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.
BRONZE AGE C. 3500 BC - AD 2018
- 17 March — 28 October 2018 *on now
Phyllida Barlow * Louise Bourgeois * Martin Creed * Alberto Giacometti * Diego Giacometti * Subodh Gupta * Eva Hesse * Jenny Holzer * Thomas Houseago * Matthew Day Jackson * Hans Josephsohn * Bharti Kher * Anna Maria Maiolino * Paul McCarthy * Gary McDonald * Fausto Melotti * Henry Moore * David Smith * Simon Starling * Ricky Swallow * André Thomkins * Will Thompson * William Turnbull * Mark Wallinger * David Zink Yi
BRONZE AGE c. 3500 BC – AD 2018 recreates a fictional Bronze Age presentation from a forgotten museum. An iteration of Hauser & Wirth’s satirical museological presentation at Frieze London 2017, the show has been curated specifically for Colchester – the earliest recorded Roman town in Great Britain. Conceived and originated by Dr. Neil Wenman in collaboration with Mary Beard, Professor of Classics at the University of Cambridge, the exhibition focuses solely on works made of bronze or from the Bronze Age period. These include artefacts on loan from regional museums and private collections nationwide, sculptures by artists including modern masters Louise Bourgeois, Alberto Giacometti, Henry Moore, and Fausto Melotti, along with Phyllida Barlow’s bronze cast paint sticks, Subodh Gupta’s bronze Mona Lisa, a cast bronze fist by Martin Creed, and Mark Wallinger’s spectacles.
The artefacts and artworks are separated into six themes: Domestic Life, Decoration & Adornment, Fertility & the Body, Religion & Burial, Trade & Agriculture and War & Battle, mimicking the curatorial choices of historical museum exhibitions.
Contemporary works of art and historical artefacts are mischievously mixed with miscellaneous bronze items purchased from eBay. Masquerading as archaeological finds, these invite us to ponder how the significance of an object can be dictated by context. Moving away from the traditional white walls of an art gallery, the presentation challenges expectations and highlights the power of display.
Institutions that have loaned works and objects to BRONZE AGE include: Bruton Museum, Somerset; Shrewsbury Museum & Art Gallery, Shrewsbury; and David Roberts Art Collection, London. At Firstsite, objects have been incorporated from the ‘designated status’ collection of the Colchester and Ipswich Museums. A unique addition to the presentation at Firstsite will be the Berryfield Mosaic (c. AD 150), which will be located at the entrance of the exhibition. This mosaic masterpiece was discovered in Colchester in 1923 where Firstsite is now located, and is permanently installed within the gallery floor.
An audio guide voiced by Professor Mary Beard, available on iTunes, enhances the visitor’s ‘museum’ experience and suggests the decoding of the objects on view.
- Family friendly
flyingleaps: Art on the Streets
- 22 September 2018 — 6 January 2019 *on now
Firstsite, Colchester, is delighted to announce a group exhibition featuring posters by eight artists: Magda Archer, Dolores De Sade, Jeremy Deller, Dr. D, Heath Kane, kennardphillips, Oddly Head, Simon Roberts and Mark Titchner.
Staged in collaboration with flyingleaps, the itinerant organisation that stages artistic interventions in public places, the presentation is comprised of poster works that have been created in response to contemporary politics, events and ideas.
Initially installed on street sites, this display will be shown inside Firstsite’s building pasted billboard-style along the gallery’s corridor walls. At a time when image-led content and advertising is accessible via multiple technologies, the posters invite the viewer to consider the role that artists and visual activism can play in our everyday experience, highlighting the power of images to change, challenge and empower shared beliefs.
From Brexit and political power, to utopian visions of technology and our own impact on the environment, the posters are reflective of events and ideas affecting society today. For example, in Strong and Stable My Arse (2017) Turner Prize-winning artist Jeremy Deller adulterates the phrase repeatedly used by Prime Minister Theresa May during the 2017 General Election to highlight the hollowness of crass political sloganeering.
In Post Brexit U.K, It’s Kinda like Heaven (2017), Magda Archer uses chocolate box-like imagery to show a seemingly idyllic UK. However, the discreet ‘small print’ contradicts this image, commenting on manipulation of information during the EU Referendum campaign. Meanwhile, in I Remember the Future (2018), Dr. D questions the utopian promises of technology, presenting a bright yellow floppy disk as a historic monument, now obsolete in an age of social media, surveillance and data leaks.
- Any age
Legacy: Two Works on Hope and Memory
- 22 September 2018 — 6 January 2019 *on now
For Stair and Twomey, clay is a material that is deeply embedded in human existence, and one that enables them to explore social and cultural processes of exchange and consumption, memory and preservation, and ritual and touch. As 2018 marks the passing of one hundred years since the end of the First World War, this exhibition offers the opportunity to reflect on both the collective and personal impact of loss, legacy, testimony and commemoration. Whilst not directly concerned with the conflict, the two works Everyman’s Dream (2013) by Twomey and Reliquary for a Common Man (2012) by Stair encompass themes and ideas associated with remembrance.
