Encompassing tactile tapestry, spaces for thinking and dreaming, brand new sculpture and protest banners, the exhibition features newly commissioned works, co-produced projects and several significant loans by artists whose work actively engages with the conditions of our time.
The artists represented in the exhibition respond to these themes in markedly different ways, but their practices are connected by an interest in social and political activism, co-production and concepts of futurity. Some highlight the inequalities and prejudice that exist in our societies today, acting as a call to action in the here and now. Other works explore a variety of possible futures and invite us to collaborate in imagining the future that we want for ourselves and our communities. If the world is a work in progress, what do we want to change? What might the next 100 years have in store?
The University of Leicester celebrates its centenary in Autumn 2021. It is no coincidence that the public fund that would go on to endow the University of Leicester was opened on Armistice Day in 1918. Then known as the University College for Leicester, Leicestershire and Rutland, the University College was envisaged as a ‘living memorial’ to the sacrifices of local people in the First World War. Leicester was to have, as the local paper put it, “more than a mere artistic war memorial”. The University motto ’Ut vitam habeant’ (‘so that they may have life’) stands as a permanent reminder on every publication and degree certificate issued since. We are the only European university founded as a memorial to the First World War, and one of only two anywhere in the world.
Ruth Beale, Michael Forbes, Khush Kali, Vince Laws, Bob & Roberta Smith, Kai Syng Tan, Jessica Voorsanger.
Ruth Beale is a London-based artist who works collectively and collaboratively, exploring the way culture, governance and social discourse create society. Their practice includes socially-engaged processes, as well as drawing, performance, film and installations. Beale has compiled a library of science fiction and speculative fiction books entitled ‘The Library of Future Societies’. Housed in a bespoke shelving system, visitors are invited to dip into these imagined futures within the exhibition space, exploring utopian and dystopian attempts to predict the future of societies based on anxieties about the recent past and present.
Michael Forbes is a Nottingham-based artist whose practice explores contemporary racial politics, migration, blackness and whiteness in relation to universal debates on history and religion. His work encompasses sculpture, installations, photography, digital media and curation. For this exhibition Attenborough Arts Centre has commissioned five new sculptural works which form an intersection between three of Forbes’ existing bodies of work that explores the impact of whiteness and white supremacy in creating discrimination, race hatred and violence in a society where everyone loses at the expense of a small percentage of perceived winners.
Working across collage, drawing, textiles, digital media, sculpture, video and text, Khush uses the remixing of patterns, images, rituals and processes to explore identity, cultural heritage, personal history and the everyday experience of the urban environment. Kush has been working with a group of young people in Beaumont Leys to create a series of Actual Reality artworks in response to Ruth Beale’s Library of Future Societies. The results will appear in the exhibition after October half term, when visitors will be able to interact with the works via their own smart devices in the exhibition space.
Vince Laws is a poet, artist, performer, and campaigner. He is interested in taking poetry off the page and into paintings, text art, posters, films, concepts, installations, and performance. Laws will be presenting a collection of shrouds entitled ‘DWP Deaths Make Me Sick’, each of which commemorates the life of a named person who died as a result of the hostile environment for disabled people created by the Department of Work and Pensions, describing the circumstances of their deaths. Laws has described the painful process of making the shrouds, driven by the need to keep on shouting about the human rights abuses of the current Conservative government.
Bob & Roberta Smith
Best known for the works ‘Make Art Not War’ (1997) and ‘Letter to Michael Gove’ (2011), Bob and Roberta Smith sees art as an important element in democratic life. A British artist who trained as a sign painter in New York, Bob and Roberta uses text as an art form, creating colourful slogans on banners and placards that challenge elitism and advocate the importance of creativity in politics and education. Alongside a display of banners, Bob and Roberta will be staging participatory intervention ‘Help Art Save Lives’, developed with Jessica Voorsange. The initiative invites visitors to create art work on site that that can be sold for a small donation to a life-saving charity. Comprising of consciousness raising artefacts, Bob and Roberta’s thinking centers on campaigns as extended art works.
Kai Syng Tan
Kai is a UK-based artist, curator, consultant, academic, hyperactive running-messenger, atypical Octopussy and Exceptionally Talented Mind-Full BusyBody Extraordinaire who mobilises artistic and artful processes across disciplinary/cultural/geopolitical borders to catalyse conversations and actions for change. The new installation and durational performance ‘Neuro-Futuristic 2050’ asks what would a neuro-divergent 2050 look like? A manifesto for a more creative and equitable future, one generation on, it maintains that art should ‘sweat’, catalysing bold visions of better futures and inspiring agency in the face of multiple global crises. Encompassing video, performance, print and large-scale tactile tapestry, NF2050 is a call for action that references more-than-human, non-western ontology, and draws on Chinese body-mind-place poetics, as performed by an Octopussy.