Know Your Place: Dialogues of the Monumental and the Hyperlocal

Annie O’Donnell’s doctoral research unfolded links between people and their significant places, to form an idiosyncratic expression of the ‘hyperlocal’, the baseline spatial knowledge that each individual uses to interpret sites and their objects. It specifically focused on how the hyperlocal can be discovered in contemporary sculpture. Drawing upon improvisatory, gestural sculptural practices, O’Donnell explored identity and belonging, as demonstrated in her own sculptural practice, and in public artworks in her home area, Teesside, in the North East of England, an area often under-represented in art research. In this way, she revisioned the monumental sculptural paradigm, demonstrating the potential of alternative placemaking dialogues and strategies.


This PhD used exhibition as a research strategy, with works in progress and finished works being shown in a variety of spaces and places. O’Donnell’s final thesis exhibition, Know Your Place (2012), at ‘Platform A Gallery’, Middlesbrough, used the man-made materials originally developed in the chemical laboratories and plants of her hometown, Billingham. Now globally produced, these plastics helped investigate issues surrounding how narratives are unfolded and enfolded in our engagement with objects and everyday surroundings. The sculptures examined why particular symbols central to a place or person’s life are chosen to represent them as metaphors of identity. The meanings of these symbols are often lost over time, especially within traditional sculptural depictions, and this demythologisation allows for contemporary reinterpretations of the community identities that are passed from one generation to another. Know Your Place alchemically transformed Town Giants and overheard conversations into dog-toy structures and camping-mat scrolls, where the unmooring of colour from local industrial complexes was developed into an asymmetric Teesside Rococo. These assemblages inhabited the spaces of the gallery to form thresholds, corridors and rooms, providing encounters between the body and the site that highlighted the tensions arising in private and public space, belonging and displacement, and the monumental and the hyperlocal.


O’Donnell’s ongoing performative approach to making springs from her previous career as a community dance artist. Her body-scaled works form an open-ended dialogue between themselves and their sites, rather than a linear narrative or categorization. In this way, they reference the works of Neo-Dada, Fluxus, and Arte Povera artists, with contingent strategies of production clustered around an innovative approach to materials; the assemblage of found objects; the collage of elements from different worlds; and the extensive use of chance and improvisation in urban settings. Annie O’Donnell is represented by ‘Platform A Gallery’ and is currently working on a solo exhibition, the third in a series of pairings between artists and the ‘mima (Middlesbrough Institute of Modern Art)’ collection.

Annie O’Donnell’s postgraduate research at Newcastle University was supported by the AHRC, MFA (Research Master’s Award) and PhD (Doctoral Award). Her PhD was supervised by Dr Venda Pollock, Catrin Huber (Fine Art) and Professor John Tomaney (CURDS).

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