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.
We are thrilled to be taking part in Exchange Rates – 23rd-26th October 2014
“an international exposition of artworks and curatorial programs in which host spaces in one art community open their doors and share their walls with kindred spaces ‘on visit’ from elsewhere.” We are showing with the cracking Season Gallery (http://season.cz) from Seattle hosted by dynamic and mighty Theodore:Art (http://theodoreart.com 56 Bogart St. Brooklyn, NY 11206
PUT A BANGING DONK ON IT
Louis Pattison wrote in the Guardian 15/6/11 ‘Blackout Crew earned their footnote in the annals of dance music history by discerning that all genres of music sound better with the addition of a “donk”. A donk, if you don’t know, sounds a bit like a wet drainpipe hit repeatedly with a heavy rubber mallet…’
The challenge that has always faced Backwater Polytechnic is how to bind together diverse artistic practices into a coherent whole. We deal with heterogeneous, even heterodox art. We are located in rural Essex and want to work with artists who are to hand, ranging as they do from painters, to custom car sprayers, to embroiderers. We are not so interested in artists who are not geographically determined. Local is our weapon. Bland internationalism is not our bag. But we are not ‘little Englanders’. We just think that what we have here in our corner of Essex is really good and we want to show it to everyone. We live in the villages of Coggeshall and Feering in rural north Essex, UK. These ancient communities whose medieval prosperity was based on wool, wood carving and lace have always been home to maverick non-conformists, utopian builders, and world-class crafts people – traditionally innovating, ingrained radicalism coupled with a DIY self-reliance. All our artists strive to produce work of intense quality. They all deal with craft over which they have mastery, even virtuosity. And they all deal with material. It is the combination of these three vectors that shapes their work and our exhibitions.
At Sluice 2013 we struck up a friendship with Brooklyn based Theodore:Art which has blossomed into a love affair. We are very much looking forward to falling for Season the gallery from Seattle we are showing alongside.
We are showing new work by:
Ben Coode-Adams ‘…watery spirits co-exist with giant magical trees and small crying people – presenting boundless sorrow, but also unlimited joy. The resulting vibrant works on paper look beautiful. But they feel beautiful, too.’ George Ferrandi – Director, Wayfarers, Brooklyn
Ben Coode-Adams ‘Vortex’ 2014
Freddie Robins ‘She doesn’t paint; she doesn’t sculpt; she doesn’t take photographs or make films. Her chosen medium is wool. She knits. And as she knits, she subverts her subjects.’ Tamsin Blanchard writing in the Observer newspaper
Paula Kane ‘The weather is always fine; there are clouds, but no rain. Winter never comes; snows only viewed from a distance…There are leaves on the trees always; she doesn’t even know if there is a breeze. It’s as if the weather hasn’t been arrived at yet.’ Mikey Cuddihy artist and Lecturer at University of Brighton
Paula Kane detail of ‘Princess’ and trees 2014
Sara Impey ‘Impey’s work is a painstaking layering of cloth and stitch; a gentle and sometimes unsettling reworking of past events through needle and thread. Trained as a journalist, Impey views words and narrative as implicit to quiltmaking: often constructed over a long period of time, every quilt is imbued with the experience of the maker.’ QUILTS 1700-2010: Hidden Histories, Untold Stories edited by Sue Prichard Victoria & Albert Museum, London
Sara Impey ‘Outsider art’ 2014
Justin Knopp – Typoretum ‘Here, in a single long room lined with trays of magnificent wooden type and filled with gleaming iron printing presses crouching like tamed mythical beasts, Justin Knopp – printer, typographer and retained fireman – works his subtle magic.’ the gentle author www.spitalfieldslife.com
Justin Knopp ‘Day of the Dead’ 2013
Simon Emery – The Paintbox ‘One of the most successful VW body-shops ever. Building some of the most imaginative Volkswagens ever to be seen in the world of aircooled VWs is “The Paintbox”’ Messiah of B289 http://www.b289.co.uk/nostalgia/viewtopic.php?f=13&t=123
Simon Emery detail of ‘Helta Skelta’
Exchange Rates: The Bushwick International Expo
is the first collaboration between existing artist-run and emerging galleries in Bushwick, Brooklyn, and Sluice, the London-based art initiative for artist-run projects from across the UK and Europe. In recent years, Bushwick has gained renown for its heterogeneous, highly active community of artists and exhibition spaces. From commercial to non-profit to at least sustainably profitable, Bushwick galleries present a wide variety. Commonalities among them overall, however, are curatorial rigor, artist-led initiatives and collaborative programming. Featuring 52 galleries and projects from 19 cities around the world, Exchange Rates is a broad invitation for representatives from kindred art communities based elsewhere to not only witness, but to truly become part of
Bushwick’s development. Produced by Sluice and Bushwick-based galleries Theodore:Art and Centotto, Exchange Rates will run four days and include panel discussions, performances and Norte Maar’s Beat Nite, a late night gallery tour and after-party.
