New artistic director’s Site ‘manifesto’

New Director Laura Sillars pictured outside the Site Gallery, Sheffield.
New Director Laura Sillars pictured outside the Site Gallery, Sheffield.

AROUND 80 people booked in for a special dinner at the Site Gallery on Friday night.

Guests from a cross section of Sheffield’s cultural scene were invited to bring along one book which had special significance to them and to pick out selected passages which summed up their choice.

In return they enjoyed a meal of local dishes interspersed with artistic contributions from performance artist Hester Reeve in the guise of Frankenstein, artist Penny McCarthy who talked about The Odyssey and one of ther paintings based on it, and writer-director Tim Etchells who created a poem using at random some the selected passages.

“It’s a way of announcing my manifesto,” says Site’s new artistic director, Laura Sillars, “that whatever the future of the gallery it will involve the cultural community of Sheffield.”

The idea is to build up a library within the Site café which will host a Tuesday night book club when donors will discuss their choices.

The first book was presented by Site patron Jarvis Cocker who chose Leonard Cohen’s The Favourite Game and other contributions have ranged from The Introduction to the Singer Sewing Machine and Inside the Personal Computer pop-up book from the 1980s to The Wind in the Willows.

“There was an element of frivolity but the idea is that they are books which have made an impact on you,” says Sillars.

The evening also launched the refurbished Site canteen whose new decor matches caterers PJ Taste’s menu of exclusively locally-sourced produce.

Thus young design team We Are Click contributed light shades of strands of wool and a structure of a pair of tree trunks from Ecclesall Woods. Neon artist Richard Wheater provided a window sign and Sheffield furniture-maker Finbar Lucas designed the tables to go alongside Sixties chairs featured in This is England and originally made in Chesterfield. There is also a facia board above the food counter proclaiming the local produce which was created by Jane Fallam, an illustrator and member of Site staff.

Sillars was keen that it should be a welcoming place for the cultural community and Ian Anderson of Designer’s Republic oversaw the re-design.

All this aims to support the main purpose of Site Gallery which is to be Sheffield’s centre for contemporary art.

“We still need to have a thriving exhibition programme and to maintain its success in bringing to Sheffield international artists who have not shown here before,” said Sillars who arrived at Site in January. “Five Turner Prize winners exhibited at Site before they went on to be established. This is a place that has worked with artists at critical points in their career.

“Later this month we are showing Israeli artist Guy Ben-Ner who has never had a UK retrospective before. It is important to be a place that does that sort of thing.

“We need to be the focus for the community as well as bringing in international partners.”

Sillars is developing partnerships with other galleries in Sheffield, the UK and abroad for Site’s future programme. Things will become clearer after March 31 when principal funder the Arts Council announces details of the inevitable cuts in budgets to arts organisations.

The new director, who grew up in the North East, and has worked for the past seven years in Liverpool, has witnessed two regions which have made huge advances in provision of contemporary art in recent years and wants Sheffield to follow their lead.