This weekend’s exhibitions

A large selection of prints from Gideon Mendel’s groundbreaking exhibition of 1993, The Ward, revisited Bradford this week.  I wanted to re-aquaint myself with the collection, which was displayed simply but ingeniously (these large prints mounted on acrylic were not allowed to be fixed to the wall). I remember many of the images from first time round.

from ‘The Ward’ by Gideon Mendel

The ward in question was actually two wards where patients with HIV and AIDS were cared for. at London’s Middlesex Hospital. Mendel’s photo-essay gave a human face to the AIDS crisis, when fear, stigma and hatred towards people living with HIV / AIDS was rife and viscious. These images marked a turning point in terms of empathy – amongst many people, at least. They are still powerful and beautiful today.

The photos had been shown at Bradford in the 1990s at the National Media Museum. At that time I was active in the Leeds chapter of ACT UP (AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power), who carried out protest and direct action around discrimination and poor healthcare affecting people living with HIV/AIDS.

Accompanying the exhibition was a selection from the archives of Bradford’s gay liberation movement from the 1970s – 1990s. Especially impressive were the colourful  screen-printed posters. The owners of the archive are hoping to get the collection accepted by a local archive, perhaps West Yorkshire Archives or Cartwright Hall (linking to their queering project, perhaps).

Great to see both parts of this exhibition at Bradford’s Gallery II – and to read about their move to become a Centre for Socially Applied Arts

Home via Kirkstall and lovely Aire Place Studios where Curl Up and Dye (everyone’s favourite named hair salon) by Bronagh Daly captures the importance of the hair salon to older Irish women – a place to gossip, get (and give) advice and support (pictured below).



loiner or

I enjoyed re-visiting the archive-based Pavilion exhibition, Interwoven Histories (2017) at Armley Mills Industrial Museum. The exhibition has now been extended with a delicate and intriguing sound sculpture, loiner or, by Ryoko Akama.

img_5966It uses objects from the museum, but also sounds. Voices recorded at local community groups over the course of the project, plus tantalising snippets from a 1966 study of local dialects float out of parts of the fragile and sprawling sculpture which is in three parts throughout the room. It’s a beautiful and complex work, both contemporary and antiquated, due to the materials used: tailoring scissors, shuttles, transmitters, fold-out portable coat-hangers, a large cardboard box.

The sound is so gentle, you can barely hear it at times. It floats on the imagination, barely tethered by the fine electronic wires above our heads.

Another lovely example of the effectiveness and connectivity of sound art.



Akama, R. (2018) loiner or [Installation] Armley Mills Industrial Museum, Leeds (Viewed: 9 February 2018).

Interwoven Histories (2017) [Exhibition] Industrial Museum at Armley Mills, Leeds. 10 October 2017 – 1 April 2018.


Queering the gallery

To Cartwright Hall, Bradford on Saturday, where they were inviting people to a workshop to queer their collection. Queering an artwork involves sharing and creating new interpretations revealing LGBTQ+ stories and exploring gender, the body, identity and power. It’s looking at art through a different lens, or taking a sidelong view of it and coming up with new meanings.

Jude Woods was our workshop facilitator, who has been involved in similar work at Leeds Art Gallery. They’d come up with four themes to get the group thinking and queering:

  • gender resistance
  • magical transformations
  • marriage / couplings
  • me, yourself, them.

Queering is a great idea, it’s fun and it emphasises the point that everyone’s views and interpretations of artworks are valid. It encourages you to make and share your own interpretations, to tell stories about the art. It’s something that everyone can do, queer or not. Because queering explores such issues as identity, gender, the body and power relationships, it’s a great way to think about different and intersecting types of oppression and experiences.

There was much to talk about, we found such richness and variety of meanings in just a small selection of work from Cartwright Hall’s collection. Jude’s choices to start us off weren’t the most obvious ones for queering, at first glance (apart from perhaps a young and brightly scarved David Hockney). They spanned the centuries and the globe.

To finish the session, we were eached asked to choose one artwork, for the group to revisit and discuss anew. It was a difficult choice, I was drawn to the beautiful anthropomorphic bodies of Dhruva Mistry’s Guardians I and II: maquettes for full sized sculptures which can be found in Birmingham. But I let myself be drawn back to fashion and textiles, and we looked again at a boy’s dress from the 1850s-70s. Dresses for boys were entirely unremarkable until the 20th century, and this raised questions of why clothing is so divided along gender lines, for children and adults. We shared stories of times when we’d been made to wear things we really didn’t want to, along with things we loved and that showed who we are.

As well as a safe space and a supportive group to share our thoughts with, this workshop meant that people were openly and confidently talking about queer lives and experiences in the gallery. This is a really great way to bring a range of voices and viewpoints into a gallery. It’s about challenging institutional norms, but at the same time recognising and appreciating the collection.

