‘re-turning’: Group exhibition featuring Joanne Lee’s audiovisual essay ‘In the Midst of England’ opening Friday 30 November

Banner for Joanne Lees - re-turning exhibition (Stoke)


An ongoing project involving four artists, Andrew Brown, Joanne Lee, Danica Maier and Christine Stevens. Working under the title Returns, the group began with a 2012 residency at the former Spode ceramics factory. Since then it has repeatedly returned to investigate Stoke-on-Trent, its urban landscapes, diverse communities, manufacturing and craft skills, and the material history that has made it so distinctive.

Across the last year the artists have developed new ideas through idiosyncratic fieldwork, walking, looking and listening, each following the threads emerging from their previous research. They have gathered material from archives and conversations; collected objects from antique and charity shops; employed old maps to navigate contemporary places; followed the interlacing routes of road, rail, river and canal, and they have used clay as a medium through which to listen to people from across Stoke-on-Trent, including those who have come here in search of refuge or asylum.

Image for Joanne Lees - re-turning exhibition (Stoke)

Working with interrelated practices of drawing, photography, ceramics and audio recording, the group’s latest exhibition, re–turning, thinks again about the complexities and energies of this multiple city, presenting a series of works that deliberately trespass on each other within the gallery. The exhibition pays close attention to the overlooked everyday and to the ordinary materials we rarely have time to consider. It thinks too about the interrelationship of nature and culture, about contested ideas of home and belonging, and it engages with the very human processes of touching and making. It is alert to the way surfaces make history visible or efface certain stories, and recognises how specific objects and sites contain complicated memories or provoke imaginative possibility; visitors are invited to share their own experiences through a ‘listening pot’ created in the gallery with local people. re-turning explores familiar surroundings in different ways, reflecting upon the past, present and potential futures of this place, in order to wonder about what is, and what might yet become.

re-turning – Exhibition featuring Andrew Brown, Joanne Lee, Danica Maier and Christine Stevens
Airspace Gallery, Stoke-on-Trent ST1 4HL
Friday 30 November to Saturday 15 December (Thursdays to Saturdays)

At re-turning, Joanne will be showing an audiovisual essay titled In the Midst of England:

Arnold Bennett once wrote that, “mysterious and unrecognised amongst English counties”, Staffordshire “has everything England has”. It is, he said, “England in little, lost in the midst of England.” Having repeatedly walked and photographed through the Potteries towns, this audio-visual essay attends closely to the middle of England, to an English heartland at odds with the capital and so-called Home Counties. It takes in Staffordshire’s intersecting traditions of non-conformist religion, radical politics and trade unionism; the idealistic projects that took root here like the Worker’s Educational Association and societies promoting the universal language of Esperanto; the escapism of hedonistic club cultures; old myths and new age spirituality; energy and entropy; the names streets are given and what they signify; public transport and good housing; community, refuge and sanctuary. It wonders about attempts to create heaven on earth and the ways people have sought to live better lives.

Joanne Lee is a Senior Lecturer in Graphic Design at Sheffield Hallam University. You can follow her at @generalistjo.