Signal Gallery Bushwick
Studio1.1 London, UK
Durden and Ray Los Angeles, USA
Norte Maar Bushwick
Trove Brirmingham, UK
Schema Projects Bushwick
Sluice__ screens London, UK
FireProof East Bushwick
Platform Gallery Seattle, USA
The Active Space Bushwick
Paper Gallery Manchester, UK
Fort Gallery London, UK
Art Helix Bushwick
Telescope Gallery Beijing, China
The Parlour Bushwick Bushwick
Artist Proof Studios Johannesburg, Sth Africa
Fuchs Projects Bushwick
Storefront Ten Eyck Bushwick
Division of Labour Worcester, UK
Tiger Strikes Asteroid Bushwick
F.B.I. Worksop, UK
Honey Ramka Bushwick
Class1 Gallery Middlesbrough, UK
Susak Expo[RT] London, UK
A Brooks London, UK
Arts in Bushwick Bushwick
Queenspark Railway Club Glasgow, UK
ECH-O-CHAM-BER Birmingham, UK
Associated Gallery Bushwick
La Couleuvre Paris, France
Outlet Gallery Bushwick
GSL Projekt Berlin, Germany
Parallel Art Space Bushwick
Metamatrix Art Lab Netherlands
Fresh Window Bushwick
Museo Microcollection Milan, Italy
Brooklyn Fire Proof Bushwick
Blackwater Polytechnic Essex, UK
The Vazquez Building Bushwick
Spaceworks Tacoma, USA
The BogArt Bushwick
Random Institute Zurich, Switzerland
Transition Gallery London, UK
SEASON Seattle, USA
Up State Zurich, Switzerland
Sluice__ projects London, UK
The Penthouse Manchester, UK
We’d love to see you at this Sunday 28th for our Open Studio. We are open 11-6pm. Our postcode is CO5 9RB. Our entrance is on the Coggeshall Road, Feering, literally just opposite the finger post sign ‘To the Teys’ down a concrete track into a farmyard. The gallery entrance is now behind a very large skip rather to our surprise.
The Lambros Loose Box Café is back in action with Ben’s famous gluten free (but not nut free) Clafoutis, and Freya’s cracking cookies. We have Justin Knopp performing live Letterpress demonstrations. The children have been producing posters for their environmental campaign against littering and to encourage people out of their cars, to walk and cycle.
You can reach us on foot via footpaths from Coggeshall via Coggeshall Abbey and from Kelvedon by taking the footpath at the end of Station Road. It will be a lovely walk rewarded with some great art and a nice cup of tea.
When I was showing at the Brighton Open House event Tyl Kennedy appeared with a book about Klimt he’d picked up at a boot sale. I had a bit of an epiphany having thought Klimt’s work was decorative sentimental fluff – the Kiss and all that. In fact he was really out there, combining austere rigorous realism with intense pattern and crazy inventive composition – really really extreme. His work was very challenging to Viennese society in every way, aesthetically and politically. Vienna was gripped by historically inspired, backward-looking academicism, particularly in Architecture. Patronage was very tightly controlled by the Emperor and his family. So the Viennese Secession and the Wiener Werkstätte were super subversive. But I think the Secessionists would have been challenging in any European country at that time (1898-1918). I find them still challenging.
