A Spotlight on… Beth Collar


This month we hear more from Tall Tales Curator Liz Wewiora on how she first came to discover Beth Collar’s work and her journey through the Tall Tales programme.

“I first had the pleasure of discovering Beth Collar’s work after a performance,  Like Valhalla, at Rowing in London. We knew we wanted to invite a London/ South based artist to take up residence in Glasgow Women’s Library, whilst Glasgow based Ruth Barker headed down South and after seeing the performance at Rowing I just knew it had to be Beth. For me her work centres around pulling apart and piecing back together remnants of others’ stories. She plays with the line between truth and fiction within these tales, until she finds her own collective narrative to share. The work tends to presents itself somewhere between a performance and sculpture, with the sculpture often becoming the ‘prop’, the single object which guides the action/s of her performance. With this playful approach to both medium and story-telling, her response to the archives at Glasgow Women’s Library was one that filled me with curiosity and delight.

In the Summer/ Autumn of 2014, Beth began her Tall Tales residency at Glasgow Women’s Library working over a 2 phased period, with a simple and open brief to respond to the Library and its collection in someway. With a hugely rich and diverse archive and a talented team of women at its helm, it is no wonder when Beth Collar started her residency at it was hard to know where to begin. I remember the first meetings with her in the library and email correspondences between us both, and how there were so many potential lines of investigation for her to explore further through the GWL archives. Where to start? Where to hone in?

Conversations and investigations around LGTB zines, feminist articles and the women’s suffrage movement emerged with peaks and troughs of interest but what seemed to retain Beth’s attention throughout was a series of early feminist books including Naomi Woolf’s The Beauty Myth from 1990. I still smile when I think of Beth first mentioning the book, as I recall my own second year at art school reading the very same writing, which drove the focus and entire approach to my work created that year.

Beth was struck by its topics, which although were raised by Woolf over 3 decades ago, are still very much relevant today. There is a lot of reference to the idealised look of a female in society, the importance of smoothness of a woman’s face and the cosmetic industry pushing for this fictional perfection that only beauty and youth will demonstrate a ‘true women’.

Woolf’s book also reminded her of a really strong rumour that was in circulation when she was a child; that a certain skin-care brand contained aborted foetuses. A horrible idea indeed, but this rumour actually connected to previous research Beth had been looking into around witches and the age old story that witches ate babies. A rumour now that when you search on-line has its own life of stories, whether true or not, creating its own narrative of interest in society. This idea that the rumour becomes the story, rather that historical fact itself, is of particular interest to Beth and often underpins the core themes running through her work.

Upon reflection and inspiration of her time with the Glasgow Women’s Library, for the Tall Tales tour, Beth has created a new sculptural, The Furrowed Brow, which has already exhibited at the Freud Museum London and Touchstones, Rochdale before finally making its way to its home of inspiration – Glasgow Women’s Library this October.

Beth Collar,
Untitled (furrowed brow)

The work consists of two wooden carved sculptures of women’s faces; they’re almost like masks. They hang on the wall at eye level, peering outwards and directly at the viewer. The facial expression of is of a furrowed brow, with wrinkles on the forehead and if you have ever met Beth in person you would certainly suggest one might be a representation of the artist herself. Contemporary cosmetics are then used to smooth the surface of the face, however it is interesting to note the deeper lines of the lime wood used stubbornly show through – an interesting visual nod to this idea what we mean by surface expression, and facial expressions as meaning.

The furrowed brow is often attached to an idea of the brooding hero in popular culture – a James Dean-like expression of thought but when appearing on a woman’s face, it doesn’t hold those connotations, but has a completely different set of meanings. This double standard the expression represents and double meaning conveyed within this shared expression was of particular interest to Beth.


Alongside the Furrowed Brow sculptures, Beth will return to Glasgow Women’s Library bringing the project full circle, with a new performance. The piece will be performed on the opening evening, Friday 21st October at 7pm. The performance is set to respond specifically to and for the Glasgow Women’s Library, with particular references to their archive, a collection which resonates dearly in Beth’s mind.

In a recent interview with a-n Beth mentioned ” Having undertaken it a couple of years ago, almost everything I have been producing since then has in some way been influenced by the literature that I discovered during that residency. That’s been the nice thing about the project being long term”.

