The Blackwater Polytechnic began when Freddie Robins and I started converting a sixteenth century timber framed barn to live and work in. The barn is on the family blackcurrant farm in beautiful North Essex. There was a need to retrain ourselves and our team in order to be able to complete the project how we envisioned it, so the Polytechnic was born. The Polytechnic combines construction, farming, forestry, art, craft and collecting. These are the activities we have committed to by living in this place in this way. How we resolve the tensions between those disciplines and our lives is the material and project of the Polytechnic.
Do please come to our presentation at Sluice Exchange Berlin.
Sluice_Exchange Berlin 2018
Das Kühlhaus Berlin
Luckenwalder Str. 3, 10963 Berlin, Germany
16-18 November 2018 Friday 1800-2300 Saturday + Sunday 1100-1900
E.M.C. Collard, Ben Coode-Adams, Fiona Curran, Justin Knopp, Freddie Robins
Below is the article Freddie and I wrote for Sluice Magazine on the theme of local vs international, which is available here: http://sluice.info/shop
It is well worthy subscribing to the magazine as it is very good.
For us the idea of local is central to what we do. Living where we live ‘local’ is made up of people, culture and landscape – although Freddie and I have different ideas about all those things.
For me, the concept of a broader international art context that is somehow better than a local one because it is international I don’t accept. The further idea that engaging with an international context is somehow more politically progressive I think is fundamentally erroneous. To my mind the motors of art production and innovation (if there is such a thing) have always literallybeen located in a place. From cave paintings, through Renaissance church painting, to Kurt Schwitters working in Cologne – these are all art that has been produced from and because of a specific and urgent geographic circumstance. I think that aesthetic geographic specificity often remains but it is masked by the ubiquity of globalised markets.
Aside from what I see in front of me, it is my mistranslation of art works and ideas across time, place, and material that is the catalyst for my own work to change and what I find endlessly fascinating. When I look at, for example Japanese prints, how can I make any headway beyond purely aesthetic appreciation? A profound visual misunderstanding is the foundation of a cracking awkwardness that can be rocket fuel for creativity. By embracing our unique flawed local selves, we shed superficial aspirations to belong and be the same as everyone else. Consequently, it is possible to be local anywhere.
Red Flexer Ben Coode-Adams 2018 Watercolour on paper H58xW76cms
Living and working in this rural area there is a tremendous weight of ‘local’ both as parochial, i.e. small minded (not an underserved description) but also as banding together with a shared sense of identity. Essex is generally derided within the UK as being culture-less and uncouth. But I think there is more truth and beauty in uncouth yokel-ism than in an identikit dandified pretended internationalism. You just have to work a bit harder to go beyond your own preconceptions and comfortable echo-chamber identity politics to grasp it. We, here in Essex, must do this all the time. That is the work of not living and working in the centre.
“Many people have anidealised view of living in the countryside. They desire cheaper and larger housing, a garden, to have more children or a dog, (usually both), better schools, less crime and greater personal safety. A move to the countryside is for many a dream, a dream which, although I do live in the countryside, I do not share. Their dream is my reality.
Willie Lott’s cottage: this is the scene made famous in John Constable’s ‘The Haywain’. This mill and piece of land was owned by Constable and is now owned by the National Trust. Photo: Ben Coode-Adams
The countryside is undoubtedly beautiful. At times it is downright breath-taking, but what do you do with all that beauty? It does not move, or inspire me, creatively. Where is the ‘grit’ or the ‘rub’ that I found in my urban life that gave me the impetus to be an artist? Unlike Alice WalkerI do not want horses in my landscape. I want people, and lots of them, not just walkers who have lost their way. It is people and our very human predicament that I respond to. However, I want my work to have a relationship to my experiences. I want it to relate to the locality in which I live and in which it was made. My practice is essentially autoethnographic. The American scholar and researcher, Carolyn Ellis, defines this as “research, writing, story and method that connect the autobiographical and personal to the cultural, social and political” . In my practice ‘making’ predominantly replaces ‘writing’.