Presently I find the Secession very intriguing. I don’t like all of it but it is all inventive and dynamic. So I wondered about initiating a secession in Essex, if only an artistic one. I really like the alliterative sibilants too.
We wanted to have another exhibition and the timing tied in with the Colchester and Tendring Open Studio month organised by the dynamic and able Peter Jones. However we’re not really doing an Open Studio but rather pressing into service our new gallery area. Like many galleries in studios, it is a space in-between other spaces but nicely coherent.
Freddie doesn’t think her work looks great on the normal Blackwater type walls so we’ve gone a bit White Cube. It’s more a tilting one’s hat at the idea of a white gallery space.
So we have work by me – Ben Coode-Adams, Freddie Robins, Sara Impey, Paula Kane, Leigh Cameron, Simon Emery + the Paint Box, Justin Knopp + Typoretum, Sonia York and maybe some other people
Thank you to Nicol Wilson and David Howe for building work.
We are also launching our Lambros Loose Box Café to keep your blood sugar levels up.
The gardens of Feering Bury Manor are available for your perusal too.
Through the autumn of 2013 I see-sawed between being completely incapacitated and mildly incapacitated but this period of what was essentially rest meant by Christmas I felt OK-ish. But like an idiot I went out and tried to chop up trees for a week around New Year. You know that makes me really happy but it also knocked me back to my lowest ebb. David Howe and I started work on a commission for a flattened corrugated wall in Brightlingsea which I finally finished off with Nicol Wilson who rejoined the faculty in February when I realised I couldn’t and shouldn’t do any physical work at all.
The flattened corrugated wall built with David Howe and Nicol Wilson
A sample for wall panels now made into cupboard doors
The kitchen vent finally installed after four years. Built by Nicol Wilson. Designed by me with Nicol.
The kitchen island cupboards finally clad like the rest of the kitchen by Nicol after a pattern established by me.
Table top designed by Ben Coode-Adams and Nicol Wilson, crafted by Nicol Wilson, painted by Simon Emery – the Paintbox. This is one of the most beautiful objects I have ever had a hand in. I am really proud of it.
We took our Essex Embassy to Sluice Art Fair at the end of October 2013. We had a brilliant time. We took great work by Justin Knopp, Simon Emery + Shane Whitworth, Sara Impey, Sonia York, David Gates, Paula Kane, Freddie Robins, Leigh Cameron and Ben Coode-Adams. We met some wonderful people, sold some work and generally had a great time. The Sluice team created a friendly but professional atmosphere. The standard of art was incredibly high and varied, rigorous, challenging and inventive. A rich feast enjoyed by both participants and visitors – really some of the best and most energetic art you are likely to see ever.
From L to R: Emery+Whitworth, Freddie Robins, Ben Coode-Adams, Paula Kane
From L to R: Justin Knopp (Typoretum), Emery+Whitworth
From L to R: Sonia York, Ben Coode-Adams
From L to R: Sonia York, Freddie Robins, Leigh Cameron, David Gates
The fabulous Paul Kindersley
The repaired boots of George Ferrandi from Wayfarers – more of her and them later
Division of Labour – Fishmongering
The balloon lady
P.S. I’d like to thank Dave Howe, David Gates, Justin Knopp, and Arthur Martin for building our stand, Simon Emery and the Paintbox for painting it and David Gates, Leigh Cameron, and Fred Robinson for helping with the installation which couldn’t have gone more smoothly. You are all very generous and talented gentlemen. I’d like to thank Karl England and Ben Street for taking a leap of faith into darkest Essex and discerning the light.
I contracted Chronic Fatigue Syndrome back in June 2013 so even before our first exhibition here. In my case I was weak as a kitten and often in pain. I didn’t find a proper diagnosis until March 2014 and since then I have been recovering at a steady rate. I discovered how wonderful story tapes could be – I was too exhausted to read. I learnt how to meditate which is actually pretty cool. Aspects of alternative medicine I would never have countenanced I am now embracing. I spend a good deal of time balancing my chakras, indulge in lymphatic drainage and reflexology. I have no shame about watching films in the daytime. As I haven’t been able to do any physical work I have accepted the imperative to delegate, which was painful in itself.