We can’t wait to bring Beth and her work back to where it all began, to Glasgow Women’s Library this October.

Beth Collar studied at London Metropolitan University and the Princes Drawing School before completing her MA at the Royal College of Art in 2012. In March 2016, she won Standpoint Gallery’s Mark Tanner Sculpture Award 2016-17.

Image Credit:
Beth Collar,  Furrowed brow, 2015 Lime wood, MAC cosmetics, installed at the Freud Museum as part of Tall Tales touring exhibition

A Spotlight on… Alison Erika Forde


As the Tall Tales exhibition comes to an end at Touchstones Rochdale, and prepares for its way up to Glasgow, assistant curator Emma Flynn takes some time out to tell us more about the work of Alison Erika Forde.

“Before talking about her works I think it is important to give some context to her practice as an artist. As a graduate of Manchester Metropolitan University, Forde (b.1985) lives and works in Manchester. Since graduation she has shown work across the UK, as well as internationally through her gallery, International 3, and her work is in private collections in Austria, the Netherlands, Germany, Spain, Switzerland, the UK and USA.

For those of you who have never seen the work of Alison Erika Forde it is certainly something to look forward to. Before work on the Tall Tales project began I wasn’t familiar with her practice and I am glad to say this is something that has been quickly remedied, and I enjoyed delving into her practice a little deeper to write this short piece.

Forde’s works take a variety of forms as her paintings and sculptural pieces adorn found objects, typically bric-a-brac, mass produced prints and other old or second-hand unwanted items. Forde herself describes these as ‘unwanted’ or ‘undesirable’ and those who have worked with her before, or who have experienced her work, can see how her paintings are able to rescue and transform these pieces.

The objects themselves, although integral to Forde’s work, are only one part of the story. The scenes and characters that Forde creates are, themselves, captivating and also at times unnerving. Her humour and playfulness certainly comes through to balance what are described as ‘anxiety stricken characters…awaiting impending peril’; and this can certainly be seen in the work exhibited in Tall Tales. In spite of the ominous situations her characters find themselves in the colours stress her playfulness and allude to a mildly disconcerting vista which we might more easily recognise in foreboding folk stories or fairy tales.

One of my favourite works that I wanted to highlight from the exhibition is Forde’s Shame Pole, 2012. These take the form of cardboard containers, stacked one on top of one another and adorned with emulsion and metal paint depicting different scenes or faces.


At first the works resemble totem poles standing boldly in the room but their history and reference to the cultures of indigenous people of the Pacific Northwest has a darker connotation. These Shame Poles were erected by locals in public places in order to shame individuals for wrong doing or bad debts. Forde’s intention is for her shame poles to provide the viewer with an opportunity to imagine who they might be for, the artist has not designated who has to be shamed and thus the audience can assign them to whomever they choose. This work for me epitomises some of the themes running throughout Forde’s work, a link to folk histories and customs, but bringing that into the modern era with her choice of found materials. Most of all the sense of humour and mischief that comes both from her use of colour but also in inviting the audience to become complicit in the practice of public shaming, as they imagine who they might shame, albeit in a unspoken way.

In addition to Forde’s artworks in the Tall Tales exhibitions, the writer Jenn Ashworth has developed a work of fiction inspired by Forde’s practice. This is an exciting new commission to emerge during the midst of the Rochdale presentation of the tour and something that Glasgow audiences will be able to enjoy during a reading as part of the opening preview activities at Glasgow Women’s Library in October.

Further works by Alison Erika Forde which are included in the Tall Tales show are: A Girl of Trinidad, 2015; The Outsiders, 2015; Tower, 2013; and Speak No Evil, 2015. Forde’s work continues at Touchstones Gallery and Museum, Rochdale until 3 September, before travelling to Glasgow for the final exhibition in the Tall Tales tour at Glasgow Women’s Library, 22 October – 21 December 2016.

Emma Flynn,  2016


Oona Grimes, an artistic talent, inspiration and friend…


I first came across Oona’s work in 2003 when reviewing a four-strong all women show for Contemporary, entitled ‘Uncanny Tales’. The exhibition launched in Arnhem (NL), at De Buytensael. Showing alongside Paula Rego, Ana Maria Pacheco and artist Macelle Hanselaar, Oona was in good company.

