Dropping off the Circle Line

When I was a kid, I lived in Sheffield and thought The Lion King was the best thing I’d seen since my school nemesis, Glen Carter, got chased up a tree by a poodle.
Then I grew up and moved on to the bigger and brighter lights of London, where The Circle of Life meant getting stuck on the yellow tube line, and the only poodles I saw were photocopied images taped to trees, with the words, “If you see this dog…” splashed across their faces. The point is that we grow, and our understanding of life changes.
But sometimes we find ourselves coming back round the other side of the circle, looking at where we started. At least that’s what’s happened to me. I left Sheffield several years ago, and returned at the end of 2011. I never planned to, but people don’t plan much when they’re stuck on the underground going round and round, they just get off when they can. Or, as my favourite 90’s sitcom ‘Spaced’ puts it:
“What are you doing in Sheffield?”
“I fell asleep on the tube.”

Anyway, it’s good to be home. And so much has changed! The Sheffield scene has really come alive since I was last here, and I’m keen to get stuck in and make my mark. As we’re beginning a new year, I thought it would be fun to talk to a few new faces in the Sheffield art world, and see what’s going on . . .  

Cirqular – In Rehearsal
First up are the aptly named performing duo, Cirqular, otherwise known as Marc Henderson and Joel Redgrave. Based in Sheffield, their programme includes educational outreach, as well as a brand new range of performances, fusing circus tricks with physical theatre. I caught up with them over a coffee to find out more.  
So, what do Cirqular do exactly? “We’re sort of all singing, all dancing,” says Joel. “We’re interested in breaking away from the conventions of traditional circus, which tends to be one act followed by another.” So you’re not just a regular couple of clowns? “Well, we use the application of clown logic – we like improbable ways of achieving things. And we explore acrobatics, trapeze and physical theatre, like slapstick. But we respond to everyday life, creating narratives and suspense.”
This duo is a somewhat chaotic mix of playful and pedantic. There’s a definite work ethic that runs through their practice, with no shortage of critical engagement and visual integrity, but the life force of the unworldly gives them an air of impish charm. And they’re not afraid to work outside their comfort zone either. Cirqular are busy producing an interactive installation revolving around the theme of human flight, exploring the use of objects and environments in unusual ways.
So what inspires them? “Everyday life, really.” Simple. “Well,” Marc laughs, “we once spent hours trying to develop a sequence in which we dropped a ball from the height of a chair.” Perhaps not. Simple is actually quite complicated in the Cirqular universe. And every action counts.
“Especially for an emerging company – at the moment it’s survive not thrive!” Joel reminds me that a positive attitude is a must in the current economic climate, where new businesses are an ambitious act. But Cirqular have got off to a good start, with funding from IdeasTap for their new work, and a foot in the door of their new hometown, Sheffield. Keep an eye out for this fresh-faced pair on their site: www.cirqular.co.uk


Lianne Mellor in her studio
Proving that determination and passion are two key ingredients for making it work in the self-employment sector, is Sheffield based designer, Lianne Mellor. Lianne is moving from her studio just a couple of doors down from me, at Bloc Projects, to larger premises at the Workstation where she can accommodate her rapidly growing business – illustrated homewares. Her collection, cutely named “Mellor Ware,” includes an array of tea party sets all beautifully decorated with animated wildlife.
“I use wildlife in my illustrations because I love the idea that they could be watching us . . . replicating our picnics while we’re not looking!” This takes me back to my own childhood. When I wasn’t busy singing about Simba the Lion Cub, or bribing small dogs to snap at the ankles of my enemies, I liked nothing more than a good story about a group of mischievous hedgehogs. But the Mellor Ware collection isn’t quite as fuzzy as Old Mrs Tiggywinkle and her washerwoman ways. Lianne’s images are a much more idiosyncratic glimpse of wildlife, formed from a raw blend of imagination and recognition. They also seem to remain ‘on the move’ as you look at them, as though they might be a little unsure about whether to stay, or jump back out into the woods.

Lianne Mellor – Mellor Ware Collection
Brought up on the Wirral (which, to me, sounds like something out of Watership Down), Lianne moved to Sheffield 18 months ago. I ask her what she thinks about Sheffield as a creative city. “There is a lot of support here, not just in terms of creativity, but also as a business. There are more studio spaces in Sheffield than any other city outside of London.” I’m impressed, and having moved from the capital myself I’m really starting to feel at home.
Follow Lianne and her animal adventures by checking out her website: www.MellorWare.co.uk

Now, imagine you’re a serious ceramicist, you’ve landed in Sheffield and you’ve got something to say. What do you do? Well, if you’re Miles Gavin, you embrace the opportunities of the north and find yourself on the Starter Studio for Ceramicists programme, set up by Yorkshire ArtSpace. One of the things I’m fast picking up on in Sheffield is that this is a city unafraid to support new work, take risks and embrace the cutting edge.

Miles Gavin – Ferret
Like Lianne, Miles Gavin employs a cast of animals as the subjects of his work. “I love working with animals!” he enthuses, “they have so many connotations – cunning foxes, wise owls – I find it compelling to emphasize what is expected – or flip them on their head.” And Miles doesn’t just flip animals upside-down; his quirky sculptures transform ceramics into a medium that reframes craft as a critical material. If someone had said the word “ceramics” to me ten years ago, I’d have thought of pretty little bowls, vases and those obnoxious miniature plates that are too small to eat off, and too precious to show off. But today, craft oriented skills are freely moving into the same hemisphere as conceptual art. It’s madness. But it’s brilliant. So when you visit Miles’ animals in wonderland, don’t expect those cutesy little ornamental birds you grandmother used to keep behind glass, instead, expect to be startled by the sneering eyes of a penguin mob, or the sinister prowess of a dubious looking fox.  Take a peek at his website: www.MilesGavin.com


Chiara Bet – The Seven Deadly Sins
Jeweller & Designer Chiara Bet moved to England from Italy in 2004 and relocated to Sheffield in September 2011, having been offered a place on the Starter programme at Persistence Works. “Sheffield’s reputation as a city of makers makes it the perfect backdrop for my practice; I like to think of myself as an artisan from the olden days! I see my studio complex here as a miniature version of the town itself, where like-minded artists share a common passion for making.” Chiara makes curious jewellery, inspired by Renaissance and Art Nouveau times, rich in colour and offering up “bite sized escapism” from reality. As with all my chosen artists this month, Chiara’s work has an interest in the animalistic side of human nature – but rather than anthropomorphizing wildlife, or exaggerating commonplace creatures, her work stems from a fascination with the human body. “I am interested in mutations of the human body crafted by DNA . . . such ‘peculiar beings’ seem to be the basis for many myths and legends.”
Be warned, if it’s a charming necklace for the mother-in-law you’re after, well – I’d definitely get one of these! It will scare the living daylights out of her. Working with such themes as the seven deadly sins, these opulent figures of the grotesque hang from their chains like relics of a lost tomb. Chiara Bet’s jewellery is captivating – and ever so slightly creepy. Check it out here.

So, on the cusp of a new ride round the circle of life here in Sheffield, I am greatly encouraged by the warm welcome I have received into the artistic community. And (I’m afraid I can no longer resist) there really is, “More to see than can ever be seen, More to do than can ever be done . .  .”

Words by E. H. Cocker

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