This project has been developed by The Burton Art Gallery & Museum, with thanks to Torridge District Council and The Friends of The Burton

Monday, 9 November 2015

"Suddenly the penny dropped and the clinical room of monochrome images made sense"

Forest-of-Dean-based Blogger Rachel Shilston finds that Liberty Smith's documentary film Black Tracks unlocks the secrets of the Bideford Black: The Next Generation exhibition at Burton Art Gallery in Bideford. Thank you Rachel, for this blogpost, which also appears on Rachel's blog

Here’s a question for you. What do a clogged up mascara wand, a pair of cage fighters and a printing press all have in common? Baffled? Then let me enlighten you. 
'A Polychromy in Black' (2015) (detail) Lizzie Ridout
'Coerce Course' (2015) (detail) ATOI
At some point in the last few months, they’ve all had a generous covering of Bideford Black. For those of you who have not come across Bideford Black before, it is a raw material found on the cliffs around the north Devonshire town of Bideford and boy is it black. It is a dirty, filthy, dusty, chalky material, which covers anything that comes into contact with it.
Just over 12 months ago, eight artists were commissioned to create new artwork using and responding to this incredible, natural substance and their combined efforts are currently on display in an exhibition entitled ‘Bideford Black – a New Generation’, at the Burton Art Gallery and Museum. Last week I went along and had a look.
'Bideford Black suit' (2015) Neville Gabie
I arrived at the gallery and entered a rather clinical looking space. There were no colourful pictures to greet me, but instead a collection of monochrome images, some of which looked more like scientific experiments than works of art. Looking around I tried desperately to make sense of what I saw, how the artists were inspired and how they felt about working with this filthy black medium. What was the connection that they’d like me to make? I had no idea. I tried to understand why there was a suit, caked in a black powdery residue, but I have to say, I really wasn’t ‘digging it’. I moved on around the room and looked at a large, wall-mounted piece that appeared to have smudged foot prints on it. Unfortunately, I didn’t really get the deeper message with this piece either. And so it went on. There was a video on a loop, potions in small glass bottles to sniff and earphones to plug in and listen to. Yet after all these seemingly helpful interactive activities I was still left not feeling the love for Bideford Black. 
'Bideford black reminded us of 3 million years. There is nothing quick about the formation of sound' (2015) LittleWhitehead

I went through a second door and a film was about to start, so I took a seat. It was a documentary capturing the eight artists on their journey over the last twelve months, recording their feelings, responses and reasoning behind their pieces, plus their thoughts about this natural material that had become their new art medium. And it was fascinating. Suddenly the penny dropped and the clinical room of monochrome images made sense. It seems Bideford Black needs to be experienced and handled to really understand the material and that came across in the film. (I was also mildly amused to watch the artists talking with such passion and vigour about their work, process and end products, but oblivious to the random streaks of black across their cheeks or foreheads. It seems Bideford Black likes to leave its mark.) The film explained the link between the mascara wand, the cage fighters and the printing press, something that is not at all apparent as you view the pieces in the exhibition.
Bideford Black resource room
In this second room, there was also a small area set up for people to experience Bideford Black for themselves. The wall was lined with paper and covered with people’s sketches, doodles, scribbles and drawings made by those who had visited the gallery before me. 
If you are in the area and want to know more about Bideford Black then pop into the Burton Art Gallery and Museum to see this exhibition, but be sure to take the time to watch the film at the end. It is an intriguing watch.

Saturday, 7 November 2015

Final week of exhibition: Great new photos

A Polychromy in Black (2015) (detail) Lizzie Ridout
'Coerce Course' (2015) (detail) ATOI
Here are some fabulous new images of the show by photographer Matt Austin. There is still just about time to catch Bideford Black: The Next Generation before it closes on Friday 13 November.
'Seam' (2015) (detail) Luce Choules
'Sedimentary Memory' (2015) Tabatha Andrews

'A Truce with Time' (2015) (detail) Corinne Felgate

'In Equal Measure' (2015) Sam Treadaway

'DUST' (2015) (detail) Neville Gabie, Joan Gabie, Ian Cook
'Black Tracks: A year with eight artists' (2015) documentary film by Liberty Smith
Bideford Black: The Next Generation, exhibition view

Plastic pellets of Bideford Black mix in 'Cabinet of Curiosities' (2015) Neville Gabie, Joan Gabie, Ian Cook
Bideford Black: The Next Generation, exhibition view

Thursday, 5 November 2015

‘Witty, joyous and fun’ or ‘the emperor’s new clothes’? - Last chance to join the discussion!

The Bideford Black: The Next Generation exhibition has got everyone talking (…and listening and sniffing)

…And there are just a few days left to see world’s only Bideford Black diamond!

'Seam' (2015) Luce Choules
Photo: Claire Gulliver
Burton Art Gallery’s own Emily Paine has perfectly summed up visitors’ reactions to the Bideford Black: The Next Generation exhibition, which runs until 13 November at the gallery.

“It’s been a marmite reaction”, said Emily, “many people think it’s amazing, but some don’t’ like it at all. Nobody is neutral!”

