Happy (belated) New Year from Bloc Projects. 2017 was an important year for us in many ways. We received a new round of funding courtesy of the Arts Council England, a grant for an exciting project from the Heritage Lottery Fund and we began our next phase under a new Director (myself).
2017 saw us celebrate our 15th anniversary as a project space. Bloc Projects has always aimed to be challenging, critical and experimental whilst also being a permeable and supportive environment for early to mid career artists. 15 years on from its inception we still share the same aims and have successfully traversed many challenges along the way. We celebrated the last 15 years with our exhibition From the box file: Uncovering the archive, in which the many archived pieces of material that were destined for storage were presented to the public, sparking memories, nostalgia and pride from artists and publics alike. The archive grew throughout the show as many artists and curators loaned and gifted their archives and memories from past projects in the gallery.
Last September saw the culmination of a 6-month research project kindly supported by the Heritage Lottery Fund. An Open Ground was the exhibition that presented all of our research and included a new commission by Sheffield based artist Peter Martin sharing the same title. Martin’s film pulled together personal accounts and stories of people and organisations based in the area surrounding Bloc Projects, including café owners, artists, publicans and musicians. Many of the accounts came from a place of great nostalgia, whilst the main concern was around stability and the uncertainty of whether or not many of the smaller and more vulnerable groups would be moved on due to rapid re development.
Towards the back end of 2017 we provided artist Lucy Vann with an opportunity to experiment with a new element to her practice through the first in our Test Bed series. Vann took the opportunity and curatorial support to take her work to a new level by working with scale and spatial arrangement in ways she had not previously been able to. We also investigated the relationship between visitor and artwork through Duncan Higgins’ Open Residency. Visitors were invited to help Higgins understand the potential and limitations that certain works have when presented in a gallery setting and whether or not methods of mediation need to be presented in order to gain a further understanding of the work.
As we begin 2018 we are all feeling optimistic about the future, not just of Bloc Projects but also of the visual arts in Sheffield. Both Site Gallery and S1 Artspace are going through some very exciting expansions and spaces such as Gloam Gallery have opened allowing a multi layered arts infrastructure to blossom in the city. So what does the future hold for Bloc Projects?
We have been developing a range of exciting exhibitions over the last year that will come to fruition during 2018. As I write this Ben Jeans Houghton’s new film commission 2ndlife plays in the gallery providing a mesmeric and thoughtful ambience to my meandering writing. 2ndlife marks a major move forward in Ben Jeans Houghton’s practice and we feel very privileged to have supported him to bring it to life. We are also very proud to be working with artist Joey Holder on a new commission opening in April this year along with continuing our public billboard commission programme, which gives artists the chance to deal with the specifics of placing work in the public realm.
One of the most exciting steps forward this year is an addition to our team in the form of Kerry Campbell as our new Public Programme Curator. Kerry will be leading on our new Artist Development Programme, which is aimed to provide support, opportunities and a space for inclusive critical debate for artists and publics regionally, nationally and internationally. Kindly supported by Making Ways, a new programme supported by Sheffield Culture Consortium through Arts Council England, our Artist Development Programme will form a key part of our activity from 2018 onwards, encouraging inclusivity and permeability between our organisation and our audiences.
2018 will mark a significant step forward for Bloc projects and I hope that by building on the fantastic work and foundations that previous Directors have laid, we can establish ourselves as one of the leading organisations for the support of early to mid career artists in the north of England and the rest of the UK.
From the Bloc Projects team and myself,