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.
In 2014 we went international because only in relation to others is the local local. We went to find fellow travellers and learn from them, people who work with extreme craft skill, poetic agility, and actual real in-your-face objects, artists not always very visible in the UK. We went Swedish at the amazing and inspiring University of Gothenburg Högskolan för Design och Konsthantverk in Steneby, where hardcore skills are taught alongside Bauhausian design courses. It is the mother-lode of all the values we hold dear.
We went Lithuanian at the Vilniaus Dailės Akademija where Soviet era national identity is being re-crafted, where loving the local is a bulwark against the juggernaut neighbours. We went American, with Wayfarers and Theodore:Art in Brooklyn and Season in Seattle.
We developed a long term relationship with Brooklyn based performance artist George Ferrandi who works with performance, vulnerability, impermanence, fallibility and spectacle, often through experimental approaches to story-telling. Employing a unique humour and a deep sense of humanity, her work is filled with love. She has sent us a parcel of extraordinariness to show at #Sluice__ 2015 from Japan where she has been working for the last few months.
As director of the Brooklyn gallery Wayfarers George Ferrandi introduced me to Brent Owens with whom I exhibited at Wayfarers in 2014. It was a very happy pairing and so we decided to includes Brent’s work in our #Sluice __2015 presentation.
George describes ‘Brent Owens’ sculpture [as] ambitious and delicately clunky – appropriating the rough-hewn aesthetic of chain-sawed country bears or driftwood sculptures, but applying those sensibilities to less much predictable imagery – like ice cream cones, loaves of bread, submarine sandwiches or piles of hair.’ All I am saying is Zombie Toast…
In 2014 Freddie Robins was deeply embedded in the English Folk Song and Dance Society. We have taken this engagement as a spring board for our psycho-folk theme for our 2015 Sluice__ presentation which could be embodied in the paintings of Simon Collins whose mysterious allegories and parables chart his personal journey though love and history.
If you’re going to be rural you might as well get right down in the bosky mire with the faeries, sprites and spirits. We embrace the pink shiny glittery as well as the massive scary teeth, truly awesome power of death wielding elementals. It’s not nice in the woods.
Just to remind you we are open this Sunday 27th September 11am-5pm for more ‘Brocki’ fun and we would love to see you. Thank you to all the people who came last Sunday. It was real fun. And thank you to all our artists who have worked so hard to make the ‘Brocki’ so great. I’d love to sell the inflatable dinosaurs. They are a wonderful collection but are now outside our collecting remit.
Inflatable dinosaurs: various species
View in the gallery with my work, Freddie Robins, Dale Devereux Barker, &Sara Impey,
View of the barn with Dale Devereux Barker, Rebecca Weaver and Lucy Tiffney round the corner
Simon Collins’s painting ‘Mollie’ with a Dale Devereux Barker print. Amanda Emery’s Ford Falcon put together by Simon Emery
In 2012 just as the barn was approaching completion I began a conversation with the curator Sarah Schuster about how to show the products of those disciplines: construction, farming, forestry, art, craft and collecting, together. She was living in Zurich at the time and sent me this email from which I am quoting, introducing the ‘Brockenhaus’. In this Open Studio event we have finally approached the concept of the ‘Brocki’.
*‘Enter the Swiss wonder that is the Brockenhaus, or Brocki for short. Brockis are like massive permanent flea markets/charity shops/warehouses of junk/curiosity cabinets all rolled into one. Brockenhaus translates literally to ‘chunk house’. I like this. Chunks. Filled with chunks.
Brockis themselves are wonderful places to be. Most of them, it’s like stepping into a building sized pile of junk and good luck wading through for treasures, then you find a few and take them to the till and the woman behind it consults some incomprehensible pricing system, or just charges you whatever she feels like, which is never very much at all… So, what I’m thinking is a Brocki, but with all the crap weeded out. I love the idea of a museum, but hesitate on the use of the word museum as it implies a space where you look but don’t touch, and definitely don’t buy. Maybe the museum has a shop, or maybe it is feeling very cranky and thus de-accessioning its entire collection… Anyway, I see a sort of non – gallery. A place of treasures big and small, to be wandered through, wondered over, explored, and piece by piece bought and taken home. Something that might look jumbled at first but feels right. It has an underlying logic.’
Sarah Schuster 2012
We have finally managed to haul most of our collections out of storage and into display cases. In so doing we have de-accessioned a fair few objects that will be available to buy at the Open Studio. Our good friend Rebecca Weaver who is an antique dealer is going to bring some of her stuff to sell to add to the jumble.
As in the original ‘Brocki’ plan we have ART too. Simon Collins is a powerful documenter of his very personal pilgrimage in paint.
Simon Emery continues to wow us with shiny, glittery car parts.
Dale Devereux Barker is a polymath athlete of image-making based around print-making.
Sara Impey will be showing new insightful poems of, and in, stitch.
We have Justin Knopp, of Typoretum, one of the UK’s foremost letterpress artist, making prints on site and selling his work.
We have drinks supplied by Company: Movements, Deals and Drinks which is a long-term project by international artist group Myvillages which links North and South Essex through fruit picking. Their blackcurrant cordial is made with our blackcurrants.
We have a reprise of the hugely successful Lambros Café run by 11year olds. Freddie Robins won’t tell me what she is doing. There are also some paintings and objects made by me…
We are proud to be part of Colchester & Tendering Open Studios weekends
We had a visit from artist Rosa Farber (http://www.rosafarber.com) yesterday, who is doing great things to do with art and farming in Sussex. Talking to her reminded me of the things I really like about the Polytechnic which Benjamin Sutton’s questions crystallised for me back in October 2014. Her visit also reminded me how exciting it is working in a rural setting where psycho-geography, actual geography and art collide.
