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Tim Shaw: Mother, the Air is Blue, the Air is Dangerous

FE McWilliam Gallery, Banbridge, Northern Ireland  30/10/2015 - 30/1/16










From the press release:

Born in Belfast in 1964 and now based in Cornwall, Tim Shaw is recognised as one of Britain’s leading figurative sculptors and has recently been elected to the Royal Academy of Arts, London.

Shaw’s work grapples with social and political realities and he has been described by art critic Mark Hudson as ‘one of the great storytellers of British art’. Themes of ritual and conflict reoccur throughout his art, drawing both on his formative years growing up in Belfast during The Troubles and on recent events in the Middle East. His work is strongly influenced by contemporary media coverage and images of conflict. The infamous photograph of a hooded prisoner at Abu Ghraib was a direct inspiration for the monumental installation, ‘Casting a Dark Democracy’, which was part of his recent solo exhibition ‘Black Smoke Rising’, shown at the MAC, Birmingham and the Aberystwyth Arts Centre in 2014.

F.E. McWilliam’s work, particularly the ‘Women of Belfast’ series, was an early inspiration for Shaw. He also met McWilliam and benefitted directly from his encouragement. Shaw’s relationship with the F.E. McWilliam Gallery dates back to 2010 when ‘Parliament’, his memorable installation of crows made from straw, wire and black plastic, was included in the exhibition ‘Material Worlds: Contemporary Sculpture from the UK and Ireland’.

This exhibition presents McWilliam’s ‘Women in a Bomb Blast’ along-side Shaw’s dramatic sculptures, ‘Man on Fire’ and ‘Tank on Fire’. The centrepiece of the exhibition is the immersive installation ‘Mother, The Air is Blue, the Air is Dangerous’, which draws on Shaw’s childhood memories of being caught up in bombings and security alerts in Belfast during the Troubles.

McWilliam was inspired to create the ‘Women of Belfast’ series in response to the Abercorn Tea Room bombings on the 4 March 1972. ‘Mother, the Air is Blue, the Air is Dangerous’ also has its origins in specific events, including ‘Bloody Friday’, which took place on 21 July 1972 when 19 bombs exploded in the centre of Belfast. Shaw, his sister and his mother were caught up in the chaos that ensued. Shaw’s memories of events on that day have become entangled with other traumatic childhood experiences of bombings. As Shaw states, ‘The installation recounts an early life experience of sitting in a restaurant in Belfast when a bomb explodes nearby creating pandemonium. Chairs, tables, old clothes and shoes are scattered across the floor of a fabricated space. Slow moving shadows of people running are cast upon walls; dinner trays revolve through the air filled with haze, and the whirling sound of many sirens radiate from the corners of the room.’ The installation presents this scene of chaos from the position of the innocent victims caught up in conflict.