We’re all very well red

Pictured are artists Michael Day and Lesley Guy at Bloc Projects,Eyre Street,Sheffield,who have curated an arts project The Red Headed League,inspired by a Sherlock Holmes story
Pictured are artists Michael Day and Lesley Guy at Bloc Projects,Eyre Street,Sheffield,who have curated an arts project The Red Headed League,inspired by a Sherlock Holmes story

A Sherlock Holmes story and the colour of their hair connect the participants in an arts project. Ian Soutar reports

THERE are many reasons why artists might be selected to contribute to group projects but few are as bizarre as the link between the participants in the one being launched in Sheffield on Friday.

Its title, The Red Headed League, is the clue. All 13 contributors have red hair.

That is about the only thing they have in common with varying artistic practices and locations ranging from Norway and Iceland to London and Manchester. Three are based in Sheffield.

Curated by artists Michael Day and Lesley Guy, who collaborate under the name Furlough Projects, it is a limited edition pamphlet comprising the responses when the artists were each provided with an image from the Encyclopaedia Brittanica (Micropaedia Edition) as source material for their work.

It is a partial re-enactment of a Sherlock Holmes story called The Red Headed League which made an impression on Lesley Guy, herself a redhead, when she was young.

In the story a businessman contacts the Baker Street detective to solve a mystery. He had responded to an advertisement directed at red-haired men and found himself and scores of others being paid to copy out pages from the Encyclopaedia Brittanica. The fee of £4 a week persuaded him to take a break from his regular job but one day he turned up to find a note saying, ‘The Red Headed League is dissolved’. It all turned out to be a ruse, to get him out of his workplace so that the gang could tunnel their way into the bank next door and rob it.

“This image stayed with me of a line of ginger-headed people queuing up the stairs to get their pages from the Encyclopaedia Brittanica,” says Guy.

The project is unlikely to achieve quite that, though some of the artists will be there for the launch of The Red Headed League on Friday evening at Bloc Space where both Day and Guy have studios.

“We did think about putting out an open call but decided to use artists we knew, including me,” explains Guy. “It explores how arts projects are started, the randomness about a lot of it and how networks function. “When you think about it, this selection process is not ethical at all, so in that way we are ridiculing the whole arts set-up.

“Apart from that it’s aesthetically pleasing and, for me, genetically pleasing,” she laughs.

One of the other objectives, according to Day, was to encourage artists to work outside their usual fields. Not all the contributors are graphic artists so the interpretations of topics such as Aachen, aardvark and abacus were highly imaginative.

“We are paying Victorian wages – the £4 he was paid in the book – and the artists have responded to this in different ways,” he says.

“ One timed himself and gave only his regular rate whereas others went to a lot of trouble.”

Performance artist Kim Noble documented the ultimate disposal of his assignment, contrasted with a painstaking illustration of an aardwolf by Catherine Dahl, and text from Alice Bradley and Eddy Dreadnought.

The other contributors are Tim Etchells, Daniel Fogarty, Dag-Arve Forbergskog, Chris Gibson, Lisa Murphy, Jóhanna Ellen Ríkharðsdóttir, Mary Smith and Alice Thickett. The Red Headed League is in a limited edition of 300, some of which will go to the artists to distribute, and a number will be sold to help fund the project. Details: Furlough