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Phlegm’s Pandemic Diary: Enigmatic, Unusual and Affecting Art From One of Sheffield's Favourite Adopted Sons

One of the more unusual exhibitions that’s currently running in Sheffield is Phlegm’s Pandemic Diary, which opened earlier this year at the Millennium Gallery. It was displayed previously in Graves Gallery in January 2022, but this time it’s bigger and contains more items (more of which later!)


Phlegm’s Pandemic Diary is a collection of 67 postcard-sized pen and ink drawings (and one copper engraving) that chronicles his response to the 2020 covid-19 lockdown. They cover everything from finally sorting out the attic out to learning DIY, panic buying toilet rolls, excessive hand-washing, creative approaches to social distancing, and the perils of online shopping. Then there are the darker drawings too covering loneliness, temporary mortuaries, and bus drivers dying from covid. Some of the drawings are really funny, others really sad, but all of them will make you think (and some will make you angry…)


Phlegm explained to us how he started doing the drawings as something to keep occupied and sane during lockdown, but then halfway through Sheffield Museums bought the lot so then he had to gather them all up from where they’d been scattered and make sure they were properly preserved! The money was also really useful in a period where artists obviously couldn’t go outside and paint as they normally would. Phlegm also explained how it’s his first work to include his family in it “although obviously the figures don’t look anything like them!” You’ll know what he means when you see the exhibition!


It’s such a beautiful, scary, and thought-provoking collection. My only criticism of the exhibition is that there are no captions on the wall by the pictures, so make sure you pick up a printed guide at the entrance of the exhibition to tell you what the captions are as I think they are essential (for example number 19: “People not distancing. Only two miles away on the same stretch of land a temporary mortuary is being built to store the hundreds dying each day”).


As well as the Pandemic Diary, the exhibition also contains some of Phlegm’s smaller sculptures that were originally on display as part of his Mausoleum of the Giants exhibition in 2019 at the Eyewitness Works which was both hugely popular and unforgettable! The new exhibition contains seven items from that exhibition: a multiple building shrine, a bird head shrine, and five bird head domes. These were created from wood, chicken wire and papier-mâché, but are very striking.


To go with the new exhibition, Phlegm has produced a beautiful limited edition postcard book of all 67 of the Pandemic Diary artworks. It’s currently only available at the Millennium Gallery, while stocks last. Phlegm also produced 50 limited edition prints of the final image in the Pandemic Diary (the copper-engraved print) which were sold exclusively at the Millennium Gallery at the end of January. Unsurprisingly they sold out in minutes, such is the high demand for Phlegm’s work these days!


Phlegm’s Pandemic Diary is on display until 7th July 2024. The Millennium Gallery is open 10-5pm Tuesday-Saturday, and 11-4pm on Sundays (it’s closed on Mondays).


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