Four Wheel Drive to explore legacy of York saint Margaret Clitherow in experimental interactive trial afternoon at Guildhall

Four Wheel Drive working on The Trial Of Margaret Clitherow in development

YORK theatre company Four Wheel Drive will host a new immersive, interactive theatre experience, focusing on Catholic saint Margaret Clitherow, on Saturday in the Guildhall York council chambers.

From 12 noon to 4pm, audiences can explore the “vibrant heritage and creative innovation within York” in a programme of afternoon activities run by artistic director Anna Gallon and her co-creators of “bespoke off-road theatrical experiences”.

These will include a first look at Four Wheel Drive’s new play in development, an historical presentation from author Tony Morgan and a study of how heritage storytelling can be presented for modern audiences.

Immerse: Heritage: Afternoon of heritage, immersive and interactive storytelling events on February 17

12 noon: Doors open for audiences to explore the council chambers.

12.15pm to 1.15pm: The Trial Of Margaret Clitherow

SCRIPT-in-hand performance of extracts from The Trial Of Margaret Clitherow, a new immersive experience in development by Four Wheel Drive that relates the story of Catholic saint Margaret Clitherow in York.

That story? In 1586, Margaret refuses to comply. In a scramble to regain control, the council decides to coerce her to a public fight, threatening her family, faith and pride.

The play invites the audience to engage in Margaret’s trial, wrestling with moral dilemmas and making choices in pursuit of justice.

Ultimately, audience members must decide whether they will abstain from cooperating with a corrupt system out of protest or try to mitigate any further damage the case might inflict on the community of York.

The Guildhall council chambers in St Martin’s Courtyard, Walmgate, York

1.15pm to 2pm: The Life and Death of Margaret Clitherow in Tudor York

AUTHOR and historian Tony Morgan uncovers the extraordinary story of Margaret Clitherow within the history of Tudor York, one that takes in family, politics, religion and tragedy.

During her life, Margaret underwent an extraordinary transformation from being an ordinary woman who lived in Tudor York to a notorious rebel who took on the state, the Church and the assizes court.

University of Leeds associate professor Morgan writes non-fiction history books and novels, including a biography and novel covering the life and death of Margaret Clitherow, and gives regular history talks to groups.

2.30pm to 3.15pm: Reviving Heritage: Making Heritage Storytelling Relevant

YORK theatre-maker and Four Wheel Drive artistic director Anna Gallon reveals the company’s process of bringing heritage storytelling to modern audiences as specialists in creating new works for non-traditional theatrical spaces.

Discover how historical narratives can serve as a powerful lens for examining contemporary issues, fostering a deeper understanding of the choices that shape our world. “Nothing is more powerful than bringing history to life to challenge our choices today,” says Anna.

3.15pm to 4pm: Interactive and Immersive Storytelling

INNOVATIVE storytellers who work with immersive and interactive forms will discuss what these words mean and how they can affect the way we tell stories, along with York innovation in this field.

The four sessions can be booked and attended separately or enjoyed as a whole afternoon. There will be chances to ask questions and offer feedback to inform the development process.

Tickets are free and can be booked at:

Bolshee take part in York International Women’s Week with Dancefloor Project for safer dancing and Golden Ball open mic

Lizzy Whynes, left, Megan Bailey and Paula Clark: The Bolshee trio running the Dancefloor Project for safer spaces for women

NEWSFLASH 8/3/2023: Bolshee Dancefloor Project’s Listening Project session with Pilot Theatre at York Explore Library on March 9 has been cancelled due to unforeseen circumstances.

HAVE you ever felt unsafe on the bus? Or walking to work? Or on a night out? If so, Bolshee invite you to join their Dancefloor Project in York.

The York creative projects community interest company ran a pilot session at Brew York, in Walmgate, as part of York Design Week 2022 last October and is now delivering a series of nights around York in March and April on a “pop-up dancefloor where you make the rules”.

“Take up some space, soak up the vibes, bust a move, pick up a pen and tell us your demands,” say Bolshee creative director Paula Clark, associate director Lizzy Whynes and creative producer Megan Bailey. “When women don’t feel safe in so many spaces, what would make you feel safer on the dancefloor?

