Shepton Mallet Prison

B-Wing, Contemporary Art in Unexpected Places by Fiona

Making one of my giant ladder forms. Photo by Jason King

Making one of my giant ladder forms. Photo by Jason King

I’ve been focused on the lead up to B-Wing, an ACE-funded arts project in Shepton Mallet Prison I’m co-curating with Luminar Star, alongside 6 other artists.  Fuelled by the idea of presenting art in unexpected places, the prison’s cavernous B Wing will be transformed into an immersive experience.  Curation has been all-consuming, involving a huge amount of fundraising, planning, management, PR/radio chats, meetings…  In tandem, I’ve been making artwork for it. 

The practicalities of making large-scale work is challenging with limited studio space.  Thankfully, we had a good summer, enabling me to work in the garden on sculptural pieces.  I’m grateful to Shepton Mallet Prison for allowing me to take up residency in B Wing’s Servery to develop my artwork, and thanks to Nick Weaver for use of his wood workshop facilities and technical assistance.

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Fiona working on her installation in the B Wing Servery.jpg
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I’m making large-scale site-responsive sculptural installations involving dysfunctional rickety ladders, referring to the game snakes and ladders.  Interacting with the space, one will be suspended high up in the skylight of B Wing.  Piranesi’s Tavola VII (The Bridge), from The Imaginary Prisons series, resonates with my concerns around freedom and confinement, the endless human cycle of desire, striving, greed, suffering, and human imposition of nature.   Recycled and found everyday materials - wood, fabric, paper, cardboard, wire, twine, wool - are being transformed into drawings in space.


My skeletal ladder structures refer to precarious lives, dreams, escape.  ‘All realization of potential’ Bachelard observes, ‘is conceived as elevation… depicted as a rising curve.’ Ladders are the imaginary stairways of spiritual ascension, dating back to genesis.  I want mine to appear winglike and bonelike, reminiscent of flight, and extinct animals hung in museums.  They will be translucent in parts, ghostly, dreamlike, surreal.  Layers of reused monochrome collaged newspapers add a frailty, evidence of our consumerist world. In contrast, flesh coloured handwoven and wrapped entrail forms will dangle and entwine around ladders, bewailing the heavy realities of violence, destruction, waste and suffering around us.

The work raises questions - are we all offenders given the state of our world today?

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We have numerous free workshops, talks, tours and performances, many come with free get-into-prison tickets. Collaboration is key.  We’ve been engaging community groups making work to be featured as part of our exhibition.  I worked with Whitstone School and adult groups creating collaborative pieces, based around possessions, identity, marking time, time as value, bound. ‘Conversations became the threads that made our connections.’  

Saturday 28th September is B-Wing’s action packed Special Events Day from 10-5.  It will be opened by John McCarthy, renowned writer and broadcaster held hostage in the Lebanon.  The day includes a performative Join in the conversation with Lou Baker and me, Lucy Large’s artist talk, a performance by Luminara Star and Rosie Jackson’s poetry reading.  It will be a day to meet the artists and celebrate. Please come along!

 On National Poetry Day, Thursday 3rd October, 2-4pm, poet Rosie Jackson will lead a poetry performance, 18 Poets in B-Wing, featuring poets from the South West.  On Saturday 5th October, 10-1, I'll be running a family friendly sculpture workshop.  See attached posters (designed by Chris Lee ) and visit: www.b-wing.weebly.com  & social media: @bwing2019

B-Wing opens during Somerset Arts Weeks Festival, 21st September - 6th October, daily 10am-5pm. Reduced entrance (exhibition and prison): £10 adults, accompanied children free.

I’ll be posting about my other projects soon!

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B-Wing Funding Success & New Developments by Fiona

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June brought a stream of thrilling news. After months of what seemed like never-ending funding applications and a long waiting game to hear our results, B-Wing received several grants in succession for our art in prison project. This will enable us to pay artists and engage the wider community in a series of special events including free workshops, talks and exhibition tours. We are so grateful to Arts Council England and The National Lottery for awarding B-Wing a project grant.  We have also received match-funding from Somerset Community Foundation, Shepton Town Council and Cranmore Parish Council - huge thanks to them and to all our supporters (see our website for a full list). It has been worth all the meetings and late nights at the computer. Now onto the next stages of curating and making.

I’m co-curating B-Wing with Luminara Star, alongside 6 other artists/writers. 8 of us will be installing a range of site-responsive visual art, poetry and text-based artworks in the unique spaces of B Wing, Shepton Mallet Prison for Somerset Art Weeks Festival 2019 (21 Sept - 6 Oct).

