Cells Residency - Offenders

on Tuesday, 02 July 2019. Posted in Events

by Fiona Campbell

On Saturday I took down my last remaining piece - a huge Tongue sculpture - from the Cells.  Town Hall Arts had kindly allowed me to extend my residency for a few weeks so that I could stagger the process of de-installation.

My solo exhibition in the Cells at Town Hall Arts, ‘Offenders’ (9-31 May) was the culmination of an art residency there in April.  The incredible atmospheric basement holding cells date back to the Victorian era, historically used for suspected offenders (the grand magistrates court is on the floor above).  If convicted, prisoners would usually be sent to Shepton Mallet Prison.  My work responded to the site while confronting some world environmental horrors we are facing - factory-farming, plastic oceans, animal extinctions.  It posed a question ‘are we all offenders given the state of our world?’  The labour-intensive process of my work - weaving, wrapping, sewing - is a form of suturing, a cathartic attempt to repair in response to world destruction.  Ironically, it was such a pleasure to be given free rein in the Cells by Town Hall Arts, so I could test out new ideas and take risks.

Fiona Campbell Tongue detail. Photo by Tchad Findlay

Tongue (detail)
Fiona Campbell
Photo by Tchad Findlay

On Saturday I took down my last remaining piece - a huge Tongue sculpture - from the Cells.  Town Hall Arts had kindly allowed me to extend my residency for a few weeks so that I could stagger the process of de-installation.

My solo exhibition in the Cells at Town Hall Arts, ‘Offenders’ (9-31 May) was the culmination of an art residency there in April.  The incredible atmospheric basement holding cells date back to the Victorian era, historically used for suspected offenders (the grand magistrates court is on the floor above).  If convicted, prisoners would usually be sent to Shepton Mallet Prison.  My work responded to the site while confronting some world environmental horrors we are facing - factory-farming, plastic oceans, animal extinctions.  It posed a question ‘are we all offenders given the state of our world?’  The labour-intensive process of my work - weaving, wrapping, sewing - is a form of suturing, a cathartic attempt to repair in response to world destruction.  Ironically, it was such a pleasure to be given free rein in the Cells by Town Hall Arts, so I could test out new ideas and take risks.

Fiona Campbell Tongue Recycled and found materials 19. Photo by Tchad Findlay

Tongue
Fiona Campbell
Recycled and found materials: fabric, old clothes died with avocado pits, foam, sponge, copper wire, steel, wax, twine, blankets, duvets, pillows, cushion, towels, wool, leather, plastic, rubber, thread.
Photos by Tchad Findlay

Fragile and exposed, Tongue activated the space.  Like a wounded body, its vulnerable softness was juxtaposed against the harsh surroundings, repulsive but seductive.  Rickety ladders were precariously balanced, with wrapped soft sculptural entrails made from recycled materials weaving through them, and dangling from cell bars.

Cells Exhibition. Photo by Tchad Findlay-

Offenders installation, Fiona Campbell
Photos by Tchad Findlay

Other works became interventions in smaller spaces and in the corridors.  The work included a sound piece - a new direction for me.  I made a series of Spiderweb drawings - ancient neglected  spider webs captured from dusty corners of the Victorian cells.  To become acquainted with the space I spent time creating a large graphite rubbing of a decaying section of brick wall, and some imprints on fine handmade paper, which I oiled, transforming them into skin-like parchment.  In the toilet, large stone spheres that have been incongruously left on the floor inspired an installation of interconnected cellular/planetary forms like a constellation.

Spiderweb drawings--3

Spiderweb drawings
Cell Wall, imprint
Cellular/Planetary structures - installed in the cell loo
Photos by Tchad Findlay

With the support of Town Hall Arts, I reached out to local community groups to engage through debate and collaborative making.  Great conversations evolved with visitors, which expanded to discussions about human use and abuse of materials and wider issues about the state of our world.  I really appreciate all the visits and am grateful to those who supported me.  Towards the end, I engaged the community in make a growing artwork for the exterior fencing outside Town Hall Arts.  As a finale, I collaborated with artist Katryn Saqui (also exhibiting at Town Hall Arts) on Saturday 25 May, to create a colourful Street Sculpture ‘Bahuli Entrails’.   It was a wonderful way for members of the public to engage with art while having a bit of fun.  All sorts of people dropped by to contribute to the work as a social activity, it attracted more people to enter inside the formal town hall to see the exhibitions, (several who don’t normally go to art exhibitions).  I have grown fond of friendly Trowbridge and was particularly charmed by a man Peter, who spent many hours making a long finger knitted woollen piece for the display.

I am very grateful to the whole team at Town Hall Arts - Katie, David, Philippa, Jess, Tess, Angel and volunteers - for the wonderful opportunity, their support and feedback.  The work is a precursor to an ACE-funded arts project B-Wing I’m co-curating in Shepton Mallet Prison later this year (21 Sept-6 Oct), part of Somerset Art Weeks Festival and the experience has been extremely valuable.  

I will be running a series of workshops in August at Town Hall Arts, creating Carnival Headdresses. Tuesday 20 August, 10am-1pm. Ages 6+; £15 per adult+child; additional children £8 each; includes materials & drink. Book: www.townhallarts.co.uk


For further information about my work visit: www.fionacampbellart.co.uk