I had a huge amount of help and support from my family as well as from some pretty effective and wise alternative health practitioners. I had very little support from the NHS and I urge NICE to rethink its guidelines for the treatment of Chronic Fatigue Syndrome. Six sessions of Cognitive Behavioural Therapy over three months, given the condition lasts years and cannot be ‘cured’ by leaflets, is plainly ludicrous. For me at least my CFS was caused by a barrage of viruses, toxins and parasites hammering away at my broken immune system not a failure to ‘buck up’. That advice, regularly given, is the worst thing a sufferer of CFS can try to do. Inevitably active people who are suddenly rendered floppy as a soft toy do become depressed. So there have been dark days. A medical doctor who practises homeopathy was the clincher for me, and set me on the road to recovery. I am amazed at the number of people who I come across who have suffered the same condition, most without any effective treatment.
The saving grace through all this has been that mostly I have been able to draw and paint throughout my illness. I have been deep in the world of watercolour. It was good to have the notion that art is actually good for you proved. The combination of meditative hand movements and drifting thoughts is restorative.
Working on a computer has been very hard. It is much more draining than you all imagine. Which is why I haven’t posted anything here for such a long time.
And that is the answer to the question what the hell has happened to Ben for the last year.
The Blackwater Polytechnic are sending an artistic aid mission to London town, in the form of the Essex Embassy. We would be delighted if you could visit us.
SATURDAY 19th & SUNDAY 20th OCTOBER 12.00 – 21.00
47/49 TANNER STREET BERMONDSEY LONDON SE1 3PL
It contains, like Essex, all you need for a visually interesting time – rich texture format, lovely colours, sparkles, very sad stitching, ultra violence, quiet rural poetry, and concrete, from artists Leigh Cameron, Ben Coode-Adams, Emery-Whitworth, David Gates, Sara Impey, Paula Kane, Justin Knopp, Freddie Robins, Sonia York. You have to look though, and look hard. No half measures.
Sluice Art Fair is showcasing predominately artist run galleries and organisations, with a smattering of independent curators. So it’s the REAL THING – the motherlode of invention.
We like things made by men and women with their hands. People here in Essex are not much interested in conforming to norms. We’re not much interested in cosy visual clichés. We’re not much interested in illustrating theory. We like action and stuff and things. That’s why we came here. We celebrate and promote a provincial parochial meaningful regional voice with depth and seriousness.
Blackwater Polytechnic is a staggeringly vast 16th century Grade II listed timber framed barn in rural North Essex. It was converted by artists Ben Coode-Adams and Freddie Robins into a home and work place. It is now a colosseum of visual production, a place for like-minded fellow travellers to come together to make and learn.
It is with great regret that we announce that David Howe has left the Polytechnic cohort to explore new horizons. He has been a stalwart for the last nine months, bringing his skill and hard work to a number of projects. We can strongly recommend Dave for almost everything. He can cook, chainsaw, fix machinery, entertain, but is also self-contained and self-motivated and works like a demon. Thanks Dave for everything. We’re coming to stay in your dome.
The Blackwater Polytechnic faculty took three field trips this summer. The first was to the far North of Scotland – Achiltibuie to be precise. The second was a solo trip by Freddie Robins to Shetland to catch up with the World’s knitters. The third was to Karnataka, Tamil Nadu and Kerala in Southern India.
We love it here in the beautiful Blackwater Valley but it’s essential to get away and refresh our eyes with new textures of land and city scape. It is very good to be reminded of how irrelevant we are in a place like India which is so vast and self-sufficient. I love Indian Vernacular Modernism in architecture. It is generally a joyful cluster of styles, textures and colours. Amongst many highlights of our trip the wonderful Kerala Folklore and Theatre Museum in Ernakulam stands out.
The Royal Armouries, Leeds
St. Francis – The Bowes Museum, Castle Barnard, County Durham
Below: a vibrant church and a disused cinema, Sultan Bathery – Wayanad – Kerala