Swan Life

Dates of event: 19 Oct 2021 - 18 Nov 2021 Mon - Thurs, Daily Opening Time: 10:00am - Daily Closing Time: 4:00pm

Venue Address: The Window Gallery, City Arts, 11-13 Hockley, Nottingham, NG1 1FH

Black & White photo of a swan, with a logo saying 'Swan Life'

An exhibition of photography by Simon Withers. These striking images of swans were captured on the banks of the River Trent.

An ongoing relationship with the swans has become central to Simon’s wellbeing. Observing them has helped him improve his mental health. He explains:

I had dramatically and destructively given up my art career a few years previously in 2015. As I walked home one day from a counselling session in 2019, I began to take photographs of a single swan by the Trent. After I left the swan, I continued my journey home and I began to wonder if the photographing of swans may well become a form of art therapy for me…could nature be a prescription towards improving my mental health and through which would I be able to return to some sort of creative stability?

Black and white photograph of swans feeding

Simon continued to go each and every day; be it wind, rain, snow or sunshine. At times he would spend between five and eight hours feeding, photographing and being bitten by swans. This routine (borne out of mental necessity) became vital and intensified during the nation’s two extensive COVID-19 lockdowns.

Simon has observed how ferocious Mute swans are. His experience of ‘living’ with the swans for such a long time prompted him to research further into the history and narrative of swans, turning up a number of interesting stories.

Black and white photograph of a contorted swan

In 1972 president Richard Nixon gifted, ‘The Bird of Peace,’ a pair of mute swans in porcelain, to Chairman Mao. The choice of swan as a peace bird symbol had been suggested by a worldwide group of ornithologists as being more appropriate as a symbol of peace over the dove; inside every mute swan are both a hawk and a dove, they are conceivably the original rebel angels!

There are numerous collective nouns for a group of swans: a bank, a ballet, a lamentation and a serenity of swans. To this nomenclature Simon would like to add, an aggressiveness of swans.

This exhibition presents a series of compatible photographs of swans reflecting on the duality of their behaviour; nature’s aggression in tooth and claw v’s its composure and serenity. Above all, the work reflects a human relationship with nature, and how that can support people:

I believe that it is vital for us to re-connect with nature for our mental health and wellbeing. I consider this is a two-way contract, wildlife and nature need to benefit equally. The connections between these two positions are complex and are still to be understood and fully appreciated; I wish to become part of the dialogue. I have certainly found that being among Mute swans, observing and interacting with them helps me connect with nature, I like to think that I have an innate sense of empathy with them. The process for me to understand more about the mute swan is not a passive one and I am aware that my own contact with nature leaves a trace.

About the artist

Photo of Simon Wither wearing a face mask, with the word 'Honk' above him. Next to a photo of a swan's head with the word 'Honk' above it.

Simon Withers graduated from Sheffield City Polytechnic in 1988 with a fine arts degree. For the next 30 years his work incorporated, painting, sculpture, performance, photography, sound, writing and play-acting. He has participated in over 140 exhibitions including, The Rashleigh Jackson Collection, exhibited at Nottingham Contemporary in the Small Collections Room.

In 2008, Simon presented Metahang at Nottingham Castle that saw him hang twenty paintings from their collection back to front in the Long Gallery. He exhibited a number of my tapestry works within group shows at The Museum of Art and Design, New York and in Angel Row Gallery, UK. In 1998, he was selected to show in the prestigious Mostyn 10 open exhibition. In 2001, he held a solo exhibition of Multi-Fold paintings at Wrexham Arts Centre. In 2000, he successfully received a Year of the Artist award and took up residency in a beach hut on the Lincolnshire East Coast.