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Photograph of artist Abi Spendlove painting with ink on her studio floor

September 2022

Glacial Movements, Arts Council England DYCP project

Video by Greta Zabulyte

For the past ten months I’ve been undertaking a period of research, funded by Arts Council England. During this time I have been working with Glaciologist Dr Bethan Davies to learn more about ice in the climate system and discover how scientists use methods and models to gain understanding and make predictions about the geomorphology of the Earth. I’ve also been working with V&A conservator Sarah Healey-Dilkes to experiment with plaster mixes and one part moulds. The culmination of this research is a sculpture I made at the Houghton Regis Chalk Pits. The chalk landscape of the chiltern hills is a unique ecosystem, which stores and filters water. The sculpture is made from found materials and water from the pits, taken home for freezing and returned to site to melt.

June 2022

Immersions: Into the River Cam, Robinson College, Cambridge 22-26 June

Immersions: Into the River Cam, curated by Mattie O’Callaghan and Holly Pines. For this exhibition I was invited to create a new work, and I wanted to take advantage of the underground space at Robinson College, where a tributary of the River Cam, Bin Brook flows through. I created this work using ice made from water that I collected at Bin Brook, which I melted with natural dyes onto fabric. The sculpture, titled ‘Washed Out’, references the history of women’s labour and the washing of linen that happened upstream in The Cam.

May 2022

The Wild Collective, Omved Gardens, London 13th – 29th May

The Wild Collective was an exhibition of artworks connected with nature, exhibited in the glasshouses and gardens of Omved Gardens in Highgate, London. My work Standing Floor (2020) was installed in the main glasshouse, surrounded by plants and a large fig tree. The glasshouse setting allowed light to flow freely through the work, casting coloured shadows across the floor. Special thanks to Clare at THROWN Contemporary for bringing the works together and curating the space.

October 2021

Mediator, Broadway Gallery, Letchworth. 23rd September – 14th November

‘Mediator’ video by Greta Zabulyte

I had been talking through ideas for a solo exhibition with curator Kristian Day for a few months before the pandemic hit. Gallery closures and the disruption to Broadway Gallery’s programme meant that this exhibition was delayed for several months. The time spent in my studio allowed for a deeper engagement with the materials, inspiring the creation of an immersive exhibition experience. One of the works, ‘confluence’ (see Mediator page in exhibitions tab) was developed during the course of the exhibition. This was an ice and plaster piece that I added to weekly, allowing new forms to melt and shape on its surface. I’m always looking for ways to open up movement within my work and I was grateful to the team at Broadway for facilitating my experimentation. I’m hoping to develop more live melting pieces in the future. Keep an eye on my instagram account for developments!

Greta Zabulyte created a short film about the exhibition for anyone who has been unable to visit in person.

December 2020

Underfoot, Departure Lounge, Luton. 10th December 2020- 30th January 2021. Christmas closure: 19th December- 6th January (inclusive)

Gallery opening hours: Thursday-Sunday 13.00-18.00

Departure Lounge, 64 Bute Street, Luton, LU1 2EY

Photography by Greta Zabulyte

Solo exhibition Underfoot explores the River Lea as it flows underground through Luton. The work focuses on the movements – seen and unseen – made by nature, people and time. 

The Lea flows mostly unnoticed through Luton, beginning its journey in Leagrave Park, snaking through housing estates, behind allotments and underground beneath the Central Library and the Thistle Hotel in the heart of the town, eventually connecting with the River Thames in London. 

In preparation for this exhibition, I undertook specialist training to enter, wade through and explore the dark underground river culverts, where I collected video footage, photographs and found materials to inspire the work. By turning the city inside out conceptually, the work aims to draw attention to the things which are often overlooked in daily life. 

Much of my work is made on the floor. Working with frozen water taken directly from the River Lea, I allow the ice to move and melt on paper with ink, forming unique, infinite shapes which stain the paper and seep into the floor. The resulting patterns have been painted and traced onto acetate to create a large-scale installation which covers the entirety of the gallery floor. Mirroring the making process – moving and walking across the artwork as it was created – visitors are invited to walk over the paintings and navigate paths through them. 

