Last month on Friday 9th June we opened the BCN Residency Programme Exhibition! Showcasing new work by the 2022/23 artists in residence from the Blast Creative Network (BCN) Residency Programme*: Alex Billingham, Japhet Dinganga, Marley Starskey Butler, Polly Brant and Hannah Rollason. 

*The BCN Bursary Residency Programme is a funded artist residency held in partnership between Multistory and The Wolverhampton School of Art. The programme provides Sandwell and Black Country artists with focused time and support for; development, research, testing out ideas, and making new work. It provides artists with structured support from the Multistory team, focused time and financial resources to reflect on and develop their practices. The residency is held in partnership with The Wolverhampton School of Art.

Installation shot of the BCN Residency Programme Exhibition.
© Multistory.

The group exhibition was held in the foyer space at Wolverhampton School of Art (open from 9 June to 16 July) and was the culmination of the funded BCN Residency Programme where the five artists were invited to; test out new ideas / explore an aspect of their practice that they’d been sitting on / undertake a period of research and experimentation / and, share their practice and connect.

There were threads connecting each artists’ work to each other, despite everyone’s practices being different. Common themes were touch, revealing the process, access, who has the right to information / who has the right to access art. 

Hannah Rollason: Passing Notes

Image description: Inside a display case, on a white plinth, there is a zine designed like a red school exercise book, the thin lined pages are folding open, and inside the black lined framed box on the cover (where you’re supposed to write your name), it says ‘Passing Notes, Pepper Project, 2023.’ The book is standing upright, kind of loud and quiet. Next to this, inside the case, is a plaster mould, in sections, broken apart. The mould displayed open reveals the negative space of a bell pepper. A ceramic pepper sits next to the mould, the weight, shine and hard looking-ness of the material give it away as ceramic.

To develop this work Hannah Rollason led a workshop series with WSOA art students, looking at how art is taught today. She used the red bell pepper as a reference for those moments studying art at school where you’re tirelessly encouraged to draw a still life of an inanimate object. In the book ‘Passing Notes’ Hannah includes excerpts from students alongside her own experience in art education. The pepper came to represent the current way art is being taught, not fully supporting creativity. In the book, Hannah talks about teachers not having enough resources, pressure on students to be creative in certain ways, and how the grading system can be restrictive on students. This is all alongside asking the students what they would want from their art education.

Polly Brant: A movement in the direction of trying to make sense

Image description: 3 big (A0 size) posters hang alongside each other on a wall. Each poster is a carefully designed image with bright handwritten notes layered on top of separate bits of patterned paper, like how you might arrange reminders/notes to yourself on your desk. All of the posters have a digital collage feel, they feel playful, some parts are glitchy like a scanned image moved too fast, the colours are bright. From left to right, on the first poster there is a big sticky note saying ‘Space’ above another which reads ‘Why not now?’ These are layered over written columns with repetitive lines of the instruction ‘take up space’ repeated. In the second poster, there is an image of an open packet of tea and some doodles in the background, below this is a handwritten note that reads ‘respond to the moment.’ There is some digital text at the bottom of the poster, ‘learning isn’t about being perfect’. The third poster contains a photo of a handwritten  mind map, it reads ‘experiencing>sharing>producing>responding’. These words are connected by arrows, linking them all to each other in a cyclical loop, there’s also arrows going in between them too. There is also a handwritten note reading ‘See where it goes’, and digital text at the bottom of the poster reading, ‘Practice is lifelong learning. Practice is a doing word. Practice makes progress.’

These posters are excerpts from a publication Polly created as part of her residency. The publication explores the difficulties that art education faces now, and the posters are excerpts from this. The digital collage aspect of the work, and the playfully distorted elements are a reminder of remixing or being in a state of flux, which suits the open-ended and generative nature of the statements and questions Polly asks in this work. The posters read as a resource on how to make art, they share lessons and questions with the viewer, ‘why not now?’ and ‘take up space’… These notes feel like a nod to different ways of learning, informal everyday ways of learning, through conversation, gentleness and practice, learning in ways that art school might not necessarily teach.

