Ailish Treanor, Alia Hamaoui, Bobby Dowler, Evelyn Cromwell, Horace Lindezey, Steven Gee
Slugtown are pleased to present Bronzers, a group exhibition of works from six artists from across the UK and France. Bronzers explores hidden histories, markers of time and the layering of meaning and reference that accumulates in the spaces that we inhabit and occupy.
Started in the living room of a six-bed house share, and now occupying a retail unit in Shieldfield, Slugtown has always existed within residential settings, amongst the minutiae of domesticity and the mundanity of life. This environment functions, in a temporal sense, as an in-between space. It is where daily lives encounter daily processes – stubborn necessities like getting up, getting dressed, the unrelenting matter of what to eat, how to pass the time, going to bed, sleeping, dreaming – their recurrence a reminder of the perpetual motion of time. Within this mundanity exists rich, multi- generational narratives of how people and the spaces they occupy evolve. Practical knowledge is passed on, such as how to prepare a guarded ancestral recipe or how to nurture a rose garden, often tied up in anecdotes about journeys taken or the people that came before. Families come together and rearrange themselves to welcome new members. Bronzers seeks to examine the hidden histories that can accumulate in these spaces and the fragments they leave behind.
Evidence of these narratives can be found in sometimes unremarkable objects. Ancient cooking utensils are used by archaeologists to extract histories and gain a deeper understanding of entire cultures. Traces of certain spices or materials suggest global trade links, while the intricacy of a handle may lend a ceremonial quality to the preparation of food. The development of farming equipment shows how communities settled and expanded into towns and then cities. When an object is ‘found’ there is an implied journey to arrive at the point at which it was discarded. This indeterminate length of time becomes compressed into the object itself and, through memories, extrapolation, or speculation, contains an infinite multiplicity of real or imagined histories. Objects can be discarded or otherwise passed on endlessly, sometimes being repurposed into something else, but always bearing witness to the passing of time and lives being lived. This plurality of narratives affords a sense of solidarity, where disparate histories are brought together to form a singular harmonising voice.
Both the origins of Slugtown and the retail unit that it currently occupies represent repurposing and the layering of meanings. Former uses for the current space include a pharmacy, several tanning salons, and a hairdressers’ –– verifiable by the many layers of signage uncovered from the front of the building, and illustrative of the many lifetimes of the unit and the evolution of its function and form. Furthermore, scraps of paper and accounts from local residents suggest that a tattooist, and separately an off-licence, have both occupied the space as well. This evidence, though in reality no less reliable, has a fragility to it, and could easily have gone unnoticed or been lost altogether. The information itself may be trivial, but it underlines the ubiquity of forgotten narratives.
As the only reception room in the house, the original gallery continued to function intermittently as a communal living space; for the most part annexed from the building around it, but occasionally hosting parties and Christmas dinners, seeing new relationships blossom and major life events unfold. This format of a gallery embedded within a living space, though unusual, is not unique. Born out of necessity in answer to a lack of exhibition space, Slugtown became part of a network of artists facing the same challenges, with the same limited resources, inevitably finding similar solutions.
Artists, especially those early in their career or otherwise distanced from the community, tend to carry multiple identities with them. Often working several jobs to support their practice, they keep parts of themselves obscured in order to be taken seriously in different spheres. This can multiply where artists encounter barriers to opportunities. Simultaneously, there is a degree of expectation that creative people should explore these identities in their work, showcasing their own struggles or those of their communities. Perhaps this is born out of a lack of trust in a sector that is rigged to support only the more privileged among us, combined with a society that values seeing the journey to overcoming these barriers played out again and again. Inclusivity can easily cross the boundary into exploitation, and the fight for progress can sometimes feel stagnant as well-meaning institutions contending with shrinking budgets becomes a stuck record.
