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Merzman Conference

Merzman 2011 Conference, Mechanics Institute, Manchester,

Saturday 26th March, 2011

SHED GALLERY is a small space in an allotment. A place for small exhibitions. Based on a community allotment. I took up the challenge of creating a Merz inspired installation. This was organised by Pool Arts, an arts charity that makes opportunities for artists.

The gardener plants but Gaia gives the growth, and I was mulling over that statement last night, wondering what to say,
and if you really think about that, the gardener plants but the God or Nature or Mother Earth or whatever you like to call it, gives the growth, is really quite a profound statement.

The project began like planting a seed, on a Manchester allotment. We got some board from the wood yard. The plywood with its inherent texture, and I set about embellishing it.

And to look at what was there as a seed, a range of photos and magazine cuttings, that I collected over the years. And these I pasted onto the panels, creating the collage. Here is an example of some of those juxtapositions in a syncretic assemblage, including a picture of St Luke, a man with a laptop, Christ, the image of conservation, Hildegard von Binngen, the juxtaposition of the sacred and the profane, re-tuning the radio receiver, to get a clear picture of the times: The plywood board I started 28th February [2011], photos from magazines,
man with laptop, merz pictures incorporated oxygen mask, double image of Schwitters, collected all these images, which formed the central
panel, of the three panels, but I actually started the three smaller warm-up panels to begin with.

I feel the end result is an artwork of some resonance, and took a lot of energy to create it, but I think it gives out more inspiration in the end. It was a labour of love, and through it I explored many different themes, drawing together several fragments in an alchemical experiment that through the medium of collage, did indeed synthesis and change the baser elements. The best part for me was not only having my work appreciated by others, and all the positive comments, but the miraculous moment when the panels were first installed and the sun shone down on the SHED Gallery, and the camera caught these wonderful golden shapes, which were fantastic.

‘What did you use to create that effect?’

I used a heat gun, also melted wax in different colours, which I applied with brushes and spoons, even a fork, on the wax to create a spiral effect, it was a good way of drawing lots of themes together, the wax fixed the collage; giving a new perspective on the whole work.

I was trying to piece together various different images and collage materials, and combine them to tell a story of significance. By drawing those strands together, to create a total work. It was through retrieving found materials, and joining those with images from other traditions, from Europe, Middle and far East, South Asia. We had a the opening last night.

Chair Alnoor Mitha, FRSA:

It is an excellent setting for the local people in the community to attend. And that it is a beautiful piece of work.

Richard Demarco, CBE:

…[Joseph Beuys] was the co-founder of the green party in Germany,
we were concerned about the environmental problem. This was shown in one of his greatest artworks:  7000 oaks, which he planted, he turned it into a project, the growth of these trees, 7000 trees. Joseph Beuys did like going into art galleries, and the botanic gardens, so he made this art work, and it was placed in the botanic garden to show how everyone should be concentrating on the growth of plants and trees and flowers-as the symbol of the future
and it was in Scotland he got this idea, it seems you can’t imagine the trees, all those who are artists, go anywhere near their garden, to have more trees. Beuysian thinking is part of the incredible idea that came from European continental modernism, and I cannot get around the fact, he was a great artist of Schwitters’ calibre.

I knew I was dealing with unbelievable levels of ignorance, in Britain art world, it took a while for the penny to drop…I think Schwitters is still not quite part of our mindset, we are kind of like a secret society here.

I think the garden shed concept is truly revolutionary. It wouldn’t cost any money, and it encourages a level of thinking that the people of England deserve. I am not here for long, and while I am, I think about the real problem of our times, and concerning Art, which isn’t about entertainment alone, art is NOT entertainment!

I can see in the national festival levels they treat art as entertainment, what we are thinking about here is the reality of that little
plot of grass, the shed is also a place where plants grow, it is not yet identified on the British map of where the great modernist lived and worked, so they are certainly not in the league of Schwitters. We have to set up something that is seriously appropriate. to do something about these real problems.

You are asking for the involvement of more people in Art, in these contexts, and well there is nothing more important when you think about Britain; a country where there are extraordinary manifestations of human nature, but most people want to have a small plot of land, and grow things and create art,  and I think it was an amazing event.

We get bored of the never ending exhibitions we get sent to which can be easily forgettable, but we are keen on art that has an environmental message, what it does is it shows the fragility of our civilization, but also and shows where future growth and renewal could take place.

I congratulate this young man, and Pool Arts for bringing him here among us. I don’t trust the modern art world. This exhibition was good because it deals with the huge and overwhelming problems we are faced with, and the future going in the right direction, concerning above all the integrity of the environment.


That really is fantastic for all of us to think about.


Harry Matthews

un poète et peintre

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