Context by Coventry Artspace
In Autumn 2020, emerging artist melisandre varin was awarded the Covid Artist in Action Award, providing free use of Arcadia Gallery as a residency space. Alongside this they were also selected as the first ‘Featured Artist’ on the new Outside In Midlands Hub.
Combining the benefits of both, melissandre worked on a their first seasonal residency with us, reaching out to marginalised artists, challenging notions of how the gallery space might be used and what might be considered art within it. Before long melissandre was working with an inspiring array of artists and creatives from a variety of backgrounds.
At the same time Coventry Artspace was writing a new Audience Development Strategy, which will underpin the organisation’s work over the next five years. melissandre’s refreshingly inclusive practice supported the aims of our new focus and, consequently, we decided to support the growth of their practice through a further 3 seasonal residencies in 2021 and a studio space dedicated for use by local Black artists.
It is a testament to melissandre’s exceptional ability to connect with and inspire other beings that, despite knockbacks (including of course Lockdowns and various Tiers of Covid-19 restrictions) they delivered residencies that continued to build an engaged community of artists. This web page is being created to capture a flavour of the creative output of the residencies and provide an opportunity for reflection on them.
Coventry Artspace would like to thank melissandre varin for the energy and creativity (not to mention hard work!) they brought to Arcadia. We would also like to thank all the creative beings who supported, collaborated and/or visited – online or in person – to make this series of happenings such a rich one, characterised by generosity and warmth.
The re-assembling Residencies were funded by:
re-assembing archive by melissandre varin
not everything was Black
everything has not been a success
rating success takes very different forms and shape for me as an artworker in the craft
gathering feedback from Loraine acknowledging ‘exposure’ as a benefit from our partnership
does not equate to success it does not fill me with joy
being filled with joy is also not something i regard as positive – anymore
i used to
and as i am trying to account for the different versions of myselves and ourselves
comparing, weaving, and annotating feedback is an aerial exercise
if there is no right and wrongs
if we recognise that we are mutating beings
assessing the impact of projects based on fixed desires and expectations at a point T in the past
does not bring much in the shaping of futurities
this evaluation takes lots of silence, infusion, and inquiry rising
the aim is not to deliver: to assess the process and delivery
but to collate those with ancestral dreams
those dreams that made themselves palpable in Summer 2020 those dreams that are just starting to sketch out
there is no way to account for all of them in a singular time/space framework.
The intention is rather to offer archives as they are
time that is not celebrating a past-present-… : triptych
but time that is entangled with multiple dimensions happening
- in simultaneity
invited by Miss Amy Galvin from King’s High School. i had the best time with 10-15 Year 11 students using my first solo show as a way to discuss decolonial afro-feminism.
can you feel it*?
it*’s like flipping through a family album re-membering, re-constructing fictitious reality making something new
acknowledging that i came from the dreams of past/away beings that i and my work are living ancestors
that i carry death and life in one breath
‘an offering to new ancestors’ (Winter 2021 floor level installation made of books authored by Black artists/beings, canned food and polyester) is still bearing fruit to the understanding and (un)folding of my practice and collaboration with Coventry Artspace. A time of collective trauma
A time where some of us already had their shoulders full of them
had to carry more
it is presumptuous
but also coming from a place of making with a limited artspace as a ‘second class citizen’ in a ‘second city’
re-assembling brings darkness to the potentiality of art spaces to be anchors for spiritual gathering to practice collective grief and grievance
ideas that do not serve us anymore
ways that do not serve us anymore
masked behaviour that never served us
there is no point nor end where Blackness ceases to be about whiteness, where stories neither start nor begin but acknowledgements that we have never been quite there
not quite useful but always full of commitments
overdoing, self-exploiting as a uniform
feeling the weight of isolation a little less
my work with Coventry Artspace has always been a community research without communities
***repetitive lockdowns, separations, an other Blackness, a pronounced accent, an obscure practice
yes love in flux
unconditional (not as in birthing something from one’s body and being supposedly programmed to be ready to die for it/them but not framing love as an exchange currency)
it has been a challenge
it made me sick to re-visit this work
i poured my flesh, blood and soul into it
a living space window installation part of my Autumn 2020 residency ‘was sick’
i lost myself
found it back in front of extra sweet ice creams in a Morrisson when i (finally) had buying power in Spring 2021
‘what do i (really) like?’
inviting artworkers to a space they did not access before
laughing, crying, and having more wine
it’s an archive that never stops mutating – it* – too
- is alive
opening metallic shutters as i closed them
caring for Arcadia Gallery as a land of/for temporary freedom
passed the ‘thank you so much’ (gallery voice)
i am so grateful bla! bla! smile – and more blabla! in the detour of a 3rd glass of red
What is left is knowledge – a permanent infusion of us.