“The Dancefloor Project brings people together to explore ways we can make everyone feel safe and reduce sexual harm in public spaces – because everyone deserves to be free to be themselves and bust a move without fear.”

The first night, held at The Crescent community venue last Saturday with Lizzy on the decks, will be followed by a Saturday afternoon session at the StreetLife Hub, Coney Street, on April 1 from 1pm to 3pm, while a night at the University of York is being organised, hopefully in May.

Bolshee’s dancefloor for the Dancefloor Project, designed by Megan Bailey. Picture: Emily Richardson

In addition, as part of York International Women’s Week, Bolshee’s Dancefloor Project will be teaming up with York company Pilot Theatre for The Listening Project at York Explore Library and Archive, in Library Square, Museum Street, on March 9 from 5pm to 6.30pm.

Bolshee is running the Dancefloor Project in tandem with York St John University psychology researchers, in association with York St John University Institute for Social Justice, whose community research grant assists the project’s purpose of “creatively and collaboratively exploring prevalence and prevention of sexual harm in public spaces”.

The Dancefloor Project emerged from Megan’s ongoing studies for a Masters in Culture, Creativity and Entrepreneurship at the University of Leeds.

“We had a module where I had to come up with a project,” she recalls. Cue her “interactive pop-up dancefloor with a tiny dancefloor that can fit into the back of a van and Perspex walls that people can write on”.

“They can dress up, request a song, have a dance, chat to us, in a project that’s all about looking at sexual harm against women and girls in public spaces,” says Megan, who has designed the dancefloor space with its flashing walls.

Bolshee’s Lizzy Whynes DJing for the Dancefloor Project

“York St John is leading the research part of the project, under Dr Anna Macklin, which is basically an arts-based method of looking at sexual harm and prevention, where everyone can claim the dancefloor as their own, wear what they want, but also talk about these things that disproportionately affect women and girls in public spaces and nightclubs.

“The next step will be build on the research to work with partners to push for change. That’s what missing; everyone knows about the spiking of drinks and women being injected in nightclubs, but no-one knows what to do about it, so as part of my dissertation, I’m looking at embodied knowledge of women working collectively and individually to employ their own strategies.”

Paula says: “Why is it our responsibility as women? That’s why we want to discuss it. When you go on our dancefloor, you are asked: ‘what would you want in this space?’. Like, ‘don’t touch me’; ‘don’t spike me’, but also ‘can we make it brighter?’.

“The suggestions from what’s being written on the walls are coming in from women and from men too. Women are asking, ‘please give us more space’; ‘please don’t sit next to us when there’s loads of space on the bus’.”

Dotted around the dancefloor is a QR code to facilitate participants to write down their own experience, tell their story, that can then be submitted anonymously online to the project researchers.

Megan Drury and Alexander Flanagan Wright, from At The Mill, Stillington, dancing at the Dancefloor Project pilot session

The Dancefloor Project is methodical in making participants feel at home. “When they come in, we explain what the project is about, and they’re told what will be happening, with no photography allowed,” says Megan.

“Everyone has to consent to enter the space because of it being a research project, so it’s a closed space to anyone who doesn’t agree to provide that consent.”

Bolshee also will provide support on how to report an incident. Paula is a safeguarding lead on the York St John project, and Bolshee work with the York St John All About Respect team, wo train students and the university community to run campaigns on dealing with sexual violence and to signpost the support services that are available.

Among the questions asked most regularly by women relate to how they get home safely from a night out and how do they do so when walking home. “It’s something that tends to be overlooked by men, probably because they don’t experience those problems, but women do,” says Megan.

“Take up some space, soak up the vibes, bust a move, pick up a pen and tell us your demands” on the Dancefloor Project dancefloor. Picture: Emily Richardson

“That’s why we want to keep the Dancefloor Project open to men, so that they can see what’s being written on the walls, think about they can do, how they can contribute to ultimately make the quality of life better for everyone, not just women.”

In turn, the York St John researchers are exploring the psychology of how to make men be part of the conversation and not be mere bystanders.

Already in place nationwide is the Ask For Angela poster and window sticker scheme in bars, where, if someone feels unsafe, they can say that coded phrase to the bar staff to let them know they need help “getting out of their situation”.