I would have been in my early 20s, so likely feeling pretty nervous setting off on my own, not knowing quite what to expect and not knowing anyone at the other end other than Marcelle whom i’d been lucky enough to meet on studio visits in London. However, little did I know that the overwhelming warmth of Oona Grimes would be there to greet me, to settle me down, and aid with focusing on the job in hand. Both Oona herself and her work instantly caught my attention, and created a lasting impression.

Some years passed, and then a way down the line I found myself in contact with Danielle Arnaud, visiting the Tatton Biennial and once again finding myself in the presence of Oona’s work. Like Oona herself, her work is instantly engaging, refreshingly honest and unpretentious, playful, whilst being equally complex in its many layers and reference points. Above all it is compellingly human.

Although the inspiration for Tall Tales came from two artists’ whose works aren’t exhibition as part of the touring exhibition, Sophie Calle and Yayoi Kusama, I can honestly say that when starting to discuss the artist selection for Tall Tales with Co-Curator Elizabeth Wewiora, Oona was at the top of the list. Her practice for me, in part, informed other decisions to come. Having first experienced Oona’s work in the home of Dutch gallerists Hank Gulickx Burg and Harry Burg Gulickx, where Freud’s heimlich (homely) and unheilich (unhomely) permeated, it felt fitting to be able to introduce it to the Freud Museum and Freud family home in particular.

In London Oona presented a range of work, installed and making interventions right across the Freud Museum, – exhibition space, Anna Freud’s room, hallway and in and around the famed Freud desk and couch housed in Sigmund Freud’s study.


The exhibition space at the Freud Museum, and Anna Freud’s room played host to Oona’s recent work, including a three double page spread from Flanns Architectural Digest– a series of 18 hand cut stencil drawings sprayed onto black paper, emulating analogue film, as well as a series of directly related book works. The brightly coloured imagery in the larger-scale works and book works are set off against a deep field of black. This creates the illusion of three-dimensionality, digital pixellation and surface. The body of work began as a book of protective spells: a plundering of Swedenbourg, Flann O’Brien and The Egyptian Book of the Dead. Characters fence their way through an illusionistic portrayal of architecture and the creatures that haunt the facades and hoarding boards, the film & theatre flats. Oona, in a recent blog for Big Issue North, speaks of these works as so,
ART Tintype. Oona Grimes. Flann's Architectural Digest 6. 2015 -2
Pogoing off Freuds theory of screen memories and my mis-memories of a childhood summer on the set of John Hustons Freud: The Secret Passion, cocktail shaken with my love of Flann OBriens badly behaved language, the drawings are in conversation with a tribe of clay things.’
Oona’s Clay Things found their way into some of the most impossible spaces of the museum, including a choir of potatoes that infiltrated Freud’s desk and toes ntoast that found their way into Freud’s collection of Egyptian sculptures and the study’s bookshelves. Her works in clay are predominantly based on simple shapes which explore the most basic of ceramic processes, speaking directly to the work of others exhibiting as part of Tall Tales, for example Sarah Forrest and her video piece The Pot or Laure Provoust’s Wantee Fountain. Shown alongside Oona’s drawings, her Clay Things are a celebration of the absurd and an ongoing series of parallel worlds, cerebral pieces yet grounded in their materiality and the process of making.

To our delight Oona and her work made themselves at home at the Freud Museum. Following tradition, where Oona likes to spend time with and in an exhibition, at the Freud Museum she hosted John Huston’s film set Sundays. Creating a facsimile of the original film script for Huston’s biopic, Freud: The Secret Passion and asking Nick James, editor of Sight & Sound, to write a review as if it was a new release, this, a reproduction of the poster and Oona herself spent many Sundays ‘on the couch’ talking to visitors to the museum over the exhibition period.

Of her time in London, Oona writes,‘I loved the unexpected conversations with invited artists, visiting psychoanalysts, tourists and school children, kind of pinging off the work but not aimed at it directly.’

Not wanting to break tradition, Oona has spent an extended period in Rochdale installing her work and into the opening weekend. She has become literally part of the tour and integral to making Tall Tales what it is. Her works feel and look very different in the larger and more formal museum and galleries of Touchstones Rochdale, gaining a new life, whilst creating the same level of intrigue and mischief as in London.

