Being Present

Jo Wheeler & Fatma Durmush


Frank Abbott & Mr X


Courtney and Roger Suckling


Michelle Baharier & Chris Lewis-Jones

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Being Present
Various Artists

Bethlem Gallery

1 February  – 13 May 2023

Open 9.30am – 5pm, Wednesday-Saturday

Being Present is a group exhibition and event presenting work by artists from Bethlem Gallery, London and Primary, Nottingham.

During the Covid-19 pandemic and spanning various lockdowns exhibiting artists participated in Artist Meets, an artist-to-artist support programme which saw artists from Bethlem Gallery and Primary paired based on their shared interests or approaches to art production. The project provided an opportunity for artists navigating varying levels of isolation and living in different areas of the country to connect. The project grew as artist pairs continued to meet online, exchanging work by post, MS Teams and email, working together to navigate a practice of remote collaboration.  

Online group development sessions included a workshop around collaborative practice facilitated by Bethlem Gallery and a session with the Wellcome Collection, exploring how artists might practically and conceptually approach their own archives.  

Being Present reflects the necessary remote approach to this virtual exchange and will see the artists meet their pairs in-person for the first time to celebrate the artwork and partnerships that they have created together. The project will conclude with an exhibition at Bethlem Gallery and sharing day at Primary.  

The exhibition will show some of the work produced by the artist pairs over a 2-year period and will explore what it means to be present and the nature and practice of collaboration.

With artists:
Frank Abbott & Mr X
Michelle Baharier & Chris Lewis-Jones
Courtney & Roger Suckling
Fatma Durmush & Jo Wheeler

Download the Being Present Press Release here.
Download the Being Present Exhibition Booklet here.
Watch Michelle Baharier and Chris Lewis-Jones perform ‘The Great British Tea Break’ at the exhibition opening here.
Watch Mr X visits Nottingham for ‘When this tree blossoms…something amazing will happen’ here

Primary is an artist-led contemporary visual arts organisation. We prioritise artistic research, provide studios and residencies to artists, and run a free public programme of exhibitions and events. We believe that artistic research is a public process, so we encourage participation in artistic production. We’ve established an engaged and outward-looking community which supports artists to experiment and develop their practice. We provide high quality studios for over 50 resident artists, alongside a free programme of exhibitions and events which are free and open to everyone.

Pairs Projects: 

Frank Abbott & Mr X 
From their work together the two artists would like to feature the latest vehicle made by Mr X in a ‘surprise’ visit to a small park in Nottingham. The visit would take place in early April 2023 during the Being Present sharing event, this would be during the blossoming of the cherry trees. For the last five years a ceremony/ritual of sorts has been evolving in the park where Frank regularly creates interventions, often in collaboration. The ceremony includes the annual arrival of a mysterious ‘future machine’ which witnesses the event as part of a series of events around the country. The surprise arrival of Mr X’s latest vehicle, hauling a message for the future, would be the culmination of the 2023 ritual. The Bethlem Gallery exhibition would consist of a display of Mr X ‘s vehicle, the message for the future and the plans for the event (before it happens) and filmed documentation of the event (after it happened).  

Teatime Presence | Michelle Baharier & Chris Lewis-Jones 
Teatime Presence aims to explore ideas associated with being, presence, wellbeing and the Great British Tea Break. Chris and Michelle will serve tea to visitors to Bethlem Gallery. The names of the teas will evoke psychological conditions: anxietea, hostilitea, hospitalitea… the tea, biscuits and sandwiches will be served on retro china. The artists will record the thoughts and feelings of participants and display them on a ‘tea tree’ and in a tea-zine, produced at Bethlem. 

Chris and Michelle are interested in exploring the significance of class in the tea break and the catering industry. The artists will wear costumes including hats and text-heavy overalls, referencing mental health, Lewis-Carol’s Hatter’s Tea Party, and catering jobs. The event will include tunes from the world of popular music and/or tunes played on the accordion. 

Courtney & Roger Suckling 
The collaboration between Courtney and Roger has been challenging due to distance and restricted lines of communication.  The difficulties that the two artists have had to overcome have been translated into the work exploring the concept of community and distance.  

Both Courtney and Roger have produced works by projecting images over objects to explore community, identity and gender. The plans for the exhibition are to project films produced over the collaboration, onto sculptural pieces, individuals and architecture. 

Fatma Durmush & Jo Wheeler 
Fatma and Jo have been exploring making exchanges between a painting and a photographic practice. As a starting point they parcelled up prints and canvases to post to each other with a loose idea that they’d each respond in some way to what the other offered.   

