2001, curated by Kerstin Doble and Mick Welbourn, reunited nine artists, curators and educators who initially crossed paths that same year on the Foundation Diploma in Art and Design course at Leeds College of Art. Works were spread across the ground floor and lower floor gallery spaces of the Vernon Street campus, with the addition of a web based project by Louise Shelley. The atrium gallery space, as Joe Hill describes in his accompanying essay, ‘is a central point where students and teaching staff […]meet, congregate, form plans and rebel’, and it is in negotiating this overlap of social, personal and professional lives that the works resonate.
Lucy Clout’s video, From Our Own Correspondent (2015), is set within a generic hotel room where we hear a range of stories lifted from real interviews and extracts from blogs and journalism. These reports range from unremarkable day-to-day aspects of work such as juggling deadlines to an exchange of ‘sext’ messages with a politician who has since been publicly disgraced. Rather than taking on the salacious tone of a tabloid newspaper, however, stories are delivered with an efficient formality, through the practiced detachment of a person who is actually recalling them. The only ‘person’ we see is a half-dressed digital avatar who is neither at work nor rest, who embodies the life of these reporters.
Speaking to women who work as carers and telephone counsellors, Rehana Zaman’s film 5 sheds light on the breadth of skills required and emotional labour undertaken in this line of work. Using the structure of a fictional ‘away day’ with the workers, played in the film by actors, the ensuing dialogues replay their experiences, which, while they deal with professional detachment and anonymity, are comprised of unavoidably intimate content. Within each retold situation we see that there is not a set or appropriate response, rather a process of ‘figuring out’ between the caller and listener. In both Zaman and Clout’s videos there is a natural complexity to the interactions that we become privy to, heightened by the use of ‘social’ technology. The spaces between private and public, professional and personal, are no longer exclusive and instead exist simultaneously within our technologically enhanced present.
The collaborative video work by Sakeeb Abu Hamdan and Giles Bailey, A Horse in a Tree, features a conversation between the artists as they recall a shared memory from a educational trip, each filling in the gaps of the other’s version. The setting for this surreal and melancholy foray is a Belgian marketplace, where they discovered photographic slides of people and animals killed during the war. The artists feel their way through the memory in sketches, writing and also constructing the sounds from a found photograph they struggle to remember clearly.
Incidentally, 2001 was the year in which Wikipedia was founded, the now ubiquitous web platform which is built, edited and maintained by its community of users. NotForSalePress, the publishing imprint initiated by Tilda Bickle, Luke Dixon and Anya Stewart-Maggs, operates under similar principles of peer-review, free distribution and user-led content. A collaboration with their former tutor, artist and lecturer Nick Thurston, resulted in C’mon Clap Dammit, an unlimited edition produced on the college library’s photocopiers for the duration of the exhibition.
A mentoring relationship is also central to Kate Morrell’s Warp Set, acrylic loom stones that act as paperweights for a student with a tendency to use anything which came to hand to control her drawings. What predominates in 2001 is an ongoing dedication to consideration and conversation as an approach to art practice. The roles of teacher, student, assistant and employer are seen as flexible and mutually productive, a model that is particularly pertinent within the context of an art school.
Expanding the project further was the ‘Deep Clean’ screening at Hyde Park Picture House, curated by Amy Charlesworth and Gill Park. Including work from the 1970s to present by Joanna Davies, Tracey Moffat, Rehana Zaman and Eva and Franco Mattes, selected films investigated ‘the politics and representation of cleaning and caring’ touching on gender-bound domestic labour roles, contemporary intersectional female experience and the corporate moderation of Internet content.
2001 was at Leeds College of Art Vernon Street Gallery from 22 September to 21 October 2016.
Image: Still from Lucy Clout, From Our Own Correspondent, Digital Video, 2015. Made for the Jerwood/FVU Awards. Courtesy of the artist.
Zoë Sawyer is curator at The Tetley in Leeds.