Artists respond after the world turns upside down

WE’RE closing in on an entire year since the world was turned upside down, not least for the artists in our island.

Back in September of 2020, looking to inspire artists and encourage them to think outside of the box, ArtHouse Jersey published a call-out inviting creators to pitch for a ‘Covid commission’ up to the value of £5,000. This money would go towards delivering fresh, inspiring work that would transcend pandemic restrictions.

We were looking for art that would appeal to a broad audience. It could be of any discipline but would have to be of value and interest to both people in Jersey and further afield. Given the pandemic’s impact on both the arts and society at large, we felt it was no longer about sitting and waiting it out, but a time to wholly encourage artists to fully embrace the opportunities available to them and begin to think differently about how to create work that would be both memorable and impactful.

Here we introduce some of the artists and projects that were successful in their Covid commission applications, as the finishing touches are put upon the various works of art.

Help artists to create YourTopia by The Fernway Vision

The Fernway Vision is a group of environmentally aware artists – Dylan Kempster-Smyth and George and Richard Crane – who are interested in inviting you to help develop their exhibition, entitled YourTopia. It explores the future possibilities of two paralleled environments, inspired by the ideas of a utopia and dystopia. The exhibition will offer guests the opportunity to step into these worlds and immerse themselves in a variety of multi-dimensional works.

The collective tells us to be prepared for YourTopia to be a different kind of exhibition, one that gives you an experience of the future in hope that it will encourage us to reflect on the present. As these future worlds can only be imagined, they are asking members of the community to help shape and bring these environments into existence through taking part in a questionnaire.

By engaging with the Deserted Island Disc survey, they say you become a character who awakes in an unfamiliar habitat and begins to explore. Your descriptions will be used to mould and dictate what the artists create for YourTopia.

It’s their hope that the exhibition will stimulate thought and conversation around the future of our environment and our place within it. This work will go live at ArtHouse Jersey’s headquarters at Grève de Lecq Barracks in May.

To take part in the survey simply scan the QR code (above in pictures).

Refugio by Oliver Le Gresley

Oliver Le Gresley is an artist and craft practitioner who holds a BA in fine art and an MA in textile design from University College Falmouth.

He spent a formative 15 months living in Japan, working with a master silk weaver and a small textile design company. His recent work has explored craft, materiality, and the genius loci, seeking to represent motifs of place and experience.

For his commission Oliver will explore some of these ideas while responding to the way life has changed over the past year. ‘Refugio’ hopes to distil some of these changes, placed within the artificial context of the art gallery, to encourage the viewer to reflect upon the ideas of exterior and interior, public and private, confinement and freedom. The unique installation will be live in April at Grève de Lecq Barracks.

Lavender by Serena Ruth and Paddy Randall

Jersey-based dancer/movement researcher Serena Ruth and her collaborator, Paddy Randall, met at Laban Conservatoire of Music and Dance, where their creative partnership began. Their movement-based work utilises score-making as a means to consider the tender moments that can be generated between audience and performer. The pair applied for a commission to create Lavender, an installation exhibition involving movement and projection.

As Serena Ruth explained: ‘The work is concerned with the notion of orientation: how we come to find our way and feel at home. Throughout lockdown many of us have been required to redefine the spaces in which we live; Zoom meetings in the kitchen, emails sent from the landing and dance classes happening within the confines of our childhood bedrooms. The mode of orientation within our home environments has entirely shifted. We are delighted to be taking up a residency with ArtHouse Jersey and are excited to bring you Lavender.’

To book a 45-minute slot to experience the performance at Grève de Lecq Barracks visit arthousejersey.je for more details.

Poetry: The Death of Keats

Last week was a significant date on the international poetry calendar, as 23 February saw the 200th anniversary of the death of poet John Keats. Commissioned by ArtHouse Jersey and the Keats-Shelley Memorial House (Rome) committee member Mary Venturini, an original piece titled The Death Of Keats was written and performed by award-winning British poet and author Luke Wright and formed part of the official bicentenary commemorations in Rome.

Mary Venturini, a former journalist for The Economist who lives between Jersey and Italy, set up the magazine Wanted in Rome in the mid-1980s on identifying a hole in the market for foreign, English-speaking residents in Rome.

From there she also became a committee member of the Keats-Shelley Memorial House. Keen to find a way to adequately commemorate John Keats’ death in a contemporary style, ArtHouse Jersey introduced Mary Venturini to a previously commissioned performance by British poet Luke Wright on their digital platform. So taken by this piece, Mrs Venturini offered to co-commission this new work, The Death Of Keats, which is now available to watch online at ArtHouse Jersey Presents via arthousejersey.je.

Suffering from tuberculosis nearly 200 years ago, John Keats made the arduous journey to Rome with a friend hoping that the milder climate would cure his consumption. Within three months he was dead. He died in a small room on the second floor of Piazza di Spagna 26 with only his friend Joseph Severn at his side. He was just 25. It was a difficult and lonely death.

Luke Wright said of his work: ‘My knowledge of Keats was pretty poor before I started researching for this poem, but Mary’s account of his death and her passion for the subject convinced me that it would make a great subject for a poem, if not a daunting one to be taking on.

‘I did nothing but read and read about John Keats for two months, amassing thousands of words of notes, until I felt I knew him intimately. I fell in love with the odes – reading and re-reading Ode to a Nightingale over and over one day in early December. The result is a poem full of reference and details and I hope the cadences and tones of Keats himself. The circumstances of his death are so sad – exiled from his friends and lover, feeling he had failed as a writer – that I was determined to give him a happy ending, hence the Endymion-like sequence at the end, where Keats finds himself in the kind of Arcadian forest he so liked to conjure in his poetry.’

A F Harrold: The Book Of Not Entirely Useful Advice

A F Harrold is an English poet who writes and performs for adults and children, in cabaret and in schools, in bars and in basements, in fields and indoors. He was Glastonbury Festival website’s poet-in-residence in 2008, and poet-in-residence at Cheltenham Literature Festival in 2010. He won the Cheltenham All Stars Slam Championship in 2007 and has had his work on BBC Radio 4, Radio 3 and BBC7. And now he is a star guest of ArtHouse Jersey Presents. No stranger to the Island, AF Harrold last performed here for the Jersey Festival of Words in 2016. He proved an instant hit, with 600 children spellbound at the Jersey Opera House. He is also a renowned children’s author and by his own admission ‘does things that aren’t entirely normal’, which may well bolster his appeal to the younger person.

Arthouse Jersey programme manager Pippa Le Quesne commissioned Harrold to create this poetry video for children. She said: ‘I knew it would be weird and wonderful – he starts off by cutting his hair at the beginning of the film – and hugely enjoyable for primary school kids, and a gift to their teachers. If anyone can get children to love poetry and show that it’s fun and doesn’t have to be boring and stuffy, it’s him.

‘Here he reads from his collection The Book of Not Entirely Useful Advice, which is suitably off the wall, but also directly addresses the kids in Jersey and speaks about his love of the Island’. The piece is now available to watch on ArtHouse Jersey Presents.

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