It is no surprise that in Oona’s Big Issue North blog she writes,

The best bits are the practical bits the amazing new friendships with the gallery staff, the installers, cleaners, curators, the other artists. How to get in early, negotiate transport, and where to get the best coffee.’ …

Oona herself is full of stories. She, like her work, makes connections, brings them, and people together, everywhere they and she goes. Although not directly biographical, multiple fictions being at play in her work, Oona’s practice clearly draws upon her life experiences, people and conversation.

I get the impression Oona is a first hand girl, a people person, a let me look at you and see the whites of your eyes person. I like that. She is concerned with life and death, and everything in between, the ‘human condition’. Quoting her again, perhaps this sums things up, ‘

The drawings are an investigation into language, beginnings & ends of it, learning & losing it. Clay is the in-between bit – the instinctive making-ness that fills in the gaps. I find I cannot name the clay things in the way I name my drawings. ‘Must a name mean something?’ Alice asked doubtfully. ‘Of course it must,’ Humpty Dumpty said with a short laugh: ‘my name means the shape I am and a good handsome shape it is, too. With a name like yours, you might be any shape, almost.

I imagine the sparks will fly and magical connections will be made when Oona arrives in Glasgow. I anticipate when she gets together with the team at Glasgow Women’s Library and the many amazing characters running the show there, conversation will flow, as also likely will tea. We are certainly experiencing the pleasure of working with an incredibly talented and dedicated artist, and myself, the Tall Tales team, artists, venues and partners have all gained a collaborator and friend!

Helen Wewiora, Tall Tales Curator

Image credits: Top Image: A Choir of Potatoes, Oona Grimes (2014)
Middle image: A Choir of Potatoes, Installed on Freud Museum Desk for Tall Tales exhibition at Freud Museum Lonond, Oona Grimes , photo by Elizabeth Wewiora(2016)
Bottom Image: Flan’s Architectural Digest No.6, Oona Grimes (2015)

Tall Tales discovering more at National Arts in Libraries Symposium

Screen Shot 2016-08-02 at 22.19.40

A couple of weeks ago I travelled to Leeds to represent Tall Tales at the National Arts in Libraries Symposium at Leeds Central Library. Delegates gathered within Room 700, a new multi-arts space positioned in between the music and arts library. The day begins with an inspirational quote directed at a room full of employees of local authority libraries.

‘Bad libraries build collections, good libraries build services, great libraries build communities’. R. David Lankes

The symposium coincided with the announcement of a new investment strategy specifically for libraries in the arts council funding. A helpful advice session was delivered in the lunch break for those wanting to find out more from the arts council representatives.

To find out more about the grants programme you can click here.

The conference sets out different examples of when libraries have brought innovative art in to their buildings. Inspiring libraries to encourage a new audience to enter their doors whilst not isolating their traditional library visitors. Throughout the day we were encouraged to split in to smaller sessions to hear about the people involved’ different experiences of doing so, highlighting the difficulties as well as their successes.

Buffalo and Purple Patch Arts – Under Milkwood

Click here to see a video of Under Milkwood.

This was a multi sensory immersive installation responding to the poetry of Dylan Thomas within Room 700 at Leeds Library. Buffalo arts were commissioned by Yorkshire based, Purple Patch Arts who work to improve the lives and life chances of people with learning disabilities.

What I particularly took away from this session was how employees of the library have to be considered as part of the engaging audience. The exhibit worked really well not just for its artistic merit and ability to bring multi-sensory experiences to a wider audience but also to create a calming haven in the library that inspires the staff and encourages them to want to spend their lunch breaks in.

Manchester Libraries and Brighter Sound

Click here for more information on Echo Trace

This project showed how by working with new and innovative delivery partners, libraries could support artists, providing them with a unique platform to explore their resources. To coincide with the re-opening of Manchester Central Library Brighter Sounds coordinated a programme of residencies, showcases, workshops and gigs entitled ‘Chaos to Order’. A highlight was working with the indie band EverythingEverything who ‘were keen to connect with the library staff ‘ and were enthralled by exploring the different areas of the historic building. All involved were quick to explain to the workshops audience that the ‘Echo Trace’ element of the programme included the involvement of branch libraries in Greater Manchester.

