Frank Bowling and Sculpture

In a new exhibition at The Stephen Lawrence Gallery, rare and previously unseen sculptural works from the iconic artist are brought to the fore

Frank Bowling, Angharad’s Gift Patagonia, 1991, Welded steel, 92 x 94 x 34 cm and Sasha’s Green Bag, 1988, Acrylic, acrylic gel, polyurethane foam and found objects on canvas with marouflage, 180.6 x 294.2 cm. © Frank Bowling, All Rights Reserved, DACS 2022. Courtesy the artist. Photographed by Anna Arca.

There is unlikely a more prominent or influential name in the world of art than Frank Bowling, a painter and sculptor born in Guyana and based in London. Renowned for his use of colour and experimentation, the former RCA grad – who studied alongside the likes of David Hockney and R. B. Kitaj – spent the next 60 years fine-tuning his medium, working his way to masterdom while developing a style that merges new materials and methodologies. From iconic Map Paintings to an artwork (named Tony’s Anvil (1975)) featuring pouring paint dripping down the canvas, perhaps his paintings are what Frank is best-known for. Little does the world know about his sculptural pieces, which is precisely what a new exhibition at The Stephen Lawrence Gallery opening on 15 July aims to address. In a conversation with curator Sam Cornish, we chat about Frank’s enduring influence, his pivotal works, and the reasons why his sculptures have remained in the shadow – until now. 

“Painting has to release certain sculptural aspects, but it also has to retain aspects of the sculptural to hold its own on the wall, in order for it to be a thing.” – Frank Bowling

Frank Bowling, Hrund, 1988, Welded steel, 84 x 122 x 40 cm. © Frank Bowling, All Rights Reserved, DACS 2022. Courtesy the artist. Photographed by Anna Arca

This is the first exhibition to focus on Frank’s sculptures. Why have these works been overlooked in the past?

Interest in Bowling’s art has risen vertiginously in the last decade or so. Inevitably there are lots of areas which haven’t been explored, especially given the peculiar complexities and contradictions of his art and attitudes. At the moment interest has been concentrated in his earlier work, his Expressionist pictures, his conflicted Pop paintings and, most significantly his Map Paintings; all areas open to sociological or political analysis. This is all well and good, and in line with the mood of the time, but I think there are lots of aspects of Bowling’s work that these approaches struggle with. Bowling’s making of sculpture has been fairly isolated, so naturally have taken a back seat. His paintings’ interactions with sculpture, or the idea of the sculptural, has been remarked upon before, but my project argues it has a much more central generative role within the trajectory of his work.

Frank Bowling, Lapwing Eye (Made in Japan), 2000, acrylic and mixed media on canvas, 64.5 x 46 cm. © Frank Bowling, All Rights Reserved, DACS 2022. Courtesy the artist. Photographed by Anna Arca

Can you give some details into Frank’s relationship with sculpture? What defines his style and processes, and how did you want to represent this in the show?

We are showing seven steel sculptures by Bowling, which is probably about half he has ever made, and almost all that survived. Six were made between 1988 and 1991 and the seventh completed this year, for the exhibition. I relate his work in steel to Anthony Caro, to Cubism, to classical African Art and the art of the abstract artists of the early twentieth century of Russia and Eastern Europe. This mix of influences are handled playfully. Bowling makes a virtue of being an amateur, or at least occasional, sculptor: they do not have any tricks, but they do have a direct and in a sense surprising physicality. 

Frank Bowling, Bulbul, 1988, Detail, Welded steel. © Frank Bowling, All Rights Reserved, DACS 2022. Courtesy the artist. Photographed by Anna Arca

What comparison can be made between his sculptures and paintings?

There are many connections and overlaps. One is persistent interest in geometry, one of Bowling’s key concerns from the very beginning of his career. Bowling has commented that he turned to sculpture because he thought Colour Field Painting ‘lacked structure’. Geometry, whether used to determine the overall proportions of his paintings, or more physically present as a kind of substructure, has been crucial for Bowling to help him give his paintings a sense of order. There are a number of instances in the exhibition where similar geometric structures can be seen in painting and sculpture. 

Frank Bowling, Mummybelli, 2019, Acrylic, acrylic gel and found objects on collaged canvas with marouflage, 171.3 x 206.8 cm. © Frank Bowling, All Rights Reserved, DACS 2022. Courtesy the artist. Photographed by Anna Arca

How did you curate the show, what works did you seek to include? Can you pick out some highlights?

The 1988-91 sculptures chose themselves, although I was very pleased that Bowling had What Else Can You Put In A Judd Box completed, so it could be included. And we were very grateful to include a sculpture from a private collection. I could have kept the selection limited to paintings contemporary with the 1988-1991 sculptures, but I decided to include works from across the career, from 1960 until 2019. This gives a broader sense of the different ways his paintings have interacted with sculpture, which also creates an inherently more interesting, and I hope, exciting, display. 

Sentinel, one of Bowling’s Poured Paintings of the mid-70s is a highlight for me. But I also love Brooklyn III, which at first seems monochrome. The way Brooklyn III sits next to the very busy, object strewn and colourful surface of Mummybelli is something I am especially pleased with. The similarities outweigh the differences, which would be difficult to anticipate from photographs. I think the harmony is to do with light and the way a sense of underlying movement is contained by the overall rectangle. Of the sculptures, Angharad’s Gift Patagonia and The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat are my favourites: I’ve looked at both many times before, but they feel very different in this exhibition. The rigour of Angharad’s Gift Patagonia is clearer in the gallery space, while there are a few elements of The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat I hadn’t noticed before. I could go on, because all the works bring something special to the display.

Frank Bowling, King Crabbé, 1988, Welded steel, 68 x 50 x 30 cm. © Frank Bowling, All Rights Reserved, DACS 2022. Courtesy the artist. Photographed by Anna Arca

Any notes about the structure and pace of the exhibition itself? How do you hope the audience will experience it?

The exhibition space is divided roughly in half, with an upper and lower level, separated by a ramp and some partition walls, although with enough space left to easily look from one to the other. The paintings are hung visually, in dialogue with each other and the sculptures, rather than in chronological or thematic order. I wanted to mix large and small works, partly because of the spaces of the Stephen Lawrence Gallery, and partly because some recent displays of Bowling’s art have perhaps overemphasised literal monumentality. The movement from the very small incidents of colour and texture to very large panoramas is hugely important to Bowling’s paintings, so in a way it makes sense that his larger works can sit alongside his smaller. Obviously I had some hunches before I started about how the works would interact but I was pleasantly surprised at how many inter-connections there were, congruences of shape or structure, or materiality, even in a few instances, of colour. I would hope the viewers would pick-up on at least some of these and also notice things I haven’t.

Frank Bowling, Sasha’s Green Bag, 1988, Acrylic, acrylic gel, polyurethane foam and found objects on canvas with marouflage, 180.6 x 294.2 cm. © Frank Bowling, All Rights Reserved, DACS 2022. Courtesy the artist. Photographed by Anna Arca. Frank Bowling, King Crabbé, 1988, Welded steel, 68 x 50 x 30 cm. © Frank Bowling, All Rights Reserved, DACS 2022. Courtesy the artist. Photographed by Anna Arca. 

What’s the main goal with the show, what can the audience learn? 

I hope it’s more pleasurable than didactic. But I guess I want to impress upon people the complexity and range of Bowling’s interaction with sculpture. There has been a lot written about Bowling and landscape. I think that his more fundamental concern is with evoking human presence, and I would be pleased if that were communicated at some level.

Frank Bowling and Sculpture is at The Stephen Lawrence Gallery, University of Greenwich, London from 15 July – 3 Sept 2022. To coincide with the opening of the exhibition a new standalone monograph Frank Bowling: Sculpture has been published by Ridinghouse.

Frank Bowling, The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat, 1988, Welded steel, 75 x 72 x 65 cm. © Frank Bowling, All Rights Reserved, DACS 2022. Courtesy the artist. Photographed by Anna Arca.

Frank Bowling, What else can you put in a Judd box, 2022, Welded steel, 72 x 69.8 x 57.9 cm. © Frank Bowling, All Rights Reserved, DACS 2022. Courtesy the artist. Photographed by Anna Arca.

A Certain Movement

Soft and meditative, Sam Laughlin captures the ebb and flow of the natural world

Wood Ants (Formica rufa), 2017 ©Sam Laughlin

It’s not uncommon to hear of an artist’s key influence as being that of a parent or familial figure. Growing up, Sam Laughlin’s father, a zoologist, would hand over an abundance of field guides for him to look at – Sam would sink into the contents, memorise the illustrations, and identify the different species of insects in the process. His dad would also joyfully spout out many interesting facts about the natural world which, inevitably, had a large impact on Sam – later inspiring him to study documentary photography at university. What’s somewhat surprising, though, is that although nature has been a primary pillar for Sam, it wasn’t until 2014 that he started working creatively in this field. “I found my way back to that childhood fascination through books and walking,” he tells me, “and my work quickly followed suit. Now, I can’t imagine my life without walking and birdwatching.”