Joyce Treasure invited to share her film The Breakaway State phase one/two during ‘speculating’ a film night at Arcadia Gallery as part of ‘the party is over’ programmation highlighted the lack of financial support for invited artists, the inconvenience of the timing of the event in relation to being Black and taking public transport late at night. Joyce also noted the lack of readability and flexibility with the promotional materials due to ‘last minute’ set up.
Part of another line of my favourite programmation: ‘gesture’ a night of performances at Arcadia Gallery was artist Jade Blackstock alongside Sebastian Hau-Walker and Alfredo, and Izdihar Afyouni
“Really appreciated seeing the bios and video links of other artists in the emails, as it gave more of an idea of curating decisions and ways works connected with others/responded to themes.
Loved receiving recordings of feedback given by the audiences after video screening. Was particularly good as I wasn’t able to physically attend the event. The feedback was valuable and there was a sense of sharing.”
Sebastian H-W reflecting on the collective Spring residency noted last Summer: “It was incredible to be part of this residency and work with melissandre and have such a relaxed usage of the Coventry Artspace gallery to test out and develop new work both collectively and individually, I think all of the artists were very grateful to be part of the process. On reflection I loved how the simple gesture of gifting and receiving donations of plants helped us bridge the divide of both the artistic and more general/non-artistic communities of Coventry.”
Ô – Black studio – friend and artist Samiir Saunders highlighted that:
“The studio space was incredibly tranquil and filled with natural light which made for really good working conditions. Also, having a space separate from my home in Birmingham made it much easier to focus on my project work and made much more room for me to get out of my comfort zone. I enjoyed sharing the space with another artist as this was a great opportunity to foster care and creativity and expand my networks. The main downside however is that although having a free studio was a great benefit, I still had to incur the cost of transportation every time I wanted to visit, which was a financial barrier that still limited the amount of time I could spend at the studio.”
There is so much to munch from – Zoey Sibanda current Black studio holder shared with me in the form of a voice message that having access to a studio space offered Zoey the time, inspiration, and motivation to apply for commissions, make work as a practice not as something solely depending or dictated by incoming commissions. Zoey has been in the studio almost everyday.
Access to space is still not to be taken for granted.
all those live events and digital thingy… oh my gosh … i keep a warm memory of the sofa Zoom with Victor Iringere, Cecilia Bracmort, Ryan Hughes and Cory Barrett as a neurodiverse person i tend to freeze and feel overwhelmed with anxiety when having to speak IRL in front of a group of beings. This show opening in time of lockdown #3 felt sooo warm, a wide range of supportive beings/laughter/ and beautiful shots from the exhibition taken by Mandip Singh Seehra with whom i was working for the 2nd time – at the time. It really felt like sitting on a sofa with a couple of friends and that’s what i wanted.
i am most grateful for opportunities to work and share paid work opportunities with loved beings i met along my time with Coventry Artspace after serving together at the Board of Trustees of Coventry Artspace Mandip Singh Seehra and i worked together at multiple occasions Mandip shared this comment with me on the 26th of April 2022:
‘mel asked me to be a contributor to the Traces of Others exhibition. I decided to create a set of cassettes of the voices of individuals who have traveled to the UK and made it their home, this extended to mel’s family in europe. This opportunity helped to look at my work as a photographer and to start a project on identity. I look forward to mel’s next work and exploration, and hope to be part of it.’
Last but not the least (must the first English expression i learnt by heart) – one of the best thing ever happened across this timer: commissioned by Coventry Biennial at the same time Ryan Christopher, Roo Kaur Dhissou and myself developed friendships and nurtured them through different interventions during the seasonal residencies with Coventry Artspace.
Traces of Others was a gift.
i never want to write
always feel like it is stealing moments from me
but i have so much to say.
