movement in the gallery

August 22, 2016

After spending two days on Value, Creativity and Human Flourishing, an interdisciplinary  workshop at MMU my head was full of thoughts and questions around what my values are, how well I communicate them and how to create the best spaces (in terms of artwork, art workshops and the wider world) to allow these values to flourish in myself and others. More on this  will filter through in future posts I imagine. What struck me most was that the sensations of freedom and openness, understanding and connection that many of us receive when in play and learning shouldn’t be confined to discrete experiences of ‘the arts’ but integral to life in general. Creativity isn’t a skill exclusively owned by those working in the arts, creative thinking is necessary in all areas of life.  Being open and playful isn’t about being childish, its about thinking creatively and being receptive in the moment.  I could go on, but I won’t, you get the picture.  In this overloaded but reflective frame of mind I visited the Whitworth Gallery to see the Whitworth Late performances that evening.

Epiphany, a collective of classically trained musicians who improvise together, played sound portraits of individual subjects who sat on a chair facing away from onlookers, towards the group.  Epiphany say that they play with no previous plans and purely play what they see or sense in their subject. These portrait performances were truly lovely to watch and I imagine the portraits were rather moving and wonderful to be in the midst of. The sounds washed over and allowed my brain to loosen its grip on all the information I had taken in over the previous 2 days.

Naomi and Epiphany

in the drawing

Later Epiphany performed a 45 minute improvisation with Naomi Kendrick drawing. Having watched Naomi previously draw with musicians Dave Birchall and Dan Bridgewood Hill, I’ve witnessed the movements, noises and marks made by the drawing feed the improv of the musicians and vice versa. I imagine that both visual and sound artists are unclear as to who starts what within any given piece. I really enjoy watching the performances as whole moving images; Naomi and her shadow moving as part of the live drawing. I’ve attempted to draw this in the past.  Watching Naomi with Epiphany, a much larger group of musicians, the drama within the performance was heightened further still as they moved around the ‘canvas’ appearing to tail, beckon and group around the low moving figure of Naomi drawing.  The movements of the musicians around the canvas echoed the ebb and flow of their music and the vigour and delicacy of the drawing action and drawn marks.

Naomi drawing epiphany 3

the edge of the drawing

The 11 meter length of paper served as a simple canvas-stage but was also a very large area to cover in the space of 45 minutes and yet it did get covered, the image above bearing witness to a moment when Naomi in full stretch hit the edge of the paper nearest me and the mark recoiled on itself taking with it Naomi’s arm.  Check out Naomi’s blog post that articulates all this much better.

Naomi drawing Epiphany 2

after the drawing


A week later when I visited Huddersfield Art Gallery to view a performance in response to the Open House exhibition, I was most pleased to find that the artists’ talk that preceded the performance was by Sumi Perera, whose show Liminal Spaces is on til 15th October.

Sumi Perera Hudds 2

prints with shadow from skylight in education room

I’ve had the opportunity to handle some of Sumi’s books at book fairs before but never had the chance to hear her talk about her work.  The method of description also portrayed the approach to thinking and making; there was lots of movement and connections between ideas, even Sumi’s outfit described her approach well with interesting shapes and textures.  As an artist with an early desire to be an architect, a training in exotic medicine and a history of garment making and an instinct for prudent use of materials, Sumi explained that her work is about exploring the human form and the environments we build for it. I guess in a sense working with what she has in an embodied and also a materials sense.  Mark making is done through etching, inked and non-inked prints, laser cut, screen print, stitch, formed paper shapes, wooden and metal structures. In Liminal Spaces prints are hung, draped, layed and layered, they expand across walls and are refracted by glass balls. Frames and shadows cast from elements extending out of the surface entreat viewers to seek a different perspective from the head on view. Sumi actively encourages people to touch her work, knowing that at least part of the understanding is in that point of engagement.  But as Sumi questions through making, the work presented asks us to question, look for patterns and connections between different frameworks, techniques and materials to encourage curiosity and perhaps help with a wider understanding.

Sumi Perera Hudds 3

Printed paper, structure and shadow in gallery

For more info on Sumi Perera’s work see this printmakers council interview


The Open House exhibition was the end of a month long residency for a group of artists working in the gallery under two different briefs:

1 – Archives: Jim Bond, Liz Walker and Rozi Fuller set to work exploring the archives, creating a mini studio inside their gallery space to work on the project. This work resulted in a wonderful installation of puppet, archival objects and narrative animated film about an archivist carefully wrapping and labelling objects including himself.

