Room 103: Studio24 poster design by Tony Baker. video still Kath Wilkinson
Every Northerner knows that one should always balance attention paid to both Lancashire and Yorkshire equally! After an inaugural and well received exhibition of Room 103 at Saul Hay Gallery in Manchester, a revised selection of work was presented for a White Rose audience at Studio 24 in Leeds. Tony Baker took the lead in organising this show, ensuring that the Yorkshire dates followed closely behind Saul Hay, so that I could bring all the selected work across the Pennines together, instead of sending the work back to the artists and then ask for it back in a month’s time or so. [Note to self: arrange more shows like this which run one immediately after the other!]As a child, I spent a lot of time around Mabgate, as my maternal grandparents lived on the tenth floor of Cherry Court Tower at the north end of the street. At that time, the factory’s were huge; dark and glowering. They exhaled metallic odours and poured chemicals into the partially subterranean beck running parallel to the lane. Their interiors remained a mystery to me.
Studio 24 is housed in an industrial building of the type with which Orwell would have been familiar from his journeys through the North chronicled in “The Road to Wigan Pier”. It retains its authentic working space. Bricks arc in shallow vaults to form a ceiling sparsely supported by cast iron columns. This is crossed by a grid of exposed conduit and strip lighting which illuminates the open, near-square space below.
Dick Durkin: Orgreave I &II
Glenn Ibbitson: “England, Your England”. Garry Barker: “Eye See You..”
Alan Pergusey & Jonathan Turner
Saul Hay had been located in a similar post-industrial inner city area in Castlefields, the cradle of the industrial revolution by the Bridgewater Canal basin, but was rejuvenated as a refined white space gallery interior. Studio 24 was by contrast a run of clean white display panels across brick walls of peeling paint. I was interested to see the aesthetic effect of these surroundings on the artworks themselves.Joe Kelly Ormeshar Aamta Tul Waheed Tony Baker
Liam Burke: Glenn Ibbitson: Barcode/ Target series
Joe Kelly Ormeshar: “KO” series
Tony had created for his students on the Art Enterprise degree course at the Leeds City College University Centre a module designed to produce a visual response to the themes of dystopia, surveillance, identity and dictatorship that lie at the heart of much of Orwell’s writing. These students provided work which had a directness which provided a satisfying counterpoint to perhaps more obscure or nuanced contributions from established artists. At the moment, the students involved share one entry on the project website, as the theme had been set as a college module. However, if any of them develop their chosen Orwellian theme in the future, they are free to submit subsequent works and they will be allocated their own page. I was very pleased to see students engage with Room 103; it confirmed that Orwell can still speak across time and across generations. As a keen follower and participant in the Leeds music scene [his current musical incarnation is one half of guitar/mouth organ combo le POUM], Tony was able to deliver the centrepiece of the Leeds show -a set by the marvels that form the Commoners Choir. We had always referred to this pop-up exhibition as a gig as the Friday evening was designed around the C.C. performance. They did not disappoint. As an artist, I get my highs from painting, from producing something worth exhibiting. I enjoy organising art shows. That comes with the territory for an independent artist, but I hadn’t experienced a buzz as a curator -until the Choir sang “George Orwell Meets The Commoners On The Road To Wigan Pier” Specially composed by Boff Whalley for Room 103. Hearing it [performed here for its first, but hopefully not only time] it filled me with immense pride. These are people are full to the brim with wit, humanity and compassion; key elements they share with the great man himself. I was asked if a] I considered the show a success and b] if a weekend exhibition was worth the effort? a]Yes, and b] most certainly. On Friday evening, there must have been more than a hundred people at Studio 24 and though many were fans of C.C. and had come specifically to hear them, they were an audience who also seemed to appreciate the visual art on offer. The venue provided a fine backdrop on which to document the work in both video and still photography. These will be used to entice another venue or gallery to exhibit our ongoing tribute to the writings and ideas of Eric Blair.
Watch a video of Room 103 @Studio24 here. [Soundtrack “George Orwell meets the Commoners on the road to Wigan Pier”. Written by Boff Whalley. Performed by the Commoners Choir]