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Leeds-Bilbao Exchange Part 1: SPAIN

This year East Street Arts, in collaboration with BilbaoArte (Bilbao) and pocagallery (Portugalete), has organised an artist exchange between Leeds and Bilbao. During the summer the artists Josh Gibbs and duo Annie Nelson and Chris Woodward have spent a month in residency at Bilbaoarte, being hosted by local artists Rosa Parma and Mawatres. Rosa and Mawa will in turn visit Leeds in September where they will be hosted by East Street Arts.

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The artists were selected by their home organisation respectively. East Street Arts made an open call from which the two successful projects were chosen:

Josh Gibbs makes sculptures and installations with found objects and materials that explore the relationship between nature and interlinked patterns of the construction of buildings, their collapse and reconstruction. For his time in Spain, Josh proposed to expand on his recent project Darkhouses, analysing the roles of explorer, urban and landscape surveyor, collector, quarry operative, bricklayer and developer to challenge and question the issue of the promise of affordable housing.

Annie Nelson and Chris Woodward used this opportunity to develop their first work as their new collaborative practice, under the name of ArtistYoke. They are currently converting a van that will act as their live/work space, and their proposal for this exchange was to investigate the idea of boundary and the different physical ways used to contain, protect or restrain the movement of people. They are focusing on how the idea of boundary, both physical and psychological, can inhibit development and create tensions between different cultural groups, both nomadic and sedentary.

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The five artists also realised an exhibition at pocagallery as part of the residency. This show was an opportunity to present their work and for the Leeds artists to showcase some of the work they have been creating at BilbaoArte.

Both of Leeds projects had clear connections from the outset, in their attention to the urban landscape, to the language of the constructed habitat and their social cultural issues arising from certain specific manifestations. The exhibition at pocagallery turned out to be a (partly) serendipitous collection of works.

Josh Gibbs presented two new sculptures that he had made in his first week at BilbaoArte. Two maquettes of houses in an early state of development were made with remnants of tiles and materials that Josh found discarded on skips across the city. The work had an interesting sense of recurrence; a red and white tape, recognisable from construction sites, encircled the two miniature houses. The work produced an interesting sense of recurrence; the tape acting as both fencing in the audience within the gallery, suggesting the drafted nature of the piece, and representing a barrier for the potential miniature people that would in the future expect to inhabit these buildings.

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Remaining on floor level was one of ArtistYoke’s works, two half mandalas protruding from the wall made out of approximately one thousand miniature ceramic bollards. Each bollard almost the exact scale for Josh’s houses, their compositions presented a new reading for these ordinary objects that are at best invisible, at worst an annoyance for most of us in our everyday lives. The bollard piece was in direct dialogue with a selection of digital collages etched onto MDF on the wall above, depicting images based on various narratives from nomadic cultures. A third work from ArtistYoke, continued their exploration of thresholds with a circular tower structure built out of small wooden spikes. Placed near the entrance door, a suggestive potential obstacle, the piece positioned itself between the menacing essence of the spikes and the visual pleasure of its configuration.

I said earlier that there was certain serendipity in the combination of works, for we did not know the work of Rosa Parma and Mawatres in advance. Rosa Parma, working with drawing and screen-print, presented a selection of drawings accompanied by some t-shirts from her project Riot Flesh and RRR fanzine. Her drawings, to which she refers plainly to Jane Warton / Guerrilla Girls, are raw and evocative of street and graffiti art. Mawatres presented two recent drawings made with cement, part of a new series of work, inspired by historic events of social conflict.

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Both Rosa and Mawatres‘s work completes an exhibition that reflects on the urban landscape and our collective interactions with it, its language, its conflicts, its limits. Taking elements of the city and using them to present or suggest new reactionary positions to their established purposes, or by making direct references to other art forms that use the city surface as their canvas, each artist expresses a reflection about different aspects of our everyday surroundings.

The next phase of this exchange will see Rosa Parma and Mawatres spending a month in Leeds in the autumn to develop new work. There will be an opportunity in Leeds for the public to see their work and to hear from Josh, Annie and Chris about their experience in Bilbao.

We hope this is the first of a continuing relationship with BilbaoArte and this exchange also represents a model to develop new partnerships with other art organisations in Europe.

Stay tuned for updates on Rosa and Mawatres residency in Leeds.
Thanks for reading,
Hondartza

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