Enveloping viewers in a cacophony of voices, factory noises and birdsong, and surrounding them with multiple industrial objects, the Leicester: Memories of Industry exhibition depicts the influence of Leicester’s industrial legacy on its urban and natural landscapes.
Split across two galleries at the University of Leicester’s Attenborough Arts Centre (ACC), the new exhibition was curated by local artists Diane E. Hall, Graham Ensor and Robert Thacker. People, Pattern and Process (Gallery 1) sees the artists reimagining seldom seen artefacts from various city and county museums across Leicestershire as pieces of art. Park Life (Gallery 2) is inspired by Leicester EXPO 72, a science fair that used art to illustrate Leicester’s thriving industrial sector in Abbey Park in 1972. Drawing connections between the city’s parks and the industries that funded them, the display incorporates drone footage of Abbey Park and is supported by artwork that Ensor has mowed into the grass at the park.
“Leicester was, and still is, a very industrial city, but the parks are its lungs”
“If we arrange historical objects on pedestals, are they still museum artefacts, or have they evolved into art?” says Ensor. “Our work is inspired by this ambiguity and the patterns and sculptural qualities of some artefacts. It’s not always obvious whether viewers are looking at a museum relic, or something we’ve created.”
While Thacker experimented with industrial process and Ensor focused on imbuing forgotten relics with new importance, Hall worked with materials that would have been used in Leicester’s factories – such as metal, glass and ceramic.
“I wanted to reflect that while Leicester’s industrial movement brought great wealth and employment, it also had a lasting impact on its natural spaces,” says Hall. “Leicester was, and still is, a very industrial city, but the parks are its lungs.”
A multi-layered soundtrack created by sound and visual artist Lucy Stevens reinforces the interdependence between Leicester’s industrial and natural spaces
“I’ve merged natural sounds from field recordings at Abbey Park with factory noises, interviews and the artists reciting archive numbers to create a heavily manipulated soundtrack filled with repetitive motifs,” remarks Stevens. “It reflects how the landscape continuously evolves from natural to industrial use, and back again.”
Stevens has also helped to curate a partly improvised concert, which will evoke the soundscapes of Leicester’s industrial past. “Local musician Peter Wyeth will use loop pedals, bicycle wheels, mobile phones and other instruments, while percussive duo Rattle will mimic the changing sounds of factories throughout the day,” she says.
Elsewhere in the centre, the ACC is celebrating its own heritage and 20th anniversary. A Brush with Colour in the Balcony Gallery pays tribute to the ACC’s creative learning programme with more than 500 postcard-sized pieces by 50 artists.
Gallery 3 hosts Alan Caine: Retrospective. The exhibition showcases how the Leicester-based artist has experimented with pen, pencil, paint and layering over the past 30 years to create landscapes, still life and abstract pieces inspired by nature, fabrics, patterns and geometry. It also recognises Caine’s significant contributions to the ACC – first as co-founder and associate director, and now as a creative learning tutor.
“We established the centre to provide educational courses for adults and disabled artists, but it’s since been expanded with new purpose-built galleries so it can also host art exhibitions, live theatre, music, jazz and comedy,” says Caine. “There’s always something exciting happening, and it’s a great space for anyone who wants to develop their skills or find others to collaborate on new projects. I turned 80 last November and I’m privileged to show my work at the ACC.”
According to Sam West, ACC’s visual arts officer, the exhibitions provide the ideal way to mark the ACC’s 20-year milestone.
“The ACC has undergone some major changes and we wanted to celebrate the people who have helped to make the centre what it is today,” he explains. “Alan’s painting and drawing exhibition celebrates the fundamental part of the ACC – our creative learning programme – and the other honours Leicester’s past. We hope to encourage new visitors to come and learn about their city’s artistic and industrial heritage – and to share their knowledge about the museum artefacts.”
Leicester: Memories of Industry and Alan Caine: Retrospective runs until Sunday 20 August 2017, while A Brush with Colour runs until Sunday 6 August 2017.