BREXART –The Leeds, UK Art Scene

British art, given its history in representations of landscapes, the gothic and mythic, realism, controversy and modernist method and promotion of the art celebrity, has seen a redirect given current political climate.  Now as the UK departs from the European Union, there’s a drive to bring awareness to problems and situations affected by the move, made prominent in the varying art practices to promote research, pedagogy and an online community.

Thoughts of British art history bring about Turner’s scenic landscapes, Francis Bacon’s traumatic paintings, dynamism of colors within David Hockney’s art, psychology and realism in Lucian Freud’s portraits. Newness and contemporary impressions include mentioning of charismatic genius of Grayson Perry, ambition of Steve McQueen as modern master, controversy in Chris Ofili’s use of dung, certainly Banksy’s political activism.   

But Damien Hirst’s current art project “Treasures” from the Wreck of the Unbelievable, rests art conscience of the international art world once again on the adventurous discipline and physiology Hirst employs in his art. This exhibition depicts objects and sculptures from an underwater fantasy made to look as though they were antiques pulled up from the bottom of the sea.

Post Y2K hilarity through emergence of the former Eickholt Gallery, singularly channeling and pop-popularizing current art trends after many of the galleries on the edge of Soho left for Chelsea, and its serendipitous involvement in the Liverpool Biennial, as an interning press officer, I dialogued in art projects and philosophy with several Liverpool artists. Obvious at the time, these artists were undergoing transcendence from the everyday art scene, their art practices were inspired by topics of displacement, colonization, preservation of multi-culturalism, gender and sexual ideologies, technology and urban development.  

Much as Liverpool on June 4, 2008, was named European Capital of Culture, Leeds, UK, is bidding to become European Capital of Culture for 2023.  

A recent exhibition in Leeds was The British Art Show, a survey show of British art which is organized every five years as part of the Hayward Touring Programme. Among the artists were Martino Gamper, Rachel Maclean, Andrea Buttner, Ciara Phillips and Ryan Gander.

Artist and curator, Louise Atkinson, chosen as one of the artists to animate Gamper’s bookbinding installation, was born in Salisbury and moved to Leeds in 2006. She speaks of grassroots activities developed by artist collectives in a community of two universities and an independent art college.  

One such cultural initiative, Leeds Creative Time Bank, allows people to share knowledge and experience for time credits; a tool by which people create an alternative economic model in exchange for time and skills rather than acquiring goods and services through the exchange of money.  

Much like the artists in Liverpool, pedagogy, research and a PHD status plays an important part in her art practice. Atkinson focuses on art as anthropological, proposing a theory of how art operates within cultural systems, both locally and cross culturally. Her particular interest is in artists working with collections and artifacts. This centers on how and whether it is possible to produce an ethical model for working with anthropology in art.

In her most recent work, Atkinson explores the concept of ‘langscape’, a portmanteau of language and landscape, which refers to the linguistic landscape, an academic field of study exploring the different languages and signs in public areas. Currently she is collaborating on a series of projects with a linguistic ethnographer to combine social science research, artistic research and education with children, young people and adults.

Curator Space, an online community was also developed out of her own artist-curator practice and addresses the difficulty of managing communication with artists across lots of different channels. Through the platform, any artist-curator, curator, or arts organizer can create an opportunity on the site with a brief description, FAQs and an integrated submission form. This is then listed on the site and shared through social media. Artists and other creatives can view the opportunity and log-in to submit their work.

Submissions are stored in a list within the curators account for them to review. The main objective with the site is to help to share opportunities for artists, but also to help people create their own opportunities by providing them with a way of collecting and managing submissions.

Curator Space has hosted many different types of opportunity including calls for site-specific works, podcasts, internet based works, 3D modelling, sound art, interactive art, art writing, publishing, working with museum collections, photography, geocaching, etc.

With the current political climate in the UK as intense as it is, Atkinson senses an effect on art which she is sure will become more prominent as the effects of Brexit become clear. Many British artists are also addressing themes of a post-Brexit Britain, such as Grayson Perry’s invitation to viewers of Channel 4 in Britain to help create his next work – an attempt to capture what a divided country is thinking.

What Britain Wants follows Grayson as he harnesses the power of Twitter and Facebook to invite the public to contribute ideas, images, phrases and photographs with which he can cover the surface of two enormous pots: one for the Brexiteers and one for the Remainers. Grayson believes these are two great tribes of our time – their differences are far more fundamental than disagreement over the European Union – and wants to explore their competing visions of the nation. The project will unfold in two parts. In these two new art works Grayson will reflect the two competing narratives of what this country is, and what it aspires to be.

Through the Curator Space platform, Atkinson has also observed an increase in callouts discussing the need for collaboration, representation, and diversity, in light of Brexit. She believes the political climate may affect particular European funding opportunities for arts organizations. The question is, ‘will this lead to the creation of more political art?’. There’s a lot of uncertainty but hopefully people will become more engaged.

Louise Atkinson’s current exhibitions include the solo show Place Myths, which will be exhibited at Staithes Studios Gallery throughout May, and a showcase event at Tate Britain a part of the artist collective AMBruno. She will also exhibit her work Souvenirs from the British Isles as part of a two-person show with Dr. Christian Barnes in July. The exhibition, ‘Migratory Objects’, focuses on artistic responses to tourism and souvenirs and will be exhibited at Outpost Gallery in Portland, Dorset.