B-Wing, a multi-layered collaborative art project I co-curated with Luminara Star, has been an epic journey, an immersive art experience, extraordinary, and challenging. Held in Shepton Mallet Prison’s B Wing, a massive decommissioned space spanning 3 floors, 8 artists and writers installed site-responsive works throughout the building, some large-scale, others intimate, to be discovered. The exhibition was only open to the public for 16 days during Somerset Art Weeks Festival, packed with fully booked special events and over 1300 visitors. Community workshops were held prior to opening. Preparation has taken a year (with report writing and finances still to finish off :-/)
A week ago I took down my last piece from Shepton Prison, feeling exilarated and exhausted. The physical effort of making, installing and takedown was compounded by the amount of curatorial work I’ve invested in B-Wing over the past months/year. Huge thanks to Nick Weaver for his technical help during the making, installation, dismantling and transport stages. Each was a complex process with precarious moments - apt for my purposefully rickety Snakes and Ladders piece. The work entailed some intricate engineering, and construction of a makeshift storage space for my ladder sections. Thanks to Jason Nosworthy for also helping instal.
There have been so many moving moments, especially meeting and hearing John McCarthy speak on our action-packed Special Events Day. The whole contemporary art in prison experience threw up some very emotional reactions from visitors and participants. I was at the prison virtually every day for a month - throughout installation, the various events, and take down, engaging and absorbing visitors’ responses. We were/are delighted with the feedback, support and level of engagement from such a wide demographic, and so grateful to our venue hosts Shepton Mallet Prison and patrons (see below) for enabling the project.
It’s been wonderful working with such dedicated, talented artists and writers. I’ve loved the cross-fertilisation! Thanks to the team effort and hard work of artists/writers Lou Baker, Rosie Jackson, Scott Sandford, Geoff Dunlop, Lucy Large, Alice Maddicott and co-curator Luminara Star, I feel our B-Wing project was a resounding success.
I was excited by the way my ladders were reflected in Scott Sandford’s black pool and how our artworks in B-Wing resonated together.
Above - community group work: ‘Possessions I & II’. Images 1, 2 & 3: Collaborative work by adults I worked with. Image 4 Work by Year 10s from Whitstone School & Home ed children, led my me and Luminara Star. Photos: 1 Angela Knapp; 2 Caroline Bond
One of my pieces Dawn Chorus was a simple sound work installed in a cell. It can’t be pictured, but Trevor Smith wrote an article published in A-N, describing his response to this piece and other works in B-Wing.
I addition to my Join-in-the-Conversations with Lou Baker and guided art tours, I ran a family friendly sculpture workshop. B Wing was transformed for a morning into a hive of activity. Families spilled out into the main atrium of the prison wing, working together on abstract sculptures made from recycled materials. Lovely comments from participants include:
“I’ve never mixed materials with wire before - I love doing it”.. “loved the freedom to explore creatively and spend time with my son”.. “I really enjoyed it but if there was one thing I would change it would be the heating” (Marley, age 6)
Rather than detailing all the events, I’m using pictures to tell the story. Quality images are so valuable. Thanks to Dave Cable, Geoff Dunlop, Jason King, Caroline Bond, Guinevere King, Scott Sandford, Barry Cawston, Lou Baker, Prerna Chandiramani and Angela Knapp for kindly taking some excellent ones pictured here.
Feedback comments include:
‘One of the best experiences of art I’ve encountered in years.’ Dominic Weston
‘Powerful, disquieting, dark and fascinating. Not an easy show but I thoroughly recommend you get to it if you can. Particularly liked the work by Lou Baker and Fiona Campbell .’ Iain Cotton
‘A remarkable series of works to fit an extraordinary space’. John McCarthy
‘Absolutely amazing exhibition with astonishing works exploring a rich tapestry of ideas and interventions.’ Adam Grose
‘Incredibly sensitive use of space and levels. Darkness, depth, hope and light. Solidarity. … I loved the anchorite cell, the poetry - the use of levels, the ‘chapel’s’ sacred invitation. The ladders - exploring movement and dimensions - spine and prehistoric relic..’ Amanda Miles
‘Absolutely fantastic!’ Duncan Cameron
‘Brilliantly conceived and executed’. Justine Bonner
‘A very full emotional experience, the work, its placement. Very poignant.’ Rachel Leach
For further information visit my previous B-Wing blog posts and our B-Wing website: b-wing.weebly.com
B-Wing is supported by Arts Council England & National Lottery, Somerset Skills and Learning, Somerset Community Foundation, Shepton Mallet Prison, Somerset Art Works, Shepton Town Council, Hauser & Wirth Somerset, Cranmore Parish Council, MJW Architects, and private donors.
Time for a rest and reflection!