Firstsite, Colchester, UK
9 February – 22 April 2019
FREE Open seven days a week, 10am to 5pm
susan pui san lok, A COVEN A GROVE A STAND, Firstsite, 2019. Images courtesy of Firstsite. Opening celebration: Photos by Maddie Pierce. Installation views: Photos by Douglas Atfield.
A COVEN A GROVE A STAND is a body of work responding to seven out of 270 sites nominated by the public for New Geographies, a three-year project remapping the East of England through a series of artist commissions reflecting on local stories of unexplored or overlooked places. The seven sites are connected by their associations with the folklore and history around witchcraft and the witch persecutions that took place over two centuries, from 1560 to 1712, including the Essex witch trials from 1645 to 1647. They are: ‘Old Knobbly’, an ancient oak tree in Mistley; the Manningtree/Mistley green area; the ‘Witches’ Wooden Leg’ in the ruined Church of St. Mary’s of East Somerton, Norfolk; Kitty Witches’ Row in Great Yarmouth; the Witch’s Heart in King’s Lynn’s Tuesday Marketplace; and St Peter and Paul Church in St Osyth and St Osyth Priory.
A COVEN A GROVE A STAND explores ideas of history, myth, voice, place, collective witnessing and resistance, through seven works interweaving text, song, voice, video, and stitch across several spaces. Singing voices draw audiences towards the Lightwell Gallery. Over a hundred names belonging to those accused of witchcraft, handwritten by the artist in chalk, frame the entrance to Gallery 1, which is dominated by a strange tree-like structure assembled from recycled cardboard. Sister O Sister looms semi-suspended, an abstract, inverted form based on 3D-scans of ‘Old Knobbley’, an oak tree situated in the woods around Mistley, where ‘witches’ were thought to have hidden. Rainbow shades of vinyl simultaneously filter the light coming through the windows, and the views looking out onto the circle of trees beyond.
In the same space, Cruel Mothers links several versions of the folksong, Cruel Mother, recorded by Shirley Collins (1960), Jean Redpath (1962), John Renbourn Group (1962), Dave and Toni Arthur (1970), Rebecca Pidgeon (1998), and Ruth Price and Sadie Greenwood (2008). One echoes another in a disjointed round, around the ‘tree’. The lyrics are inscribed in chalk on the far wall, along with the words of Alison Gross/AlisonCross, juxtaposing archetypal narratives of female sexuality, transgression, power and violence.
Across Galleries 1 and 2, circles of singing and speaking voices overlap. In Gallery 2, Seven Sisters comprises separate audio and video loops, conjuring into the present the individuals accused and executed as witches in the past. In Gallery 3, two hundred ribbons hang from the ceiling in a double rope garland, for the unnamed victims of persecution, while the far wall is adorned with intricately embroidered hoops for the named. Each hoop is unique, made by members of Colne & Colchester Embroiderers’ Guild, Stitch & Bitch Colchester, and YAK – Young Art Kommunity, while Colchester Bangladeshi Mohila Shomity took part in the looping of ribbons. Seeing, reading, speaking, writing and hearing the names of the ‘witches’, the work invites audiences recognise the persecuted then and now, and the collective power to bear witness, remember and resist.
Sister O Sister 2019, recycled cardboard, window vinyls, bowls, salt, 800cm x 500cm x 400cm
One/Hundred 2019, ribbons, ropes, hoops, nails, dimensions variable
Cruel Mothers 2019, 6-channel audio, 7 min loop
Gross Lover Cruel Mother 2019, chalk on wall, 400cm x 500cm
Seven Sisters 2019, 7-channel audio, 49 min loop.
Seven Sisters 2019, single-channel video, silent, 7 min loop
Score for Voices 2019, 7-panel text, 238 x 420mm, limited edition of 1,000 / unlimited photocopies
Image: susan pui san lok, Score for Voices, 2019.
Witches Walk 19 June 2019, Manningtree, Essex, UK, FREE
susan pui san lok is collaborating with the Royal Geographical Society (RGS) to devise a new walk through the Manningtree and Mistley area, accompanied by alternative audio guides. One will consist of an RGS commentary reflecting on local sites through the history and folklore around witchcraft and witch persecutions. The other will draw on the artist’s sound piece, Seven Sisters (2019). The walk route and audio content will be available online from early June via the Discovering Britain website and ViewRanger, a free GPS navigation app. A group walk and gathering will take place on 19 June 2019, details coming soon.
‘Witchfinder General: Matthew Hopkins and the East Anglian Witch Hunt‘ Professor Malcolm Gaskill, 28 February 2019, 7pm SOLD OUT
‘She confessed’: Stories from the women of the Essex witch trials‘ Professor Alison Rowlands, 3 April 2019, 7pm SOLD OUT
‘This exhibition near London is dedicated to the area’s persecuted witches’ Time Out, 29 March 2019
‘Nine Minutes with artist susan pui san lok’ After Nyne, 26 March
BBC Essex – Peter Holmes interview at Firstsite, 17 March 2019, 6.00-9.00am
‘Firstsite’s future is looking really Rosie’ Rebecca Creed, Gazette, 2 March 2019
‘Exhibition of the Week’ in ‘What We Learned This Week’, Elephant Magazine, 1 March 2019
‘susan pui san lok: A COVEN A GROVE A STAND’ art.daily.org, posted 28 February 2019
‘susan pui san lok’ Wall Street International Magazine. 25 February 2019
‘The best things to watch, see and do this week in the UK’ Roisin Lanigan, i-D, 18 February 2019
‘susan pui san lok: A COVEN A GROVE A STAND’ Twin Factory, 18 February 2019
Sadie Nine radio interview on New Geographies, BBC Essex, 12 June 2018
BBC News – Look East broadcast interview at Firstsite, 12 February 2019, 6.30pm
‘Artist to work with Firstsite on witch trial memorial’ Katherine Palmer, Gazette, 7 June 2018
‘New Geographies artists chosen for East’s overlooked places‘ BBC News online, 31 May 2018
‘Galleries and artists link up to showcase East Anglia landscape‘ Maev Kennedy, The Guardian, 31 May 2018
One / Hundred Colne & Colchester Embroiderers’ Guild, Stitch & Bitch Colchester, YAK – Young Art Kommunity, Colchester Bangladeshi Mohila Shomity
Cruel Mother Recordings by Shirley Collins (1960), Jean Redpath (1962), John Renbourn Group (1962), Dave and Toni Arthur (1970), Rebecca Pidgeon (1998), Ruth Price and Sadie Greenwood (2003)
Seven Sisters Voices: Naomi Bulliard, Libita Clayton, Anjalie Dalal-Clayton, Alexandra Kokoli, susan pui san lok, Sophia Phoca, Erika Tan. Sound: Martin Baxter
Score for Voices Designed by Land of Plenty
A COVEN A GROVE A STAND was commissioned by Firstsite, and forms part of New Geographies, a project initiated by the East Contemporary Visual Arts Network (ECVAN), coordinated by Wysing Arts Centre, and made possible through funding from the National Lottery through Arts Council England.
New Geographies is a three-year Arts Council England-funded project that invites members of the public to nominate locations for 10 major site-specific visual arts commissions across the East of England. ECVAN is seeking ‘overlooked or unexpected places’ in Bedfordshire, Cambridgeshire, Essex, Hertfordshire, Norfolk and Suffolk.