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John Newling

Thu 16 July 2020 - Fri 30 April 2021

John Newling is a pioneer of public art with a social purpose. Born in Birmingham in 1952, he is known for site-specific work that explores the relationships between people, place and culture, and the transformative power of incorporating nature into everyday life. This exhibition features works spanning Newling’s 40 year career, including new work responding to society’s need to evolve in the face of the climate emergency, and living through the global pandemic.

Specially commissioned for Ditchling, Ditchling Leaves is made from leaves gathered locally by gardeners and allotment holders. Exchange is a series of smaller works produced in collaboration with village families who contributed material from their gardens, and informed by conversations about growing and nature. This has been transformed through layering and gilding into what Newling calls ‘conversation pieces’ containing layers of meaning representing these interactions. After the exhibition, the works will be returned to the families involved, completing the circle of garden to gallery and back again.

Newling’s work puts forward a powerful environmental proposition, that we need a closer connection to and a greater understanding of nature, which is particularly resonant in current times. So Sorry, a text work located in the beech tree behind the museum (visible from the village green) is Newling’s apology to nature for humanity’s actions. The most recent work in the exhibition Yellow Sticks (105 lockdown walks) has been made from material collected during daily walks, recording the relationship with nature and the need for routine and ritual which has been important to so many people in coping with social isolation.

Newling has described his work as a ‘collaboration with nature’, a description which has never seemed more relevant, with the pressing need for humanity to take responsibility for our impact on the ecosystem.

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