We live just across the county line from ‘Constable Country’ with Flatford Mill and Willy Lott’s House, the site of The Hay Wain (1821). Constable’s most famous image and voted the second most popular painting in any British gallery. I am all for the popular but I cannot agree with Constable when he wrote, “The sound of water escaping from mill dams… willows, old rotten planks, slimy posts, and brickwork. I love such things… As long as I do paint I shall never cease to paint such places……They have always been my delight.”
Unlike Constable, I do not paint. I knit. A medium idealised and derided in equal measure. An activity associated with the domestic and the parochial, a far cry from what comes to mind when we talk of internationalism. In ‘Someone Else’s Dream’,I make use of the picture knits that were so popular when I was a teenager. In the 1980’s these were regarded as highly fashionable but soon fell out of fashion and have never regained serious appreciation. I have been working with picture knits that depict pastoral scenes; farmhouses with animals, villages complete with churches, pretty streams, rolling hills, blue skies and fluffy white clouds. I have not made these jumpers but found them on eBay. Many hours of skilled labour no longer wanted or valued. Using a technique known asswiss darning, an embroidery stitch that mimics the knitted stitch, I have worked on top of the knitted countryside scenes, changing the idyllic picturesque scenes to the scenes of misery that can, and do, happen in the countryside.
Some of the scenes that I have embroidered are from personal experience, some from news stories, all have happened in the countryside. I have embroidered a car crash, a figure hanged from a tree, a house fire, a body drowned in a river, fly-tipping and a crime investigation scene complete with white tent, police DO NOT CROSS tape, police van, car and helicopter.
Upon initial viewing these works have a cosy familiarity but the soft, knitted jumpers are completely at odds with the imagery. The material and form resist their stereotype. They exist as a disturbance to those dreams and a friendly reminder of reality.”
Freddie Robins 2018
I wrote a proposal for an exhibition at M100, an artist-run gallery in Odense, Denmark (http://m100.dk) back in April 2017. It is a wonderful optimistic piece of writing about utopian communities trying to make things better for themselves and those around them. And then in June 2017 it was revealed that my neighbours, even some of my friends did not share what I hope are values of tolerance and openness, values I took to be self-evidently for the good. For me this caused a profound and drawn out soul searching. I didn’t want to make art, or put on events for these people.
Cloud Giants Ben Coode-Adams 2018 watercolour on paper 2018 H46xW61cms Photo: Douglas Atfield
I spent the winter disconsolately picking up litter from the verges of the roads surrounding our farm. At least I could make the little piece of land near me better. Each day a new crop of MacDonald’s packaging, high strength cider and high caffeine drinks cans would appear. I had to work out a way to live with this.
I found a receipt in a MacDonald’s paper sack. The local council can use this to track the person who dropped the litter and prosecute them. I was faced with a dilemma. Should I hand in the receipt, an action with unknown and potentially catastrophic consequences for the individual involved? I just put the whole package in the recycling bin. Who am I, from my super quinoa privileged, white middle kale aged home owning male over-educated well-travelled CO2producing position, to stand in judgement on this person? I stopped picking litter.
Ethically I feel unable to say that a world with MacDonald’s litter, jet skis, high powered motorbikes, giant Porsches, and fountains of prosecco, is a worse world. To live here in Essex, I have to let go of my indignation over these things and submit to other people’s right to determine their own way of living. I will not validate actions I despise by pushing back against them. My only resistance is making art which I make for myself.
Dedham vale on fire Photo Ben Coode-Adams
Landscape and the countryside has become a central theme of my curatorial and artistic interests because the land is politicised more than ever. It is the chemical and biological battleground between the EU and the US.
The folksy countryside is the locus of much of English identity, close-knit village life, country pubs, winding lanes, thatched cottages, baking cakes, jam making and cricket. Our identity may be embedded in the rural, but it is the urban, by which I mean London, that dominates.
UK farmers, whose precarious custodianship of the landscape, is tied to sustainable environmental policy under the terms of essential EU subsidy. Farmers rely on the free movement of people, attracting farm-skilled workers, no longer available in the UK, from the Balkans and Baltic.
