Dealing with Debris

15 to 29 July 2017
Sarah McWilliams and Lesley Whitehead

Whitehead and McWilliams, artists working in Kings Heath, Birmingham, have been in dialogue about their practice for the last two years. Dealing with Debris showcases their individual creative journeys during this time: McWilliams’ work literally ‘dealing’ with the debris of modern life whilst Whitehead’s interrogates the debris of Post modernism.

In the spirit of the Victorian ‘Cabinet of Curiousities’, Sarah McWilliams has collected objects together by  way of exploring the value of sentiment, the patina of nostalgia and the hoarding of personal relics. Compositionally ‘Earthly Things’ creates order from a hoard, excavated from belongings that have been collected, inherited and found. The construction of this fictional archive of ‘readymades’ alludes to a narrative, the symbolism and juxtaposition of items suggestive of a fairy tale; where keys once opened doors to other worlds and shoes transported the wearer to strange imaginary lands.

The work presented by Lesley Whitehead is a repetition arrived at by revisiting the events and controversies of  sculptures produced in response to the international competition ‘The Monument to the Unknown Political Prisoner’ of 1952, focused on Reg Butler’s winning entry.

The form of the work frames four positions of exhibited art; 1) large scale sculptural installation; 2) maquette; 3) observational drawings; 4) archive of working drawings, photographs and research.  The juxtaposition of these ‘types’ and their materials signals toward the ‘traditions’ of the private gallery and individual collector positioned alongside the ‘also traditions’ of the contemporary art gallery and corporate acquisition.

The debated and debatable reasons for the non-realisation of Butler’s monument on the Humboldthohe in Berlin during the Cold War raises another ‘framing’ of exhibition context, that of monumental public art, in this particular case absent then and absent now.


Sarah McWilliams completed her degree in Fine and Applied Arts at Ulster University in 2003, specialising in Lens Based Media.

She subsequently trained to become a secondary school art teacher and currently works in the West Midlands. Photography has always been the bedrock of her creative practice but in recent years she has broadened her personal investigations exploring assemblage, collage and painting. Layers of narrative build up in the work, whether implied through the juxtaposition of everyday objects or through weathered surface textures suggesting the passage of time, creating meaning through the stratification of history embedded in the aesthetics and symbolism of the work. Composition aims to create order out of the chaos found between heritage and everyday modern life.

“There is a great appreciation for storytelling in my family and just as every family album tells a constructed version of our past so too do the objects and surfaces that surround us, they tell tales of culture, aspirations and heritage all becoming the ‘debris’ of our past as our social values begin to shift. My work attempts to hold on to a fragment of these elements as they begin to decay and are lost to memory.”

Lesley Whitehead is a Birmingham based artist with an interest in the ontology of objects and single object sculpture in particular.  Her research in practice involves a re-materialising of the de-materialised art object by re-visiting and bringing forward works from the past through meticulous, enduring, analytical repetition.  Similtaneously the immediacy of performed choreographic drawing events involve the audience in the physical, visual and auditory realities of the body scale arcs and circles created.  Clearly in contrast in terms of execution both aspects of Whitehead’s practice significantly intend toward a made object.

Whitehead began fine art studies as a foundation student at Falmouth School of Art from 1972-73.  In 1976 she graduated from Camberwell School of Art with a first class honours degree in sculpture where her work was attuned to the 1970’s debates around definitions of art located within the ‘process and truth to materials’ arena. A sculpture from the final year was included in an open students exhibition at the Whitechapel Art Gallery in 1976.  In 1977 she graduated from Goldsmiths University with a PGCE.

Whitehead graduated with distinction from Birmingham School of Art in September 2014 with a Masters in Fine Art and was awarded first prize for her work in the final show from the Gertrude Aston Bowater Bequest. From 2014 – 16 she was artist in residence at the school.

Registered with The Charity Commission for Northern Ireland NIC106350
linkedin facebook pinterest youtube rss twitter instagram facebook-blank rss-blank linkedin-blank pinterest youtube twitter instagram