Site-specific Contemporary Art in Derbyshire



Matthew Smith

Intermediate Commission

Tibshelf Services, DE55 5TZ

Matthew's practice seeks to question how we think about nature, exploring how our ideas of landscape and the rural are mediated through the lens of mass culture.

His work has appropriated images from advertising, maps, postcards, tourist brochures and food packaging. These images, however cartoon like or unreal they may appear, inform how we experience the world; the representations become a part of how we experience the reality. The project that he proposed for re:place used the postcard - a memento of a particular place - to depict the generic environment of the motorway.

He created a set of postcards of the signage from the M1 motorway. The signs for each of the junctions of the motorway were photographed on black and white film and these images were then be hand coloured with inks and made into postcards. These hand coloured images reference the Victorian postcard from a period at the inception of mass-tourism and the hyper real appearance of the hand coloured images reflects the unreality of the motorway environment.

The project was sited at Tibshelf services. where he displayed a number of the postcards depicting a consecutive section of the motorway using wall-mounted dispensers, with the public being free to take away the postcards. The work was a record of a journey through the country in the manner of those taken by Daniel Defoe or William Cobbett; the M1 runs up through the heart of the country and there is a sense in which it is a device for viewing the landscape of England.

Matthew thinks that in a country with such a connection to the idea of landscape and natural beauty it is easy to forget that by far the most common way of viewing the country is through the window of a car on the daily commute from home to work and back. The aesthetic potential of the view from the motorway is overlooked in favour of more worthy subjects - the wild landscapes of national parks or the bucolic rolling hills of the rural landscape - but the view from the hard shoulder seems to him to be a more authentic one. The verge and scrub at the edge of the motorway offers a rich environment for nature, providing important migratory corridors as well as respite from the monocultural agricultural land that often surrounds it.

"I am interested in the environment of the motorway as a space in opposition to any sense of place. In his book ‘Non-places – Introduction to an anthropology of supermodernity’, the anthropologist Marc Auge puts forward the idea of the non-place. He develops this as an opposition to anthropological place. “If a place”, he writes “can be defined as relational, or historical, or concerned with identity, then a space which can not be described as relational, or historical, or concerned with identity will be a non-place”. These non-places are characterised by their lack of specific identity and loss of identity experienced by the person passing through them, they are anywhere, everywhere and nowhere all at the same time.

I see the motorway as one such non-place, an environment in which all visual stimuli is paired down to the bare minimum, the grey of the concrete, the white of the road markings as they zip by underneath you, the green of the grass verge and the droning pitch of tyres on tarmac.

The driver's relationship to place while travelling through the non-place of the motorway is completely detached, the journey does literally become about getting from A to B or in this instance from junction 1 to junction 38. Instead of the journey being a series of distinct places passed through places are reduced to junction numbers or abbreviated (P’brough), the signs mediate the experience of place.

The service station is an extension of the non-place of the motorway environment it is a generic utilitarian environment where you can expect to see the same chains of shops and eateries in an environment devoid of particularity. This will be the perfect site in which to display and distribute the postcards. The viewer of the work will be able to take away a postcard with them, thereby widely dispersing these images around the country as each person takes away a strange memento of their own journey."

The postcards have now all made their way out into the world, but framed versions of some of the images are also permanently displayed at Tibshelf Services.

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Arts Council England Lottery FundedDerbyshire Arts Development GroupDerbyshire County CouncilEsmée Fairbairn Foundation