Current & past projects

May & June 2014 – Publications Residency at Floating Island Gallery

During Floating Island’s first 2 months at the Harbour Exchange project space, I will be doing a publications residency to explore and begin a publications strand of Floating Island Gallery.

Based at 11 Harbour Exchange Square, at the back of an old mobile phone shop, I will be available for other Floating Island residents and artists and any interested parties to come and talk about publications and future possibilities for a programme of titles under the Floating Island umbrella.

Come and visit me between 1-5pm on the following dates:

Sunday 25th May
Sunday 1st June
Friday 6th June
Wednesday 11th June
Wednesday 18th June

The STEALING THE SHOW event on 26th June 6-9pm (as outlined below) will form an experimental aspect of the residency by creating a publication via actions and collaborations. This method will become part of a documentational approach to creating publications by harnessing the activities of a network of people who want to take an experimental approach to research and practice through collaboration.

Associated Event:

Thursday 26th June 2014. 6-9pm.

As part of the residency, I am inviting other artists and collaborators to join me in exploring the theme for the first ever Floating Island publication ‘Stealing the Show: considering performance art theft’. This will take place in tandem with Floating Island’s UNPERFORMING series.

Come along to the Floating Island temporary Publication HQ and participate in an evening of experimental discussion, writing, image making and heist planning… an investigation of the possibility of ‘performance art theft’ – what could it mean, how could it be done, is it already happening? Bring your best open mind and join us for a drink and a lively collaborative brain storm.

The texts, images, and documentation from the event will then become ‘Stealing the Show: considering performance art theft’ – the first in an ongoing series of publications from Floating Island – in which all participants will be included and credited.



During 2011-2013 I was doing an MA at the Royal College of Art, continuing my interest in performance related work. My work has built on previous research and focuses on the relationship between the performer and the viewer. Working primarily in print, I use photography, digital print, screenprinting, video and sound to create installation based pieces.

I was one of six shortlisted students from the RCA put forward for the Red Mansion Award 2013 and was also chosen to be part of the exhibition Denkmaschinen (Thought Machines) at the University of Applied Arts in Vienna in November 2013 along with artists from Budapest, Bratislava, Leipzig and Vienna.

thoughtmachines poster (opens in browser window)


‘SPEAK TO THE EYE’ (Final show project, RCA 2013)

My recent work has focused on taking the live elements of a performance and rendering them as documentation in way that allows them to be read in a different way and for an examination of what performance is. My recent MA show at the Royal College of Art was an installation piece where the idea of the Panopticon prison (which is almost the inverse of the amphitheatre) was used to represent performers ‘trapped in the field of vision’. The prisoners (in the place traditionally for the audience) become ‘the solitary actors of their own performances’ (Gary Shapiro, Archaeologies of Vision, Chicago & London: The University of Chicago Press, 2003, p.297.)  while the audience takes on the central position of an all seeing eye. A wooden structure was built that evoked a kind of circular travelling show booth, and printed matter hung inside and outside suggested a performance that was both suspended in time and also ephemeral – the performers at once immortalised in print, the ‘live’ element of the show having slipped.

The phrase ‘speak to the eye’ and its meaning is discussed in depth in Lynda Nead’s Victorian Babylon: People, Streets and Images in Nineteenth-Century London, (New Haven & New York: Yale University Press, 2005), where she states that it comes from an article in the Economist that was reprinted in the Illustrated London News, 24 May 1851: “The article describes the crowds who gather around the offices of the Illustrated London News in order to get hold of their weekly copies. The reasons for this new mass popularity are the technical improvements in engraving and printing and the consequent cheapness of the illustrations.” (p.57). In The Circus and Victorian Society (Charlottesville & London: University of Virginia Press, 2005), Brenda Assael also uses it saying: “Victorians flocked to the ring to see acts that spoke to the eye.” (p.1).

The text pieces that make up the screenprints around the outside of the installation are from a number of sources, collected over the years in notebooks of research around the theme of female performance – they include mostly obscure historical reviews of shows and bits of playbills, but also the words of authors and poets. Many of them are also my own writing, which I see as a kind of ‘channelling’ of voices that echo everything from the tabloids to the critics of cultural output to literature and poetry and create a continual dialogue that is ever present and pervasive. I have resisted detailing each one as I want it to be read as one loud voice.

Images of the installation ‘Speak to the Eye‘ can be found on the PORTFOLIO PAGE.


Interim work (2011/2012)

Preparatory work leading to ‘Speak to the Eye’ used appropriated images of female magicians and performers along with different texts that aimed to highlight issues around gender inequalities in the manner in which performance is documented and written about. Mainly working in printmaking, I began during this time to explore the use of moving image in my work as well.

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Before I started my MA I had been working on a project based around the theme of female magicians. This made use of rarely seen archive material that is not generally available to the public, in the form of photographs and ephemera from archives of magic history. Capturing the allure and mystery as well as the glamour and showmanship that runs through the history of magic, this body of work celebrates some of the amazing women who have contributed to the art. This project is partly informed by my ongoing research into the history of female magicians.

I have also been working on a book on the subject since 2008. My aim is to explore the experience and history of women in the areas of performing arts that include magic, circus & sideshow, parlour performance and a strictly limited variety of other unusual acts.  Given that relatively few women have made it into any existing books on the history of the conjuring arts, I am also interested in what brings a woman to choose magic as a career, and what determines her success thereafter.

I have been extremely lucky so far in being able to have direct contact with some very well respected magic historians and in having access to The Magic Circle archives, and I am very grateful for their help in this project.

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Amongst other projects undertaken in the past few years is a series of screenprints based around the theme of ‘learned’ animals… So called ‘Learned Animals’, which ranged from pigs and dogs to geese and sparrows, trod the boards from the sixteenth century onwards, reaching the height of their popularity in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, when even such luminaries as Samuel Johnson were moved to pass comment on them.

The surviving playbills, reviews, posters, songs and books that relate their history form the backbone of this series of screenprints. The intended aim is to convey the playfulness and eagerness with which such entertainments were both presented and received in their time, and to celebrate a unique piece of theatrical history.

My research for this body of work took place from October 2006 to May 2007 through various books and original source material in the British Library. Preparation of the collected materials into collages to form the basis of the screenprints took place between May and December 2007. Printmaking began in March 2008.

The series consists of 15 screenprints, printed on Somerset Satin White 250gsm 56x76cm paper in editions of 20.

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This project owes much to the British Library,Edwin A. Dawes and Ricky Jay for their kind permission to use images belonging to them.

The exhibition A Sage of the Stage, not a Beast in a Cage toured in 2009 & 2010. The first showing was at the Long Gallery in the Tron Theatre in Glasgow from 3rd August to 5th September 2009. From there it went to Inverness and toured the Highlands with the exhibition Now You See It organised by Highland Council until February 2010. It then went on display for the month of May 2010 at artsdepot in London, and at Edinburgh Printmakers in June 2010. Selected pieces from the series have also been included in various group exhibitions and special events including its first ever outing at The Magic Circle in London for Collectors Day in May 2009, the Magic Trail at the West Port Book Festival where I also gave an artists talk on the subject matter of the series, the Cut-Click exhibition at the Abbey Walk Gallery in Grimsby during June and July 2009, and the group show Past in Present at the Art Works Galleries in Newcastle during September and October 2009. The work continued to be selected for various group exhibitions in 2011.

All text © Sharon Whyte 2013. No unauthorised copying or reproduction of this text. All rights reserved.

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