It is fitting that Short Supply’s MADE IT 2021 is situated in a former school, in the Manchester suburb of Openshaw. The exhibition is an annual graduate art prize, with artists applying through a North West wide open call. The work displayed represents each artist’s art-educational journey — the final cumulative output of years of effort. Short Supply was formed by Mollie Balshaw and Rebekah Beasley in the final year of their fine art studies at the University of Salford in 2019. Borne of a lack of opportunities for early-career artists in the North of England, the organisation aims to provide a springboard for artists to gain a reputation and experience. But perhaps more than that, it’s a network; a space where artists feel heard and seen, and can be a part of something even beyond graduation.
Galleries are often difficult spaces to be in; quiet and white, they demand a specific type of behaviour that relatively few are confident with. But there’s something about this exhibition being staged in a school gymnasium that makes the context feel familiar. There are still markings on the wooden floor delineating games courts, and I follow them like a map around the space, reminded by the squeak of rubber soles against concrete. The first pieces I see are Jessica Dartnell’s two paintings: a shock of colour against white walls. Blocked colours are formed into shapes that bravely interact, finished with surface scratches and blobbed curves of toothpaste-white paint. It’s fascinating to look at, and although there’s a sense of surety in the confidence of the marks, there’s also a subtle energy of disorientation.
Dartnell’s paintings are mounted alongside two screens displaying the works of Phoebe Price and Sarah Godfrey. Price’s video was made during lockdown, and shows the artist’s searching hand interacting with soft cloth or banister rails, and moving across their surfaces, desperate for touch. Filmed in low light, it feels close and intimate, a reflection on a human need for connection. As I move through the space, the tactility of the works is obvious. During the months when it seemed as though everything had moved online, there’s something reassuring about this evidence that artists were still physically creating. Scott Hesketh’s installation work is large enough to be walked amongst, begging to be touched. Filled with half-recognisable objects and approximations of real life, there’s tangled rope, a plump sausage of fur, and a panel of waved plastic that distorts your vision.
A lot of the works seem reflective, but interjected with gentle bites of reality. Amelia Welbourne’s nude portrait captures a quiet moment in the everyday, as a figure sits on the toilet to brush her teeth. These private moments aren’t often portrayed, but they are important: the sitter is shown before she opens the bathroom door and faces the day. The vulnerability and familiarity is touching. Across the floor, Saffron Summerfield’s work consists of plastic tubing that connects anthill-like porcelain structures. The work reflects on ‘technofossils’, a recently coined term for objects that have been made for convenient human use but will outlast us. It’s a work that appears to have a hidden purpose, but it must be something that we can’t quite remember; do we speak into the open pipes, pour water, or blow? It’s playful and interesting, inviting interaction.
It’s also difficult not to touch Jasmine Gardner’s three vases, which each stand on their own plinth alongside quotes from her research. Gardner ran an open submission where people of East or South-East Asian descent were able to submit racist remarks that have been said to them. There’s a zine to take away, and perhaps because of it this direct commentary on racism and cultural appropriation stays with me. Strong, maze-like lines decorate the pots, they are complex, non-uniform, and stark against the white glaze. I’m also fascinated by Nadire Gökmen’s work, although presented simply as three wall-mounted ceramic sculptures, there is a deeper complexity to be unearthed. Slip-casted from rusted steel sheets, the artist was able to transfer the decaying orange-browns of iron oxides into the clay, creating a marbled patina. This intricate and burnished detail is otherworldly, as inevitable decay is paused and made permanent before it reaches its conclusion. It’s a mark of storytelling.
After time away from in-person exhibitions in 2020 and 2021, Mollie says, ‘the stakes were amped up. Many of these artists hadn’t exhibited work in nearly two years, hadn’t had a physical degree exhibition and some had never exhibited professionally before.… We felt a sense of responsibility.’ Each work was selected on its own merits, rather than responding to a wider theme, but I see threads or conversations between each piece including shared themes of tactility, humanity and connection. Things that, since 2020, we might have been craving. Having made my way around the exhibition, it feels like Short Supply is needed. Careful, deliberate curation and the time spent forging relationships between artists and their works is obvious. Spanning a broad range of mediums, from the caricatured papier-mâché masks of Eve Gittins to Nicole Mullen’s quietly mournful photographs, it’s hard to articulate what links all of these works: perhaps a shared sense of unease, and a reminder of our shared humanity.
MADE IT 2021 is available to view online at www.shortsupply.org/made-it-2021.
Short Supply are currently delivering projects across their Arts Council England funded programme “Where do emerging artists graduate to?” and have upcoming collaborations with Whitworth Young Contemporaries, UKNA and Abingdon Studios, PROFORMA and Warrington Contemporary Arts Festival.
Grace Edwards is a writer and ceramicist based in Manchester.
This review is supported by Short Supply.