Jude will fashion our notes and comments into some alternate labels for the gallery, to be revealed on 27 February. If Bradford Museums can secure funding, this will be the first of many workshops at Cartwright Hall.

At one time I’d have described my style as liking men’s or men’s style clothes, but that was never really accurate as I like to wear all sort of shapes and styles. Gender-neutral or genderless clothes would be a better term, I think. Clothes can be sculptural, wide and really transform the body. I remembered last year’s fantastic Disobedient Bodies at The Hepworth in Wakefield, curated by fashion designer JW Anderson, where the crossover between art and fashion was made clear.

When I heard Marc Almond on the radio on the way home, I couldn’t help smiling at this line: “I tried to make it work, you in a cocktail skirt and me in a suit – well it just wasn’t me”. (Almond and Ball, 1982)


Almond, M. and Ball, D. (1982) Say Hello, Wave Goodbye [Vinyl single, 7″ and 12″] BZS7, Some Bizarre.

Disobedient Bodies (2017) [Exhibition]. The Hepworth, Wakefield, 18 March – 18 June.


Art Chat 2: Labels in the gallery

I returned to host another Art Chat at Leeds Art Gallery today (2.2.18). Our discussion was about the labels accompanying artworks: what do you think of them? Are they easy to understand? Readable? Could the information be provided differently?

It was a great discussion, with loads of opinions shared. Twenty people came, ages ranging from the 20s to the 70s, disabled and non-disabled people.

Here are some notes from our discussion:

img_5905Focussed on the Ziff Gallery (works acquired before 1900) and the portrait collection at the top of the stairs. In Ziff Gallery, people split into small groups and looked at different paintings.

What are labels for?

  • To give more information about art
  • To give context
  • Information about the artist
  • Provoke thought
  • “I like to look at labels for modern art because it can be difficult to interpret”.

Ziff Gallery

img_5271-2Design and placement of labels

  • Font size too small
  • Too far away / too low to read (even for young people!)
  • Black on white may be too harsh, but need to ensure excellent colour contrast.
  • With the amount of text on each label, however, if the font size was increased they would have to double in size, which people thought would be too intrusive.
  • It was sometimes difficult to locate the right label.
  • How to include enough information with fewer words!

Content of labels

Some people found the amount of information ok, although many thought there was too much or it was unhelpful:

  • Too much information about the artist and not enough about the art
  • A lot of unnecessary information about artists eg where they studied, where they lived and what they died of
  • Liked labels which gave a bit of information but encouraged you to find out more
  • Many of the labels have extremely long sentences which makes them difficult to read and digest. Not designed for public audience.
  • Before looking at the label one group thought it was a religious scene, but it turned out to be mythical. The label wasn’t particularly helpful unless you were familiar with the story already.

This sums things up quite well:

How to provide extra information for people that want it:

  • Leaflets
  • Sheets to read in the gallery
  • “Ping pong bats” of information – although not popular as can just lead to you looking at the info rather than artwork
  • Audio guides – mixed response
  • Audio description would make them more accessible for blind and partially sighted people
  • QR codes – not many people had spotted these, didn’t think they were obvious. Also, not everyone has a smartphone or knows what a QR code is.
  • QR codes could link to videos, sign language, websites etc – for more information and to improve access
  • Human interaction – staff / volunteers to welcome you, tell you more if you want it. This can also help overcome some of the access issues around labels.
  • Better links with the art library

Portrait collection at top of stairs


While most people liked the arrangement of many pictures together, some access issues were highlighted. For visually impaired people it’s difficult to pick out individual works, its confusing and overwhelming.

  • “You’re not looking at labels, just looking at art”
  • No labels to interfere with the work
  • You can step back to look, more people can look at the same time
  • There’s less pressure without labels, you can figure it out for yourself
  • Great for children
  • People generally thought the accompanying information sheets were clear. Although the contrast with the Ziff Gallery was noted – in Ziff there’s loads of info, here it’s just basic.
  • It’s a curatorial / artistic choice.

Art Chat 2 Feb 18

Other points

People feel inferior looking at art, don’t trust their own opinions and feel they need to be told how to interpret work, particularly contemporary art.

Artists want their work to be appreciated, not necessarily understood. Therefore, different interpretations are fine.

People’s expectations are different, some people want more information. They are frustrated if it’s not available.

Layering of information would meet different needs, from basic details through to background info, then QR codes or similar for those who want to know more.

Too much information “restricts my creative thinking about the picture. If I want to find out more later, I can.”

Art Chat takes place weekly. It’s an informal opportunity, open to all, to look at and talk about, items in the gallery’s collections or exhibitions.

My next session will be Friday 15 March, 11 am – 12 noon. All welcome.