‘Solidarity & Love at Humber Street Gallery opens with a blood-drenched portico’, writes Manchester-born, Glasgow-based artist Jamie Crewe in an introduction to their current exhibition. This seems a fittingly unsettled entrance to the show, formed of a new body of work that takes inspiration from the writer Radclyffe Hall’s both celebrated and controversial novel, The Well of Loneliness (1928), which has had a lasting impact on generations of queer, lesbian, and transgender people. Solidarity & Love and its concurrent sister exhibition, Love & Solidarity at Grand Union in Birmingham, uses the ambiguous tensions the book stirs to think about ‘repulsive kinships’ – with places, cultures, histories, communities, and individuals – whilst also exploring broader themes of heartbreak, transphobia and LGBTQIA+ solidarity. Crewe describes the splitting of the work across two exhibitions as an echo of the central idea of togetherness and separation. In their own words: ‘Love & Solidarity and Solidarity & Love test the possibility of living with a wound.’
Each show features an array of video work, ceramic sculptures and text, including a printed publication titled Womanhood, which, while mostly addressing the pain of disenfranchisement presented within The Well of Loneliness, also offers a contrary position of hope in response to its conclusion – that love is not possible between the characters. Other works within the show relate to the book’s anglophile themes and Jamie’s experience of growing up in Derbyshire, including a series of ‘slabs’ (made by a group of artists, writers and others operating under Hall’s name) that subvert the tradition of well dressing in Derbyshire villages that dates back to the 1800s and contain quotes and imagery relating to LGBTQIA+ writers, activists and culture.
The two exhibitions have resulted in Crewe being selected to receive a Turner Prize Bursary – the new format for the Turner Prize in 2020, celebrating artists for their significant contributions to new developments in British contemporary art. Both exhibitions originally opened earlier this year, and their run has been extended due to gallery closures during the Covid-19 lockdown.