EXPANDED STUDIO PROJECTS:Belfast 19-30 Aug, Nottingham 23-28 September 2019

Peter Mutschler calls himself director/caretaker of PS square in Belfast, while he could be also an honorary white witch or that proverbial  Phoenix capable to go on and on in spite of Arts Council withdrawal of financial support.

“Since 2018, we are one of four recipients of the Freelands Artist Programme, funded by the Freelands Foundation, alongside Site Gallery, Sheffield, England; g39 in Cardiff, Wales and Talbot Rice Gallery, Edinburgh, Scotland. This new programme will provide funding totalling £1.5 million over a five-year period. Each institution will curate a series of two-year programmes with five artists annually, allowing those artists to receive much-needed support across both creative and professional development. This will enable us to work and support 20 Northern Ireland based emerging artists.”

The Expanded Studio Project is grounded in responsive collaboration between 30 artists from two different cities, Nottingham and Belfast.

As such, it is an interesting case of bonding across and above the aura of authorship. To co-produce an object of art, rather than just one of practical use, requires a mind that can, first, consciously discern beauty in the world around it and, second, see that the shared material (idea) can be imaginatively transformed to hold that value.

This essay follows two cases:

Linguistic Ambiguity involves the transformation of matter by  Sinead McKeever (Belfast) and Kashif Nadim Chaudry (Nottingham) in relation to a simple command, e.g. Cleanse and Stain and Transition.

The haptic exploration of metal and clay by  Christine Stevens (Nottingham) with Sinead McKeever(Belfast).

Linguistic Ambiguity started with McKeever receiving three metres of muslin and a word Cleanse from K N Chaudry.

Nadim Chaudry sent 3m silk muslin and a word “Cleanse”. McKeever applied sage cleansing



She selected the sage cleansing ritual, then folded the silk between two blocks of wood.


McKeever then sent to Chaudry 3m of Irish Linen with the word STAIN. He infused the fabric with Tandoori Spices and added the word Erase. McKeever housed in in Perspex cube on a plinth, placing the Cleanse part on the top.  The plinth is covered with found material.

Linguistic Ambiguity,135 x30x 30, smudge stick, raku pot, wood, perspex cube, plinth, silk, linen, spices

These illustrative images keep silent about the visual elegance of this object, its absolute unity of materials so different that the likelihood of their togetherness was null until the imagination of these two artists overtook the real and the found. The insouciant object elegantly overcomes aporia of otherness by making visible the hospitable values of personal freedom and openness to the other. It started with materials and words. It ended near a philosopher’s remark: “Words are for meaning: when you’ve got the meaning, you can forget the words. .” (see  Zhuangzi). When I viewed MvKeever -Chaudry’s Linguistic Ambiguity  in Belfast – it was its mute poetry, it was a closed object and dark. The choice of haptic values on the surface of the pedestal and the resolutely closed perspex cube that offered unconditional hospitality: reflections of the surroundings.

At the Nottingham exhibition the command was Transition. Chaudry’s cleansed silk appears as too heavy for the slim support, and McKeever’s linen becomes a cloud with multiple threads preventing it to escape out through a window.

McKeever and Chaudry are operating a sense of transcendence that offers a bond, whose coherence admits that visual art, tacit visual art, is a spiritual wellspring. It inspires a feeling of wonder of an immersive transformation of one material into something else. Like in a Magritte’s paintings, but here, accessible not just to sight, but also touch and smell.  The current research in related fields proposes that aesthetic qualities exceed functionality and are thus part of strategies for survival (Augustin Fuentes, 2019).

The two artists named their intention as “addressing ritual, identity and cultural heritage.”

Haptic Explorations  have their roots in drawings and conversations. The inspiration offered by Viral Landscapes  McKeever made decades ago is easily recognisable in her metal sculptures. Inspiration by older work could be thought of as inhaling its memory, artists are often converted to art by art itself.

While both responded to that inspiration each used their usual materials.  Christine Stevens preferred porcelain,  Sinead McKeever metal, namely mirrored Dibond, aluminium and wing nuts.

Haptic Explorations

The optical softening of the ceramic piece elegantly evokes the remembered haptic sensation, born, as it were, from the ecstasy of welcome influence. Martin Heidegger called the task of re-situation of an object  “enframing”.  Stevens frames her material by echoing the poetic charge of the metal curves.  She makes familiar and capable of becoming convincing a kind of “useless ” objects. They are containers with no opening or too many openings.   The bulbous objects are still as fragile as any porcelain cup or plate, but optically they deny that they can break.  The humourous interaction softens any possible doubt you may have that the porcelain sphere can collaborate with metal loops.  It is also convincing.

Both artists treat influence as a gift, as an uncommodifiable surplus of inspiration.  It became more visible in their work for Nottingham.

As the metal loops cradle the squashed clay or broken shapes, they insist on the magic power of one to protect the other.  The openness to the other, the ecstasy of sharing, are values made visible and tangible, and without a doubt seriously needed in contemporary societies.  Rarely an ethical and political statement has been made visible with greater grace.   The poetry of the Annunciation by  Fra Angelico comes to mind, its supposed (believed) healing force.   In the gallery handout, Stevens and McKeever name the healing of trauma as their leading subject.

Stevens and McKeever achieved aesthetic oneness while respecting the materials differences,  like Plato’s Demiurg making the world from circles of similarity and difference (see Timaeus).  After the western world and its art plunged into the dreamscape of commodities any attempt to find the way out ought to be hailed.

