Do you ever walk into somewhere and think, "Wow, this would be an amazing place to show art"? The former Neale’s Auction House up at the top of Mansfield Road is the perfect pop-up gallery. This atmospheric old building is now home to a vibrant art exhibition and a programme of poetry, music and theatre events. On the launch night, we joined a diverse community of artists, friends and organisers to find out more.
SEE HERE is a collaborative effort between different groups in Nottingham; Quarrylab’s Roy Pickering was invited by Sir John Peace to have a look at the space. The building is soon to become the new Trinity Church which gave its full support to the project.
“Like every one of the churches in Nottingham, it doesn’t belong to itself – it belongs to serve the city,” explained the Bishop of Southwell. Dog collars mingled with Dr Martens as guests enjoyed the space, the art and each other’s company. At least 50% of the artists are Nottinghamanians; many from other parts of the world who have chosen to make a life here. Everyone seemed to be in love with both the idea and the setting.
The works reflected the diversity and creativity of Nottingham, and many referenced the area itself. NTU tutor Katja Hock’s installation used the site to full effect. “Because they’re very old slide projectors, you get these whites and it highlights the wall,” she explained, her projected images of local Bestwood woodland complementing the peeling green plaster. Both Roy Pickering and Katja emphasised how they had left the site be: “So many different people and characters and types of work, and all in relation to the space.”
Another nature-lover attending the launch was Maid Marionette; the exquisite mascot of Nottingham Puppet Festival. “She has a secret to show you!” her puppeteers announced, before revealing an inner sculpture of the Major Oak in Sherwood Forest. “It’s her heart,” they told me, and mine melted just a little bit.
As soon as I saw Bill Ming’s works, I wanted to talk to him. One of his distinctive sculptures, a woodcarving of a semi-nude man shouting into a flashlight, had a room to itself. He explained the ideas behind it: “They didn’t see me. I didn’t exist. I decided let’s go to the extreme, let’s just strip off and walk in and say, Can u see me NOW!” Bill moved to Nottingham from Bermuda in 1971, and has lived and made art here ever since.
Nottingham’s creators are boldly different, but so similar in their passion and commitment to their craft.
Two young artists from Backlit – an art collective and gallery in Sneinton – were also exhibiting their work. Matthew Chesney’s Don’t Fall in Love with Your Ideas incorporated a motorised snow cradle filled with shredded sketchbooks. Matt could switch it on and off remotely; raining down ideas into the exhibition like cherry blossom. “It’s exploring the fragility of creativity. Sometimes ideas come out one at a time, sometimes nothing comes out, and sometimes loads of things come out,” he explained. Demi Overton displayed three works from her Interchange series against the building’s windows. Made by piercing paper with a single needle, they included a likeness of the Dunkirk flyover near QMC. “It’s the first time I’ve done man-made images,” she said, describing how she used Google Maps to find places you “can’t physically get to”.
Sardul Gill’s Whispers of Commercial Greed and Nature Balance explored the destructive relationship between industry and our natural environment. His imposing installation juxtaposed polystyrene packaging with natural materials, including twigs and a stuffed pigeon. “One of my students is working as a taxidermist at the Wollaton Hall museum. I said I wanted a crow, but they didn’t have one,” Sardul told me. His collaborative work with Roy Pickering was also on display; there was a genuine feeling of partnership between the artists.
Alongside a wide variety of Nottinghamians, Quarrylab had gone out of their way to feature creators from further afield. There was a special thank you to Kenya Airways, who had helped to bring artists Dickens Otieno and Mwini Mutuku here for the exhibition. Dickens – who had never been outside of Africa – exhibited beautiful sculptures made from recycled used materials. “I live in Nairobi, and in Nairobi people throw away trash a lot,” he told me. His work had a message that fitted perfectly with the transitioning building: bringing new life to things that were formerly regarded as not very useful.
SEE HERE felt like a meeting of minds and it gave me huge hope for the city’s art scene. Nottingham’s creators are boldly different, but so similar in their passion and commitment to their craft. A genuine respect for their environment and each other linked all the artists. The unusual setting and high quality of work bowled me over. Pop-up exhibitions are by nature temporary, so get yourself up Mansfield Road while you can.
SEE HERE is at the former Neale’s Auction House (192-194 Mansfield Road) until Friday 13 July