Alongside various photography commissions, Sam pays extra attention to his personal work – the side of his practice that enables him to explore his deep-rooted interests in nature. He also cites The Jerwood/Photoworks awards as being hugely catalytic for his photography, which is how he debuted his most recent accomplishment: a project named A Certain Movement. Lensing topics of the environment and how animals interact with the space, the work is a quiet, meditative depiction of the world, albeit a curious contemplation of the cyclical nature of earth and its inhabitants – the type of relationship that’s in a constant rhythm, flow and movement. Currently on show at Serchia Gallery in Bristol, I chat to Sam about the project, what his personal relationship is like with the environment, and why it’s such nature has become such an enduring muse.

Adders basking (Vipera berus), 2017 ©Sam Laughlin

How would you describe your own personal relationship with the environment?

My personal relationship with the environment is probably a blend of love, fascination and obsession. Some of the experiences I’ve been lucky enough to have border on the ‘religious’, like listening to a dozen nightingales singing in the dead of night last week, or standing in a vortex of 5,000 terns forced into flight by a peregrine falcon. These are just some of the ‘happenings’ in nature that go beyond words and enter the realm of the profound. The world is – for now and despite us – still full of such happenings and most go unseen. I think essentially I walk around in awe half the time, simply because I always try to be receptive to what’s happening around me day-to-day, particularly in relation to birds. Incredible things happen all the time which it seems most people miss entirely.

Nature is an enduring subject for me because my fascination only deepens the more I discover and experience it. But the word ‘subject’ is slightly problematic for me; I take great pains not to turn nature into a ‘subject’, but rather try to let things speak for themselves through my pictures. 

I continue to focus on it out of love, but also concern, at the rate of disappearance and decline – the ‘thinning out’. 

Deer browse-line (various species), 2017 ©Sam Laughlin

And similarly, tell me more about the relationship between animals and the environment. Can you describe the synergy and how they affect and shape each other?

The myriad relationships between animals and their environments can be almost overwhelmingly complex. In simple terms though, as I see it, other animals are ‘at home’ in the world in a way which we humans no longer are. We radically alter the surface of the earth to suit our needs, taking far more than we need. But most animals live in such a delicate balance with their environments that they are inseparable from them–  they live within and are part of their surroundings, usually altering them only in subtle ways that are actually a natural extension of the places themselves. Birds nests are one perfect example of this: materials gathered from the immediate area are made into a structure that supports life there. A manifestation of the bird’s way of living, its behaviour and a material expression of the locale and of the bird’s relationship with it. Then, when you’re talking about migratory birds, the nest is also an expression of those annual cycles of movement, and by extension the tilt of the earth on its axis and the seasonality this causes.

A snail could be seen as an expression of a set of relationships, and so could the song thrush which feeds upon the snail by first breaking its shell on a rock, which it uses as an ‘anvil’. The snail is, in a sense, made of plants, just as the song thrush is made of snails, but that rock is part of the equation too. It’s all inseparable and this is what interests me. So I try to make pictures where interconnections express themselves, often manifested through the movements of animals and the traces these movements leave behind. 

Honeybee swarm (Apis mellifera), 2017 ©Sam Laughlin

Can you give some examples from A Certain Movement, are there any favourite pictures that you could tell me more about?

Water Striders (Gerridae) is a favourite picture of mine, chosen for its subtlety and for certain elements of the composition, but mostly for what it symbolises. Water Striders (also known as Pond Skaters) live much of their lives on the water. Their lives are defined by surface tension, which prevents them from sinking. If one looks closely at the picture you can see the ‘meniscus’ around each of their legs. Their movements cause ripples in the water; each one represents a movement and moment in time, with a significance that is briefly visible before it dissipates, rippling out, as I feel all things do. The title of my new exhibition comes from a text written by Adam Nicolson to accompany the project, in which he references this picture and all that it symbolises about the quiet events unfolding through time – Ripples in the Surface of Things.

Then there is a picture which is more ‘obvious’: Tawny Owlet Branching (Strix aluco). I love this picture because it results from one of the purest and most beautiful experiences I’ve ever had. After hearing some unusual bird calls emanating from a thicket, I ventured inside and found two fledgling tawny owls (owlets) perching on branches. A phase of their lives known quite poetically as ‘branching’, where after leaving the nest they wait on nearby perches to be fed by the adult. One of the owls was in a good position for a picture, but I had to edge very close to it. I work mainly with large format film and therefore don’t use ‘zoom’ lenses. In those moments as I made the photograph, the owlet was no more than two or three feet away from me, but remained completely still. Time stretched out, and although I didn’t linger so as not to disturb the birds, it felt like an eternity as I stood face to face with it.

Lime Hawk-moths Mating (Mimas tiliae), 2021 ©Sam Laughlin

What’s the purpose of the project, what can the audience learn?

I hope that my audience will feel the same sense of quiet awe that I do. There’s a kind of reverence in the way I approach my work, which stems from the way I feel about the natural world, and I want the viewer to feel that; not a ‘quick fix’ of the spectacular, but a slow-burning sense of wonder. My work has been called melancholy, but I simply don’t see that. That’s the nice thing about art though; people can get different things from it.

I don’t really want to reduce my pictures to ‘illustrations’ with captions that say ‘here is X doing Y and they do this because… ’, but I do want people to understand better the beautiful intricacies of the lives that are lived all around us, that go on regardless (or despite of) our human activities or our awareness. I think if people understand more, and are more aware, then they might cherish these small things as I do, and hopefully try to do a little more to stem the tide of losses.

A Certain Movement is on show at Serchia Gallery until 17 July. All photography courtesy of Sam Laughlin

Linnet (Linaria cannabina), 2018 ©Sam Laughlin

Nuthatch at nest (Sitta europaea), 2020 ©Sam Laughlin

Seabird Colony #2 (four species), 2017 ©Sam Laughlin

Tawny Owlet Branching (Strix aluco), 2018 ©Sam Laughlin

Water Striders (Gerridae), 2019 ©Sam Laughlin

Whitethroat (Sylvia communis), 2021 ©Sam Laughlin

Chambers of Wonder

Renowned artist James Turrell constructs a light-bending installation at Swarovski Crystal Worlds

Photo by Florian Holzherr

The manipulation of light may at first sound like a dumfounded task made only possible by those born into the supernatural. Yet the reality is, James Turrell has perfected it for decades. Recognised world-wide for his installations and holographs, the American artist has long produced light-bending visuals and optical illusions on mass, on site and in situ. Atmospheric and provoking, Turrell’s expansive body of work has therefore garnered reputable status amongst the art world for its momentous depiction of light and how perception can be completely flipped on its axes – from skylight pieces providing a portal into the world above, to projections and constructions offering a new outlook on light and depth.

And now, Turrell’s latest endeavour is an installation of Shadow Space named Umbra, constructed permanently in Chambers of Wonder as part of Swarovski Crystal Worlds. Since opening in 1995, Swarovski Crystal Worlds has welcomed residents including Yayoi Kusama who premiered the infamous Chandelier of Grief, a rotating and immersive fixture composed of Swarovski crystal; or Into Lattice Sun by Lee But, an architectural translation of the utopian landscape. For this latest addition, Turrell was the perfect suitor. Carla Rumler, cultural director of Swarovski and curator of Swarovski Crystal Worlds says how Turrell’s credulous work has “always” been on her mind; “he was on my wish list,” she explains. A “logical” addiction to the site replete with its own iteration of the Seven Wonders of the World, Turrell is the first to avoid the use of crystal entirely. Instead, fragments – or “ingredients”, as Carla puts it – are adorned in such a way that it gives off a similar effect to the glassy composition found in crystals. Whether it’s the contraction of light, the reflection; “Turrell works with spectral colours a lot and in an essential way,” she adds.

Photo by Florian Holzherr

“I am very much taken to how light works in crystal,” says Turrell in an announcement. “Umbra is about the light that is in the soft shadow. In a lunar eclipse, you have the soft light as opposed to the very strong light that you saw reflected off the moon. This is a kind of light that is very soft and filling that I love. If you are looking at this piece, it is not about the light that surrounds the edge, it is the large expanse or panorama of this very soft light that actually comes from the reflection in the room.”

The Turrell and Swarovski pairing is an apt one at least, not only in the attention to detail but also in the likemindedness between both company and artist. “He doesn’t work with everybody,” shares Carla, “we are very honoured that he’s worked with us.” It was a harmonious discussion as to what would be included in the installation, wherein both sides deliberated the medium that would best fit the space and purpose of the artwork. “It turned out that Shadow Space is the perfect one for us,” she adds, taking into consideration the size and audience experience. “We said, ‘what colours would you like to use?’ He said how it was a surprise.” Causing no moment of hesitation or worry – it’s James Turrell, after all – there couldn’t have been a more suited and enjoyable outcome. This is a thought reciprocated from both sides. “He was very happy with the output because most of his forms are made to be temporary,” adds Carla, “so the quality of the room here is so perfect. It’s like approaching an artwork or a picture that will not go away. He was so impressed by the quality of the room because he’s never experienced it so precise.”