Like the ‘love-it-or-hate it’ spread, the exhibition is certainly polarising opinions. It’s also black and sticky of course! 

But there are just a few more days to catch the specially-commissioned artworks together in Bideford Black’s home, alongside film-maker Liberty Smith’s unique and beautiful film record of these 21st century encounters with Bideford Black pigment.

The next few days are also the very last chance to see the world’s only Bideford Black diamond in the North Devon setting which provided its raw material. This tiny sparkling diamond, which has proved hugely popular with visitors, is on loan from artist duo ATOI for the duration of this unique show only.
The Burton's Warren Collum examines 'Black Diamond' (2015) ATOI (the 'Bideford Black diamond')
Photo: Drew de Rett / Burton Art Gallery

From visitors who have been ‘blown away’ by the show to those who suggest it’s a case of ‘the emperor’s new clothes’, audiences have not been shy to share their views. And we thought it would be good to share some of them here:

“We love this – the more you look, try, watch, listen, smell…the better it gets. BRILLIANT!”

“Liked the dustbins – but no room in them for the other exhibits!”

“Became more and more intrigued by this exhibition. I spent a long time here”

“Witty, joyous and fun!”

“Lots of soot and smudge!”

“Interesting on a personal level as my grandfather mined Bideford Black at East-the-Water in the 1930’s. Good to see its modern application as an art medium”

“My two-and-a-half-year-old grandchild loved the space and messy black!”
'In Equal Measure' (2015) Sam Treadaway

        “Economic crisis, destruction of the planet’s ecosystems, and this is the best we can do to entertain!”

“Fascinating how angry people get! (might be worth discussing why…)”

“Second visit in two days! – Totally engaging and immersive experience”

“Having just been - for the umpteenth time - to the Bideford Black exhibition, I felt the need to contact you and express my appreciation for your work and the processes you have employed. It has given me a great insight into where I could explore and experiment within my own emerging practice” (2nd year Fine Art Degree student, Petroc)

'DUST' (2015) Neville Gabie, Joan Gabie, Ian Cook
Photo: Drew de Rett / Burton Art Gallery
Until 13 November:
Bideford Black: The Next Generation
Burton Art Gallery and Museum, Bideford, EX39 2QQ

Friday, 23 October 2015

Thank you Catherine  for writing this review , also published in full  on a-n website and Flow Contemporary  Arts

Sam_Treadaway-570x427 catherine cartwright
Sam Treadaway - A Clearing photo by Catherine Cartwright
The gallery is a large, square room and as I entered I saw a collection of objects and wall-based work. They were mostly monochrome and the lights were focused on the work leaving areas of the gallery in dusky light. A table by the entrance with feedback forms and a basket of ‘Bideford Black’ rock made me feel welcome, where the work did not initially. I looked for a place to begin and was drawn to the mark-making action on the 5 screens ahead of me. The noise of an artist making repetitive movements overlaid the space with an eery, other-worldly atmosphere.
This exhibition shows the work by commissioned artists who explored the local pigment ‘Bideford Black’  over the course of a year. Given that there was a year of activity, the exhibition seems at first quite sparse and the artists’ ‘representation’ must have been carefully chosen as I’m guessing that each artist could have used up the whole gallery space. A commissioned filmmaker, Liberty Smith, documented the artists’ exploration and the resulting film is screened in an attached room. Watching this film made all the difference to how I felt about the exhibition. I changed from a rather disengaged (though happy with my stick of rock) visitor to a fully converted fan of the artists and their work. I know that there’s an argument that art shouldn’t have to be ‘explained’ but frankly I reckon it has its place, and its place was most definitely here.
The accompanying A4 information leaflet acknowledges that visitors may find the exhibition challenging and refers to the work of Joseph Kosuth’ s 1965 ‘One and Three Chairs’ which consisted of a chair, a photograph of a chair and a printed dictionary definition of a chair.
It states:
Not all of the works you are experiencing here are Bideford Black pigment as found in its natural state. The pigment is more than a medium. We might describe these works as a collection that together provides a three dimensional portrait of the material, seen through the minds of the artists.
Three-dimensional it certainly is, and more so… I would say four-dimensional and it is these ‘4D’ experiences within the exhibition that meant I left inspired and stimulated. When I sniffed a drum of coal and got a nose-full of perfume I cemented my lasting memory and chosen ‘favourite’ work. Created by Sam Treadaway, who imagined the original scent of the foliage and trees in the Carboniferous period that compacted over millions of years to make the Bideford Black pigment. I loved this. And having already heard about this work in Liberty Smith’s film meant I was open to a zing-ping moment and to viewing Bideford Black in a totally unexpected and exciting way.

Catherine Cartwright an artist working primarily with printmaking, drawing and film. A director with Double Elephant Print Workshop in Exeter, she is also undertaking her Masters in Multidisciplinary Printmaking at the University of West of England.

Tuesday, 13 October 2015

Bideford Black Next Generation - open untl 13th November

Bideford Black: The Next Generation
Nine new art commissions for Burton Art Gallery

We are receiving some fantastic comments about the exhibition -  it really is important to see these works.