The view of landscape from the city is very different from living in it. Being here in Essex there is not all that much romance. Here in this landscape it is mainly by turns muddy or dusty. It is dark. The birds are staggeringly loud. There is never quiet. A strimmer or chainsaw is always struggling to carve a clear space. This land is resistant. It bites and stings, catches at your clothes, and obstructs you at every turn.
I am interested in artists who work with stuff, actual physical things produced with skill and craft, rather than just bought and piled up.
I very much like manipulated physical material because it is uncompromisingly visual. I am naturally distrustful of text and words, of theory. I like action. The protests about our leaving the EU, against President Trump, and in support of the #metoo campaign have neatly combined text and action into potent and joyful slogans. I feel we can channel some of that imagery of resistance to mitigate against the political neutering effected by the political right in the UK. We can use words as material and image to at least raise a fist in solidarity and a middle finger to power. Swearing does make you feel better.
Proof Ben Coode-Adams and Justin Knopp 2018 dimensions variable Letterpress on paper
Poll organised by BBC Radio 4’s Today programme in association with The National Gallery, London. 2005
Walker, Alice. (1985). Horses Make a Landscape Look More Beautiful, New York: Harcourt, Brace, Jovanovich.
Ellis, Carolyn. (2004). The ethnographic I: A methodological novel about autoethnography. Walnut Creek: AltaMira Press
Do please come to our presentation at Sluice Exchange Berlin.
Sluice_Exchange Berlin 2018
Das Kühlhaus Berlin
Luckenwalder Str. 3, 10963 Berlin, Germany
16-18 November 2018
Sat + Sun 1100-1900
We’ve been having a good deal of private time – working things out – over the last year. It’s been work but productive so we were delighted to show at M100 in Odense, Denmark in September. We organised an exhibition called ‘Resistant Materials’. Thank you M100 (http://m100.dk) for hosting us and precipitating a crystallisation of our anger, and sadness, joy and hope. Thank you Theis Vallø Madsen for a very interesting take on our work (see below) and thank you to Kristine Mengel for taking great photographs. In the end we’re just speaking for ourselves.
Ben Coode-Adams & Justin Knopp Proof 2018 letterpress wood type on paper, dimensions variable Photo: Kristine Mengel
The exhibition concerned how it is possible to fight back specifically, when discussion is generally shut down. We showed work by Ben Coode-Adams, Fiona Curran, Justin Knopp, and Freddie Robins.
For the Berlin show we are delighted to add E.M.C. Collard to the line-up. Her paintings fit right in to our discussion about biting countryside with their visceral natural imagery.
A Danocentric Perspective on the works of Coode-Adams, Robins, Knopp and Curran
Theis Vallø Madsen
Danes are famous for their ”hygge” brought about by knitted jumpers, rain, dimmed lighting, cookies, and half-timbered houses in the countryside. In recent years coziness and other forms of “moods”, “Stimmung” or atmospheres have become objects of studies in academia. Philosophers regard these kinds of “atmospheres” as aesthetic phenomena in-between objective and subjective states of being. According to German philosopher Gernot Böhme, atmospheres are typical intermediate phenomena bordering subjecthood and objecthood. A pleasant or unpleasant atmosphere are far from vague or weak but on the contrary “[…] bathe everything in a certain light.” They are totalizing. Yet it is possible to resist and even change a specific atmosphere in a room by an extra-ordinary event. Something has to break, or somebody has to say something completely out of line in order to change the mood of the room. Artworks have also been known to disturb pleasant moods by picturing or including things that are usually left out in order not to spoil a common sense of well-being and harmony.
Freddie Robins Someone Else’s Dream Series of reworked knitted jumpers, mixed fibres 2014 – 2016 L-R. -burnt, -hanged, -crashed
The works of the four British artists currently exhibiting at M100 all seem to – to a Dane at least – resist coziness and other kinds of pleasantness. Freddie Robins’ hand knitted jumpers invoke a sense of coziness brought forth by their materiality but the reworked pictures work against the intuitive feel and cultural signification of their material. Materiality and imagery are at odds with one another.
