Amy Charlesworth, Gill Park, Louise Shelley and Rehana Zaman are Bad Practice, self-proclaimed ‘cultural workers’ involved in ‘making, organising, curating, discussing and consuming art in its broadest and most exploratory sense’. Their first iteration as a collective finds its home at Gallery II, part of a programme of projects that might be loosely described as ‘socially applied’. For Bad Practice, the focus is on work, learning and knowledge, particularly as they are experienced by women.
While the stated aim of the project is to ‘question workshop-based activities that increasingly exist within the art world’ through an events programme and collaborations taking place across multiple sites, the exhibition provides a necessary fulcrum. A triad of video works offer insight into the collective’s thinking. ‘Sharla Shabana Sojourner Selena’, by Zaman, is a moving and at times disturbing series of narratives told from the perspective of 6 racially diverse women who appear to be waiting for treatments in a beauty salon. Their stories appear scripted but the close-up filming of their faces and hands retains notes of authenticity as they speak of traumatic events that have left them feeling excluded, exploited or invisible.
Zainabu Irene Davis’ 1989 ‘Cycles’ is equally compelling, in which the protagonist awaits her period through a series of monologue reflections and domestic rituals. Intermixed with sounds and images from Caribbean folklore, the work brings cultural and racial specificity to the universality and regularity of menstruation. ‘Women Work’ (1984) by East Leeds Women’s Workshop, is a compilation of archival footage and voiceovers that reflect the depressingly timeless cultural biases that hang over women, in and out of the workplace. The society was set up in 1981 to provide vocational training to women (especially those in minority groups and without further education). The video plays on a monitor suspended from a DIY structure called a ‘relaxation cube’, which also includes a shelf of vintage ‘how to’ books made specifically for women, alongside present-day materials and pamphlets.
The gallery’s walls are punctuated with colourful icons – bananas, coils, pictogram eyes – designed by Anna Peaker. Nearby, the same pictorial language adorns an exterior wall at the University of Bradford, along with a floor-to-ceiling mural in its entranceway, both part of the commission. This spilling out of the project into other spaces is a key feature of Bad Practice, as it tests the boundaries of social engagement and presses the awkward question of who benefits from collaborative art making. A less interventionist contribution are the seedlings now planted in the nursery’s play area, which were sown by the children in the gallery with Grow Bradford and Bad Practice. The gallery has also been host to short courses on furniture making and a radical ESOL class, and work by City of Sanctuary and Biasan (Bradford Immigration & Asylum Support & Advice Network) will be shown during Refugee Week.
Perhaps the clearest proclamation of Bad Practice is a poster hanging in the gallery – a pie chart representation of the project’s budget and a detailed list of expenditure items. With refreshing transparency, it itemises costs and payment for all contributions, from artist fees to free beverages for campus cleaners. Rendered graphically, the chart shows the unavoidable inequities involved in art production and the arbitrariness of the value of work, variables that are further complicated when projects venture outside the art world.
Lara Eggleton is an art writer and historian based in Leeds, and Managing Editor at Corridor8.