Radio Ballads

In a new show at Serpentine, four artists reveal a three-year collaboration with social workers, carers, organisers and communities to share impactful stories of labour and care

Rory Pilgrim, _RAFTS_, Barking and Dagenham Youth Dance, Production Still, 2021. Photo: Matthew Ritson.

“What keeps us connected? What do we need to repair? How do we listen and how do we hold each other?” This questions are posed by Amal Khalaf, curator and artist who’s currently director of programmes at Cubitt and civic curator at the Serpentine Galleries. Exploring stories about labour and care – plus the important act of how we care – Amal alongside the wider gallery team have embedded these questions into a new exhibition named Radio Ballads, currently on show at Serpentine and running until 29 May 2022. The show is also simultaneously running across the London boroughs of Barking and Dagenham from 2-17 April, headed by the council’s New Town Culture programme. 

Over three years, artists Sonia Boyce, Helen Cammock, Rory Pilgrim and Ilona Sagar were asked to collaborate with social workers, carers, communities and organisers. Radio Ballads is the culmination of this and features long-term projects spanning film, drawing, mixed-media, song and music. It’s an impactful exhibition that shares experiences with mental health, domestic abuse, terminal illness, grief and end of life care. It’s also created in response to 12 years of austerity and the demise of the UK care sector – from privatisation and immigration policies to racism and lack of access to services. All of which is conceived through the voices of social care workers and those giving or receiving care. 

Radio Ballads, Installation view, 31 March – 29 May 2022, Serpentine North Sonia Boyce, Yes, I Hear You, 2022 Photo: George Darrell.

Even the title, Radio Ballads, is rich in personal meaning. It takes its name from the original Radio Ballads broadcast on the BBC from 1957-64; it also looks at the form of a ballad – the poems and narratives set to a song or assortment of sounds – and how the framework centres the voices of people. Artists and musicians spend time “listening to people who were rarely represented in the media and often violently erased form history – centring their voices and words on their own term was a revelation to me,” explains Amal.

Interested in using art to “build political power, create life-sustaining relationships, and enact community and systems change”, says Amal, Radio Ballads is provoking, resilient and brave through its documentation of how social care services and artists can work together. Helen Cammock – former social worker and long-term artist – is deeply aware of the responsibilities that social workers bare for others, and the impact this can have on their lives. In her work with Bass Notes and SiteLines, Helen explores the connection between text, voice and body in order to present resistance and strength. Through sessions with people receiving care and those offering it through an organisation called Pause, Helen’s contribution – spanning film, meditation exercises, group drawings and a live performance – sees a series of artistic workshops come to life, all in all reflecting on the connections made through music and lyric writing to express anger, pain, joy and care. Below, Helen tells me more about her prodigious work at Radio Ballads. 

Helen Cammock, ‘Bass Notes and SiteLines The Voice as a Site of Resistance and The Body as a Site of Resilience.’ Production Still, 2022.

Tell me about your work involved in the show, what stories are you hoping to share?

There are a number of different elements to the show. These elements somehow give a ‘way in’ to the project process, and discuss in different forms the ideas that we were talking about in the project. This included a discussion in its widest sense about care using different activities to find ways for the conversation. We looked at how the body can be a site for resilience and the voice a site for resistance. 

The show includes a film (which weaves together refections from social workers and women who access care that take sung and spoken form, and also texts from people who have written about both voice and care). There is a large fabric banner, a triptych of screen-prints, a series of small line drawings and three larger line drawings made by contributors in the workshop process, a research table full of books that somehow speak about the idea of care and its relationship to body and sound, and a booklet that includes text I’ve written, drawings, images and a project playlist. Most of the works are made by me but some (the line drawings) come from activities on the project. There will also be two performances of a song Listening In Your Silence that I’ve written made up of words, phrases and stories that have come out of the workshop discussions. This will be a group performance of the song that we have been rehearsing together for eight weeks. We will be joined by a small choir from Brighton and Hove who have also been rehearsing the song for the past month.  

Helen Cammock, ‘Bass Notes and SiteLines The Voice as a Site of Resistance and The Body as a Site of Resilience.’ Production Still, 2022.

You worked with social workers, carers and communities for three years. What was this like for you, and what did you learn from them? Can you tell me more about your findings and the conversations you had?

It was a period that involved the lockdown so it included ‘in person’ and online workshops/conversations. This meant changes in participants/collaborators and the way that we could be together. This felt a little de-stabilising and was hard work in a way – when we were trying to be together. We worked with different social work practitioners (from different areas of care services) and with one project where both practitioners and the women who received support came together. A range of different activities were used in order to develop the space for discussion and trust to be built. We used drawing, led meditation to music, creative writing, photography, discursive activities and singing – all as ways to have conversations about care and self care and the relationship between voice and body, and resistance and resilience. We tested some of this out through what we ‘did’ together. We discussed what music means to us, what it feels like to speak and be heard, we used our voices to sing and our bodies to form shapes and gestures to articulate different emotions and states to further these conversations. This forms a foundation of the material in the film.

Helen Cammock, ‘Bass Notes and SiteLines The Voice as a Site of Resistance and The Body as a Site of Resilience.’ Production Still, 2022.

Can you share any stories or anecdotes from working with them?

There is no one story – it was a process of exchange. Each person has many stories and experiences. A process of trust building was key. In order for us to discuss what it means to use your voice (metaphorically or physically) it was important to create structures for those conversations. We had moments of sadness and moments of laughter, moments of connection and situations where conversations were difficult. There was negotiation and deal-making sometimes when asking people to try something new – or something that felt unfamiliar. There were women who felt uncomfortable singing in a group and for others; singing in a choir represented something difficult from their past. This sharing was important and informed how we approached each activity. Some social workers spoke about the power of being vulnerable in certain ways alongside the women they work with in the sessions and how this brought particular benefit to their working relationship. 

What response do you hope you’ll receive from this work?

I often say that I want people to respond both emotionally and intellectually to the work, and that this is about being able to connect to others and their stories but also to one’s own. We all have moments where we feel our voices and our bodies enable us to survive, to resist, to care… the process of this project is ‘the work’, if you like. The exhibition is made up of glimpses of this process. It is a way to touch or be touched by the process, but the process was where the work took its form; the site of the work. 

Helen Cammock, ‘Bass Notes and SiteLines The Voice as a Site of Resistance and The Body as a Site of Resilience.’ Production Still, 2022.

In what ways can art improve social care and community? How is your work contributing to that?

I am an artist; I am interested in dialogue and in the transformative nature of art to transform the form, shape or sound of stories and ideas. I want to create something new – ideas, sensation and thought through the work. This has a social function, a political function and an artistic function. It isn’t social work. This isn’t my aim here. But any relationships we form with people – individually or collectively – can have a role that supports, invigorates, validates, challenges and this can be seen as a form of labour, in contributing to a way of seeing, changing or interrogating the social fabric. 

I believe all situations in life can benefit from art and social work, and work within and between communities is absolutely one of them. It is a way to express and communicate on different levels and through different forms. It is a way to create channels for communication – say difficult things – and process difficult experiences. Not outside of therapeutic approaches or other structures of care, but alongside or in dialogue with. 

Radio Ballads, Installation view, 31 March – 29 May 2022, Serpentine North Ilona Sagar, The Body Blow, 2022 Photo: George Darrell.

Rory Pilgrim, RAFTS, Green Shoes Arts, Production Still. Photo: Jessica Emovon.

Rory Pilgrim, Sketch Book. Courtesy of andriesse-eyck galerie.

Radio Ballads, Installation view, 31 March – 29 May 2022, Serpentine North Helen Cammock, Bass Notes and SiteLines: The Voice as a Site of Resistance and The Body as a Site of Resilience, 2022 Photo: George Darrell.

Radio Ballads, Installation view, 31 March – 29 May 2022, Serpentine North Rory Pilgrim, RAFTS, 2022 Photo: George Darrell.

Ilona Sagar, The Body Blow, Film Still, 2022.

Ilona Sagar, The Body Blow, Film Still, 2022.