Don’t be intimidated by Blackwater Polytechnic‘s ominous name. The British artist collective and alternative art school has a very benevolent goal: To nurture and promote the work of artists and artisans based in Essex. To that end, the group will be showcasing members’ works at Brooklyn’s Theodore Art, along with Seattle’s Season gallery, as part of this week’s Exchange Rates expo in Bushwick. (For the record, the name “Blackwater” comes from the creek that runs through the group’s rural property, not the defense contractor now known as Academi.)
Ben Coode-Adams, the co-founder (with Freddie Robins) of Blackwater Polytechnic, took a break from installing to answer some questions about the exhibition — which will feature his own works alongside pieces by Robins, Paula Kane, Simon Emery, Justin Knopp, and Sara Impey — what appealed to the group about participating in Exchange Rates, and what distinguishes Essex artists from their counterparts in London.
* * *
Benjamin Sutton: For those who are unfamiliar with Blackwater Polytechnic, how would you sum up the project?
Ben Coode-Adams: The Polytechnic began when Freddie Robins and I started converting a barn to live in. It is on the family blackcurrant farm in beautiful North Essex. Construction remains at the heart of our work. During the building process it transpired that our approach was quite novel compared with how building contractors work. We used extreme craft skill combined with an ad hoc expediency, taking ourselves way beyond normal although we have come to think of this as normal. Artists who have gravitated to the Polytechnic share that rigorous high level of skill. There is an oscillation in their work between seeing the craft and the artists being so fluent in their medium that it becomes invisible.
BS: What will the group be presenting at Exchange Rates, and how did the expo’s themes of exchange, currency, and conversion influence your selections?
BCA: Laying the show out yesterday I was reminded that all our artists work in what might be considered sub-genres of artistic practice. So we have knitting, letterpress, embroidery, car body spraying, painting, and watercolor. We’ve always just butted this work together without really thinking too much about it. It seems natural to us. Each artist is well known in their own field and showing them in a fine art gallery context outside their usual worlds brings a whole new dimension to the work that I really like, something to do with texture and surface. It catalyzes an exciting set of contrasts like the best curry you have ever had. Showing with Season and Therodore Art seems to just compound that. There are great and profound conversations going on. It’s a rich, tasty show.
I feel like the three galleries coming together, indeed Exchange Rates as whole, is like a nomadic exotic caravanserai: You go hoping to come away with more than you brought and maybe some magic beans.
BS: Blackwater Polytechnic is predicated on highlighting the work of local artists around your home base in Essex; have you found this to be an increasingly common stance in the art world, or do you think that the “bland internationalism” you deplore on your website continues to dominate?
BCA: I think bland internationalism will continue to dominate. Don’t get me wrong, though. I like a good deal of that work. It’s often very good. It tends to be curator- and institution- and, dare I say, text-driven. I like artist-led. I like bottom-up. I like visual things rather than written. My feeling is that I want to go to a place and see something I wouldn’t see anywhere else. In music, different cities have different sounds. Why not in art? At least in the UK, I don’t think a love of the local is becoming common.
BS: In many ways it seems that Essex and Bushwick have similar histories as far as being longtime centers for artisans and artists; is that something that attracted you to participating in Exchange Rates?
BCA: I love the thing that Exchange Rates will do, which is create a cauldron for the magic to happen. There is definitely an affinity between our corner of Essex and Bushwick in terms of an interest in crafted, athletic art, which is absent from say London, where, to bluntly, unfairly, and wrongheadedly caricature, artists spend a lot of time lumpenly illustrating theory. Hey, that’s what it looks like from here! All your exhibitions are books! I’m teasing … a bit.
Blackwater Polytechnic will be showing at Theordore Art (56 Bogart Street, Bushwick, Brooklyn) October 23–26 during Exchange Rates, of which Hyperallergic is a media sponsor.
I had a great time at Exchange Rates and gorged myself on some great and unexpected art. If you remember Blackwater Poly was showing with Theodore:Art run by Stephanie Theodore who was also hosting Robert Yoder from Season – the Seattle based gallery. Stephanie showed paintings by Sharon Butler and Andrew Seto and ceramics by Joyce Robins. Robert showed Seth Freidman’s sculptures and Michael Ottersen’s paintings. I thought it was a very strong show with great subtlety and variety. People told me they really liked it and we had many visitors all looking really hard at the work. Stephanie orchestrated a recipe that brought the best out of all the work, and enabled true collaboration over the hang which was some talent. The night we hung the work with Robert, Sharon, Stephanie, Faye Scott-Farrington and me, I could tell the show was going to be delicious. It had such good ingredients. The photos don’t really do the show justice. You just had to be there.
Michael Ottersen, Sara Impey, Joyce Robins, Andrew Seto, Simon Emery, Sara Impey, Michael Ottersen, Ben Coode-Adams, Sara Impey, Justin Knopp, Joyce Robins, Sara Impey, Ben Coode-Adams, Andrew Seto, Sharon Butler with Seth Friedman’s sculpture on the plinths
Michael Ottersen, Andrew Seto, Freddie Robins, Sara Impey, Michael Ottersen, Sara Impey, Justin Knopp, Freddie Robins
Freddie Robins, Sara Impey, Michael Ottersen, Paula Kane, Sara Impey, Joyce Robins, Ben Coode-Adams, Joyce Robins with Seth Friedman on the plinths
Ben Coode-Adams, Joyce Robins, Andrew Seto, with Seth Friedman on the plinths
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.