St Helens Council and Re-Dock 

Click here for more information about Northern Powerhouse 2065

I really enjoyed the Doing Digital Arts in Libraries session, in part because such an enthusiastic workshop leader, Owen Hutchings from St Helens Council, delivered it. Who, from the beginning explained that if a library brings digital art in to their libraries with the sole aim to get people to use their computers more they will set themselves up to fail. Owen went on to give examples of projects which have taken place to date but the majority of the session was taken up with a ‘give it a go’ section getting the audience to play with the simple digital and analogue arts technologies used in their projects. Neil Winterburn, who works with Re-Dock, showed us how to build a basic kinetic robot. The other group was led by Hwa Young Jun played with the online text adventure game Northern Powerhouse 2065. Developed with FACT Liverpool, it explores a dystopian scenario created by young people from Hull, Burnley and Wigan.

Coming to the conference from the perspective of someone working on an arts project in a library rather than an employee from the library itself, I found it enlightening to see Tall Tales projects such as Call for Cloth in a new light. ‘Authentic engagement’ with library staff was an issue that kept being brought up as a possible problem when bringing new art forms in to library spaces. But that ‘ownership and consultation’ are key to positively changing this. Involving library staff from the beginning, utilizing their expert knowledge of their communities and resources can really improve an art works reception. I found the day inspirational and was grateful for the honest perspectives everybody brought to the discussions. I think the future for engaging, contemporary art in libraries as a whole is bright and positive and I now can’t wait to see Tall Tales reach Glasgow Women’s Library.

Charlie Booth, Assistant Curator for Tall Tales

Call for Cloth gathering threads…


As Call for Cloth takes up temporary home on our second leg of the Tall Tales tour, at Touchstones, Rochdale, project artist Lauren Sagar is starting to weave the collected stories from community groups and the general public so far, together into a new art work.

Whilst based at Touchstones, Rochdale, Lauren has been meeting both local Rochdale group Knitty Gritty, as well as wider knitting and crafts groups from Greater Manchester (Cross Acres Knitters from Wythenshawe Age Concern and Many Hands from Victoria Square in Ancoats) to develop some visual ideas for the final Call for Cloth installation.

Lauren has been focusing specifically on creating a series of blankets which relate to each of the touring venues and its local communities, responding to conversations with the general public and their associations to blankets as an item for care, comfort, sharing and family. So by inviting the local community groups in Rochdale and Manchester to pick up on details from personal stories attached to cloth and textiles, as well as responding to other collected stories and images of cloth, the groups were able to create a piece of work which will weave into the fabric of the final blankets. Once the project finishes and the Tall Tales exhibition is over, each of the blankets made will be donated to a local group / community of the participants choice, keeping the gift of sharing stories and care growing.

Lauren is also working with a local South Manchester, Burnage group. As Lauren explained to me she started to work with this particular group about 15 years ago.

Lauren… “I supported them in setting up a stained glass group in Burnage and they have been going ever since. They meet every Wednesday at a Working Men’s Club in Burnage. They are enthusiastic about the project and have contributed some beautiful stories, some of which are recorded. They are coming to Touchstones next Wednesday to see the exhibition, and then the following Wednesday we are spending the morning creating artwork for the Manchester Blanket, and starting the discussion about where we gift the blanket to”.


The final blanket artworks, will be situated in our final venue for the tour, Glasgow Women’s Library, and the work could not be better suited as Lauren herself discovered during her research trip to the Library last week.

Amongst the richly diverse textiles archives the Glasgow Women’s Library (GWL) owns, they also have their very own GWL blanket, again with its own story.  Lauren learnt that there was Adele Patrick, Lifelong Learning and Creative Development IMG_0200Manager at GWL, explained to Lauren how a volunteer had knitted the blanket for the library. It lives on one of the arm chairs within the main reading area, which people often make use of it. She said that recently there was a conference at the Library and that one of the attendees felt faint and unwell. She spent the rest of the day in the arm chair, wrapped in the blanket. Both Lauren and Adele “wondered about other similar stories this blanket is safe keeping.”

Glasgow Women’s Library local groups are also working with Lauren and supporting project artist Joanna Peace to make their own responsive Call for Cloth artwork which will weave into the overall Tall Tales exhibition at the Library this October so Call for Cloth really is finding its home in the fabric of the overall Tall Tales project and we can’t wait to see the results!

