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Strange Stillness Exhibition – Article by Cas Bradbeer

A welcome reminder of how much our creative communities have been up to despite the pandemic…

Strange Stillness is a diverse collection of over 50 creative contributions made during lockdown. Residents from a wide cross-section of our local community produced these works in projects supported by Grand Junction. The five initiatives this exhibition focuses on are: local women’s Reflections in Print; local young people’s Community Banter; young British people’s Lockdown Gallery; Church Street champions’ art for local elders; and Westbourne champions local Nature and Wellbeing Group’s artistic activities. These examples of creative expression during a challenging year spark all the warm feelings of hope — hope that when our communities face obstacles to coming together and getting artistic, we can (especially with the help of charitable organisations centred in these communities) still meet and make art.

The structure of the exhibition itself also reflects the resilience of our community. Despite having to be slightly postponed due to flooding less than a week before the exhibition was supposed to open, we have still managed to show the work by relocating the displays to the floor above. Now it is in the Nave, the circular and archival forms in the artworks and display boards rhyme visually with the repeated arches and roundels in the church’s architecture. The Nave is the largest space in St Mary Magdalene’s Church, so we have been able to stack our exhibits even higher, creating an impressive series of towers. Walking around the exhibition, you might get the sense that you are wandering amongst a little garden of trees on which each branch features, rather than apples or oranges, a person’s story told through their own words and their own designs.

Installation view of Strange Stillness

Installation view of Strange Stillness (2021, photographed by Grand Junction)

Each of the exhibition’s featured projects are so rich with an array of different stories that they are impossible to condense into this small article. So, while you’ll need to come along to find out more, here’s a little teaser about each project…

For the Reflections in Print project, a group of local women worked with Social Fabric earlier this year to print their reflections about Lockdown onto textiles which, after the exhibition, the artists will be able to take home and use as cushion covers. Sarah Pimenta from Social Fabric was impressed by the diversity of stories these women told. For example, Rusalia shares her journey to England from a small Russian village in Tartarstan, while Marietjie contemplates the idea that “the only way out of spirals of fear is to know that this too shall pass”.

Two photographs of Marietjie’s planning and printing process for her print

Two photographs of Marietjie’s planning and printing process for her print (2021, photographed by Sarah Pimenta, Social Fabric)

Starting just before the pandemic and continuing throughout it, a group of local young people worked with Social Fabric to design symbols representing dozens of stories from their close communities. In this Community Banter project, Sarah printed these symbols onto a singular banner, in close consultation with the young people involved (via a group chat). Each person interviewed three local people and contributed their stories to the piece, which are all documented in the young people’s own words on the exhibition’s display boards. This not only helped connect young people with the locals they spoke to, but also connected young people to each other through the several workshops in which they shared their feelings about lockdown, discussed how symbols can represent stories, and collectively designed the banner.

Photograph of the silk-screen printing process

Photograph of the silk-screen printing process performed by Sarah Pimenta from Social Fabric (2021, photographed by Sarah Pimenta, Social Fabric)

While those two projects are exhibited through the original artworks, the following three initiatives are illustrated through photographs of the creations on digital tablets. One displays the Lockdown Gallery, which was an art competition for young people across the country in which prizes were awarded by Grand Junction’s Youth Committee. Digital displays also showcase two Community Champion’s projects convened by Paddington Development Trust. This features a selection of artworks that the Church Street champions created during the pandemic for elderly residents living at Penfold Hub and also displays a selection of works celebrating nature in our local area, which were created by Westbourne Champion’s Nature and Wellbeing group. These local residents met online weekly during the pandemic and between sessions engaged in creative activities to connect with nature.

Overall, Strange Stillness is a beautifully presented exhibition of thought-provoking artworks that illustrate the strength of our artistic community initiatives throughout lockdown.

Article by Cas Bradbeer

Twitter @QueeringCulture

Projects by Social Fabric  www.social-fabric.co.uk – Instagram @socialfabric1

Exhibition Design – RFA Design rfadesign.com

Exhibition boards – TIN SHED Scenery www.tinshedscenery.com