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The Art of Belonging - Nottingham. Frottage at Nottingham Castle

Encounters in an iconic cultural venue

Nottingham Castle is an iconic Nottingham venue with stunning views over the south of the city. It houses an art gallery which at the time of the visit features an exhibition about the internationally renowned Nottingham fashion designer, Paul Smith.

At first the group wander around the grounds of the castle in quite an unfocussed way, enjoying the views of Nottingham in the sunshine.

Then Shamila encourages them to gather around near the top entrance where she demonstrates the frottage technique. This involves using a stick of graphite on its side to make a rubbed impression of a textured surface - her demo is of the stone flags which are very rough and undulating. They begin to copy her, one participant is getting into it enthusiastically and creating a multi-layered image.

It is interesting to see was the way that they become more and more involved in the task:

One group appears around the corner after a while, so proud of their collection of textures and words (from plaques or drain covers). It is as if they are on a treasure hunt gathering precious things!

Some become almost compulsive, gathering more and more textures. One makes an image of an eye out of textures- an imaginative idea beyond the brief.

Ruth observes how the process encourages us all to observe detail - we are all getting really acquainted with this iconic place at a deeper level.

Does it also give us a feeling of knowing it better than the tourists who wander past looking a bit baffled by our exploits? A contrast between the gaze of the visitor and the young artists who are so focused on the detail of the place.

Inside the gallery presents great selfie opportunities! There is a mass of eclectic imagery with diverse global references that the young people can relate to on different levels, for example two of them recognize photos of the Great Wall of China. Ruth explains that Paul Smith is like a magpie and collects design ideas from any and every source.

One of the Eritrean boys points out the spaghetti imagery on a bag (which is also one of the shirt designs) and engages in a lively conversation with Shamila about Italy's relationship with his country and how Italian food is still common in Eritrea. We are struck by how often the young people are keen to educate us about the history and traditions of their home countries. Often the talk turns to food with phones being used to show images and videos of food preparation.

After touring the exhibition, they are keen to return to their frottage which Shamila says they will work on further when we are next at the New Art Exchange. As they leave with their artwork there is a sense that they are taking physical representations of details of the castle and its grounds with them whilst also leaving their mark on the place through their encounters with the tourists who observed them at work when visiting the castle that day.

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