Many of the works in Bronzers use imagery which subverts or undermines prescribed notions of what is considered significant or taken seriously. Pop culture and cartoonish imagery are often synonymous with unseriousness. This sense of superiority and pretension prevents histories from being told in full technicolour, and instead details are selectively chosen or left out to support an image or agenda. Blonde (2022), and the novel it is based on, recently received widespread criticism for its portrayal of Marilyn Monroe as a two-dimensional caricature. Meanwhile, the last decade has seen a concerted effort to correct the public record and recognise the lives of black women such as Marsha P. Johnson and Henrietta Lacks, but all of this speaks to a wider problem of authority in storytelling. Bronzers questions this authority, restoring power to the artist to decide what they feel should be shared or withheld.
Bronzers showcases works in which artists have salvaged fragments of time in the form of memories and objects to create something new, while foregrounding the lingering connection to the lives and processes which helped to shape them. As with every exhibition at Slugtown, the work will remain in situ for several weeks, where it will be temporarily suspended in time, before going on to exist elsewhere; perhaps in some other form, yet still containing traces of days spent in the gallery.
– Roxanna Watson
Ailish Treanor (b.1995) is a multidisciplinary artist based in Barnsley. At the heart of her practice is an involvement with found materials and ‘low’ or pop-culture. Discarded items that once held value in society, such as a woman’s fashion brooch or an Argos catalogue are discovered and reimagined. Ailish was recently commissioned to create a public sculpture for Barnsley Metropolitan Council, and recent exhibitions include: Tableau Retro, 87 Gallery, Hull, 2022; Botany of Desire, 36, Newcastle, 2021 and Baltic Open Submission, BALTIC, Gateshead, 2021. Ailish has also been resident at The British School at Rome.
Alia Hamaoui (b. 1996) is a British/Lebanese artist living and working in London. Her multidisciplinary practice weaves together layered fragments, muted tones and lost histories. A combination of print, painting and ‘construction’; Hamaoui’s work embodies a shift from physical remnants of the past to the digitising of memories. Recent exhibitions include: In the green escape of my palace, Studio Chapple, London; But Not Blue, Collective Ending, London, 2022; Bag, pedestal, rabbit, potato, Staffordshire Street Studios, London, 2022.
Bobby Dowler (b. 1983) lives and works between London and Paris. Bobby makes “painting-objects” from collecting and scavenging paintings and stretchers gifted to him by friends and strangers. From these component parts his “painting-objects” begin, the process becoming an experimental one of construction, deconstruction and discovery. Recent solo exhibitions include Roadworks, Hannah Barry Gallery, London, 2022; and “100,000%!”,Galeria Alegria, Barcelona, 2021.
Evelyn Cromwell (b. 1996) lives and works in Newcastle upon Tyne. In her practice, she likes to explore ideas through objects, and reflects on the significance of the mundane – acknowledging that the things we use, throw away and create will one day become artefacts of our culture. Recent exhibitions include: Flat Packed Lunch, The NewBridge Project, Newcastle, 2022; Now That’s What I Call Art, Newcastle Contemporary Art, Newcastle 2022; Where are you in these interesting times?, Scaffold Gallery, Manchester, 2020. Evelyn also co-runs artist-led organisation Spaghetti Factory.
Horace Lindezey (b.1966) is an artist based in Manchester. Working in ceramics, textiles and sculpture his work depicts the people and world around him. His irreverent series of blue plaques, highlights how he remembers people what he sees as historic moments. Recent exhibitions include: Venture Arts: Narratives, The Lowry, Manchester, 2022; YESS LAD, TJ Boulting, London, 2022; London Art Fair, London 2021. Horace is a long-time member of Venture Arts, Manchester.
Steven Gee (b.1990) is an artist based in London. The process of digestion is central to Steven’s practice –– ideas grow as objects are chewed, mixed and arranged. Each year he makes a series of ceramic pie works, each filled with leftover studio materials from the year before. Recent exhibitions include: the pickle never catches the cheese, or (“Why does animated food look so tasty?”), ArtLacuna, London, 2021; False Friends, The Function Suite, London, 2020; Ghost Town, Coherent, Brussels, 2019. Steven is also co-director of Piccallili Gallery, London.