory, Winter Exhibition is Dan Cimmermann. He also happens to be one of my all-time top favourite artists, who I stumbled upon when visiting The Biscuit Factory a few years ago…. As soon as I was awarded The Biscuit Factory residency, I was determined to make sure Dan Cimmerman, would be my first artist interview.

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Dan’s work and The Biscuit Factory has long been intertwined in my head and I remember visiting the gallery space at the beginning of my Culture Vulture journey and falling in love with one of his big pieces. I didn’t know who Dan was, why I liked it so much – but the combination of colours, brush strokes and a historical female figure, made me fall in love. It was bold, it was empowering and it was exactly, the type of art I wanted to see more of and champion. Dan’s work and style is me in my visual arts comfort zone – it’s the type of art that I feel at home looking at.

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The first piece of Dan’s work I fell in love with

Then began the Cimmermann rabbit hole – I mentioned the piece to my pal Bobzilla (another extremely talented artist) and I fell into this world of Dan’s work. Those who follow my social channels, know I’ve long been an advocate for street art and street artists to be a respected genre in their own right and I’m head over heels for street art. I’m a street art addict! If you’re a street artist on Insta, I probably prolifically lurk your channel, I go on street art city walking tours, buy books on it, go to talks on it….sometimes it’s the only reason I visit a city, the street art! And I am so excited and happy that street artists are getting their rightful place in gallery spaces and commissions. It warms my heart – it really does. Dan is one of those artists; he has managed to make the bridge between street art and a gallery space……

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Dan Cimmermann in Tokyo

The Biscuit Factory, has exhibited and featured Dan’s work for a few years (he’s been making work since 2001 though) and the eagle eyed of you, if you recognise Dan’s style, will have noticed a beautiful mural outside Ernest Newcastle, which was an outdoor installation commission by Great Exhibition of the North. Folks were invited to walk him do some live mural painting…And inside Artisan event space connected to the Biscuit Factory, another mural is waiting to be discovered. It’s an absolute BEAUT.

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Mural inside The Biscuit Factory

Cimmermann’s colourful paintings and murals are a blend of ‘street’ and ‘studio’; through a process of reworking layers of paint and pen, he adapts classical works of 18th century portraiture. His work is often a reflection upon British identity and a rebellion against societal rules of old, he’s also not shy about using politics and themes like Brexit in his work. So I wasn’t surprised to stumble across more of his work in the Art of Protest gallery in York this Summer.

Dan is currently exhibiting a small selection of pieces at The Biscuit Factory as part of their Winter show – they are open to view every day between 10am-5pm. However, check out their website for their Christmas opening times as they are different. Those who know Dan’s work – will know some pieces cost well over £1000….. and some much more than that, but with this exhibition there are a mixture of price points – I’ve got my eye one…. It’s a beaut! However, if like me, a larger Cimmermann piece is the ultimate dream; The Biscuit Factory run their Own Art Scheme – a programme run in partnership with Arts Council England, the Arts Council of Northern Ireland and Creative Scotland. Own Art makes buying art easy and more affordable by letting you spread the cost of your purchase over 10 months with an interest free loan. So it could be more within reach than you think!

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On display in The Biscuit Factory Winter Show 19

So enough of me and my fangirl moment for Cimmermann and his work – and let’s hear from the man himself. I reached out to Dan a few weeks back, explaining my residency at The Biscuit Factory and was delighted he responded and agreed to an interview. A testament to despite being an Internationally successful artist which a busy schedule, that he still has time for a lass from Gateshead who loves his work! (If you follow his social, you’ll see that often his family champion his successes too – they even comments on my Insta posts when I’ve champion Dan’s work – literally so LUSH!)

So over to Dan Cimmerman….

Let’s start with the textbook Culture Vulture question, tell me about your journey into the arts?

Cleveland college of art and design, Middlesbrough and then Leeds met Fine art.

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So quite a “traditional route”….Did you always want to be a visual artist?

Yeah. I did want to be a graphic designer at first but I found working to a brief too restricting. I was more suited to fine art, doing what I wanted and with the element of chance I can pursue in painting.

You have a very distinguishable style…. how did that develop over the years?

