News in Briefs / Texts

Dr Kieran Connell, University of Birmingham, March 2014

Sarah Taylor Silverwood’s News in Briefs was commissioned for ’50 Years On’, an exhibition at mac birmingham that marks the 50th anniversary of the establishment of the Centre for Contemporary Cultural Studies (CCCS). News in Briefs is an artwork in two parts. The large drawing, comprised of ink and oil paint, hangs in the exhibition and is in inspired by imagery Taylor Silverwood found in an archive of newspapers she collected over a period of 12 months. The work is then brought back to its origins in the form of this tabloid newspaper. Taylor Silverwood has thus returned News in Briefs to the world from which it came.

Using innovative teaching and research methods and often adopting a politicised engagement with its subjects, the Centre was one of the first academic bodies to take ‘mass’ culture – pop music, television programmes, fashions – seriously. Although it was controversially closed by the University of Birmingham in 2002, the Centre became famous around the world as the institutional origin of what had become the global field of cultural studies.

Alongside the exhibition (running from 10 May to 29 June 2014) a conference will take place at the University of Birmingham (on 24 and 25 June 2014) looking back at the Centre’s legacy. An archive of CCCS material has also been established at the Cadbury Research Library, comprising material from former staff and students at the Centre.

The exhibition explores the ongoing need for cultural studies in the present day. It features the work of a range of artists alongside Sarah Taylor Silverwood, including Trevor Appleson, David Batchelor, Mahtab Hussain, Sarah Maple and Nick Waplington. Although most are not formally working in a cultural studies tradition, like the Centre before them they are each critically engaged with the world in which they live.


Sarah Taylor Silverwood, March 2014

A lot of the material in the CCCS archive explores the academic analysis of pop culture – the more I spent time in the archive, the more I became particularly interested in the comparative existence of pop culture today. About a year ago I started collecting imagery from newspapers in the UK, and realised when I started this project that I had begun creating my own archive of images from the mass media/print media. This felt like an interesting starting point – it was this that formed the basis for the work News in Briefs.

Looking through the images in these newspapers, I could spot immediate echoes, like the way photographs of cars on fire were constantly used in war reporting. I sketched all of my images into a huge landscape of stolen pictures. Nothing has been edited as such; they are all drawn directly from news reports. This proliferation of imagery inevitably persuades the viewer to see comparisons and read these images semiotically. It encourages a reading of contemporary culture, pushing the viewer into a role of a student of cultural studies.

One huge change since the beginning of the CCCS is the internet, and I think this has facilitated a sort of modern pluralisation, where subcultures are less distinct than before. The work represents this, with an almost hallucinatory mash up of dislocated narratives. The traditional, time-consuming process of using ink and oil paint on paper stands in opposition to this, like a conscious slowing down of process and thought.

The work of the Centre emphasised the importance of the culture of the majority, at a present moment in time, and for me the printed newspaper is one of the only things left that still reflects this temporal element. For example, hostage videos often show the hostage holding up today’s newspaper to show it hasn’t been pre-recorded.

I was struck by the tactile, physicality of the archive. The grassroots, small-scale publications, like Free Press and on a more national scale Spare Rib, had a handmade quality. Seminar notes are on coloured paper, written on typewriters. Some of this is annotated by hand. I use a lot of found papers in my work so there was an immediate visual affinity for me. In working with newspapers, I thought a lot more about the use of colour in my work. The painted layer mimics the printing process of using CMYK (Cyan, Magenta, Yellow and Black), where the oil paint layer is made up of this colour palette. The imagery and colour palette still seem to retain something of their origins as a newspaper when they are brought back to print again.