Bolshee CIC would be delighted to partner with other organisations in schemes. “We’ve had a meeting with a chain of bars in Yorkshire, who have approached us and want to talk more,” says Paula.

“We’ve also been talking with The Egalitarian, an organisation at the University of Leeds, under the business strategy offices, where they run data-led training for venue and festival staff.”

Bolshee’s Paula Clark, left, Megan Bailey and Lizzy Whynes on hand at the Dancefloor Project

Bolshee noted how “no-one was reporting spiking of drinks because there was no formal information about it or what to do when it happened”. In the absence of such protocols, Bolshee can play their part in addressing such problems.

“Our projects are artistic, and we like to do things that are vibrant and make people talk about things,” says Lizzy.

“That’s why we’ll be taking it to both universities in York, as well as the Saturday late-night event at The Crescent and the afternoon pop-up at the StreetLife Hub.

“It’s not just nightclub culture, but safety for everyone, and this is a really good way to talk about it. It could be on the bus, but we’ve chosen a dancefloor because it should be a fun space.”

One collaboration already set in place is Bolshee’s one-off involvement in Pilot Theatre’s Listening Project on March 9, when the Bolshee dancefloor will be used in a workshop for 18 to 25-year-olds. “We’re doing a mash-up, with dancing, and then they’ll talk about what changes they would like to see in their city,” says Lizzy.

What is Bolshee? “Born out of the frustrations of trying to achieve autonomy and leadership roles in an industry that fears risk and, even more so, bolshie women, we champion women and girls by co-creating and producing projects that elevate the voice of and support those who identify as female,” say Bolshee. “We want to work with people of all ages, backgrounds and experiences, and collaborate with artists to produce vibrant multidisciplinary creative projects”

Bolshee will be receiving funding from the University of Leeds to expand the Dancefloor Project into Leeds as a result of Meghan winning the Equality, Diversity and Inclusion Student Award.

“We’ve also been asked to do regular DJing with the Arctic Piranha team of learning-disabled adults at ARC [the arts centre] at Stockton-on-Tees, putting on safe, accessible, fun club nights once a month with a theme, guest DJs, dancers and singers each time and the chance to send in suggestions for the set list,” says Lizzy.

“Again, this has been all about coming together in a safe environment, where people feel included and accepted.”

In a further contribution to York International Women’s Week, Bolshee CIC will be taking over the Golden Ball Open Mic Night at York’s first community pub in Cromwell Road, Bishophill Senior, tonight (6/3/2023) at 8pm.

“Run by Hannah Hutchinson, it’s a very old pub that’s very supportive of York artists, spoken-word performers and musicians, with lots of creative people meeting there; it’s also inter-generational and it’s our local,” says Paula.

“Our projects are artistic, and we like to do things that are vibrant and make people talk about things,” says Lizzy Whynes, left, pictured with Bolshee co-founders Megan Bailey and Paula Clark

“Every week the pub runs an open-mic night, but usually not that many women perform. We wanted to do something for International Women’s Week last year but we’d only just started, and so now we’re doing it for this year’s festival.

“We’re encouraging all self-identifying women and non-binary people to take the mic, and everyone is welcome to join us for a night of music, spoken word, delicious pints and Bolshee women. It’s coming at a really busy time for us and just something we’re doing for everyone to have fun.

Lizzy adds: “It’s great to be part of International Women’s Week, doing things with people we love, and there’s no need to book to perform. You can just come along and sign up on the night to perform.

“It’s a nice way to celebrate female talent, whether they perform for fun, or professionally, or just want to try it out for the first time.” As a further incentive, there will be a  free drink for each performer and a Bolshee badge. Entry is free of charge.

Definitely taking part will be women who attended The Bolshee Women autobiographical Perform Yourself course last October to December, now making their Open Mic debut.

Paula Clark: New post in Kirklees

What Paula did next after leaving York Theatre Royal

PAULA Clark has taken on a new full-time post as head of programming at Creative Scene in Kirklees, West Yorkshire.

Based at Brigantia Creative in Dewsbury, this project to “bring arts to the people and make art part of everyday life” commissions and produces arts and cultural activities and events in and around Dewsbury, Batley, Mirfield, Cleckheaton and Heckmondwike.

