Art Sheffield sweeps the whole urban realm into its orbit
Art Sheffield 2016, which opens on 16 April, is as much about the city as it is about the artists taking part. The brutalist Moore Street substation and Park Hill housing estate are among the multiple venues as well as many of the Victorian workshops central to Sheffield’s industrial heritage.
Director Martin Clark deliberately chose to present what he terms an ‘exploded group show’ by inhabiting a variety of venues, each with a single artist exhibiting work that is either specially created or staged for that location. It is all video, sound or moving image, enabling the pieces to occupy their venues in a very direct and specific way, according to Clark. The festival-goer must take to the streets between venues, and in doing so undertake an informal walking tour of the city.
‘I began with the city, and how a journey through it could be reflected in the show… I didn’t just want to find a few large venues and fill them with six or seven artists’ work presented in a generalised way,’ he says.
‘In a way it became as important to include an experience of the city between the spaces by walking in the urban environment, as to encounter and experience these works within the spaces themselves.’
For Clark, curating the sixth biennial festival has been highly personal. As a student in the city in the 1990s, he witnessed the tail end of the manufacturing era as the effect of Thatcherite policies and global capitalism were played out in a very intense way. Returning after two decades, he was struck by how much the city centre had changed, with new uses being found for some formerly industrial buildings but others under threat.
‘Now it's a university city – the knowledge economy has taken over,’ he says.
The festival’s theme of Up, Down, Top, Bottom, Strange and Charm refers to the six types of quark, the particles that make up every atom. One of the highlights is a rare opportunity to visit the grade II-listed Moore Street electricity sub-station, designed by Jefferson Sheard in 1968. This included two extra floors in anticipation of industrial Sheffield’s future expansion and power demands, but these remained unoccupied as the city’s manufacturing base instead went into decline. Artist Steven Claydon is taking over one of these empty floors for a sound piece and video created in collaboration with IBM scientists in response to their work manipulating atoms.
Two pieces will be staged at the Park Hill modernist housing estate, completed in 1961 and designed by Sheffield City Council’s architecture department.
‘When I was here in the 1990s it was notorious for crime, joyriding, drugs and was almost impossible to police,’ says Clark, who was keen to bring people in to experience both the regenerated and derelict parts of the estate.
French artist Michel Auder is exhibiting in Park Hill’s former Scottish Queen pub, which has been refurbished as the SI Artspace exhibition space as part of the Urban Splash-led regeneration of the estate. In contrast, another Park Hill pub, the derelict The Link, is the venue for a specially-commissioned installation by Rotherham music producer and artist Mark Fell. Entitled Structural Solutions to the Question of Being, this draws on pirate radio broadcasts made from the estate in 1992, and explores that time as a transitional point of musical, technical, political and social change.
Other venues include Portland Works, a grade II*-listed Victorian workshop where stainless steel was first manufactured. Now owned by a social enterprise, it is still occupied by some metal trades as well as a variety of other makers and artists.
Art Sheffield 2016 – Up, Down, Top, Bottom, Strange and Charm, 16 April-8 May, various venues