I’ve always been interested in portraiture. It started at sixth form college, where I would imitate Freud, Bacon and Shani Rhys Jones. Also, Alison Watt, Peter Howson and Hockney too. I travelled a lot after university and found it fascinating how the world imagined Great Britain and the Brits. The stereotypes of the English gent for example or the threat of the hooligan or drunk Brit abroad.

So I started to bring this into my work via figures from British history, defacing them and disfiguring them like a beautiful old pub would be defaced and scarred over time by new generations.

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Tell us about your creative process? How do you go about painting a piece?

I work with quintessential British characters. I’ve painted Captain Cook, George Stephenson, portraits from Sir Thomas Lawrence and Sir Joshua Reynolds. Figures from high art and the upper echelons of society, something that felt a million miles away from my background in Middlesbrough. I never plan a painting or sketch first. All of the experimentation occurs on the canvas or wall. I react to what’s good and bad and build a composition from there.

Chance is the most important thing; it’s finished when it feels balanced.

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How do you select your characters to represent in your portraiture?

Something that strikes me as powerful or interesting to reproduce. It might be the pose, the history behind a portrait or the scale. Changing the scale can be really exciting – creating a large head based on a small portrait gives a new meaning and potency to the original.

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Since starting The Culture Vulture, I’ve discovered so many artists, like yourself – but I used to when I first started out a few years ago, make a tradition of visiting a big piece you had in there and used to always say “when i’ve made it big – i’m going to buy that piece”… I’m still working on it!

Let’s talk – I can give you a discount!

Now let’s chat about you and the Biscuit Factory….How did your relationship with Biscuit Factory start?

I started exhibiting there a few years ago; it was great that they wanted so many pieces for a group show. The space is so vast that their seasonal shows are like a series of solo shows in one. I showed 15 pieces the first time and then had a solo in the main space in 2017 entitled, ‘Northern Soul’. They are a great gallery to work with and they have championed my mural work too – I have produced two large pieces on site there.

I’ve visited The Biscuit Factory many times – I like that they help to make art accessible to the public and champion the work of young artists with their student prizes.

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Mural commission by Great Exhibition of the North outside Ernest, Newcastle

They are one of my fave galleries on a National scale, not just regional….Why do you think it’s important indie galleries like this exist?

The arts are suffering in state education so galleries like this are the future for creatives to meet, buy and show their work.

You’ve got a small pop up exhibition in their Winter Exhibition – tell me more about the pieces in it?

All the pieces were either produced or inspired by a recent residency I did in Tokyo, Japan. They focus on the Brit abroad, a kind of contemporary grand tour for normal folk. The smaller pieces are based on a procession of figures through the streets of Tokyo. There’s a lot of movement on the streets there, thousands of people moving in one direction in an incredibly orderly fashion.

The larger pieces try to simulate my feelings of being alone there – strange language, food, honour rituals, behaviour. Brit abroad. And the compensation for many blunders I made because I was British.

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On display in The Biscuit Factory Winter Show 19

I’m gradually growing my collection of art – in fact moving into a new place in 2020 and I’ve probably thought more about the art I’m purchasing than functional things like “buying a bed”…..Why do you think is a good thing for people to have/own art in their home?

Everyone needs something to stimulate their minds. Whether that be art, design, film, tv. Some kind of visual stimulation. I couldn’t imagine not having art on my walls at home.

You’ve got a large mural piece in Artisan space on the wall in The Biscuit Factory with Henry VIII vibes- can you tell me more about that piece?

Again this is based on my time in Japan, it was completed very soon after my return. I used figures from the Tudor period to represent the stoic, regimented approach of the Japanese. I merged these with geometry and shapes that I saw on the streets of Tokyo.

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Mural inside Biscuit Factory

What other street artists/visual artists inspire you?

Loads. Favourites at the moment are Justin Mortimer, mr Ayrz, Micheal Reeder, Tom Wood, Nicola Samori, Howard Hodgkin, John Wentz, Emilia Vilalba, Neo Rauch, Erik Jones, Ben Slow. I could go on and on.

Do you have a preference painting on canvas or on walls? Is there a process difference?

I prefer canvas in the studio as I can keep dipping in and out, reassessing and refining. But the excitement of a wall piece is hard to beat. I want the work to be immediate. I don’t want to spend too long refining a street piece, I want it to be quick and filled with the energy of that session.

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Well you certainly capture your energy in your pieces – You’ve had such a long career – do you have a highlight you’d like to share?

