Firstsite is a visual arts organisation based in Colchester, Essex. Our mission is to make contemporary art relevant to everyone.
Our integrated programme of work includes projects, exhibitions and publications by established and emerging artists, as well as extensive learning opportunities and artists’ support initiatives.
Over the last fifteen years firstsite has gained a strong reputation by presenting ambitious work to new audiences in the East of England and beyond.
Firstsite’s new building was designed by the Uruguayan architect Rafael Viñoly. His design was selected by a worldwide architectural competition that attracted more than 100 entries.
The crescent shape was created to wrap around the existing D-shaped garden of East Hill House, leaving intact the established arc of mature trees.
Its low-lying, single-storey design nestles in the landscape, with minimum disruption to Colchester’s historic roofscape.
Exhibition Spaces, shop and MUSA Café Restaurant
Tuesday - Sunday 10am – 5pm
Christmas Eve – open until 2pm
Christmas Day – closed
Boxing Day – closed
Saturday 27 December – open 10am – 5pm
Sunday 28 December – open 10am – 5pm
Monday 29 December – open 10am – 5pm (school holiday opening)
Tuesday 30 December – open 10am – 5pm
New Year’s Eve – open until 2pm
New Year’s Day – closed
Friday 2 January – open 10am – 5pm
Entry is free. Most events are free unless otherwise stated.
Emily Mulenga: Taking Up Space
- 30 September — 5 November 2017 *on now
The exhibition features a selection of dynamic moving image works alongside animated GIFs and personalised emojis, showcasing Mulenga’s use of digital language to investigate identity in the Internet age.
Using video, digital technology and online spaces, Mulenga explores how these platforms promote ideas of self through the body, race and sexuality. She questions the perceived democratic nature of these channels, particularly in relation to how the black feminine experience is presented online.
Mulenga uses her own image within her work. She asserts ownership over the different ways she is viewed by positioning her filmed self or animated avatar in virtual environments. In Orange Bikini (2015) Mulenga’s avatar is shown performing in a sequence of fantasy scenes, including taking a selfie, singing, pole dancing, twerking and swimming with a dolphin. By embodying confrontational stereotypes of how the black female body can be shown, she affirms her own independence and power to celebrate beauty without the influence of a male gaze.
A brand-new work entitled 4 Survival 4 Pleasure (2017), a sequel to Orange Bikini, follows the avatar on a journey through a succession of luxurious digital landscapes, claiming for herself a sense of absolute agency. The piece touches on aspects of cyborg theory, as well as the assertion that whether she is a concert pianist or dressed in jewels and feathers for carnival, a woman is equally valuable, important and justified. Mulenga’s central theme is the desire for those who are marginalised not only to survive, but to find happiness and empowerment.
The MulengaMoji series appropriates the popular vocabulary of emojis and GIFs – small digital images that are used to express an idea or emotion. Mulenga embeds her own face into familiar icons such as crying, winking or angry emojis: alongside symbols drawn from her own work including afro, selfie, and twerking emojis. These playful representations are part of her search for new ways to construct and reclaim identities to exist online in the future.
We: You, Me
- 14 October — 19 November 2017 *on now
In a unique group exhibition JMC Anderson, Charlie Bryan and Laurie Taylor Straiton bring together artists who question the complexities of gender, narrative and environment in relation to the individual self. We: You, Me investigates ideas about the construction of identity in today’s society.
Investigated through three themes, each curator presents a different approach to the subject of identity. JMC Anderson offers insight into the role of the artist, and the perception of what this should entail. Charlie Bryan contrasts natural and manmade environments to highlight art that challenges how we interpret the planet we live on. Laurie Taylor Straiton presents artists who comment on issues surrounding gender, questioning the superfluous characteristics assigned to men and women. Together, the exhibition asks us to consider the similarities and differences that make us who we are.
Grayson Perry: The Life of Julie Cope
- 18 November 2017 — 18 February 2018
The show is made up of four large-scale tapestries, as well as material related to A House for Essex (2015), the building designed by Perry in collaboration with Charles Holland of FAT Architecture. An ornate ceramic-clad, gingerbread-like edifice, A House for Essex serves as a secular chapel to the memory of a fictional Essex woman, Julie Cope. Situated overlooking the scenic Stour Estuary in the village of Wrabness in north-east Essex, the House is both an artwork in itself and the setting for a number of works by Perry that explore the special character and unique qualities of the county. A House for Essex was commissioned by Living Architecture, which was founded to change public perceptions about modern architecture by building houses that are rented by the public for holidays.
