Ruth Barker & Hannah Leighton-Boyce

9 March 2018 — 29 April 2018

Castlefield Gallery presents two newly commissioned bodies of work by the artists Ruth Barker and Hannah Leighton-Boyce. The exhibition is part of Manchester’s Wonder Women Festival 2018, and marks the 100th anniversary of The Representation of the People’s Act, a law passed in 1918 that reformed the electoral system in Great Britain. The Act gave the vote to all men over the age of 21 and women over 30 who met a minimum property qualification, a significant moment in the journey towards women’s suffrage.

Paired by Castlefield Gallery, both women’s practice sees them undertake in-depth research projects with the artists often embedding themselves in communities to explore people and place. New work for this exhibition has been made during 2017 when Castlefield Gallery supported Ruth Barker (Glasgow) and Hannah Leighton-Boyce (Manchester) to undertake research residencies: Leighton-Boyce in Scotland with Glasgow Women’s Library, and Barker in Salford with the University of Salford and University of Salford Art Collection. Over the course of the year Barker and Leighton-Boyce have exchanged many ideas, thoughts and stories, in particular through conversation and letters. New works will premiere at Castlefield Gallery, Manchester, before touring in 2019 to Glasgow Women’s Library, and acquisition into the University of Salford Art Collection.

Barker primarily works in performance and performative-writing, and has an on-going engagement with the ‘voice’. As a mother of two young children, she is clear that her recent experience of traumatic birth precedes but does not define her new body of work If this is the last thing that I say.

The central figure in If this is the last thing that I say is an ambiguous ‘pulley- woman’, a (ready-made) clothes pulley standing in for Barker’s absence. Alongside other works, this becomes a way for Barker to talk about her own mortality and an anxiety around motherhood, illness, physical vulnerability. Brutal world politics, and the economic conditions of contemporary Britain are, Barker feels, rapidly coalescing to render her publicly mute.

If this is the last thing that I say comes together through an assemblage of spoken word and sound, and will include wall based fabric works, and sculptural objects. A black fabric performance costume hung up to dry alongside an incomplete papier mâché female torso – suggesting nothing more than an ineffectual Winged Victory, while a ‘rug’ depicting a child’s drawing of the face of the Mesopotamian goddess Ishtar.

Barker has also worked with a group of school children from Clarendon Road Primary School, in Eccles, Salford. Her three-channel audio piece, What sound should we make (2018), includes a monologue by the artist herself, alongside recordings made in the University of Salford’s Anechoic Chamber (a room designed to completely absorb the reflections or echoes of sound) during a sonic meditation workshop with the children, led by Barker, and inspired by the pioneer of deep listening, Pauline Oliveros. Barker’s wall based fabric works, Thought forms (2018), are the visual resonances of particular oral tones.

The rug work was made using specialist production techniques at the University of Salford’s fibre workshop with artist assistant Alena Donely.

Leighton-Boyce’s research process led her to explore the everyday domestic mineral salt, as a metaphor for preservation, the archive and the residue of the emotional and physical body. Her new series of works are inspired by and made with salt, drawing on its inherent properties of division, healing and energy, and in particular the charge of ‘coming together’ she encountered at Glasgow Women’s Library. Leighton-Boyce explores how salt can sympathise with the body in its different forms and formlessness, being strong and crystalline yet simultaneously fragile and vulnerable. Her process and work explores how salt can dissolve, and through the process of evaporation, then reform anew.

In developing her work, Leighton Boyce entwines ideas and materials, echoing the physical imprints and human presence, the traces of labour that touched her, when working with the archived documents of events, political campaigns and movements housed at Glasgow Women’s Library. In More energy than object, more force than form (2018), a series of saltwater batteries are arranged in concentric circles reminiscent of an ancient monument. The multiple bodies of cells make specific use of the particularities and behaviours of salt, the energy of separation and attraction that occur when salt is suspended in water, to power a light.  This energy of difference and attraction is echoed again in Affinity (2018) where oxidising zinc and copper sheets sit side by side, slumping against the wall.

As with Barker, historical narratives have informed Leighton-Boyce’s work, in particular the story of Lot’s (unnamed) wife who was turned to a pillar of salt when she defied the angels and turned to look back on the burning cities of Sodom and Gomorrah (Genesis 19:26). The cylindrical forms of cast salt in Persistent bodies (2018) lie like fragments of a collapsed column, or reminiscent of a broken length of spinal bone, posing questions about what we uphold and why. In opposition to the intention of this biblical story, Leighton-Boyce infers in it the subversive potential of bearing witness, the importance of looking back, and of the archives of somewhere like Glasgow Women’s Library.

