By Jack Deacon
In June 2011 Matthew Miller, an understated but influential figure in the Brighton art scene, suddenly died of a heart attack at the age of 50. He leaves behind a legacy that will long live on.
Born and bred in Harlow, Essex, Miller had a long-standing obsession for thwarted utopias – an obsession he eventually expressed at Fabrica, now a star of Brighton and Hove’s cultural scene. Fabrica has been described as “the best gallery you’ve never heard of” and has participated in several community projects in the city.
Along with Liz Whitehead and members of the Red Herring collective, he brought the Fabrica gallery into existence in 1996. The gallery has, over the last 15 years, won plaudits through its support of artists emerging from all over Europe, and has functioned in a discreet and meticulous manner. That’s not to say it hasn’t showcased the work of established artists, though – internationally renowned artists such as Bill Voila have had their work exhibited at Fabrica, and Janet Cardiff’s Forty-Part Motet exhibition recently attracted nearly 40,000 visitors.
Fabrica is held in such high esteem that The Arts Council decided in March 2011 that they would continue to award the gallery £185,308 a year, forming 40% of Fabrica’s annual income. Miller said on the Fabrica blog at the time: “We are keenly aware that many other organisations, funded partly by the public purse, within and outside the cultural sector, are facing the prospect of losing their funding altogether, or having to work with much less. In this context, we count ourselves very lucky that, for Fabrica, it’s going to be business as usual.” The European Union and Brighton & Hove City Council make up the rest of their funding.
Miller helped established Swiss artist Thomas Hirschhorn curate The Incommensurable Banner as part of the 2008 Brighton Photo Biennial, a piece of work that’s been heralded as a key factor in Hirschhorn’s winning of the 2011 Kurt Schwitters prize. The Guardian said that “the elegance and the sensitivity with which the work was shown owed much to Miller’s slow-burn genius”. The Incommensurable Banner called into question the humanity of the wars in the last decade, and featured photographs of bodies torn apart by modern munitions.
A spokesperson for Fabrica said of Miller: “As well as being a strikingly original artist, Matthew was, for us, an understated but visionary leader, a meticulous project manager and a man totally dedicated to his task. The many artists, arts practitioners and managers with whom we have worked in the South East, elsewhere in this country, and mainland Europe over the past ten years will miss him greatly.”
He is survived by his partner, the arts producer Claire Soper; his siblings, Tim and Gillian; and his parents, Brenda and Brian.