Multimedia installation by Russell Mills and Michael Fearon
1830 Gallery, Shaw Lodge Mill, Halifax, Yorkshire
Table, chair, book, glass, ashes, light bulb, lampshade, rhinestone diamonds, painted spades, lighting, multi-channel 12 speaker sound system.
Soundwork mixed and produced by Russell Mills and Mike Fearon at Shed Studio, Ambleside, Cumbria

Installation by Russell Mills and Michael Fearon Table, chair, book, glass, ashes, light bulb, lampshade, rhinestone diamonds, painted spades, lighting, multi-channel 12 speaker sound system In these increasingly fragmented times life is a constantly changing collage of dislocated experiences. In our daily travels, we overhear snatches of conversations and clips of music, catch signs and headlines, meet people, exchange information and gossip, glimpse fleeting vignettes of human activity, all the while absorbing facts, ideas and sensations. The media world and politics, both shaped by advertising’s fabricated fictions, bombard us with mediated ‘truths’, preempting any original responses to experience. These experiences – our ‘reality’ – when recalled, do not unfold objectively or coherently, but as a series of meandering, disparate and jumbled memories, filtered, by jolts and twists, through association and deviation, to produce a montage of fragments, a collage of our consciousness.
My work uses and is about collage, not just in the creation of art that juxtaposes disparate elements in new contexts. I enjoy complexity and ambiguity. Proceeding through a cat’s cradle of associations I usually seek to find correspondences between numerous seemingly unrelated ideas, inspirations and facts, to reach a coherent, if allusive, conclusion. The works normally evolve through a symbiotic exchange between contextually anchored ideas and physical processes, each, by degrees, influencing the other.
However, for Now Then I decided to allow the notion of consciousness as collage to dictate the content and direction of the work in a far less discriminatory and far more porous way. Abandoning any attempts to corral ideas into a coherent whole, acting merely as a receiver, I have surrendered to the dynamics of their flow. Avoiding the constraints of analysis and interpretation, I have simply juxtaposed seemingly unrelated ideas and subjects that have preoccupied me over the past few years, into a new configuration.

Zoned in a cone of light – a chair and a table with an open book (ledger? Daybook? Noctuary?), covered in ashes – alludes to my father’s experiences, the physical actualities and my speculations on his thoughts, as a rear gunner in a Lancaster bomber, frozen with fear and cold in his turret amidst the chaos and carnage, as he flew on numerous raids over Europe during World War Two. It also references aspects of Samuel Beckett’s three zones of consciousness as described (hilariously) in his first novel Murphy (1938).

The first, outer zone of light and the colossal fiasco of the external world; the second zone of half-light, a filtering space in which human relationships are considered, decoded and moderated; and the third zone, a dark inner sanctuary of attunement, aspirations and escape. The ideas of Robert Fludd, Johannes Kepler and Galileo and the conflict that these caused with the Catholic Church are suggested in the spades painted to resemble constellations, and in the use of diamonds, a form of carbon, the most ubiquitous element in the universe, the material of the stars and of us. Diamonds also refer to Virginia Woolf’s receptiveness to the potential of the disregarded as expressed in her “diamonds in the dust”, her exploratory writings, which finds echoes in the work of Kurt Schwitters. In his startlingly poetic collages made with society’s detritus, phonetic poems and innovative Merzbau sculptures, he defined the creative process not as a separate sphere, but as intimately linked with everyday life as a process of organic transformation.

The egg plays with conjoined ideas about Galileo’s discovery of the true ellipsoid trajectory of the Earth around the Sun, challenging previously held beliefs about planetary motion, and the differences between myths and scientific facts. The egg, a true virgin, an innocent, an undeniable given, confounds the unfounded tenets of religious belief systems. In the Summer of 2013, a visit to the remote 17th century Martindale Old Church, on the east side of Ullswater, to hear The Gladly Solemn Sound singers perform their repertoire of West Gallery or ‘Shape-note’ music from the Georgian period, moved me enormously. In particular, a funeral hymn with music by William Knapp and lyrics by Samuel Crossman (1753). As this poignantly beautiful song of grieving, delivered with such passion in this simple, atmospheric building, unfolded its waves of voices, I was overwhelmed with vivid memories of and a deep longing for my father. He had died in 2011 at the age of 91.

