39-41 Gregory Boulevard, Nottingham, United Kingdom This blog is for all New Art Exchange audience members to give their opinions and reviews, and to discuss exhibitions & events. Got something to add? Email:

08 December 2011

Culture Cloud - The Birth of the idea Part 2

The Birth of the idea Part 2

Returning from MAC (Midlands Art Centre) I distributed the notes I had collected between a team of NAE staff we had chosen to work on the cloud project. We had Andy Lindley our Technical Manager, Skinder Hundal our chief executive, Ravi Abbott (Me) project Assistant and Islam Muhammad EVS Volunteer. We sat around a table and started discussing what we thought the aims of the project would be and what NESTA would want. We found three very important points that would change our direction of thinking thus changing the project outcomes. The first point was that they were not focusing on new methods of creating interactive art and displaying it. This meant that the idea of interactive screens or robotic heads was not viable.  The Second important point was that they wanted a testable proposition, this meant that we could not make it over complex and it had to be created with current technology. The final important point was that they wanted control to be in the hands of the audience, this would mean it needed to be interactive but that interactivity must count towards something.

We became more focused on the cloud idea, this seems to be the idea that could be made less complicated. With making it a testable proposition we could achieve it by doing it on a much smaller scale then the initial idea. We could simply have one initial cloud based around the NAE area. We could allow artists to upload and share work. We decided to choose visual arts as an initial platform as arts as a subject matter is so wide spread it would be very complex to organise it and pointless for a trail.

We still did not have a name. We were coming up with different ideas, combinations of cloud and community. After jokingly suggesting Boy George’s ‘Culture Club’ we simple swapped the club for cloud. This seemed to fit and roll off the tongue well.

We still needed to define the idea, we had a good base for an online community but how do we bring this community into the gallery space (this is the whole aim of the project). We came up with lots of ideas such as interactive boards, displaying art works on the tram, projection on the side of the NAE. Eventually Andy Lindley suggested we simply made a box in the gallery space. This box would display the works digitally and people could come and see their work displayed in the gallery space.  This box would contain a Pc with a high quality screen or projector. We named this simply ‘media box’

This idea was strong but we felt it would not appeal to people who were not used to or unsure of visiting an art space. We needed something extra to pull them in. Skinder decided to get some advice from art companies and contacts he knew. 

Part 3 Coming soon
by Ravi James Abbott Project Assistant

01 December 2011

Culture cloud – Birth of the Idea Part 1

Birth of the idea Part 1

When Skinder first asked me to help on a digital project, I was excited but unsure how an art centre with such a traditional style of visual arts would be able to achieve this.
Previous tech projects I have been involved with were mostly self funded community websites, or involved working with small groups of people who met online to create a gaming community. These sites were great. I learnt a lot about what makes a community successful and what can make it divided. All of this work had a fairly loose structure and was very much a spare-time thing.

When presented with the challenge, Skinder and I started brainstorming to come up with ideas. The initial ideas were strong but a few were pretty obscure - particularly the giant robot head on the side of NAE that used image recognition software to scan people and then greet them with their name.

We soon whittled it down to one pretty complex, but strong concept. This was spurred on by suggestions from the wider team at NAE and the idea became more defined. We thought: ‘what can NAE offer to help bring people into the centre?’ The answer we came to was the community. If we could filter this amazingly diverse and talented community into a showcase of some kind, people would see how vibrant the place is, or be drawn to the centre via a route they would not usually have taken.
We started off thinking about areas and fixing the location to capture the local community’s content and display it. We initially thought of simply drawing a square of a mile around the area on map and then collecting the data and displaying it at an event.

We soon realised that this was very limited, as we would keep getting similar content and it could go stagnant. We also found a similar art project called square mile (guess great minds think alike). This is when we thought that the square could expand and retract. Then we thought that the shape of the square was too restrictive. What if somebody wanted to join and lived just outside the edge of the boundary? So we decided to ditch the square idea, so the shape could change and even move across and overlap other locations.
‘Cloud’ is a very popular word online at the moment. With products such as iCloud by Apple storing people’s content in remote virtual locations. It’s very relevant. This coupled with the idea that clouds move, expand, retract helped cement the idea.

With this idea planted in my head, I was sent to The NESTA digital day in Birmingham at Midlands Arts Centre (MAC). It was my first art conference/debate event and my first time in Brum. They had some great examples of projects and ideas and gave us some very vital information. We discussed everything from the online record industry, to social networking. I enjoyed it a lot and stuffed my face with sandwiches and fruit whilst having a look around MAC.

