Last week saw the opening of the exhibition Interior-Shift at the old Stones Bakery in Falmouth. What, until recently was a popular but tiny bakery*, has now been renovated by a group of young artists in exchange for temporary use of the space. *Don’t worry Stones fans, it still exists, it’s just further up the street and bigger!
It was a rainy Thursday evening when I arrived at the pop-up exhibition opening and despite the miserable weather outside, I could sense a palpable buzz from inside the brightly-lit gallery. Students, tutors and some locals were gathering in the space, clearly engaged with the range of work. Artists Amy McMillan, Jasmine Mills, Alberta Shearing and Ella Squirrell are all students at Falmouth University who share the experience of having completed a month-long summer residency at CAST in Helston this year. The work is a product of their time at CAST and is primarily a response to dealing with an entirely new space as well as the challenges that come with working so intensively over a month-long period. Despite the shared starting point, the work is varied and clearly influenced by their own interests and individual practice percolating in from outside the residency.
On arrival, the richly coloured work emanates from behind fogged-up windows, but inside the space, I only begin to appreciate each artist’s process when viewing the work close-up, something that a small space (that has been expertly curated) encourages.
Ella Squirrell creates large semi-abstract paintings which ooze from the walls of the old shop. Each work contains a rich palette of earthy colours, that for me, capture the warmth and serenity of lived-spaces. Simultaneously the contrasting colours suggest some form of unrest, perhaps derived from an uncanny new space. Ella describes her work as moving in and out of abstraction and figuration, an endeavour to suggest form but also allow ambiguity. Her paintings in the exhibition are a response to both the interior space of CAST and the local community in Helston.
Upon entering the gallery-space, sporadic and dislocated vocals drew me to the darkened back room of the old shop and the work of Alberta Shearing. Stepping down into the cellar-like space, I was surrounded by various projections on the walls, each mesmerising in their simplicity. A response to the studio space at CAST, as well as the artist’s body in the space, the videos are a subtle meditation on the topography of space and body. Alberta describes her practice as an enquiry into the different ways her body can interact with, or even merge into a space or environment. This sentiment was perhaps most strongly echoed in her performance that took place during the opening night. The artist stood with a projection of a map dancing over her body and attempted to trace the contour lines onto her skin with a pen, introducing manipulations in scale and blurring the boundaries between body and landscape.
Jasmine Mills is a landscape painter working from memory and imagination, something that is reflected in the abstract and playful nature of her work. Although somewhat surreal, the paintings reference the natural environment through the use of rich, organic tones. This manifestation of landscape painting, when displayed alongside the work of Ella Squirrell produces an intriguing dialogue in which the viewer can compare practices- both have semi-abstract elements and are paintings, however, each artist’s practice is very distinct and clearly an outcome of their own individual experience at CAST.
In comparison to the other artists, Amy McMillan‘s work operates on a much smaller scale. Her miniature figures dot the gallery space leading the viewer into a game of hide and seek, while her watercolours present a surreal arrangement of characters that pose the question ‘who are these people and where have they come from?’ Using live events as stimulus, including recordings, patterns and colour, Amy collages to compose scenes and environments in her paintings. The work displayed in the exhibition was largely inspired by visits to Helston folk museum.
After seeing the show, I chatted to Amos Jacob, who helped organise and curate this event, about how the project came together, baking and the politics of displaying artwork.
So how did you come about this space and start the project?
Amos: The general philosophy for me is based on a set of questions, I asked myself what do I want to do? And what are the fundamental things I need to do to make it happen? Usually, it involves time, space and intent. And then you think, do these things already exist? There is loads of space and we have the time and intent. The work was all made over the summer at CAST in association with the fine art department at the university. So we had this work we thought let’s demonstrate our confidence, we think this important.
Lets learn how to have this conversation properly.
