I never really wanted a blog.

So, I never really wanted a blog but I’ve probably got loads of stuff I could just bung up here. I write quite a lot for my job and this week I wrote a review of the Northern Art Prize show at Leeds City Art Gallery as a punt for a job with Radio 3.  Be warned it’s deliberately polemical.

Here it is…




The Northern Art Prize at Leeds City Art Gallery is all about history and time. All of the shortlisted artists, Alec Finlay, Lubaina Himid, David Jacques and Haroon Mirza, refer to something about history in their work. In some of the work this is writ loud; in others it is woven into political narratives, music nostalgia or meditations on diasporic communities.

Lubaina Himid was one of the pioneers of the Black Art movement of the 1980s, her work is celebratory, and often playful, and yet her paintings, drawings and objects encourage us to think hard about enslavement, civil rights and black british history in northern cities.

For David Jacques history is a complex mix of fact and fiction. Using stereoscopic photos, spoken word and objects apparently left behind after fictional events he contructs and uncovers overlooked or marginalised political narratives. His work is intellectually engaging and deliberately difficult.


In the foyer of the Art Gallery a haunting soundtrack echoes through the space. It’s a sound installation that was made as part of a collaboration between Alec Finlay and the field-recordist, Chris Watson that’s a version of Tim Buckley’s 1968 Song to the Siren. The song, on repeat, is deeply emotional and references Homeric sirens and romantic notions of drowning in love.

Haroon Mirza uses old TV sets, lightbulbs, transistor radios and outmoded musical equipment to make audio and video installations. These assemblages often reference club culture and music nostalgia and his work explores myth, music, religion and death and modern British history. . Materially and compositionally Mirza’s work is extremely sophisticated and I expected to like this work best. But as I walked around gallery I became drenched in history, and although I’m aware that Mirza’s references to popular music should resonate with me, they simply left me cold.


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