Peter Downsbrough and the Shamberg Turtle + Shelagh Cluett and Lloyd Johnson via Tom Waits

invitation to a Turtle

This week there was a poetry and sound event at the Hardy Tree Gallery as part of the latest Michael Shamberg ‘Turtle’.

The very first ‘Turtle’ exhibition and series of events was Turtle: An Anarchic Salon at CHELSEA space in the summer of 2006. The project came about after the film maker Michael H Shamberg, who was well known for his work with the band New Order, had become ill with the debilitating Mitochondrial disease. The turtle had become a symbol of hope for him because in Lebanon, at the border with Israel, there is a turtle sanctuary that became  a protected area during the civil war allowing the almost extinct Mediterranean Sea Turtle to flourish. Shamberg said at the time “This is something good that came out of the war. I have gone through my own corporeal civil war and TURTLE is my sanctuary and celebration”.

The original Turtle at CHELSEA space in 2006 with a work for the window by Lawrence Weiner

Michael Shamberg contacted artists, musicians and writers to participate in this brilliantly chaotic salon and contributors and performers at CHELSEA space included Gavin Bryars, Gina Birch, Ana Da Silva, graphic designer Peter Saville, artists Carl Andre, Barbara Kruger, Lawrence Weiner, Liam Gillick, David Blandy, writer  Ali Smith, dancer/performance artist Yvonne Rainer, film maker Chris Marker, photographer Hollis Frampton – the list was endless.

Aurea Romero performing in Peter Downsbrough's 'AND HERE' at CHELSEA space in 2011.

CHELSEA space are delighted that this week’s Turtle event included a soundwork by Peter Downsbrough who showed with us in 2011, and the whole Turtle Salon is organised by Nick Cash who is working with us in May on an exhibition called ‘Avant-Craft’ about the furniture of the post modern architect and interior designer Max Clendinning whose work is featured in the forthcoming V & A exhibition British Design 1948-2012: Innovation in the Modern Age

Portrait of Shelagh Cluett with her sculpture. Leeds Museums & Galleries (Henry Moore Institute Archive). Photo: Gary Ede

On 24th February at the Henry Moore Institute in Leeds, CHELSEA space Director Donald Smith and artist  Jo Stockham gave a talk about the work of the late Shelagh Cluett .

Lisa Le Feuvre, Head of Sculpture Studies at the Henry Moore Institute in the Shelagh Cluett exhibition at CHELSEA space in 2010

 Shelagh Cluett: Drawing in Space is a very beautiful and well considered show curated by HMI’s Sophie Raikes and looks at Cluett’s early work from 1968-1980 through drawings, photographs, sketchbooks and sculptures. There are direct links with the CHELSEA space show Shelagh Cluett Sculpture 1977-1980 with some material common to both and it was great to see the works in the context of the Henry Moore Institute and their other current exhibition United Enemies: The Problem of British Sculpture in the 1960s and 1970s. The Henry Moore Institute is rare and important; a place where a serious discussion is happening about sculpture and sculptors now and an invaluable educational resource that helps us better understand the diverse legacy of sculpture in the UK through the collected personal archives of artists themselves.

installation view of Shelagh Cluett: Drawing in Space. courtesy Henry Moore Institute, Leeds Museums & Galleries

The conversation on the 23rd February covered a lot of ground from the formal aspects of Shelagh Cluett’s work and her working methods, perspectives on being a female artist in the 1960s, 70s, and 80s, philosophical questions of whether a sculpture can be a “drawing in space”, through to discussions of Cluett’s  experience and influence in art education  from her early days as a student at Hornsey and Chelsea and as the first female Head of the Sculpture Department at Chelsea. The talk was full of fascinating anecdotes and insights thanks to the presence of Shelagh’s great friends Jo Stockham, Matt Rugg, Charles Garrad, Chris Yetton, and Virginia Whiles, who had taught her, shared studios with her, taught with her, worked hard with her and clearly played hard too!

installation view of Shelagh Cluett sculptures in Leeds courtesy the Henry Moore Institute, Leeds Museums & Galleries

Aside from her work, Shelagh Cluett had accumulated a vast collection of souvenirs from her travels, particularly in Asia, the archive includes toys, relics, sculptures, posters, tickets, and all manner of ephemera. This material was put together in a book compiled by Virginia Whiles entitled ‘Le Cabinet de Curiosites de Mademoiselle Clouette’. One item included in the book is an arresting fake fur and velvet jacket made by Cluett herself.

Rock & Roll Wildcat Jacket by Shelagh Cluett

She was no Lloyd Johnson when it came to tailoring but the jacket is fun and there is a crossover because  Shelagh’s partner, the late Mick Marshall, was involved in lighting for Rock and Roll and was friends with many musicians such as Nick Cave and Elvis Costello. Shelagh and Mick were great company who are missed terribly.

one of the many back stage passes from the Shelagh Cluett archive

There is a story about a memorable occasion late one night in Paris when Tom Waits, Elvis Costello and Shelagh Cluett did a “raucous impromptu spot together on a stage in a little nightclub”! Shelagh loved singing but her voice was very deep and she was probably one of the few women who could have given Tom Waits some low end vocal competition!

Tom Waits wearing Johnsons boots in the Jim Jarmusch film 'Down By Law'

Meanwhile back at CHELSEA space, Tom Waits is evoked in our current exhibition  in the form of a pair of Johnsons La Rocka  boots.

La Rocka Black Croc ‘Rock West’ boot designed by Lloyd Johnson

And the connections don’t stop there – Tom Waits famously sang on the extended recording of the musical masterpiece Jesus’ Blood Never Failed Me Yet by Gavin Bryars who has been a long term friend and collaborator with CHELSEA space.

musicians Gavin Bryars and Evan Parker with Donald Smith at CHELSEA space in 2011

Gavin Bryars recordings with Adelaide Hall at the Haymarket Leicester formed part of our exhibition Jazzonia and the Harlem Diaspora in 2009 and he gave CHELSEA space Director Donald Smith permission to include Jesus’ Blood Never Failed Me Yet alongside pieces by Jah Wobble and David Toop for the exhibition 3 Things curated for RUN Gallery in 2007. Coincidently taking us back to the beginning of this blog, Gavin Bryars first performed at CHELSEA space on 28th June 2006 in a live event with poet Etel Adnan as part of Michael H Shamberg’s Turtle: An Anarchic Salon !

installation view of '3 Things' curated by Donald Smith for RUN Gallery in 2007 including works by Richard Tuttle, Peter Blake, Marcel Breuer,Bruce McLean, Suzanne Treister, Kirsten Weiner