30 Apr Firstsite Colchester reopens on 17 May with Michael Landy CBE heading packed exhibition programme
The wait is almost over: Firstsite in Colchester is ready to welcome visitors again, when it throws open its doors on 17 May. As ever, there’s an exciting and diverse mix of exhibitions, activities, courses and clubs to enjoy.
Amongst the mood of celebration there is an added buzz around the gallery, as the striking, crescent-shaped building is celebrating its 10th anniversary. Designed by award-winning Uruguayan architect Rafael Viñoly, Firstsite provides a creative and social space like no other and is so much more than ‘just’ an art gallery.
Under the leadership of its Director, Sally Shaw MBE, it has become a leading provider of holiday activities for local families and a catalyst for people from all walks of life and different communities to come together and curate their own exhibitions. It has entertained children across the world through the lockdowns via its Art is where the home is online initiative and created The Great Big Art Exhibition, which encouraged everyone to make an artwork and display it in their window for all to see. Firstsite also has a cinema and houses the Berryfield Mosaic, a Roman artefact discovered in 1923 that dates back to AD200 – and rumour has it another discovery has been un-earthed under Firstsite’s floor.
When it reopens, visitors to Firsite will be greeted in the Welcome Area by Michael Landy’s 8-metre tall Essex Man sculpture, part of his Welcome to Essex exhibition (opening on 26 June). New on display is Art for Life, a fascinating and poignant show of artworks made during the pandemic by contemporary artists Alec Finlay, Hannah Devereux, EVEWRIGHT, Hayley Newman and Roland Carline working with NHS key workers. With themes such as the significance of nature, walking and touch, as well as notions of time and diary keeping, many visitors will personally connect with the exhibition from their own experiences of the past year. Art for Life also features specially-selected loans from the Arts Council Collection – with whom Firstsite is a National Partner 2019-22.
There’s still time to see My name is not Refugee – which closes on 6 June – a powerful exhibition co-curated by people seeking to build new lives in Britain. It reveals the experiences of newcomers to our shores in ways that are very rarely seen. My name is not Refugee presents visitors with an opportunity to see past the label of ‘refugee’ and show that the exhibition’s contributors are not defined by the conflict or trauma they have experienced, but instead by their lives before and after arriving in the UK.
From a fabulously surreal crocodile balancing a Lego brick on its tail while wearing a policeman’s helmet to a spectacular, large-scale painting of flowers displayed in an actual greenhouse, The Great Big Art Exhibition has been a creative sensation. More than 5000 contributions received during lockdown can be seen on a large digital wall in the gallery – and also online at www.firstsite.uk – including artworks created by amateur and professional artists, from care home residents in Cambridge to a young boy from Kharkiv, in Ukraine.
One of the biggest highlights of the summer will be a major exhibition of brand-new works by Michael Landy CBE. Appropriately titled Welcome to Essex (26 June – 5 September), the show explores, celebrates and questions the recent history of his home county and its contemporary portrayal in popular culture.
The largely inaccurate Essex Man/Girl stereotype has most recently been reinforced by the popular TV show, The Only Way Is Essex, or TOWIE. In his exhibition, Michael will unpack these origins and question the influence of the media in conjunction with political agendas, in forming regional and national identities and often harmful stereotypes that deviate from on-the-ground reality.
Later in the year (18 September – 28 November 2021) Firstsite will be presenting the Bloomberg New Contemporaries exhibition, which will be an amazing opportunity to see the work of emerging artists from across the country.
Firstsite’s hugely popular Holiday Fun programme is also set to return this summer – both in Colchester and Harwich – giving children and families in north Essex the opportunity to get creative, eat a healthy meal and enjoy physical activity, for FREE. Plus a series of talks, workshops and movie screenings will also form part of the summer of fun at the gallery.
Safety measures will still be in place (eg: masks, social distancing, hand sanitiser stations, etc) and the café has also been given a makeover; freshly made meals and treats can be enjoyed on new comfy and versatile seating both indoors andon the tranquil outdoor balcony overlooking the Berryfield lawn. Even the shop has been restocked with a range of terrific products that focus on fun, keeping active, and wellbeing.
Firstsite Director, Sally Shaw MBE says: “It’s so exciting to welcome people back and I think you’ll love what we are showing over the summerand later in our anniversary year. Our re-opening programme has been led by feedback from our audience survey, where people said they would would like Firstsite to support the community by providing activites and events to encourage positivity and bring people together to have fun – such as The Great Big Art Exhibition. They also wanted to see an exhibition to help them process, reflect and recover from the pandemic, and Art for Life does this in an incredibly beautiful way.”
“I’m also delighted that Michael Landy has chosen Firstsite to showcase his incredible body of new work. From the Romans, to the Mayflower and holidaymakers on board ferries, Essex has been a gateway into the UK and outwards to Europe for thousands of years, making it a vibrant and culturally rich part of the country where national politics are often writ large. Michael’s exhibition brings this complex history and reputation into focus with typical wit and visual delicacy. Welcome to Essex is a timely and fascinating exhibition providing much to consider – not only about Essex but about the ‘United Kingdom’ at large, at a time when yet again, culture will play a significant part in re-articulating our values as a community, especially in what we hope will become the post-coronavirus period.”