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.
Grayson Perry: The Life of Julie Cope
- 18 November 2017 — 18 February 2018 *on now
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
Rose Finn-Kelcey: Power for the People
- 2 December 2017 — 4 March 2018 *on now
Power for the People brings together over four decades of work by highly-acclaimed and influential British artist Rose Finn-Kelcey. Born in Northampton in 1945, Finn-Kelcey attended Ravensbourne College of Art and Design before moving to London in 1968 to study at Chelsea School of Art. She first came to prominence in the early 1970s as a central figure in Performance and Feminist art, and continued to develop an extensive output of innovative works throughout her career. Alongside her own practice, Finn-Kelcey taught at a number of art schools from the 1960s until her death in 2014. She was an abiding inspiration to many artists and significantly contributed to the development of the visual arts scene in Britain today.
This exhibition focusses on the key themes of self, empowerment and spirituality embedded in Finn-Kelcey’s work, exploring how they contribute to our own perception of identity. Her work is distinguished by its unpredictability; no two works are quite alike. Despite or perhaps because of this continual reinvention, it is possible to pick out the reoccurrence of these key ideas in many of Finn-Kelcey’s works. The exhibition title is taken from a flag called ‘Power for the People’ installed by the artist on Battersea Power Station in 1972. In the early 1970s, Finn-Kelcey was fascinated by the weather as a subject for art and made a number of ‘wind dependent objects’, that relied on this intangible natural force. Whether through political statement, individual vulnerability or personal faith, Power for the People reveals a process of finding our own place in the world – and often doing so with some humour.
In response to these works and others that were not realised in her lifetime, two contemporary artists, both friends of Finn-Kelcey, will show works alongside the exhibition. Peter Liversidge (b. 1973) will make a giant flag for the gallery’s entrance with the word ‘HELLO’ stitched in black on a white background, ushering visitors into the show. Simon Moretti (b. 1974) will show a neon work depicting a lightning strike taken from an eighteenth century Indian painting, an image often used as a symbol of divine intervention.
- Any age
- Family friendly
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