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Almost Nothing But Blue Ground

Friday 17th February – Saturday 18 March | East Gallery

In their collaborative project Almost Nothing But Blue Ground artist duo Tom Pope and Matthew Benington launch a live investigation into the work and life of Anna Atkins, an English botanical artist, and the first person to publish a book of photographic images.

Tom Pope and Matthew Benington combine storytelling, archival material, and collaboratively made cyanotype prints in a performative lecture. Since 2018 they have worked on a collaborative project, Almost Nothing But Blue Ground, exploring the work and life of Anna Atkins, the first person to publish a book of photographic images.

The work specifically focuses on the book, Cyanotypes of British and Foreign Ferns, which Atkins created collaboratively with Anne Dixon.

While researching the botanic publication, Pope and Benington came across the discovery that Atkin’s husband and father-in-law jointly owned at least eight plantations and thousands of slaves in Jamaica. Atkins, directly and indirectly, benefited from the slave trade and colonial wealth, refocussing her work and the publication.

In addition to the life and work of Atkins, Almost Nothing But Blue Ground investigates the Victorian fern craze, land ownership, capitalism, and the colonial landscape with its links to early botany and the plundering of foreign lands.

About the artists

Tom Pope works in performance and photography. Play is at the core of his practice; it is both subject matter for his works but also embedded in how he utilises the photographic medium.

In 2011 he won the Deutsche Bank Artist Award for the project Time Bound. Recent projects include One Square Club, at Frieze Art Fair Los Angeles, a performance work and the world’s most exclusive private members club; Art Workout an online exercise video and participatory performance commissioned for Frieze New York online; and Terminating Martin Parr, a live performance where he destroyed 17 Martin Parr photographs.

Pope has work in the collections of the National Portrait Gallery, National Museum of Wales as well as various private collections. Pope lives and work in Hastings.

Matthew Benington is an artist specializing in printmaking, working with themes of collective memory, gender, and land ownership. The concept of the folly — with connections to the colonial project, eccentricity, and charity — continues to be a hook around which he reflects and makes work.

Notable projects include: Hide: The Apocryphal Archive, a folly he created and lined with etchings of his own family, dedicated to the displacement of people from their homes. Works such as Peep through Sham Castle consist of performative large-scale installations of images within pre-existing outdoor architectural follies. Ideas about ruination, public monuments, and the repurposing of former industrial spaces inform his curatorial work with Unstable Monuments, ACE, Truro, 2016 and Unstable Monuments Bristol, a residency and exhibition in 2022.

Matthew lives in Norwich and lectures on BA (Hons) Fine Art at Norwich University of the Arts.

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