The exhibition at Firstsite will be a unique presentation consisting of tapestries, woodcuts, ceramics and tiles designed for the House as well as sketchbooks and photographs that chart its development. Included are The Essex House Tapestries: The Life of Julie Cope (2015), on loan from the Crafts Council Collection. The two major tapestries illustrate the key events in the protagonist’s journey, from her birth on Canvey Island during the great flood of 1953 to her untimely death in a tragic accident on Colchester High Street. Overflowing with cultural and architectural detail, the tapestries contain a social history of Essex and modern Britain that reflects Firstsite’s year-long focus on contemporary identity.
The first, A Perfect Match (2015) is centered upon Julie’s conventional early life and ultimately doomed relationship with her first husband Dave. The second, In Its Familiarity, Golden (2015) depicts Julie’s ‘second act’, in which she takes control of her life and widens her horizons. She relocates to Maldon with her children and attends university in Colchester, where she meets her second husband Rob. Together Julie and Rob share a profound happiness that lasts until her sudden and untimely death at the age of 61, the result of a freak accident with a curry delivery scooter. It is this shocking incident that prompts Rob to build a ‘temple’ in memory of his beloved Julie – the ‘Taj Mahal upon the Stour.’
The two further tapestries, made for the bedrooms at A House for Essex, are portraits of Julie and her life with each of her husbands: Julie and Rob (2013), and Julie and Dave (2015). Also included in the show is a series of black and white woodcuts, entitled Six Snapshots of Julie (2015), which depict the six decades of Julie’s life.
The tapestries and woodcuts are displayed alongside an audio recording of The Ballad of Julie Cope, a 3000-word narrative written and read by Perry that builds upon his own childhood in Essex to illuminate Julie’s hopes and fears as she journeys through life. When writing Julie’s biography, Perry looked to the English ballad and folktale tradition, narrating a life that conveys the beauty, vibrancy and contradictions of the ordinary individual.
These artworks represent, in Perry’s words, ‘the trials, tribulations, celebrations and mistakes of an average life.’ Historically, large-scale tapestry provided insulation for grand domestic interiors; here Perry has juxtaposed its associations of status, wealth and heritage with the concerns of class, feminism, social aspiration and taste. To create the tapestries, Perry first sketched on a computer, then worked closely with a digital mediator and tapestry weavers to translate the vivid colour and detail of his original drawings into a woven textile.
Both Grayson Perry and Charles Holland grew up in Essex, and the building was designed to evoke a tradition of wayside and pilgrimage chapels – including the nearby seventh-century St Peter-on-the-Wall at Bradwell-on-Sea – while charting Julie’s life from Canvey Island to Wrabness, traversing Essex and various socioeconomic boundaries. It is clad in a pattern of green and white tiles that depict totems of Julie’s life: a nappy pin, a mixtape, a heart, a wheel, a letter J, the Essex county badge and a pregnant Julie imagined as a goddess-like fertility symbol. A Julie Tile (2014) as well as mouldings for several others will be shown at Firstsite.
Engaging with notions of Britishness, decoration and architectural history, the project has been described by Holland as a radical statement about the capacity of architecture for narrative and communication to tell a rich and complex story – that of the ‘Essex Everywoman’ Julie Cope. A riotous exhibition of joy and colour, The Life of Julie Cope celebrates the extraordinary in the ordinary.
- Family friendly
Museums at Night
- 26 October 2017 6-10pm
Throughout 2017, Firstsite are presenting selected works from Film and Video Umbrella’s (FVU) impressive back-catalogue as part of a new partnership. For Museums at Night we are joined by Jerwood/FVU Award winners Patrick Hough and Lawrence Lek for a series of exciting discussions about their individual commissions and interest in moving image as an artistic medium.
The galleries will be open late, offering you the opportunity to explore some of the most interesting artist moving image and digital work showcased within our Screen Play season.
7:00pm – 8:00pm
Screening of Patrick Hough’s And If In A Thousand Years (2017) followed by an artist discussion.
8:30pm – 9:30pm
Screening of Lawrence Lek’s Geomancer (2017) followed by an artist discussion.
Patrick Hough works with moving image, photography, sculpture and installation. His recent work questions the relationship between humans and objects; exploring links between cinema, technology and museology through archives of historical film props.