The paintings by Ben Coode-Adams are also uneasy. Things and shapes are flickering, worming around or rearranging themselves out and into one another. These paintings are on the move.
Ben Coode-Adams Self-Portrait with Bluebird on a red ground 2018 Watercolour on paper H58xW76cms Photo: Douglas Atfield
Fiona Curran’s paintings picture clouds and rainbows in synthetic or strange forms. They have been short-circuited or recharged from an unusual energy source. Justin Knopp’s type based posters promote resistance by words and materials. The four artists are all navigating in-between different states or materials whether that would be coziness and discomfort, materiality and image, or harmony and disharmony. The artworks appear to be uneasy with their surroundings and their current situation. This uneasiness is much more interesting than consensus and established truths.’
Paintings and embroideries by Fiona Curran and Ben Coode-Adams Photo: Kristine Mengel
We decided to take this show to Berlin with Sluice Exchange. This show builds on our article in Sluice Magazine Autumn 2018 concerning local v’s international. Ben’s photograph of Dedham Vale is on the cover.
Please come to our exhibition ‘Uncertain Things’ which opens on 30th September at the Sentinel Gallery, Wivenhoe, CO7 9DX. We will be in the gallery 11am-4pm.
Ben Coode-Adams, Claire Loder and Freddie Robins are producing new work for this exhibition, which responds to our uncertain times with ‘Uncertain Things’. These three artists make no earth shattering claims for their art but that does not make it any less profound. Their art is particularly good at discussing the maybes, ifs and wherefores, the not so happy, the not decided; the detail of how people are. It’s complicated. And that is what makes their art interesting and worth spending time with. So if you are in the least bit interested in seeing beyond the obvious I think you will enjoy this exhibition.
Ben, Claire and Freddie will be in the gallery for the opening on Saturday 30th September 11am-4pm.
Everyone’s enjoying the ‘Between Things’ exhibition at the Minories Galleries 74 High Street, Colchester Essex CO1 1UE. It runs until 10th June 2017; open Monday to Saturday 10am-5pm.
Just thought I would let you know about our CATALOGUE LAUNCH which is taking place 13th May 2-5pm at the Minories designed by the brilliant Marcia Mihotich with essays by the erudite and perceptive Linda Theophilus and Kath Wood, and a conversation between me and Kaavous Clayton.
The catalogue will answer all your questions.
PLEASE COME Thank you Ben
Linda Theophilus, Kaavous Clayton and Kath Wood – three generations of directors of the Minories Art Gallery all appearing in our catalogue
L-R work by Sharon Leahy-Clark, ParisEssex and Stafford Schmool
Dates for your diary: two gripping and probably seminal discussions. You have to be there.
Saturday 3 June 2pm
Linda Theophilus, Freddie Robins and Celia Pym
will discuss the exhibition and their work
Saturday 10 June 2pm
Kath Wood, Ben Coode-Adams and Sharon Leahy-Clark
will discuss the exhibition and their work
Devised & designed by Kaavous Clayton & Ben Coode-Adams
Together Kaavous Clayton and I have come up with a scintillating exhibition. It reflects some of our shared areas of interest over the last few years; colour, pattern, scale, craft, powerful god figures, very fine sanding and wool. You know, all the – ‘whoa hold on tiger’ – bits of art/design/craft (definitions are all a bit blurry in this show – no helpful hierarchies) that send a shiver down your spine.
The galleries at the Minories will be completely transformed – I know you’ve heard that before but this time it’s true. We’ve new walls, floors and ceilings to transport you to aesthetic joy. Panoplies of wood and wool in combination and separately. And thoroughly detailed paintings. New perspectives will unfold in delightful and enchanting combinations that will make you want to come back again and again.
Thank you so much to Kaavous, the Minories staff and Colchester Institute for hosting this exhibition. Thank you to the Arts Council for funding us, to make and show new work and produce a catalogue. And thank you to all the artists for making great work and allowing us to show it. Thank you to Nicol Wilson for all your hard work. And thanks to you people for making the effort to come to the show.
