Doors, security fences and carved slogans are the tools used by Matthew Raw in Tactile Change to discuss the societal challenges increasingly faced in a culture rife with seismic attitudinal and behavioural changes.
The project developed from research into a zoo once housed in Plymouth’s Central Park. This zoo acted as a holding pen for animals, including elephants, who were brought to the city via boat and then held at the park before being taken on to other sites. Taking the character of a travelling elephant as his starting point, Matthew wrote a short story for children, later inviting pupils from Plymouth School of Creative Arts to create their own elephant illustrations in response to the artist’s story. The elephant is used to raise questions about journeying, migration, transience and containment within a pre and post Brexit landscape. A selection of the pupil’s designs were used by Matthew to create repeating motifs for new ceramic tiles which formed semi-permanent installations at Central Park and as part of Tactile Change.
In the exhibition, the elephant tiles form a new installation work, ‘Routemaster’, which directs and limits the movement of visitors through the gallery. Themes of movement and advancement continue in ‘Progress’, a large-scale, interactive piece produced with metal specialist Noah Taylor. This dominant, semi-functional work invites viewers to consider how, as a society, we are moving forward. The tile-clad wall and doors spell out words that are ambiguously generic in their meaning and tone, yet recognisable from their use within the language of regeneration, politics and protest:
PROGRESS / SIDESTEP / ORGANISE / RENEWING / STRONGER
This sampling of cultural texts is mirrored in ‘The Long Read’, a series of five terracotta prints pressed from hand-carved wooden blocks. The phrases here are drawn from a series of sources which all have contemporary meaning to the artist and wider society. They explore the reappropriation of words and phrases around progress, challenging individual responses to everyday rhetoric.
Hands-on, labour intensive ceramic processes are present throughout the show: the artist demonstrates his commitment to making by hand as a vital creative skill and resource, fundamental to how we can understand and interact with the world. This investment in placing making at the heart of learning is what initially drew Matthew to working with Plymouth College of Art and Plymouth School of Creative Arts, as he witnessed an otherwise rapidly decreasing investment in tactile disciplines within education at all levels. Collaboration, participation and social making have all come together to help form this body of work.
Tactile Change was commissioned by The Gallery at Plymouth of Art in partnership with The Box. The project was supported using public funding by the National Lottery through Arts Council England.