While the creative community at the historic South Square Centre clearly value its heritage, its gallery curators are not afraid to cast a daring glance at the future. Co-curated by Yvonne Carmichael and Cat Scott, STEAM Ahead encompasses two interrelated exhibitions and is a subtle critique of the phasing out of arts subjects in the current educational climate. In the same week that AQA announced the axing of Art History A-Level, STEAM Ahead stands as a warning against the devaluation of art as a ‘soft subject’.
STEAM Ahead features the work of nine artists whose work crosses over into the realm of scientific enquiry. In the first gallery, Fiona Grady, Rachel Barron and Cheryl Huntbach present works that expand the more traditional aspects of art; drawing and printmaking, into a contemporary realm. Huntbach’s delicate drawings of leaves, created using 3D ink, are suspended a few centimetres away from the wall. The light casts a shadow on the wall behind, whilst echoing the leaves presented in traditional pen and ink on paper on the wall opposite. Grady continues this laborious, repetitive approach with her geometric patterns in hand made paint, applied to the surface of an entire wall using an extended compass. The inclusion of an interactive printing installation by Barron further highlights the importance of the human being in the production process.
In the second gallery, the theme of scientific theory and innovation in art is explored by curator Cat Scott, Dominic Hopkinson, Sam Illingworth, Melanie King and Lawrence Molloy in collaboration with scientists Dr Alexey Burluka, Dr Mike Nix and Ben Thorne. The aural environment of central Manchester is reproduced through visualised sound waves in ‘Clarence House Spectrogram’ by Scott, a synaesthetic depiction based on the interlinking of the senses. Science also features strongly in Hopkinson’s ‘Alignment Analysis’ (2016), two framed drawings begun on computer and finished by hand, could just as easily be found adorning the walls of the science department at the University of Leeds. Similarly technical, a film by Molloy in collaboration with scientists Thorne and Burluka, depicts the burning of a branch of his tree sculptures (made from matchsticks) at different speeds, capturing the refraction of light as it bends around particles in different air densities.
Taken together, the works in STEAM Ahead make a convincing case for the productive overlap of the sciences and art. Ignore art and we risk becoming a shallower and less creative nation in every field. We need to hit the future at full steam if we are to continue moving forward at all.
STEAM Ahead is at South Square Gallery, Thornton, Bradford, until 30 October.
Image: Lawrence Molloy, ‘Ghosts’ (2016), courtesy of the writer.
Bruce Davies is a curator based in Leeds.