Announcing my first exhibition in Berlin since 2004. Exciting times. Well I’m excited. Do please pass this invite on to your Berlin friends. I’d love to meet them. I will be in the gallery a good deal from 19th November up to and including 24th November. I’ve bought some new paper so will be painting away.
an exhibition of art by Ben Coode-Adams & Jakob Roepke
Knesebeckstr. 13 10623 Berlin
Opening 18.00-20.00 Friday 18th November 2016
Ben Coode-Adams and Jakob Roepke go to work every day making art. People need tangible images not just ideas. Roepke and Coode-Adams have been providing satisfying images for people to put in their homes and workplaces for a long time. This kind of workmanlike dedication has amazing consequences. It produces richness and depth – little explosions of magic. You know, that feeling when art really touches you in a way you can’t explain, because it’s not about words but visual intelligence. You can appreciate it with your eyes and that strange part of your brain.
Owl Gods Ben Coode-Adams W85cm x H66cm watercolour on paper 2015
Ben Coode-Adams is an artist, from rural Essex, North East of London where he lives and works on the family blackcurrant farm (Schwarze Johannisbeere). For most of his career he produced large scale public sculptures alongside a drawing practice. In 2013 he fell ill. Unable to produce sculptures he turned to making watercolours which led to exhibitions in New York, London and Essex. For Coode-Adams’ painting involves a quantum delving into the spirit world from which a host of spectral personages flood onto the page. Veils of beautiful colour coalesce and oscillate, spun from ‘the lower world’ in which lurk truth and beauty.
Jakob Roepke is an artist, who has lived and worked in Berlin for many years. In 1996 he began a series of 13x12cm collages based on Jiu Jitsu and Yoga manuals. The protagonists in these collages are often caught in life-threatening circumstances, wrestling crocodiles or each other. Alongside these collages he makes austere abstract reliefs. In a more fluid mode he uses silhouette paper and scissors to make detailed organic cutouts. For Roepke these bodies of work, of fixed parameters, record the slipping between the on-and-on-ness of it all, and the profound newness of every day.
untitled (numbered) Jakob Roepke from the Collage Series, 13×12 cm, Gouache, Ink on Paper, 1996-2016
Roepke and Coode-Adams have known each other for more than thirty years. They met at Edinburgh College of Art in nineteen eighty something long ago. At that time the education at ECA was stuck at post-Impressionism, already old old fashioned by London, New York and Berlin standards. For Roepke and Coode-Adams this was not enough. They needed to square this archaic education with contemporary practice, and with political events. They needed to make sense of their own lives. They needed to still their own turbulent hearts. For both artists there is a sense in which their artworks are votive offerings, an invocation to the day, an apotropaic message, to avert peril on behalf of all of us.
Reliefs, serially numbered Jakob Roepke heavy cardboard, pigment, chalk, wax. Size of each element c. 22 x 15 x 6 cm since 1996
The Perfectly Good Wife Ben Coode-Adams W119 x H102.5 cms watercolour on paper 2015
Gallerie dreiZehn is a new venture founded by Monika Krause & Mark Williams, the proprietors of GLASKAR Berlin. Next to their main shop is a smaller shop unit that was being used as a store room. This space has been tidied up and repurposed as a gallery. Krause and Williams have no great pretensions for the gallery. It’s a working space to be used by artists for interesting projects. ‘Same Difference’ is a prototype for how Krause and Williams might use and operate the gallery. The details will be worked out. It’s action research. Sometimes you can’t wait for everything to be perfect, you just have to get on with it and see what happens with what’s available. In the meantime do please keep in touch for general information, opening times and special events. It’s going to be fun.
The exhibition will be open by appointment. Contact Mark on firstname.lastname@example.org to visit. Ben Coode-Adams will be around until 24th November and working in the gallery. He’ll announce the times on instagram: @bcoodeadams facebook: Ben Coode-Adams and twitter: @BenCoodeAdams.
We had a brilliant weekend with many delightful visitors who I would like to thank for coming, buying our stuff, enjoying our café and looking hard and intelligently at our art. Thank you visitors. Heart heart. We love you the people.
