The Poly-Technic is a collaboration between artists Steve Pool and Kate Genever, who have been working together for ten years to create art that asks difficult questions and encourages debate. Here they ask themselves some difficult questions about their new project, We Are Not An Island, which links Sheffield to Venice.

Where does the title come from? We came up with it just after the Brexit vote, but it’s not just about that. We are interested in the way words have different meanings in different places. The ‘we’ doesn’t refer to anything in particular. It could be an organisation, a place, a building or an idea. The ‘we’ attaches itself to something when you read it. Venice actually is an island. We are not suggesting Sheffield is an island. It’s more of an archipelago.

Why Venice? We are interested in the hidden city, the city that exists behind the myth or the tourist’s view. Steve lives in Burngreave, and late on a Saturday night you can still hear the thud of a steam hammer forging steel, or the thump of music from the speakers at Hope Works. Venice is the same. It shows one face to the world, the face that drowns under a stream of people eager for a piece of it to take away as a memory. Venice has another face, where people go to school, grow old, laugh and secretly drink cappuccino after lunch. They fight to keep a heart beating that sustains a living city, a city where people can live a full life. Sheffield feels like this. We have many hidden faces.

This sounds like an artists’ jolly. Are you having a laugh? It’s a good question and difficult to answer without sounding defensive. A better one would be, ‘Do you feel lucky?’ We do feel lucky and privileged to get an opportunity to work across both cities. Most people don’t see a strong connection between Venice and Sheffield, yet they are both cities that are deeply proud of, yet in some ways held back by, their histories. If you walk along the side of the Don or the canal, or take the time to look carefully at many of Sheffield’s old industrial buildings, there is a strong visual and physical similarity to many parts of Venice. Will we have a good time? We hope so. Steve will probably get all romantic and nostalgic, and Kate will be sad.

Isn’t the project about John Ruskin? Ruskin links Sheffield and Venice. He wanted to save what was at the heart of things. In Venice, he brought people’s attention to the value of architecture, the trauma of exploitation, nature and beauty. In Sheffield, with its systems of artisans and mesters, he strove through his museum and patronage to save the dignity and individuality of the worker and the integrity of craft in the face of a rampant modernity. The other connection is that Steve and Ruskin are both often accused of being romantic, nostalgic, unpractical fools, to which Kate would say, ‘That’s great, but what are we going to do about it now?’

Toward the end of his productive life, Ruskin wrote a book called The Storm Clouds of the 19th Century. Like much of his work, it was based on his observation. He drew and recorded changes in the sky that he attributed to industrial production. Today, this gathering storm still feels very present. The clouds have not lifted over Sheffield or Venice.

What are you actually going to do? We will create text-based posters with groups in Venice and Sheffield. They will include people’s feelings, ideas and conversations. We will be making and sharing these in both cities. In the first week of May, we will be in Sheffield setting up a poster-making workshop, and hosting some events, including talks, exhibitions and large-scale projections. That’s as far as we have got.

This project is supported through Sheffield’s Making Ways artist development fund and The British Council.

poly-technic.co.uk

Steve Pool & Kate Genever