For Everyman’s Dream, Twomey invited one thousand men to write down their aspiration of personal legacy. The work is installed as a ‘field’ of 1,000 bone china bowls, each holding a unique quote that presents an individual response. Applied in gold leaf, the lettering becomes a precious motif within these humble and familiar bowls, which relate ideas of the home, use, human interaction and care. Displayed as a collective body, the work forms a chorus of voices that reveal ambitions for legacy in a contemporary landscape.
Stair’s work explores the universality of death as a human experience, while also drawing on historically significant meanings of ‘the pot’. Reliquary for a Common Man is a memorial to the artist’s uncle-in-law, Leslie James Cox (1926-2008). An intensely personal work, Reliquary embodies the themes of vessels, containment and the human body in death. Its central element is a single hand-thrown bone china jar, for which Stair substituted the ox-bone element of bone china with Cox’s remains, to create a cinerary jar to hold the remaining ash. In doing so, Stair reinforces the corporeal identity of the vessel and has created a piece which is both memorial to, and made from, Leslie Cox.
The display is accompanied by audio-visual components that relate to Cox’s life: family film footage shot on Super-8 film, a slideshow of family portraits, and an interview recorded between Cox and the Socialist Party of Great Britain, of which he was a member, about his political views and experiences of the Second World War. The inclusion of these elements reveals the multi-faceted nature of pottery and its potential for wider social engagement.
Legacy: Two Works on Hope and Memory is part of Firstsite’s programme theme of ‘Culture and Conflict’, and is presented alongside Not Yet At Ease, a major new work by the internationally renowned Delhi-based artists Raqs Media Collective that explores the interlinked histories of war, poetry and mental health.
- Any age
Raqs Media Collective: Not Yet At Ease
- 28 September 2018 — 20 January 2019 *on now
Firstsite, Colchester, is delighted to announce Not Yet At Ease, a major commission by the internationally renowned Delhi-based artists Raqs Media Collective. The work is part of 14-18 NOW, the UK’s arts programme for the First World War centenary.
The centrepiece of the show is a video and sound installation that unfolds within a labyrinthine architectural form, which has been inspired by the artists’ investigations into materials and structures used in institutions that housed injured and distressed soldiers while they awaited remission, recovery and release during and immediately after the First World War.
Within this space, the artists have conceived an immersive environment that features a 12-track soundscape and an array of video screens and projections. Sounds and images explore and extend the testimonies of Indian soldiers in the First World War. The work also features transcripts of letters and diaries, close readings of medical records and official dispatches, extracts from novels and poetry, and accounts of dreams and nightmares. These are interspersed with fragments of archival film and photography, spectral snatches of voices captured in hundred-year-old sound recordings, as well as the artists’ own reflections on a conflict that they believe never ended, producing a textured narrative fabric of sources and surprises.
Raqs Media Collective have based this major new work on their understanding that symptoms of profound neural and psychic distress induced by violence (now recognised as post-traumatic stress disorder [PTSD]) were first observed by military censors while reading the correspondence of Indian soldiers. The censors noticed what they called – ‘a tendency to break into poetry’ – in the letters that the Indian soldiers wrote from battlefields, barracks and hospitals.
Says Raqs Media Collective: ‘Despite this early recognition of exceptional responses to extraordinary conditions, Indian soldiers, like many soldiers in the lower ranks of the British Empire’s forces, were never seen as actual victims of ‘shell shock’. The assumed lack of an interior life in the Indian soldiers led their distress to be slotted away instead as Not Yet Diagnosed (Nervous).
‘Not Yet At Ease gives voice to the conditions that the military medical authorities refused to listen to. It considers their echoes across the time of a hundred years, and invites visitors to explore interlinked histories of war, poetry, sanity and madness while navigating the work’s many layers.’
Not Yet At Ease also includes a new commission for Firstsite’s iconic 140-metre long curved wall. The mural will predominantly be a bold blue colour inspired by the ‘Hospital Blues’ uniform worn by convalescing soldiers in British military hospitals, an example of which is in the Imperial War Museums’ collection where Raqs Media Collective conducted much of their research. This intense background will be overlaid with drawings and texts that depict archival medical sketches of nerves, used by doctors of the period to attempt to explain mental conditions by recourse to physical processes and symptoms.
Creating a network of language and image as the artwork unfolds along the length of Firstsite’s gallery spaces, the artists dissect phrases and expressions such as ‘a bag of nerves’, ‘a battle of nerves’, ‘a war of nerves’, ‘nerves of steel’ as they discard the crucial word ‘nerve’. This gesture builds a poetic incompleteness across the work that creates an abstract, almost codex-like pattern viewers can decipher, and acts as a moving metaphor for what a person might have lost through conflict.
The exhibition is accompanied by an extensive events programme – in the artists’ terms a ‘Theory Opera’ – which will bring together a cohort of creative practitioners, artists and poets with international academics, historians and scientists to present ideas and discussion around the themes of the show, considering their relevance today, not just historically.