2 – Wayfinding: David Armes explored the routes to Huddersfield Gallery through the memories and directions given by the people of Huddersfield. Over the month David set up a mini letterpress print shop in the middle of his allotted space and printed a textual map of the Gallery’s place in the collective minds of Huddersfield residents.

For more information about the Open House exhibition see East Street Arts.


Having myself stooped and leant to view the work in Liminal Spaces it was wonderful to watch the dancers move in and around the work in the Open House exhibition. Here too they allowed object placement to direct their gaze, there were movements in response to the shape of objects, the layout of the space, the sounds and motions of a mechanised lamp.  A typewriter and adana presses were played, directions and recollections were sung and the spaces were animated by 6 dancers moving in small spaces in front of a big crowd.


Turvey World Dancers respond to the work of David Armes in Open House at Huddersfield Art Gallery. Image by Roger Bygott.

I’d had the pleasure of taking part in a movement workshop run by Gerry Turvey the week before the performance.  Moving with a group of strangers in a gallery setting was both wonderful and challenging (for a typically solo dancer) and I felt honoured to share and witness the physical and emotional responses given to the exhibition.  And touched also for the artists to have had such risible responses to their work.  It seemed, with both the workshop and the performance, that the movements articulated responses to the themes and materials within the artworks that would not have been made visible or known any other way.  In so animating the exhibitions the performance and the workshop gave new life to the work and new possibilities for understanding and taking concepts further.

For more detailed information and many more exciting photographs of the performance go to TurveyWorld Dance responses to ROTOЯ exhibitions

What I enjoyed about all these events was how they subverted the gallery space and the way people behave in the space. It wasn’t particularly radical or confrontational, in fact in all cases here the manner was playful and gentle but thoughtful too. Each created a space that offered people the chance to spend more time in the gallery setting, get comfortable in the moment, being responsive to what was happening and have a dialogue with the work and the makers of the work. More of this!

Just over a week ago I spent 2 fascinating days in the company of Artists, Poets, GP’s, Academics, Archivists, Occupational Therapists, Art Psychotherapists, Mental Health Nurses and Patients at the symposium and workshop organised by the University of Kent and the exhibition PRESCRIPTIONS.

The programme of events was built around the collection of books made by Martha A Hall, that were donated by the artist to be used as a learning resource at the University of New England.

Hall’s books focusing on her experience living with breast cancer are uniquely powerful as patient narratives. The intimacy of the book form draws students into relationship with the artist’s narrative, suggesting that the body and the text are inseparable. Handling such books, which contain intimate pieces of a person’s life experience, creates deep impact for students and is especially valuable for those planning to enter the health professions, which is the case for the majority of students at the University of New England. Hall’s books not only emphasize her struggle for voice and self- determination in the medical encounter; they demand that the patient’s perspective be heard. But beyond that, they invite readers into a partnership and reframe the encounter with the patient’s body in ways that radically shift students’ understanding of the health professions and of their own embodied experience as human beings.

The above text is taken from the symposium programme where you can read about the speakers and the abstracts of their presentations.  The symposium was organised by Stella Bolaki who had studied Martha Hall’s books for some time. Here you can find an in-depth article by Stella Bolaki on the subject.  Each presentation approached the symposium title from different angles: from the medical humanities looking for a way of rebalancing failures in the current health education system; as academics and artists making and curating work to express and document ill health; as archivists using the collection of Martha Hall’s work to educate new health practitioners; from sociology understanding society and the individual through the action of making. See below for some of my free flow notes taken on the day.

If you have time do watch Martha Hall talking about making and using her books in the film below. Aside from the experience of handling the books in person, this film gives a sense of the real practical use that artists’ books can offer.