All the work is shaped by the people that live there, who become involved as co-commissioners, co-producers and participants.

Creative Scene puts on gigs and shows in pubs and libraries, family-friendly performances in community centres and rugby clubs, film screenings in old mills and outdoor arts events in town centres, parks and at festivals.

At the Brigantia creative meeting and making space, Creative Space hosts creative groups and activities and brings people together for creativity and learning, collaboration and conversations.

Creative Scene is a project of Brigantia Creative, a charitable organisation that supports positive social change through arts and culture.

“Spaces may be plentiful around Kirklees but they’re not always accessible or safe because of being left derelict,” says Paula. “We’re doing a learning research project for Arts Council England to see what works where. Already there’s been a load of involvement in Creative Scene projects going into housing estate communities that might otherwise feel excluded.”

Fellow Bolshee founder Megan Bailey is working for Creative Scene too.

John Ledger addresses the ‘most pressing issues of our time’ in Back To Normalism show at Fossgate and Mickelgate Social UPDATED with full interview 11/01/2023

Horrorsterity, 2022, by John Ledger

ON the portentous Friday the 13th, apocalyptic artist John Ledger will launch the preview of his Back To Normalism exhibition of drawings at Micklegate Social, Micklegate, York.

This solo show by the Barnsley provocateur addresses the theme of a time and culture that has been uprooted and disjointed by a series of crises and disasters, together with the distorting consequences of trying repeatedly to return to a “before” moment.

His latest works have come in response to Covid times, prompted by the saying “back to normal” becoming a rallying cry since the start of the pandemic as people craved a return to a life they recognised.

Exhibition curator Mike Stubbs says: “Back To Normalism looks at the uncanny reality that has unfolded ever since, and the underlying weirdness of trying to patch up the black holes in our collective experience of time.” 

On show at both Micklegate Social and Fossgate Social from next Friday to March 13, the exhibition assembles a collection of the South Yorkshireman’s works that spans the past 14 years, stretching back to the 2008 financial crisis, in order to explore Ledger’s depiction of a  culture that “feels increasingly stuck and detached from itself”.

“Back To Normalism explores the darkest concerns of our age, while inviting all viewers to contemplate how they felt as the world momentarily stopped in 2020, and to ask beyond the hustle and white noise of the present tense, what sort of world do you truthfully desire?” says Mike.

£$[We]€$[Can’t]$£[Take]£€[Any]$€[More!!]$£, 2016, by John Ledger

“The exhibition looks at a bigger picture: that since that Covid moment we have been lacking a unifying narrative that reflects the needs of the times and are trapped by the whims of defunct ideas.

“This stasis, on top of the pandemic, holds us powerless against an ongoing spate of crises, to which the default cultural cry of getting ´back to normal´ has begun to sound more warped.”

Ahead of his time as it now turns out, in 2012 Ledger participated in Pandemic York, a situationist art event that took place in the basement of Micklegate Social when it was operating as Bar Lane Studios, a community hub that provided studio space for York artists, as well as a gallery, pop-up shop, café and basement performance space.

Now named “the Den”, the basement has been presenting creative work since the end of the pandemic lockdowns. “This exhibition is the most ambitious yet, spanning both Micklegate and Fossgate Social venues and continuing to support emerging talent under the banner of Fotografic,” says Mike.

“John Ledger is an extraordinary artist who combines writing, montage, painting and drawing to create complex patterned works that comment on the most pressing issues of our time, most recently at Bloc Projects in Sheffield.

“For more than a decade, John has explored the interplay between politics, technology, addiction and mental health in contemporary society through his large-scale, chaotic-yet-meticulous drawings. We can’t wait for Back To Normalism to open.”

Back To Normalism artist John Ledger. Picture: Warren Draper

John Ledger back story

BORN in Barnsley, South Yorkshire in 1984, visual artist John’s work emerges from “lengthy autoethnographic and socio-political assessments”. Taking the form of large-scale drawings, maps or films, his practice is deeply informed by the post-industrial landscape and the post-historical culture that defined his formative years.

His work also looks at our relations to the “self” in late capitalism and an age of social media overload.

