On 3 May Shape hosted an artist talk with four of the exhibiting artists from our current exhibition ‘In Out There’, which celebrates the tenth anniversary of Shape Arts’ flagship art award, the Adam Reynolds Memorial Bursary, and is taking place at Attenborough Arts Centre until 17 June.

In Out There showcases the enduring influence of renowned disabled artist and activist Adam Reynolds, the ARMB’s namesake, and features newly commissioned work by 2018 ARMB recipient Terence Birch, as well as work by Sarah Carpenter, Nicola Lane and Catherine Cleary, who were all shortlisted for this year's award. The conversation took place between these four artists, with discussions reflecting on the influence this award and its namesake Adam Reynolds has had on the artists' work, and was chaired by Jenni Lomax OBE; Jenni was instrumental in setting up the Bursary in 2008, alongside Adam Reynolds’ friends and family, and as Director of Camden Arts Centre (1990-2017) hosted the inaugural ARMB residency. 

The transcript of the talk can be found below.

Jenni Lomax: This is a really exciting opportunity to talk about Adam and the residency but also to meet four fantastic artists whose work features in the exhibition ‘In Out There’. I thought I would start off by saying a bit more about Adam.

I was delighted when I came in to see this wonderful installation here because it really does bring Adam to mind. Adam Reynolds was an artist, gallerist and activist and strong champion for disability arts and disability rights. He was all those things but he didn't necessarily always mix them up. For instance the Adam Gallery was not just for disabled artists, it was for all artists. The main idea of the Adam Gallery was for artists to use a space that was challenging and challenge their work. He would say if you are an artist that paints cats and desperately want to paint dogs you can show the new work in the Adam Gallery.

I met Adam when he was a student in East London opposite the Whitechapel Art Gallery when I was working there. Adam was an amazing person, a very strong, dynamic person and a special artist. When I left the Whitechapel in 1990 to be Director of Camden Arts Centre in North London, I invited Adam to take up residency alongside the artist Shirazeh Houshiary. They shared strong concerns with alchemy, and Sufism.There are a few examples of the work you can see here (in ‘In Out There’). One material turning into another. There's this alchemic feel to it.

The Adam Reynolds Memorial Bursary, which Shape have been organising and producing for 10 years now, was something that was started through Friends and Family of Adam. It intended to carry on his spirit; allowing artists to do something new and experimental. It recognised that many artists needed additional resources, that there might be barriers to them working in a gallery or in a public space. It was specifically to support institutions which the artist might help to think about their own openness and range of artists that they show. So in many cases the residency has on the one hand enabled artists to make significant new work, but also supported the different institutions in becoming more accessible to all.  

We're going to ask everybody to talk a bit about the work in the show and then we'll talk specifically about the relationship to Adam and the residency. We have Nicola Lane, Terence Birch Catherine Cleary, and Sarah Carpenter. We’ll start off with Nicola, can you say a little bit about the work in this exhibition and the context.

Nicola Lane: When we (the exhibiting artists) got together, we all came here to see the space. It was the first time we had met. I was very struck by this particular space and I thought we need to do something big. On the way back on the train, which is when we really started to talk, I think Terence said the word 'celebration' and that set the whole thing in my mind going.  ‘Celebration’. What was it a celebration of? For me, Leicester was a very important place in my career as an artist. Me and my friend Mark Prest called the train from London to Leicester the 'Train of destiny'- which it was for me. Mark was curator of the City Gallery in Leicester and I met him in 2000 on the train to Leicester when I was coming back from Nottingham where I had an installation  in the Nottingham Playhouse, my first real breakthrough as a disabled artist, as part of the groundbreaking VITAL festival which had disabled people actually in charge. In that installation, which was called ‘Monument to Incompleteness’, I had this piano, a very humble upright piano and I had done the piece about Paul Wittgenstein. But nobody saw it. It is interesting, you make a piece of art and often it doesn't get seen, people don't actually take it in. It was in the corner of the Nottingham Playhouse. So when Terence said ‘celebration’, I wanted to make the work again; fully developed and fully seen. So with the piano, the grand piano now, I was able to celebrate my ideas and the space.

A black grand piano with half of the keys falling off sits in the middle of a very big, modern gallery space. There are screens on music stands around it and large, square abstract paintings on the walls behind it

Image: Nicola Lane - from 'Monument to Incompleteness' series (foreground) with a selection of works by Catherine Cleary (background); image by Dani Bower

Jenni: Thank you. Terence say something about your work and the exhibition.

