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As our exhibition Studio Me draws to a close, we look behind the scenes and hear from artists Joshua Henderson ...


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Jo Stockham: “Making the invisible visible”

Bryan Biggs, Bluecoat’s Artistic Director and curator of In the Peaceful Dome discusses the work of Jo Stockham, whose work features in the current exhibition.

Artist Jo Stockham has a long relationship with Bluecoat, having first exhibited in our gallery when it was located by the ground floor entrance in the space now occupied by the Hub and Espresso. She was one of four artists included in New Sculpture, an exhibition I curated in 1990 to reflect a particular direction in contemporary British sculpture that had started the previous decade. It was characterised by artists working with found materials, or the materials of mass production. Often recycling the detritus of our consumer society, plastic shards or discarded goods like fridges or ironing boards, artists such as Liverpool-born Tony Cragg and Bill Woodrow created works that were startlingly original, poetic and often humorous.  

With a few exceptions, like Kate Blacker, the majority of these ‘object sculptors’ who were being shown in increasingly high profile exhibitions in the UK and internationally and being “bought for public and private collections, were men. I had however discerned a new wave of younger women artists who, occupying the space that the New British Sculpture had opened up, brought a different sensibility in terms of the materials they were using, and an exploration of gender, the domestic, and alternative social or cultural histories.   

For New Sculpture, Jo was invited to exhibit her work alongside three other relatively unknown artists, Sophie Horton, Val Murray and Louise Scullion. In 1997 Jo returned to exhibit in a two-person show in the gallery with Darrell Viner, Working in the Dark, which included work related to a commission they had been awarded for the auditorium at the new Liverpool Institute of Performing Arts (LIPA).

Bluecoat’s most recent collaboration with Jo was when we invited her to curate an exhibition, The Negligent Eye, at the gallery in 2014. She had been researching how the scan is “both a close reading and a glance,” and as Head of Printmaking at the Royal College of Art in London had observed the way that artists were exploring in their work this apparent contradiction, increasingly through the use of digital processes. And now, for our current exhibition, In the Peaceful Dome, Jo has returned to Liverpool, revisiting earlier work: the prints and sculptural works she created in the late 1980s/1990, several of which were included in New Sculpture.

Concluding Bluecoat’s 300th birthday, In the Peaceful Dome considers how the past informs the future, explored through several themes: the building, its architecture and the passing of time; global trade and legacies of Empire; Modernism and the applied arts; gender and military conflict; and the gallery as a site for critical engagement. Jo is an artist whose work in the show, with its focus on war and nuclear proliferation, gender and global capital, embodies several of these themes.

In the Peaceful Dome sets up conversations across time, taking the idea of a continually evolving building to look afresh at the arts centre and some of the themes it has interrogated through its exhibitions over several decades. Informed by feminism and peace studies, Jo’s art practice, with its use of often quietly plain or domestic materials such as fabrics and found objects, contrasts with more traditional, predominantly male forms of sculptural expression, notably in the context of this exhibition, Jacob Epstein’s controversial 1931 marble sculpture Genesis, which occupies the same room that Jo is exhibiting in.

It is instructive to revisit the ‘artist’s statement’ that Jo wrote about her work for the 1990 exhibition, where two bodies of work were included, Neutral History and Something Old Something New:

“A common thread is an enquiry into the way in which museum-bound objects are supposed to reveal truths about the past. Perhaps what is absent is sometimes more important than what is present, what is invisible as important as what is visible”.

The Neutral History group of works was made for Stoke-on-Trent City Museum and Art Gallery and developed from research into working conditions in the Potteries that revealed “mass ill health and poverty, whilst displays of ‘beautiful’ ceramics illustrate technical developments and changing aesthetic tastes”.

Small collages from the second group, Something Old Something New, are included in Peaceful Dome, and were made in response to Gunnersbury House, a Palladian mansion (now a museum) in suburban West London, which was built, like Bluecoat, in the 18th century. Its collections of fine objects on display conceal the house’s entwinement with colonialism and war, a “dual history of construction and destruction … founded on multiple histories of coal, silk and leadshot”.

The series of monoprints Jo showed in New Sculpture, which are also now on display in Gallery 3, explore the politics of nuclear power:

“Images and phrases taken out of context are layered to picture fears; a kind of disturbance goes on, making connections, using the language of nuclear physics, clichés and diagrams as a source”.

To find out more about Jo’s practice, please join us on Saturday 17 March at 2pm in the gallery. Jo will reflect on re-presenting these earlier pieces alongside Genesis and other works in the exhibition when she discusses her work at Bluecoat.

Free / Booking advised



Image credits:

Jo Stockham, Sugar and Spice (economic model) c. 1989-2017.

Jo Stockham, New Sculpture, 1990.


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