The soundscape that accompanies the exhibition was recorded during the underground walk through Luton. The sounds of feet dragging through the river water echo in the gallery space. Pathways, layered journeys and layers of time are laid out as a template for contemplation, encouraged by the presence of bean bags and seating throughout the space which invite visitors to stay a while. 

Underfoot at Departure Lounge coincides with the screening of my film A River Runs Under Your Feet at The Hat Factory Arts Centre opposite the gallery for the month of December, as part of their #FactoryWindow film programme. Funded by the Luton Arts Fund, this video collage about the river features footage from my underground exploration of the Lea. 

Supported by the Luton Arts Fund. Departure Lounge’s exhibition programme is delivered in in partnership with The Culture Trust Luton.

December 2020

A River Runs Under Your Feet Film screening

Since moving to Luton in 2010 I’ve been developing work inspired by the River Lea. The Lea, which has its source in Leagrave Park in Luton, gradually grows in size and strength until it connects with the River Thames in London.  However, through Luton town centre the river is mostly culverted. This means that large sections of it run underground. In 2019, I received a grant from the Luton Arts Fund to extend and develop this work by walking through the underground culverts. After months of planning and a specialist training course, in December 2019 I walked in the River Lea from New Bedford Road to the Vauxhall estate.  I carried three cameras – one handled, one attached to my helmet and one attached to a floating raft on the water. The resulting footage formed the base of the film, which seeks to uncover Luton’s hidden river.

A River Runs Under Your Feet will be screened on The Hat Factory Arts Centre’s street-facing screen for the month of December 2020. The film can be viewed online here.

Photograph of artist Abi Spendlove painting with ink on her studio floor

September 2020

After a 6 month period of juggling projects around full-time home schooling I’m now back in the studio and enjoying making new work.  The Hat Factory Arts Centre, where I am Bursary Artist in Residence is currently closed to the public, and I have therefore cancelled my fortnightly open studios. 

My solo exhibition, curated by Kristian Day at Broadway Gallery in Letchworth has been postponed until further notice.

My solo exhibition, curated through collaboration with the Departure Lounge team at Storefront Gallery in Luton has been rescheduled and will open on 3rd December 2020.

This project has been made possible with support from Arts Council England, Luton Arts Fund and the Culture Trust. I’m hugely grateful for their support, enthusiasm and flexibility. More details to follow soon.

Please do continue to keep in touch via email or Instagram.

abispendlove@hotmail.com

@abispendlove

Photograph of artist Abi Spendlove dipping a brush in a pot of ink on her studio floor

Photography by Greta Zabulyte

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Accumulate

Photography by Richard Davies

Accumulate

St Albans Museum + Gallery, Hertfordshire

8th June – 8th July 2018

Accumulate brought together the work of Katy Gillam-Hull,  Lyndall Phelps and Abi Spendlove, artists in residence at St Albans Museums from 2015 to 2018. During the residency the artists independently researched and responded to aspects of the Museums collections. 

Spendlove’s research focused on broken fragments of stained glass. 

Spendlove is conscious of the dust, bits falling on the floor as she inspects and handles the oxidising, laminating bits of glass, now both opaque and iridescent as the product of time. She brings this exquisite awareness to her drawings, sculptural Perspex and a display of the museum’s glass. The ironic awareness that display causes damage but also preservation is there in the name of the artwork, Fragments, and in the framed white on white work of fragment silhouettes cut from archival mount board.

Looking through the contents of archival boxes, peering carefully and with reverence at the ancient glass shards once part of St Albans Abbey, Spendlove herself was adding to their destruction. Loss, absence, decay, preservation, knowledge, what gets passed on, what is hidden, are questions integral to Spendlove’s work, and to the work of the museum.

