Monday, 5 January 2015

Looking out and about

Being a selected New Opportunities Award artist for the New Expressions programme has been great. Given the national spread of the programme, I could have felt quite disconnected, especially as Bridport is in itself relatively isolated, and beyond the rail network. But the managing team addressed the geographical issue and clearly made it a priority to support participants to meet, network and share experiences with each other, with organisations, and with the public. I know that the original brains behind the programme all live in the south west region, and travel extensively to keep the ever growing beasty on track. So it's really helpful to have their understanding of the costs and challenges of travel filtering into how I can make the most of the NOA. It takes me a couple of hours to arrive in Bristol, via car and train. I'd love to leave the car behind but its just not practical when the nearest rail station is 25 minutes drive away. So I was up with the early birds last June for the first New Expressions meeting, but nowhere near as early as delegates from the north of England. Respect to them. Our hosts at Bristol Museum & Art Gallery were warmly hospitable, and Susie's discipline of the three minute presentation bell was very entertaining, even if it did make the heart pump a little faster. Hearing ideas, interests and the creative drive behind them was a joy, and although I probably won't get to experience all the other commissions first hand, I'd really like to, and will where possible. So I felt informed and networked from the off, and the inspiration continued, broadened and deepened during our supported visit to the Folkestone Triennial last October. The visual arts triennial has been funded in Folkestone, by a private patron, as an instrument of community regeneration. This focus means any artist commissioned via the main programme, or via the sister fringe festival, has to engage with the communities directly, transparently and robustly. The, vital, team behind the delivery are knowledgable enough to be confident in their selection of ambitious and surprising artists who have brought amazing and thoughtful ideas to fruition in a variety of locations. Local people were employed in 2014 to steward the large public works, and those in disused shops. Their knowledge and interest in discussing the artist's ideas, really enhanced my conversations and depth of experience as a visitor. In my curatorial work and projects with young people over the past ten years I've banged on and on about having some dialogue with gallery visitors, partially as an intervention on the alienating potential of 'artspeak'but mostly as a way to enjoy a human connection. Gallery visitors can be quite vehement in their opinions, particularly when an exhibition does not appeal, but if stewards have been trained to a professional standard they don't tend to take strongly expressed opinions too personally, and can add information which sometimes changes minds. We were encouraged to talk to curators, each other, members of the Contemporary Art Society and the public. So I did. In fact, I missed a great visit to Wilkos because I was discussing art with a local young family. Folkestone is witnessing the reality of people risking their lives and liberty to arrive in this country via the English Channel, and the theme of 'Lookout' encapsulated the historic, present and ongoing need to look at things from different perspectives. I challenged myself by going up in a lift that gave me a superb view of Folkestone and its salty horizon. The lift was powered by a wind turbine and neighboured a sheltered housing complex. As part of the commission, the elderly residents gained some CCTV and their landlord repainted the building. A modest but meaningful and very tangible step towards regeneration that didn't compromise the artist's concept or ambition. I like a bit of win/win, and I loved the fact that neighbours of all ages queud up with us to ride the lift, even the schoolboy who counted out every metre we rose up, as my fingers gripped tighter and whiter. Have a Lookout for yourself... I probably won't write again for a while as I'll be out in Bridport with the Knot Booth, gathering people's knots, and then using them in the commission which will be launched at Bridport Museum at the second Ropewalk Fair 10 May this year. Come and say hello if you're in the area...or drop in on another New Expressions commission and tell me all about it...

