‘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.

Wednesday, 10 July 2013


This is a little maquette I've been working on in relation to the labour notes we saw in the Robert Owen Museum. I was drawn to the image of the word 'hours' with a chunk cut out of the middle of it and wondered how it might translate into a sculptural object. This is a very basic little 3 D sketch but it has given me some idea of how I might move forwards with the imagery.

green wheat

One of the images that occurs on the labour notes that Robert Owen devised is a sheaf of wheat, it is one of the symbols used by the Co operative Society. Mair used stalks of wheat in the Happy Yesterday exhibition in reference to this. When I was sitting out in my garden the other day I noticed that there was a small stand of wheat growing in one corner. This has self seeded from kernels of wheat in the bird food we put out. I quite like having this mini crop, it put me in mind of a work by Agnes Denes called "Wheatfield - A Confrontation". In 1982 Agnes Denes planted wheat in a 2 acre plot of disused land in downtown Manhattan.

My little patch isn't quite so impressive, but I think I'll try to do something with it.

Friday, 5 July 2013

Physical Photoshop


Recently I’ve been experimenting with what my studio mate Ryan has coined ‘physical photoshop’. Above is the first in a series of actions that mimic digital manipulation but are resolutely material in execution. I used the beautifully faceted surface of an old plastic Modernist doorbell as a starting point to make a ‘Pixel Mask’. The mask mimics the way identity-revealing detail is abstracted in news reports. I made a mould and filled it with slightly cooled, pigmented wax to create the sense of fleshy substance being pressed into geometric shapes. However, in choosing to photograph the mask and wearer using a digital camera, in a portrait pose, the entire action is ‘repixellated'.

Tuesday, 4 June 2013

A few sketches

I've been getting really excited by 18th century drawings and prints of mineral specimens, these have led me to looking again at Chinese scholars rocks too.

I don't know where this is going to lead me, but I am still intrigued by the potential for information to be locked into these objects that were created so long ago. I'm really drawn to their sense of mystery and the various ways artist and scientists have been captivated by them too.

Below are a few of my drawn responses to these things...

Saturday, 25 May 2013

Self-Suffiency and Synthetic Synthesis

The book ‘Synthetic Worlds’ by Esther Leslie has plenty to interest the sculptor, and in particular I’ve found it has galvanised some of the intuitive ideas I have about the poetics of synthetic materials. The books traces the development of synthetic dyes and other ‘ersatz’ materials by German chemical companies in the ‘20s and ‘30s.  Chemists and researchers broke down barrier after barrier, cracking the code of expensive natural commodities. The synthetic versions were cheaper to produce and the raw materials required to make them, coal and gasoline, were practical for a country that was seeking self-sufficiency: ‘Coal deposits, shiny black, have locked inside them a previous world of life, and all its colours. Coal is the primal material out of which imitations of nature, based on carbon, can be made. Coal is the beginning of everything.’
I particularly enjoyed the logic applied by some early apologists of synthetic materials: ‘this imitation of the chemical processes in plants and animals is superior, because it has been chosen consciously.....When suddenly a material appears out of invisibility, in an instant, the miracle and secret of creation are revealed.’ 
I feel an impulse to embrace the inventiveness and surreality of substitute materials, admiring the satisfying way they puncture the overblown cult of the ‘natural’ or ‘genuine’, whilst at the same time there is a sense flatness and generalisation, where the specificity of raw materials such as madder root is lost as it becomes yet another mathematical fraction of coal.

Sunday, 28 April 2013

Son of Utopian Realism

After a bit of a break which involved tying up phase one of Utopian Realism (evaluation forms etc..) Mair and I have managed to get some time together this week.

Wednesday 24th April saw us giving a talk about the Utopian Realism project to a group of artists in Shrewsbury.

The artists we were talking with in Shrewsbury are part of a group called 'Re:Collect' and are involved with the redevelopment of Shrewsbury Museum and Art Gallery

 (http://www.shrewsburymuseums.com/news/index.html?sid=acf1fe7ae2680be2c29704ee8734ee35 )

It felt like a really exciting time for the artistic community of Shrewsbury and we were fortunate to have timed our talk in such a way that we could attend another artist's talk the next day. Alison Craighead (of Craighead and Thomson) gave a great talk about the duo's involvement with a series of new commissions for the museum and their work with digital media and internet data streams.

This was part of a series of talks, there are two more to go, see link below for more details.

Mair and I will be posting regularly on the blog again as we explore more ideas that have emerged from the project and start planning for phase two.

Thursday, 17 January 2013

A Decaying Craft

A few shots of the 'Bureau Vivant' as it was installed in the Robert Owen Museum in Newtown. It seemed fitting at the end of the first phase of our project to come back to the original phrase that caught our attention and became the title of the project, 'Utopian Realism'. I thought back to the homely crafts of the Victorian era, and found it pleasing to imagine using a pomander as a vehicle to communicate a radical vision of society. It also felt fitting that the pomander be made using a high status fruit such as a pineapple. Pressing those sharp tack-like cloves into the fragrant and dripping yellow flesh was an odd mixture of pleasure and pain. The sheer bulk of juicy flesh spelled the downfall of the pomander; it never made it's way in to posterity as the antiseptic qualities of the cloves were not enough to stave off mould and eventual deterioration.