Touring to Glasgow Women’s Library: 1 February – 23 March 2019 (Preview: 31 January 2019)

More on the artists:

Ruth Barker (b. 1979, Leeds) lives and works in Glasgow, Scotland. On first examination Barker’s work foregrounds her own daily experiences and the quotidian narratives of her day to day life, however it equally suggests echoes of the larger, longer stories of our own mortality, our sense of self, and our internalisation of ancient myth. Her words are layered in structure and intensity, yet have unexpected moments of humour.

In 2017 she completed a PhD in Fine Art Practice at Newcastle University.  She graduated from the MFA (Master of Fine Art) at Glasgow School of Art in 2004 after also completing the BA (Hons) at Glasgow School of Art in 2001

In 2013 Barker was nominated for the Canonsgate’ ‘Future Forty’. Recent projects include Mega Hammer in collaboration with Marvin Gaye Chetwynd, Glasgow International, (Glasgow); performance – The Foot Exerts a Pressure On The Surface Of The Glass, and commission Glass, Blinded To The Room, for wewioraprojects’ Tall Tales at Freud Museum, London; The Space Beneath My Skin Is Closed To My Reason Today for: A Goddess for a Beauty Centre, online performance with Yeo Chee Kiong, curated by Yen Peng, NAFA Singapore; Uprising 1870, ATLAS Arts, Isle of Skye and Strange Attractor, at the Agency gallery London, with Man Ray, Ulla von Brandenburg and Dominique Koch a./o., curated by Bea Gassmann de Sousa; new work for CCA (Glasgow), Siobhan Davies Dance (London), Radiophrenia (Glasgow), Resonance FM (London), Camden Arts Centre (London), Sils Projects (Rotterdam), Glasgow International festival of Visual Art; Cartel Gallery, (London) and Machon Hamayim (Tel Aviv). Ruth Barker is represented by the Agency Gallery, London.

Hannah Leighton-Boyce (b. 1980, Stroud) lives and works in Manchester, England. Recent works include a collaborative live sculpture made with residents of Helmshore, Lancashire (2014), set within the context of the area’s industrial heritage; and a sound installation at Touchstones Rochdale (2016) funded by a New Opportunities Award [New Expressions3], which explored ideas of disembodiment and labour through the resonant properties and work history of objects within the museum’s collection. Recent group exhibitions include Excuse Me While I am Changing, Rogue Projects Space, Manchester; New Work, The Manchester Contemporary 2016; Women Artists from 1861 -2015, Touchstones Art Gallery, Rochdale; For Posterity, Castlefield Gallery, Manchester (2015); People and Process: A history of Salts Mill, Salts Mill, Saltaire.

She graduated with a BA (Hons) in textiles from Winchester School of Art in 2005 and completed the MA in Textiles at Manchester School of Art at Manchester Metropolitan University in 2012.

She has works in private and public collections including: Touchstones Art Gallery, Rochdale; Salts Mill, West Yorkshire; Ackworth Quaker School, West Yorkshire.


The University of Salford Art Collection contains almost 700 works of modern and contemporary art, and exists for the benefit of students, staff and the public. It is accessible in key buildings across the University campus, and is loaned to other arts organisations and museums. The collection is distinctive in that it has an active acquisitions policy focused on three collecting strands: ‘About the Digital’, ‘From the North’, and ‘Chinese Contemporary Art’. Most acquisitions are developed through strategic partnerships with external exhibition and commissioning collaborators such as Centre for Chinese Contemporary Art, Castlefield Gallery, Salford Museum and Art Gallery and HOME.

The University of Salford received its charter in 1967, however its history can be traced back to 1850 with the formation of the Pendleton Mechanics Institute.  Today the University operates 7 schools, with 20,000 students and 2,500 staff. The regeneration of Salford has created new opportunities which bring the university firmly into the 21st Century. The University has joined the BBC and ITV at the MediaCityUK development in Salford Quays and has ambitious plans to redevelop its existing campus over the next 20 years. The flagship New Adelphi building, the new home of the School of Arts and Media opened in 2017.

Glasgow Women’s Library is the only Accredited Museum in the UK dedicated to women’s lives, histories and achievements, with a lending library, archive collections and innovative programme of public events and learning opportunities. Glasgow Women’s Library’s vision is of a world in which every woman is able to fulfil her potential and where women’s historical, cultural and political contributions to society are fully recognised, valued and celebrated. The organisation celebrated its 25th anniversary in 2016. As a Recognised Collection of National Significance, Glasgow Women’s Library is used, visited and loved by people from around the world and around the corner. Since its inception Glasgow Women’s Library has supported and been supported by the agency of creatives. It collaborates with an array of cultural partners and is active in commissioning, exhibiting and collecting innovative artworks including those by diverse artists, writers and filmmakers.

Co-commissioned with the University of Salford Art Collection. With special thanks to Clarendon Road Primary School.

Special thanks to Castlefield Gallery Patron, James Mycock.

Thanks also to Creative Tourist, G.F Smith and Fred Aldous for their continued support of our main gallery exhibition programme.

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