Japhet Dinganga: An intervention on derelict space in Sandwell

Image description: An installation of sculpture, assemblage, collaged photographs and printed posts from Bournbrook DIY Instagram. There is a sculpture in a display case, it resembles a car steering wheel and is covered in modroc/gauze, it is painted in reds, oranges and plum colours – the palette is all mixed together. On the wall, there are 2 assemblages, the first is made from a used window frame, the window fans open into the gallery space and casts a soft shadow onto the other assemblage next to it. The next assemblage is made from a drawer, filled with blue patterned 70s wallpaper. Besides the wallpaper the colours are muted. There is a pair of clock hands moving. The small clock which sits on top of an abstract drawing of a vase, or a person moving. On the wall, next to these assemblages, 9 collaged photographs sit on the wall. These photos are of disused spaces around Sandwell. The photos have been drawn on top of and collaged with ideas for what these spaces could become. Lastly, next to this is a print out of Instagram posts by Bournbrook DIY ‘a create and skate community project in Birmingham’. These posts show the journey of the collective.

As part of the residency Japhet led a series of workshops with community members from the Dorothy Parkes Centre in Smethwick. The 9 collaged photographs and the sculpture were created during these workshops. In the collaged photographs community members imagined transforming local disused spaces into community spaces. They feel like speculative drawings, one reads, ‘out of the wilderness comes beauty’, another reads ‘to Birmingham, embracing changes’. The invitation to share a collective process and the everyday is felt across all of the works, and feels generous. The artworks feel interconnected and Japhet’s choice to share the journey of Bournbrook DIY, a collective he is involved in, captures a moment in time and works as a celebration of what is achieved together.

Marley Starskey Butler: Access Subject 

Image description: A short video plays on a large TV screen showing Marley in a studio space physically ordering the pages of a book he is making. The soundtrack is an ambient song and the video plays on loop. It begins with Marley sitting looking at the pages to be ordered and then him moving the pages around and putting them up on the wall, changing the order a few times. Next to the video, on a wall are 2 framed black and white photographs sitting side by side. There is a grainy blur to both images. The photograph on the left hand side, is an image of a document, holding only redacted information. Big inky blocks cover up information, no words are readable underneath. In the photograph on the right, a Black woman sits. She is in her fifties maybe, her hair is tied up and she is holding the end of her locs while looking away from the camera. She is wearing a dark coloured blouse. She is slightly out of focus, she seems pensive.

Produced as part of the residency, Access Subject is a photo book that explores the artist’s relationship to their birth mother. For the BCN exhibition, Marley presented a video showing their process, alongside 2 photographic works which form part of the wider photo book. The 2 photographs, shown side by side, run parallel to each other. The redacted information on the left, contains information regarding the artist and their birth mother from social services. The woman that sits in the image on the right is Marley’s birth mother. The presentation of these images feels tender and direct. The harshness of the redacted personal files contrasts to the very human soft focus and warm framing of Marley’s birth mother. The photographs, alongside the video, show the process of putting Access Subject together. These processes can often be hidden and revealing this is very generous.

Alex Billingham: Salting the Wound

Image description: In another room, next door to the foyer, there is a sculptural installation. Iridescent metallic fabric is draped across the floor, some of this fabric is printed like snakeskin. The lighting in the room is magenta and gives everything a pink glow. On a plinth dressed in black velvet fabric there is a walking cane surrounded by salt. Next to this placed on some fabric on the floor is a bowl full of salt. There are photographs placed around the room which show stills of the artist performing to camera. A television in the centre of the room plays a film of the artist pouring salt on their wound. The pink and blue colours of the trans flag are present in the video, it feels playful and colourful.

For their residency, Alex created a short film documenting their new performance Salting the Wound, which explores the artists’ crip, trans identity. In the film, Alex plays with salt – Salting the Wound as an act of resistance against the ableism that permeates our society. This ableism which wants people to ‘get better’, which sees only able bodied and disabled, and asks that disability is performed in certain ways. The artist wrote in their project text, ‘BUT…. You’re not REALLY disabled tho! You’re a FAKE I saw you walk without a stick. You stood up from a wheelchair…. It’s a miracle.’ ‘No BAB people are complicated and disability isn’t just a one badge this is who we are. We exist in a fluid state with multiple identities and needs overlapping.’  The performance is a joyful celebration of bodies in flux, of those who are proudly moving in between the binaries.