Jo’s photographs of the scarred floor from an old textile mill were integrated into Fatma’s collages that reflect deeply rooted memories of childhood and dreams. 

The surface of Fatma’s paintings were closely examined by Jo’s lens to explore and reframe Fatma’s mark making and colour. Another swap and the work began to investigate edges and boundaries of both composition and the collaborative process itself.  

Artist Biographies

Frank Abbott is based at Primary Nottingham. His current works combine performance with video. Over many years he has been tracking the evolving relationship between media and daily life producing installations, videos and performances which intervene in different public spaces. His early work included performance with the Scratch Orchestra and creating radical formally innovative film and television programmes which interrogated media history. As new media continued to develop, he performed a series of short humorous moments with handheld media technology and streamed the work online, visiting Berlin and Tokyo. Recently he has been focussing on a small local park opposite Primary in Nottingham, which has become the location for a series of installative interventions and the set for an ongoing movie. The collaboration with Mr X would be a further performance and scene in this movie. 

Mr X 
Over decades Mr X has been making structures out of cardboard and found materials. Each work gradually transforms, often refashioned over time as part of an iterative process. The works are often mobile and usually large enough to inhabit, creating alternative spaces that resist any institutional constraints. Mr X’s work has been exhibited widely in venues including Southwark Park Gallery, Manchester Contemporary and the Southbank Centre. 

Michelle Baharier studied at the Slade School of Fine Art, London and Hochschule für Bildende Künste Städelschule, Frankfurt am Main Germany. She has won a number of awards including the Julian Sullivan award. 

Her artistic practice is strongly influenced by her everyday experience of disability, addressing barriers and prejudices about dyslexia. Baharier explores her inner conflicts showcasing vulnerability, extremes of self-love, hope and unease, and her emotional states. Her oeuvre includes videos, sound, insulation, performance, poetry, colourful expressive paintings and portraits, using storytelling, and hybrid digital collages. Her work is in a number of public and private collections including ‘The Walkie Talkies’ supported by Arts Council England, housed at The London Transport Museum, which is the first piece of disability history they own.  

In Summer 2022, Baharier had a residency at the ‘House of Annetta’ Spitalfields London UK, supported by Assemble.

She lives/works in London and exhibits internationally. 

Chris Lewis-Jones: I am an artist-flaneur, a hopeful traveller who is excited by the exploration of context/s. My practice is informed by the discourse/s of psychogeography and includes drawing (especially performative and collaborative drawing), painting, installation, intervention, social facilitation, live art/performance, writing, music and folkloric ritual.  

Courtney uses art as a medium to explore and communicate the intricate complexities, contradictions and tensions felt by an individual navigating a psychiatric institution and pathway to recovery. Courtney uses ink drawings carefully relating one colour to another, creating a valued relationship and balance. Gender, identity and inclusion are principal themes in Courtney’s art practice. 

“My style of social entry is portrayed as weak, peevish, and defenceless. Being born with congenital deformities made the ‘fitting in’ processes easier. I discovered the awesome power these ‘differences’ had upon others’ perceptions of myself – an image of weakness and vulnerability. I later utilised this power to affect change in how I would be received by others.” 

Roger Suckling’s work is based around themes of location/ place/ autobiography, using photography and moving image to explore place and time, to map a visual account of an engagement with the urban and natural worlds.  

A response to landscape is combined with a contemporary documentation of the everyday, offering a reinterpretation with new meanings and connections that attempts to make a universal image beyond the personal. 

Roger Suckling is based in Nottingham and has a studio at Primary. 

Fatma Durmush is a disabled artist, with a prolific practice mainly focused on painting, collage and writing. Her work is deeply personal and she sees collage as a process of cutting up and then mending. “Fatma is just remarkable. Her work is reminiscent of Kandinsky and the Blaue Reiter artists in its power, expressiveness and vivid use of colour.” – Maev Kennedy, The Guardian, 2004. 

Jo Wheeler is a visual artist and producer collaborating with others to consider approaches to support our sense of self and belonging. Starting explorations are often photographic, but extend to other media including film, sound, installation and procession. Since 2016 she’s been co-lead for Youth Landscapers Collective, working with young people to tell landscape stories of their area to share at international festival, Timber (The National Forest – Leicestershire). Other projects include pop-up museums in bus shelters (Transported – South Holland); Walk This Way, a multi-sensory guided walk co-designed and led by children (Primary – Nottingham); Legacy installation / party take-over of the formal dining room with Telford Young Carers (National Trust – Shropshire). In her lens-based, solo work she has been exploring ways to collaborate with a site to share its stories, framing details through close observation.   


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