The Edge of What

Lonnie Holley

Stone Nest
NOW 14 May 2022 - ongoing
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Beautiful, demented, anarchic and free – I listened to Lonnie Holley everyday for six months. I’m not sure I completely recovered. – Nick Cave

Lonnie Holley is a singular artist who frequently crosses the boundaries of sculpture, painting, photography, songwriting, and performance in a "practice of improvisational creativity", maintaining a deep connection to place and memory, so clearly made manifest in his music.

In early 2022, Holley was finally able to visit Orford Ness, his participation in Artangel’s 2021 presentation Afterness having been postponed by the pandemic. Viewing the Ness as both a found sculptural environment and a ready-made film set, Holley created and recorded a cycle of site-specific songs, performed and filmed across different locations on Suffolk’s decommissioned military testing site, now a nature reserve overlooking the North Sea. 

The Edge of What is a 25-min Artangel film that captures a portrait of Holley on the Ness amidst his immersion into the surrounding site’s disruptions and tides of weather and warfare. The film was produced by Artangel and is free to stream across our viewing platforms.

A special live performance of Lonnie Holley at London’s Stone Nest – a collaboration between London-based gallery Edel Assanti and Artangel – featured his new music and took place for one night only, on Saturday 14 May 2022. 


Video: Lonnie Holley performing on Orford Ness, from The Edge of What (2022). This video is also available to watch as part of a playlist on Vimeo and YouTube.

Watch: The Edge of What

Running Time: 25 minutes
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Watch The Edge of What online

The Edge of What is a short film that captures the US-based artist and musician Lonnie Holley's immersion into Orford Ness, Suffolk, through a series of five new songs improvised in response to the site, and performed on the windy shingle's various derelict buildings.

Streaming online now for free.

Video: Still from Lonnie Holley performing on Orford Ness, from The Edge of What (2022). 

About Lonnie Holley

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Lonnie Holley

Lonnie Holley is an artist, musician, filmmaker and educator. Born in 1950 as the seventh of twenty-seven children he grew up in Birmingham, Alabama, and is now based in Atlanta. 

In 1979, Holley made his first sandstone carvings to mark the graves of family members killed in a house fire. He continued making sculptural forms from the same material as well as assemblages of found objects including umbrellas, wire, pipe, old cameras, crosses, driftwood and animal skulls. The sculptures numbered in the hundreds, spreading over the hill where Holley lived, next to Birmingham airport and into the woods, taking over neighbouring gardens and abandoned lots, which he later titled ‘the environment’.

Holley’s life and work is an improvisational practice manifested through drawing, painting, filmmaking, photography, performance and sound. His sculptures combine found materials with narratives that commemorate people, places and events and are displayed in museums across the US while his music is similarly born out of the sculptural layering of sound and language improvised and shaped in real time. Holley never performs the same song twice.

Image: Lonnie Holley at Orford Ness. Still from The Edge of What (2022).


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The self-taught singer and sculptor from Alabama exists in a state of constant, spontaneous creativity. – Sean O’Hagan, The Observer

Selected Press

When he tells me his work is honouring “the ones that went before”, he is not only talking about the courage of the black civil rights leaders he holds in awe, but the resilience and determination of his parents and grandparents, whose physical labour is echoed in his work. – Sean O’Hagan, The Observer, 1 May 2022

In his songs, sung in Holley’s bluesy tone with an elegiac vibrato, the words flow from him with few pauses and no stumbles, a remarkable feat given that they’re improvised. “It's just about grabbing information, and then going into the gravity of information. Because if we don't use information, it sinks deeper and deeper within us, but it never goes anywhere.” He calls it “the ocean of thought”, a “never-ending depth of information” that he calls on. – Ben Luke, The Art Newspaper, 9 May 2022

After a turbulent youth, Holley started making sand sculptures in his late 20’s, and in time began working with found objects and painting. His found mediums are imbued with cultural and artistic metaphor, combined into sculptures that commemorate and give narrative to places, people and events. References to the artist’s own childhood in the pre-Civil-Rights-era South are made pervasive through his process of material regeneration. –Something Curated, 9 May 2022


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At Artangel, we are always keen to find out what our audiences think of the work we commission, artists we work with and events, exhibitions or experiences we put on. The insight gathered through our surveys allows us to learn how we can adapt the format or subject matter of future projects – ensuring our continued relevancy and enjoyment for the communities we serve. Your honest feedback is invaluable to us as an organisation.

This short survey is about your viewing experience of Lonnie Holley, live in concert or through his short film The Edge of What (2022). It should only take you 5 minutes to complete.

Take the survey

Image: Still from Lonnie Holley, The Edge of What (2022).


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Who made this possible?


The Edge of What is commissioned and produced by Artangel.

Lonnie Holley's live performance is presented in collaboration between Artangel and Edel Assanti. With special thanks to Stone Nest

Artangel is generously supported using public funding by Arts Council England, and by the private patronage of The Artangel International Circle, Special Angels, Guardian Angels and The Company of Angels.