Part 2 Coming soon

by Ravi James Abbott Project Assistant

18 November 2011

Review by Simon Raven



16th September - 26th NOVEMBER

Reviewed by Simon Raven

A complex and unusual collection of artworks, mimicking the formal language of a museum display, was spread across two floors of the New Art Exchange's exhibition spaces. Nigerian born and London based artist, Leo Asemota's exhibition gathered works in a range of media, including photography, video, sculpture, performance and drawing, made during varying distinct phases of an ongoing artistic investigation. The 'ENS Project' in its various interconnected parts uses the historic relations between Britain and Benin as a lens through which to consider the influence of technological, social and cultural phenomena on the psyche, whilst also enacting both a loss and ritualistic reclamation of identity.

The audience is invited, via a small sign, to enter and read the exhibition in a particular narrative order. Our journey begins with a haunted act of erasure: a wall piece featuring 35 heavily framed Polaroid photographs, in which a face-shot of the protagonist (presumably the artist) has been bleached white - an effect which might be achieved by holding a camera flash too close to the subject, and which might be suggestive of an interrogation or blinding act. Each erased head becomes a lunar mirror, reminiscent for me of the smooth blank chip in a scrabble set, which can stand for any letter. Indeed, one of the meanings of 'ENS', of the exhibition title, is a unit of measurement for the space taken up by a letter type.

The 35 photographic images/moons are hung in a grid, sculpturally evocative of a giant computer keyboard. From this vantage point it is possible to imagine each deleted face as a large white thumb-print, pressed into an alphabet of erasure. One missing image at the corner of the grid hints at a deeper theft and etymology for the work. The 35 blank faces alludes to the number of bronze heads looted from statues in pre-colonial Benin during a punitive expedition by the British in 1897 (the heads were taken to cover the cost of the expedition, and no doubt as a symbolic act by one 'head of state' on another) Each head was stolen from a statue of an African King relating to the practice of Igue, in which the head is worshipped as a site of communion with ancestors and gods. In writing, and at the exhibition, I found myself imagining a giant, headless bronze statue of an African King, typing a story of blank white faces with large thumbs: a lunar script of identity theft and erasure. Less dramatically, the work also conjures allusion to performance documentation by Tehching Hsieh, who, from 1978-9, punched a clock every hour for a year, and the godfather of the Polaroid, Andy Warhol, who took pictures of his own blank face among multiple society portraits. All of which have a contemporary counterpart in online social networking sites, which provide platforms for countless projects in which the protagonist photographs them-self every day for a year, enacting the anonymous mechanisation of subjective identity and loss.

Along the next wall were hung a line of drawings again framed in a way that was suggestive of computer keys or typography (this time in red and white, colours of blood). The images, delicately made with coal and white chalk, formed a lexicon of symbolic exchange and alchemical process. Among them were diagrams of mutability, and the beautiful phrase, 'I am the reason for my parents existence'. A complex and expansive web of mystical signifiers: diagrams, patterns and moons, hinted at a close study of archetypal imagery, alongside the formation and unpacking of symbols consistent with a deep exploration of identity and spiritual rebirth. A form of powdered white chalk (orhue) used in drawings, performances and sculptures throughout the exhibition, relates to Olokun Worship, practised by the Edo people of Nigeria. Olokun, god of the sea, is a powerful, benevolent deity, considered greater even than Oba, god of the land. In Olokun ritual white chalk is used as a tool for invoking prayer, both in drawings and in combination with objects, dances and musical rites, often involving an act of erasure (and perhaps an inhabiting of the 'ENS' space itself).

Following the drawings is a video of a performance made as a radio broadcast. The video is shown without sound, but can be heard by following a link on the NAE website. As such, the viewer is invited into a circular narrative in which formal arrangements are inverted: radio is traditionally heard and not seen, video is seen and not heard. Another blank space created and filled.

Several sculptural objects housed on plinths and under clear, plastic vitrine cases, included a chess set carved from chalk and coal, and a bible-jacket encrusted with coal. The formal arrangements of these works, and the colours black, white and gold, reminded me of modernist works by Constantin Brancusi, or props gathered from a lecture by Joseph Beuys. Their museological mode of display provided some distance from this reading, and an element of parody which might have been developed with accompanying texts.

Upstairs in the Mezzanine gallery three further components of the 'ENS' project were displayed in an order dictated by the sectioning of the poured concrete floor into three distinct areas. The first contained detailed drawings, or plans, for a performance in which Asemota re-walked the path of Queen Victoria's Diamond Jubilee parade (on the same date even) through London. Navigational sketches and diamond shapes made from coal provided clues to the historical path and objective of the work.

