Showing Us Their Metal Forest Swords 'Shrine'

Showing Us Their Metal

Shaun Curtis, Director of Metal
Shaun Curtis, Director of Metal

Artist collective Metal have been actively working in Liverpool’s art scene for more than ten years.

Known for turning an old railway station boiler room into an active cultural hub, working with Turner Prize winning artists to build communities, and regularly awarding our regions most gifted and daring artists, Metal’s work has always impressed us.

But, truth be told, we didn’t really know a lot about them, so we visited their studio and met up with Metal’s Director Shaun Curtis, to find out more about the excellent work they do and how they transform the potential of people and places through inspiring ideas.

“Every month we host a dinner at our base in Edge Hill Station. We bring together artists and local residents, but you never know who’s coming”, explains Director Shaun.

“It’s all about the power of art to transform communities…”

“The first eight local residents nominate the next eight, who nominated the next eight. It’s this cycle, an expanding and evolving network of community members. It creates an interesting dialogue and has a huge impact on the artists. Many cite it as one of the most interesting aspects of their relationship both with Metal and the area they’re working in”.

This authentic approach is at the heart of how Metal works. The team that worked with Turner Prize winners Assemble, developing the Granby Workshop and the stunning exhibition at Tramways, might seem to be on either end of the artistic spectrum, but the principle of connecting artists to audiences and audiences to artists remains a central focus.

Metal work closely with Turner Prize winning arts group Assemble
Metal work closely with Turner Prize winning arts group Assemble

Having been in post for 18 months, Shaun is used to working with multiple arts practices. Working across Tate Modern and Tate Britain in his former role he was curator of the Young People’s programme.

Linked to the expansion of the Tate Collection and exhibiting through other art forms, connecting Tate with a younger and more diverse audience, there was scope for exploration. “You could play with the toys of this giant institution, the Turbine Hall for example. You could draw on youth culture working with electronic music artists to fashion designers.”

One of the areas Metal has been most effective, he says, is working with an artists at the right time, with the right project while on they’re on the trajectory of awareness. Matthew Barnes, or Forest Swords, is the perfect example.

Edge Hill Station, Metal's Liverpool base
Edge Hill Station, Metal’s Liverpool base

“He’d gained exposure and justifiable respect for the music output he’d released. But through Metal’s artist labs and his Liverpool Provocations commissions he was able to expand the scope of his work, creating his first collaboration with a dancer. This helped him to developing a more expansive vision”.

This collaboration, Shaun says, gives artists the time and space to explore their practice. “Take an electronic music artist, for example. They have a creative output, across music and dance and many electronic artists have so much to offer, they’re interested in the whole aesthetic they can create but they’re rarely given an opportunity to realise that. Often there’s a very small budget for art, for their videos or touring live AV shows. We can help artists with this incredible talent and expansive visions”.

Collaboration is at the heart of another project for 2016 in Picton. Three artists, including Marcus Coates, will be working with the local community on “meanwhile spaces”.

Metal's Art Lending Library
Metal’s Art Lending Library

“It’s a term describing plots of land in communities, owned by a private developer for the city council with no specific economic motivation to develop them. They often become a gravitational point for problems, fly tipping or anti-social behaviour”.

The artists will be in residence at Edge Hill in late April, thinking about the impact artistic practices can have on these spaces and celebrating the community spirit and identity and how this can be readdressed by changing these spaces.

Metal Liverpool is, of course, a resident in Picton Ward, so are part of that community as a tenant and as people who live there as much as those they are talking to.

“It’s not an accident we are outside of the city centre”, Shaun says. “It was a conscious decision and in keeping with the overarching values of Metal as a national organisation, founded by Jude Kelly in 2002.

Metal’s ‘Man With a Camera’ showing. Part of their regular film nights.

“We are embedded within a community and the focus for our work is our audiences, those in L7, L8 and L15. It isn’t about bringing a pre-existing engaged audience, instead it’s about creating an interesting and relevant programme focused on the communities we serve that will attract that audience”.

Metal’s base in the oldest passenger railway station means they receive visitors who come to explore, intrigued by the heritage. They might not initially be interested in the art forms but have their curiosity piqued. Nights like Vinyl Station, where, along with Bido Lito! they play an unreleased album in its entirety, or the regular film nights at the station have both a community and  social vibe of bringing people together.

“It’s all about the power of art to transform communities”, says Shaun, “to embed artistic practice within the community to change both the artists and also the people consuming the art”.

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Published: 24/02/2016