Olivia Plender – ‘The Medium and Daybreak’

7 October 2005 — 13 November 2005

(including collaborations with Matthew Darbyshire, Celia Plender and a film by Nick Laessing)
Castlefield Gallery is proud to present Olivia Plender’s first solo exhibition, ‘The Medium and Daybreak’. The exhibition features a wide range of works, including new commissions especially for Castlefield, a new film produced in collaboration with Grizedale Arts and the latest installment of Plender’s comic ‘The Masterpiece’, published by Castlefield Gallery Publications in collaboration with Wideshut Magazine.

Plender’s multi-faceted practice involves historical and pseudo sociological research, and collaboration with other artists. She produces drawings, posters, comic books, installations, films and performance pieces and her collaborations see her working with anyone from artists to parapsychologists, mediums, magicians, sociologists and, most recently, Ken Russell.

The exhibition title, ‘The Medium and Daybreak’, is derived from a 19th century Spiritualist Newspaper. Adopting a pseudo sociological approach, Plender questions the Romantic notion of the artist as genius or spiritual icon, alongside the Modern idea of the medium. Trading on their mysteriously direct link with the world of the unconscious, both are roles that emerged in response to the enlightenment and 18th and 19th Century questioning of traditional religion but continue to persist today, especially in films and fiction.

Key to Plender’s research into this subject is her interest in the political and sociological aspects of the Modern Spiritualist movement. Particularly the way in which the channeling of ‘Spirits’ was regularly used to transgress social boundaries; even playing a key role in working class movements for social change, for female emancipation such as the Suffragettes, and, in the US, the anti-slavery movement.

The gallery space will be turned into a museum environment as these ideas are explored through a large-scale installation reconstructing the interior of a Spiritualist Church. This reconstruction stems from Plender’s research and material gathered from the People’s History Museum and Museum of Science and Industry in Manchester. It will also include banners and flags, which she has recreated based on the banner of the Spiritualist National Union illustrating Spiritualist history and principles.

The exhibition also features an installation and a new film about Ken Russell, including an interview with Plender and Russell discussing his films about artists, romanticism, being a visionary and the notion of genius. The accompanying installation is a set is based on a television studio from the 1970s.

Plender’s interest in Russell arose when she stumbled across an interview in an old film magazine in which he talked about ‘Savage Messiah’ (1972), the movie he made on the sculptor Henri Gaudier Brzeska. Plender subsequently used the interview as source material for her ongoing comic book ‘The Masterpiece’. As an artist Gaudier Brzeska conforms to all the necessary romantic stereotypes, as he had a wild ‘tear-away’ lifestyle, died a violent death whilst still young and left a body of work that some people describe as being the product of a ‘genius’. In the interview Ken Russell talks about his views on artists and the creative temperament and, as ever, his own ‘larger than life’ personality overshadows that of Gaudier Brzeska.

Complementary to these new bodies of work, and essentially underpinning the ideas explored within them, is Plender’s comic ‘The Masterpiece’. Set in London at the end of the 1950s, the comic series follows the fortunes of Nick, an unrecognised artistic genius trying to negotiate his way to success in the stifling atmosphere of an imaginary bohemia. The story follows the artist as he encounters underground life, parties, séances and psychedelic experiences. The form the work takes as a mass-produced comic is in deliberate contrast to the unique one off masterpiece that the central character is obsessed with making. The story deliberately evokes the 19th century romantic view of the artist, in particular Emile Zola’s novel of the same name in order to examine the notion of genius.

To coincide with the exhibition Castlefield Gallery is publishing the latest instalment ‘The Masterpiece, Part 4 – A Weekend in the Country’. Nick and his crowd of fellow bohemians are invited to a large country house for the weekend by Norman the art dealer. Things become increasingly sinister as a Spiritualist character intuits that Nick is having problems with the ghost of his old mentor (who he murdered in episode 2), Norman turns out to be the head of a bizarre religious cult, and there is an appearance by a sheep-headed man…

Visit the gallery to find out more…

Olivia Plender is an artist and writer and currently co-editor of ‘Untitled’ magazine. She graduated from Central St Martins College of Art and Design and is based in London. In 2004 Plender undertook residencies at the Visual Research Centre, Dundee Contemporary Arts; Grizedale Arts, Cumbria; and PS1, New York. Recent exhibitions include Romantic Detachment in New York; East End Academy Whitechapel Gallery, London; and A Public Meeting to Address the Phenomenon of Materialization at Man in the Holocene, London. Plender has been selected for a Triangle Arts Trust residency in Buenos Aires, both in Autumn 2005. In 2006 she has a solo show at Jonathan Viner Gallery, London and her book Notes from the Other Side, will published by Bookworks.

Olivia Plender’s latest comic, ‘The Masterpiece, Part 4 – A Weekend in the Country’ is published by Castlefield Gallery Publications to coincide with this exhibition. Price £5.

Olivia Plender’s exhibition has been generously supported by Arts Council England, the Esmée Fairbairn Foundation and the Granada Foundation.