Edward Chell: Soft Estate @ The Bluecoat, Liverpool, until 23 Feb
Edward Chell is an artist who can often be seen in a high-visibility jacket and hard hat exploring the verges of many major roads around the UK. Although this practice may seem a little eccentric, these verges are an important natural habitat, where some of our rarest flowers are given the space to thrive. An exhibition proposed by Chell and expanded by The Bluecoat into a group show, Soft Estate takes its name from the Highways Agency’s term to describe road verges – and the exhibition reveals both the beauty and pollution hidden within these urban edgelands.
Chell’s work, concentrated on motorway verges, seems to scream about environmental issues; his painted silhouettes of different plant species found on these strips of land look like cross sections after the plants have absorbed pollution from passing traffic. The artist’s delicate prints themselves utilise a form of pollution, having been produced from a finely milled road dust collected from the roadside.
Sandwiched in between Chell’s work are images from The Caravan Gallery, well-travelled edgelanders who seek the anomalies that occur when spaces undergo regeneration. Laura Oldfield Ford’s ballpoint pen drawings of avoided urban spaces are captivating, their neon detail and scrawled graffiti reminiscent of the louder elements of 90s pop culture. Nearby, a selection of photographer John Darwell’s images of a littered ‘non-space’ near his home reflect his interest in industrial change, and explore what happens when urban spaces are left unowned.
When passing one of Chell’s motorway-style signs that contains a quote too long to be read at high speed, it’s a reminder of how quickly we zip by some of our most familiar urban spaces. This exhibition persuades us to take a closer look at what we often ignore, revealing what’s really below the surface. [Emma Sumner]