‘Utopian Realism’ is an exploration of rural utopianism, idealism and industrialism in the North East of England and Mid Wales by the artists Mair Hughes and Bridget Kennedy.

Saturday, 17 November 2012

A sneak preview

"A you're adorable........"

One of Bridget's sculptures in the Oriel Davies Gallery education room.

Sunday, 11 November 2012

The next show

Mair and I have been busy in our studios getting ready for this next show. It will be spread across two venues in Newtown, Powys, Mid Wales.

 Oriel Davies Gallery is a great regional venue showing a variety of contemporary art from across the UK and beyond.

The Robert Owen Memorial Museum is a compact repository of artefacts from Robert Owen's life highlighting his global influence on the co operative movement.

The two venues are right in the centre of Newtown  less than 5 minutes walk away from each other.

Monday, 17 September 2012

working towards next show

Mair and I are now busy working away on ideas for the next show. It will be a two venue show in the Oriel Davies Gallery and The Robert Owen Memorial Museum, both in Newtown,  Mid Wales. It's due to open on the 17th November, so if you are in the area please do pop by.

The image above is a painting I have made using text written by Robert Owen describing his laws for the creation of ideal communities or "villages of co operation".

Friday, 6 July 2012

The Robinson Institute

I am very excited about an exhibition on at Tate Britain at the moment and hopefully between now and October I will get down to London to see it.

It is a commissioned work by Patrick Keiller called The Robinson Institute in which Keiller has brought together a number of works from the Tate collection in order to take visitors on a journey to the heart of landscape and its many cultural implications. The Robinson of the show title is a fictional character in several of Keiller's film works (Robinson in Space and Robinson in Ruins for example). Through his eyes we see contemporary British landscape as he travels with his companion (who is the narrator in the films) to various sites of historical significance.

Keiller's brilliantly researched works provide an insight into the political and socio- economic health of the country and have a wry sense of humour.

There are several essays available on line about the AHRC funded research project he is involved with (called the future of landscape and the moving image*), but this one is a bit shorter and covers several issues that Mair and I have touched upon in our research during the Utopian Realism project.

The ‘overall objective’ of the research, as spelled out in the application, was:
‘To identify, understand and document aspects of the current global predicament in the UK’s landscape, and explore its histories and possible futures by creating images and texts, and combinations of both, which together constitute a critique and a document of the UK’s landscape at a particular point in its history, in a period characterised by conflict and anxiety about the future.’
Taken from Doreen Massey's Essay Landscape/space/politics: an essay

Tuesday, 19 June 2012

limits to growth

Whilst listening to the radio this morning I heard that 'Limits to Growth', a book first published in 1972, was once again being discussed in the media. A commentator Bjorn Lomborg (author of 'The Sceptical Environmentalist') was pointing out some of the inconsistencies of the data put forward in this book about the inevitable reduction of world resources. This prompted me to find out a little more about the book.

 I found this link to an interview with one of the contributors to the book : Dennis Meadows. It was conducted in 2004 and he talks about an other publication in which they update their original model thirty years on.

I found it very compelling listening, here's the link


You can also listen the Bjorn's arguement about what he thinks they got wrong here


Friday, 8 June 2012

The show goes on....

 See below the text accompanying the show at the Mining Institute (on until 21st June)

Geological Etiquette

‘Geological Etiquette’ is an exhibition of specially tailored artworks by Mair Hughes and Bridget Kennedy, created in response to the extraordinary space of the library and lecture theatre at the Mining Institute in Newcastle. The title of the show comes from ‘King Coal’s Levee’, a prose poem from the 1800s that narrates a fictional ranking of the mineral elements . Mair and Bridget uncovered this during their research at the Mining Institute library.
Artworks on display in this exhibition:

In the Lecture Theatre

‘Crystal Systems’ is an animated spa box by Bridget Kennedy. This small sculptural work combines digital media with an old fashioned folk art. The art of spa box making dates back to the 19th century when lead miners used the “bonny bits” (waste minerals) to create fantastic sparkling mini grottoes to adorn their parlours. Kennedy’s re interpretation of this miner’s hobby craft has a small DVD screen hidden within it upon which a colourful abstract model is displayed. As the model moves around, a voice-over accompanies it. The speaker reads a sequence of texts relating to design, town planning and mineral formation. Spliced together these phrases start to form a set of rules for living.

Medium: wooden box, galena, flurospar and other assorted minerals, mini DVD screen

In the Main Library:
‘Knowledge in Darkness’ is a large work created by Bridget Kennedy specifically for the Mining Institute library. Interacting with one of the twelve foot long tables, that were comissioned for the library when it first opened over 150 years ago, this work by Kennedy takes the form of text as sculpture. Using both the space on top of and underneath the table, it playfully integrates references to geology and to the act of discovery and learning.

Medium: plaster over polystyrene, acrylic paint
‘Submitting to the laws of universal validity’ is a digital video by Bridget Kennedy that presents silent, dreamlike footage of a variety of landscapes interspersed with small fragments of text selected from writings that range from twentieth century science fiction to nineteenth social reform strategies.