Portrait of my dad in the BP Portrait Award in 2001. Or getting my work in an exhibition in New York. That’s always been a dream since day one.

Any advice to any aspiring visual artists?

Work hard. Develop a style. No matter how good you are, you need to keep producing work and invest the time to develop. There’s no magic bullet.

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Any advice to artists wanting to approach The Biscuit Factory to display their work?

Get a solid series of work together and send them across to the folks there. Be honest and open about what you want to achieve.

Do you have anything planned for 2020?

Potentially a solo in London and Sheffield. Group show in New York at Booth Gallery. More work with the Biscuit Factory, Sidney and Matilda, Sheffield and Rise Gallery, Croydon.

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Well, that sounds like a busy 2020! Thank you Dan…. It’s so brilliant to see a Northern artist make it regionally, Nationally and Internationally and such a great message for the next generation of creative artists.

Also love the “work hard” message….. a career in the creative industries is not impossible – but it’s about giving 100%, working hard, being authentic…

You can check out some of Dan’s work on his website and you can also visit The Biscuit Factory to view his currently, exhibited pieces. Head on over to their website for info on their opening times this festive season!

Over and out Culture Vultures

 

 

 

Women’s House exhibition: a transformed Tyneside flat exploring feminism from diverse perspectives.

A few months ago, I was contacted out of the blue, by artist Padma Rao about her upcoming exhibition ‘Women’s House’ with fellow artist Miki Z. The exhibition (and wider project) inspired by Judy Chicago sees a flat in South Shields transformed into a gallery space, exploring feminism in social, political, cultural and historical contexts and the notion of “otherness”  through various art forms. This exhibition is a culmination of research, individual and collaborative interrogations, conversations, workshops with diverse women, and discussions with artists through a symposium.

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Judy Chicago – Baltic Centre for Contemporary Art

I get contacted all the time with exhibition information but this really triggered my interest for several reasons….

Firstly, in case you’ve been living under a rock, Judy Chicago, pioneering feminist artist, author and educator is having her work exhibited at The Baltic (until April 2020). The AMAZING exhibition at The Baltic spans Chicago’s fifty-year career, from her early actions in the desert in the 1970s, to her most recent series, The End: A Meditation on Death and Extinction (2013–16), which has not been previously shown outside of the US. As a feminist, I’ve admired and been away of Chicago for some time, so any project that is inspired by her work is something I want to see and be involved in.

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Judy Chicago – Baltic Centre for Contemporary Art

Secondly, it’s a genuine community engagement project. So many exhibitions and art projects have “tokenistic” engagement! This is not the case for Women’s House – they worked tirelessly over the last year engaging with community groups, organisations, artists, peers, researchers etc – having meaningful interactions with the wider community and creating opportunities for people to collaborate with the project. I really believe “co-creation” (artists working with the community) enables higher quality art work and more interesting outputs.

Thirdly, it’s a gallery in a South Shields flat; I love that concept on its own. It’s so interesting when you watch people in traditional gallery spaces, “gallery behaviour” exhibited and the audience barriers erected once art is put in a traditional gallery space. Instead with Women’s House – you’re greeted by either Padma or Miki, offered a cup of tea and then free to explore the ‘living room’, ‘ kitchen’, ‘bedroom’ and ‘bathroom’. It’s lush, it’s relaxed and it feels very special.

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Miki (left) and Padma (right) – Photo credit: Nicola Hunter

Finally, at its core is the exploration of feminism and different experiences of feminism via different art forms and cultural expression. I’m a passionate and proud feminist – I’m so interested at the fact the word “feminist” can have such triggered and polarised response. In the past, when I’ve supported a feminist art project, I’ve received some pretty horrible messages from people who really dislike feminists. And in championing this exhibition so far – whilst the responses have been really lovely and positive, there have been a few “stop with your feminist agenda pushing” or “I hate feminists”. Being a feminist is just about being a good human….

I went to view Women’s House a few weeks ago and it was so beautiful. Different art forms and styles in each room; there was a feeling of questioning, exploring, challenging the representations of women in various cultures and storytelling. The bathroom featured the work of members from Sunderland Women’s Art Group; over six weeks, members worked with Miki Z and Denise Lovell to explore domesticity, cross-cultural identities and gendered roles in the context of feminism. Some of this work is presented on sanitary wear including pads and tampons – which I just loved and extended debate around, why sanitary pads are STILL classes as luxury products and period poverty.

