Tannery Arts Billboard Project

Sarah Macdonald, Mahal de Man, Rock Paper Scissors & David Batchelor

Curated by Nina Shen

A rolling series of four billboard artworks commissioned by Tannery Projects

May – September 2021

1-27 Rodney Place, Elephant and Castle, London

#clientcommissions #billboards #tanneryarts

A series of four temporary bill-boards commissions for Tannery Projects, curated by Nina Shen, Chinese-born cultural producer based in Folkestone, co-founder and director at HOP Projects CT20.

Shen invited artists associated with Tannery Arts, including Sarah Macdonald, Mahal De Man, David Batchelor and the local community, led by ‘Rock, Paper Scissors’, to create a rolling series of Billboard artworks on display between May and September 2021.

Responding to a site that has borne witness to recent traumas of irretrievable human and cultural losses due to gentrification to the Elephant & Castle area, Shen asks whether art can help to reconnect and restore ‘humanness’.

“Before becoming public works of art, these individual images were made as personal, biographical records. This intervention thus becomes an invitation to share an inti-mate dialogue. Be it a painting, a drawing, a collage or a photograph, the works are created with a deep compassion for the invisible, the intangible, the transient, the un-der-rated, the overlooked and the nameless – the raw materials of contemporary experience turned into a set of contemporary portraits of living, and a monument to untold stories.

The feelings of incompleteness, abandonment and not having a ‘home’ as lived by a migrant when arriving to a new place is described by John Berger as ‘the extreme form of a more general and widespread experience.’ I understood it to be an acute sense of alienation and unspeakable loneliness. The horrors of social distancing and months of isolation demonstrate that the sense of being ‘at home’ has very little to do with the four walls and a roof, and more to do with a set of habits, rituals and memo-ries created and shared between one another. Berger’s words invite us to empathise with the other, rather than to stigmatise and to displace.

The pandemic has amplified social fragmentations that already existed beneath the veneers of progress and prosperity. Can art help to reconnect and restore ‘human-ness’, on a site that has borne witness to recent traumas of irretrievable human and cultural losses. ‘The very sense of loss keeps alive an expectation.’ Perhaps artistic expressions find ‘home’ and urgency at this very moment in time, albeit in a muted, oblique and poetic way.”

Nina Shen, May 2021

Works in the series

‘Interior, Eight Chairs and Empty Table’ by Sarah Macdonald

Originally a drawing made by MacDonald in the home of a friend, absent of guests during the summer of 2020, ‘Interior, Eight Chairs and Empty Table’ projects an unsettling feeling of incompleteness and intimacy, echoing the experiences of alienation that lurk in our rituals of everyday domestic life.


‘I Miss Your Touch’ by Mahal de Man

Originally a 16x24cm drawing, created by erasing ink from a found printed image, ‘I Miss Your Touch’ is a response to the social distancing guidelines of the past year, but also an expression of grief after the passing of a close friend. ⁠

Working iteratively and intuitively, de Man’s process is a journey rather than a pre-destined arrival at a fixed point. ‘Touch’ has been a recurring theme that brings home a body of exploratory works in the process of developing the commission. Other works in the series includes: ‘Anvil’, a pencil drawing shown at the Drawing Biennial.⁠


‘Found Monochrome 272’ by David Batchelor

Since 1997, David Batchelor has been photographing blank, white, rectangular panels that he finds in the streets of the cities he visits. There are currently over 600 images in the series.

This photograph was taken in São Paulo, Brazil, at a time when the local authorities had decreed that all billboards in the city should be erased or removed This was an effort to make the streets less cluttered and more orderly. It wasn’t very successful.


Images by: Ben Deakin & Nina Shen


Nina Shen-Poblete is a multidisciplinary cultural professional with multiple careers as a cultural producer (curator, writer & content producer), and architect, artist and educator.

Born in China and growing up in the UK, Nina is part of a generation who experiences rapid economic, social and cultural compression brought about by technology and migration. Drawing from personal history, diverse professional experiences and hands-on knowledge, Nina is always seeking to innovate cultural models that better reflect and serve the complexities of contemporary experiences. This process often necessitates the breaking down of existing cultural barriers, to unlock hidden potentials freed from the limitations of disciplinary silos.