Barbara and Henry: the Musical

Site Gallery
- , 2014

Tickets: Free
Phone: 0114 281 2077

Witness a musical in the making, as two artists reimagine the relationship between two of Britain's best-loved sculptors.

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Barbara and Henry: the Musical Archived

Barbara and Henry: the Musical is an exploration of the imagined relationship between the sculptors Hepworth and Moore by artist Mel Brimfield and singer-songwriter Gwyneth Herbert. Stimulating the parts that desk-based research can’t reach, the project explores these two giants of modern art through a series of songs – in musical styles from Motown to doo-wop – which Brimfield describes as "an animated academic essay full of high camp."

Brimfield and Herbert’s residency at Site Gallery gives them time and space to develop this playful piece, using the gallery walls to track the artists’ respective timelines and find key points of convergence which blossom into the big musical numbers. During the process they’ll recruit local singers and musicians to turn these songs into a reality, passing art history through the prism of musical theatre to create an irreverent, affectionate but ultimately insightful reading of these two mythic figures.

On a visit to the gallery Mel showed me one of the song points on the project map chalked on the wall. 'The Art School Song' will document Barbara and Henry’s shared time at Leeds College of Art in the format of the advice song – think 'Beauty School Drop-Out' from Grease. Another song will explore the conception of the sculptural hole with all the possibility for double entendres that implies, while yet another will explore the relationship between pitch-shift and curation as singers, made up to look like bronze sculptures, are wheeled about by art handlers in a number that recreates the mounting of one of Hepworth’s exhibitions. Everything from hardcore academic research to archive footage to George Melly’s satirical song, 'Don’t make any more Mr Moore!', will be thrown into the melting point. Mel tells me that she’s even hoping to get in an Alan Bennett-style monologue she wrote for Hepworth; "it was rather vicious", she confides.

I asked Mel if there was a sense of redressing the balance between Moore and Hepworth's reputations through this project. "Barbara always wins for me", though Mel admits to liking the work of both, despite that being an unfashionable position for a contemporary artist. Although the musical will explore the gossip surrounding the two figures – Barbara's bohemian love life and rumours that she and Henry once had a dalliance – it will also pay tribute to their work: "it's a fan event as much as a piece of research", says Mel.

Visit the gallery from now until Saturday 13 December and you can see the fruits of Brimfield and Herbert's labours: their brainstorms and mind maps, a film in which they talk to Site Gallery director Laura Sillars about the project, theatrical props and a recreation of Moore's studio in Perry Green, populated by maquettes of local sculptors which may themselves become animated with voices in the final musical. But book for the free closing event on 13 December (1-2:30pm) and you'll also be able to see a live performance of four of the songs and portions of the film, as well as having the chance to talk to the artists about the development of their kitsch and clever piece of performance art.

Image courtesy of the artists.

Written by Sarah Cockburn; December 3, 2014