Nicola Dale has exhibited in numerous exhibitions in Europe, including Manchester Art Gallery’s record-breaking national touring exhibition, The First Cut (Manchester, Nottingham, Southampton, 2012-2014). Nicola has undertaken several commissions for galleries and alternative spaces, including Between (Manchester Cathedral and Manchester Mosque, 2013); Intone (Durham Brass Festival, 2013) and Down (Liverpool Biennial, 2010) – both with award winning composer and playwright Ailís Ní Ríain. Dale’s work visualises the essence of what knowledge is and its transformation into information in a digital age. Through highlighting the ways in which we expect knowledge to be at our fingertips in our fast-paced society, she reduces the pace to consider the parallels between the ways we digest knowledge now and how we did so in the past. Here Nicola details her recent residency in Shanghai and what impact her experience in China has had on her work.

Model for Ideology VI, Nicola Dale, 2015
Model for Ideology VI, Nicola Dale, 2015

In 2013 I was awarded a month-long residency in Shanghai, China, courtesy of Metal Liverpool and Shanghai College of Fine Arts. I undertook a research and development trip that would inspire new artworks around the theme of knowledge and how our relationship to it is changing. As the ancient birthplace of paper, ink and books, and as the supreme manufacturer of electronic devices, China seemed the perfect place to go for someone wishing to learn more about the shift from the former to the latter.

Untitled, Nicola Dale, 2013

My overriding and lasting impression is that China is a double-edged place, simultaneously full of constraint and potential. There is a ferocious drive to tear down, start again, build and expand. The state channels the energy of millions of Chinese citizens into a devastatingly effective work ethic, but this comes at a cost: the unbelievably heavy burden of top-down work crushes creativity. Over there, perspiration is not inspiration. “Ideas” are not encouraged. “Imagination” is not in evidence. What a different world to ours – we Westerners wouldn’t know hard work if it booted us in the jaw, but we’re up to our necks in blue-sky thinking…

Photograph taken in Shanghai, Nicola Dale, 2013

My experience of China encouraged me to reflect on the path that my work takes. When I think about my process, I see that it can be broken down into three parts: the first is the most exciting – the ping of an unexpected connection, the thrill of the idea; the second is the most draining – making the work, dealing with its physicality; and the third is the most mysterious – the moment of understanding that comes once you see your work reflected in the eyes of others. With luck, the first and second parts of this process do a little dance together: they wiggle back and forth happily between idea and practical decision-making. However, this dance is easily destabilised: wallowing in ideas without realising them is an insult to your practical skills; becoming slave to a technique is offensive to your imagination and both are forms of cowardice. Being in China helped me to understand that my practice feeds off a BALANCE between constraint and potential, between letting my mind wander and hard work, between imagination and technique and that this balance is, above all else, what I should aim for with my process.

Kexy, Nicola Dale, 2014
Kexy, Nicola Dale, 2014

Nicola Dale will be showing new work inspired by her residency in Shanghai as part of her forthcoming touring solo exhibition, Not so firm as faded ink. Commissioned and curated by Mark Devereux Projects, the exhibition will visit Centrespace Gallery (Bristol) from 11 – 22 April before moving on to Arcadecardiff (Cardiff) 15 – 23 May.

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