If you want to find out more about the Call for Cloth project or donate your own Call for Cloth story you can visit the project page here

Liz Wewiora, Tall Tales Curator



Image credits: top image, donated textiles from Call for Cloth participant, Image C. Artist and participant, 2016
bottom image: Glasgow Women’s Library Blanket at Glasgow Women’s Library, Image C. Artist and Glasgow Women’s Library 2016


A Spot light on… Ruth Barker


This Month we hear more from Helen Wewiora and Charlie Booth, who discuss the work of Tall Tales Commissioned artist Ruth Barker.

Ruth Barker is a Glasgow-based visual artist specialising in writing and performance. She has an interest in autobiography, feminist writing practice, and the unconscious. Her spoken word performances often involve substantial literary or poetic monologues that the artist scripts herself. She makes use of multilayered reference points including ancient myths, personal autobiography, and daily ephemera.

Ruth was first supported by wewioraprojects to undertake a Tall Tales research residency in 2014. With the addition of fantastic insights provided by the then Tavistock and Portman N_89671453_clinicHS Foundation Trust’s librarian and curator Karma Percy, Ruth spent time skilfully delving into the Tavistock library and archives, as well as navigating the centre’s little known and rather impressive art collection. Ruth soon honed in on two things, materials on Anna Freud – a pioneer in her field, but often overshadowed by her father Sigmund Freud’s story, and the very endearing idiosyncrasies of the Tavistock Centre and collection itself.

We just had to secure some time for Ruth with the Freud Museum London’s collection and Freud family experts, the museum being only five minutes walk from the Tavistock, a centre whose teaching and practice is centred around the ‘talking cure’. So, that’s exactly what we did. Ruth instantly connected with the fabulous curatorial team there, whom since have been nothing but supportive. The museum, along with the Tavistock and Swiss Cottage Gallery & Library, soon extended their work with us all; forming a three-strong cohort of partners and venues hosting the Tall Tales tour in London, which took place in March – May this year.

Following an extended period of research, including further time with the Anna Freud archive, Ruth spent 2015 and into this year developing a body of new work for Tall Tales. The result of this work has been a site specific installation in Anna Freud’s room entitled Glass, Blinded to the Room (2016) and a performance staged in the Freud family dining room called The Foot Exerts A Pressure On The Surface Of The Glass (2016).

Glass, Blinded to the Room, is a mixed media installation made for Anna Freud’s desk. Ruth took personal effects from her own studio desk and combined them with Anna Freud’s objects selected and exhibited by the Freud Museum curatorial team. Through conversations we had with Ruth it became apparent that this process of selecting personal objects is a central question posed within Blinded To The Room. The desk, although displaying authentic objects which were owned by Anna, is staged. The desk is a display case to represent the psychoanalyst – although based upon photographs of Anna’s desk the display is more representational than ‘authentic’.

Some objects that would have always be present in Anna’s study have been removed. Ruth was particularly interested in the absence of Anna’s loom. An object the psychoanalyst often used to assist her when working through complex theories and cases. We chatted about why this might have happened and what the consequences are to the hundreds of visitors who come to the Museum every week; factors such as space, conservation but also gender representation.

What do we show to the outside world to represent ourselves, and what in our absence would other people display to offer insights on us, our personality, working methods and interests?_DSC0477

For Glass, Blinded to the Room, Barker introduced to Anna Freud’s desk, an iPhone looping video material and audio that refers back to Anna’s love of, and use of her now absent loom. Around the phone, a series of typed / handwritten texts overlaid with rough photocopies of the artist’s hands, stood upright on folded, coloured, sheets of A4 paper, composed in small desktop arrangements. Elsewhere on the desk were objects from the flotsam of the artist’s personal studio desk: fluorescent yellow earrings that were a gift form her husband, and a small photograph of the artist herself as a teenager.

The work overlaid the artist’s world across the ephemera of another life. What interests us most about this work is the overlaying of the artist’s world across the ephemera of another life and what results from this process. Recollections and associations underscored the presence of Anna Freud as both subject and landmark in a personal and un-analysed creative landscape, resulting in the escalation of the every day to the epic and reclaiming hidden histories.

