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Out of Da Wood

29 August 13 words: Rachel Graves
Sculpture comes ashore at the New Art Exchange

One Room Country Shack: Bill Ming

One Room Country Shack: Bill Ming


Born in Bermuda, Bill Ming moved to Nottinghamshire in 1971, where he has been sculpting in wood for 35 years. Out Of Da Wood confirms his place as a vivid storyteller and an important figure in contemporary British art.

Upon entering the gallery visitors are confronted with a pristine, bright white space, in which a selection of figurative wooden sculptures are marooned. While acknowledging the influence of Western artists (and one can certainly see traces of Frank Stella, Willem De Kooning and others in his multilayered, abstract wall-based pieces), Bill Ming draws inspiration from African, Caribbean, and African American artists, and uses his personal experiences and a rich cultural heritage as starting points in his work.
 

Spreadin' Da News: Bill Ming

Spreadin' Da News: Bill Ming

The largest piece in the show, Beached, sits in the centre of the gallery. Here, sand is piled up on the gallery floor to create a shore upon which two boys seem to be at play. On the face of it this is an idyllic scene of childhood innocence and joy, but on closer inspection it becomes clear that there are overtones of something more sinister laced throughout. The wooden stump, a symbolic reminder of the stumps that were used to shackle slaves, is just one element of the work that touches upon the long history of oppression and abuse faced by black and ethnic minority communities.

Another notable part of the exhibition is the installation One Room Country Shack, in which a man sits in the entranceway of a tiny shack built out of corrugated metal and wood, guitar in hand. A small piece of artificial grass is strewn with empty bottles and cigarette packets, and the sound of simple, gentle blues music emanates throughout the gallery. Objects within and on the outside walls of the shack hint at different stages in the history of Rhythm & Blues music: from early pioneer Charley Patton, whose portrait is hung on the wall, to images of Elvis and Hendrix which touch on the embrace of the genre by a young, white American audience.  
 

Shed No 9: Bill Ming

Shed No 9: Bill Ming

However, mingled with the advertisements from the 1960s and 70s which plaster the outer surfaces of the shack are propaganda posters imploring white audiences to stay away from Black music. The subtle layering to be found in Ming’s work means that one could happily spend many hours following the threads of the numerous stories created by the artist.

We are given a helping hand in this endeavour not only by a comprehensive and detailed gallery guide, but also through an app created especially for the exhibition, which gives us the opportunity to hear the artist talk about the work in his own words. This is a refreshing addition to the show, and particularly helpful when so much of the detail and meaning in the work comes from the artist’s own life and experience.
 

Bomb in Da Baby Carriage: Bill Ming

Bomb in Da Baby Carriage: Bill Ming


Bill Ming is clearly an artist with a lot to say, but unlike a lot of contemporary artists, he seems especially interested in entering into a dialogue with his audience. We are not given definitive answers to the issues he raises in his work, and it is telling that as an artist he is noted for reworking and reinventing his pieces: incorporating parts of older sculptures into something new. Takin’ it to da River is one such piece, which the artist has been working on and adding to for 20 years.  For days afterwards I continued to mull over the thoughts and ideas raised by Ming’s work, finding fresh insights and points of view, and that to me is high praise indeed.


 

Out of Da Wood is showing at the New Art Exchange until Sunday 8 September 2013. Entrance is free.

 

 

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