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From Shoreditch to Ashfield - London gallery PayneShurvell brings contemporary art to rural Suffolk

PUBLISHED: 13:42 31 March 2017 | UPDATED: 13:42 31 March 2017

PayneShurvellSuffolk, a new contemporary art gallery, has opened near Debenham. Curator of the Arca Project, Michael Hall (left), with Joanne Shurvell and James Payne. Picture: TOM POTTER

PayneShurvellSuffolk, a new contemporary art gallery, has opened near Debenham. Curator of the Arca Project, Michael Hall (left), with Joanne Shurvell and James Payne. Picture: TOM POTTER

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Step inside your average rural Suffolk barn and you might expect to stumble across some dusty old tractor parts.

Erik Steinskog and Bruce McLean's combined work for the Arca Project exhibition at PayneShurvellSuffolk. Picture: CONTRIBUTEDErik Steinskog and Bruce McLean's combined work for the Arca Project exhibition at PayneShurvellSuffolk. Picture: CONTRIBUTED

But, hidden at the bottom of a dirt road near Debenham, is a new gallery exhibiting work by internationally recognised artists and scribes, including a Turner Prize nominee and a Hollywood screenwriter.

Soon after James Payne bought his Suffolk home three years ago, he envisioned opening the barn at the end of the garden as a new gallery with business partner Joanne Shurvell.

Together, they ran the PayneShurvell gallery in Shoreditch for four years from 2010, gaining a reputation for showcasing emerging artists and featuring work from all types of media.

“Since closing the gallery in 2014, we’ve been doing shows in different spaces,” said Ms Shurvell.

Left to right: James Payne, Joanne Shurvell and Michael Hall at PayneShurvellSuffolk contemporary art gallery. Picture: TOM POTTERLeft to right: James Payne, Joanne Shurvell and Michael Hall at PayneShurvellSuffolk contemporary art gallery. Picture: TOM POTTER

“When James moved here and saw the barn, he thought it was perfect.”

“From what we can gather, there doesn’t seem to be a huge amount of contemporary art galleries in Suffolk.”

Inaugural exhibition, the Arca Project, brings together and mixes up 16 visual and 16 text responses to the single image of a Chinese restaurant, selected by curator and artist Michael Hall, cofounder of London’s Invisible Print Studio.

The idea to continually change images with their accompanying texts, forming 256 possible combinations of all new diptychs, was inspired by crafty techniques of WG Sebald, whose 1995 novel, The Rings of Saturn, in which the German writer turns his experience of walking down the coast of Suffolk from Lowestoft to Ditchingham, Southwold, Dunwich and Walberswick into a meditation on the history of modern civilisation.

The Arca Project exhibition at PayneShurvellSuffolk. Work by Oona Grimes. Picture: CONTRIBUTEDThe Arca Project exhibition at PayneShurvellSuffolk. Work by Oona Grimes. Picture: CONTRIBUTED

Like much of his work, the book uses unexplained illustrations and photographs alongside its prose expecting the reader to interpret their veracity and meaning.

“This idea had been brewing for years,” said Mr Hall, who has also overseen exhibitions at the Parfitt Gallery at Croydon College. “I’ve actually had the title of the show for five years [drawn from an essay by co-curator Dr Graeme Gilloch on Sebald in Corsica].

“I was publishing a print by Andrew Curtis [also exhibiting for the Arca Project], who gave me book, out of which fell an image of a Chinese restaurant called ‘Wok This Way’.

“In the spirit of Sebald, who has inspired my work since college, that image was sent to all 16 artists to interpret. The only limitations were the size and orientation of the paper. Meanwhile, the writers used it as a jumping off point for their work.

PayneShurvellSuffolk. Picture: TOM POTTERPayneShurvellSuffolk. Picture: TOM POTTER

“Placed together, the image and text can take the viewer anywhere they want to go. The control is taken away from the artist.

“Sebald used images as headers to inspire his earlier work, but the publisher liked them so much that they were left in. He was a creative writer inspired by academia, while most of the exhibition’s writers are cultural theorists offered the chance to be creative.

“James and I have always been interested in similar writers, and he suggested the barn would be the perfect place.”

Winfried Georg Sebald died in a road collision in Norwich, aged 57, in December 2001. He moved to England in 1970 and was a professor of European Literature at the University of East Anglia.

Craig Burnett at the Arca Project exhibition, PayneShurvellSuffolk. Picture: CONTRIBUTEDCraig Burnett at the Arca Project exhibition, PayneShurvellSuffolk. Picture: CONTRIBUTED

Among those exhibiting work each weekend, from now until May 7, are acclaimed sculptor, performance artist and painter Bruce McLean; Tuner Prize nominee Simon Patterson; Damien Hirst collaborator Abigail Lane; and Terry Gilliam co-writer Tony Grisoni.

Mr Payne has also converted a shed into a tiny cinema to screen Grant Gee’s 2012 documentary Patience: After Sebald.

He said: “A lot of people told us opening an art gallery in the middle of Suffolk was a risk but, in the three years I’ve been here, I’ve heard as many people say it’s exactly what’s needed.

“We wanted to challenge people to come here and think about what they’re looking at.”

Tony Plant's entry into the Arca Project exhibition at PayneShurvellSuffolk. Picture: CONTRIBUTEDTony Plant's entry into the Arca Project exhibition at PayneShurvellSuffolk. Picture: CONTRIBUTED

The Arca Project begins at PayneShurvellSuffolk, just off the A1120 between Earl Soham and Debenham, on Saturday, April 1, from 2pm-8pm. It reopens from 11am-6pm the following day, and every weekend until May 7.

Literary translator, Professor Amanda Hopkinson will be in conversation with Mr Hall at 2.30pm on Saturday, April 8, with Mr Payne on hand to answer questions over the Easter weekend, and both curators in conversation from 2.30pm on Saturday, April 22.

For more information, visit payneshurvell.com.

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