Women’s House is available to view until 20th December – they welcome individuals, community groups – anyone and everyone to get in touch to view by appointment via projectsangini@gmail.com . It’s a must see for feminists and art lovers alike.

I was lucky enough to interview Padma and Miki just before the exhibition opened to find out more! This interview was one my favourites as Culture Vulture and is peppered with such honesty from two fantastic creative humans!

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Miki (left) and Padma (right) – Photo credit: Nicola Hunter

Well hello both, so if we could start at the beginning…tell my readers who you are and what your arts’ practice is?

Padma: My name is Padma Rao and I am a contemporary visual artist, practicing abstract painting and contemporary drawing.

I am passionate about women’s issues and equality, and through my work I investigate the role and status of women in our current society, especially within the South Asian cultures. I use of traditional materials, such as vermillion and turmeric. Though my work is largely experimental and abstract, I include figurative elements as part of the narrative.

I have worked extensively in the arts and the wider cultural, voluntary arts sector in a variety of roles, including arts manager, poet as well as Diversity officer at the Arts Council of England and as an advisor on the panel for Sunderland City of Culture Bid 2021. Having left my job at the Arts Council of England, I have since set up a social enterprise ArtsConnect that runs an art studio/ gallery ‘Makaan’ in South Shields and works as part-time manager at Sangini, a BME led women’s charity in Tyneside.

Miki: I am Miki Z, a visual artist and natural builder. My creative practice is based on experimentation where process is as important as finished product. A significant element of my work centers on materialiality as well as collaboration. Play and accidents are an integral part of my creativity, working in a tactile way across materials. Alongside theoretical research, my practice is a point of research which deepens and informs my thinking process. This fluid approach draws in elements of installation, performance and community participation.

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The Storytellers – Women’s House – Photo credit: Nicola Hunter

So tell me about your journey into the Arts?

Padma: I have always been interested in writing and painting. I  have loved drawing since my childhood and studied literature in India.  I grew up in an artistic environment where music and literature was part of our daily lives as my mother was a classical musician and my father played guitar.  I wrote stories which were printed in local literary magazines and a collection of my poems was published while I was at college.

As a first-generation immigrant in the 80s, I found that the arts sector for the diverse artists wasn’t that developed and it was quite isolating. Much later, I entered the arts sector as a volunteer, helping out to put dance events on in Newcastle for Kala Sangam, Bradford. I also volunteered for a writing group in South Shields. Whilst developing knowledge and skills, organising workshops, I continued to practice my own work around painting, drawing and literature. It was during this, I learnt about the wider arts sector and the disconnect that existed for Black minority ethnic artists, arts organisations both at personal as well as wider level.  This marginalisation of Black artists concerned me and I began asking how can I instil pride in my daughter who was growing up as part of this society but had not experienced the richness of different cultural expressions around her. The history she was told in her school as part of her curriculum was not the history I grew up with about the British Raj and India.

I realised that the picture wasn’t right and in order to correct the picture, it was important that I was part of that narrative.  It was during this time, the Arts Council of England rolled out its ACE Fellowship programme, a fast track senior management training programme for Black, Asian and Chinese arts professionals who, despite working in the industry for a long time, found it hard to gain an entry point into the arts. It was the first-time Arts Council had recognised the lack of representation of BME artists and arts professional within the arts and it became a turning point for me. I was placed at ARC, Stockton where I learnt about all aspects of arts management, programming, marketing, events co-ordination, funding and finance.  Finally, I progressed to work as Diversity officer at the Arts Council of England, North East where worked till 2011.

At 50, I decided to leave my job to become a full-time artist, but that road has not been easy and it took me further 8 years to finally arrive at this point to show my work publicly with the Women’s House project.  All this time, I kept working in the arts with Sangini, creating projects involving women, highlighting women’s issues, took on governance roles with various organisations which contributed to the depth of experience that I am able to bring to my art today.

Miki: I studied 3D Design at Northumbria University 20 years ago. I left feeling completely disengaged with art and design, creativity had been educated out of me.  Some years later I started an abstract painting class with Linda Kent. I found I could connect with this way of seeing the world and letting the materials inform expression.  Alongside this, I attended various community arts workshops as a participant; this encouraged me to find a way back into my own creativity and the value of the arts.