Ruth’s site specific performance The Foot Exerts A Pressure On The Surface Of The Glass worked with items from the Museum’s collection, including the family dining table and Anna’s necklaces. Descending the staircase and walking into the Freud family dining room Ruth wore a leotard, and the top half of a richly layered, maroon performance garment which covered her from neck to waist. Her costume is made by dress-maker and her long-standing collaborator Lesley Hepburn.

Following a brief introduction to herself and her work, Ruth called upon her audience to participate, and handed out coloured paper containing an annotated script for the relevant performance sections she asked those present to read. The papers are beautifully produced, containing photocopies of the artist’s body along with a partly typed, partly handwritten text. Her new work is written in nine parts, speaking to the nine months she will traverse as a result of her pregnancy.

Following her introduction, Ruth then climbed onto the Freud family dining table, and fastened the skirt that accompanies the upper body section of her costume, this hiding her legs. Sitting upright on the table, with the skirt dropping down towards the floor from the table top, the artist looked as though she had become part of the table. Its legs became hers, and her’s became invisible.


The artist then speculated on the nature of memory, improvising questions and asking the audience to silently revisit their dreams. A member of the museum staff was then asked to place Anna Freud’s necklaces onto the fabric of her skirt. Ruth’s recital then began.

We were enveloped by her words, which became dreamlike and immersed us in the performance world. The atmosphere was meditative, shared, intense, and irreverent: the artist created a very contemporary take on an ancient oral tradition. Tears were shed and collective encounters shared. Ruth’s delivery, as always, was hypnotic.

Now at Touchstones Rochdale, the visual documentary footage and sound from this performance has been recontextualised. A multi-media installation, the performance has become a new work entitled The Foot Exerts More Pressure. The centrepiece of this recontextualisation is the elaborate costume worn by the artist for the live performance. IMG_1859The dress sits, apparently occupied by a headless female body on the gallery floor. Two television monitors rest either side of the skirt of the costume, each showing footage of the artist’s hands resting alongside Anna’s necklaces. The live audio recording of the original performance loops. Anna Freud becomes a figment of the artist’s wandering imagination.

This is not the end of the story though, this breathtaking and constantly evolving new work has not only been an immense pleasure and wonderful journey to produce, but has more to give. Working in collaboration with Akerman Daly, we are working with Ruth to support new readings and online audio releases which will come out over the course of the rest of the Tall Tales tour, as will some beautifully designed re-worked, text prints. We have the sense that this work will just keep on giving, as with its author who has an incredible generosity of spirit.

To come briefly back to the collection at the Tavistock Centre – Ruth and ourselves feel that it has infiltrated every part of the building. Works are nestled into every nook and cranny of the centre, and it is often hard to see where the fabric of the building and art collection end and begin. This extends to staff, student and patient relationships with the collection – the sense of ownership and love for the works around the building, we all learnt, is fierce. Ruth and ourselves had stand out favourites, as do users of the building! A challenge therefore for a work to even be relocated within the centre, we are honoured that the Tavistock and the Berger-Hamerschlag’s family, have allowed us to share the wonderful works of Margarete Berger-Hamerschlag with audiences in Rochdale and soon, Glasgow. The artist’s production was surely groundbreaking at the time it was made yet this artist has not had the recognition we’d suggest she deserves. Watch out for future blogs on Margarete Berger-Hamerschlag, and thanks to Ruth for opening our eyes proper to the Tavistock Centre, and all that it is home to.

Blog by Helen Wewiora of wewioraprojects, Tall Tales Curators and Producers & Charlie Booth, Tall Tales Assistant Curator

Image Credits:
Header Image: Image from The Foot Exerts a Pressure on the Surface of the Glass, Ruth Barker, Photo by Elizabeth Wewiora, 2016
Tavistock Centre Entrance, Image C. Tavistock Centre 2014
Install Image from Blinded to the Glass, Ruth Barker, Photo by Elizabeth Wewiora, 2016
Image from The Foot Exerts a Pressure on the Surface of the Glass, Ruth Barker, Photo by Elizabeth Wewiora, 2016
Image from The Foot Exerts More Pressure, Installation view, Ruth Barker, Photo by Elizabeth Wewiora, 2016

A Spotlight on…Nicky Bird


What is our relationship to the past, and what is the value we ascribe to it? A key question asked by Nicky Bird throughout her artistic work and her academic research and writing. She investigates the contemporary relevance of found photographs, their archives and specific sites often through the creation of new photography, new media and bookworks.

