The Bluecoat: Soft Estate – Edward Chell

Edward Chell, Creeping thistle Cirsium arvense 2013. Photograph by Peter Abrahams

6 December – 23 February

Open daily 10.00 – 18.00

Soft Estate: Edward Chell
with invited artists Tim Bowditch & Nick Rochowski, Day Bowman,
Jan Williams & Chris Teasdale (The Caravan Gallery), John Darwell, Laura Oldfield Ford, George Shaw, Robert Soden, Simon Woolham

Soft Estate features new works by Edward Chell that explore the interface between history, ecology, roads and travel. In paintings, prints, and objects, made using a variety of materials including road dust and etched car parts, he investigates motorway landscapes, linking these contemporary environments with 18th century ideas of the Picturesque.

The exhibition’s title derives from the Highways Agency description of our motorways’ and trunk roads’ natural habitats. These soft estate verges offer refuge for wildlife, a modern wilderness in the midst of intense urbanisation and agro-chemical farming.

Other artists interrogating similar ‘edgelands’ – familiar yet ignored spaces neither city nor countryside – exhibit alongside and in conversation with Chell. They present juxtapositions commonly experienced in edgelands, like beauty and pollution, wilderness and human agency.

Tim Bowditch and Nick Rochowski survey largely unseen pedestrian walkways beneath London’s Orbital M25 using photography and sound. Jan Williams & Chris Teasdale travel the country with their Caravan Gallery, photographing ordinary and extraordinary details of everyday life, capturing a sense of place (or non-place).

Concrete municipal architecture and weedy waste ground are the unremarkable focus for several artists. Day Bowman’s abstract paintings become heroic gestures giving a sense of grandeur to urban wastelands, her small collages resembling ‘wish you were here’ mementoes or edgeland postcards. Drawings by Laura Oldfield Ford and Simon Woolham and prints by George Shaw engage with overlooked spaces where narratives unfold to evoke personal and collective memories.

John Darwell’s photographs focus on in-between spaces used for leisure, such as allotments or spots popular with dog walkers. Robert Soden’s paintings, created on the spot, energetically engage with his home environment of Sunderland, recording changes wrought by redevelopment.

A publication, Soft Estate, focusing on Edward Chell’s work in the exhibition and the research that informs it, will be launched with the exhibition. Fully illustrated, it includes a new essay by nature writer Richard Mabey.

Soft Estate
tours to Spacex, Exeter, 8 March – 3 May.

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