Portfolio NW – Previewed

Celebrating the region’s talent and diversity, Portfolio NW is a new exhibition opening at the Bluecoat this week… 

What is the role of an art gallery? In 2013 the answer may not be quite as clear and easy as one initially expects. Beyond the obvious – selecting/acquiring and showing art – it seems community hub, cafe and gift shop follow very shortly afterward on the checklist.

Perhaps no gallery more than the Bluecoat understands this very particular set of constraints – established in 1927, it has had to move with the times as well as the warp and weft of the cultural and economic climate of the eras it has seen come and go, a point proudly acknowledged on its website’s ‘about’ section: “The Bluecoat is an arts venue that has … always changed to be the role model for its time.”

Which brings us back to the question we posed at the beginning of this piece; however, unlike many of the hats modern galleries must wear its next exhibition, Portfolio NW, is (pleasingly) much more qualitative in nature and represents a very deliberate, no doubt welcome, move to foster a relationship with, and showcase the work of, artists operating in the region.

Endeavouring to attract some of the biggest and best names of the art world to Liverpool is a job in itself, but making sure to leave room on the gallery walls for the artistic community on its doorstep, too? It begins to look like something of a tightrope to walk.

“Portfolio NW exists on an arc of engagement with local and regional artists”

Exhibitions curator at the Bluecoat, Sara-Jayne Parsons said: “The Bluecoat has a long tradition of supporting the development of emerging artists and Portfolio NW exists on an arc of engagement with local and regional artists.” This engagement, says Parsons, began with “group exhibitions like Next Up (2008) and Global Studios (2010), and solo projects with artists such as Gina Czarnecki (2011)”.

So, what can we expect from this particular point in the journey on that arc she mentions? The exhibition brings together eight North West-based artists, each of whom has created new works, commissioned especially for Portfolio NW. Preston based Rebecca Chesney, fresh from an artist residency in Romania, uses installation to explore village life and myth.

The Wirral’s Tadhg Devlin, meanwhile, looks at Irish immigration into the city through the lens of photographic portraiture; shedding light on people who came to Liverpool from the 1950s to today’s influx, motivated by Ireland’s economic crisis.

“Dave Evans’s work deals with science fiction, time and history”

Closer to home again, but with a more alien subject matter at its heart, Dave Evans’s work deals with science fiction, time and history. Utilising anything from tinfoil to plastic bags, in a recent interview on the Bluecoat website, Evans explained that he’s “currently using simple materials in my work – paper, wood, wool and string, stuff you can buy anywhere”.

Moving back toward Cheshire, Macclesfield’s Hannah Wooll’s surreal and ever-so-slightly unnerving paintings (main image) pay homage to “the depiction of women within art history tethered with the apathy and frivolity of more contemporary media imagery”. It’s not just contemporary visual art that we can expect, performance features, too. Collaborative project 0point3recurring (David Henckel, Dan Wilkinson & Leon Hardman) employ cars as performers, while Kai-O Jay Yung (Liverpool, above) transforms the gallery into a dance studio.

In addition, the artist and writer Jack Welsh has programmed a number of events to accompany the exhibition: writers and artists including Maurice Carlin, Linda Pittwood and Darren Murphy will respond to the exhibition via blog posts for a-n, while artists featuring in Portfolio NW will join writers and journalists to discuss what constitutes art writing now, and the relationship between artist and writer in a panel discussion hosted by The Double Negative.

While perhaps unlikely to generate too many column inches on a national level, Portfolio NW is a conscious effort to add value and opportunity to the local artist community, and in doing so, add to its ever-increasing ‘about’ section. For this, the Bluecoat must be applauded.

Portfolio NW at the Bluecoat 26th July until 15th September

Posted on 24/07/2013 by thedoublenegative