All the B-Wing artists met together at Shepton Mallet prison recently to celebrate.  Ideas are accumulating, and new collaborations brewing. I’ll be collaborating on work with Lou Baker and Scott Sandford on an immersive piece.

We now have our logo designed (by Chris Lee) and hard work continues, moving the project forward.

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In the next couple of months, we are engaging the local community in free one-off workshops leading up to the main exhibition. I’m running 2 free workshops for adults on 23 July and 6 August, creating collaborative artworks (all abilities welcome), to be exhibited at our exhibition ( see poster). We aim to engage the local Shepton community as much as possible. We are also leading workshops at Whitstone schools and a Shepton home ed group this July, and offering free additional workshops for schools at the prison during Somerset Art Weeks as part of the prison’s educational package. For info on these and special events visit B-Wing Community Events and follow us on our social media channels: instagram, twitter and facebook (@bwing2019) #bwing2019 #artbehindbars .

To book a workshop email: bwingsheptonprison@gmail.com

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For my B-Wing artwork, I have a few ideas on the go and am looking forward to getting cracking during my residency at the prison in August. I will be working on site using the Servery in B-Wing as my Studio. Some of my B-Wing work is going to be quite large, so making part of it on site will make logistics simpler .

I recently discovered Giovanni Battista Piranesi, Tavola VII (The Bridge), from The Imaginary Prisons series, 1745, thanks to a talk by Helene Bremer at Grow Flow symposium, Pound Arts, Wiltshire. The work reinforced ideas I’ve been developing for months around the theme of rickety ladders. Like the game snakes and ladders, humans seem imprisoned in an eternal cycle of striving, greed, pain, suffering and evil. Louise Bourgeois wrote a series of short stories - illustrated as 9 engravings. ‘He disappeared into complete silence’ features skeletal buildings, claustrophobic cells, dysfunctional spaces, human frailty, separation, isolation. Her floating ladders (plate 8) relate to the story of a man who ‘became cut off from part of the world’ through deafness. My large-scale installation for B-Wing will reflect on similar notions.

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Re-Formation

Last week I installed my large sculptural installation Crowns of Thorns for a summer group show Re-Formation at Bishops Palace, Wells, organised by Heritage Courtyard Gallery. It’s made from various re-purposed older works (more than 7), using scrap steel, lead, a hand-woven net made from recycled materials (Canopy, 2016, originally created for RHS Chelsea Flower Show), and glass. The install was a long process, as is often the case with my work, thanks to my son Jack for all his help loading and unloading. I’m so grateful that the weather has allowed me to work outside, as the scale is too large for my increasingly cramped studio. Crown of Thorns investigates ideas about religion and myth, rethinking our belief systems. I’ve really enjoyed working with lead and glass again, playing with their capabilities, both respond so differently to heat and fusion. The materials speak of flux, transformation, contrast, collapse. The exhibition runs from 22nd July - 6 October. Private View 10 August, 6.30-9pm, all welcome!

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Drawing on Dorset

My work Traces is included in a publication and exhibition Drawing on Dorset, currently at Fine Foundation Gallery, Durlston, Swanage - an idyllic setting. Part of Durlston Castle, it overlooks the sea, Studland and Isle of Wight. The Private View was held on a perfect summer evening this week, a packed event, which included a panel discussion about the practice of drawing, led by Anita Taylor. Tania Kovats read her beautiful introduction to the book, which begins ‘Make a mark, leave trace, something against nothing...’ I feel honoured to be a part of the exhibition and publication, alongside some great South West artists. The show runs til 17n July, then tours to the Lighthouse, Poole Centre for the Arts, 6-29 Sept.

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Marks Hall Summer Exhibition

I delivered my Verticals and Giant Nest to Marks Hall Estate, Coggeshall, Essex last week - 9 hours round trip! Pleased to be showing work in such a beautiful landscape.

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Sheds

Due to the nature of my work and my increasingly tight studio space, I’ve spent a few weekends sorting out and fixing 3 old dilapidated sheds in my garden, which will become storage and work spaces. I’m making good progress thanks to the help of Jason Nosworthy and Nick Weaver.

Workshops

I’ve run a range of workshops recently - the furthest was a sculpture workshop using recycled materials at Nottingham High School; a long way to go in a day but what a delightful set of outcomes from 40 Yr 9 students!

For further news of my forthcoming workshops and exhibitions please visit this link.

Happy summer days ahead!