60 Years of the Phoenix in Leicester
Place and Memory is a group exhibition at the Phoenix Cinema and Digital Art Centre in Leicester. It explores the 60-year history of the Phoenix, from its beginnings on Upper Brown Street to its current location in the city's Cultural Quarter. Sean Clark has contributed work and memories from his early involvement in Phoenix between 2005 and 2013.
Digital Art at Phoenix 2005 – 2013
An Artist’s Perspective
I first started visiting Phoenix when it was located on Upper Brown Street. It was the late 1990s and Phoenix was by far the best local arthouse cinema and was an exciting live music venue.
In mid-2005, my relationship with the building changed. I had been working with the local music label Bathysphere and they invited me to perform live visuals with the band Chin Chin as part of their first Bathysphere Nights event at Phoenix. This was followed by another event later in the same year, this time working with their band The Buoys. I discovered that Phoenix was a great place to perform.
I returned to Phoenix as an artist again in 2008 as part of the new Phoenix Digital programme. This was, to the best of my knowledge, the first time Phoenix had commissioned digital artists to work with them and it allowed me to create some interesting new artwork.
I came back again in mid-2009 with two more live music events, this time as part of the curiously-named Stench. The Stench nights were very experimental and filled the whole venue with electronic music, performance and digital art.
The Stench events, together with Phoenix Digital the year before, very much paved the way for Phoenix’s move to the Cultural Quarter in December 2009, with its strong digital focus. They were also important in consolidating Leicester’s burgeoning digital art scene, a scene that continues to this day.
My first opportunity to show artwork at the ‘new’ Phoenix came in 2011. In the summer I contributed work to the Sparking the Imagination programme, which gave local children an opportunity to play with digital artworks located around the venue.
Soon after, I installed my artwork Memory Mirror in the Phoenix Cube Gallery. One of my best-received earlier pieces, Memory Mirror was very much the culmination of a strand of work I had started during the Phoenix Digital programme in 2008.
In 2013 I made two further uses of the Phoenix Cube Gallery. First, I was instrumental in bringing the Alan Turing: Intuition and Ingenuity exhibition to Phoenix in October. This exhibition, curated by Anna Dumitriu and others, toured the country and I was happy to be able to add Leicester to the map. Second, in December, I worked with the arts group Genetic Moo to install our Symbiotic exhibition in the gallery space.
Symbiotic was significant for both Genetic Moo and me. For Genetic Moo, it helped them define their Microworld concept, which they have continued to work on since. For me, it confirmed that the idea of ‘interconnected artworks’ was going to be a key one for me to explore in future. It also marked the beginning of the end of my phase of video-based artwork. These days, my artworks are much more ‘minimal’.
My creative involvement with Phoenix has continued beyond 2013. However, this initial period saw my work develop considerably and am grateful for Phoenix’s support in providing me with spaces in which to show my artwork.
2005 to 2013 also covers a time during which Phoenix began to significantly engage with digital art and when digital art became an important part of what Phoenix did.
Many artists from around the world have since shown artwork at Phoenix and have benefitted from Phoenix’s support. Phoenix’s digital arts programme, led first by Chris Tyrer, and now by Irina Tsokova, has also become an important part of Leicester’s cultural life.
Dr Sean Clark