Aldeburgh Festival: Remains To Be Seen

Paul Benney, Laurence Edwards and Kiki Smith,
co-curated by Messums Wiltshire and Britten Pears Arts


3 – 26 June 2022
Snape Maltings, Snape, Suffolk, IP17 1SP


Messums Wiltshire are delighted to announce a new three-year creative collaboration with Britten Pears Arts for the Aldeburgh Festival in 2022, 2024 and 2025.

It launches with Remains To Be Seen, featuring recent and historical works by Paul Benney, Laurence Edwards and Kiki Smith. Following Benney’s extraordinary 2020 Night Paintings projection event at Snape, he is joined this summer by longtime colleagues and kindred spirits Edwards and Smith in an exhibition spanning familiar and unconventional spaces across Snape Maltings.

The show takes the stunning and archaeologically rich heritage of Suffolk – globally famous for the finds at Sutton Hoo and beyond – as the ground from which to explore the artists’ common interests in the body as narrative and site. Working in a variety of media and disciplines, from oil painting and sculpture, to film, printmaking and textiles, Benney, Edwards and Smith share a reverence for the natural world and the human form as symbol and vestige, exploring connections between myth, religious iconography and ritual.

Benney first met New York-based Kiki Smith when he was part of the lively East Village art scene in the 1980s. His move to Suffolk in 2018 connected him with a similarly vibrant local community of contemporary artists, notably Laurence Edwards, who returns to Snape fourteen years after his Creek Men first guarded the estuary.

Coming to prominence with a series of works focusing on anatomy and the female body, Kiki Smith’s intuitive creative process has seen her developing an imaginative and distinct cosmology all of its own. A dream, and a conversation about extinction with a Harvard scientist in 1994, turned her focus to the relationship between humans and the environment. “We have the same interests”, she said in a recent interview. Fairy tales and medieval bestiary have become a way of pulling together these strands. The Catholic dualism of Smith’s upbringing which initially saw her taking the body – in whole and in parts – and placing it in a political context, has evolved into a syncretic vision embedded against a wider cosmic landscape, drawing out the continuum between heavenly and earthly bodies, the detail and the bigger picture. The festival exhibition presents a wide-ranging insight into her brilliant output in sculpture, tapestry and printmaking.

The cluster of derelict Victorian buildings on the banks of the Alde that have been slowly reclaimed to form the Snape Maltings arts complex, were the childhood playground of British sculptor Laurence Edwards. His artistic complexion was forged in these Suffolk hinterlands, a landscape against which Edwards’ ragged figures have arisen as witnesses to resilience and personal survival.

A keen walker with a fascination for its history and the increasingly visible archaeology being revealed as a result of coastal erosion, his relationship to the land of his birth has been sharpened by a growing sense of entropy in action. It’s at its most visible in his 26ft Yoxman, now a local landmark by the A12 at Yoxford. His passion for what he calls “the poetry of casting” is consummate and consuming, and finds expression in his evolving experiments with the iterations of making. His recent String Sculptures join Carrier, Leaf Man and Walking Men in sites across the Maltings.

Paul Benney’s interest in Renaissance painting and the iconography of saints, biblical stories and ancient symbolism are the starting point from which he sets out to interrogate contemporary symbology. Speaking of how these old master paintings served didactic and edifying purposes, as means of moral guidance – models and exhortations to lead a “morally respectable” life – he asks what is the equivalent symbolic language of our time, now that the church is no longer there to show us the way. “I think one of the things that’s taken its place is we’ve given that responsibility to the municipality. We’re completely surrounded by images that tell us where to go, what to do… Is this an emergency exit, or a cul de sac?” The mysticism and virtuosity of Benney’s visionary paintings and hybrid digital/painting installations, together with his status as one of the country’s leading and most garlanded portrait painters, belie a provocative and iconoclastic questioning of contemporary authority, with its signage and Nudge Theory, and the use of behavioural science to influence the behaviour and decisions of individuals and society at large.

The exhibition is curated by Isabel de Vasconcellos, Director of Sculpture at Messums Wiltshire.

Images (top to bottom):
Laurence Edwards ‘Walking Men’ Photo by Bill Jackson
Kiki Smith ‘Accomplice’, 2017
Paul Benney ‘Reliquary’, 2022