McKeever, Stevens and Chaudry offer an aesthetic experience that includes the emancipation of senses, the spell of the sensuous, creating intimacy that deflects anxiety born in the world around us. The aesthetics of silence offering freedom from quotidian efforts.

What happens when what you see subverts what you know?

Images courtesy Sinead McKeever.

Note:   Expanded  Studio Project included art by:

Declan Proctor and Rhiannon Jones; Rebecca Gamble and Sinead Breathnach -Cashel (twice); Marek Tobolewski and Grace McMurray; Hannah McBride and Paul Weber (twice);  Heather Wilson and Sarah Tutt; Alex Brunt and Ines Garcia; Tom Well and Louisa Chambers; Zara Lyness and Sarah Tutt; Christine Stevens and Zara Lyness; Chris Lewis-Jones and Esther O’Kelly; Gerard Carson and Roger Suckling; Dr Jacqueline Wylie and Mik Godley; Heather Wilson and Pete Ellis; Declan Proctor and Pete Ellis.






Gerard Carson and Drydan Wilson at Platform, Belfast, 1-30 November 2018

On the day of his death (1931-2018), I recall that Robert Morris’s writings and art is thinking about the nature of perception.

“Notes on Sculpture Part III: Notes and Nonsequiturs,” the third in a series of essays he published in Artforum in 1967, begins:

“Seeing an object in real space may not be a very immediate experience. Aspects are experienced; the whole is assembled or constructed.”

As Michael Fried observed, Morris includes the viewer/observer.  Both sculptural installations at Platform, in a different way, do that too. Drydan Wilson wrote in the gallery handout that he was interested in “play”, in “extreme forms of play” – something akin his experience with “skateboarding”.  On the other hand, he claims an interest in the influences of social structures like barriers, systems, regulations.

from the left: Cut the Line, 2018, wood, paper, ink, string, scissors; Untitled (Movement line) 2018, wood, ratchet straps; Earth,2016, wood, acrylic paint

Role of paper, scissors and black line drawn in the middle. The visitor is invited to cut a piece of the line to take away.   It is more than experiencing an aspect and less than a free play.  Rather, it is a polite seduction to obey the artist’s intention. The experience is narrowed down to, in my case to hesitancy and curiosity,  before cutting a small piece of the line clumsily, and somehow liberating the scissors from the string. I made a new safety knot to keep it hanging where it should.  I did not experience it as a play, only as a response, a participatory act.  Dry and mysterious.  Without an answer to a why question.

The performative elements appear in the stasis of the wooden constructions too.  They do not obey any predictable tectonics.  I marvelled at the rhythmical cuts in the arched wood – it appeared poetic, in gently evoking touch and smell experienced when working with wood.

In this image, what looks like short lines, are cuts, each has a depth,  just enough to make their depths secret.

The black cube is constructed in the way one would draw a Necker cube- however, the material frustrates the illusion, the shift from one reading to the other.

The sculptures support Wilson’s claim that his work is often site-specific. I sense a visualized struggle in this particular place – as if the wooden arch was condemned to be tethered to the white column that supports the roof.


All wood structures are Untitled (Movement lines)

They appear as if  remembering the  “personages” installed in David Smith’s field

Three  other pieces seem from another theme: Dot,dot,dot, 2018,paper;   and Gesture Line, 2018, graphite on the wall;  and the Infinity Light


Infinity Light,(dodecahedron),2018, wood, mirror, light, tripod

and complete the display.



Gerard Carson wholeheartedly zooms on strange mutations of materials “…feeding the anthropocentric desire of infinite accumulation”.

The four exhibits shared a summary title of “Submersible Extractions”,   given first to the video.

It tells about the concerns any good ancestor shares, standing up against the ” feeding the anthropocentric desire of infinite accumulation”.  Yet – waiting for alternatives makes us all responsible as we rely on inherited infrastructures,e.g. electricity from fossil fuels. In that sense, Carson makes subtle political art that includes hints on current research in the depth of the ocean and growing awareness of polluted air.

A part of the story is given in the twin channel digital video &animation, 2018.


On one remote, I thought of it as a soft warning against unbridled exploitation of the environment, specifically that deep in the Earth crust.

A similar theme of unease with humanity exploiting resources  is evoked in the print “Glyphic Spectre”, AO injekt print, 2018.”   The visualised shape disintegrated into spikes and voids.

In the photograph on the right above a blue light touched the paper and the top of the column. It also casts a blue shadow, all of which adds up to the “lived” visual experience. As I move, the reflection of the light intensifies and fades- as if breathing in the rhythm of my moves.


Somewhat by chance, somewhat by intention, the blue light of the video is pretending to escape into space and engage in a visual “dance”  with the  “Petronic 1” (wood, concrete, wire, silicone, 3D print, 2017). 

It looks onto the fourth member of the quartet “Aqua Armature” (wood, epoxy resin, fluorescent light, tape, aluminium, silicone, spray paint, 2018).  It appears to me as an elegant duette of metal and its shadow, as a fugue.  It is a mute visual poetics.

(Aluminium takes 400 years to break down naturally)

The exhibits appear to fight against their fate (related to the environmental issues)  by a collective dependence/ intoxication by light – an ancient symbol of truth.

Both artists evoke the viewer’s sensitivity not so much to a story, as to that proverbial mute poetry. And, from my point of view,  that is a success of the visual thought, that visibility, which Italo Calvino requested to be preserved for this century.


Images courtesy Simon Mills and Platform.