Artlink the Centre for Community Arts on Princes Avenue returns to its beginnings as a centre for disability arts, for Roots and Routes, season two of Hull 2017. Back in 1982 Artlink was part of the Shape Network, a national movement started in 1974, that sought to raise the profiles and increase opportunities for disabled artists. In 2017 Square Peg will see the community arts gallery delivering a year long disability and diversity programme of events.
Square Peg supported by Arts Council England, Hull 2017 and Shape Arts, has programmed a year-long series of exhibitions, events, artist residencies, interventions and training, underpinned by a strong belief that everybody should have the opportunity to participate in artistic and cultural activities.
Square Peg aims to:
- Create opportunities for disabled people to attend and inform arts events
- Create opportunities for and to promote the work of disabled/diverse artists
- Raise awareness of barriers faced by disabled people and diverse communities when attending events
- Bring communities together and create a greater understanding
Square Peg launched with an exhibition and week-long residency by the painter Tanya Raabe-Webber, who created new works for her Portraits Untold series, with a number of live painting sessions in Hull during February. (Read Here about my experience of sitting for Tanya Raabe)
The second event in the Square Peg programme is the Adam Reynolds Memorial Bursary Short List. Each of the shortlisted artists were considered by the Turner Contemporary Gallery Margate, the group show for the artists organised by Shape Arts, showcases the work of seven mid-career artists based in the UK. The ARMB exhibition, running at ArtLink Hull until 13th May, features digital art, text and film works, paintings and installations.
The preview event for ARMB took place 7 April, Martin Green CEO Hull 2017 addressed the attendees welcoming visitors to Hull including two of the shortlisted artists, painter David Lock and Aidan Moesby visual artist and curator. Martin congratulated the team behind the show including Fiona Slater programme co-ordinator for Shape and Rachel Elm project lead for Square Peg. The ARMB exhibition, running at Artlink Hull until 13th May, features digital art, text and film works, paintings and installations.
The exhibiting artists are: Aidan Moesby, Anna Berry, Ruth Le Gear, Juan delGado, David Lock and Peter Matthews, with the exhibition featuring thirteen separate works.
Aidan Moesby’s work plays with language and psychology, he talks about using the weather as a metaphor for emotional states, describing physical and internal weather. Some of his previous work has used this metaphorical language to represent and respond to issues around the ‘dual crisis’ of mental health and global climate change.
‘I’m feeling a bit under a cloud today, my head’s a bit foggy, or describing someone as having a sunny personality or perhaps being misty eyed. All of these metaphors describe how we feel, but they also refer to the weather.’
‘There’s a poetry in the weather words, to describe how you feel and cultural references to reinforce them like, ‘Why does it always rain on me?’ or ‘I’m only happy when it rains…’
Last year as Disability Associate at Salisbury International Festival, Aidan used food items to explore the language of mental health ‘…bananas, crackers, nuts… and the phrase being out to lunch to provoke conversations around mental health through gentle interventions.’
Aidan also looks at the contrasting language used by media to describe disability, ‘After the Paralympics it was, you’re so inspirational… you are a super hero…’ and then the other side of the coin,’…you are a scrounger.’
This interchangeable way the media describes disabled people, is playfully demonstrated with, ‘Timed Out’ a clocking on machine which delivers an unexpected message to the user, in triplicate.
Aidan is pleased to have been shortlisted for the ARMB describing it as an opportunity to encourage critical discourse within disability arts.
Asked about his impressions of Hull, Aidan remarked, ‘It’s the first time I’ve been to Hull, I’m pleasantly surprised, I’ve been wandering around, there’s a sense of faded grandeur in the architecture, it’s got really good cheekbones,’ there can be no argument with that.
The atmosphere at the preview event was described by visitors to the gallery as warm and inclusive, with the ARMB group show attracting a wide variety of people, the event was BSL interpreted with an audio description available throughout the exhibition.
The main gallery space is partially altered with the presence of The Ringing Forest by Juan delGado, an immersive secluded space which explores the artist’s experience of being inside a forest.
‘The dissonant abstract sounds are perhaps as an ant might experience our world,’ says Jon Keen who led in the build and installation of the work…’The work has a living quality as buds and branches sprout at my feet,’ said another.
The politically charged work of Anne Berry occupies one side of the room with an installation made up of eggshells and paper called Dole Scum II – a powerful representation exploring what it feels like to have to rely on benefits.
The work which seemed to capture the crowds’ imagination, was the Periodic Table of Emotions by Aidan Moesby, which uses the familiar shape and pattern we all recall from school science class. It appears here rewritten with new symbols representing a wide range of emotions, set out in different colour blocks: each newly described emotion is numbered giving it a weight or intensity.
Also on display is a text-based work called Syndrome which begins to decipher the extreme emotional responses found in the infamous Stockholm syndrome and the lesser known Lima syndrome.
Ruth Le Gear’s Water Senses, uses different mediums including film and print, to explore the spiritual, healing and ritualistic qualities of water.
Also with a watery theme is Peter Matthews’ Double Negative, a film that uses layered footage, to convey the unforgiving nature of the ocean.
David Lock is a London-based painter whose canvases depict the male form, in his practice he draws inspiration from popular culture, exploring identity and masculinity. Previously working on large canvasses, for this show David has chosen to exhibit smaller works: K.H. and Uncle Joe are more intimate moments reimagined in oils, which lends them an illusory quality.
I spoke with the ARMB exhibition curator Fiona Slater, about Shape Arts and its work raising the profile of disability arts. She explained that the benefits of using high-profile galleries to host work by disabled artists work in two ways.
First the work and the artist can attract more attention and be exposed to larger audiences in more well-known spaces…
Second it is a vital way to raise awareness, tackle stigma and the misconceptions grown up around disability arts and most importantly, encourage changes within larger arts organisations, in order that they provide professional disabled artists better access to things like, solo shows, residencies and commissions.
With the ARMB exhibition at Artlink here in Hull – until 13 May – Fiona hopes that audiences will appreciate the variety and diversity within the group show: take a deeper look and seek out the artists’ work in future.
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Click Here for more images from Square Peg photographer Jerome Whittingham