He loved singing and I knew that he would’ve reveled in this sound, this place, and this moment. A spade implies digging – deeper – to reveal hidden truths, and the agri-cultural bond between man and the land as declared in Seamus Heaney’s famous poem ‘Digging’, in which the pen with which he digs for truths metaphorically mirrors his cultural heritage that is rooted in the land. The spade also refers to an important sermon by the 14th century radical ‘hedge preacher’ John Ball who influenced the English/American political activist, philosopher and revolutionary, Thomas Paine (1737-1809). Using the ‘common tongue’, Ball appropriated the bible to attack the church, the lords and the onerous flat-rate poll taxes imposed to pay for the recurrent European wars.

His speech, “When Adam delv’d and Eve span, who was then the gentleman? From the beginning all men by nature were created alike, and our bondage or servitude came in by the unjust oppression of naughty men…” calling for the peasant class to rise up against inequality and serfdom led to the Peasants’ Revolt of 1381. The depiction of Adam ‘delving’ is a common motif in pre-Reformation art and adorned the walls of many country churches.

The soundwork for Now Then is an aleatoric piece that employs six sound sources, each carrying a unique menu of sounds and silences, each programmed to play randomly through six sets of paired speakers, thereby creating a continually changing, self-generating mix in real-time. When using this method we have usually employed audio elements that are not pitch-specific – found organic and industrial samples, field recordings and electro-acoustic sounds. Using ‘My Life’s A Shade’ as a melodic reference obliged us to study various musical theories and devise a new process for the distribution of its tonal elements. In our previous installations, the inclusion of any musical element limited us to only one musical key, with this method the listener experiences the “feel” of seven keys. Russell Mills, February 2015



"During the prolonged period of enforced Covid-19 lockdown restrictions, I suspect like many others, I spent some time in reflective mode. I found myself returning to the set of 30 works I’d made towards possible uses on the Nine Inch Nails’ Hesitation Marks release of 2013. All of these works were subsequently published in the Cargo In The Blood limited edition multiple that was released following the album’s release. I’ve had and continue to receive enquiries about the possibility of some of these pieces being made into limited edition prints, so decided to go through them with this in mind, selecting those that I think will make good prints.

As well as considering the original works, I was also intrigued as to how a set of prints could be made using some of the pieces from the second half of the book, which is titled The Reverse Is Also True. This section features all the artworks subjected to various negative treatments and printed using the four-colour process over a fifth base printing of metallic silver ink. I chose to explore this five-colour process because I was intrigued to see how the unpredictability of this process would affect and work with the overprinted full-colour images. It also mirrored how my work evolves out of experiments with prepared chance, combining chemicals, solutions, man-made and organic materials. The results from such experimentation are always unpredictable, and while there are the occasional disappointments and failures, for the most part, they are surprising and often revelatory. Working in this way ensures that control is surrendered to the unpredictable nature of the materials, thereby avoiding the known and removing any ego from the work.

Having started life as mixed media works, they were photographed, then converted into the digital, after which they became the source of potential new works in their own right, works that could only have been achieved in the computer, the ultimate collage tool.

I’ve chosen a few of my favourites, which, instead of using the five-colour lithographic printing process as used in the production of the Cargo In The Blood book, are to be printed using the digital eight-colour process, onto a very beautiful iridescent PhotoRag Metallic paper produced by Hahnemuhle, the paper manufacturer whose paper is used for all of the Limited Edition Prints.

Unfortunately, it’s impossible to emulate metallic inks on a computer so it’s impossible to show what the finished prints actually look like. You’ll just have to take it on trust that they look wonderful; if they didn’t, they wouldn’t be being offered for sale.

Both sets of these new series, in signed limited editions of 150

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