A Symbol of Love

Strength and resilience rise to the fore through the first major UK exhibition of artist Robert Indiana, currently on show at Yorkshire Sculpture Park 

Robert Indiana, LOVE (Red Blue Green), 1966–1998, installation view at Yorkshire Sculpture Park, 2022. Photo: © Jonty Wilde, courtesy of Yorkshire Sculpture Park. Artwork: © 2022 Morgan Art Foundation Ltd./ Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York/DACS, London

Arriving at Yorkshire Sculpture Park on a cloudless morning in March, it was strange to think that just days ago one of the worst storms in years had wreaked havoc here. The 500-acre park had lost three of its ancient trees; the grounds were left muddy and the branches bare. But, in a moment of respite, there was a refreshing sense of hope and resilience in the air, as well as the welcomed scent of spring exuded through the dozens daffodils sprouting from the earth.

Celebrating its 45th anniversary this year, the park has been at the epicentre of contemporary sculpture for the past four decades. There are currently more than 80 works from major sculptors peppered amongst its grounds including Phyllida Barlow, Ai Weiwei, Joan Miró, Damien Hirst and Barbara Hepworth, with site-specific works from Andy Goldsworthy, David Nash and James Turrell. It’s a treasure trove for art lovers, nature enthusiasts and dog walkers alike; there’s something for everyone whether it’s a leisurely stroll, a picnic, a gawk at the 18th-century Bretton Hall estate, or to revel in the work of some of the world’s best-known sculptors. 

Robert Indiana, Exploding Numbers, 1964-66, installation view at Yorkshire Sculpture Park, 2022. Photo: © Jonty Wilde, courtesy of Yorkshire Sculpture Park. Artwork: © 2022 Morgan Art Foundation Ltd./ Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York/DACS, London

There’s much to explore, not least in the park’s ongoing exhibition programme located in six indoor galleries and the outdoors. For 2022, the YSP opens the doors to the first major UK exhibition of American artist Robert Indiana, spanning 60 years of his magnanimous sculpting career with many works previously unseen. Additionally, there’s a selection of drawings by sculptor and land artist David Nash presented in The Weston Gallery and Bothy Gallery, while Yukihiro Akama’s miniature wooden houses are shown in the YSP Centre. A common denominator throughout it all is a profound feeling of love and strength, addressed through the key topics of the major exhibitions – that being politics and sustainability. This is oozed through the works entirely but most prominently at the entrance of the site, Indiana’s iconic Love (Red Blue Green) (1966-1998), stands proudly as if it were watching over us all, reminding us of one of the most universally felt emotions.

Clare Lilley, who’s recently been appointed the new director of YSP, spoke of the “incredible coincidence” of making this exhibition at this point in time. The moment she saw Love being installed at the park, for instance, she sobbed. The invasion of Ukraine had just been announced and – holding back her tears greatly – she remarks how “love is symbolic for the current world”. Love couldn’t be more symbolic or more pertinent, despite the fact that it was crafted decades ago. 

Robert Indiana, LOVE WALL, 1966-2006, installation view at Yorkshire Sculpture Park, 2022. Photo: © Jonty Wilde, courtesy of Yorkshire Sculpture Park. Artwork: © 2022 Morgan Art Foundation Ltd./ Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York/DACS, London

The tone was set for the remainder of the day as Clare took us on a guided tour of the park, first beginning with Indiana’s outdoor structures allude to his fascination with the graphic, numerical form. “Numbers fill my life,” he stated, penned in the release. “They fill my life even more than love. We are immersed in numbers from the moment we’re born.” Heading indoors, we gazed at the surprisingly mixed-media works; brass pieces constructed to look like wood, earlier collage forms, or phallic columns addressing the impact of the AIDS crisis to name a few. Tracing six decades through 56 sculptures, we saw the artist’s practice in full swing as he depicted his own version of the American Dream – a darker one at that. Forging a connection between politics, society and art, Indiana’s momentous career has poked hard at the world for its discrimination of LGBTQIA+ communities and racism. It’s a hopeful reminder of love and unity. 

The day continued as we strolled through the luscious grounds, inhaling the fresh air and either avoiding or ingesting the Marmite pieces from Hirst in the nearby distance. David Nash was our next stop – a painterly depiction of our relationship with nature perceived through an evolving study of trees – before heading to witness James Turril’s Deer Shelter Skyspace, a moment of calm as we peaked through the cut out roof of an 18th-century Grade II Listed building (an old deer shelter). Swapping the foot for a sturdy Land-rover, the final steps of the day were observed through the window as the helpful guide navigated us through the on-site sculptures and artworks. A personal favourite being the biodegradable pavilion created by Studio Morison, where timber, thatch and compacted earth has been constructed to allow visitors in for a moment of peace and quiet. Eventually, the piece will fall in on itself and decompose. It’s a stark comment on the fragility of nature, echoed by the fallen trees and bent branches from the storm.

YSP is undeniably a tranquil setting, and the final moments of the day were with concluded with calm, wind-hit faces and an unanimous feeling of contentment. Consumed by nature-rich parklands and the evocative artworks on display, I couldn’t think of a more apt location for discussing themes of love, resilience and our relationship with the planet – a greater reflection of what’s happening in the world right now.


Robert Indiana: Sculpture 1958-2018 is on show at YSP’s Underground Gallery and Open Air between 12 March 2022-8 January 2023

Robert Indiana, American Dream # 5 (The Golden Five), 1980, installation view at Yorkshire Sculpture Park, 2022. Photo: © Jonty Wilde, courtesy of Yorkshire Sculpture Park. Artwork: © 2022 Morgan Art Foundation Ltd./ Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York/DACS, London

Robert Indiana, AMOR (Red Yellow), 1998-2006, installation view at Yorkshire Sculpture Park, 2022. Photo: © Jonty Wilde, courtesy of Yorkshire Sculpture Park. Artwork: © 2022 Morgan Art Foundation Ltd./ Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York/DACS, London

Robert Indiana, Ash, 1985, cast 2017, installation view at Yorkshire Sculpture Park, 2022. Photo: © Jonty Wilde, courtesy of Yorkshire Sculpture Park. Artwork: © 2022 Morgan Art Foundation Ltd./ Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York/DACS, London

Robert Indiana, Love Is God, 1964, installation view at Yorkshire Sculpture Park, 2022. Photo: © Jonty Wilde, courtesy of Yorkshire Sculpture Park. Artwork: © 2022 Morgan Art Foundation Ltd./ Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York/DACS, London

Robert Indiana, Monarchy, 1969, installation view at Yorkshire Sculpture Park, 2022. Photo: © Jonty Wilde, courtesy of Yorkshire Sculpture Park. Artwork: © 2022 Morgan Art Foundation Ltd./ Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York/DACS, London

The Very Fire They Sit Beside

In a new exhibition at Huxley-Parlour, Dan Wilton in collaboration with ClientEarth addresses the calamitous impact of the coal industry

Towerfest Country Music Festival, Drax power station, North Yorkshire, 2019 © Dan Wilton The owners of North Yorkshire’s Drax power plant, formerly a coal-only plant, have pivoted towards a variety of future options – including heavily contested biomass (the burning of wood pellets). For this, they have received millions in subsidies from the UK Government.

It’s no secret that the coal industry is impacting the planet in calamitous ways. Mining, burning and usage all have their profound and consequential disadvantages; it’s the most polluting way of producing energy. From toxic chemicals and soot released into the atmosphere, to broken environments, abolished habitats and relocated homes; coal is a cheap and dirty alternative to renewable sources. The human reliance on coal comes at a large cost.

A third of the globe’s population currently uses energy fuelled by coal, despite worldwide access to renewable energy. It’s the largest contributor to the increase in carbon dioxide, so action needs to happen promptly and cautiously to curb the affects of climate change. This is a topic that’s currently being addressed by photographer Dan Wilton in a new exhibition at Huxley-Parlour Gallery, launching this weekend and made in collaboration with ClientEarth. Titled The Very Fire They Sit Beside, the works involved depict Dan’s journey across Europe to document the impact of the coal industry on both the landscape and the communities who live amongst its open wounds and scars. The project started in 2019 and Dan ventured across Bulgaria, Czech Republic, Germany, Greece, Poland, Portugal, Serbia, Spain and the UK. “Coal is still the number one contributor to climate change,” says Dan, “so it’s incredibly important that we move away from it as soon as possible.”

Povrchový lom ČSA Lignite Mine, Czechia, 2019 © Dan Wilton A long tussle over the end of coal in Czechia has resulted in a recent announcement that the country will go beyond coal in 2033. This is later than climate science allows – but better than the original 2038 proposal.

Before now, the Croydon-born and Walthamstow-based photographer had originally trained as an environmental biologist before experiencing his first black and white darkroom at university. Self-taught – he describes this as both a “blessing and a curse” – Dan’s craft has allowed him to tie both worlds as he strives to raise awareness of climate change. As such, he’d met environmental law charity ClientEarth in 2018 during a shoot for Monocle. “I’d been looking for the right charity to work with for a while and they basically just fell into my lap,” he explains. After which they discussed various environmental issues and a few simple facts were laid on the table, enlightening Dan about Germany’s coal usage, for one, which inadvertently caught his attention. “I’ve always thought of Germany as a green leader in Europe. I’ve visited Cologne many times to visit friends and had absolutely no idea that just a half hour drive away are some of the biggest lignite mines in the world, encircled by a ring of power plans that combine to be one of the biggest carbon emitters in Europe.” In fact, still to this day, Germany relies on coal for a third of its energy requirements.