We kept our eyes open for opportunities and I had talked to a number of different spaces. One day I walked past Stones and thought this would be a great space, and so the next day I went in and had a chat with Ollie who runs the bakery and told him what we wanted to do and that we would happily exchange painting the rooms for use of the space, and it just worked. It was very serendipitous.
Anyone can do this, you just have to ask!
It feels like the start of something really exciting in Falmouth.
A: Yes, and it is very liberating. We have all worked together a lot in past and we have learnt a lot from previous projects, so it’s just cool to demonstrate what we have learnt to ourselves. It’s amazing that you have essentially used a sharing economy to create what you have got here. It feels like Falmouth might be a hotspot for this kind of thing- I guess it goes hand in hand with
It’s amazing that you have essentially used a sharing economy to create what you have got here. It feels like Falmouth might be a hotspot for this kind of thing- I guess it goes hand in hand with creative living? And being students as well, we need to live cheaply…
A: It’s not a multimillion pound project, it doesn’t need that more mathematical approach and it’s so easy to do. I would love to see more people doing more similar things and doing it confidently! Of course, there are things that you might do differently next time but that doesn’t stop it from being really valid in its own right as well.
Can you describe the curating process, how you went about organising the space?
A: We knew right from the start that Alberta’s work would go in the downstairs space, its perfect for projection and her work is quite dissimilar to the rest because it’s not painting. So the back-room was an immediate decision. We put up the largest works first and it felt right that they should go in the bright areas at the front of the space. We wanted to be responsive to the space and so Amy decided to paste her characters to the walls which are sort of crawling around and exploring the space.
They make the space a lot more interactive. When I came to the opening I was really engaged and was looking for these little characters. It feels like a very productive use of the space, but at the same time not overcrowded.
A: Yes, the intention was to play the work off against each other because there are clear similarities but there are also very different styles. Trying to find a conversation between the works where it feels comfortable moving from Amy’s small figures to Jasmine’s abstract stuff and Ella’s slightly more figurative work. Everything has space to breathe.
It feels a very human space as well, you have the residue of the bakery with all its plugs and sockets.
A: It’s like the psychic residue, the memory of what this place was and the connotations that go with that delightfully human, earthy process of baking. It’s so ancient and delicious!
There is a really lovely relationship there the tactile process of baking and the tactile process of making art. Both very visceral processes.
A: Definitely, and although a space is a space, it would have felt very different if we had held the exhibition in an old estate agents for example. Stones was probably one of the first places I came when I arrived in Falmouth because you smell it! And its exciting watching people come in and out. It’s a very unpretentious space.
Another aside point, how do you make sure you are unpretentious? Postmodernism is arguably very ironic and cocky, it has the balls to say that nothing means anything.
For our generation, I think we are trying to say ‘well no, some things are important, do have meaning’. There is value to be found in the world.
But within an art practice, as much as anyone tries to deny it, we are in a social setting (the gallery) and I think we are trying to curate a space that intrigues people but doesn’t say this is the answer to anything.
That in itself is refreshing, in comparison to say the postmodern attitude. I think with our generation, in particular, it is really important to keep having an open discussion and not cut things off in a didactic way- its a fight to stay animate, to stay engaged.
A: The difficulty isn’t the intent, its the making of tangible work and putting it in front of people, knowing that it might be interpreted as arrogant, but still have the courage to do that. Not just have the thoughts and the ideologies, but be politically active.
Action is really important. In a world so full of theory, why actually do anything?! And yet I’m sure you must feel, and people coming to this show must feel that it is very nourishing to engage with tangible work.
A: Yes, and although Alberta makes video work and installation, her videos are exploring tangibility. The work isn’t an object, but it is about physicality. And the paintings are not ashamed of themselves.
Themes of space and landscape are what resonate most from this exhibition, despite being held in such a small space. Whether it be landscape in the traditional sense, or the more internal, micro-landscapes of mind, body and immediate surroundings, the work emanates far beyond the walls of the old-bakery, as does the project as a whole. I hope it is the starting point for exciting things to come in the streets of Falmouth.