Terence Birch: I suppose it was the moment I started thinking about Richard III and the connection of place as well; Adam Reynolds, archeology, and also scoliosis, a condition which I share. The work I created evolved from thinking about some representations of disability and how I think performing is actually the right term, the kind of performing ‘normality’.  Performing a kind of gender role or stereotype. I suppose growing up I have internalised those messages. I suppose the kind of parallels with Adam Reynolds’ work for me was a kind of a way to talk about negative portrayals of body image, typified within Shakespeare's Richard III. So instead of looking at the negative appraisal of the body, trying to look at more acceptable, pleasurable ways of being with yourself.
It was made in the University of Chichester and it was the first time I had worked with plaster.

Jenni:  Not the first time with sculpture?

Terence:  Not the first time I worked with sculpture, no, the first time I worked with plaster and the first time I worked on that scale. There were a lot of challenges in the process and for me, it was important to connect with the work in terms of sculpture, in terms of touch and feel.

Jenni: So Catherine, I will hand over to you. It is very interesting that both Nicola and Terence talked about coming to Leicester, connecting with the place and that trigger. Is that something that happened for you or were these works that you were working on anyway?

Catherine Cleary: The first time I came to the gallery I was excited about the space and the size. I work in a very small space so it is the first time I have seen the paintings properly. In order to see them in the studio I take photographs and look at them on a small screen, it gives that sense of distance. I was excited to put the big work up and see it. I think the word alchemy is really important, the way that Adam transcended his materials, the way that he remade and remodelled space. He picked us up with all our life experiences and our own baggage and took us somewhere that I think is quite magical. I looked at the photos of his work and was amazed how he could take a piece of circular steel and take us somewhere, reconfigure that space and lift a pond up and make it a whole world up there and make a world inside mist filled pyramids that responded to atmospheric conditions.  So whilst I was working on my paintings, I think that kind of drip fed in. For me, to paint is alchemy. It is liquid thought and liquid sensation and it has its own language. So all I'm trying to to do in my painting is steer that language. I think something changed as I was working. I felt his voice there somehow. It has been a process.

Jenni: So Sarah, you work with different processes. Do you want to say something about your work?

Sarah Carpenter: I'm actually going through a transitional period with my artwork at the moment which is why I applied for the bursary in the first instance, so that I could experiment. I was really excited when we came here. Firstly by the scale and height of the space and secondly when Fiona told us the title was ‘In Out There’. I like the process of deconstructing things and rebuilding them, reworking them until I can become very familiar with them and understand them better through that familiarity. So when I was creating the new work I was thinking of the title ‘In Out There’ and what it means to be ‘in’ or ‘out’ or just simply be there. It made me think of being in fashion, out of fashion. It made me think of playground games where you are in or you are out. That whole selection process you have throughout life, whether it be your choice; your choosing whether you are in or out and whether it is somebody else making that decision for you which can often be the experience of someone living with disability. I start out with photography and have worked with printmaking but have been keen to experiment with three-dimensional work. I can relate to what Terence was saying about with the tactile quality of materials, perhaps because of my background in movement I enjoy physical processes. I wanted to take my work to new ground and having been in the space, I realised there was that potential. I just loved the idea of recycling a discarded object. That was definitely inspired by Adam's work. Inspiration is all around even in the objects that we disregard in the same way we might disregard the work of an artist who has a disability.

Two white walls forming a corner; one the left is a large frame holding black and white prints; in the middle, in the corner, are some white shutters with black ink on them

Image: Sarah Carpenter - 'Works on paper: untitled 01-25' (left) and 'In or Out?' (right); image by Dani Bower

Jenni: It is really interesting listening to the four of you and how you respond to places, materials and words. In this fabulous publication there's a lovely quote from Adam that Tony Heaton has used. We asked each of the artists to think about this quote and think about  themselves in relation to it. So, something Adam said which part of a bigger talk:

"There are always echoes of my experience present. I don't mind if nobody ever reads them but if I can't read them I know there's something wrong with that piece of work.  If I can't see that particular perspective of my life in work I make I know I'm lying and if I make a work that's not telling the truth, what am I bothering for? So from that perspective all of my work has something to do with disability and my disability..."

We were talking earlier about how, in a way, it was Adam talking about the fact that his work wasn't about his disability, it was about him and his experiences and inherent in that was the totallity of  who he was It is about truth, really. Are you all happy to just say how you feel about that and how it might relate to what you do?

Nicola: Yes I think it was Catherine that said it was embedded, the experience of disability is embedded in the work and I was thinking about that. I’m trying to think of the right word - it is a compulsion. It is kind of plumbed in. I discovered quite early on through my consultant, actually at the hospital, that they had done research into the drawings that children made after they lost a limb, whichever limb, and they found that children always fragment the image of the body but randomly. They wouldn't necessarily leave out the bit they had lost but they might leave out another aspect of it, and it was built in. She noticed that in my work. I was doing that without knowing, unconsciously. Whenever I did a drawing, I would always fragment it, even if I didn't intend to fragment it. It became clear to me that that process of fragmentation and cutting was part of the process of my work; it was embedded within it. It reappears over and over again even without any intention so it is part of the process of my work as an artist in every medium whether film, installation or drawing or whatever medium.