Triggered to do something, Dan set out on his quest to capture the crumbling landscapes. He’d visit villages on the brink of collapse, observing buildings and homes as they gradually fall in on themselves as a result of over mining. “They’ve had their natural water supply cut off because of heavy metals leaching into the supply from nearby coal ash deposits,” he explains. In Germany, for example, the large lignite mines – harbouring brown coal which produces a low heat content – stretch for miles in a sea of mines, “as far as the eye can see”. They’re forcing people from their homes. “I was there to witness demonstrations against the demolition of the village in Manheim, which included the deconsecration of its church.”

‘Yiorgos’, Coal Miner, Akrini, Northern Greece, 2019 © Dan Wilton Yiorgos works in the lignite mine that encircles Akrini. The village’s natural water supply previously had to be cut off after the cancer-causing hexavalent chromium leached from coal ash deposits from nearby coal plants. Those responsible were later imprisoned – but the site is still not managed properly. Yiorgos wants to move on but, like many villagers, he is caught in an impossible position, with the coal industry being a key employer in the region, and the mine affecting house prices.

In the city of Katowice, Poland, the smell of burning coal lingers in the air – “it hits you as soon as you get off the plane,” explains Dan. Awash in high levels of pollution, the children living near the coal plant were exposed to four times the amount of cancer-causing black carbon in relation to France. “But at the same time, the coal companies are often the key employer in the region – so people are reliant on them for their income, and have been for decades. So it’s quite complicated to transition from coal in a fair way that doesn’t simply punish people who have made sacrifices to power our homes and countries for decades – to guarantee them a stable future.”

Throughout Dan’s imagery, the more visible repercussions are paired with the subtle; decaying landscapes are sat next to pleasing yet emotive portraits of the people he’d met along his journey. Some of which were those who worked with ClientEarth to fight their cases, including Marina and her son Zhelyazko in Bulgaria who were being evicted from their home due to building plans for a local mine. “Marina, who’s in her 90s, had already been evicted once in her lifetime because of the coal mine, whilst Zhelyazko is reliant on the mine for his employment.” Meanwhile, other meetings were more impromptu, like the children in Bobov Dol, or Yiorgos, who Dan met while waking through Akrini village in Greece. “Photographing the Ende Gelände protests around the Garzweiler mine was one of the most emotional moments of the whole process for me. To witness thousands of young people protesting breaking through police lines, storming the fine, blocking train lines to shut the plants and force mining to stop, all in the face of a very heavy handed police response was very moving.”

‘Zhelyazko’, Beli Bryag, Bulgaria, 2019 © Dan Wilton. Zhelyazko and his mother Marina are battling to keep their rural home in Beli Bryag, where they have a smallholding, growing vegetables and fruit, including plums for traditional liqueur. Marina has already been evicted for coal once in her life – but with Zhelyazko at the mercy of the mining company, the villagers are in an untenable position and planning legal recourse.

Art has the magnitude to educate and inform – proving a powerful device in relation to the climate. Through this body of work, Dan invites his viewers to learn the impact of the coal industry and, ultimately, to steer action – even if we might have a rocky road ahead of us. “I hope this project helps highlight the work that still needs to be done in Europe to move beyond coal and also to highlight that it’s not just a simple black and white issue. We can’t just close all the coal infrastructure and replace it with renewables in the same area to replace the jobs that will be lost in one fell swoop. It’s not that simple.”

The Very Fire They Sit Beside by Dan Wilton in collaboration with ClientEarth is on view at Huxley-Parlour Gallery from 10 – 12 March 2022

Tourists, RWE’s Hambach Mine, North Rhine-Westphalia, Germany, 2019 © Dan Wilton The Hambach and Garzweiler mines are truly colossal, stretching further than the eye can see. Bulldozers the length of rows of terraced houses seem like specks on the horizon.

Sines Power plant, Portugal, 2019 © Dan Wilton At the time this picture of Sines was taken, the power plant was active and one of the most polluting plants in Europe. But 2021 marked the closure of Sines, nearly 10 years ahead of schedule, followed by the country’s last coal power plant, Pego, in November. Portugal is now coal-free.

The Residents of Anargyroi, Anargyroi, Northern Greece, 2019 © Dan Wilton Anargyroi was half destroyed when the 5km-long Amyntaio mine on the doorstep of the village caused a catastrophic landslide in 2017. Most lost their homes and were unable to return. Remaining houses still contain fragments from the day of the collapse – cracked walls, open cabinets and unused vinyls. Residents have long been campaigning for compensation for what they lost.

Aboño Power Plant, Gijón, Spain, 2019 © Dan Wilton The soil of the land around the Aboño power plant contains levels of mercury 7 to 10 times over the WHO legal limit. Water from the natural springs in the area is undrinkable due to contamination with mercury and other heavy metals. However, people still grow vegetables and crops.

Ende Gelände, Protesters Storm RWE’s Garzweiler Mine, North Rhine-Westphalia, Germany, 2019 © Dan Wilton Each year huge groups of activists periodically invade RWE’s massive mines in North Rhine- Westphalia in an effort to halt coal production and bring pressure to end Germany’s continued reliance on coal energy. Germany touts its green reputation with gusto, but nearly a third of its power still comes from climate-killing coal. While climate science says EU countries must phase out coal by 2030, the date stated in Germany’s coal exit law is 2038.


Dirk Braeckman: LUSTER./

The first NYC solo show in 15 years at GRIMM, the photographer challenges our perspectives of reality with nine years’ worth of boundary pushing imagery

Dirk Braeckman: S.N.-U.N.-21, 2021. Ultrachrome inkjet print mounted on aluminium in stainless steel frame Framed: 90 x 60 x 3 cm | 35 3/8 x 23 5/8 x 1 1/8 in Edition of 5 plus 1 artist’s proof (#1/5) (c) Dirk Braeckman. Courtesy Zeno X Gallery, Antwerp, Galerie Thomas Fischer, Berlin and GRIMM, Amsterdam and New York

The opening image of Dirk Braeckman’s first solo show of 15 years is quintessentially Dirk Braeckman. This photo greets you with a stark uneasiness; a body-like composition appears to be cradling itself amongst some crispy sheets and materials, the colours printed in a signature tone of ashy monochrome. Sombre, dark and melancholy, the name – S.N-U.N.-12, 2021 – is just as allusive as its subject matter, where you’re not quite sure of its offering, let alone its narrative and context. But one thing we do know is that the piece is an ultra chrome inkjet print, mounted on aluminium and hung in a stainless steel frame; a technique widely employed throughout the photographer’s boundary pushing practice. 

Minutes later and you’ll float quietly past the image titled U.M.-V.P.-16, an almost opaque depiction of a subject laying on a a bed – their face obscured from the camera’s gaze and the lines of the body only just visible to the audience. Similar to when a bright flash goes directly into your eye and your pupil rapidly adjusts to its surroundings, this gelatine silver print is hauntingly mysterious. What follows next is a series of landscape explorations, the sea crashing against the sepia-tinted cliffs and the dynamic ripples of the ocean reflecting the small amount of light available to the lens. You might not have come across anything so considered and technical before, where layers of life and perspective have been thoughtfully composed into a dystopian depiction of the world. 

Dirk Braeckman: U.M.-V.P.-16, 2016. Gelatin silver print mounted on aluminium, aluminium support & frame Framed: 180 x 120 x 3 cm | 70 7/8 x 47 1/4 x 1 1/8 in Unique in a series of 3 (#1/3) (c) Dirk Braeckman. Courtesy Zeno X Gallery, Antwerp, Galerie Thomas Fischer, Berlin and GRIMM, Amsterdam and New York

Based in Belgium, Dirk has spent the last 40 years as a photographer. Over this time, he’s continued to build on his impressive portfolio replete with recognisable and undeniably expressionistic artworks, that of which have garnered him a credible name in the field. Instead of offering up his stories and motives on a platter for the hungry viewer to quickly ingest, Dirk contrastingly leaves a sense of mystery throughout all that he creates. He’s a suckler for the darkroom, too; he works like a painter as he experiments with the creative process, altering negatives through various tools and double exposure techniques. The result of which is almost unrecognisable, from altered seascapes, darkened bedrooms, wallpapers and nudes awash in a tone of grey. What is reality, when conceived through the eye of this knowingly stirring photographer?

Toying with the unknown, Dirk’s photography is very much the case of ‘show don’t tell’. It’s an illusion ready to be found out – like the moment of uncovering a magician’s trick. Whether we find this book of secrets, though, is something we can only hope for. But for now, revelling in the beauty of the imagery at hand is more than enough. 

