Thirteen Blackbirds Look At A Man
Fiona MacDonald, Cathie Pilkington, Annie Whiles & Sean Ashton
Taking its title from the poem ‘Thirteen Blackbirds Look at a Man’ by RS Thomas, this exhibition features four artists concerned with how modern urban existence has separated us from the natural world: socially, spiritually and culturally. What was once seen as magical is now understood in rational ways. The artists look at the gaps in our collective knowledge and personal experience and present imagined symbolic encounters with a dark humour, willing us to believe in what they tell us.
Eluding the day-to-day, the works explore the realm of fiction and folklore and linger there, rather than backing into explanation or analysis. The story gradually unfolds through snippets of narrative, revealing ideas of visual mysticism or occult import. The characters depicted by individual works may have originally been sourced from real life, biblical stories, Greek myths or German fairytales, but their storytelling has been turned sideways in the making.
The works accumulate ideas and sensibilities about the world, with some alluding to a quasi-religious or spiritual dimension. The effortful and personalised act of crafting - be it in carving, moving image, painting, modelling or embroidery - connect to the tradition of objects and images across continents: in high religion and low vernacular, of the talisman, the fetish object, the relic and the lucky charm
Fiona MacDonald draws on the cultural rules of fairy tale and the imagination. The traditional hierarchy between human, animal and plant dissolves, to explore ideas around uncertainty, hybridity and interdependence. She is interested in the material, corporeal and relational aspects of visual art practice, working primarily in response to place and to interaction with the nonhuman. Her approaches include painting, sculpture, video and photography, sometimes combined in assemblages or loose groups that echo the disparate scale and materiality of the natural world. The resulting works produce moments of temporal and affective slippage between the prosaic and the fabulous.
Fiona MacDonald lives and works in Kent. Her solo exhibition Woodland Portrait Project is at Peacock Visual Arts, Aberdeen and Kaleidoscope, Sevenoaks in 2015. MacDonald was Abbey Fellow in Painting at the British School at Rome in 2011. Her previous solo exhibitions include Morphology at Maddox Arts in 2009, Anthropoflora at Long and Ryle 2007 and Habitat at Phoenix Arts, Brighton in 2006. Duo shows include Phyllida Barlow and Fiona MacDonald at CoExist, Southend and A Point in the Field with Anne Gathmann at Exeter Phoenix in 2010. She trained at Chelsea College of Art and Leeds Metropolitan University.
Cathie Pilkington is a London-based sculptor and a figurative artist, renowned for crafting increasingly ambivalent forms. Her sculptural practice combines the interrelated and antagonistic worlds of fine art and craft. She carefully creates pieces from a vast array of materials, adopting ready-made elements, which are freely assembled, as well as incorporating modelling, carving, painting and other finishes to her works.
For this exhibition Pilkington is showing a collection of sculptural tableaux and other objects built into a wooden structure that acts like, and refers to, a domestic shelving system or room divider. The deliberate confusion of made and found objects is exacerbated by their presentation, which explores a space somewhere between storage and display.
Cathie Pilkington lives and works in London. She studied BA Silversmithing at Edinburgh College of Art and was subsequently awarded the first John Watson Prize for Art. She went on to study Sculpture at the Royal College of Art and was awarded the Cheltenham Fine Art Fellowship in 1998. Recent exhibitions include ‘ The Value of the Paw’, V&A Museum of Childhood, 2012. Her work is held in the collections of the Deste Foundation, Athens, Manchester City Art Gallery and the David Roberts Collection. She was awarded the Sunny Dupree Family Award for Female Artist at the Summer Exhibition 2014 and was elected Royal Academician in May 2014. Pilkington is represented by Marlborough Fine Art where her most recent solo exhibition was in 2014.
Annie Whiles works with art as a suspect activity. She is involved in a relationship with a representational language that aims to form a tension between what we might know intuitively and how we might conduct ourselves as contemporary artists and audiences. She works closely with pictorial devices, to allow for a humorous exchange between the quotidian and the miraculous, between soviet realism and surrealism. She is interested in who magic belongs to, as a kind of cultural lost property.
Whiles’ work refers to an emblematic language, ceremonial, ritualistic and social artefacts of affiliation in the form of woodcarving, hand embroidery, drawing and film. The work has a long- term allegiance with St Copertino, the patron saint of astronauts, renowned for his levitation skills and nicknamed ‘The Gaper’ for being open-mouthed and elsewhere. She is working on a project that explores modern gapers, as a tribe of painted woodcarvings, with a capacity to travel without moving. They can excuse themselves from material presence but can't escape their own comedy.
Annie Whiles is a studio lecturer at Goldsmiths College on the Fine Art (BA Hons). Solo exhibitions include ‘Beggars Belief’ at Danielle Arnaud 2011 and Cuckoo in 2008, touring to the Grundy Art Gallery in Blackpool. Group shows include ‘No Now!’, Space Station 65, 2012; ‘Pile’, Chapter, Cardiff, 2011; ‘The Peckham Experiment’, Camberwell Art Space, 2009, and the ’Fabric of Myth’, Compton Verney, 2008. Two person shows include ‘Annie Whiles and Alison Jones’, York College Gallery, 2012 and ‘United We Fall- Annie Whiles and Mark Pearson’, Standpoint Gallery, London, 2008.
Sean Ashton is a liar based in London. Recent lies include ‘Mr Heggarty Goes Down’, for Collapse Vol. VIII, a story about an academic who uses his body to test out his philosophy of radical contingency; and ‘The Portrait of Cary Grant’, a satire on a collector of celebrity artworks, commissioned by the Jerwood Foundation to accompany the painting show Suspicion, both 2014. In 2007 he published a book of lies, ‘Sunsets and Dogshits’ (Alma Books), a collection of reviews of apocryphal artworks, books, sporting events and other cultural phenomena. He also lies regularly for Art Review, a magazine devoted to showcasing the visual lies of contemporary artists.
A publication with text by Sean Ashton has been produced to accompany the exhibition and will be available to buy for just £10 from our box office in August. To pre-order a copy please email visual. firstname.lastname@example.org. Please add the code 13JULY for a 20% discount until the end of July.
This exhibition is financially supported by the Henry Moore Foundation, Goldsmiths University of London, and The Centre for Culture and the Arts at Leeds Beckett University. With thanks to Marlborough Fine Art, London.