Nicola Ellis’ first major solo exhibition will feature site-responsive installation, sculpture, painting and video; works which bring the rhythms, sounds and material of manufacturing into the gallery space in unexpected ways.
First introduced to Ritherdon & Co Ltd (est. 1895) by The National Festival of Making’s Art in Manufacturing programme, Ellis has spent two years in Darwen, Lancashire, as artist in placement at this family-run manufacturer of specialist steel enclosures.
Working closely with experienced members of the Ritherdon team, Ellis has been observing, participating in, and at times, disrupting the ecosystem of the factory, relying on their knowledge and ability to operate machinery at the edge of its potential. New works developed during Ellis’ time at the factory expose a brutal beauty in the factory’s minimal waste materials and explore what happens when industrial processes are pushed to their limit. Ellis has previously used industrial materials that are often perceived as low value or waste. This practice started through necessity early in her career where she was supplied with cast off materials by her father, an engineer in the steel industry. Her ability to work ambitiously with what is to hand enabled Ellis to make a large site-responsive piece for DOX Centre for Contemporary Art, Prague, in 2018, as part of an artist exchange organised with Castlefield Gallery.
The exhibition will include a large site responsive work reaching up into the gallery’s double height space interacting with its architecture and towering over visitors, commanding attention through the large gallery windows that face Manchester’s Deansgate and its transport hubs. The work is being developed by feeding a CAD programmed machine instructions to punch out a drawing of itself into steel sheets which will then be sprayed the same bright industrial colours as the machine. In order to make the work Ellis and the factory will need to drive the machine beyond the normal parameters of its operation.
The nature of Ellis’s project speaks to the activity of the Artist Placement Group (APG). Founded in 1966, the organisation sought to reposition the role of the artist within a wider social context, including government and commerce. The success of this situation, where both artist and manufacturer can observe, learn and benefit from each other, is testament to Ellis’ ability to build enduring relationships, as well as the openness of Ritherdon & Co Ltd to the placement of an artist in their working environment. The company’s founding history demonstrates a long-standing commitment to creativity and experimentation, and Ellis has found a real home with the manufacturers.