Collaborate: Exhibition Review

It’s been a while since I have reviewed an exhibition, even longer since I have reviewed an online one! This one had an online launch event also, so I had no idea what to expect. I had to sign up for the link, I didn’t know if this was going to be another Zoom party or what. What is was in the end, was something new, something different, and a whole new way of doing online exhibitions.

‘Collaborate’ is a an online exhibition bought to you by Cartwheel Arts. They have really embraced the term ‘collaborate’ in a number of ways. Cartwheel Arts gathered a bunch of Manchester creatives together, from painters, musicians, digital artists, print makers, writers and more. They paired the creatives together to – you guessed it – collaborate! They explored the themes of environmental issues and the exhibition launched on Youtube last Thursday (19th November). The 45m video showed a combined mix of clips, firstly the artists introduced themselves and discussed the work they created. You then watched the work come together with their collaborator. It’s pretty hard to explain how it all worked overall, perhaps it will be easier as I go into more detail about some of the artists on show (the video is at the end of the post so you can watch this too!).

I was lucky enough to talk to some of the artists exhibiting before the launch, one being Natalie Linney, aka Talinseed. Natalie is an artist and printmaker, who worked alongside writer Anjum Malik. Both being big fans of gardening and plants, they met regularly at Anjum’s allotment and talked all things nature, which led them to creating work surrounding the idea of ‘growing your own.’ This print-come-text piece, is a mix of printed nature and Anjum’s poem embedding within it. For the launch video, Anjum read her poem whilst the camera scrolled over Natalie’s print, so you had the chance to see this in close-up detail.

Natalie says: ‘I was really happy to be with Anjum, hanging out on her allotment. I got to eat some of her home-grown food whilst I took clippings from her plants to make my prints! Its really important to be outside, important for your mental health and generally just to feel good. All you need is a good waterproof!’

Natalie carries on to say: ‘Start small. Just do simple things like planting in your garden, or growing something in your house. Just have a go!’

I also had the chance to talk to Becky Smyllie, one of the organisers of the exhibition. Becky is the Art for Wellbeing Project Coordinator for Cartwheel Arts. We asked Becky how they chose the artists for the exhibition:

‘We invited our community practitioners to submit a proposal based around an environmental issue they were passionate about. We were looking for a clear vision of how they hoped to collaborate. A panel made up of myself, Rick Walker (Director of Cartwheel), Laura Broome (Trustee for Cartwheel) and Sue Taylor (Events Manager, Rochdale Borough Council), went through 19 inspiring applications and pain painstakingly chose 10 to support with funding from Arts Council England, Emergency Response Fund. The core purpose of this project being to support our freelancers during challenging times.’

Another piece that I enjoyed was that of Jodie Silverman, who collaborated with sound artist Danielle Porter. Together they explored the themes of textiles and fast fashion. Jodie is a painter and created a stunning painting named ‘Retail Therapy’. In this self portrait, Jodie lies on piles of clothes and fabric, lying there as though she is on a therapist’s chaise lounge, talking about her addiction to shopping. I love the colours, layers and textures in her work. As we looked at the image on the launch video, Danielle Porter’s sound piece played through the speaker. Danielle recorded sounds of sewing machines, churning away at the fabric, to highlight the on-going and laboring work of seamstresses.

I spoke with Jodie about her work, she explains:

‘Over lockdown I’ve been reflecting on my own consumer habits. I’ve always loved the creative side of fashion but I noticed that I was over buying clothes as a way to fend off feelings of insecurity. For two years I needed to walk with a cane due to severe arthritis, I was very self conscious about this and clothes became my armour. I would also buy things to make myself feel better when experiencing difficult emotions. I painted a self portrait with my clothes as a way of exploring the issue of retail therapy and I wanted to suggest alternative ways of looking after ourselves when we feel we are not enough, such as self compassion, acceptance and setting intrinsic goals. I wanted to make the background look like textile waste in landfill and Danielle worked with me to develop a sound piece to go with the painting. This consisted of layering the sounds of sewing machines to reflect the exploitation of garment workers.’

I do think there were some challenges to creating this launch video. The fact that most of the artists created this and documented this work at home, meant that in some cases, the quality was a little lacking. Puppet Maker Vicky Lomax collaborated with poet Shamshad Khan. Together they explored our use of plastic, and Vicky created a pretty freaky looking plastic puppet. The puppet itself was impressive. She actually created a second puppet, a natural one made from organic substances, twigs, leaves etc. Shamshad’s poems were read over the video as we looked at images of Vicky’s work. However, the images of the puppets were clearly taken from Vicky’s phone at home, kind of made it lose the magic. It was like watching a puppet show and seeing the humans hands managing the strings – it just lost the ‘fantasy’ element of the work.

One other collaboration I want to mention is that of Mitch Oldham and Sumit Sarkar. I liked these two a lot. Mitch is a musician and he created drums using found objects. Sumit is an artist who painted these drums for him. Mitch recorded people talking about environmental issues and played these recordings over playing the drums. It was a sound-come-performance-come music piece, with an artistic setting – very collaborative!

I think overall this was a great exhibition and it’s so good to see new art again. It’s also great to see different art forms come together to create new pieces, and I did like the launch video and think it was successful. Unlike a ‘real life’ exhibition, it forced you to focus solely on that artist’s work, no distractions from other pieces. It gave you time to take it all in and you couldn’t ‘skip’ past it. Meaning all the artists were seen individually and collaboratively. You can still watch the launch, link below, and see some of the artists work on the blog ‘Art for a Reason’.

I think the last word should be from Becky, who adds:

‘I’d like to express my gratitude to the artists for making this such an inspirational project to manage. Everyone has been a pleasure to work with and the quality of work has been exceptional, and though I’m never surprised by the high quality our practitioners bring, I’m always blown away by it.’

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