The many ways we can be vulnerable

Work by artist Laura Morrison on show in the Tetley's Concerning the Bodyguard. Picture: Harry Meadley
Work by artist Laura Morrison on show in the Tetley's Concerning the Bodyguard. Picture: Harry Meadley
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The latest exhibition at the Tetley is a large-scale show which considers issues around vulnerability. Yvette Huddleston reports.

Since its opening last November, the Tetley has proved itself to be one of the most exciting contemporary art spaces in the region.

Housed in the impressive art deco building of the former Directors’ Offices of the Joshua Tetley & Son Brewery, and operated by Project Space Leeds, the gallery is constantly seeking to challenge and inspire through presenting work that is at the cutting edge of modern art today. And while the programmes are unafraid to confront some of the more difficult issues, the artwork remains accessible and seeks to reach out to as wide an audience as possible.

The latest exhibition Concerning the Bodyguard is an ambitious large-scale group show by fifteen international artists showcasing new work in video installation, performance, painting and sculpture. Co-curated by participating artist Laura Morrison, it takes as its provocative starting point a short story of the same name written by American author Donald Barthelme in 1978.

“I was interested in how paranoia and self-defence and anticipation of the future manifests itself in a subtle way in the world and how that trickles down into making contemporary artwork,” says Morrison. “A lot of the structure of the show has come through conversations about the short story. It is constructed out of questions as a way of thinking about paranoia and how your surroundings might be perceived as threatening and that leads you on to thinking about vulnerability.”

The works explore this theme posing questions such as who can choose to be wilfully vulnerable and who can be made vulnerable without having an element of choice. The pieces also look at social structures and cultural systems to produce a thought-provoking narrative thread that runs through the show. The vast majority of the artworks were made especially for the exhibition by artists with whom Morrison has a connection. “These are artists who are making work that is difficult but really worthwhile,” she says. “And I knew if they were given a space they would deliver something really interesting.”

The space itself is in many ways as important as the artworks, lending a very specific backdrop that the pieces can respond to. It has led to some fascinating juxtapositions such as Amir Chasson’s three life-size paintings of male nudes, located in the wood-panelled board room, set alongside traditional Edwardian head and shoulders portraits of three serious looking gentlemen of that era, senior officials of Tetley’s Brewery at the time. “Amir and I visited the space together a couple of times to be really sure about what he was going to do,” says Morrison. “Putting three male nudes into that room is a very strong message – the bodies are so tightly fitted into narrow canvases and they are irreverently butted up against the portraits.”

One of the first pieces visitors see as they enter the building’s high-ceilinged atrium is Daniel Lichtman’s video installation We Have a Dome projected onto a white wall. Shot from the artist’s point of view as he floats in a swimming pool, there are extreme close-ups of his feet, knees and hands, while a woman’s voice provides a commentary. It is a rich sensory experience that acts as a satisfying yet provocative ‘in’ to the rest of the exhibition.“I think it is a really lush show – it gives a lot and that’s really important to me,” says Morrison. “I don’t think that challenging contemporary art has to be boring or hard to get into.”