Unexpected Engagement: Jason Wilsher-Mills beats the 20 metre rule…

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Hull’s year as UK City of Culture may be over, but there are still plenty of reasons to visit. Unexpected Engagement, Jason Wilsher-Mills’ first solo exhibition, at Artlink Hull, is the perfect project to take the legacy of 2017 forward. Review by Gill Crawshaw

East Hull Elvis & His Dislocated Pelvis. Image © Jerome Whittingham

Wilsher-Mills uses digital technology to produce exuberant, colourful work. In Hull he worked with members of community organisations, including disabled people and homeless people, during the Square Peg residency at Artlink.

Colourful digital image of a woman with a cat mask and many arms

PIP Princess postcard. image © Jason Wilsher-Mills

As part of his ongoing practice and commitment to give excluded people a voice through art, Wilsher-Mills encouraged people to experiment with the digital tools that he uses. Examples of this work were shown both in their own right and combined with Wilsher-Mills’ own work – which in turn was clearly inspired by the people he came across.

Unexpected Engagement shows a development of Wilsher-Mills’ work, both in terms of the digital media and processes used and in the portrayal of people and their lives. Ipad drawings are just the start. This exhibition includes walls of digitally painted wallpaper, animations that come to life via a specially designed app, and some impressive 3D printed sculptures. And the technology works! Visitors of all ages (including this middle aged one) delighted in revealing people’s stories with tablets available to borrow. The animations floated off the wall when the screen hovered over the digital icons.

There was so much to experience here and perhaps a larger venue would have done better justice to some of the works. As the host organisation, Artlink provided a fantastic, welcoming venue. But we should be seeing much more work by disabled artists in mainstream galleries.

A colourful figure sitting on a space hopper watches itself on screen with the artist

One of Jason Wilsher-Mills figures watches the Square Peg residency video. Image © Jerome Whittingham

Wilsher-Mills met some interesting people during his residency and has created some portraits and scenarios depicting life for disabled and homeless people in Hull, with great affection and a lot of humour.

The titles alone make you smile and wonder. What is the story behind Mario Lanza and the Stolen Hedge Trimmer? Where does the East Hull Elvis perform? Underlying much of the humour, Wilsher-Mills doesn’t shy away from the difficulties of people’s lives, with the PIP Princess and others representing current realities.

“Some of the stories made me very angry”, says Wilsher-Mills, and many of us can relate to that. He continues: “But the groups I worked with were so full of life and love, I wanted to do justice to that”.

I left thinking about what the “unexpected” element of this exhibition might be. For me it was the excellent use of digital technologies and my enjoyment of the fabulous characters depicted. For others, perhaps, it’s the surprise of finding “life and love” thriving in communities that are being put through such hard times at the moment. This Unexpected Engagement shows that not only anger but also love can be powerful as both weapon and defence against the hardships.

Unexpected Engagement is at Artlink Hull Gallery until Friday 6th April.