What made you turn your house into a gallery space?

Padma: The gallery space is called Makaan, in Hindi/Urdu it means a house (that inhabits art and artists)

I feel passionately about the transformative power of the arts and know how ‘spaces’ can play an important role in giving access to rich, life changing arts experience.  Not everyone is able to, or likes to or comfortable to go to galleries, thus the buildings can become barriers in engaging public in the arts.  So, by converting this terraced flat into an art space I plan to bring the arts to the people. It exists quietly as part of a residential neighbourhood and has welcomed artists, women and people from diverse communities.

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Padma – Tracing The Evanescent

Tell me how the project came about and developed over time?

Miki: Woman’s House came about after many conversations Padma and I had shared over the years about our shared interest in feminist issues, working with women’s groups and our own creative practices. One question kept coming up in these discussions- Why could we not make our art and developing as artists be the most important thing in our lives?  We both felt passionately about pursuing this as a priority.  It became clear that there where many reasons why this didn’t happen. Everything else in life was given more importance -caring for people, doing other work just to survive, putting other projects and people first before ourselves.  Alongside these practical concerns, the underlying narrative is equally important. We have not valued ourselves as artists, the immense feelings of guilt spending time developing our creativity and under confidence in expressing our identity in the world.

In 2015 I visited New York where I went to see The Dinner Party by Judy Chicago. It was a fantastic and inspiring opportunity to see this iconic piece of work. What I was most struck with was the time spent working with hundreds of participants to create this striking art work. The highly skilled use of craft techniques, often seen as women’s work to depict each element is incredible.  It is an impressive collaboration between people, technical skills and ideas.

Padma: In 2018 while visiting a major women’s art exhibition in Paris, I saw some of the other work from the original project Womanhouse, 1972 the iconic project about women and domesticity by Judy Chicago and Miriam Schapiro.

The Womanhouse, 1972 presented a variety of feminist art by various women including sculptures, performances, installations in a mansion, making this into a large scale site-specific installation, challenging the status quo around women’s issues and patriarchy.

The experience of seeing the original work by Judy Chicago was transformational; however, the exhibition presented a White, heterosexual, middle-class female perspective leaving a particular gap around Black and LGBTQ perspectives.

I got back from Paris and spoke to Miki at length about the exhibition I had seen and how these issues were still relevant, especially in the light of the Centenary of the Suffragette movement and the #MeToo campaign.  That’s when we decided to revisit the original exhibition Womanhouse. We both felt that there were still conversations to be had using Judy Chicago’s project as a departure point.  We wanted to understand how feminism is understood and defined by women from the BME and LGBTQ communities.

Four decades on, Women’s House considers BME and LGBTQ women’s narratives around some of the issues they are facing in current times in the light of the wider political, social and demographical changes.

What is it about Judy Chicago that you find so inspiring?

Both: The work of Judy Chicago opens a way to start dialogues about feminist issues.  Her iconic work Womanhouse seemed to fit well in the realms of what we had been talking about over the years, we both identified with parts of this particular work. The house being a main element of significance.  Padma had already converted a Tyneside flat into a studio/ gallery and my recent additional career direction in working in sustainable construction.

Having seen her work before, we both have a particular connection to Judy Chicago’s work. The tenacity, the boldness and expansiveness in her work has deeply inspired us to explore a lot of issues through our own lenses.  Her work has been pioneering in putting women’s work in a main stream context; highlighting women artists in their own right giving voice to feminist  ideas. It provided a radical language of expression for artists and viewer at a time when second wave feminism was active. Her work has influenced our own practice giving us courage in our own expression and aided more direction in enquiry within our creativity.

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Judy Chicago – Baltic Centre for Contemporary Art

Tell me about some of the events and groups that you’ve engaged with so far as part of the project?

Both: The framework for this project included workshops with community groups, a networking lunch for artists and a symposium.

We held six workshops with 30 BME and LGBTQ  women across Tyne and Wear with the aims of the workshops were to engage women in a discussion around the themes explored in Women’s House using creative approaches help elicit visual narratives.

We also worked with Sunderland women’s art group and facilitated the process of developing an idea into a visual piece, enabling them to make site-specific art pieces for this exhibition.

