K. Yoland, Still from 'Billboard Premonition (Mojave Desert, California, USA)', 2020, video. Photo by Helge Mruck. Shown at The Levinsky Gallery, Plymouth Contemporary 2021

K. Yoland, Still from 'Billboard Premonition (Mojave Desert, California, USA)', 2020, video. Photo by Helge Mruck. Shown at The Levinsky Gallery, Plymouth Contemporary 2021

By Emily Thompson, Intern at The Arts Institute

Plymouth Contemporary 2021 is curated around the broad theme of ‘making it’, featuring the work of 29 national and international artists. This is the third open exhibition since 2015, and runs across two venues: The Levinsky Gallery and KARST, in partnership with The Box, from 7 July to 5 September 2021.

The exhibition explores the subject matter of ‘making it’ through the perspective of an array of media, including oil paintings, physical sculptures and performance art. Each artist explores this diverse theme within their own interpretation, whether it be an analysis of the physical process of the creation/curation of art and the influences embedded, or the meaning and ability to ‘make it’ in contemporary society as an artist or individual.

Significant themes provide the ability to create something out of everyday and overlooked objects, such as Caroline Bugby’s abstract submission of Orange Vista (2019), created from chicken wire, plastic and a high-vis vest. Caroline interacts with ordinary objects that may have been neglected or omitted, creating unique and abstruse pieces of art, epitomising this theme through her expression.

Similarly, Harriet Bowman juxtaposes leather with the unnoticed and harsh realities that lay behind creating such pervasive objects. Bowman’s piece Weatherbeeta (2020) features a large section of vegan leather accompanied by an audio recording that conveys the process of – quite literally – making an Audi car. Using repetition and changes in the speed in which she speaks, Bowman creates emphasis on the severe and overlooked, macabre process of producing leather.

Caroline Bugby, Orange Limen, 2020. KARST. Photography - Helge Mruck.
KARST, Plymouth Contemporary 2021. Photography - Helge Mruck.
Harriet Bowman, Weatherbeeta, 2020. The Levinsky Gallery. Photography - Helge Mruck.

In contrast, many of the artists featured investigate the political, socio-economic and cultural influences embedded in the narratives of their art, such as Damian Griffiths’ exploration into what it means to 'make it' in today’s exploitative and capitalist society. He conveys this through his photographic piece Without Title (2020), a C-type photograph installed on vapour board. Overlapping images come together to portray the notions of success in contemporary society, such as the accumulation of money, despite the socio-economic challenges faced by many individuals and families. The base image depicts a decrepit building and is overlapped with symbols and images of consumerism, such as shopping bags, and monetary and commercial emblems. This represents the necessity to have money in the context of an exploitative and capitalist society, the epitome of being able to ‘make it’ in contemporary society. 

Performance art is also featured in the exhibits through the work of artists such as Bruce Asbestos and Sadie Hennessy. Asbestos uses film to convey an artistic interpretation of a catwalk, exploring culture and fashion through making an unusual and striking piece of art. Models on the catwalk are depicted in two videos, with one showing people, and the other a digitised version employing virtual avatars (Spring/Summer collection 2020) created during the COVID-19 pandemic. This work also highlights aspects of fashion and costume that make up a diverse range of identities and culture, challenging the notion of a single cultural identity. 

Sadie Hennessy's Rod Stewart Birdtable (2020) tests the traditional process of making art with a wildly different approach. Using mixed media, she displays polarising themes of mod rock culture, morbidity and serenity. She establishes these themes through a representation of Rod Stewart contrasted with audio of calming bird song, physical suet blocks and audio of the processes used in Victorian times to create cabinet photographs. 

This diverse range of contemporary art interacts, truly allowing the audience to create their own perspective and interpretation of the theme. Whether it is the process of ‘making art’, or the ability to ‘make it’ as an individual or artist, the concept is endless and leaves us all wondering about our own interpretation of ‘making it’.


  • Harriet Bowman, Weatherbeeta, 2020; Will Hughes, Why don't I do it for you? Why won't you do it for me? When all I do is for you?, 2019; Gordon Dalton, Heartbreak Hill, 2020; Kate Williams, Seed, 2019. Shown at The Levinsky Gallery.
  • Jennifer Taylor, Voyager, 2020; Paula Morrison, Flooding, 2021; Stephanie Douet, Mob of Hordes #19, 2019; Caroline Bugby, Orange Limen, 2020; Rosalind Faram, Belters, 2020. Shown at KARST.
  • KARST installation.

Photography: Helge Mruck.

Writer Emily Thompson has interned at The Arts Institute since 2019. She studies MSc Criminology at the University of Plymouth.

Interested in an internship at The Arts Institute? Get in touch to find out more at theartsinstitute@plymouth.ac.uk

'Narrenschiff', 2017, Kehinde Wiley Three-channel digital film Duration:16.40 minutes. 'Kehinde Wiley: Ship of Fools', The Levinsky Gallery, University of Plymouth | 29 September - 20 December 2020
'Narrenschiff', 2017, Kehinde Wiley. Three-channel digital film. Duration: 16:40 minutes. 'Kehinde Wiley: Ship of Fools', The Levinsky Gallery, University of Plymouth | 29 September–20 December 2020

The Arts Institute

The Arts Institute is the curated public arts programme of the University of Plymouth which plays a pivotal role in building culture and art in the city and South West region, supporting established, new and emerging artists from around the world.

It comprises The Levinsky Gallery, a space for engaging, contemporary artworks; the Jill Craigie Cinema which screens a diverse range of classic films and contemporary cinematic masterpieces; a cutting-edge theatre and dance programme in The House; musical performances and concerts, and a year-long series of fascinating talks that open up a world of art, literature and history.

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