Artists’ books only exist in the hands. Artists’ books problematise the way we read books, they force us into new ways of reading. ..spine of the book…Palimpsest – re-writing  / re-authoring narratives – power in healthcare.  Making a book is a temporal experience as is the reading of it… Artists’ books are made for 1:1 interaction but can reach many people.  The form matches experience: balances, enclosure / exposure, inward and outward. .. We need to be producing and redistributing sensibility capital…the production of insensibility by medical culture.. Walter Benjamin ‘how we sense is cultural’…Penisula appointed a Professor of Visual Art alongside Professors of Music and Medicine…Pity (greek compassion) v’s empathy..  ‘Patients want a good conversation, they don’t want to be told certainty for it to be wrong’… ‘I just want my doctor’s knowledge not their empathy’ The arts produce ambiguity…  Turning the page…the viewer is complicit in the action….  ‘I ‘d reach for what’s closest and make what I needed.’…  Making art to make sense…  ‘Painting the mural gave me the excuse to stand on the street and talk about the grief surging in me’…  Painted blazers were a walking gallery… Artists’ Books tell the truth…equal heft to science textbooks… Some want empathy, some want knowledge, all want respect and time..Doctors need to check expectations and learn to read what people are looking for….  ‘We have answers, but we don’t get trained to deal with situations when we don’t have answers’…  Increase visual literacy and increase self-determination and expression…  Rita Charon encourages parallel charts…art practice can be cathartic but not helpful for the condition…how to make a practice informed by health needs as a maintain equilibrium?


The exhibition at The Beaney was co-curated by Stella Bolaki and Egidija Ciricaite who wrote a lovely post about one of the main strands of the exhibition on the blog collective investigations.

The show features the work of 78 artists alongside 15 books by Martha Hall you can see the online catalogue below for more information on each artist and book.  The work looks great in the display cabinets and offers fleeting glimpses into each experience captured. A frustration expressed by many was that none of the books can be fully read in this state. Due to issues of insurance and liability at The Beaney, the core message, that the handling of artist’s books can increase the ability to ‘read’ others sensitively, is trapped behind the glass.  Happily, the last I heard, the co-ordinating of handling sessions were being discussed. Many  of the artists have donated their books to the Artists’ Books and the Medical Humanities collection to be housed at the University of Kent for future handling, education and research.  I’ve donated the last of my home edition which can be seen being handled here.


The workshop gave the opportunity for a day of active reflection on the issues raised by the symposium speakers and books in the exhibition. With initial activities, led by Jennifer Tuttle and Cathleen Miller, linking the structural and material elements of Martha’s books to content, the large group very quickly engaged with the subject matter and once Andrew Malone had given the lead into the practical activity, linking technique and materials available with now familiar examples there was a visible surge in energy and focus in the room as people sought and found their visual language very quickly.  It was a very positive experience to witness a group of people, largely new to artists’ books take to the medium so quickly and with such potency. Scouring imagery and piles of materials is always fun but there felt a hunger in which we all sought them.

Here are some pictures of the book I made. I used the workshop as a chance to digest what I had heard and seen the day before and approached the book making as a reflection exercise, thinking about my relationship with health and healthcare and my role in the health of others through personal relationships and my job within healthcare.  Andrew gave us each a length of concertina folded paper which is a great place to start from and a lovely way of comparing and sharing experiences later. I used my own concertina as a dividing line between myself and healthcare, myself on one side, healthcare on the other, and used openings and translucent layers to suggest the links between the two. I don’t often use collage but found it a really helpful way to think things through, as visual metaphors continually jumped out at me from the piles of imagery and tactile surfaces! Lots of engineering diagrams, traces of past civilisations, Victorian style explorer illustrations and offcuts from Andrews’ own work – absent subjects hinted at by the contours of a backdrop. No epiphanies yet but it’s a start.








Image: Martha Hall, Maine Women Writers Collection, University of New England

This week I’m off to Kent for a symposium and workshop on Artist’s Books and the Medical Humanities.The symposium is linked to an exhibition of Martha A Hall’s work curated by Dr Stella Bolaki and Egidija Ciricaite at The Beaney,  see below for more details.

Prescriptions: artist’s books on wellbeing and medicine

with featured artist Martha A Hall in The Drawing Room at The Beaney House of Art & Knowledge CT1 2RA from April 22 – August 14. Preview April 21.

The exhibition focuses on the book art of Martha Hall, on loan from the University of New England, and linked to a University of Kent symposium. Hall’s books document her experiences with breast cancer and interactions with the medical community, and are accompanied by a curated show of artists books responding to themes of art, empathy and wellbeing. Supported by the Wellcome Trust.


I’m also really pleased to have some work in the supporting show.  home was made to give me time to reflect upon and share my understanding of my nan’s dementia, and how it affected both her and my relationship with ‘home’. Sharing the work at book fairs and exhibitions has opened up conversations with others in similar situations, has allowed reflection and disclosure of thoughts and feelings often censored in situations.  Along with some other exhibitors I’m donating my final copy of this edition to the University of Kent’s collection for future research by medical humanities students.  I’m really looking forward to hearing more about the project later in the week.



home, screen printed  flash cards 2009