An solo exhibition of poems and photographs at Workplace Foundation (2022).

The collection of six poems included in ‘Return’ at Workplace Foundation (2022) were written in relation to photographic and video documentation that record and shape memories of place and personal relationships. Referenced within the writing are photographs of friendships, the interiors of houses, ultrasound scans and child development documentaries that the artist featured in when she was younger. The photographs and videos referenced provide opportunities for returning to specific moments. 

The text from which the exhibition took its name was originally created in 2017 for a performance at Shipley Art Gallery in Gateshead, and was written and performed on the same day that the artist moved back to the area where she was born – it marks a return to her birthplace and is a rumination on how place can define identity. An earlier version of this text was also presented at Workplace (Gateshead) in 2018 for the opening of the Women Artists of the North East Library exhibition. 

In I dream that I am helping a ewe give birth, a palm-sized fragment of a broken pot is described. It is an insufficient container of memory. The photographs in the exhibition, a series of six prints, show the broken pot composed as landscape forms or museum exhibits floating in space. The pot pictured was made by the artist’s mother. It was broken by Denman-Cleaver and the fragments kept, hidden, in the hope that one day they could be returned, reassembled, with an apology.  

The texts were, in part, conceived as conversations with different women in the artist’s life. The title of the exhibition, Return, offers the works included as gifts – they return favours to women who have shaped Denman-Cleaver’s artistic imagination. As well as family members and friends, they write back to literary influences on the artist. Shepherd references Scottish landscape writer Nan Shepherd, whose mountains can also be seen in Denman-Cleaver’s photographs. It was also written as a correspondence with Virginia Woolf during a residency in the Cairngorms in 2018. 

The title refers to the ‘return’ key on a keyboard and the line breaks of a poem on the page. Denman-Cleaver’s background is in performance, and her previous work has been written for presentation within live events. The writing exhibited in ‘Return’ maintain a concern with the rhythms of speech and sound, but invited readers to experience them in their own time and in relation to their own inner worlds. 

Thanks Jade Sweeting, Kate Sweeney and Jacob Polley for their help during the development of the exhibition. 

Exhibition documentation by John McKenzie.