Lawrence Lek creates speculative worlds and site-specific simulations using gaming software, video, installation and performance. Often based on real places and fictional artists, his digital environments reflect the impact of the virtual on our perception of reality. Contrasts between utopia and ruins, desire and loss, and fantasy and history appear throughout his work to symbolise this exchange.
The Jarman Award 2017 + Q&A with Melanie Manchot
- 1 November 2017 7-9:30pm
Inspired by visionary filmmaker Derek Jarman, the Jarman Award recognises and supports artists working with moving image, and celebrates the spirit of experimentation, imagination and innovation in the work of artist filmmakers. Join Firstsite for the opportunity to see work by the 2017 shortlisted artists: Lawrence Abu Hamdan, Oreet Ashery, Adham Faramawy, Melanie Manchot, Charlotte Prodger and Marianna Simnett.
The 10th anniversary edition of the Jarman Award celebrates an eclectic group of artists who resist being placed in a singular, defining box. Their practices are as diverse as the field of moving image itself. Each speaks with their own voice from their own place with their own visual style.
These artists’ works are the result of sharp observation, complex intellectual and aesthetic inquiry, and depth of thought, but this does not make them devoid of humour and playfulness. They do not shy away from ‘big’ subjects, and they do so without beautifying, simplifying or turning to clichés. They touch on human fragility, the limitations and boundaries of the body, mental health, death in the digital age and the legacy we leave behind, gender stereotypes and sexuality.
The winner of the Jarman Award will be announced on 20 November 2017 at a ceremony at the Whitechapel Gallery, and will receive a £10,000 prize. The Award is supported by Channel 4, who have commissioned each of the shortlisted artists to produce a new film for their acclaimed Random Acts arts strand.
Melanie Manchot, Out of Bounds (B), 2016, 12min
Charlotte Prodger, BRIDGIT, 2016, 32min
Adham Faramawy, Janus Collapse, 2016, 10min
Q&A with Melanie Manchot
Marianna Simnett, The Needle and the Larynx, 2016, 15min
Oreet Ashery, Revisiting Genesis – Episode 2, 2016, 8min
Lawrence Abu Hamdan, Rubber Coated Steel, 2016, 22min
Melanie Manchot, Out of Bounds (A), 2016, 5min
About the Artists:
Lawrence Abu Hamdan is an artist working across audio-visual installations, performances, graphic works, photography, Islamic sermons, cassette tape compositions, essays, and lectures. Abu Hamdan’s interest with sound and its intersection with politics originate from his background in DIY music. He has made audio analyses for legal investigations at the UK asylum Tribunal and advocacy for organisations such as Amnesty International and Defence for Children International.
Oreet Ashery is an interdisciplinary visual artist with unorthodox, multi-layered and eclectic practice spanning photography, moving image, mass-produced and unique artefacts, text, music, workshops and performance. Ashery’s work confronts ideological, social and gender constructions within the fabric of personal and broader contemporary realities.
Adham Faramawy is a London-based artist working across moving image, sculptural installation and print. Faramawy often draws on the language of advertising, co-opting the special effects used to evoke desire for people, things and experiences. The artist combines these seductive devices of brilliance, slipperiness, morphing and repetition with his own interest in the transgressive aesthetics of ‘body horror’, found in manga and anime, as well as cult classic such as Cronenberg’s Videodrome (1983).
Melanie Manchot is a London-based visual artist working across photography, moving image and installation. Her long-standing areas of enquiry range from portraiture to participation and performance, to questions of individual and collective identities, and to the exploration of the very particular socio-economic and ecological microclimate of a specific alpine mountain and its community. Situated at the threshold between the documentary and staged events, Manchot’s work frequently involves an engagement with strangers.
Charlotte Prodger is a Glasgow-based artist working with moving image across the ever-evolving formats that are inextricably bound to the autobiographical content of her work. Previous works combine video taken from YouTube with spoken text taken from internet forums and personal emails. The equipment used to play audio and video content is a vital part of Prodger’s work: Most recently, she has been making longer single screen works such as BRIDGIT, 2016, and Stoneymollan Trail, 2015.
Marianna Simnett is a London-based artist working with moving image, installation and performance. In the most recent work, she treats her own body as one might play with their online avatar given the ephemerality and flexibility of its digital presentation. In The Needle and the Larynx, 2016, her voice is surgically lowered with Botox whilst she recites a grim parable about gender, nature and artifice.
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