We hosted a networking lunch for artists; eight BME and LGBTQ women artists were be invited to take a critical view on the issues of feminism and the impact on their personal lives and the artistic practice. What transpired was prioritising space for more in-depth conversations in the future about these discussions.

Finally, a symposium – Working in partnership with National Glass Centre; Sangini organised the symposium whereby a panel of women artists and art professionals were invited to present their views and experiences of Women centric work in the context off feminism in current times.

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Women’s House – Photo credit: Nicola Hunter

What do you want the audience experience to be when they visit the exhibition?

Miki: I want the audience to be challenged by the work created both collectively and individually.  Part of the exhibition is an immersive space to be viewed by minimal light enabling a space for individual imagination and narratives to be added into their own perception of the work. Their part of the story is an important aspect of this work; the boundaries are in no way solid, providing fluid interpretation.  I would like the audience to experience an emotional response to the work.

Padma: The work is largely visceral, personal and emerges out of deep introspection, unravelling small incidents with great care and honesty.  We are telling stories and I hope the audience is able to pick up on these threads and explore personal stories long after they have seen the exhibition.

Why do you think this exhibition and project is important?

Miki: This project is really just a starting point of opening the discussions around intersectionality. The uncomfortable, unsaid things are of interest to me, many of these topics have only been touched upon within this project. The tensions we see around our communities are real, but how do we address them? This project has started to make a space for dialogues between different women from diverse background. There is so much fear involved in talking about the real issues, the way we see ourselves in our own context and then how we may be able to see ourselves in a wider context.  Creating a safe space to have, what might, for many be unsafe conversations is challenging.  Using the creative process and facilitated sessions is a tool opening cross sectional dialogue.

Padma: This project is an important point of transition for me as an artist as it has helped me to affirm my identity, develop an understanding of the collaborative practice as well as my own individual practice.  Many of the issues explored in this project more in-depth conversations both internal as well as externally at wider levels.  Aside from the issues of race and sexuality, there are plethora of other issues that prevent women from leading a decent day to day life which goes to show that more is needed to achieve a level playing field.

The exhibition is personal yet it’s also reflective of the wider narratives we have encountered while working on this project.  It’s a conversation piece between Miki and I, a portrayal of the female world, as we saw it and experienced it.

This project helped us to link up with Baltic and the Women’s House exhibition coincides with Judy Chicago’s exhibition at Baltic. This is a major co-incidence which we are not taking it lightly. We are delighted with the opportunity to work with Baltic on this and we will be hosting an event to mark Judy Chicago’s exhibition.

Can you tell me about some of the pieces and the processes behind the making?

The Storytellers

Padma: A collaborative, immersive, site specific piece that draws on intersections of our identities in terms of race and sexuality.

This piece uses the techniques of Warli tribal art from India, where the outside walls of the house are painted in red natural pigment and using rice flour and water, women depict their daily lives on the painted surface.  We have used this traditional art form to portray our stories in the contemporary British context.  Using white line drawings, both Miki and I have attempted to bring together our experiences over the past year.

The piece creates an immersive environment, presented in a darkened room where viewers are invited to see the work using small hand-held lights, restricting their view of the artwork as a whole.  The viewers will only see parts of the work, forcing them to develop their own narrative/s based on the limited view of the installation.

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Miki (left) and Padma (right) – Photo credit: Nicola Hunter

Tracing The Evanescent

Padma: “Can’t remember the last time a south Asian female figure was portrayed in a mainstream art gallery.’

This became the starting point as I began investigating into the notion of feminism among South Asian women who are often seen as ‘passive’. This concern was further widened with questions such as, ‘Where are the stories of South Asian female activism?’  ‘Why there are very few or little South Asian female stories represented in the galleries or museums?’ ‘Where is the South Asian feminist art in the UK?’ After much research, there is a distinct lack of narratives to assert British South Asian feminist voices, especially through creative expressions.

This piece is a series of process based drawings involving the act of mark-making and erasure as the main method to ‘trace’ the lost or hidden faces of women of South Asian descent. What began as a quest for stories of feminist art expression among South Asian women artists, soon became a concern. There has been a distinct lack of narratives of the British South Asian feminist voices, especially through creative expressions.

