curator

B-Wing, Shepton Mallet Prison - Looking Back by Fiona

Fiona Campbell Snakes and Ladders. Photo by Dave Cable.jpg
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Snakes and Ladders, Fiona Campbell. Photo by Caroline Bond (1).jpg
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Snakes and Ladders, Fiona Campbell, found and recycled materials. Photos: 1 Dave Cable; 3 Caroline Bond; 4 Jason King; 5 Dave Cable  Snakes and Ladders comprise several dysfunctional hand-made ladders and entrail forms. Two are over 7ms in length, one hovering, suspended in the skylight. They refer to ascension, escape, dreams, inspired by Piranesi’s ‘The Bridge’ from his Imaginary Prisons series, the endless human cycle of striving, greed and suffering.

Snakes and Ladders, Fiona Campbell, found and recycled materials. Photos: 1 Dave Cable; 3 Caroline Bond; 4 Jason King; 5 Dave Cable

Snakes and Ladders comprise several dysfunctional hand-made ladders and entrail forms. Two are over 7ms in length, one hovering, suspended in the skylight. They refer to ascension, escape, dreams, inspired by Piranesi’s ‘The Bridge’ from his Imaginary Prisons series, the endless human cycle of striving, greed and suffering.

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. 

IN.BRS.2019.39 Collaboration by Scott Sandford and Lou Baker. Photo: Dave Cable

IN.BRS.2019.39 Collaboration by Scott Sandford and Lou Baker. Photo: Dave Cable

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.

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Glut, Fiona Campbell, found and recycled materials. Photos: Above 1 Jason King; 2 Dave Cable. Below 1 Geoff Dunlop; 2 Dave Cable; 3 Jason King

Glut, Fiona Campbell, found and recycled materials. Photos: Above 1 Jason King; 2 Dave Cable. Below 1 Geoff Dunlop; 2 Dave Cable; 3 Jason King

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Tongue, Fiona Campbell, found and recycled materials. Photos: 1 Jason King; 2 Guinevere King

Tongue, Fiona Campbell, found and recycled materials. Photos: 1 Jason King; 2 Guinevere King

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

We took part in several radio chats and were thrilled to be featured on BBC and ITV. A film has also been made by Gillian Taylor with BBC of John McCarthy’s interview in response to B-Wing.


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!

Age of Crinoids by Fiona

'step in stone' continues to absorb me - not only in my role as curator and manager of the project, but also as a featured artist - taking most of my time and thoughts. Delving further into the quarries theme for the project, I've discovered that the earlier part of the Carboniferous period (Mississipian) has been coined the Age of Crinoids.  Over 350 million years ago the Mendips were submerged under a warm, swampy sea, the Mendip Hills hadn't yet formed into a range of mountains - now substantially eroded back -  and animal life comprised mainly of primitive reptiles, giant insects like dragonflies the size of seagulls, and a myriad of sea creatures such as echinoderms and corals.  Crinoids (sea lilies) were abundant in thousands of varieties, showing huge morphological diversity.  These fascinating ancient creatures look like exotic plant forms and many varieties still exist today.  They cling to the bottom of the sea bed by long spiny stems, others are unstalked, have tentacle legs or long arms which enable them to drag themeselves along.

Crinoid fossil

Fossils found in limestone rocks exposed in the quarries (often in now vertical old sea beds) brings into question our origin, distant past and future.  Captivated, I have been imagining these other worlds.  Following on from my post on convergent evolution, my work will focus on these and other similar forms as visual metaphors of complex primal systems in nature, universal forms which echo others, examples of fractal geometry and the interconnectedness of all things.

Each time I visit the quarries, often on dog walks, I feel overwhelmed by the magnitude of what they represent - the geology; how far back time goes; what extraordinary life forms exist now and in the past; how incredible and persistent nature is; how we are all linked; how insignificant we are as individuals, yet how we impact on our surroundings...

Quarry at Stoke St. Michael

Representing step in stone, I launched an under 20 year olds' Sculpture Design Competition at Somerset Earth Science Centre a fortnight ago, and alongside other step in stone artists and Juliet Lawn from SESC, gave a slideshow/talk, with work on display to give young visitors inspiration for their designs.  This competition is now online for entries at: Black Swan Arts.  Last week Nick Weaver and I set up a stand for step in stone at Frome Town Councils's AGM.  Having been funded by them we were asked to present our project to attendees.  It was a full house - the energy in Frome seems infectious!  This Wednesday (8th April) I'll be taking part as a speaker in a public discussion at Wells Museum about Public Art (7.30pm if you're interested in coming!)

I ran a wire workshop at the end of March via ArtsLink, which resulted in some great outcomes by participants.  I have more workshops coming up and will also be running some during step in stone at SESC and Black Swan Arts (details of these will be posted soon).

Wire workshop IMG_9931 IMG_9932 IMG_9934 IMG_9935 IMG_9939 IMG_9940 IMG_9941 IMG_9943

Although there's still a lot to do, I'm looking forward to my forthcoming exhibitions this summer.  Maureen Michaelson is representing me at GROW London and Hidden Garden Art Show this June and my biggest project to date step in stone starts in July.