Excerpt from Dr Alana Jelinek’s essay Accumulate

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Fragments

Photography by Inna Allen 

Fragments

St Albans Clock Tower, Hertfordshire

27th September – 1st October 2017

Fragments was an interim exhibition during Spendlove’s artist residency with St Albans Museums. Across two floors of St Albans’ narrow clock tower, Spendlove used the light from the Medieval windows in the tower, and the backdrop of the ticking clock to enrich her works, which explored ideas around fragility, entropy, presence and absence. 

On her first encounter with the museum’s collection, Spendlove found herself drawn to damaged fragments. She tells me, “I was particularly interested in broken objects, and how the story is enriched by the brokenness”. The museum collection is one of few contexts in which a broken fragment is treasured, and subjected to scrutiny. “The material life-cycle of objects” always involves some kind of breaking down or degrading (Crisp, 2017), through wear and tear or deliberate destruction. For many manmade objects, this is a process of “trashing and disposal”, in which the complete object is transformed from possession to trash. Archeologists and curators intervene in this process, either reviving broken objects and restoring their original form or preserving the fragment so that the memory of its form and purpose remains.

Excerpt from Barbara Brownie’s article for UH Arts in Conversation
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Tributary

Photography by Sammy Maitland, Aleksandra Warchol and Abi Spendlove

Tributary

Storefront, Bedfordshire

26th May – 29th June 2017

Tributary celebrated the River Lea, which rises in and passes through Luton.  Responding to the river’s original Anglo Saxon meaning – which translates as ‘Bright River’ – Spendlove recorded people’s impressions of the Lea, tracking its place in local mythology as it meanders towards the Thames. 

The River Lea passes almost unnoticed through Luton town centre. Rerouted to accommodate the urban environments through which it passes, the Lea is a ‘hidden river’. This project sought to bring the Lea into the consciousness of the town as residents and visitors pass the Storefront en-route from the station and car parks to the shops. 

Tributary showcased a collaborative multi-authored painted poem on the gallery walls and a large hand drawn map of Luton which highlighted the river’s broken and disjointed course. Spendlove’s film Source focuses on the light play on the water around the source of the river. Her sound piece, Lea Voices, created a soundtrack in which local residents recalled their stories of the Lea. The stories pay tribute to the river, connecting it with the rhythms and reflections of both a historical and contemporary experience. 

The final part of the installation was a series of experimental drawings made using ink and melted ice from the Lea. Spendlove also installed some live ice work in Storefront during the launch of the project on 29th June 2017.

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Tributary Painting

Tributary Wall Painting

Storefront, Bedfordshire

26th May – 29th June 2017

During her Tributary exhibition at Storefront Gallery in 2017, Spendlove worked in the space to paint a multi-authored poem directly onto the gallery walls.

Spendlove created 3 maps, detailing walks from the gallery to visible sections of the River Lea. Gallery visitors were invited to take a map, take a walk, and write a word or paragraph about the river. Spendlove collected the text contributions each week and edited them into a poem. 

The resulting text was a reflection of the town and its river:

“Look!  Rats, sticklebacks, childhood memories.  Marsh Farm and Tarzan swings at the source of the River Lea.  Hard and rocky dirty wet ripply hidden mudsmell.  Unexpected life.  Dark dank brooding.  Faded grandeur.  Gentle wind whispering trees.  Diversion and leisure fir the huddled urban masses.  A confluence of ripples caused by hungry birds.  Yellow iris hugging river bank.  The water is gone again, snaking away, unassuming, self-effacing, only describable as a distant trickle.  And a cool pool beyond the greens, rippled by the breezes, dappled by the light.  I played in it, chased rats, called up rat holes, generally got into trouble.  We built inflatables to get in and walk on the lake at Wardown.  My name comes from the river.  Muddy waters.  The river keeps on flowing, it makes its slow progress.  Past hills and mills and breweries and beds of watercress.  Lucky Luton, lapped by the limpid Lea.  Colours change every time you see the beautiful river Lea  muddy and litter strewn the rubbish flowing river, being strangled due to lack of water and space.  Best seen after it has rained and rained.  Life always finds a way.  There’s a green and yellow lemonade can, perfectly colour coordinated with the bank and the weeds.  The water is very shallow but it is also dark murky slow paced movement closed off, invisible, easily missed, shadows, shimmering light glistening peaceful water reflections.  Free-flowing community hide and seek walking along the river Lea.  Observe the alternating shades of green and blue sway in the gentle breeze.  Silent, still water reflecing noisy city.  Boating lake.  Bridge.  Patterns on the path.  Trees shade the water, branches reach towards the rippling plane.  Twigs reach out of the water and float on their own reflections.  Plastic bags, plastic bags feed the birds don’t kill the birds.  Rubbish rubbish plastic rubbish everywhere.  Contrasts: flapping, splashing, sleepy, relaxed, hidden, noisy, busy, stagnant unloved ditch like manmade conduit.  Winding, trickling, clear.  The ever flowing fountain of water drained by Waulud’s Bank.  Then out to pastures south through concrete corset the Lea finds freedom and stretches out.  Movement.  Shadows.  I wondered where that river went to, I guessed towards the sea.  We were chalky Chiltern children beside that sliver of the Lea on its way towards the beckoning enormity.”

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Emissive Conveyance

Emissive Conveyance

Cambridge Corn Exchange

10th – 15th February 2017

Video installation commissioned by Cambridge Assessment, Commission Projects and e-Luminate for the e-Luminate Festival 2017.

Infrared cameras reveal the layer of the electromagnetic spectrum beyond visible light. This emissivity appears in Spendlove’s video as hues of vivid yellow. The video captures the artist walking the route from the current headquarters of Cambridge Assessment, to their new HQ at the “Triangle” site. Symbolically it recognises the movement of energy and light -embedded in people and objects- from one building to another. The artist touches the surfaces of the street as she walks, running her hand along walls railings and street furniture that string the streets together. Exploring the environment by touching it is a key developmental milestone that babies reach early in their lives. Children continue to explore the world around them with their hands and often run them over surfaces as they move around. This playful interaction with space/place/territory is mostly lost in adult life as destination takes precedence over the journey. The slowed video emphasises the physical connection with the environment, and an increased attention to the journey.

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Thread

Thread

Installation in Casimir Lewy Library, Faculty of Philosophy, Cambridge University for Art Language Location 2015.

15th October – 1st November 2015

For this installation, Spendlove hand-stitched an excerpt from Aristotle’s ‘Metaphysics’ into canvas and hung it in the window of the Casimir Lewy Library. The legible side of the text faces inwards, legible only to visitors to the library.

The text questions the search for knowledge and Truth on the legible side of the stitched canvas. Meanwhile, the stitching on the underside reveals an alternative paragraph of abstract hieroglyphs, the energy of their marks bound in a chaotic pattern. The starting point of each letter is determined by the end point of the last, and interrupted randomly by knots in the lengths of threads.

Thread explores the form and shape of language and the construction of knowledge and meaning. The statement from Aristotle appeals to the artist as it does not offer an end-point or answer, instead it values the journey of learning. This idea is reflected in the exposure of the process of the creation of the stitched text.

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Roots

Roots

The Vinery, Luton Hoo Walled Garden.

September 2010

During her residency at the Luton Hoo Walled Garden in 2010, Spendlove conducted research into the History of the Gardens, with a particular focus on the life of Lord Bute (who established the Walled Gardens in the 1770s).

Spendlove created an installation in The Vinery for the residency exhibition in September 2010. The work consisted of six collages, created to illustrate the six different places where Lord Bute ‘put down his roots’ prior to settling in Luton. Fragments of images from each of these places can be seen between the delicate roots cut into the paper screen.

The image of roots is symbolic of Bute’s lifetime fascination with Botany, the same pursuit that inspired him to create the Walled Garden. The works on the floor were made from the residual cut-outs from the collages. These roots appear like cracks or small rivers spreading into the landscape of the floor.