The viewing of art in the traditional gallery space has been somewhat thwarted by COVID-19 and its subsequent lockdowns. Creative Youth Network has taken this obstacle in its stride, however, and social action project A Tonne of Feathers is an example of this determination and adaptability.

Utilising Bristol’s public space, it’s an exhibition that reminds us of the power and capacity of public art, especially under the current social climate. The display comes to Bristol following a journey that has already taken it to Southampton and Weston-Super-Mare. Bristol marks it’s final stop. Claiming space in The Galleries, Castle Park and Cabot Circus, it’s only a short route to witness all the artworks produced from the 6 collaborative projects between artists and young people in the South West. 

In Castle Park, overlooking the River Avon, are works by Emily Thomas, Sasha Damjanovic, Heather Gibson and Qezz Gill. Work by the former three artists is presented beside the pedestrian path on the water’s edge, while Qezz Gill’s digital art series - Outstretched Arms - is dotted around the park in multiple locations. Collectively, the works in this area provide a mouthpiece for these young people, touching on topics such as women’s rights, climate change, mental health, relationships and pop culture. Both Sasha and Heather’s work sees the young people directly involved in the creative process. In the former artist’s work, Young people have a voice and they’re using it, the contributing young people from Redbridge Community School have their names inscribed into one panel - it’s a humanising touch that ensures their presence is completely tangible within the resultant artwork. Heather’s textile piece does the same, using the patchwork form intelligently to bring a multitude of independent young voices into a single artwork. 

Qezz’s work stands out as a series of works more heavily reliant on digital art and photography - she states that the work aims to capture “the power and strength of today’s youth”. Working with young carers, the series is an honest document of the experience of these young people; it feels very relevant in Castle Park, a popular social space for Bristol’s youth. 

Into The Galleries, and one finds another set of works by Miranda Collis, Ada Player and Beth Adams. This time, the artworks hang beyond the window of a disused retail unit. These works force a moment of contemplation in The Galleries, an otherwise bustling space for local shoppers. Miranda Collis’ triptych of hangings billow like a ship’s sail - as such, the work is aptly named: Wind in the Sails, Ships in The Sky. The works, crafted in collaboration with young people from some of Bristol’s LGBTQ+ youth groups, are ethereal, fluid and dynamic - Collis aimed to represent how it feels to be young and LGBTQ+.

Nearby is Welcome by Ada Player and Beth Adams, a collage made based upon conversations with Welcome Wednesdays, a young refugee and asylum seeker group in Bristol. Poignantly, one part of this work reads: ‘we can’t speak to each other with words, so we DRAW!’. This sentiment can be felt throughout A Tonne of Feathers - it is difficult to dispute the art’s capacity to connect and communicate across barriers, borders and social divisions. It’s a particular strength of this exhibition. 

Finally, a second work by Emily Thomas hangs in Cabot Circus: Facing Neurodiversity. A diptych exploring the complexity of neurodiversity, Emily’s careful and tender drawings become all the more powerful at this large scale. They demand attention, and during my visit, many passers-by paused to give both works a second look. 

A Tonne of Feathers is a unique exhibition - in location, origin and purpose. Kate Gough, Head of Youth Services at Creative Youth Network, says that it will “start conversations” between young people in Bristol about how urban space is used in the city and their place within that. Here’s hoping the conversations that Creative Youth Network have skilfully initiated are ones with longevity, and that more of Bristol’s creative organisations will endeavour to bring young voices to the fore. 


Article by Lucy Pratt

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