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Emily Speed: Flatland unveiled at Tate Liverpool as first Art North West commission

Tate Liverpool has unveiled its inaugural Art North West commission in a new exhibition at the gallery.

Flatland is Liverpool-based artist Emily Speed’s first show at the Royal Albert Dock venue.

Speed's practice incorporates drawing, sculpture, installation, moving image and performance and she is concerned with the relationship between architecture and the human body.

At the heart of the free exhibition, being staged in Tate’s ground floor gallery, is a new film installation inspired by author Edwin Abbott’s 1884 novella Flatland in which all existence is limited to two dimensions and women are restricted to straight lines.

Speed’s film features four actresses and uses set design, choreography and costume to depict flattened hierarchies within a close-knit community of women.

The set and costumes are also on display, along with a second film featuring text by author Ely Williams which is also delivered in British Sign Language, and a painting – Maria Helena Vieira da Silva’s The Corridor (1950) from the Tate Collection.

Above and top: Emily Speed: Flatland - stills from the film and set and costume installations

Speed explains: “The film features a small community of women who are transforming the space they’re presented with. They expand it and move it and add to it and make it a more complex and vibrant place hopefully.

“I’ve loved the novel since I first read it, it’s really funny. Women are these straight lines who have to sway all the time so they don’t impale men.

“I first had the idea for this eight years ago but couldn’t do it within the resources and support available at that time.”

Speed’s twin sister, a dressmaker, worked on the quilted costumes with her, while the 42-year-old artist was also inspired by the village pantomimes in Kingsley, near Frodsham, where she grew up.

“My dad was always the dame and my grandfather did the lights and directed,” she recalls. “The whole village was in it, and the set was painted by a local man who was an incredible artist.

“Seeing everyone come together and build and put on something was where I learned about community and transforming things.”

Above: The Corridor (1950) by Maria Helena Vieira da Silva

Tate Liverpool’s Art North West project aims to provide artists in the region with the chance to show new work in the gallery. The £30,000 commission was launched in 2019 with an open call for artists, and Speed’s was chosen from around 150 submissions.

Helen Legg, director of Tate Liverpool, says: “We decided we’d love the gallery to be more connected to artists in the city and across the North West, and we thought about what opportunities might make a difference to an artist in the region.

“We felt the level of the commission was one smaller organisations couldn’t have offered, and it would help artists who might often show in those organisations and were in need of that next step to do something more ambitious and to show their work at Tate.

“The number of submissions we received showed the breadth of practice across the region was strong and rich.

“We were already aware of Emily’s work, and she submitted a really compelling proposal we felt we could work with. It was wonderful we could support her but a bit heart-breaking we couldn’t support other projects coming our way.”

Emily Speed: Flatland is at Tate Liverpool until June 5, 2022.


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