The Merrie Collective
by Ryan Bell
The potential and promise commonly found in the arrival of a new decade can be difficult to see in 2020, what with the world being plagued by pandemic mere months in, plunging the globe into a state of fear and panic not felt for generations. However, history has shown that in times of hardship humanity often prevails, that we are at our most gladiatorial with our backs pressed against the wall. Creativity blossoms in the face of adversity.
I imagine there are many instances of this to be found worldwide, though I can speak directly from one experience that I have been privileged to be a part of, which began with an open call for those aged 16-25 and located in the West Yorkshire city of Wakefield and its surrounding area, with the desire to contribute to a council funded project, tentatively titled Our Diary.
Envisioned as a time capsule for the lockdown era, the aim was to compile photographs to feature in a photography zine, capturing “the new normal” from the perspective of young Wakefield creatives, through a celebration free print through DIY self-publishing. Spearheaded by Wakefield born photographer Emily Ryalls and curated with nine other contributors, This Too Shall Pass (the revised zine title) was produced through four months of weekly Zoom meet-ups, with the process of taking pictures during a pandemic allowing for a refreshing amount of creative expression and experimentation in a period of otherwise global aimlessness.
With contributors hailing from a range of creative backgrounds from photography graduates to freelance writers, graphic designers to fabric embroiderers, our documentation of “the new normal” was enjoyably personal, with humour found in makeshift graduation caps and dinner table date-nights, to austere reminders of the lives we’ve put on hold in nightclub mirror balls dumped in skips, and grandparents waving from the distance of the doorstep.
The project proved not only fruitful for the photographs, but for the relationships formed between the collective contributors. Having found Wakefield not to be the easiest location to find other like-minded creatives at the best of times, the decision was made to work together onwards under the title of The Merrie Collective; with an aim to inject soulful art back into our local spaces, with the name deriving from the medieval moniker for Wakefield – The Merrie City.
With immeasurable support from The Art House (a lifeline for local artists and creative businesses) The Merrie Collective has been fortunate enough to have acquired a studio and gallery space inside The Ridings Shopping Centre. Like many of its kind, The Ridings has seen ups and downs since its opening thirty-seven years ago, with economic recessions and the demand for online retail making it not quite the draw it once was. However, the utilisation of one of its empty units as a studio/gallery, alongside another as a separate exhibition (excellently curated and produced by Niamh Donnelly) has been universally well received. With walls proudly plastered in black and white snaps of local life, the installations feel emblematic of the city and of the project, creativity and community in times of adversity.
The Merrie Collective has no plans of slowing down anytime soon despite COVID-19’s best efforts (us Northerners can be quite stubborn that way) and through a shared belief that most storms can be weathered, that “this too shall pass”, the group has big plans for the future such as print production, further exhibitions and workshops as well as ambitions for an independent newsprint.
On behalf of The Merrie Collective, the writer would like to thank Wakefield Council for funding this invaluable opportunity to create This Too Shall Pass, and The Art House for their continued support throughout and onwards. The opinions expressed in this article are those of the individual and not necessarily representative of Wakefield Council or The Art House.
This Too Shall Pass is a self-published zine by The Merrie Collective, printed at Merrie Studios, Wakefield and can be ordered here
27th October 2020