Thank you Freddie Robins for your tremendous hard work organising and cleaning up the Lambros Café. It does become a bit like the Augean Stables over the winter.
A huge thank you to all our artists for bringing your wonderful work, for your patience, forbearance and good humour.
Thank you Julie Arkell for bringing all you lovely objects and bringing Douglas Bevans who cooked and cleaned to keep us all going, so thank you to Douglas too. And thank you for the loaf of bread, just finished!
Thank you Annabel Dover and Alex Pearl for bringing all you enchanting objects, and helping with and advising on the ‘gallery’ show, and the yummy madeleines.
Thank you Simon Emery for bringing a wonderful sparkle to the show in your work, bringing the twinkle in your eye, some fine cars to brighten up the place and bringing Amanda Emery. I’d like to thank her for her delicious baking and helping out in the café.
Thank you Sara Impey for stitching all year to bring us your profound serious work and invigilating in the gallery.
A massive thank you to Justin Knopp not only for showing great work but for operating the letterpress creche, the ever popular attraction giving the gift of type. Tyler Emery is a complete convert and probably your next intern. Justin Knopp helped Freddie with her prints and introduced us to the Big Steam Print project which set Freddie off in the fruitful and poignant printmaking direction.
Thank you Freddie Robins for so much hard work in preparing and operating the Open Studio. I know how much it takes out of you but your hard work is very much appreciated by all of us, artists and visitors alike.
Thank you Caroline Wright for showing your intelligent beautiful work and spending time with us all at such a trying and scary time in your life.
In the nick of time we tacked on Dervorgilla Elmes’ beautiful eerie mirror so thank you to her for bringing that along and Florence for helping in the Café. Thank you Sonia Coode-Adams for being our biggest supporter, for the sausage rolls and helping out in the café. Thank you Henri and Imogen Guest for your baking and helping. Thank you Nicol Wilson for all you hard work behind the scenes in keeping the Blackwater Polytechnic going.
Annabel Dover has kindly agreed to take part in our Open Studio event – ‘Flat-out Lowlanders’ 1st+2nd October 11am-5pm Feering Bury Farm Barn, Coggeshall Road, Feering, Colchester, Essex, CO5 9RB. Do please come and see her delightful and intriguing paintings.
Annabel Dover is a painter and maker whose subject appears to be the surface of things. This impression is reinforced by the way she makes her images. They are slick, as in shiny, and slippery, as in the evidence of the paint sliding around on the ground is relished. She chooses subjects that are all about surface too, like gems and photographs. But the surface is just that. Beneath what you can see in her work is another world which will eventually, when taken as whole, be revealed to somehow fit into an enormous cohesive Proustian narrative. Looking at her work is like trying to catch bubbles, each piece is exquisitely beautiful, but constantly floating out of reach, defiant of logic but hinting at and obeying presently unknowable laws. Like catching bubbles her work even at its most sad and melancholic is pure joy.
Freddie Robins’ contribution to our Flat-out Lowlanders Open Studio is born from the boiler of a steam roller and yes it does involve bunnies. This coming weekend 1st & 2nd October 11am-5pm come and see what she has been up to. Freddie went from standing start to Usain Bolt in printmaking with the Big Steam Print project initiated by Ditching Museum of Arts and Crafts making a giant print in the process, squashing the love out of bunnies, monkeys, an elephant and assorted bears. But don’t worry that love is imprinted on paper that you can buy and take away. In going from 3D to 2D she is saving you space but the cuddles remain undiminished.
We are beginning to assemble all the pretty things ready for display this coming weekend 1st & 2nd October 11am-5pm. We have a good mix of shiny and matt. One of the shiniest, as ever, will be the work of Simon Emery who has been working on a wonderful Porsche 356 bonnet. If you own a vintage Porsche 356 you might want to buy this cracking bonnet and swap out the plain boring original for some much needed individuality and chutzpah. Or you might just want a bit of Simon’s magnificent sparkly work which comes with the most subtly curvaceous hood of all time for free.