Bideford Black: The Next Generation is the outcome of a year during which nine artists from across the UK pushed Bideford Black pigment to its physical limits and asked what the material might mean today. Below is an itroduction to the artworks, but experiencing them is invaluable. The works, as a collection, can be read individually or as a joint narrative. 

The film presented by Liberty Smith reviews the research process behind the works. Thirty minutes of footage captures a year and underpins the exhibition.

Two arresting works from Cornwall-based artist duo ATOI are the result of re-introducing Bideford Black pigment into charged scenarios, similar to those which have formed, unformed and transformed it across millennia. Expect to see dirt and diamonds.
Coerce Course 2015 plasterboard, Bideford Black
photo Julian Smith

Black Diamond 2015 Bideford Black
photo Julian Smith
Tabatha Andrews

Imposing cast paper forms by Devon-based artist Tabatha Andrews reach out directly to the senses. Her huge wall assemblage reverses perspective and seeks to visualise the invisible seam of Bideford Black running underneath the North Devon landscape.

Tool 2015 pebble found on Bideford Bay used to burnish the drawing 
photo Julian Smith

Sedimentary Memory 2015 Bideford Black, shellac and paper
photos Julian Smith
Luce Choules

Artist Luce Choules explored both physical and emotional geography through her experimental fieldwork. A Fellow of the Royal Geographical Society, Luce has developed Seam, a choreographed exhibition for Bideford Black: The Next Generation. Expect it to change during the exhibtion period. 

 C-type print reverse mounted on Perspex, hand-cut Giclee prints 384 fragments 
photos Julian Smith
Corinne Felgate

Collapsing man-made and natural environments, artist Corinne Felgate has created a selection of site-specific poems and an installation in a traditional museum cabinet. The latter is comprised of a series of fossil-like sculptures, which have been meticulously moulded and cast from paraphernalia from cosmetic  industries which formerly used Bideford Black.

A Truce with Time 2015 
Plaster casts and poems
(Title refers to Mary Stella Edwards’ book of poems) 
photos Julian Smith

Neville Gabie, Joan Gabie, Ian Cook
Prompted by Bideford Black, and using a shared sketchbook, artists Neville Gabie and Joan Gabie conducted a ‘dialogue of ideas’ with Cultural Geographer Ian Cook (University of Exeter). Together, the three explored the physical, social and geological significance of Bideford Black, presenting several films of studio drawings and artefacts discovered and created along the way.
Bideford Black suit Neville Gabie 
photo Julian Smith

Cabinet of Curiosities (several items)
Cut down yard broom for drawing purposes, pieces of Bideford Black 
photo by Julian Smith

A set of five films made using Bideford Black. Edition of 3+1 artists proof 
photo Julian Smith


Glaswegian artists Craig Little and Blake Whitehead - were intrigued by the environmental processes that formed Bideford Black. Ever-elusive, the Scottish duo kept their work under tight wraps during its development. They made LP records with the pigment, casting it and playing it. They battled with it to make it give up the secret of its uniqueness – to share its voice. Listen to the experimental sound recordings of their raw data – and their surprising conclusion.

Bideford black reminded us of 3 million years. 
There is nothing quick about the formation of sound 2015 Audio, text
photo Julian Smith

 Lizzie Ridout

Lizzie Ridout has set Bideford Black within a new taxonomy - or story - of the colour of Bideford Black. Incorporating her research into the subject, the Cornwall-based artist has created a printed publication, pieces of which audience members will be able to take away. She foraged the Burton archive, gathering tones and marks from the collection to present in a different, delicate way in the gallery.
A Polychromy in Black 2015
Set of nine photopolymer printed tones presented on wall and as a stack
Series of collaged prints
photo by Julian Smith
Sam Treadaway
Sam Treadaway is exhibiting a scent-based work. A Clearing is the result of a re-imagining of the origin of the Bideford Black material - Tree Fern forests of the Carboniferous period - via the medium of smell. Subtle variations of this scent composition, based on accords of wood, green, earth and petrichor (produced in collaboration with Clare Rees, Library of Fragrance), and inspired by visits to Bristol Botanic Garden and Kew Gardens, London, are transmitted, via stainless steel drums brimming with Bideford Black, into the gallery space.

 In Equal Measure 2015 Scent accords, etched glass bottles
photo Julian Smith

A Clearing 2015 Dimensions variable. 
Scent accords, etched stainless steel drums, pallet, stretchwrap, Bideford Black, diffusers
photo Julian Smith
Film-maker Liberty Smith documented the Bideford Black: The Next Generation project from start to finish, as the eleven artists researched and created their work in studios and on location. Liberty’s film previews exclusively at the Bideford Black: The Next Generation exhibition.

Bideford Black: The Next Generation is a Burton Art Gallery project managed in association with Flow Contemporary Arts and Claire Gulliver. It is supported using public funding by the National Lottery through Arts Council England.

We are grateful for the support of the Friends of the Burton Art Gallery and Museum.

Bideford Black: The Next Generation
Opens 3 October 2015
Burton Art Gallery & Museum, Bideford, Devon, EX39 2QQ
T: 01237 471455
E: burtonartgallery@torridge.gov.uk