Thursday, 27 November 2014

Visual Arts South West Annual General Meeting 2014

I've had some great support from Visual Arts South West over the past couple of years, and today I had the pleasure of saying thanks, and talking for five minutes about what I've been with the support over the past twelve months: Attended a Reith lecture by Grayson Perry. Wrote about it on an application and was selected for the wonderful Critical Writing for the Visual Arts residential course at Arvon in Devon where I met a great bunch of creative people, who could write, laugh and cook like rascals. I was selected for the AA2A at University of Central Lancashire and I'll install my work, inspired by being at the University, and by the Al Mutannabbi Street project, next week. It will be exhibited 3 - 19 December. I was awarded the New Opportunities Award commission which has supported me to be mentored by artist Lyndall Phelps, and attend the Folkestone Triennial. I'll leave you to decide which image goes with which project... (except Lyndall's excellent work for the London Canal Museum is the hanging piece made of circular structures I've had to leave one image out as its copyright lies with Bridport Museum, but it will be shown in May 2015 at Bridport Museum.

Wednesday, 17 September 2014

Radio is a sound salvation

Today's blog is in oral form.

First it's Tara, my sometime collaborator, and me, being interviewed by the fabulous Angie. Some of best friends are antipodean.

and for some context regarding the Sanctuary Collection and Bridport Museum, here's Emily Hicks, Curator of Bridport Museum 

Bridport FM is an annual part of the town's cultural life, feel free to listen to lots of the programmes to get an idea of how an active, interested community that thrives beyond the reach of motorways and train stations does its thing.

Thursday, 11 September 2014

Matthew Collings

These programmes are very exciting on many levels. I love the balance in production, content and presentation.

I also remember Matthew Collings launching a new studio environment for artists with the optimistic thought that it would be fine once there was some paint on the floors…

He's was champion that evening and he still is.


Friday, 5 September 2014

'Cause unity is powerful…' The Jam.

It’s been a busy week and I can’t stop.

I suspect all blogs go the same way. The momentum of the task in hand overtakes the times to sit, reflect and write anything of interest. But I’ll give it a go in the time I have before I leave the house and drive to a place to do a thing before I drive back to meet and update curator Emily.

Luckily for me Lyndall Phelps is, officially, my mentor for the NOA commission, and unofficially one of my great friends whose practice has recently developed beautifully into...

which all makes the best sense when you look through

In the land of making, a critical friend is a wonderful asset. An artist whose knowledge, skills, experience and opinion are all greatly respected and valued, is the best person to share a couple of Sunday morning telephone hours discussing art/life and materials.

So my week began with conversations about fabricators, rigidity, cord, string, rope, sites and paints and has rolled on through experiments, play, tests, revisions and more exploration. Lyndall is amazingly generous with her knowledge, time, contacts and wit. I’m a lucky rascal.

Now it’s Friday and I find myself with a four panel screen frame which seemed to be waiting for me in a local second hand shop. It was definitely one of the fastest purchases I’ve ever made. You can see its current, dishevelled state on Twitter, @BridportKnots.

I’ve stripped the frame down ready to make it marvellous, attractive and inviting enough for any game bird to come and have a go at contributing a knot for Bridport Knots. All the knots made and donated will appear in the final work to be exhibited in the heart of Bridport next year.

I hope you’ll come and tie the knot with me in Bridport soon. And while I’m talking about people getting involved in making art, did you catch this? ...

1. BBC Front Row
Artist Michael Sailstorfer on his interactive work at the Folkestone Triennial, 7 minute interview

...I’m glad I stopped, it’s been fun.

Saturday, 30 August 2014

Father Ted would just tell you they're big and close by.

Hours and hours in the Duveen Galleries. Hours and years from the age of thirteen, walking around soaking up the materials, skills, stories and execution of artists' ideas through the ages. For most of those years the works exhibited were only as human-sized as me. Animate and inanimate, we all rattled around together, mute and humbled, hanging in the vast universe that was the Tate Gallery.

Of course Henry Moore's rounded and grounded figures stood as comparative giants, but even if they'd yearned, and reached, for the stars, their arms wouldn't have bothered anything like the ceiling. Despite their substantial presence and cool, comforting polish, the most prolific element in the building was still air. The Tate Gallery was stiff with air, stuffed with air. Art had its work cut out trying to compete with the monumental, hanging, space.

