While we planned to create an online archive of our previous exhibitions, this project has coincided with a lot more of our social and cultural lives going online as well. As such, with the launch of our web site we also bring you our fifth exhibition TBA 005: WEB SITE. Some of the artists have been working in new spaces and in new ways, with access to studios limited or stopped altogether. Some of the artists are practicing much in the way they normally would. Either way, we’ve adapted to digitise all our work for the online exhibition and have created and produced a zine with further bits for the hardcore hard copy fans amongst you.
From the (dis)comfort of your own home, please enjoy our most accessible exhibition yet, with or without trousers on.
SPACE, PROJECTION AND TEXTUAL NEUTRALITY
A common theme in each of our exhibition titles, Occupation, Merz and Church, has attended to the purposes and practices through which we understand spaces. This is the theme we carry into this exhibition TBA 005: WEB SITE, as we move from physical gallery and performance spaces to the virtual exhibition mode that is becoming common place in lockdown and focus on the merging spaces, their meaning and their value, as many of us remain in one space for much more of the day.
In Occupation, we explored the uses of now abandoned or disused industrial spaces. The names of sites such as The Shoe Factory at St Mary’s Works in Norwich where the exhibition took place, the only remaining reference to the specific purpose around which the buildings were originally designed. Now, along with empty shop fronts that housed businesses unable to sustain trade beyond the repercussions of the 2008 financial crisis, ex-industrial sites have become contested real estate, temporarily used by artists and performers looking for an accessible exhibition space and soon snapped up by property developers capitalising on the growing interest from the increasing population of digital creative and knowledge economies of the new middle class.
Once a site of labour and now destined to be a site of domesticity, the name ‘St Mary’s Works’ appeals to a sexier, urban sensibility than ‘St Mary’s Homes’, it seems.
Inventor of the term Merz, the name of our third exhibition, Kurt Schwitters made installations in his living spaces, creating three dimensional collages out of the rooms he inhabited. His site of production, the studio space, was also the art piece itself. Schwitters created the eight rooms of the original Merzbau in part of his home in Hannover before fleeing for Norway as the grip of the Third Reich took hold of Germany. He created another Merz installation in Oslo where he joined his son in exile and then moved again to Cumbria here in England, starting his final collage installation in an old gunpowder shed, visited by the collective a year ago. Living and practicing in the art space was key to the theme of Merz which he carried to each of these geographic locations.
And the work for our most recent exhibition, Church, addressed the once holy specificity of these sites of worship and the removal of their divine status as churches continue to be deconsecrated and repurposed as community centres, galleries and music venues in Norwich. If Occupation discussed the post-industrial, post-Fordist condition of production beyond the turn of the century, Church in part acknowledged a move beyond the centrality of Christian religions to daily practice and ideology in the West and in Norwich in particular, as the city which has historically had the most number of churches in the UK.
Now, in lockdown, many of these distinctions of how we use and move in particular physical spaces have blurred or disappeared. While the majority of non-essential work has either ceased or moved online and many of us remain physically at home, our work and our domestic spaces have now merged into one. Many of the collective have moved their studio work into their homes too, even whilst those in care work go about their working days as they had before.
Many of us now eat, sleep, work, socialise and create all in the same space.
As a consequence, senses of place, habitus and belonging have become less tangible and our day to day routines and rituals potentially less meaningful. If a lot more of us can spend this amount of time at home and not go out to those places of work, worship and live cultural activity, maybe we’ve never needed to do those things all along?
A lost sense of belonging to particular places at particular times is perhaps where the incredible rage has emerged by some small sections of society, most notably (or loudly) found in parts of America. ‘Let us go back to work! Let us get a haircut! Open up our economy!’ is perhaps code for ‘Let us feel like we have a purpose! Let us continue imagining that how our hair looks actually matters! Let us reaffirm the meaningfulness of our lives through the exchange of capital for goods and services! Do not render our everyday lives and beliefs arbitrary and unnecessary!’. The desperation is far more visceral and urgent than whether or not your fringe is straight could ever warrant. There must be something more fundamental and primal under threat here
The perceived value of particular locations has also shifted. The meaningfulness of access to more desirable and lucrative work enjoyed by those living in the capital’s commuter belt has somewhat evaporated in a time when everyone is working from home. And access as a notion has changed in many ways.
Until now, accessible or inaccessible spaces have been defined by physical and fiscal barriers: this venue is accessible to those using wheelchairs; this performance is prohibitively expensive for those on a low income; this bank has a hearing loop to make service standardised for those with hearing aids; anyone in the UK can travel to an exotic holiday destination, unless your citizenship is in question or you can’t afford to get a passport or pay the cost of travel.
Accessibility to cultural spaces in lockdown is more likely to be defined by the availability of technology, the quality of your broadband service and knowledge of how to convert work and play to a virtual environment. Galleries have created virtual tours; musicians are playing concerts for free online; actors are creating television shows on their camera phones; lectures and classes are available on free streaming platforms; Patrick Stewart will read you the sonnets of Shakespeare from his living room.
Traditional, material hierarchies, of course, persist and there are differing levels of comfort, safety, health and choice depending on the usual myriad intersecting conditions. The new normal is not particularly new at all for those without homes or jobs and who live without a conventional sense of belonging, with or without lockdown. Whether or not TV adverts are being recorded in people’s homes or in studios with giant crews are of little concern to people living in lockdown with abusive partners.
