Is this art? Nottingham Unesco City of Literature: we write and we re-write stories: art, history and culture is ours Museumand Part 1

Featured Image: Museumand logo designed by John Daniel Art John is an original and exciting graphic designer who works, thinks and consults across boundaries and media. Perfect for the Museum without Walls…..

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Above: Din un tres belle negresse 2012 Mickalene Thomas Rhinestones, acrylic, oil and enamel on wood panel  (permission sought from the artist)

Is this Art? Of course…but…..

Usually, with a ‘but….is this art?’

it’s a question that has been used by tabloids to sell papers and whip contemporary art from a position of high snootiness.

Our beloved and courageous John Newling’s Physics of Place (1998) light sculpture was strapped by this tag, called The Shed of The Midlands by the Nottingham Post. The name was created in true Sun-like fashion purely to sell newspapers.


Above Physics of Place John Newling 1998 (permission from the artist)

The Nottingham Post did revisit its aggressive stories (you can’t find the original ‘shed’ story that was created by them) but in the newer website you get an archived series of stories headlined: Notts History of Controversial Artwork which gives a timeline of artworks the paper decided were controversial (to sell newspapers).

The cheeky chappy  tone of the archive is dated  October 2009, just a month before the beautiful Caruso St John designed Nottingham Contemporary opened (the use of the word Notts  in their headline creating a friendly alliance with all the things the newspaper really valued: Notts County, Notts Forest, Notts Cricket, perhaps?)

Here’s the Notts Post archive of Contemporary Art timeline:

1998: Professor John Newling‘s Physics of Place was dubbed ‘The Shed of the Midlands’. not by us, by them!)

They say: ‘The metallic box (see Physics of Space in all its glory, above), which allowed

(you should NEVER allow halogen lights to shine into the night sky according to the Post then)

halogen lights to shine into the night sky via hundreds of 2p-size holes, was exhibited in the grounds of Nottingham Castle.

As you can see the wonderful sculpture Physics of Place  really transcends what the Post says in every way.

Below is the rest of their rewriting of their very destructive approach to contemporary art timeline as a kind of Notts ‘feisty history’ that has become the strapline of Notts TV ‘Ain’t Notts Mint‘ kind of thing? The thing is, art, like the lives of people is a slower and more careful process……

1999: Nottingham Trent University fine arts lecturer Anne Lydiat published a major new work — a book containing nothing but blank pages. She intended the volume to be ‘a feminine space’ where there is silence.

We could do with more of that. Maybe it’s the space that contemporary art has opened up has enabled violence against women to be taken seriously?

 Nottingham is now the first city in the country to interrupt the idea that it’s alright to hurt women, frighten them, harm them as a way of living or working. As long as it’s not used in a racist way against muslims!

2001: Anish Kapoor’s Sky Mirror in the courtyard outside the Nottingham Playhouse was once of the most expensive works of public art ever commissioned when it was installed. The mirror took five years to make and cost £900,000. It caused controversy when it emerged that during certain times in the summer it would act like a magnifying glass, intensifying the sun’s rays.

Sky Mirror is now the most popular tourist attraction in Nottinghamshire. there are six of them now across the UK and the world. His attempt to conceive negative space. is just as stunning:

Also in 2001: Pak Keung Wan was paid to sit in a pitch-black cave and collect his breath – in the name of art. His bottled breath was exhibited at a £5,000 show at the Angel Row Gallery. He spent seven hours a day, for five days, in a cave beneath Nottingham Castle, breathing into a tube. The £5,000 cost of the exhibition includes materials and the artist’s fees.


Here’s the artist’s version (he doesn’t mention Nottingham in his CV, no wonder?

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Here’s what the artist says about the performance:

‘Over the years Inhaled Suns have become occasional works. This piece was made over the course of four months whilst artist in residence at the University of Glamorgan in 1995. During this period I would wake up each day and collect my breath as the sun was rising and then return to this process at the end of the day, as the sun was setting. Through these actions my breath was able to condense, becoming liquid. It was then frozen and stored separately. At the end of the residency and for the exhibition that culminated, the condensed breath was placed onto two steel sheets upon which a rust sun would appear.

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In the exhibition space there were two pillars facing each other so two steel sheets were cut to fit – a reflection of the daily course of the sun over the Rhonda Valley where I was living during the residency.
Having recreated this work several times since, I am always moved by each sun’s physical quality, suggestive of both cellular and planetary forms. They embody the processes involved in their making, a process that involved a direct communion with the sun. When seen against the surface of steel, they appear suspended like a celestial body in the night sky.’

Quite different from the Post view of the waste of taxpayer’s money view, eh? It just makes you see the world differently, opens your eyes, lets you make up your own mind.

The extraordinary career development of the work of Pak Keung Wan can be found here

It’s great that more voices are being heard now…we need to plough this field and scatter as John Newling has always advocated…..

Art, like life and understanding, is always happening, sometimes it’s slow, sometimes it’s fast…..

There’s a real understanding of what art means now and it’s informing  Trent University’s centre for broadcast journalism, Notts TV and the stunning talent that’s coming out of their courses

Now the Post writes proudly that culture is good for people. It’s good because it creates media connections too. See journalism student Federico Cornetto’s article  about  Museumand’s  exhibition The Art of Black Hair which ran until March 19th this year.