Angry and upset, I began rendering by drawing and erasing the faces in a repeated fashion, as if to experience the notion of invisibility that happens to the women on daily basis. In some of the drawings, by slowly making the circular gestural marks over the face, thus partially covering the faded face, I was able to connect deeply and emotionally with these women.

Who are these women?  Despite the concern about the lack of presence of feminist expressions, what I found exciting was the ordinary and the everyday acts of feminism which pervade these women’s lives.  Hence, the largely lost or hidden faces of ordinary women who are brave, courageous and strong become the heroines and their narratives are explored through their gaze and emotional state. They are portrayed in oversized scale using charcoal, graphite and kumkum (vermillion).

Exploring Other

Miki Z: A process led investigation into gendered space both physical and emotional. Using abstract lines, mixed media and water colours, it explores the queer space in-between, capturing the non-binary state of depiction of a person. It’s open to challenging those boundaries, disrupting the binary position. Using intuitive way of working, there is the accidental or the unseen. What happens on the paper informs the next.  There is fluidity and sense of movement in the pieces that allow the viewers to gain a sense of flow that is largely internal, feeling like they are floating in a space of their own occupying a liminal space.

Sum the exhibition up in 3 words?

Both: Immersive, poetic, bold

What do you think about the current North East creative scene?

Both: The North East creative scene is a unique place to showcase as well as experience fabulous arts and culture.  Just take Sunderland and you can see how a city is transforming its cultural landscape through great music, dance, festivals and visual arts from across the world.  Despite the squeeze on funding, there are great advocates for the arts in the North East who keep fighting for the region and that gives us hope for the future. We do need more diverse artists from the region and their voices to come through and more diversity of audience participation, especially inclusive of minority ethnic, disability and LGBTQ communities.

Tell me about an artist that you find in the present, super inspiring?

Padma: There are several artists that I often refer to, depending on the subject I’m working on, for inspiration and to learn from; Kara Walker, Kiki Smith, Chitra Ganesh and Zarina Hashmi to name a few. But the one artist whose work I find particularly inspiring and deeply interesting, in terms of drawing, is Julie Mehretu.  Mehretu’s work is multi-layered with marks, architectural shapes, designs to create complex large scale abstract paintings.  I have not seen her work, but I am sure it will be just as transformational as it has been with Judy Chicago’s work when I saw it for the first time in Paris.

Miki: Throughout this project I decided not to do research on other queer or BME female artists. I was more interested in theoretical research which in turn influenced my creative practice becoming research, ideas and thoughts. The main area of importance for me goes hand in hand with my other work as a builder in various ways. Looking at gendered space as a concept, how we interact with spaces around us and how space is conveyed on a two dimensional plain.

Tell me about another project you’ve worked on?

Padma: Last year, I produced a retrospective for a national Rangoli artist Ranbir Kaur at Sunderland Museum and Winter Gardens.

Miki: As well as being an artist I am a natural builder.  During my recent postgraduate degree in Belgium I was involved in the design and build of a women’s centre in a village in Morocco. Through this experience I have become motivated in researching practical design principles for best practice in working with marginalised  communities.

What’s next for you in 2020?

Both: We plan to carry on developing our collaborative work, expanding narratives working with communities to make larger scale artworks taking over public spaces.

Miki: In the next year I have many projects I aim to undertake, part research, part practice where one will influence the other.  I will attempt to undertake a research project which focuses on gendered space, crossing between physical built environment, body, emotional and the place in-between.  Alongside this I want to produce a body of work that crosses between my abstract art work and technical skills working with lime and clay in construction. Melding the two disciplines together.

Padma:  ‘The Female’ – as in consciousness, a metaphysical body, remains a primary concern of my work.  I would like to continue exploring some of the issues I uncovered during my research on this project, such as the notion of visibility, migration and identity from a feminist perspective. I have been deeply moved by the recent forced mass migration of Rohyingyas in Myanmar, but this is not in isolation. Mass movement of people is symptomatic of where humanity is at right now and I plan to develop a body of work on this topic.

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Women’s House – Photo credit: Nicola Hunter

Wow…..I’ve loved this interview. I could talk about all of this all day – I really love when personal passions become the inspiration for projects. It’s all about people power!

Women’s House is available to view until 20th December – they welcome individuals, community groups – anyone and everyone to get in touch to view by appointment via projectsangini@gmail.com. It’s a must see for feminists and art lovers alike.