Medium: Digital video
‘King Coal’s Swansong’ is a series of five suspended sculptures by Mair Hughes. Hughes has chosen to reimagine the ornate lamps that were originally in the library. The lamps were cut glass globules capped with golden metal foliage, closely ressembling pineapples or perhaps outsized acorns. Hughes was intrigued by the poetic mingling of the exotic (the pineapple) and the familiar (the oak leaf) in their design. She has recreated the lamps as decorative, sculptural objects which reflect both the historic and current symbolic status of coal. The original form of the lamps is taken as a container through which to reference the biological origins of coal, the advent of electric lighting, mining machines, and, in a nod to the cathedral-like feel of the library, the ornate incense burners used in the Catholic church, suggesting that the Mining Institute is a location where coal could be burned like incense as a ceremonial gesture.

Medium: Resin, brass, aluminium, mahogony veneer, ferns, cloves

Bridget Kennedy and Mair Hughes have been collaborating on a project titled ‘Utopian Realism’ since October 2010. Inspired by radical experiments that have taken place in Mid Wales and the North East of England the artists have undertaken creative research that has found them exploring a North Pennine lead mine, helping to disassemble a wind turbine at the Centre for Alternative Technology in Wales and rummaging in the Newtown archives of industrialist turned social reformer, Robert Owen.

‘Geological Etiquette’ is the third exhibition of the ‘Utopian Realism’ project, for more information and images visit www.utopianrealismproject.blogspot.com The artists would like to thank the staff and volunteers of the Mining Institute for all their kind and generous help throughout the planning and execution of this exhibition.

Monday, 30 April 2012

exhibition coming up

Here's the lovely poster Mair has designed for our exhibition in The Mining Institute.

If you are in or around Newcastle please come along and visit it.

Wednesday, 4 April 2012

slowly progressing work in studio

Phew! I feel like I'm getting there now. The sculptures for the Mining Institute show: Geological Etiquette (May 16th - June 16th) are really coming on now. In fact they are taking over not only my studio, but other parts of the house, much to my husband's dismay!

I feel my plaster mixing days are nearly over, have set a finish date for April 12th for these pieces, at least an end to the plaster process, they may have some kind of surface finish, but I'm undecided on that as yet.......

Sunday, 25 March 2012

layers of information, layers of time

The sculpture I am making will be the word STRATA constructed in three dimensions, so naturally I've been pondering the meaning of this word. Whilst looking round the mining institute, I was struck by the amount of information there is in that one room, layer upon layer of it.

I took several photos of the book spines on the shelves, particularly liked the title "The Granite Controversy" conjures up images of political scandals and infidelities all documented through grainy black and white photos shot with telescopic lenses. I didn't look inside but I have a feeling it isn't like that ....

Sopwith table

The sculptural work I am making for the Mining Institute centres round one of the two fantastic tables in the library. They are twelve foot long and take up the majority of the floor space. They were designed and made in Sopwith's Newcastle based furniture / cabinet making workshops. See image above.

I have spent quite some time sitting at these tables and recently a fair bit of time underneath them taking measurements so that the sculptures I am making fit together on top and underneath the table.

The sculptures are taking shape (slowly), overall I feel like I am about half way with them. With 6 weeks to go before Mair and I install our works this is a reasonably comfortable place to be......

Friday, 9 March 2012

Poetic Mr Sopwith

I have also been busy in my studio, but the results aren't quite worthy of a photo just yet. Like to keep you in suspense......

I'm making a sculpture that will work with one of the beautiful Sopwith designed tables in the Mining Institute library.

As well as being up to my elbows in plaster, I have been looking back into my research notes and scrolling back through the blog.

I keep returning to his bit of writing from Richardson's biography of Thomas Sopwith.

Richardson writes that Sopwith once told him:

"that his mental life rested at first on three supports:

the mountain led him towards the skies and made him familiar with the stars;

the earth kept him from being too aspiring, and, in return made him familiar with the treasures of old which lie on her

and the mine took him under the earth, a still humbler sphere, to seek out knowledge in darkness, and the goods that are
held in secret."

I've always found literature a source of inspiration for my work and throughout this project Thomas Sopwith's diary's have provided much food for thought.

I have posted this quote before, way back at the beginning of the project, but it seems like a good time to ponder over it again.

Tuesday, 28 February 2012

Pineapple in Progress

As we are revving up to production mode for the 'Late Shows' exhibition in May, I made a return visit to The Mining Institute with the express purpose of making a mould of a crystal pineapple. This Victorian lamp base, resembling a stylised pineapple, is one of a set of about 12 that originally lit the library when electric lighting was introduced. No longer in use, but still a beautiful artefact, I decided to reimagine it as a sculptural piece to hang again, as the original lamps did, from the 39 foot ceiling.
The process of making the silicone and plaster mould took a week, but happily the original emerged unscathed and I've now transported the mould back to my studio, ready to start work on some pineapple shaped offspring.

Fake Fire

One idea that's stayed with me since our visits to the Mining Institute is the idea of making a sculpture for the Lecture Theatre that plays on our obsession with the coal fire hearth, and the ways we've tried to recreate that visual focal point even when heat is generated electrically.
The glow of the electric filament is an inadequate replacement for the mesmerising experience of gazing in to the flames, which explains the wide variety of simulation coal fires available, and the wide range of flicker flame lightbulbs designed to imitate the form of the candle flame and it's irregular and agitated projection of light
My plans for this piece are in the early stages, but my enthusiasm has been stoked (ahem) by theatrical tricks and effects, so it seems like a good time to get hold of some of these materials and start experimenting...