Since 2019, he has come to be acquainted with curator, director and filmmaker Mike Stubbs, creative producer at Doncaster Creates, and partner Sarah Lakin, from the Fossgate and Micklegate Social café bars in York, partaking in events for Artbomb in Doncaster.

John works with adults with learning disabilities in Sheffield and Rotherham, his job combining creative workshops with social day care. “The organising seeks to develop the confidence in social skills of those who attend through art and creative projects,” he says.

All Those Promises, 2022, by John Ledger

John Ledger discusses York’s first topical exhibition of the new year with CharlesHutchPress

How did this exhibition come about, John? Through Mike Stubbs?

“Yes, I was invited to exhibit at the The New Fringe space in Doncaster exactly three years ago. I met Mike around that point, as he was and still is very central to the Doncaster art scene, and after the Doncaster show he invited me to exhibit at the Micklegate Social.

“This was just before the pandemic, so the exhibition has had more or less had three years to develop into what is has become.”

You exhibited previously at this location in its Bar Lane Studios days in 2012. What do you recall of that show?

“It was for an inclusive, participatory event called Pandemic York: a sequel to another event held in Sheffield in 2011, right at the time of the Occupy movement that spread to cities like Sheffield.

“So, it was about art, politics and philosophy, but also about people having a good time, as it was trying to be a kind of ‘safe space’, although I’d never heard the term ‘safe space’ at that point.

“It’s a very, very hard event to locate on the internet now, though, because unfortunately the word ‘pandemic’ has a very different tone to it than it did ten years ago.”

How does the “post-industrial landscape” of Barnsley influence your work?

“That’s an interesting one. The pits had more or less gone by the time I was old enough to remember. I recall watching the Woolley Colliery be demolished with dynamite exactly 30 years ago; the area was like the surface of Mars until they built a housing estate on it.

“But this itself wasn’t a direct influence. It’s the complex social legacy that has influenced my work. The area I grew up in was next to the motorway and greenbelt, so it’s slowly become a commuter area, and dare I say, ‘middle class’.

“This has created a lot of complex feelings, as for me (and I have to be careful how I word this, because we Barnsley people are very protective over our town, which is understandable), there’s still a lot of pain here, but most noticeably in the town centre.

“I feel that I’ve been affected by it, and it’s certainly influenced my work, but the specific part of the town I am from has lost its past a little more easily – and that sometimes troubles me.

“This specific area backs onto the Yorkshire Sculpture Park. I worked there in a front-of-house position for some years. Many visitors from further afield were perplexed when you told them the town in the horizon was Barnsley; they had an almost Dante-esque mental picture of the town, and were in disbelief by the reality, of how green it looks. But behind the greenery, there’s still the scars of the post-industrial legacy.”

Manifesto For The Just-About-Managing, 2017, by John Ledger

How did the “post-industrial culture” define your formative years?

“It did define them, but perhaps not in the expected way. As I was born in 1984, I came of age in the ’90s. As I child, the ’80s felt like this darkly lit, foreboding place, which you didn’t want to go back to.

“Partly down to improved family circumstances, the “newness” of the ’90s, the shopping centres, retail parks, made it feel like the future was going to a blissful place. At this age, I was glad the pits had gone, because it meant I didn’t have to go down them, and the culture of that time was telling me I could now be anything I want to be. The shackles of the past had been taken away.

“My thoughts and feelings on all of these things are vastly different now, but these feelings shaped a very important part of my life.

“But I was also a very sensitive child, and looking back on some of more unpleasant aspects of my childhood, such as bullying, or just the look and feel of some of the areas, it was a confused time. A lot of families were clearly damaged and dysfunctional from the breakdown of the previous work/life systems (the kind of families that largely can’t afford to live in this specific area anymore).

“It’s hard to separate these aspects as specific to towns like Barnsley, and aspects of growing up anywhere, but I’m certain there was residual trauma in these villages.”

What are “lengthy autoethnographic and socio-political assessments” and how do you turn them into artworks? 

“’Autoethnographic’ is a posh word, ha-ha, that I was encouraged to use at university because I found it next to impossible to write my dissertation and make work that wasn’t deeply involved with my own experiences and present struggles. It basically means writing as a social group/community, but one that you are also part of.