Dirk Braeckman: U.C.-T.C.I #2 -21, 2021 Ultrachrome inkjet print mounted on aluminium in stainless (series of five works) 180 x 120 x 3 cm | 70 7/8 x 47 1/4 x 1 1/8 in (each) Edition of 3 (#1/3) (c) Dirk Braeckman. Courtesy Zeno X Gallery, Antwerp, Galerie Thomas Fischer, Berlin and GRIMM, Amsterdam and New York

The exhibition features a wide-spanning collection of his works from 2012 to 2021 that not only give the audience a firm understanding of the breadth of his practice, but also his commitment to his artistic language. There’s a synchronicity between each piece, where fluid movements of nature meet with the candid postures of his subjects. What I find particularly interesting, too, is the omnipresent feeling of light. In many of his photos, there’s a glimmer of light presented in the frame. This is either portrayed as a more obvious ray of the moon or the more allusive, like the moment someone tries to photograph an artwork in front of them, only to have been met with the light bouncing off the frame. Other times, the light is more finely sprinkled than it is all-encompassing, but it’s always there – keeping you in check with the reality.

Towards the final moments of the exhibition, you’re then met with a piece named T.S.-O.S.-18. There’s a familiarity about this one – the darker palettes, handing drapes and wallpaper. Yet what’s different this time around is that there’s no subject to be seen, no-one cradling their own body in the dimly it room. The absence of a person leaves you wondering whether what you’ve just been looking at was ever there at all; that art and photography a subjective, illusive thing. 

LUSTER./ is currently on show at GRIMM New York until 26 February 2022. 

Dirk Braeckman: B.J.-D.U.-12, 2012. Gelatin silver print mounted on aluminium, aluminium support & frame Framed: 180 x 120 x 3 cm | 70 7/8 x 47 1/4 x 1 1/8 in Edition of 3 plus 1 artist’s proof (#2/3) (c) Dirk Braeckman. Courtesy Zeno X Gallery, Antwerp, Galerie Thomas Fischer, Berlin and GRIMM, Amsterdam and New York

Dirk Braeckman: B.S.-S.B.-18 #3, 2018. Gelatin silver print reversibly mounted on aluminium 180 x 120 x 3 cm | 70 7/8 x 47 1/4 x 1 1/8 in (c) Dirk Braeckman. Courtesy Zeno X Gallery, Antwerp, Galerie Thomas Fischer, Berlin and GRIMM, Amsterdam and New York

Dirk Braeckman: R.N.-W.S.-21, 2021. Ultrachrome inkjet print on matte paper 180 x 120 cm | 70 7/8 x 47 1/4 in Edition of 3 plus 1 artist’s proof (c) Dirk Braeckman. Courtesy Zeno X Gallery, Antwerp, Galerie Thomas Fischer, Berlin and GRIMM, Amsterdam and New York

Dirk Braeckman: F.W.-S.V.-21, 2021. Ultrachrome inkjet print mounted on aluminium in stainless steel frame Framed: 180 x 120 x 3 cm | 70 7/8 x 47 1/4 x 1 1/8 in Edition of 3 plus 1 artist’s proof (#1/3) (c) Dirk Braeckman. Courtesy Zeno X Gallery, Antwerp, Galerie Thomas Fischer, Berlin and GRIMM, Amsterdam and New York

Dirk Braeckman: L.U.-A.L.-21, 2021. Ultrachrome inkjet print mounted on aluminium in stainless steel frame Framed: 180 x 120 x 3 cm | 70 7/8 x 47 1/4 x 1 1/8 in Edition of 3 plus 1 artist’s proof (#1/3) (c) Dirk Braeckman. Courtesy Zeno X Gallery, Antwerp, Galerie Thomas Fischer, Berlin and GRIMM, Amsterdam and New York

Dirk Braeckman. 27.1 / 21.7 / 045 / 2014, 2014 Ultrachrome inkjet print mounted on aluminium support & frame Framed: 120 x 180 x 3 cm | 47 1/4 x 70 7/8 x 1 1/8 in Edition of 3 plus 1 artist’s proof (#2/3) c) Dirk Braeckman. Courtesy Zeno X Gallery, Antwerp, Galerie Thomas Fischer, Berlin and GRIMM, Amsterdam and New York

Dirk Braeckman: R.N.-W.S. #2-21, 2021. Ultrachrome inkjet print mounted on aluminium in stainless steel frame Framed: 180 x 120 x 3 cm | 70 7/8 x 47 1/4 x 1 1/8 in Edition of 3 (#1/3) (c) Dirk Braeckman. Courtesy Zeno X Gallery, Antwerp, Galerie Thomas Fischer, Berlin and GRIMM, Amsterdam and New York

Dirk Braeckman: S.G.-B.S.-21, 2021. Ultrachrome inkjet print mounted on aluminium in stainless steel frame Framed: 180 x 120 x 3 cm | 70 7/8 x 47 1/4 x 1 1/8 in Edition of 3 plus 1 artist’s proof (#1/3) (c) Dirk Braeckman. Courtesy Zeno X Gallery, Antwerp, Galerie Thomas Fischer, Berlin and GRIMM, Amsterdam and New York

Dirk Braeckman: T.S.-O.S.-18 (1_1), 2018 Gelatin silver print reversibly mounted on aluminum 180 x 120 cm | 70 7/8 x 47 1/4 in Unique in a series of 3 (#1/3) (c) Dirk Braeckman. Courtesy Zeno X Gallery, Antwerp, Galerie Thomas Fischer, Berlin and GRIMM, Amsterdam and New York


Zora J Murff

The esteemed photographer talks us through his new roster of exhibitions and book, True Colors (or, Affirmations in a Crisis)

American Father, 2018

For Zora J Murff – a photographer, artist and educator based in Arkansas – to be published by Aperture is not too dissimilar from a chimera. An illusory dream of kinds, Zora could “hardly believe it” as he won the Next Step Award and was affirmed a new book from the publisher, entitled True Colors (or, Affirmations in a Crisis). Coupled with an exhibition at London’s Webber Gallery plus a presentation of his new series American Mother at Paris Photo, Zora is sharing perhaps his most direct and critical commentary of work to date – that being a compilation of photographs, archival imagery from the past 12 years. In these works, the artist speaks of power, privilege, race and white supremacy, plus the impact it’s had on Black people in America. Zora tells me more below.

Fronting (Affirmation #4), 2020

It would be great to begin by hearing about your first steps into photography. What sparked your interests in the medium? 

I started taking photographs in my early 20s. At the time, I was a social worker providing services to kids in the juvenile criminal justice system. I found the work rewarding in many ways, but something always seemed missing. Being an employee of the criminal justice system was conflicting. Even though I served kids and families who found themselves in difficult circumstances, I was present as a punitive measure. It was an environment where most of our practices and processes were dissonant from rehabilitation, and even though I could understand what changes could change that reality, I wasn’t in a position to speak on or enact them. 

I often felt stuck and decided to go back to school to study art. I started my first serious body of work, Corrections. Creating that work was my first education in researching a violent system and speaking on that violence through the practice and interpretation of image-making. Furthermore, I was fortunate to have a couple of professors, Margaret Stratton and Jeff Rich, who were present for my ideas and taught me how to articulate what I was trying to express both visually and in language. I quickly learned that I had been searching for a profession where I could work with people and help them in similar ways. 

At No Point in Between

What’s your ethos and what messages are you hoping to share? 

My ethos as an artist is to have the courage to be vulnerable and to speak my truth. In my earlier works, I kept a distance between myself, the subject, and the viewer. I am present with my thoughts and camera, but I am speaking on those things through nuance and perhaps imperceptibly. I credit this to studying in historically/predominantly white institutions where Blackness had not been allowed, was not accepted and therefore not understood. Because of our society’s belief and wholesale practice in racialisation, I find myself in adversarial situations for being Black. These confrontations happen daily, sometimes self-initiated but mostly by force. My work deals directly with existential questions and presents various aspects of our social reality. Those answers I have found don’t differ from my early experiences with my first professors: being an artist is an endeavour in self-determination. I carry this sentiment with me into everything I do. 

At No Point in Between

You’ve opened two exhibitions and recently published a new book with Aperture — tell me about this new body of work. How does it compare to your past projects? 

True Colors (or, Affirmations in a Crisis) is me going for broke. When I first learned that I had won the Next Step Award and would be publishing with Aperture, I could hardly believe it. I had a conversation about it with the good homie Kris Graves, and his advice was, “Now is the time to be direct.” This book is me, parts of my life narrated by me and a choir of folx who have all supported me in getting to this exact moment. It’s not so much a body of work, but my collective commentary on the last 12 years as a means of being critical of “the come up.” I am talking about what it means to participate in systems whose agents have continually seen and used me as a diversity token. 

At No Point in Between

How do your hope your audience will respond to the work?

