Hyper Possible: Coventry Biennial announces full artist list and commissions

Colourful streamers in red, pink, purple, orange and yellow hang from a bridge, with a meadow of pink and orange flowers in the foreground

Header image: Weighty Friend by Faye Claridge

Coventry Biennial has this week announced its full list of participating artists and artist collectives, along with the six themes that will shape its 2021 programme.

Titled “Hyper-Possible”, this year’s Biennial will form a key part of our visual arts offer from October 2021 until January 2022, coinciding with the hotly anticipated Turner Prize exhibition

Referencing the radical nature of Coventry’s history as well as signifying a positive way forward out of the pandemic, Hyper-Possible will see more than 50 artists exhibiting in seven locations across Coventry and Warwickshire, including Coventry Cathedral, the Herbert Art Gallery and Museum, Leamington Art Gallery and Museum, Rugby Art Gallery and Museum, The Old Grammar School and a brand new gallery for the city, located about the HMV Empire Coventry.

The programme takes as its starting point three historical art movements which have centred around Coventry and Warwickshire, and have had a significant impact nationally and internationally. 

The three starting points 

  • Art & Language
    A group of artists, students and lecturers who met at Coventry Polytechnic in the late 1960s. The group were internationally successful and had a huge impact on what was becoming known at the time as Conceptual Art.

  • The BLK Art Group
    Black art students who were based across the Midlands in the 1980s. While the group was most closely associated with Wolverhampton and Nottingham, two members studied at Coventry Polytechnic and had a significant group exhibition at the Herbert Art Gallery & Museum in 1983.

  • The Cybernetic Culture Research Unit
    A group of researchers associated with the Philosophy Department of the University of Warwick in the 1990s and early 2000s. Members of the group have had a significant impact on contemporary thinking and international artistic practice.

These starting points have helped to inform the six themes or “Hyper Paths” which will guide audiences through the exhibitions, each one connecting those historical movements to Coventry’s past and present.

The Hyper Paths

  • Real-Life Science-Fiction - imagining radical futures.

  • New Know-How - looking at alternative approaches to education, participation and co-creation.

  • Home and Other Habitats - investigating our relationship to home and the places that we live.

  • Personal and Public Dissent - examining individual and collective identities and the impact identity can have in relation to governance, politics and society.

  • Do It Yourself! - challenging how artworks have traditionally been made and enabling audiences to develop greater agency.

  • Sensing the Anthropocene - a range of artworks unpacking mankind’s impact on the Earth and the climate emergency.

New commissions by a range of artists will address urgent local and global concerns, with many centred around co-creation practice and working with communities.

Key Commissions

  • Ryan Christopher, a current undergraduate at Coventry University, will make new small-scale paintings, sculptures and what he describes as “Video Haikus” exploring the experience of being young and Black in Coventry.

  • Faye Claridge will co-create new work with people in 25 prisons in the UK and USA, taking inspiration from historic paintings of chained bears (a symbol featured prominently in the Warwickshire coat of arms) from Compton Verney and the American Folk Art Museum to explore prisoners’ lived experiences whilst also reflecting on local history and iconography. 

  • Rupi Dhillon, a British Asian multidisciplinary artist, will work with a range of local community groups to make a pair of Manjis, a type of traditional Punjabi woven bench that will be used throughout the exhibitions. Following the Biennial, these artworks will be gifted to local partner organisations for continued use.

  • Laura Dicken will work with citizens of Coventry to co-create new video portraits that continue her ongoing research into heritage and migration.

  • Interdisciplinary artist Rob Hamp, will work with a wide range of community groups to collect sand and waste from some of the UK’s most littered beaches before recycling those materials into a new architectural work titled ‘Art can be rubbish too’. Shown in the courtyard of the Old Grammar School, the work will encourage both recycling and civic pride. Co-commissioned with UK City of Culture 2021 / Green Futures.

  • Matthew Krishanu’s paintings construct narratives exploring memory, childhood, religion and imperial histories. For Coventry Biennial he is drawing inspiration from domestic interior scenes and intimate family portraits found in local art collections, to create a new series of works that expands his Interiors series (2005-2012). These new paintings will be presented in local collections, alongside the works that have inspired them.

  • Grace Ndiritu, a Kenyan-British artist interested in spirituality, the economy, fashion industry and alternative communities, will premiere a new moving image work titled ‘Black Beauty: For a Shamanic Cinema’ (2021). In the piece, African fashion model Alexandra Cartier meets Argentine writer Jorge Luis Borges in a visionary hallucination where they discuss the contemporary ecological disaster. The work has been selected to be exhibited at this year’s The Berlin International Film Festival. Coventry Biennial have co-commissioned the work with Nottingham Contemporary (UK) and Kunstencentrum Vooruit (BE).

  • melissandre varin, a Black non-binary artist, researcher and co-parent who navigates hybrid-identities and uses performance, moving image and poetry to contribute to decolonising space, will co-create a new space for finding, making, and sharing under-represented narratives, taking the form of a public library that focuses on the experience and knowledge of Black artists and citizens.

  • Duncan Whitley, Coventry Biennial Artist-in-Residence at Coventry University’s School of Media and Performing Arts, will produce a new moving image work exploring the city’s historic identity as a phoenix rising from the ashes. This project is being co-created with Abul Mogard, Jaguar Land Rover Brass Band and a wide range of local residents, students and academics.

  • Listening to the Anthropocene, a major new exhibition presented in the iconic nave of Coventry Cathedral, will feature nine newly commissioned sound and moving image artworks by international artists Sarah Badr (aka FRKTL), Department of Energy, Lamin Fofana, AM Kanngieser, KMRU, Rie Nakajima, Ben Rivers, Simon Scott and Jana Windere, who all have relationships with locations affected by climate change. A limited edition 12” vinyl record of the commissioned sound artworks from this exhibition will also be available.

The full list of artists:

…kruse, Ayo Akingbade, Art & Language, Terry Atkinson, Leilah Babirye, Sarah Badr (aka FRKTL), Nuotama Bodomo, Vanley Burke, Kate Carr, Ryan Christopher, Faye Claridge, Ravi Deepres, Jeremy Deller, Department of Energy, Rupi Dhillon, Laura Dicken, Lamin Fofana, Laura Grace Ford, Denzil Forrester, Rosa Francesca, Georgiou & Tolley, Rob Hamp, Russell Haswell, Amelia Hawk and Helen Kilby Nelson, Jeffery Charles Henry Peacock, Claudette Johnson, AM Kanngieser, KMRU, Matthew Krishanu, Mamba Negra Collective, Mark Fisher and Justin Barton, Rie Nakajima, Grace Ndiritu, Helen Kilby Nelson, Chris Ofili, The Otolith Group, Keith Piper, Ben Rivers, Luke Routledge, Andy Sargent, Janek Schafer, Simon Scott, sirenscrossing, Alan Van Wijgerden, melissandre varin, Sin Wai Kin, Paul Walde, Duncan Whitley, Jana Windere and John Yeadon.

Coventry Biennial is supported by Arts Council England, Art Fund and the Coventry UK City of Culture Trust.