The Body Collective Exhibition at QSand Morecambe

Reviewed by Kev McVeigh, Photos and thoughts from Wes Martin.

Mona House is tucked away at the heart of Morecambe, on Deansgate behind The Bradford Arms, between Queen Street and Poulton Square.  Thousands of people walk past it daily without realising it is home to QSand Artists collective.  This week (until Thursday 30th July) its doors are open for their first proper exhibition in several years.

qsandInside this impressive Georgian building several artists have studio space. Resident Qsand artist and first time curator Joseph Cowell has created an exhibition drawing on national and local artists, showing a passion and commitment about the work of all those included in his first exhibition. It is evident talking to Joe that he is eager to attract similar minded people to become involved in both the running and future events at Mona House.

Joe’s own work therefore sets a tone for the show.   His work mainly concerns body and image and references his own condition(trisomy mosaic eight), but here we also have a seperate and highly personal installation that shows Joe commenting on the death of his father. It appears to be an attempt to re-animate a relationship he had with his dad, an attempt at a final goodbye, an evocation of a moment of personal and shared history. The installation is a dimly lit recreation of a domestic space, pictures of  ‘dad’ at eighteen looking like a young Laurence Olivier, medical paraphernalia and charts, religious references and a small tv screen showing what looked like a frankenstein or (similar/genre) type black and white film.  Also around the show were large-scale charcoal drawings of bulbous figures, some with explicit statements about disability.


Joseph Cowell

To the show’s credit, although Joe’s work is large and prominent it doesn’t overpower the other artists work by virtue in part of careful placing and balance.   Images of the body in other forms by Spike Joyce, Ruth Tyson, Karen Morris and especially Helen Gorrill also offer a thematic strength to The Body Collective.

Ruth Tyson’s pencil drawings of legs and skirts are incredibly finely drawn and intriguing.  Along side them Amy Ferguson’s multiple intertwined waving arms are serpentine and mysterious.

Karen Morris’ dark pastel female nudes have a certain Lucian Freud/Walter Sickert subjective nature but their dark green/brown density seems to blend the body into the background normalising the figure somehow.

In stark contrast Spike Joyce’s garish squatting figures are disconcerting.  Eschewing detail for impact they are slightly disturbing and provocative in presentation.  Roughly mounted, with creased edges, this adds to the viewers discomfort: what is the artist saying here?

Alongside Spike’s work Helen Gorrill‘s large inkwashed female figures offer yet another perspective.   Part of  a series entitled ‘Would she make a good husband?’  these paintings have already attracted national controversy when shown in Carlisle.  The four on show at Qsand are of female dominatrix or powerful female figures, but the series also includes nude males in submissive forms, some with explicit genitalia.  Ridiculously in the 21st century this was deemed potentially offensive.  Frankly the censorship on these ground offends me.

Helen Gorrill - Spike Joyce

Both of these artist’s work is, I am told, usually on a much larger scale, and whilst Gorrill’s paintings are stunning on this scale, I suspect that Joyce’s suffered badly for being reduced.

Turn around from these paintings though, and you are confronted with the piece that most fascianted and intrigued me.  A collaborative work by Alex McGibbon (who was on hand to talk to about the work) and Adam and Graeme Swift, ‘Azoth’ is both scuplture and part of a projected ongoing performance piece.

Taking the form of an altar, decorated with real human skulls and cast bones, snake imagery and pre-christian text, this is the only piece here to come with proper accompanying text of any kind.


Alex explained how the work was inspired by ancient ideas of a dormant snake energy at the base of our spine, and hermetic theories of unleashing this.  Both the theory of secret societies and the use of gel/wax materials suggested a similarity to Matthew Barney’s Cremaster Cycle, and the plan to combine sculture and performance would seem to re-inforce that.   Certainly this seems to be a project to follow with its creators strengths of idea and ability to solidify their vision.

Last, but actually one of the first things you see when you enter, ‘Meat’ is a visceral video piece by Joseph Cowell.  Basically a short film of a piece of meat being opened up in extreme close-up, computer trickery sexualises the image in an extreme and provocative manner.  It isn’t exactly pleasant, yet its hypnotic and hard to ignore. A backdrop recreating a dutch brothel window seat underscores this sentiment.

So, for me, QSand’s The Body Collective is a success artistically.  Only Spike Joyce seemed to fail in presenting his work effectively for me, but some of the others might also have offered something in the way of identifiers.  Joe was there to point out his work, the Azoth team had a detailed explanation of their ideas, and Tyson had prices by her work, but there were no artist names by most of these exhibits.  Its a simple touch but surely an obvious one?

Which leads to the main criticism of  The Body Collective.  It’s great that it is out there, but if people don’t know about it, then it might as well not be there.  QSand and the artists involved have obviously put plenty of effort into their work, now they need to add that final touch.  Plenty of people pass and won’t know about it, some perhaps like the man projectile vomiting down the wall of a nearby pub as I left who wont care, but some will.  But what of those who don’t pass by, but would make that short trip from Lancaster, from Carnforth, from further afield drawn by a few posters, an email campaign, just letting people know it is happening.

The Body Collective is on until Thursday.  Take your chance and see something very interesting whilst you can. has links to the artists own webpages.

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7 Responses

  1. Bother bother bother…I regret missing this. I mean, to be honest, it sounds a lot better than the Storey Gallery’s recent offering which I thought was a bit academic and didn’t have enough gut feeling in it for me.

  2. Boy, am i glad i caught this!! Can’t praise this exhibition enough, just unfortunate this is only on for one week. I was lucky enough to bump into artist Joe Cowell & Helen Gorrill who were on hand to talk about the exhibition and the project which is QSand in Morecambe. Joe even gave me a tour of the Art Studios upstairs – what a great building!!
    So to the exhibition – a lot to see with varied artists taking part. Really liked the piece that Greame/Adam Swift/Alex Mcgibbon did as well as the work Joe Cowell did. Joe showed me more of his work upstairs, it’s all really good stuff. It was nice to chat with Helen Gorrill about her work, which has recently caused so much fuss. I’m with Wes Martin on this, i really can’t see what the problem is with Helen’s work & why some people felt it offensive??!! Joe Cowell has done a great job in attracting the likes of Helen Gorrill to exhibit her work in “The Body Collective”.
    I liked the way all the work was exhibited and the layout of the building – so Joe, i’m really looking forward to Exhibition No.2 !! Just hope it isn’t too far of, and this time make sure it lasts longer than one week!!!

  3. Hey just wanted to thank everyone who came and found our exhibition and for those who didn’t make it, or didn’t know where we were I will make sure next time you wiil, even if I have to shout from the rooftop, The Bodycollective 2 will be coming once ive had a wee rest in the next couple of month I hope please keep watching for news on our website and Once again thankyou from me and all the artists

  4. Hi just to let you know that due to the success of The Body Collective exhibition we are pleased to announce that there will be a Body Collective 2 dates and month to be announced any artists out there who would like to get involved, media, installlation, painting and especially performance please get in touch through

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