My goal with this process was to create something that pulled out all of the stops because it’s not every day artists get to publish at this level. My goal with this process was to spread this opportunity as widely as possible, so my people could eat. 

I don’t have goals for audience response or plans for what this work can accomplish in general. As the title states, the book is me putting out affirmations for myself as I experience a crisis of consciousness. People who have lived similarly to me will find themselves in these pages. The only thing I could ever ask is that viewers bring themselves to the artwork with an open heart and critical mind (both outward and inward). 

What’s next for you?

I’m going to take some time to celebrate and enjoy in this work with the people I love. Everything else is just white noise. 

Gas Money (Affirmation #1), 2019


At No Point in Between

Self Portrait as a Dreamed Man (After Bayard), 2020

Untitled (False walls #1), 2020

I AM NOT INVisible

Thilde Jensen documents homelessness in America through her powerful four-year project, currently on show at Martin Parr Foundation

Laura feeling down. Las Vegas, Nevada 2017 © Thilde Jensen

In the spring of 2016, Danish photographer Thilde Jensen met Reine and Lost, two homeless men who lived under a highway in Syracuse, New York. Their openness and enjoyment for being photographed inspired Thilde to start work on her long-term project documenting homelessness in America – which is something that she holds personally having “survived living outside in a tent in the woods” due to a serious illness. Now part of an exhibition named I AM NOT INVisible held at the Martin Parr Foundation from 16 September to 19 December this year, the work journeys from Gallup to New Mexico, Las Vegas to New Orleans. Below, I chat to Thilde about her reasons for starting the project, the demise of her own American dream and what it’s really like to be homeless in the country. 

Bobby dragging his blanket to untangle the energy fields. Homeless for 13 years. Las Vegas, Nevada 2016 © Thilde Jensen

Can you tell me about yourself and how you came into photography?

I grew up in Denmark and my first love was with theatre and film, which led me to photography and photo books. I realised that a series of still images could convey a narrative and allowed for a much more personal artistic process, compared to the big productions involved in both theatre and film. Back in 1997 when I was a young photo student, I decided to move to New York City. Soon I fell in love, got married and ended up working and learning from some of the best in art and documentary photography. 

Unfortunately, my American dream quickly came crashing down when I found myself severely sick from an unknown affliction. Everything fell apart – my marriage and my career – as my immune system was crashing. My body was suddenly not able to deal with the vast chemical overload of our modern world. I had to leave my home in the city that I loved, as it had become a toxic war zone for me. Over the first few years, I survived living outside in a tent in the woods or simply sleeping under open sky, while wearing a respirator whenever I was going into public areas. This, at a time before masks were commonplace facial coverings, made me feel like a freak and I lived a life of deep isolation. I was lucky to have support and not end up in endless homelessness as others who were less fortunate. 

This painful and nightmarish experience became the subject of my first photo book The Canaries about Environmental Illness, published in 2013. While working on this project, and after seven years of struggling with hypersensitivity, I was lucky to recover enough to slowly start photographing on the street again. A few years later and I was fortunate to receive a Guggenheim Fellowship to travel across the country photographing in different homeless communities. The end result being the photo book I AM NOT INVisible, published in late 2019. 

Faye Dunaway. Syracuse, New York 2015 © Thilde Jensen

What first inspired you to start documenting homelessness in America?

My own experience of being forced to live outside and knowing that, even though I had worked hard and made a decent living, there was no American safety net to catch me when I got sick. 

What stories are you hoping to share throughout I AM NOT INVisible? 

While photographing homelessness in America, I met so many wonderful people, many of them with life stories so full of trauma and neglect it was hard to believe they had made it this far. Being a photographer, my talent is to make the people I spend time with feel seen – to make them visible. I think the worst thing we can do to each other is to look the other way and thereby make the people pushed out invisible, non-existent. I also think it is important that we dare to look at reality, as complex as it may be, up close and in an unfiltered way. With my camera, I was hoping to be an honest mirror to the often brutal reality I was encountering on the street. I wasn’t so much looking to tell anyone’s individual story, but more so trying to create a tapestry of voices and experiences from the homeless streets of America. 

Drake, ‘I spent time inside, so much human potential rotting away behind bars’. Las Vegas, Nevada 2017 © Thilde Jensen

You first met Reine and Lost at the beginning of the project, and they were very open to sharing their lives. What did you learn about them both, and how did you want to portray them in your imagery?

I met Reine and Lost in the early Spring 2016 in Syracuse, New York, after they had survived yet another brutally cold winter huddled together on a concrete ledge right under the highway. Reine and Lost were close to me in age and were both struggling with alcohol addiction. They seemed to enjoy my company, and after spending time with them I was soon welcomed with my camera in most of the homeless community in Syracuse. Of course some people didn’t want to be photographed and I’m always very respectful around asking for permission. I learned early on that, for me, picture making is a collaborative process. If a person is unwilling it never makes for good pictures – it feels totally wrong to take pictures without permission. I’m a lousy street photographer in that way but my interest is in creating trust and an emotional connection. I feel my images more than I see them, I guess. Unfortunately Lost died some months after I started the project, which is often the sad outcome of long-term homelessness. Lost had been living most of his adult life on the street. 

Cindy with her wig. Las Vegas, Nevada 2016 © Thilde Jensen

Can you share any anecdotes from working on the series? 

A lot of the images are from Las Vegas, where I had never visited before. I drove across the country and found the homeless community in north Las Vegas to be heartbreakingly enormous. This is not the Vegas you see if you go as a tourist. At first, it was much too overwhelming to see so many people living on the street and it took some time to make enough connections there to feel safe to walk around with my camera. 

One morning, as I’m talking to people and taking photographs, Cindy, a woman my own age, asked me if she could pay me to photograph her. I of course refused any payment but gladly turned my camera to her, and that was the beginning of an intense connection which evolved over the following two years while photographing in Las Vegas. Her unique experience of reality was addictive, her mind would run wild and, on a good day, she was the funniest person to be with until suddenly the darkness and the voices overtook her. One of the last times I saw her she told me I better go now because she was afraid I would otherwise dissolve into the wall. I miss her; she was quite special. People on the street told me that she had arrived there some years back as she just got out of jail due to some petty theft charges. She had looked beautiful and was totally sane, but soon she had been taken advantage of. “This is what the street will do to you”, they said. 

I met many people who not too long ago had driven past the homeless, going to work, never thinking this could be them and here they were. Loosing their identity, their self worth, unsheltered, vulnerable to sexual assault and violence. Sleepless nights with drugs and alcohol to dull the pain, slowly the thin veil that separates you from madness starts slipping, as your reality no longer makes sense or becomes too painful to inhabit. 

Bobby’s keyboard. Las Vegas, Nevada 2016 © Thilde Jensen

How do you hope your audience will respond to the work? 

As an artist and documentary photographer, I think the end goal is to always create dialogue. If the viewer feels touched, like I have been, by the people in the pictures or even provoked or unsettled, then I’m happy. I also hope that people can see themselves in these pictures and maybe realise that we need to take better care of each other. The truth is that we all have the same need for love, food and shelter and would likely all benefit from a society that is more supportive and loving. 

Will you continue working on this topic?

I had just started photographing for my next photo project Tomorrow, which is about the future – but then Covid-19 hit so it’s been on pause. Instead, I have been taking a deep-dive into the natural world under the premise of recreating paradise in a sustainable manner; trying to create a model for how we can live in balance with nature. To do this, I have undertaken a scientific journey looking at and understanding the microbiological magic right under our feet that makes up the fertility and health of anything living on this planet. Though after spending many months looking at the alien lifeforms that inhabit our soils, I feel eager to get back to photographing people again. I’m trying to figure out what kind of future we can dream up together. 

Eric in the bushes. Syracuse, New York 2014 © Thilde Jensen
Mike’s black hand in roses. New Orleans, Louisiana 2018 © Thilde Jensen
Moody in the broken down truck where he sleeps. Las Vegas, Nevada 2017 © Thilde Jensen


I AM NOT INVisible by Thilde Jensen is on show at the Martin Parr Foundation from 16 SEPT – 19 DEC 2021, and is part of Bristol Photo Festival


Thoughts Unseen

British artist Thomas J Price on representation, thrashing the art history rule book, and his current exhibition at Hauser & Wirth

Installation view, ‘Thomas J Price. Thoughts Unseen’, Hauser & Wirth Somerset 2021. Courtesy the artist and Hauser & Wirth. Photo: Ken Adlard

Thomas J Price is a dissector of tradition. The British artist and RCA grad is known for his large-scale sculptures, bronze heads and art works of anonymous characters – that of which have always remained nameless and range from minuscule to 12-foot in height. Through multidisciplinary and context-riddled pieces – aided by a background in video, performance and stop motion animation – Thomas strives and succeeds in examining the role of art and how, across society in general, we assign people (and values) towards specific objects. Why are certain people not seen in art, and why does society accept this? An artist of 20 years now, Thomas poses these questions and, in the present day, he’s seen some drastic shifts in the mainstream attitude of his viewers – and the art landscape in general. Not only is the perception of art changing, but Thomas has now landed a momentous show at Somerset’s Hauser & Wirth entitled Thoughts Unseen, and has been commissioned by Hackney Council Commission to create the first permanent public sculpture in celebration of the Windrush generation, set to be unveiled next year. Below, I chat to Thomas about representation in art, thrashing the history rule book and his latest accomplishments – that of which includes a sculpture about bus drivers and a 12-foot bronze man standing casually in a hoody.