residencies break out text:
Space: Arcadia Gallery
Autumn Residency October- December 2020: a living space
format: solo show
family involved in the preparation: Eole Varin Vincent and Jay Vincent
art technician: Tony McClure
Photographer: Ayesha Jones and Mandip Singh Seehra
artists invited: Jérémie Priam, lanaire aderemi, Ryan Christopher, Sioda Adams,
mentors: José Sunshine-Okoro – Outside In, Mindy Chillery Coventry Artspace
Coventry Artspace team: Mindy Chillery, Lauryn Dunn, Cara Pickering, Naomi Latty
invitations within: 1 x talk with Year 11 King’s High School students, 3 x Saturday film sharing and conversation with artists, 3 x local artists invited to share their films, 1 international artist invited, 1 x making Instagram live, 1 x BBC radio interview, 1 x mediated performance, 1 x Instagram guided tour, 2 x blogpost with unedited audio conversation,
Winter Residency Feb-March 2021: sorry we are close(d)
format: solo show (accessible from the street online due to lockdown)
friends involved in the preparation: Victor Iringere, Loraine Masiya Mponela, Jay Vincent, Philips Francis
photographer: Mandip Singh Seehra and Alan Van Wijgerden
artworkers invited: Ryan Hughes Coventry Biennial artistic director, Cecilia Bracmort artist curator cultural worker, Victor Iringere cultural worker and manager at Coventry Refugee and Migrant Centre, Cory Barrett Coventry Artspace Trustee founder of CBGC Creative Industries and design consultant
Coventry Artspace team: Mindy Chillery, Lauryn Dunn, Chloe Morgan
invitations within: 1 x Instagram live opening ceremony, 1 x sofa zoom, 1 x Q&A Instagram live, 1 x live performance, 1 x Facebook live, 1 x artist talk, 1 x participatory audio activity via Arcadia Gallery answer machine, 4 x blogposts
Spring Residency May- June 2021: Traces of Others
format: collective residency
artists invited: Roo Kaur Dhissou, Ryan Christopher, Sebastian H-W, Mandip Singh Seehra
photographer: Mandip Singh Seehra
Coventry Artspace team: Mindy Chillery, Lauryn Dunn, Chloe Morgan
performance artists and filmmakers based in Coventry, London, Scilly, Birmingham and the USA invited: Jade Blackstock, Izdihar Afyouni, Joyce Treasure, Yas Lime, Roo Kaur Dhissou, Ryan Christopher, Sebastian H-W and Alfredo, Indira Lakshlmi and Human Oils, and Nyugen Smith
invitations within: 5 x Instagram live guided tour, 1 x film event, 1 x performance event, 1 x live music performance event, 1 x talk between artist residents, 1 x open communal dinner, 1 x giving away plants day, 2 x blogposts
Summer residency July-August 2021: multiplicity of us
format: group show
artists part of the show: Ryan Christopher, Ije, Loraine Masiya Mponela, Ayesha Jones, Japhet Dinganga, Gloria Adusu, and melissandre varin
artists invited: Samiir Saunders, Gloria Adusu drum band
art technician: Tony McClure
photographer: Ayesha Jones
Coventry Artspace team: Mindy Chillery, Lauryn Dunn, Chloe Morgan, Sophie Clausen
invitations within: 2x Instagram live Coventry Artspace 30 years birthday party, 1 x grand opening event, 1 x dinner with Maokwo led Black Arts Movement workshop participants, 1 x free astrology offering day, 1 x hieroglyph initiation course, 2 x seed bomb making activity days, 1 x Poetry-film event, 1 x Outside In film feature, 6 x blogposts
June 2021 – March 2022 Black studio
location: Eaton House Coventry
studio holders: Japhet Dinganga, Zoey Sibanda, Taiwo Ajose, Ryan Christopher, Samiir Saunders, and Ayesha Jones
special thanks to
❤ Arcadia Gallery for being such a transcendent space/land to grow with
❤ Ryan Christopher for being such a consistent and inspiring artist friend across the 4 seasonal residencies
❤ Eole the sassiest art critique and collaborator and Jay for being an incredible assistant and accepting to be vulnerable in the space so i could grow into a fuller version of myself
❤ IndIe bonsai master – the wisest and kindest friend/ gallery visitor
❤ Coventry Biennial artistic director: Ryan Hughes for taking a chance on me, trusting my gut, holding space for change, and re-directing resources towards me and the beings i had the honour to work with.
❤ Coventry Artspace Director: Mindy Chillery for mothering me and opening windows and doors for/with me + copy/paste my love note to Ryan.
❤ Coventry Artspace spaces coordinator: Lauryn Dunn for being a key to so many problems/ challenges and for your sweetness, generosity, and pink hair.
❤ Coventry Artspace Marketing and Community manager: Chloe Morgan for being such an inspiring artist-parent, and holding my hands through the forced digitalisation of the arts.
❤ Tony McClure for being a resourceful technician, artist, and friend. If it was not for you getting my ND brain vomit i won’t be here today.
❤ Local food and drinks providers: Coventry Market (everything), Cogs of Coventry (fresh fruit and vegs, nuts and banana chips), Green Kitchen (cakes), Taste of Asia (catering), Twisted Barrels (beers), licking fingers (catering), next door African and Caribbean shop.
re-visiting my personal archives has been made possible with the love and labour of Seán Elder (consultant and mentor), Sym Mendez (support worker), Izdihar Afyouni (consultant and zine designer) Mindy Chillery (resource direction magician).