In February the art centre will open its first season of the year, The Lives of Artists. Comprising of exhibitions, commissions, residencies, events and workshops. The Lives of Artists asks audiences what might be uncovered about ourselves when we listen to the testimony, histories, and stories of artists reflecting on their lives.
At the centre of The Lives of Artists are two exhibitions; Thanks for Having Me by Babak Ganjei and and it feels like I just got home by Joshua Clague.
Ganjei reflects on vignettes from his life and career as an artist. He has re-staged the market stalls that he began selling his work from; a means of sharing his work that Ganjei has outgrown, and yet can’t let go of. The deferential title of his exhibition, Thanks for Having Me, reflects back on a life of operating on the margins and never quite being sure where he belongs.
In and it feels like I just got home Clague is interested in enduring memories of the female voice in his life. The exhibition often riffs on the pop-icons and divas that he once emulated as a form of emotional resonance. Clague has produced his new work over the course of a year in which he returned home to the Wirral, having spent years away in London. His work lays out how his sense of self changes at different times, in different places.
Both artists have a longstanding connection to the Bluecoat, with Ganjei having designed a commission for the building’s revamped Hub space back in 2021. Clague has had a studio space at Bluecoat since March 2023 as part of the New Contemporaries Studio Bursary and has also used the gallery over the last few months as a space for making new work.
The Lives of Artists will also see the launch of two new billboard commissions by Tess Gilmartin and Ottman Said. Both artists use abstraction as a way to create beautifully complex landscapes.
Said draws Liverpool’s familiar waterfront as abstracted blocks that seem to jostle for space amongst layers of interwoven line. Gilmartin’s expressive work features brightly coloured animals and plants, drawing upon her experience of spending time outdoors.
Both artists feel rooted to the landscape, and reflect this sense of belonging in their work. Said and Gilmartin are part of the Bluecoat’s creative community as members of Blue Room and have been developing their practice in our supported studio project Studio Me.
Michelle Williams Gamaker and Dahong Hongxuan Wang will continue the season The Lives of Artists with their exhibitions Our Mountains Are Painted on Glass and Role Model.
Through her practice British-Sri Lankan artist Michelle Williams Gamaker explores race, identity, her love of cinema and the power of storytelling.
Known for her inventive filmmaking and screenwriting, Williams Gamaker draws on and celebrates the classic movies she watched growing up, and takes inspiration from early Hollywood and British cinema. The exhibition at Bluecoat will screen Thieves, a fantasy adventure retelling of The Thief of Bagdad. The Thief of Bagdad, a silent, black and white film from 1924, was remade in colour in 1940.
Williams Gamaker reimagines the marginalised characters as claiming leading roles in her film, played in the originals by Chinese-American actor Anna May Wong and Indian-born American actor Sabu. Now, both characters reclaim the story as their own, challenging the racial discrimination of the film industry. Told as a movie within a movie, in Thieves Anna May Wong is found on set by Sabu, but there is something wrong: she is in black-and-white while everything else is in Technicolor, and both find themselves trapped in their screen-images. Both must navigate the structural violence on set (in this case, the casting of white actors to replace actors of colour) by joining forces to overthrow the set and those in charge.
Thieves is a vivid retelling, blending classic analogue methods with contemporary practices. The artist celebrates the best of past and present filmmaking and shares her love of cinema through the stories she unpicks.
Our Mountains Are Painted on Glass was co-commissioned by South London Gallery and DCA.
Dahong Hongxuan Wang, an artist who has played the role of Anna May Wong in several of Williams Gamaker’s works, will exhibit her new film Role Models. Hongxuan Wang’s new film follows the path of Anna May Wong who travelled to her ancestral hometown of Taishan, Guangdong. Having been rejected by Hollywood in favour of actors in the racist make-up technique of yellowface, Wong set off on a tour of China. Reflecting back on her time in China and America, Wong said “It's a pretty sad situation to be rejected by the Chinese because I'm 'too American' and by American producers because they want other races to act Chinese parts.” Through her vocal and symbolic acts of resistance and critique, Hongxuan Wang finds a role model in Anna May Wong, “a modern, Chinese, young female performer has finally found her lifetime role model”. Role Models will feature a director-like Anna (played by Hongxuan Wang), who ultimately succeeds in dominating the whole documentary process.
Writer Jennifer Lee Tsai will perform in response to our The Lives of Artists season as our featured writer. Her work often looks to the second generation immigrant experience, and explores themes of ancestral trauma, loss and belonging. Tsai draws on her own life, the lives of her family and the lives of others around her to create beautiful and powerful work that helps us understand each other and resonate with our own sense of self.
The exhibitions form the basis for a new approach which will see the Bluecoat split its programming into three seasons.
Adam Lewis-Smythe, Senior Curator at the Bluecoat, said “Our new approach to our artistic offer splits the year into three seasons. Whilst in the UK we tend to think of four seasons based around the weather, elsewhere there can be more or fewer seasons; a wet season and a dry season, for instance. Seasons create rhythms, and cultures throughout a year and at Bluecoat we have imagined a seasonal pattern that brings a variety of experiences for audiences. Our first season, The Lives of Artists, is a bustling season full of activity and change that gives multiple perspectives on the very personal subject matter of ‘the self’.
We are thrilled to be starting 2024 with such a strong series of exhibitions and commissions. Many of the artists involved have had long-standing relationships with the Bluecoat, whether through previous commissions or as part of our artist development programmes. We are delighted to host their work in our galleries and look forward to sharing it with our visitors."
A full list of exhibitions and timings can be found below:
Season Launch: The Lives of Artists
Thur 8 Feb, 6-9pm
Join us for the launch of The Lives of Artists, our new season of exhibitions, commissions, residencies, events and workshops. The Lives of Artists asks audiences what might be uncovered about ourselves when we listen to the testimony, histories, and stories of artists reflecting on their lives.
The evening will give visitors a first look at new exhibitions including Joshua Clague: and it feels like I just got home and Babak Ganjei: Thanks for Having Me.
Joshua Clague: and it feels like I just got home
Fri 9 Feb - Mon 1 Apr.
Babak Ganjei: Thanks for Having Me
Fri 9 Feb - Sun 14 Apr
Billboard Commissions by Tess Gilmartin and Ottman Said
Ottman Said: begins Thur 8 Feb
Tess Gilmartin: begins Sat 16 Mar
Exhibition preview: Michelle Williams Gamaker: Our Mountains are Painted on Glass and Dahong Hongxuan Wang: Role Model
Thur 2 May, 6-9pm
Michelle Williams Gamaker: Our Mountains are Painted on Glass
Fri 3 May - Sun 30 Jun
Dahong Hongxuan Wang: Role Model
Fri 3 May - Sun 30 Jun