The Long Lens blog: Photography with added snaps, art and culture

The photography site for sore eyes. Featuring: Art, photography, performance and theatre. With extra writing because I'm also a writer.

Birley Residency Open Day at the Harris Museum

This bit of writing is about some images I took of some artists at the Harris Museum and Art Gallery in Preston.

I’m going to explain briefly about what it was all about, in as few words as possible.

I was photographing a group of artists called from the Birley, an artist-led studio and arts space in Preston. Despite being a diverse group of artists, working across hugely different artistic styles, they joined forces and formed as a collective in 2014 after being offered an empty council building to be used as studios in the centre of Preston (the building is called The Birley).

It’s a nice initiative for everyone concerned. It’s cheap studio space for the artists while an empty council building is given some purpose. It is a positive example of the council supporting local creativity. Their website is here.

The Birley was written about recently in The Guardian newspaper here. 

They hold events and art exhibitions frequently. The studios are not open every day, so it’s worth following them to see what’s going on. Twitter: @the_birley Facebook: /thebirleyartiststudios

Over the past year the Birley artists have also been resident artists at The Harris. An artist residency can mean many things but is usually the offer of money, time and space from an institution to a creative person to make new work.

The Birley’s residency with The Harris has involved several projects with the artists, like this one Martin Hamblen did late last year ticking boxes. My own blog about that is here.

On April 1, 2017 The Birley artists had a kind of takeover of the Harris for one day, with all the artists involved either displaying or performing some of their work.

The artists involved in the open day were: Mat Birchall, Steph Fletcher, Martin Hamblen, Tao Lashley-Burnley, Benedict Rutherford and Rachel Pursglove.

These are the photos (below) along with some text about each piece of work (text taken from The Birley website):

The Birley residency is part of the Dance First, Think Later contemporary art programme curated by Clarissa Corfe at the Harris Museum funded by Arts Council England, Lancashire County Council, Garfield Weston, The Brian Mercer Charitable Trust, Granada Foundation and Jacana Care Trust.


Rachel Pursglove will perform ‘A Repetitive Task’ – a nonsensical performance about the repetitive action of doing something over and over, again and again. In this instance, performing the actions of folding clothes, practicing the high visual standards of retail folding techniques. Each performance will begin on the hour and will last for 5-10 minutes.
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Tao Lashley-Burnley’s intervention uses the library and history collections to create new abstract text based works/poems that will be inserted into books throughout the library for visitors to happen upon. Alongside these works will be a number of drawings influenced by the archives and also created from spending time in the library and reference room. He would like visitors to take them away, use them as bookmarks, re-insert them into other books. The pieces will be documented before placing into books to create a catalogue. This catalogue will be displayed in cases in the library.

He has also created T-shirts designs inspired by buildings around the Harris worn by Front of House.

At 2pm Lashley–Burnley will be performing Backchat, a talk comprised of written texts discussing the navigation and orientation of space combined with extracts from museum’s library archive that reference architecture and buildings. The work is both a response to the museum’s surroundings and a philosophical enquiry into the origin of our ideas of the sublime and beautiful. This work will be recited backwards.

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Martin Hamblen presents a palindrome performance, FoolooF. It will be performed for a duration of two hours; one hour either side of midday on April Fool’s Day. Hamblen will wear yellow as a reference to James Gunn’s well-known painting Pauline in the Yellow Dress (1944). He will also serve Punts – small cherry, almond and coconut cakes inspired by his Grandma who was also called Pauline.

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Steph Fletcher has created a series of games inspired the games in the Harris Museum’s social history collection. Available to play in the Harris Museum, the board game ‘Whose Land’ focuses on local concerns over land rights in Lancashire (such as ‘Jam’s Garden’ in Preston and regional Fracking protests) . Meanwhile, ‘Ping Wrong’  allows you to settle a dispute through a ping-pong style game.

Fletcher’s work explores the social, political and ecological systems and structures we inhabit, and how we navigate through them or try to understand our roles within them. Her work often takes the form of drawing, performance, intervention and socially-engaged works. For this residency, she is interested in exploring processes of ‘decision making’ in communities, and experiences of ‘uncertainty’ in daily life – in work, leisure, and social relationships as well as local/global politics.

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Benedict Rutherford’s work investigates constructed systems, social norms and conventions, distribution of information and semantics. He is inspired by the optimism and utopianism that has been present within Russian Constructivist and the Arts and Crafts movements.

For this residency he has researched the library and social history collection. He is interested in finding connections between seemingly unrelated texts and objects in order to adapt and reimagine their significance and relevance. His particular interests lie in histories of social conditions of, local production processes and economy in Preston. The work produced from this research will include elements of printmaking and sculpture.

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Mat Birchall will place 5 digital videos displayed on monitors situated around the museum. Shot on a basic digital camera the footage depicts video sketches of liminal spaces such as corridors, shelving units, piping, air vents around the Harris Museum.

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