Henry Moore said 'Monumentality doesn't have to do with scale, its the vision behind the work'. The vision behind air is undeniably monumental, given its integral part in our lives, but nevertheless I have been incredibly inspired by its diminishing presence in the Duveens over the past five years. 

Eva Rothschild began the encroachment with 26 triangles of aluminium tubing which brushed the height of the stone walls, and nodded at an ambition to venture beyond. Fiona Banner fulfilled that ambition by suspending from the ceiling, a whole Harrier fighter plane, and reclining a highly polished, Jaguar aircraft on its back as though it had just skidded through the door. I spent ages looking up and down in wonderment at the installation of Banner's works, much as I many years before in front of a big fairground wheel. 

Martin Creed thinks its good to look at museums at high speed because it leaves time for other things. I agree with him, I don't expect to be stopped in my tracks often, but on the occasions when my jaw drops and my breath is taken away, it makes me grin and feel excited.

This summer Phyllida Barlow's 'dock' in the Duveen, and 'Gig' at Hauser & Wirth, Somerset, provoked my wonder and delight. It made me feel generally mischievous, and specifically like I was playing chicken by standing directly under enormous, precarious structures which could fall on me at any moment. If you've ever reached up to pull a half forgotten item off an overstuffed high shelf you'll know the feeling. 

Barlow's managed to displace a lot of air in the reverential Tate Britain, and connect to my senses and memories by turning carpentry inside out, and rolling a nostalgic wheel of Monet colour over my brain. For me, the artist has achieved a monumental vision with monumental forms, and she knows what she's talking about: 'Things aren't just visual. They are sensations of physicality'. 

Tuesday, 26 August 2014


And twenty-three boxes later I was increasingly amazed at the stamina and output of past generations, the dedication Mr Sanctuary showed to conserving the many and the various facets of the industry, and to the fact that this ongoing rock of Bridport’s employment and production had barely shown its modest ankle to the public over the preceding five years.

I’d been to Bridport Museum often enough to know the town’s historic wealth was built on turning hemp into rope and flax into netting, and I was, until recently, under the very common misapprehension that the long, narrow gardens came about because of the outworkers’ rope and net making work, rather than the more historically accurate facts of the burgage system.

However, I'd had almost no knowledge of what went on in Bridport’s contemporary rope and net industry, beyond the odd, mysterious job advert in the local paper, a fellow gigrower journeying to fit a net into a plane, and discreet talk about defence industry contracts. Clearly it has a mighty form connected to that demure ankle.

For me, the donation of the Sanctuary Collection to the Museum seems to be a marker of Bridport’s past and present uniting, and over my weeks of research it’s become dazzlingly, glaringly, gloriously and scarily clear that what I have the chance to do, is grasp the moment, and the modest budget, to celebrate the skilled work of each and every one of our named and un-named knot makers. But what exactly is involved? It was time to roll the sleeves and attempt at least a knot or two myself.

The word on the street, after Bridport’s unbelievably inaugural and successful 2014 Ropewalk Fair, was that Dee was the person to track down for expert tuition. So I did, quite swiftly. Bridport’s population is around the thirteen thousand figure, and there is no train station. Given this context, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that I’d known Dee in another capacity ever since I moved here. And now, yet another of her superpowers had been revealed.

If anyone could teach me how to make netting Dee could, and luckily for me she would. On a sunbleached, Saturday afternoon standing outside the History Centre with our twine tied onto the park railings. Traditional, and a very public challenge for a shy knotting newbie whose fingers were revealed as too slender and tapering for robust knot making. To be fair though, I've always aspired to be an Aye-Aye. 

Naturally a passing policeman turned out to be an ex-netmaker, keen to chat and observe the newbie losing a wrestling bout to over-twiddling twine. I believe that’s a technical term. Antique, natural fibre. Vintage some might say. An eccentrically over-twiddling material I’d say.

I can still sense my old BA sculpture tutor smiling wryly and walking slowly into critical analysis position. Ideas and materials indeed Douglas. Ideas and materials.

ps. 23 is nowhere near the total number of boxes.