Showtime for Cambridge artists at Kettle's Yard
Showcasing a cross-section of diverse styles from photography to performance – and diverse themes from the political to the whimsical – the 22 artists for the Cambridge Show made the final cut from 460 starters.
“We reopened last year but haven’t yet had an opportunity to celebrate Cambridge talent,” Kettle’s Yard head of communication, Susie Biller, explains. “All the artists had to be selected by a majority on a day of very long discussions in the summer. The curators then went to visit the artists in their studios to select pieces for the exhibition.”
The selection panel was chaired by Andrew Nairne, director of Kettle’s Yard, and included Amy Botfield of Arts Council England; Guy Haywood, a curator at Kettle’s Yard; AstraZeneca’s director of Cambridge communications Sabine Jaccaud; artist Issam Kourbaj, and Harriet Loffler, curator of New Hall art collection at Murray Edwards College.
A programme of performances and talks will accompany the exhibition, which opened on Friday, including a chance to meet the artists and a family day.
“Nearly every activity listed on the website is free,” says Susie. “We’re delighted AstraZeneca is supporting the exhibition, I think they see it as a way of supporting people in Cambridge, and that’s great.”
The biopharmaceutical company has its HQ in Cambridge and is getting involved in many aspects of city life – from Cambridge United to Kettle’s Yard.
Sabine Jaccaud added: “Supporting the innovation, research and creative capital in the city through this partnership allows us to recognise the role clusters like Cambridge can play in bringing diverse points of view and disciplines together.
“Kettle’s Yard has a long history of doing just that and contributing significantly to making Cambridge a great place to live and work.”
Some of the artists spoke to the Cambridge Independent about the origins of their work.
Renee Spierdijk said: “I am a Dutch artist living in Cambridge for the last 29 years. My work is inspired by photographs of unknown women and girls who are surrounded by political or religious artefacts. They explore the conditioning and domestication which the women appear to be subjected to.
“The painting in the Cambridge show, 'Dutch Girl Under Grey Sky', has a calm assurance, even though she is constrained by religious emblems like her coral choker around her neck and her stiffened lace headdress.
“Most of my other work continues to deal with wider questions of identity and displacement.”
Sarah Wood’s work includes alien and unsettling mixed media. At the exhibit is a two-channel video called Memory of the Future, 2018.
She explained: “This is a film about the political actions of May ’68 and their aftermath. It asks if dialogue is possible in divided times and it asks about the cycles of history, their patterns and repetitions.
“It explores this via the story of Rudi Dutschke, the German student activist whose shooting really triggered the protest that eventually led to the actions of ’68.
“Dutschke survived the shooting and ended up seeking asylum in the UK to find the medical help he needed after the attack and eventually to take up PhD research in Cambridge.
“I was drawn to this story. On one hand there’s the noise of violence, the spectacle of Dutschke’s shooting and the subsequent protests. On the other is what can be missed in all this noise: the human consequence, the non-violent ideology Dutschke spoke and the attempt at dialogue that was the work of his political life.
“The most moving part of this project has been the discovery of just how many people were touched and changed by meeting Dutschke in the few years he lived in Cambridge.”
Part of the project includes commentary of what occurs in the aftermath of politically-incited murder or assassination.
Of the opening night Sarah said: “I enjoyed meeting and talking with the other artists as well as hearing the direct responses of some of the first visitors to the exhibition.
“I was also lucky enough to meet several people who knew the Dutschkes from the time when they lived in Cambridge in the early 1970s so that was very exciting. At its best, art can be a meeting place for ideas and those conversations made me hopeful that the work would be able to carry out this function while it’s installed at Kettle’s Yard.”
Jonny Aldous, whose work includes making twigs look like guns, said: “My research started with a fairly simple thought, why does it appear that human civilisation is at odds with all other life on Earth?
“Following this line of inquiry has taken me to some surprising and unexpected places, right back into prehistory and this has led me to question many things that are just accepted as the way things just are.
“This journey has also brought into stark attention the current ecological crises that we are now living through and how technological advancement seems to distance us from the very systems that support life on Earth.”
The Cambridge Show runs until October 27.