Shown on a monitor at the end of the space was a film of four Nigerian men, dressed in highly formal, militaristic wear (maroon berets, sunglasses, black leather suits, braiding, boots) performing a ritual promenade, carrying four corners of a religious object: a rusted votive ship or anchor, with pale blue lace rigging, encasing a clasped heart of white chalk. The sombre procession paused at various monuments to Queen Victoria, and in The National Portrait Gallery, where rituals involving chalk and various other objects were enacted. A sense of reclaiming a political past, with symbolic connotations far beyond those normally associated with art, were created. In addition to psycho-geographic performances, I couldn't help also thinking of Eddie Murphy's movie, 'Coming to America', in which white preconceptions of African heritage are brilliantly parodied and subverted. Each participant in the performance took their turn to read texts suggestive of Britain's colonial past, including one by Rudyard Kipling, which were printed and exhibited alongside the film, and the ritual boat/sculpture housed in a large glass case.

'ENS Project' is an ongoing and fascinating work, to which I am indebted for the opportunity to discover aspects of Nigerian culture and British history which until visiting the New Art Exchange I knew nothing about. It is interesting to see the work sited outside London, in a city with a history of mining both coal and gypsum, which is also a form of white chalk. The show runs until 26th November, and I recommend a visit, particularly when there is a talk to help unpack some of the shows complex but ultimately rewarding religious, artistic and historical narratives.

19 September 2011

21st Century Tension

21st Century tension
(measuring the ‘sound’ of creativity – Decibel 2011)

The street never lies… where (high) art and culture collide, engaging reality. That is the starting point for our space in Hyson Green. Hold that thought.
I’ve just spent a couple of days at the ACE conference and showcase for diversity, Decibel - a festival of diversity exploring a new approach where diversity designs cultural production in the UK so it becomes positioned at the centre of what we assume as the mainstream. 
I believe I’m fairly optimistic, so for me meeting new people and consolidating old friendships strengthens my practice, outlook, networks and therefore the future impact of the work I champion. I came away with many business cards and one who claims to cover many trades and forms from dealing with antiques, making films, being a political analyst, security guard to promoting comedy karaoke! Now that’s diversity if I ever saw it…. I mean come on!
Championing diversity today is a complex mix of societal groups and poses tricky challenges. This 5th edition of Decibel, which included a symposium and a series of showcases, well attended and delivered across Manchester’s leading venues so Contact Theatre, Royal Exchange, Royal Northern College of Music for example . I love Manchester, it’s quite a city... from Cloud 23 cocktails, great galleries, to lush penthouse apartments to leading football teams… an essence and core with ambitious pulse and confidence about it.
In terms of my Decibel re-graduation this year I consulted peers to hear their thoughts so I could further my understanding of this new 21st century approach. The younger cohorts were on the whole inspired and the older, as expected mixed with British cynicism and frustration on the whole, dissatisfied with the debates.
 Growing up I was forever inspired by older people, half way in however, I am now left more inspired by young people. A young film maker from Liverpool explained her approach to life and this in front of an experienced audience of international representatives. Her energy and enthusiasm was refreshing and her message strong and simple delivered with charisma and confidence… her life challenging and rescued by creativity. 

So can diversity in the complexity of the 21st century be delivered with such strength, simplicity and confidence? Moving diversity into the heart of arts production is ambitious and a positive step and I’ve certainly witnessed over the years many contemporary spaces representing cultures and diverse societal experiences – perhaps driven by globalisation and economic power flips as opposed to conscious volition? For art to be relevant and make an impact, connecting with the disengaged means we need to work differently. We need to produce art which has meaning, done symbiotically with diverse audiences, communities and creatives. So ‘people of the community’ design and deliver, rather than art and culture be imposed as a form of cultural imperialism. Leadership and design are key.
The ‘street never lies’ approach means (high) art colliding with reality – sometimes like a head butt. Every day is a Decibel moment here at NAE, where quality art which can be ingeniously creative is supported, generated and promoted with a narrative enriched by culturally diverse expressions aiming to connect with local communities. Also central to championing diversity is the inclusion of diverse leaders who understand the pulse of minority groups and organisations and can champion as role model portals for change.
 Will ACE’s new approach resonate purposefully with its new list of portfolio organisations? What will success look like and how will it compare with what has been delivered within the network of RFOs previously? Or will this simply become rhetoric and yet another initiative that falls flat because the same guard make the decisions or simply can’t deal with the street. Will diversity be really fully embraced or will it face the risk of exoticisms of the past. Will the ‘mainstream’ get it! I’m not convinced… however remain optimistic and there lies our 21st century tension.