“My work is this as much as my own attempts to try to visually diagnose where we are, politically and socially. I’m trying to say, ‘this is how I see our world at the moment, but this is also me, my life, my struggles, at the moment’.”

What draws you to creating large-scale works? The bigger the artwork, the bigger the impact?

“Feelings of being overwhelmed. That I often feel small, and powerless. The rings that ripple around you as an individual right up to the global. I can rarely find ways of expressing this in smaller works.”

A Frog In Warming Water (Just A Myth…), 2008, by John Ledger

How do you use maps in your work and why?

“I’ve always loved maps. Particularly maps of human geography. Cities, etc. But in the past ten years, maps and methods of mapping have become part of my practice.

“This exhibition will feature some elements of this ten-year process of mapping, but after ten years I only just about feel like my mapping is working artistically. It’s taken a long time to make it visually work alongside my drawing/paintings. Although some people may say that the drawings/painting are a form of mapping in themselves.”

How do you use film in your work and why?

I’ve only come to use film in the past five years. I’ve found film a much more accessible medium when it comes to making work more explicitly about psychological/emotional battles.

“I fell out of love with drawing for a few years because it felt that the drawings were being too overtly read as political statements and nothing else. And I felt it was creating a picture of me as this ‘cocky leftie’ that I wasn’t.

“I’m quite an anxious person – that’s an understatement – and I’m not emotionally equipped for self-assured political posturing. I could never get ‘into’ politics in that boxing ring kind of way.

“Equally, I don’t judge others for their life choices (unless I feel under threat from them); most people (with obvious exceptions) are where they are because that’s what’s worked best for them in their own journey through life – and I don’t want people to feel that I’m saying ‘you’re wrong/bad’ etc.

“I make the artwork I do because it’s necessary on an emotional and existential level. For a few years, these dilemmas became very intense, and film was the best medium with which to express this.”

What is your “relation to the ‘self’ in our age of late-capitalism and social media overload”?

“As I child in the ’90s, the culture was beaming a message at us from all directions. Whether through ‘education, education, education!’ or Oasis lyrics, we were being told to ‘be yourself’.

“This equipped us to think in an individualistic manner but didn’t prepare us for how difficult it is to be authentic to yourself – how long it takes to work on yourself. A lot of the time it was just a phrase used to sell us things.

“Fast forward 25 years, and a mental health crisis is now seen as a normal thing. People are clearly so desperate to find themselves, and this is amplified as a message through social media. And it’s an intensifying feedback loop.

“I’ve found one of the most painful experiences of adult life is trying to find a self that can find its place in a world that is defined by having to ‘be something’, because being something, and being things, is crucial to finding work, finding where we’d like to live, and even things like dating.

“I felt a lot of shame in my 30s, as my friends ‘became’ things – careers and husbands, fathers etc – and I just couldn’t locate a self within our cultural constellation that I could become.

“A lot of expressed ‘negativity’ in my art is from an existential position of having not known how to be a self in the world; a lot of it has been a two fingers up to a world where I felt the pressure to ‘become’ but couldn’t find a way to do so. So, yes, my work is very deeply about selfhood in our current kind of society.”

Dead Ethics Hysteria, by John Ledger

Can you use social media in a good way?

“I use it a lot. Maybe slightly addicted. But, in all honesty, I don’t have a conclusive answer to that. It’s now so ingrained that it’s hard to imagine a reality without it. Would I like a reality without it? Maybe, I do sort of miss the days of blogging and buying newspapers. But yeah, I don’t have a confident answer on the matter.”

Are we in an even worse place than we were in 2008. when mired in a financial meltdown, and how does your work over the past 14 year reflect that?

“I’ve often been accused (or at least felt accused) of presenting an image of ‘reality’ that is actually just in my head. But any outlook of reality is going to be coloured by how the person presenting it is feeling, and those feelings are informed by concrete factors of reality.

“This question, at root, goes back to the time-immemorial debate about whether we ourselves control our destiny or whether external forces control it. I hope it’s evident that this has been an ongoing focus of concern in the work I make. 

“I feel like I needed to go there, before answering if I think January 2023 is worse than January 2008. There’s a work in this show from 2008, quite an important one. It very much belongs to the same family of landscape drawings I have been making ever since, yet from around 2013 onwards, my work began to get even darker.

