For many of us, the concept of art still recalls historic institutions; cold, quiet, filled with American tourists, their noses to paintings, discussing Monet’s brushstrokes. A symbol of intellectual superiority, high culture and elitism.
Across the ages, a dogmatic hierarchy ranked artists and established the critical and financial fortunes of the fine arts. Even with the advent of modernism, which dispelled this position in the late eighteenth century, today’s artists still seek out traditional techniques, compete for prizes and produce their work within the confines of the art world’s echo chamber- an inclusive club.
Far from the marble pillars and mosaic floors of The National Gallery or from the impressive power station which hosts the Tate Modern, S1 Artspace sits within the centre of Park Hill council estate in Sheffield. A former garage block, the space comes with no airs or graces.
Last night was the opening of ‘Leisure Time’, the second exhibition of a six month programme called ‘Construction House’. It aims to bring together three thematic strands of the Bauhaus philosophy, displaying work that explores the role, possibilities and responsibilities of collective artistic activity today.
Looking at the renovated garage from the outside, the building becomes part of the exhibition itself. The lit windows reveal white, empty space and a back office occupied with various wooden materials. With the literal translation of the Bauhaus meaning ‘House of building’, the space could not be more fitting for the concepts explored within.
“Leisure Time” looks at the Bauhaus lifestyle, which promoted a holistic view of the mind and body. Based on the teaching of Johannes Ittens, the exhibition explores the creative potential of physical activity and relaxation through newly commissioned works by local artists Natalie Finnemore, Vicky Hayward and Lucy Vann, alongside Gertrud Grunow’s original Colour Circle and Bauhaus student T. Lux Feininger’s iconic photographs of Karla Grosch’s gymnastic classes on the Bauhaus Dessau roof.
Laura Clarke, Curator at S1 Artspace said: “As we approach the centenary of the founding of Bauhaus in 2019, it seems a fitting time to reflect on the impact the school has had on artistic practice and the role of art and artists in society.
“It is an opportunity for our studio holders to think about what it means for them to work as a community of artists in a residential setting and how their work might be received by new audiences.”
Community is the operative word. Looking around the opening was a mixture of individuals; young and old, tourists and residents, students and business men. An hour into the exhibition, each and everyone of these people become part of the exhibition themselves. At 7pm everyone gathered in the centre of the room, anticipating a performance from artist Lucy Vann. What followed, was unexpected.
Awkwardly taking to the mic, Lucy presented a monologue, beginning with “I’m not very good at this”, building into a crescendo of torturous distress at Lucy’s inability to be charismatic, loud and engaging. It was an interesting insight into what it means to be a confident public speaker and what happens to the body when it becomes tense and unwilling to perform.
It was a poignant moment for the exhibition, blurring the line between artist and artwork and more importantly between artwork and audience.
One resident of the Park Hill flats said: “I’m still processing the performance piece. I felt uncomfortable. I felt what she was feeling. It gave me something I wouldn’t have been able to access from just looking at the artwork alone. I guess because it was an experience shared.”
The previous exhibition and the first in the series ‘Order and Limitations’ featured an immersive audio installation by Ashley Holmes called ‘We’ll clap for you’. The sound moved from from tribal to chanting to minimal digital sampling, and was developed out of a workshop with young people at the Broomhill community centre in Sheffield. As the workshops went on, the audio was added to, producing an ever-evolving art piece.
Another local resident said: “Its great to see the S1 artists working here and engaging with previous archival material and creating their own archive for the community. It is what art should really be about.”
S1 Artspace is a place of expression and collaboration, looking to bridge the gap between art and the community. It is literally and figuratively a white space, waiting to be built upon through a relationship between the artists and the community.
Sean Dennis, a resident of Park Hill that has recently moved to Sheffield, said: “This is one of the first places I have been in Sheffield and I feel positive about the City and what it has to offer.”