Airspace host Mead-In

Chloe Evans || June 2016

Researching Sam Treadway opened an entire new meaning as what an exhibition could be, he defies the boundaries of filling a room full of photography or paintings and unveils a sensory experience that triggers a part of your mind that releases a whirlwind of memories previously forgotten. I arrived to the Airspace Gallery in Hanley somewhat vague of what to expect, upon opening the door I was hit straight away with a plethora of smells, music and the bright colours of the mead standing proud from the pure white walls. The first smell that I registered was beautiful and sweet but slightly smoky; it came from an arrangement of incense cones placed carefully in the windowsill on five glass jars that sat slightly higher on vibrant honey-yellow ceramic tiles creating an aesthetically pleasing honeycomb shaped arrangement of smell and colour. The bright white walls drew in the light and it bounced from the glass and illuminated the smoke into an almost mystical haze, at the bottom of the cones the oils had seeped onto the jars and created a perfectly apt colour of yellows and oranges, even though this small installation could have been easily dismissed in such a large windowsill, immediately from opening the door you are drawn in to the arrangement which really is the beauty of Treadway’s work.

For a few moments the incense arrangement, ‘Smoker’, took me away from the music that was echoing through the halls; that was until a personal favourite of mine ‘Honey Honey’ by ABBA started playing and I was taken back to being 13 years old and screaming the words with my closest friend in her parents’ house and I was filled with a rush of nostalgia and warmth. Instantly I connected the song to the work and was drawn to a large white poster hung on the wall, ‘Twenty-One Songs (For My Honey)’, which is where I met Treadway himself. We discussed the wonderful memories that the exhibition took him back too and compared, something I’ve never felt I have done when visiting an exhibition. The poster contains a range of songs dating from 1963 – 2015, all personally picked by Treadway, all with the word ‘honey’ in the title.

From my introduction with Treadway I was taken away to try the mead itself, somewhat anxious about this experience I hesitantly took a sip of the misty liquid and was extremely surprised by the taste; sweet yet not overpowering, a presence of alcohol lingered but didn’t shock my taste buds, and somehow a familiarity that took me back once again to memories of being a rebellious child and trying wine for the first time with my friends, although I didn’t let on that this was what I was thinking about! Treadway explained how the honey was locally sourced and the average time for fermenting was a year and that as the mead hadn’t been fermenting for that length of time yet he planned on reopening his exhibition again to have another ‘mead-in’ where it could once again be tasted and compared to that of its taste now. I shortly found myself trying a honey based cake that was beautifully browned and visibly soft and moist, this for me was heaven, being a lover of all things sweet I eagerly served myself a piece on the unconventional brown bag and tucked in. To say it was incredible would be an understatement and I had to control the urge to turn savage and eat the entire bake. I was then directed to a loaf of bread that was thickly sliced and displayed in front of an arrangement of whole loafs, I ripped a small chunk off, half expecting it to be slightly dry as there was no condiments served alongside to add but I was very wrong. The entire tasting experience had been almost overwhelming, mixed with smells and music that were channelling through the space I found myself recalling memories and feelings that I’d once forgotten.

This for me was the most emotionally and physically interactive exhibition that I have visited and Treadway has created art that reaps the idea of sharing, connecting locally sourced produce to local people. To emphasise the idea of producing something that is the ‘manifestation of altruism’ Treadway invited the public over the weeks of his residency to visit the gallery in the a.m to be gifted with fresh baked bread and offered a free bread making workshop that featured a wood-fired bread oven. By doing this he brought the community together to bake with him and experience something he clearly feels strongly about and is proud to share within his exhibition. Under a small archway Treadway displayed a series of photographs of his visitors each holding a loaf of bread in front of the area that the images were hung. In each photo behind the figure you can see the images building up until they are filling the space and its undeniable that you feel the sense of warmth from each face after they have been gifted the bread. It’s said that traditionally bread is a housewarming gift, so that the home ‘may never go hungry’, and honey so that ‘your life is always sweet’, something that links wonderfully with the message of Treadway’s residency as a whole.

Personally I believe that the unity of local communities is important for each one of us, sharing and the feeling of being a part of something gives everybody a sense of meaning in life and Treadway has explored that in an amazingly executed residency that I feel shows art doesn’t have to be about making money or selling work but it can be a promotion of what is good within a community and help bring everybody together and I am exceedingly excited for when Treadway reopens his exhibition next year so I can experience more of what this wonderful artist can offer.