Just think about how black art has been ignored……

I think that Post journalists are now far more visually literate… and so many have gone on to greater things…..

However, really, it’s because of the unmet desire of Nottingham people to be represented because we know we want better, so many people behind the scenes wanted both Nottingham Contemporary and the New Art Exchange  and The Syson Gallery (with all the background work that had been done in the previous thirty years) to be a success, we now have a much better environment to think about ourselves, about art our culture and history.

When I attended the ‘Is This Art?’ series of talks, films which will culminate in an exhibition of art forms of all kinds organised by Museumand?,  the travelling museum without walls, at Nottingham Contemporary, I realised how important it is to connect and communicate everything that has helped them reach this point and to help them reach more people, more of the time.

The history they are promoting is connected to a myriad of people, histories and institutions in Nottingham Britain and throughout the world.

Owning nothing it’s travelling, migrant, without walls: connecting people, other stories, work history from New Art Exchange with The Art of Black Hair, it’s travelled across the country, north, to midlands to south.

Collaboration, networking, creating value for everyone, organisations and everyone in Nottingham. Film is an important part of this such as the short film about documentary photographer Vanley Burke

Above: The Boy with The Flag by Vanley Burke (pictured right) Vanley’s archive is held by Birmingham Library.

Catherine and Linda’s museum is a peace seeking missile (to reach peace, teach peace), attaching itself to new resources, histories and friends wherever it goes.

Archives from elders in the Nottingham Black Archive from people like Veronica Barnes (Veronica makes fantastic bags at the Nottingham  Textile Workshop), she also set up Blue Mountain Womens Group in the 1970s Her archive is now within the Nottingham Black Archive.

Creation of the National Caribbean museum means we have  a permanent reminder of the contribution people from the Caribbean have made and make to everything that we understand about Nottinghamshire, its stately homes, its lace production, its roads, housing, transport, education health service

It’s also a snapshot of the dynamic work of Catherine and Linda who make friends wherever they go: running the Museum without Walls you’ll find them lately in the great, welcoming space of Nottingham Contemporary.

On 1st March between 6pm and 8pm  Is This Art? became part of the phenomenal The Place is Here exhibition: this is a preface to an exhibition in June Linda and Catherine  are organising.

They want artists to participate in the exhibition: Jasmin Issaaka, this is for you! and Nadia Whittome, prospective councillor  for Bridgford West and Lilian Greenwood, MP love art, they want to fill Facebook with women’s art for Women’s day on March 8th:


Catherine and Linda are a a talented mother and daughter who have travelled with memorabilia, creating and collecting new resources and lifetime connections that they share with everyone: the qualities of the museum without walls depend on you engaging and contributing your stories and items.


Part of Museumand’s travelling collection recently shown at Nottingham Contemporary How Unspeakable Things Get Spoken exhibition part of the Journey to Justice campaign 2016-2017

And now they’ve made their office at Nottingham Contemporary, Linda particularly recommends the cafe, restaurant bar (here’s the menu) they’re creators and innovators, a strong, warm, funny and knowledgable team of two who bring the past into the present and much, much more. You’ve probably heard of Skn Heritage through their fundraising and events over the last two years, at Stonebridge City Farm in St Anns

They’re also at New Art Exchange….chameleon like, the Museum Without Walls is also  the creator of the highly commended exhibition the wonderful Art of Black Hair 

What is the Museum Without Walls?

Well, for example, it’s here in Frederico Cornetto’s well written article at The New Art Exchange about The Art of Black Hair  exhibition, it’s Skn Heritage, it’s a window on Nottingham Black Archive  lovingly curated by teacher, children’s novelist and  poet Activist, Panya Banjoko and many others, it opens a communication door to Nottingham News Centre and the work of Nora Gregory: think of her fantastic Black Miners  Heritage work: (Charles Blake’s dad was one) it’s here, at Nottingham Contemporary in the museum access work at Newstead Abbey in Lisa Robinson’s Bright Ideas amazing social enterprise,  in her work at Newstead Abbey with Nottingham University, it’s in all the people recently honoured at The Nottingham City Council’s Black Achievement Awards 2016 as well as those who enabled them to get there.

Museumand’s new exhibition “Is this Art?” which will culminate in an exhibition of art from the Caribbean community in Nottingham in June should be a celebration of how much we need art an how art needs us……

Above: images of what a museum without walls opens up for us: Madge Spencer internationally renowned local potter with her work,

Charles Blake, 40 years in painting and decoration in Nottingham, dad a miner, now in Florida, eighty this year,

Catherine Ross and Linda Burrell conjurors of time, space and objects for the new National Caribbean Museum through re valuing people, networks and history but really, they just bring joy wherever they go.


2 thoughts on “Is this art? Nottingham Unesco City of Literature: we write and we re-write stories: art, history and culture is ours Museumand Part 1

  1. This is the first of (at least) two articles on Museumand’s work and “Is This Art?” It was great to write and I look forward to the next one which will compare th work of Orhan Pamuk in his museum of Innocence in Istanbul (a building he bought to house momentous from a love an d life story he wrote). The building now exists…..


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