Soft Estate: art from the roadside
A new exhibition, Soft Estate, the title of which derives from the Highways Agency term used to describe the natural habitats that have evolved along motorways and trunk roads, looks at how these borders offer a refuge for wildlife and a modern form of wilderness in the midst of intense urbanisation and agro-chemical farming.
Prints made using road dust, etched car parts, a film of roadside shrines, and a new environmental essay are some of the highlights of the exhibition and accompanying publication launching at the Bluecoat in Liverpool. Soft Estate is the result of artist and academic Edward Chell's AHRC-funded Fellowship.
Chell investigates these contemporary motorway landscapes, linking them to 18th century ideas of the Picturesque and exploring the interface between history, ecology, roads and travel through a series of new works including an installation of 60 silhouette paintings of motorway plant life.
Launched in conjunction with the exhibition, Soft Estate the publication will feature a number of the photographs and paintings shown in the exhibition, as well as essays by the artist, the Bluecoat's curator, and the writer and broadcaster Richard Mabey.
While 18th Century tourists travelled to areas such as the Lake District to capture images of wild places, in today's countryside, uncontrolled wilderness only springs up in the margins of our transport networks and the semi-derelict grid plans of industrialised corridors. These soft estates invite a new kind of tourist, new ways of looking and new forms of visual representation.
Other artists who interrogate themes of ‘edgelands’ – those familiar yet ignored spaces that are neither city nor countryside – exhibit alongside and in conversation with Chell. Their works present juxtapositions commonly experienced in edgelands, such as beauty and pollution, wilderness and human agency.
The Bluecoat's Exhibitions Curator Sara-Jayne Parsons said:
When Edward approached us with the idea for a show we saw the opportunity to make a bigger exhibition to encompass his solo project but also to include the work of a selection of artists working in similar territory. In this way Edward's work acts as a critical centre for a wider discussion about space, place, memory and identity in our contemporary landscape.
The exhibition Soft Estate shows at the Bluecoat, Liverpool between 6 December 2013 – 23 February 2014 and then travels to Spacex in Exeter, from 8 March – 3 May.
For more information, contact Rachael Tinniswood on 07846 406487.
- The Bluecoat (Liverpool) showcases and develops talent across visual art, music, dance, live art and literature. It is believed to be the UK’s oldest art centre, with a rich artistic history; early exhibitions included the first Post Impressionists show, which came to Liverpool in 1911 following an earlier showing in London and featured works by Picasso, Cézanne, Matisse and Gauguin, exhibiting alongside British artists for the first time.
- Edward Chell is represented by Galerie Bugdahn und Kaimer, Düsseldorf and is Senior Lecturer in Fine Art at UCA Canterbury. He recently completed an Arts & Humanities Research Council Fellowship for which the Soft Estate publication and exhibition are outcomes. Recent projects include Eclipse, Beaney Museum, Canterbury (2013), with accompanying artists book, published by Stour Valley Arts, with essay by historian Jenny Uglow; Viewing Stations, Tank, London (2011); Gran Tourismo, Little Chef, Ings, supported by Grizedale Arts (2011); and permanent installations for Swedenborg Society, London and Stour Valley Arts (2010). In 2012 he co-edited the publication In the Company of Ghosts: The Poetics of the Motorway with Dr Andrew Taylor.
- The Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC) funds world-class, independent researchers in a wide range of subjects: ancient history, modern dance, archaeology, digital content, philosophy, English literature, design, the creative and performing arts, and much more. This financial year the AHRC will spend approximately £98m to fund research and postgraduate training in collaboration with a number of partners. The quality and range of research supported by this investment of public funds not only provides social and cultural benefits but also contributes to the economic success of the UK. www.ahrc.ac.uk
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