But I oscillate, Ravel was invisibly disabled by his experience of World War One and Paul Wittgenstein was visibly. That brought them together in a great creative moment. I have been through many of those moments of being visible and invisible.

Terence: For me it was making work, and concepts about direct carving. One of the ideas about direct carving is that there's a truthfulness to the material, to the form, you just work with what is there.

Jenni: It’s very interesting in terms of the scale, the holding up and the performance. It is quite a performative sculpture, in that it is almost impossible, and it has real presence. In a way Adam’s work had that sense of impossibility the robotic, mechanic...

Terence: And the physicality to his work as well. Maybe that's the change of direction, the residency has enabled, yes, a sense of performing ideas and actually becoming more present bodily, so the work has a physical struggle within it. I'm not trying to represent it, I'm actually within the work. That's very much where the work is trying to go to at the moment.

Jenni: Catherine anything more to say about this idea of yourself in the work and experience and the immediacy or truth?

Catherine: I think as a disabled person, sometimes I really feel I'm a disabled person and sometimes I feel like I'm not. It is sort of over-determined because I have a condition that is fluid.  Sometimes it is a condition that impinges far more on me than at other times. When I first thought about the bursary I thought ‘am I worthy of doing this’ because I'm conflicted about how I feel about having an impairment and I'm conflicted about how much it does or doesn't show in the work, how much it is or isn't there.

I think there's an apartness it has given me. Being outside the normal bounds of society at certain pertinent times in my life has perhaps given me a sense of apartness that may have been helpful to the way I work. It had never occurred to me before the Adam Reynolds application that my disability could be a strength and I found the process of making the application and doing the interview to be quite transformative actually and very helpful. I loved my interview. I loved it. I was really really nervous because I have done interviews before but I have always felt that I was slightly apologetic. For the first time I felt congruent and yes, it was very liberating.

This is a wonderful show and it is a wonderful thing to be part of, the most important part of the process for me has been the application and the interview and the time that led up to it and the changes to my thinking. Is my disability there in the work? Yes, I think it is part of me, part of my thinking and I think that every artist strives to be truthful. I think that's what Adam was talking about. I think the dialogue I had in my head with Adam Reynolds' work will stay there. I think the experience behind the bursary and the show is something that has changed the way I feel about showing my work and being out there especially, it has been very beneficial.

Image: Terence Birch - 'Grotesque Torso (Oh Richard, Darling, You Can Prove a Lover)'; image by Dani Bower

Sarah: I think I agree. I'm really conflicted all of the time. I have had conversations with a gallery director about being an advocate for artists with disabilities, particularly mental health and what that ‘means’. As someone who suffers with anxiety, I find it difficult sometimes to even leave the house. I think I should be having life experiences because that will feed into the work. I put pressure on myself to be making and doing but you have to be living, living to get inspiration and having something to say in the world. For me, my work is highly driven by my thought process and the way that I process information, mental illness that is going to play a big part in the work. It’s difficult to tell where process ends and the work begins.

Catherine: Running counter to this actually, a few years ago I was told that ‘nobody is interested in the person who makes the work’ or nobody should be interested and ‘don't talk about yourself because you won't be taken seriously’. The author is absolutely dead. You can do it but you will never be taken seriously.

Jenni: Cliché as it is to say; the work speaks for itself and it is its own thing it doesn't need your life story around it. With many artists, it is best not to know.


Jenni: Terence - Do you want to say more about the actual residency at Pallant House Gallery? They have got a really good collection of British Art, particularly 20th Century Art. I can imagine it being an inspirational place to be.

Terence: It is, yes.  I have never quite worked in that way before. I’m fortunate to have space within an art gallery within walking distance of the work I'm being inspired by so there's a real connectedness to everything. Currently they have an exhibition of Pop Art which has allowed me to look at the work of Eduardo Paolozzi but they also have works by Henry Moore, Barbara Hepworth. There's a nice mix of past and present.

Jenni: Were these artists that you had looked at before particularly?

Terence: There's a lot of work that I have not necessarily looked at in depth.

Jenni: That's often the case with residencies, artists go to different places. I used to be involved with the British School at Rome. Artists would go there and carry on making the same work but once they had left it would all start.

Thank you all for sharing your experience and your work.

In Out There takes place at Attenborough Arts Centre until 17 June. Please find full information on the exhibition here.

Banner image: In Out There install shot. Image by Dani Bower