Skinder Hundal

Thoughts on the talk by Tasawar Bashir

I found the Talk by Tasawar Bashir very interesting and opening up further possibilities.  In this respect, I suppose, it was 'a work in progress' - as it did not seem to be 'final' regarding a viewpoint on 'What is Muslim Art' and 'How has it, and artists, been affected  (since) by the events of 9/11'? This 'weakness' was highlighted by a searching question at the start of the discussion-session, from a young woman who pointed out that there seemed to be no apparent link between the 'visual' to illustrate the Talk, and indeed, the Talk itself, reference '9/11'.  Also the question was raised as to 'what was Islamic Art' - is there a tight definition, which clearly there is not, at least from the Presentation.
Unfortunately, I had to leave early after I myself linked/offered several images/ideas to the Subject - namely -The art of the Normans (which incorporated both Christian and Muslim Art, Architecture and artists),  The Al' Hambra' , Granada and Toledo in Spain, and the Madrassa-University (for young women)  in Samarkand (Soviet) Central Asia, founded by Tamarlaine The Great's gandfather (who was killed for this in a usurpation), and indeed the current contrnstantine The Great - and later modified by the incoming Muslim Turks, and of course, Jerusalem. All the above examples exemplify the on-going debate from earliest times regarding the question 'What is Muslim Art' and the affect it has on artists  from both Christian and Muslim backgrounds. Thus several caveats regarding the Presentation were raised both at the time and in the in the following debate, some of which I shared.

(c. A.Shaw, Nottingham, 14/09/2011)

11 September 2011

Art a solution? Thoughts from Skinder Hundal

Riot of culture(s)…
So in a ‘smash and grab’ lifestyle of disloyalty we have seen Modern Britain’s reasons for protest and rioting distorted by greed versus conformity to genuine disaffection. Hard to pin down the specifics, but isn’t that the 21st century?
Yesterday’s big debate at Birmingham Town Hall led by radio 4’s Today programme, chaired by James Naughtie, was an epic three hour session in an epic space including specialist panel members from cops to ex- gangsters to film makers and activists of old arguing and presenting their perspectives and thoughts.
Even though opinions were divided at times, the debate I felt, brought the Birmingham community together in collectively trying to understand, contemplate and look positively to the future. It also provided a space to acknowledge the defining moments that brought society together to fix up the mess and transforming leadership witnessed by the nation, demonstrated by the father whose son was brutally run down and murdered for example.
As the debate kicked off some of the old wounds bled, for example Police intimidation of Black communities, deaths in custody, and how race relations in particular cities was problematic, London and Nottingham being mentioned - however this time the Police issue was juxtaposed with support and sympathy from the public for the Police during the disturbances.  I must admit when I saw aimless rioters grabbing greedily, burning indiscriminately or the mugging of a wounded student I was with the Police too – inspite of being on the receiving end of racist policing and that recently! 
Also mentioned were the ‘under class’, the haves versus the have-nots, and how communities, families and parents were and had failed young people in a competitive world obsessed by material, weak on enlightenment, knowledge and wisdom… all simmering by material pressure, media x-factor hype exacerbated by recent scandals by our political elite committing fraud, shattering integrity and stealing from hard working tax payers giving rise to dysfunctional politics and MPs detached from the realities of the ‘hood(s)’ and a Government without vision.
So a lot of blaming of the ‘other’ but we are responsible in some way surely? The solutions voiced included ‘real people’ not the elite classes making choices and decisions (perhaps more of the Soho road media moghuls, Sangat TV style of interventions), old fashion family values retuning as well as traditional yet modernised schooling, transparent politics, cleaner Policing, stronger communities and neighbourhoods where neighbours connect, stronger values, morality and spirit, earlier interventions, less demonization and stereotyping of young people, minority communities, and the working class, alternative punishments to those dished out as a consequence of the riots especially the young vulnerable people caught up by peer pressure. These were some of the general sentiments I tuned into.
In spite of all the blame culture, there was a recognition by the audience of some of the positive work happening in the UK for example Perry Beeches school moving from rock bottom to a 100% pass rate of 5 A* to C to the Fire Services community engagement programme. There was little mention of how creativity, art and culture could play a role. Here lies a huge solution…

Skinder Hundal - Chief Executive NAE -

06 September 2011

A comment on the new exhibition "The Ens Project: First Principles"

“The new exhibition looks to be intriguing, cerebral, colonial and highly conceptual. Look forward to seeing it...”  -  Anon

11 August 2011


(Sat. 6th August & Sun. 7th August, 2011,
by Adrian Shaw, 110811

I, along with many others, very much enjoyed this year’s Mela, which seemed to draw many younger people and families and a wider audience generally.

