Mel Brimfield at Kelham Island Museum


Project Info


  • Mel Brimfield
  • Gwyneth Herbert

Art Forms

  • Sculpture and Audio Installation


  • Sheffield Industrial Museums Trust
  • Arts&Heritage
  • Arts Council England

Stand was part of the Meeting Point 2018-2019 programme, and was displayed at Kelham Island Museum in Sheffield from 23 January – 8 March 2020.

More than 100 mental health service users, singers, museum volunteers and members of the UK Men’s Sheds and Men’s Sheds Cymru collaborated with artist Mel Brimfield and composer Gwyneth Herbert to create a large sculptural sound system for a new choral composition, to highlight the importance of making – so central to Sheffield’s story – within Kelham Island Museum’s rich heritage of artisans, workers and engineers.

Stand takes the form of a vast music box, with the recitation of Patrick (a long-term inpatient at Bethlem Hospital, whom Brimfield recorded during a year of research at the National Psychosis Unit) emanating from a speaker embedded in a tree, gold-leafed and hung with hundreds of polished semi-precious stones. A circle of 15 chairs gathers around the sculpture – each has been individually designed and built by chapters of the UK Men’s Sheds and Men’s Sheds Cymru, as well as Kelham Island Museum volunteers and technicians, in close collaboration with the artist. A speaker is built into each chair, relaying parts of the complex multi-channel composition, performed by members of More Than Just A Choir.

Mel Brimfield explains:

“The accessibility and value of creativity to the isolated is both the subject and method of Stand. At a time of disastrous austerity cuts to mental health services, we’re uniting and foregrounding the organisations who provide crucial opportunities for socialising through communal activity. It’s an artwork that’s been made with and for the community, and is hopefully a celebratory testament to the potential of collective action!”

After its time at Kelham Island Museum, Stand will tour to Chapter Arts Centre, Cardiff; The Tetley, Leeds and Attenborough Arts Centre, Leicester.

  • To connect, and make relevant, the area’s long history of making to the local audience / community of entrepreneurial and artisanal people.
  • Tell the history of Sheffield in a contemporary way which resonates with the regenerated area.
  • To commission a work of ambition and scale to match that of the past, and connect with a present day audience.
  • To find a new way of communicating the museum’s history and programme, and engage with different visitors.

As participants in the Meeting Point 2018-2019 programme, Kelham Island Museum were supported by Arts&Heritage through a process of sharing knowledge and presenting contemporary art projects and commissions in non-traditional art spaces.

Six museums based in the North were selected for this Meeting Point programme, and took part in a series of training workshops, visits to artists’ studios and meeting peers at other properties, to learn how they successfully delivered contemporary arts projects at their museums and heritage sites. Museums developed their own Artist’s Briefs.

A networking event between the participating museums and 60 artists from across the UK took place at the National Centre for Early Music, York, following which artists were invited to send in an Expression of Interest to museums that interested them.

Four artists were shortlisted by each museum to draw up a more detailed proposal and were paid £500 each to do so.

Kelham Island Museum selected Mel Brimfield for the £11,000 commission in Spring 2019, and they worked collaboratively with composer Gwyneth Herbert and the UK Men’s Sheds Association to produce Stand in January 2020.

  • Developled a blueprint for commissioning contemporary art.
  • Demonstrated there was a new audience and a local appetite for contemporary art.
  • Staff are now more confident and able to deliver ambitious contemporary art projects.
  • Ambition – working with an internationally known artist raised KIM’s ambition and demonstrated ability to participate in a city-wide arts programme.
  • Shifted the public’s perception about KIM’s brand to a modest degree, and has shown contemporary art has a place in the museum.  Meeting Point has shown KIM is a venue that supports contemporary art.
  • Over 3500 visitors engaged with Stand, including the exhibition launch event, a family activity workshop (families made birdhouses inspired by Stand) and several volunteer workshops to make two chairs as part of the artwork.

The Artist

Mel Brimfield’s energetic collaborative work operates at the intersection of live art, theatre and moving image. A range of wildly inappropriate absurdist narrative forms are used to articulate the findings of rigorous academic research processes, including elaborately choreographed musical theatre numbers, gymnastic routines, stand-up monologues and queer cabaret turns. She is currently a resident at Somerset House Studios, and a tutor in Contemporary Art Practice at the Royal College of Art.