Installation view, ‘Thomas J Price. Thoughts Unseen’, Hauser & Wirth Somerset 2021. Courtesy the artist and Hauser & Wirth. Photo: Ken Adlard

Your work seeks to challenge historical narratives, can you tell me a bit more about this?

The sculptures were initially began experiments in physiognomy; experimenting with different types of faces, characters and people, and responses that they would get from me. Then I’d imagine what responses I’d get from the viewers. This was all in order to make the characters in stop motion. Then, after a tutorial at the Royal College, I was challenged as to why I wouldn’t show all these different little sculptures – so I ended up making a small plaster head. It was through that process that I started to look at all the existing elements of portraiture around me. 

The very fact that my works are of fictional characters is because I want to critique this whole notion of portraiture, the whole value system of portraiture, and how we attribute value to individuals, and who gets to decide who is valuable. And so, in that sense, when you start to reference and tap into our history, and the history of portraits, the history of statues – those figurative sculptures are sculptures which critique statues, they’re not statues themselves. But when you start to reference those points, it gets political very quickly. 

When I was at school, I didn’t see many people like myself, if at all. I had particular messages or expectations around me, which contrasted hugely to what I was expecting from myself, or what I thought about myself. A lot of my work is about placing the internal understandings I have about me as a human being, as the people I know as human beings, against the kind of continuous and very loud expectations and limitations from within society. When it comes to the large sculptures, they talk about the language of power and the language of monuments. Specifically as we’re talking about real individuals in history who have been placed in public spaces to tell society who was valuable, what great deeds have been done and who we should look up to – literally and figuratively. When I look at the kind of the imagined characters in my practice, is pitting that against our expectations of what should be preserved, what should be valuable, what should be revered, and celebrated and saying, well, what about this, and if not, why not? It’s about making the viewer bring their understandings to the works so they reveal themselves through the process of assigning identity and reason. In that sense, I think they’re actually more like portraits of the viewer. Because these are made up people, they don’t exist. There’s no title or identity: man one, man two, man three; head one, head two, head three. It’s about really packing it with information, and just giving it a little push, figuratively speaking, to hopefully meet the viewer partway.

Installation view, ‘Thomas J Price. Thoughts Unseen’, Hauser & Wirth Somerset 2021. Courtesy the artist and Hauser & Wirth. Photo: Ken Adlard

I find the concept of anonymity very interesting. How do you build your subjects, are they based off people that you’ve seen in fleeting moments? Are they a mash up of things, or more from your imagination?

It’s a whole mix of everything you mentioned. It started very much from an emotional position, creating the physiognomies or the look of a character that, for me, embodied the ambiguity – the complexities of a human being in a moment of internal thought, in a moment of total absorption, without self consciousness, without the very real world and very real requirement to perform for a wider public to say that you’re not dangerous, or to say that you’re happy or that you are to conform to the expectations that society places on individuals. That’s why they never look at the viewer, they never try to get our attention, they look beyond us, or they’re in their own world. And for me, that’s a very important statement about autonomy and power, and intrinsic value. So they complete themselves, they don’t need the viewer in order to be of value. 

The characters themselves, it really starts with a goal of trying to create something believable. It’s a very intuitive process, where I will use different references – they might be initiated by someone I have seen momentarily, it might be the way that someone stands or how they might have interacted with another person. It’s my response to that and the context.

Installation view, ‘Thomas J Price. Thoughts Unseen’, Hauser & Wirth Somerset 2021. Courtesy the artist and Hauser & Wirth. Photo: Ken Adlard

These days, people are more critical of statues in society – the Edward Colston statue Bristol, as a recent example. People are now more aware of the meaning behind them, whereas before, perhaps it wasn’t so much in mainstream awareness.

You’ve nailed it there with mainstream awareness, because people have been campaigning against the Colston statue for decades, at least, and various different statues in Oxford – across the globe. It seems that the perfect storm has happened, and people have had long enough from lockdowns, perhaps, to think about the implications of those statements that were existing. As our attitudes change towards one another, and we start to try and consider more fully the experience of the ‘other’, how can we tolerate these monuments to people who were totally against that? And then try and justify by saying it’s a different time? The objects exist in this time, and they are statements to what we want to move towards or maintain within society. It’s incredible that it’s taken so long, and it’s a really amazing time that we’re living in – some people are trying to claim that history is being hidden or removed, and I personally think that history is being made. We are making history by engaging with the reality of what’s gone before, and trying to engage and constructing something that we want to create ahead of us. It’s exciting times.

So how are your new works a reflection of this?

The show at Hauser and Wirth, titled Thoughts Unseen, looks at the things that we don’t see within each other’s psyches, and how that is manifested externally. One of the first sculptures I chose is called Mixed Feelings, which is about bus drivers – that’s being shown alongside one of the newest pieces, which is also one of the largest figures called All In, and it’s a 12-foot bronze figure of a man standing casually, in a hoody – like me – with his hands in his pockets. They’re both very similar, it’s the same character; it’s also a very similar pose to another piece called Within the Folds, where his hands are outside of his pockets, demonstrating the huge difference that putting your hands in your pockets can make to the understanding of that person. And also the huge change you can make to their experience within the world. You know, a Black man with his hands in his pockets in the public space, for example; it’s not necessarily the most clean-cut thing and a lot of people take it for granted. 

The show is a re-contextualisation of about 20 years of my work, which is quite strange to think about. But it’s really exciting because it’s really strengthening those connections between the pieces.

Installation view, ‘Thomas J Price. Thoughts Unseen’, Hauser & Wirth Somerset 2021. Courtesy the artist and Hauser & Wirth. Photo: Ken Adlard

Do you have any main goals in mind when you’re making something?

The goals always change, but it’s really about making people conscious of the guiding forces in their lives; their attitudes and where are they come from; to be conscious and aware of the failings they have; where they come from; to be become aware of the people around them, and their connection to those people. It’s about how we relate to one another and why do we do that. It’s a tricky question because there’s so many varied ambitions and hopes for the works, but I guess I do want to make work that connects to people on some level, whether that’s them taking ownership, how they start to speak to people, how they listen to people, or how we come together around objects to create understandings. 

Installation view, ‘Thomas J Price. Thoughts Unseen’, Hauser & Wirth Somerset 2021. Courtesy the artist and Hauser & Wirth. Photo: Ken Adlard

Are you hopeful and optimistic about the future of representation in art, do you think it’s heading in a good direction?

There is a wider awareness of even the term representation. It’s the fact that people are starting to accept that it should be a thing, there should be representation. I think that is a positive step. I think the work I’m seeing produced by different artists is very positive, because it’s not just about representing the body, it’s not just about representing the figurative Black experience, for example; I suppose it’s about allowing the freedom to do what you want to do. And whether that’s abstract painting, performative or it’s about allowing the individual to be present in where they feel they belong. I think that’s starting to happen more and more. 

But, there’s a hell of a long way to go, and I think making sure that we stick to it, and keep allowing people opportunities to speak their truth and the fullness of their truths, is going to be a challenge. As one society, we have to stay fully engaged in the change that is happening. I think we all benefit from it. How do we not benefit from having a better understanding of the world around us? I do feel positive, and I think I always have done. That’s why I’ve continued to make the work that I’ve made. I was making these works 20 years ago, when people weren’t talking about this so much. There were people before me making works in these environments and societal contexts, and I don’t know how they continued to make the work they’re making, but they did. And so I think, we all owe it to the people who’ve come before us to continue to speak our truths as fully as we can.

Installation view, ‘Thomas J Price. Thoughts Unseen’, Hauser & Wirth Somerset 2021. Courtesy the artist and Hauser & Wirth. Photo: Ken Adlard
Installation view, ‘Thomas J Price. Thoughts Unseen’, Hauser & Wirth Somerset 2021. Courtesy the artist and Hauser & Wirth. Photo: Ken Adlard
Installation view, ‘Thomas J Price. Thoughts Unseen’, Hauser & Wirth Somerset 2021. Courtesy the artist and Hauser & Wirth. Photo: Ken Adlard
Installation view, ‘Thomas J Price. Thoughts Unseen’, Hauser & Wirth Somerset 2021. Courtesy the artist and Hauser & Wirth. Photo: Ken Adlard