But to pursue an analysis that is more manageable in a short essay from a small artist collective, in terms of cultural consumption and many of our cultural texts, the investment in changing forms of production have shifted the distinctions in textual value to a potentially more equal state. Our evening news looks the same as our work calls, which look the same as a lecture from a celebrated professor or a class with a primary school teacher, which look the same as a TV drama, a consultation with a doctor, an advert, a talk show, a session with a personal trainer, a call with a relative, a public service announcement about our new societal infrastructures or a bulletin on if and how we will receive money if we are out of work.
We are perhaps, by accident, the closest we’ve been to the utopian vision of the internet conceived by many optimists in the latter part of the 20th Century and the open access, open source champions of the copyleft. It might not look as fantastical or colourful as once imagined, but then this might change if everyday access to and understanding of augmented reality becomes more advanced than changing our backgrounds to The Simpsons’ living room in video meetings.
This doesn’t make all of these materials equally ‘good’ of course, but we have found ourselves in an accelerated state of textual neutrality. Whether it’s the world’s finest opera singer performing a technically complex and celebrated aria or your three-year-old niece singing you happy birthday. A face on a slightly pixelated screen. Living rooms in the background. The sound of tinny, overlapping voices. That’s it. That’s everything now. Or at least for the moment.
The means of making high quality, valuable cultural products have not necessarily been seized by the wider masses, then. But they have been taken away, to a degree, from those who have conventionally held them.
What has not remained neutral in the great blending of cultural messaging, is the burden of responsibility that the government is shifting from themselves onto the British population. It has become harder to tell from just looking at the environment that commentators are speaking from, what their political persuasions might be or what their claim to authority. Whether a comedian or an epidemiologist or a politician, a face from a webcam in someone’s home is what appears and it really is what they’re saying that tells us how we should listen to what they have to say. It might be possible to confuse a politician defending the government’s terrible handling of the medical crisis with a sarcastic satirist making fun of the government’s attempt to defend their terrible handling of the crisis.
It is, then, more distinctly important to understand the context of the materials we’re watching and the messages they project, a practice that is made ever more necessary in the basic comprehension of the cultural text. But in an environment where those that we look to for guidance and information are wilfully attempting to confuse the general populous and mislead our understanding of their failings in providing the NHS and care homes with sufficient basic PPE, treating each pixelated face and tinny voice that we hear with an increased level of scrutiny and critical perspective is probably as good an idea as it ever has been. At least we agree on one thing then – we, the population, must Stay Alert.
Text by Erica Horton
SHRINE FOR HOME
ON THE DAY WHEN LOCK DOWN STARTED, I WAS ASKED BY PERSON WHOSE HOUSE I ‘M LODGING AT TO CHOOSE THE HOUSEHOLD WHERE I AM STAYING THROUGH THIS PERIOD AS IT WAS ADVISED BY GOVERNMENT. I PACKED A BAG OF CLOTHES AND ESSENTIALS NEXT MORNING AND LEFT TO STAY AT MY PARTNERS HOUSE FOR A PERIOD OF THE QUARANTINE. HOWEVER, LIVING OF THE BAG THAT I PACKED 9 WEEKS AGO MAKES ME THINK: WHAT IS HOME? IS IT SOMETHING WE INHERIT? IS IT A PLACE YOU’RE BORN AND RESIDE? IS IT PEOPLE OR SOME SET OF TRADITIONS OR BELIEFS THAT LET US BECOME OUR TRUEST SELF?
I ASKED SOME PEOPLE TWO QUESTIONS (THAT IN MY MIND WAS GOING TO REPRESENT WHAT HOME IS IN PHYSICAL FORM). INSTRUCTIONS WHERE SIMPLE: ‘’IF THERE WOULD BE A FIRE IN YOUR HOUSE WHAT POSSESSIONS YOU WOULD SAVE (NOT CONSIDERING THINGS YOU CAN BUY AGAIN)’’ OR ‘’WHEN YOU MOVE FROM HOUSE TO HOUSE THERE’S ALWAYS A BOX OF THINGS THAT HAS TRAVELED WITH YOU , HAS SIGNIFICANT MEANING BUT PROBABLY NO PRACTICAL SIDE’’. TAKE THOSE ITEMS ARRANGE ON THE FLOOR IN YOUR HOUSE AND SEND PICTURE TO ME.
SO, WHAT IS HOME FOR YOU?
You've (Never) Been Here Before
Audio Visual Composition
Remember The Beach
A Collection of Seven Pop Songs
George Orwell’s satirical masterpiece ‘1984’ ominously foretold a propagandic destabilisation of truth (fake news), mass surveillance (CCTV and data collection) and penalisation for ‘thoughtcrime’ (cancel culture). Seven decades on, modern satirist Charlie Brooker gives us glimpses of sinister government over-reach, digital dissociation and technologically engendered neuroses and infantilism in his TV hit ‘Black Mirror’. Will he be as prophetic as Orwell was? After all he was first to write that fantastical storyline of a fictional Prime Minister having sex with a pig…
Pencil on Paper
23.5 x 16cm
Acrylic on Paper
42 x 29.7cm
Ink on Paper
29.7 x 21cm
Ink on Paper
29.7 x 21cm
People and Places I Haven't Visited in 2020
The Creation of Adam
Sound Collage from Domestic Foley Recordings
Stream of Consciousness
Sound Collage from Domestic Foley recordings
Photomanip of a Motivational Design