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Materials matter at the mill

Bitumen, stone, wax, paper, neon and exercise elastics are just some of the materials that artists have carved and manipulated to create the works on display in a stunning new exhibition at Sunny Bank Mills Galley in Farsley, near Leeds.

The exhibition, Material Matters, has been planned for two years – but was interrupted by the pandemic. It runs until August 1.

Material Matters showcases the work of fifteen artists; all but three of which are living and working in Yorkshire, and one of whom (Lee Mok Yee) is from Kuala Lumpur, giving the exhibition an international presence.

Yorkshire-based artists include Ian Jackson (Leeds), Bijan Amini-Alavijeh (Wakefield), Rhian Cooke (who studied in the county and stayed), Katrina Cowling (Bradford), Clare Holdstock (Hull), Dominic Hopkinson, Becca MacDonald, Julia McKinlay, Hannah Robson, Connor Shields, James Thompson, and Jane Walkley (who has a studio at Sunny Bank Mills).

The tremendous variety of work on display includes film, sculpture, print, jewellery, and weave. Short films of four of the artists working in their studios enable visitors to see how the artists craft and develop their work. These beautiful and informative films were all made by a local filmmaker too – Leeds based Zoe East of Opal Video.

Jane Kay, Arts Director at Sunny Bank Mills, explained: “The exhibition examines the diversity of materials informing what sculpture is and can be, as well as the contemporary artists who make it; the majority of whom are based in Yorkshire, and many in Leeds.

“Inspiration for their works comes from objects and sources as diverse as reclaimed architectural limestone and stone masons’ tools (Ian Jackson), riding around on a bicycle, traffic lights and skipping ropes (Rhian) and ancient archaeological objects (Mary).

“This is a great opportunity to explore contemporary sculpture; what might a piece of work mean to you, how does it make you feel, and what does it tell us about the artist or the material world in which we live?

“These are questions that are open to interpretation; the artists themselves when asked to define what sculpture is to them have answered in a myriad of ways including, ‘That’s a big question, but I’m going to give a short answer. Sculpture is something you can walk around and look at the back of!’ (Dominic Hopkinson)

“Letting materials speak” (Katrina)

‘As an object, I see it as a reflection; metaphor; descriptor; presence; controller; mimicker; recollection; comforter’ (Bijan)

“Two of the artists in the exhibition are weavers; a direct allusion to Sunny Bank Mill’s past life as a producer of fine worsted cloth, but their work is anything but conventional weave – Hannah Robson’s stunning pieces are woven in paper and have architectural qualities that speak of structure and light, whilst Jane Walkley’s works are more akin to tapestries and include castings from Jesmonite.

Jane added: “We are delighted to have Arts Council support for the exhibition which has enabled us to fund artists at a time when many artists face difficulties in even being. Funding has enabled us to commission new work, pay each of the exhibiting artists a fee to exhibit, fund freelance tutors to provide workshops, subsidise or provide some free workshops, support a creative residency, employ a filmmaker, and create a catalogue.”

The exhibition has been curated by Alice Chandler, a member of the Sunny Bank Mills Gallery team. Alice, who is also an artist from Leeds, joined the team directly after university six years ago and has been working with many of her contemporaries in curating this exhibition.

Alice explained: “Curating the Material Matters exhibition has been a dream project. The exhibition generates a wealth of sculptural and material possibilities and associations. Although the artists have diverse practices, it has been fascinating to explore the relationships and links between all their pieces.

“The works are incredibly tactile and meticulously informed by craft, experimentation and material thinking. It has been especially brilliant to work with filmmaker Zoe East, who has captured the studio processes of Rhian, Connor, Ian, and Hannah beautifully. I am excited by the prospect of upcoming artist workshops in stone-carving, casting, and ceramics, meaning gallery visitors can have a go at learning some of the artist’s techniques.”

The exhibition is open every day except Monday. 10am – 4pm Tuesday to Saturday, Sunday 12 – 4pm. Entry is free and there is free parking on the site.