Sheffield in Focus: Tonight the streets are ours

by Cass Art

Industry courses through the veins of the city of Sheffield.

During the 19th century its name became synonymous with innovation; pioneering materials such as stainless steel and crucible, known and used the world over to this day.

While maintaining sturdy links to its industrious past, in the modern age Sheffield is perhaps better known for its more contemporary exports in the worlds of music and film.

Yet taking in the various sights, smells and spaces of this Steel City still evokes a powerful sense of a community proud as ever of its dogged work-ethic and unbounding creativity.

Nowhere in Sheffield is this modern-day play on past ideals better characterised than at Bloc Studios. Founded in 1996 by four art college graduates, Bloc began life in a former cutlery factory.

In the years since it has grown and relocated to a city centre location, and now plays host to a thriving art community - still artist-led and currently a space home to around 65 designers.

A not-for-profit company with charitable objectives, Bloc remains a critical element in the regional art scene that has over the past years exhibited a wide variety of artists and their work, many going on to develop their careers as a result.

Manager Richard Bartle says: “As a practising artist myself I understand the need for space; the need for a sense of community, and appreciate that sharing ones skills for the good of a community is important if one wishes to create something good and outside the ordinary grind of life.

“Bloc was created out my own desire not to work in isolation and alongside other artists.”

Sheffield has produced some of the UK's most revered bands of recent years with The Human League, Pulp and Arctic Monkeys among the most far-reaching. The Audacious Art Experiment, however, is far more than just a record label on the lookout for the next big thing.

A self-proclaimed “community mindset that yearns for something more than ‘nine to five’” the Audacious team aim to take back social freedoms, artistic expressions and community spirit from the companies trying to sell them.

The record label, artist roster and crucially, the space continue to grow and during 2012 it organised 26 events and gigs at various different spaces across Sheffield, most notably though its own Audacious Space on Harwood Street - itself a former factory.

This theme of retention of space; of staying true to the past, is continued over in Hillsborough. The Cupola Contemporary Art gallery is another shining example of fantastic multi-purpose use of space.

Painting, printmaking and photography - but most notably for Sheffield, ceramics, jewellery, sculpture, glass and textiles - you name it, it all comes under one roof here.

Cupola has four gallery spaces, one of which is a dedicated temporary exhibition space. It holds approximately 10 exhibitions per year, showcasing either solo or themed shows covering a large variety of styles and media.

Cupola exhibits work on paper, canvas and board in a huge variety of media from watercolour to oil to acrylic to ink and mixed media and boasts over 100 artists exhibiting at any one time - guaranteeing a huge selection of quality contemporary work.

PRISM is fast becoming one of Sheffield’s major contemporary art events, utilising several unique spaces across the city to exhibit work from emerging and established artists alike.

Generally a one-night event featuring a vast array of work, screenings and live music, PRISM provides the opportunity to experience exciting and immediate creative endeavours in a relaxed and social setting.

Those familiar with the city will no doubt already be aware of the brand of beautiful madness that comes with Tramlines, the annual music festival set across the sprawling city centre space - not to mention the pull of A Month of Sundays, the quaint Sharrowvale Road hangout of nationally-renowned artist Pete McKee and his heavily Sheffield-inspired work.

Bank Street Arts is another shining example of Sheffield's scene; an innovative cross-disciplinary Arts Centre providing a home, venue and setting for a wide range of creative individuals and organisations.

The level of awareness within the city of its significance on the national landscape is always evident. Currently on display at the stunning Millennium Gallery until February 24 is Inside the Circle of Fire: A Sheffield Sound Map.

The organisers bill it: “From making childhood recordings of birdsong in his garden to co-founding electronic pioneers Cabaret Voltaire, Sheffield-born Chris Watson has nurtured an enduring fascination with sound.”

In his “ambitious” exhibition, Chris transforms the galleries into an immersive ‘sound map’ of Sheffield, charting its edges on the boundaries of the Peak and travelling its waterways to the beating heart of the city.

Recorded over the past 18 months at spaces in and around the city, the sound map will use the latest technology to create a sound which changes throughout the gallery, depending on the listener’s location.

As the Guardian comments: “Watson captures sounds that we take for granted and illuminates them to art form level.”

Sheffield may not be the world powerhouse it was some 150 years ago, but the spaces that still exist in this city are intrinsically tied to its past.

Its increasingly DIY art scene serves as a modern-day reminder of the steely graft and resourcefulness with which it will long be associated.

Do you have an inspiring gallery you would like to reccomend? Get in touch via email, twitter or facebook.

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