“I’ve experienced the past ten years as a decade of increasingly heavy energy, although there have been moments of surprise that have momentarily brought different energies in.

“I would say that we, as a society in 2023, are in a dark place, although I’m not without hope in the knowledge that things can change unexpectedly. But are these my own feelings? Do they reflect only me, and how I feel, or is it a sense of reality shared by many? I think the only way to properly answer this is by asking the people who look at and engage with the work I make.” 

Whilst We Were All In The Eternal Now, 2014, by John Ledger

How does “a culture become stuck and detached from itself”?

“That’s a hard one to answer in a rush. I’ll try to identify a few symptoms and see if they correlate with the statement I made!

“Number one: I find increasing amounts of people, young and old, feel like time no longer moves with the same rhythm and continuity that it possibly did in, say, 2008, when we weren’t as dependent on social media and smart phones (although they were there, they were still partly novelty).

“In public space, I often feel haunted by music that still seems to be being played as if it is contemporary, but it’s not, it’s actually like 15 years old or something. This is partly because new music these days doesn’t command the dominance it got through TV and radio, pre-streaming days.

“But sometimes I feel like we’re still partly stuck in the 2000s, even the 1990s, and that this could be not just down to how this newer technology has altered the experience of everyday life, but because we feel happier there, because something about those times made more sense to us.

“I think there’s a real sense that nobody can make sense of all the things that are occurring in the world these days, and that this is reflected in a culture. I have to add a disclaimer that a lot of these ideas have been informed by the late writer Mark Fisher, who wrote a non-fiction book called Ghosts Of My Life, in which he said ‘the past keeps returning because the present cannot be remembered’.

“Number two: If we could identify our age as one stuck in a state of trying to get back to a ‘normal’, some aspects of life such as increased homelessness, food banks, really happening climate change, things that would have terrified us if they just emerged in their current state 15 years ago, have become ‘normalised’.

“We have grown used to things such as new upmarket bits of town centres coexisting with folk laying on the street, on the drug spice, looking like they’re dead, or climate change like we had last summer.

“This creates a dislocation within us. Humans always compartmentalise, and can disregard inconvenience, but what I’ve seen over the past decade has really worried me.

“And, look, I’m giving this answer in a trendy cafe right now, so I’m not judging anyone for wanting to go to nice places! And there’s nothing wrong with nice places to go, dressing nice, or any of that! It’s just this dislocation that seems to have occurred; it concerns me. 

“But equally, I admit I’m saying some pretty heavy stuff here, in responding to these questions. I don’t want to make people feel like they have to think all this kind of stuff to get my work! If people like the drawing for its own sake, and they enjoy the show, then that’s good…probably better than getting bogged down in all of this!” 

The Long Night Of A Needless Storm, 2015, by John Ledger

Graduating in 2019 as a ‘mature student’, how did your MA in Fine Art at the University of Leeds influence your work?  Did your work change? 

“I really enjoyed being back in a university environment and having that freedom again. It wasn’t all plain sailing; for a start, I encountered a lot of imposter syndrome, being around young, confident well-spoken students, because, as much as I know, in such esteemed environments, I felt intellectually clumsy with my flat-toned Yorkshire accent.

“And I started around the months of the #metoo moment (which, I’d argue, alongside Black Lives Matter have been some of the most important events of the past ten years). This, and the fact that culture is now very much invested in breaking down a more historically, white, male, heteronormative slant on the world, gave me a lot of deep self-reflection – some of it, admittedly, pretty unpleasant.

“But I think this is what made me, and my work, change during my Masters. I intellectually agreed with all the social justice stuff, but I needed to unpack why it was producing very pleasant feelings, while trying to understand why the university environment was giving me imposter syndrome, and it gave life to the film work I mentioned earlier.

“Film work allowed me to look at issues such as toxic masculinity, from a ‘lived in’ perspective, but certainly one that wasn’t endorsing these things, but looking at it as a social problem that leads to dangerous things like ‘incel’ culture.

“I created a fictionalised film based on personal experiences of mental health, isolation and societal expectations, but I twisted the story to talk about the black hole of radicalisation happening to lots of, specifically, men on the internet.

