Yorkshire Sculpture Park celebrates ‘Summer of Love’
Robert Indiana’s LOVE – one of Pop Art’s most enduring emblems – can currently be seen at various locations at Yorkshire Sculpture Park (YSP), as part of the exhibition ‘Robert Indiana: Sculpture 1958 – 2018’. A 12ft version in classic red, blue and green dominates the park’s entrance; a Corten steel LOVE Wall, featuring the word in quadruple, is proudly displayed outside the Bothy Gallery, while the illuminated The Electric LOVE lures visitors into the Underground Gallery, which houses the exhibition’s indoor elements. These are messages of strength, defiance, hope and joy, conceived almost six decades ago in another politically turbulent era, but still resonant today, particularly in the month of Pride. So it is apt that YSP has taken inspiration from Indiana to create a series of events and projects, called ‘Summer of Love’ (21 June – 22 September 2022), focusing on contemporary LGBTQIA+ artists and celebrating ‘human relationships, understanding and love between people.’
Indiana, who was gay, made references to his sexuality within his artworks, though these had to be kept discreet at a time when homosexuality was criminalised and stigmatised. Still, ‘he often paid homage to other LGBTQIA+ artists, writers and poets, and was an advocate for many social ideologies’ such as the Civil Rights Movement, explains YSP curator Sarah Coulson. (Indiana additionally championed Indigenous rights, and the non-proliferation of nuclear weapons.)
Inspired by Indiana’s inclusive spirit, ‘Summer of Love’ considers ‘how love can be celebratory, but also incredibly complex and difficult’, continues Coulson. The programme considers ‘how queer identity is explored and expressed in a contemporary context, where despite decriminalisation and increased rights in many countries, LGBTQIA+ people are often still subject to prejudice and a lack of understanding and empathy that Indiana experienced.’
The core element of ‘Summer of Love’ is the exhibition ‘On Queer Ground’ (9 July – 4 September) at the Bothy Gallery, featuring artists who explore the queer body and identity in relation to landscapes. Compared to urban spaces, rural environments are often less accepting of queer people; the exhibition looks at how artists are navigating their queer identity in these spaces and finding a sense of connection. Among them is the young West Yorkshire-based artist Claye Bowler, whose video piece Not Much Further (2020) is an allegory for his ‘burden of dysphoria’ and wait for top surgery. He carries a sledgehammer and a plaster cast of a female-presenting torso, representing a version of himself that he can change, as he traverses a rural landscape. ‘It feels like I’m on some sort of pilgrimage, to sacrifice something,’ says the artist.
Meanwhile, Berlin- and London-based artist RA Walden, whose work seeks to challenge simplistic understandings of disabled bodies, shows their Crip Ecologies project, consisting of glass jars and petri dishes that preserve the flowers, soil, leaves, seeds and other natural elements that the artist has encountered. The project archives the artist’s limited involvement with the natural world due to their disability, and positions the fragility of the body in relation to the fragility of our ecosystems.
Bowler and Walden are joined by Sadé Mica, who stayed at YSP for a few days in April to explore the landscape and create a new film work; SHARP, who likewise shows a new piece, There will be no landing at the lighthouse tomorrow; Whiskey Chow, a performance artist and drag king who has combined filmed performance and CGI animation to transform a queer body into a dreamscape; and Ro Robertson, who had been an associate artist with Yorkshire Sculpture International in 2019.
Outdoors, we encounter a number of contemporary sculptures that touch on human connections, rights, prejudice, access, love and loss, including Robertson’s Stone (Butch) (2021), their first major open-air sculpture, inspired by a novel revealing the oppression of lesbian and trans identity. The artist, who identifies as queer and nonbinary, created the 2m-high sculpture by plaster-casting directly in crevices in natural rock formations in St Ives Bay, Cornwall; in doing so, they give physical form to a negative space created by the power of the sea. Previously shown in London as part of ‘Sculpture in the City’, Stone (Butch) now sits in a clearing among trees. ‘When we sited the sculpture there was glorious sunshine that made the colours sing. In autumn, the rusted Corten steel will chime with the autumnal leaves,’ says Coulson.
She continues, ‘open-air and public sculpture exploring identity outside the cisgendered and heteronormative is still rare. Robertson’s work opens up conversations on who is represented in our public spaces.’
Wakefield-born artist Jason Wilsher-Mills, who was paralysed from the neck down as a child, has created an outdoor display titled Jason and his Argonauts in Love, with its centrepiece being a 10m-long inflatable sculpture addressing basic human rights and respect. Visitors pass through a tunnel within the sculpture and read words from those with lived experiences that convey the importance of Changing Places toilets – which allow all people, regardless of their access needs, to use toilet facilities with dignity. With his work, Wilsher-Mills highlights that systems of access and rights are still not equal for everyone.
A Retrospective View of the Pathway, by sculptor Roger Hiorns, uses a compressor at certain times of day to generate vast clusters of bubbles, which travel across the landscape and blur the boundaries between art and landscape. The work is meant to bring people together to experience moments of fascination or pleasure, no matter who they are or what differences may exist between them.
The same notion of common humanity is also evident in artists Yara + Davina’s Arrivals + Departures (22 July – 14 August), which resembles a pair of airport arrivals or departures boards. The public is invited to visit arrivalsanddepartures.net to submit the names and stories of those who have recently entered or left this world, which will be shown on the boards in real time. ‘We’re inviting the public to think about who they want to celebrate in birth and death, but very much the journey in between as well,’ says Davina Drummond, one half of the duo.
‘Summer of Love’ further includes a series of workshops by artist and trainee art psychotherapist Thahmina Begum, who explores a broad spectrum of emotional responses, including ‘anger, grief, forgiveness, belonging, empathy and love’, to acknowledge differences while highlighting what brings people together. Within the YSP Centre Restaurant, artist and illustrator Soofiya was selected from an open call to create a vinyl mural, in bold and bright colours and combining text and images of everyday life at YSP – Highland cattle, sheep, people walking dogs and using booster scooters. Coulson likes that it ‘clearly spells out important messages about how broad notions of love can be, and how acceptance and representation are so central to that’.
Throughout his six-decade career, Robert Indiana highlighted the importance of living together with equity, spoke to the need for compassion, and celebrated human diversity. ‘Summer of Love’ hopes to do the same, and bring people ‘inspiration, strength, solace and joy’, summarises Clare Lilley, director of Yorkshire Sculpture Park.
‘We feel very strongly where people really need to come together, really to respect one another’s difference, and to understand what it is to be a community.’ §