Two such bookworks are exhibited within the Tall Tales exhibition; the first Red Herrings (1998) and the second Tracing Echoes (2001). For visitors who put on the white gloves to handle these books in the Tall Tales exhibition, they make visible Nicky’s interest in the process of collaboration with people who have significant connections to a hidden history. They present a way of looking at artefacts and photographs through an art process, which as Nicky writes involves some detective work.

Often Nicky begins a new body of work with the discovery of a found piece of photography. In the case of Red Herrings it was a picture taken in 1955 in New York by the photojournalist Ed Feingersh who was given the job of shadowing Marilyn Monroe. The image interests Nicky not just because of the intimate capture of the celebrated starlet in the process of a corset fitting but because of the unidentified women gathered in the photograph staring admiringly at Marilyn. Who are they and what kind of lives did they lead? Will they ever know that in 1996, in a northern city in England an artist would stumble across their image and question their histories? Red Herrings seeks to recreate the scene captured in the photograph whilst also tracing these unidentified women pictured within.

The famed 19th century photographer Julia Margaret Cameron is the inspiration behind the second bookwork in Tall Tales, Tracing Echoes. Created as a result of a residency in Dimbola Lodge, the home of Cameron in 2010, Nicky’s bookwork brings together modern photographs taken by herself and original portraits by Cameron. As Nicky describes ‘the living genealogy’ is explored by including in the bookwork portraits ourlf descendants of local women and children that appear in Cameron’s world. Again there is a blurring of time and place, repeating and recreating histories in an attempt to make discoverable the missing histories in the photographs. As much as this is a book about Cameron and her female sitters it is about the home she made on the Isle of Wight. Contemporary coloured photographs of the Dimbola Lodge feature heavily in the book. In my personal opinion although beautiful they are haunting as they are absent of human presence – driving home the fact Cameron is a significant figure of history, reduced to name in a history book or a museum and long since gone.

The third of Nick Bird’s bookworks on tour with Tall Tales, is Gay Interest Beefcake (2008). Unlike the two other bookworks, Gay Interest Beefcake will be shown, for the first time, in digital form. Gay Interest Beefcake was a unique bookwork produced for ALT-W: New Directions in Scottish Digital Culture exhibition at Centre for Contemporary Arts (CCA) in Glasgow. The work was displayed alongside other works, which were inspired and created from images for sale on eBay. 3 lots of photographs were bought on eBay in 2007, purchased over a three-day period from the same seller. At the point of sale, three keywords were used to describe each lot, ‘gay interest beefcake’.


The hardcopy of Gay Interest Beefcake resides in the collection of the International Centre of Photography in New York. Upon discussing the work with Nicky, the Tall Tales curators and artist concluded it would be fitting to return the work and images back to the digital form. Gay Interest Beefcake, for Tall Tales in Rochdale will therefore once again be possible to view online, and as a digital album. Presenting the work on a digital platform allows the work to further question our relationship to imagery past, and our preoccupation with its relevance to the now. Our desire to capture a moment in time, has not changed – it is simply our method of archiving the image which has evolved.

Susan Sontag quoted poet and critic Stéphane Mallarmé from his book Collected Poems (1859) ‘everything in the world exists in order to end in a book’. Sontag in her text Towards a Photography of Love: The Tain of the Photograph in Anne Carson’s Autobiography of Red (2007) suggests, ‘today everything exists to end in a photograph’. Nicky Bird creates unique and charming moments, which bring the two together and invite us to consider our own relationship to immortalising and editing our own lives through photographic imagery.

Nicky is currently a Phd Co-ordinator at the Glasgow School of Art and a member of The Family Ties Network, a group of writers and artists who explore memory, space, place, and the family in photography and moving image. For Tall Tales the Family Ties Network will lead a one day event at Touchstones Rochdale on Saturday 3rd September. To find out more about this event and other Tall Tales events, see our events page here.`


Images Top header image: Red Herrings, (1998), top right image: Tracing Echoes (2001), Bottom left image: Gay Interest Beefcake, (2008) – All C. the artist, Nicky Bird