“This sounds all very bleak and heavy, but my time making this film at Leeds was one of the most enjoyable times of my life.”

How do you respond to the statement on a gallery poster: “Beware of artists. They mix with all classes of society and are therefore the most dangerous”?

“That’s quite difficult to answer, but I think art allows people of all social groups to sit with ideas and concepts that would probably rub more problematically against the identities and beliefs if those same thoughts were delivered in, say, a twitter post, for example. 

“But, for me, art is a meeting place of many ideas; it’s rarely just saying one specific thing. And for me, that’s where its potency is. But that admittedly is more a definition of the type of work I make.”

Back To Normalism, 2021, the title work from John Ledger’s exhibition at Micklegate Social and Fossgate Social

For Ai Weiwei’s exhibition The Liberty of Doubt, at Kettle’s Yard, Cambridge, last year, the Chinese artist and activist made badges and mugs that said: “Everything Is Art. Everything Is Politics”. Is it?

“I think it is…and isn’t. I think just as humans are able to hold contradictory beliefs simultaneously, we’re all capable of picking and choosing what is art and what is politics at any given moment. But yeah, it doesn’t disprove the statement.”

How would you sum up the work in the Back To Normalism exhibition? Is there really such a thing as “normal”?

“I don’t think there is a ‘normal’, but there is an almost shared mental picture of ‘normal’ that holds a collective/a society together. These aren’t my words (it’s kind of half taken from writer George Monbiot), but all societies function by a story, which, even if we are personally critical of it, it creates a cohesiveness that makes a society function.

“The premise of Back To Normalism is built on this idea that the functioning story we, at least in the UK, had until 2008 was one built by the narratives of both Thatcherism and New Labour, and whether you liked it or loathed it, it created a story that enabled a social cohesion for enough of that society.

“I believe that this stopped in 2008, but we went into an age of trying to return to pre-2008, through sticking plasters, and this has been most notable since after the pandemic.

“But I believe trying to get back to a normal, when the actual present situation has so vastly changed, creates a warped reality.”

In your latest blog on January 3 at, you say, “I realise that at near-enough 40, I’m in a place I always prayed I’d never be in”. When you turn 40 next year, what will you seek to achieve in your art and life in the decade ahead. having been “on the run” in your 30s?

“I wish to find a more sustainable and healthy confluence with both art and life.”

But does an artist need to be restless, dissatisfied, troubled?

“I hope not, for my own future’s sake!”

How do you move on when consumed by a sense of failure?  Keep drawing?

“It does help sometimes. But you need friends too, and community, and sunny spring days that lift the gloom. I can easily go heavy into what my work is about, and sound like I don’t have any hope. But I do. I think if I lost all hope, I’d stop making art.”

John Ledger: Back To Normalism, on show at Micklegate and Fossgate Social, York, from January 13 to March 13. Friday’s 7pm preview will include a sonic performance by artist Adam Denton, in collaboration with John Ledger. Drinks will be served.

The poster for John Ledger’s Back To Normalism exhibition at Micklegate and Fossgate Social, York

City Screen to host screening of new film version of antique dealer drama Quinneys

A scene from Quinneys in the making by University of Leeds theatre and performance students

CITY Screen, York, will play host to a special screening of Quinneys, Dr George Rodosthenous’s film adaptation of Horace Annesley Vachell’s long-dormant play, on November 24.

As part of the Year of the Dealer, an Arts & Humanities Research Council project organised by the University of Leeds and led by Dr Mark Westgarth, actors from the university’s theatre and performance programme have made the full-length feature film.

Quinneys is a comedy-drama of love, money, social climbing and fakes and forgeries set in the world of antique dealing. Written in 1915 by Vachell (1861-1955) and based on the real-life antique dealer Thomas Rohan (1860-1940), the original play tells the story of Joseph Quinney, a hard-nosed Yorkshire antique dealer, stubborn but endearing and keen to see his daughter marry well.

The stage play was hugely popular in its day with performances all over the world but it was last performed more than 70 years ago. This new film version is the first in almost 100 years.

Please note, the 5.30pm to 8.30pm event on November 24 is private and fully subscribed and will be preceded by a wine and canapes reception.