The Editor of local art, photography and poetry publisher, Silverhill Press, will be featured alongside 23 other artists selected to participate in the Towner’s new biennial exhibition of contemporary art. The Towner International will take place for the first time at Towner Eastbourne from 6th October 2020 to 10th January 2021. Following an open call, 24 artists have been selected by an esteemed panel that includes Polly Staple (Director of Collection, British Art, Tate), Turner Prize nominated artist Mike Nelson, and Noelle Collins (Exhibitions & Offsite Curator, Towner Eastbourne).

As well as artists living and creating locally in Sussex, Kent and Hampshire, the show features artists working and exhibiting nationally, and internationally. One of the exhibiting artists will receive the Brewers Award of £10,000, sponsored by Brewers Decorator Centres, will be provided to one of the exhibiting artists and mentoring from the Towner team.

Hastings, by Ian Land

Joe Hill, director of Towner Eastbourne, said: “We had a great reception to the open call for Towner International and the quality and range of submissions has been really impressive. […] Connecting the work of those living and working in our region with those creating globally will be a really exciting starting point to curate a major exhibition for our galleries this autumn.”

“Towner International hopes to address how artistic communities are recording and responding to the economic, political, cultural, and environmental changes that are unfolding across the world today. 

“Video works reflecting on the geo-political situation in Iraq and textiles reworking ideas of colonial photography will sit alongside reflections on diasporic cultural displacement, memory, trauma and environmental destruction and devastation. Notions of identity, community, collaboration and time are also threaded through Towner International, addressing these themes from both a global and domestic socio-political viewpoint.”

Noelle Collins, said: “Towner’s location has been at the core of the gallery’s identity for almost a century and we wanted to work with artists who have made work in some way reflective of this, allowing us to draw together viewpoints on landscape, environment and identity.”

Ian Land’s photo series: Land of Cockaigne: Travels through Brexit (2016 – 2019) is a series of black and white photographs, taken by Land while walking the coastal route from Hastings to London, as the country grappled with the possibility of leaving the European Union. Ian lives in Hastings, and apart from his work at Silverhill Press, he regularly exhibits work and is an experienced darkroom teacher. Last year Land of Cockaigne featured in Photohastings’ Season of Photography, an annual event showcasing Hastings’ photographic talent which is planning to continue from September this year. 

On being featured in the Towner International, Ian says: “I am incredibly proud to have been selected to show photographs from my Land of Cockaigne project as part of the inaugural Towner International exhibition. There were thousands of submissions from all over the world, and […] It’s a bit overwhelming, to be honest.” 

About the photo series he says: “On June 23rd 2016 a narrow majority voted for the UK to leave the EU. In the wake of this vote mainstream British politics has polarised in a way most of us have never seen before.

For some years I had intended to walk from my home in Hastings along the coastal route all the way to London. The original idea was to take photographs of everything except the sea itself, to show the effects of the sea on the landscape and the built environment, but to avoid the customary dramatic seascapes so traditionally beloved of photographers and painters.

I began the project in September 2016. As I started planning the route it became clear most of my walking would be through Sussex and Kent coastal regions which had voted solidly for Brexit in the referendum, and as I began the walk itself, I realised the referendum result had changed my attitude to the coastal landscape I love so much. As I walked, Union flags seemed much more prominent than I recalled previously, the multitude of Keep Out and Private signs which had always been there took on a sinister air, and the irony of walking for many miles on land closer to France than it is to London became overwhelming. For the first time in years, Englishness and the English landscape began to feel alien and forbidding to me, and during the two and a half years the walk took me, the country lurched deeper into crisis, chaos and an ascendant far-right authoritarian populism.

“As I write this, at the beginning of September 2019, three years after beginning the walk, a new Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, is trying – so far unsuccessfully – to resolve the issues raised by the referendum by crashing out of the EU without a withdrawal agreement. I, like so many others, am exhausted and fearful, as all my certainties about the triumph of decent liberal values – tolerance, respect, internationalism – come crashing down around me. Most of this walk was made in anger at what the referendum has revealed about much of English politics, its small-mindedness, its failure to accept its diminished role in the world, its arrogant contempt for other nations. I don’t think that anger will ever abate, but this project is a small attempt to come to terms with it.

“From Wikipedia: ‘Cockaigne is a land of plenty in medieval myth, an imaginary place of extreme luxury and ease where physical comforts and pleasures are always immediately at hand and where the harshness of medieval peasant life does not exist.’”

These photographs were first exhibited in October–November 2019 at Hastings Arts Forum, as part of the 2019 PhotoHastings Festival. A book of the project is available from Silverhill Press.

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