The first (Satur)day part of this year’s Mela, was held, as previously at the NAE. The weather picked up, despite a slow start, and by mid-afternoon, the building was crowded.
There was a large and varied range of activities, including a Karam board competition, as well as musical acts in the ground floor reception area.  (I think, incidentally, as a suggestion, that it would be a good idea to hold a Karam workshop and competition, perhaps on a more regular basis, and maybe invite the local media along, with food and music, perhaps).

There were also interactive and art workshops in the learning room, an entertaining (especially for younger visitors) juggling corner outside, and  really enjoyable performances of traditional Kathak and Belly dancing (with a workshop)  in the Performance space, which were enthusiastically received by all observers. Delicious food and drink were, as usual, provided in the canteen area for reasonable prices.

As a regular film-goer, a highlight was the 10th year showing of the celebrated ‘Lagaan’ (lengthy but with a break in between two parts), which like the classic ‘The Chess Players’, had a competition (this time cricket), representing the struggle between the colonised and colonisers in Raj Empire India, but with a ‘Bollywood’ love-triangle theme.  I found it very moving: it was also the first time I, personally, had seen the Film.  As myself of Anglo-Indian pre-Independent India background, and a sports fanatic, I really enjoyed the experience, especially given the backdrop of the current England-India Test series…

The second, main public day of Mela was, for the first time, incorporated into this Year’s Nottingham City Festival, held at the Victoria Embankment on the Sunday, with fireworks on the previous evening and a Dragon Boat competition on the day itself.  It was made more interesting, too, in that the musical performances at NAE’s stage at the Festival, were of a ‘World Music’ nature, with cross-cultural fusions, perhaps appealing to a wider audience than usual.  Certainly I, like many others who would perhaps not have attended previous melas (and for me this was the first time I had attended anything on the Victoria Embankment), found the whole thing a great experience, despite occasional drizzle.  Since the Mela itself (under NAE auspices) was held at the main City side entrance, many punters could see and appreciate its particular flavour at the centre of the fairground thoroughfare.   For younger people, the fantastic ‘Ekko & Raxstar’ box-rap act brought out their enthusiastic response and participation: but one didn’t need to be under 21 to get into this! The final performance, given so colourfully and memorably – and noisily(!) – by the Jaipur Kawa Brass Band (apparently quite famous and well-


travelled) brought back for me fond wedding and other celebrations in India (the Band plays regularly at matrimonial events).

In summary, this year’s Mela experience was extremely colourful, memorable and worthwhile - though perhaps mitigating against more involvement by the Muslim community, given the timing during religious fasting.  This is an important caveat, but given that Mela celebrations this year were dictated by constraints on local government, and that future forms may still follow a more regular time and date schedule, standing as a more usual single, separate event, this unfortunate aspect should be avoidable.   As it was, even in its modified format, Mela did, as usual, further celebrate the Sub-Continent and the contribution of its community to Nottingham, in particular, and the East Midlands in general.

c. AS, 11/08/11

06 August 2011

Mela Weekend

Mela weekend (6/7 Aug 2011) brings an international arts and cultural extravaganza to Nottingham connecting with Riverside Festival for the first time! Nottingham has always pioneered an artistic and innovative Mela - and incidentally delivered the very first National Mela (1988) in the UK through Apna Arts - driven by Parbinder Singh (Pabs) and a young volunteer team, of which I joined all those years ago...makes me realise the power of art, big festivals, something real and relevant, passionate people who believe in something strong and how such notions and components add value to who we are, what we deliver and where we end up. As a volunteer from 1992/93 I came back as CEO of NAE to deliver something meaningful with a rooted history and an exciting future. Hats off to pioneers like Pabs who make a difference to people's lives. To continue the progress and stay relevant Mela will reincarnate appropriately, watch this space... That's all folks from me, hope to see more interesting comments and responses from you all out there in cyber space and hopefully physically here at NAE too. Soon speak,Skinder

04 August 2011

Launch of the **NEW BLOG**

Welcome to the NEW NEW Art Exchange blog! A place to share thoughts and ideas, to discuss asthetics and theory. Don't be shy, email and tell us what you think of the exhibitions and events at the gallery...