Friday, June 13, 2008

WLTM - Submissions Now Open!

Submissions are now open for WLTM - the dating agency for art works.
WLTM is the two month curatorial residency that I am embarking on for July and August, at Harrington Mill Studios, Long Eaton.
Application details are as follows.

WHO: all UK artists.
WHAT: submissions invited for WLTM exhibition at HMS – Long Eaton – a dating agency for works of art. The selection process is entirely objective - utilising statistical dating agency pairing methods to find the perfect partner for each work of art. The piece of work submitted should be representative of your practice to date and should be seen as a good stand in for you as an artist. Successful artists need to be able to attend the preview. Please be advised that there is no budget for the exhibition, so artists will need to cover their own transport/postal costs. All application material will be exhibited at the exhibition.
WHERE: Harrington Mills Studios, Long Eaton.
WHEN: August
COST: Postal costs to and from HMS/transport if applicable.
BENEFITS: Exhibiting and networking opportunity, publicity.
TO APPLY: Please email Anna Francis – for dating agency questionnaire and application details:

Deadline: Monday July 7th, 2008.

WLTM is a curatorial investigation into a new way of selecting and exhibiting art works which removes the personal, subjective thoughts and feelings of the Curator, using statistical data alone to select and pair works of art for an exhibition. WLTM ensures that every artist that submits an application has an equal chance of being selected, regardless of previous experience, c.v. or relationship to the curator.

A Blog to document the project has been set up at

Thursday, June 12, 2008

a little bit of what you fancy...

It's a funny thing really that some people believe that artists are whimsical types who do a bit of painting here and a bit of drawing there, and have a thoroughly easy time of it, doing whatever they feel like. The truth is of course wholly different. Most of the artists and creative people that I know are among the hardest working, most driven people about - and often juggle full-time jobs alongside their various projects and art practices. This is of course, on the whole, rewarding - but can also at times be exhausting, thankless work. For this reason it is often useful to remind ourselves why we do it, and remember to enjoy it.
Inside the Fernery at Tatton.
It was with this in mind that a group of us (namely the AirSpace Team and some of the Axis Festival team) decided to reward ourselves for all of our hard work by having a day out at Tatton Park, who are celebrating their first ever Biennial this year.
They have commissioned 6 mid career artists to create sited works within the Gardens, as well as 12 emerging artists commissions, many of which have some sort of participatory or evolutionary element.
The result of a poetry workshop within the grounds.
On entrance to the gardens you are provided with a map showing whereabouts the various artworks can be found. We found it to be a bit like art orienteering. Having never visited the gardens before I have to say that for me the most enjoyable part was not finding the art, but wandering about in the garden itself. That said there were some delights to be found on the way.
Phil and Colin looking at one of Davis Cotterell's various pieces, and a clue that Phil found on the way.
At various points around the Garden we came across David Cotterell's site specific interventions. These pieces offered alternate realities for the space in which they were situated. The pieces reference Humphrey Repton's 1791 Red Book for Tatton Park. Repton was commissioned to come up with plans for the grounds of the Park to make them seem grander, accentuating nature, but hiding the 'interference of art.' Some of the interventions were more successful in their placement than others, and with this particular piece Cotterell had not adhered to one of Repton's main principles: 'It must studiously conceal every interference of art. However expensive by which the natural scenery is improved; making the whole appear the production of nature only.' - We could clearly see the wires holding the view up.
The piece that I enjoyed most was Heather and Ivan Morison's 'escape vehicle' - a wooden structure based on the failed Utopian idea of geodesic dome-shaped houses. The house was made of annually felled wood from the Park. Inside there was a lady tending to a wood burning stove with a kettle on it. She was dressed in an old-fashioned outfit, with a pinny. She gestured to us to take a seat at one of the wooden benches, and showed us the hibiscus tea. She didn't speak to us in words, but she gestured that she would like to offer us a cup of tea, which we gratefully accepted. We sat at the table and discussed how we would go about building a similar structure in Phil's garden, how businessmen in Scandinavia hold business meetings in the sauna so that they are all on an equal footing (being naked), and why the Morisons' piece might be called 'I'm so sorry, Goodbye.'
As we came to leave the lady said, Goodbye.
Sara and Bernard inside the geodesic house.
After the trail around the garden, we went across to one of the wooded areas of the park, to have a barbecue.
Vege kebabs, sausages and blueberry donuts consumed we spent some energy on Extreme AirFrisbee.
AirSpace members Katie and Bernard demonstrate that artists can be athletes too.
The day offered a much needed chance to relax and unwind in the sun, look at a bit of art, eat some lovely food and generally enjoy a Sunday out.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Open Spaces, Open Places - Northampton

OSOP, now in their 9th year, describe themselves as 'a professional arts organisation working in Northampton and the county. It commissions artists to make new works and offers people the chance to see and experience art outside the traditional gallery space.'
Greyfriars Bus Station, Northampton: Nominated as one of the top 12 buildings that the public wished to see demolished in Channel 4's Demolition series, 2005.
On Saturday, 7th June, Dave Bethell (AirSpace) and I took a train to Northampton to take part in their 'Walkie Talkie' - a tour which would take in the four newly commissioned art pieces for Northampton's Greyfriar's Bus station - ending at the wonderful Fishmarket for a look at Louise Clarke's site-specific piece 'Show me Your Garden and I Shall Tell You What You Are' and a discussion of the process that the commissioned artist's have been engaged with on OSOP .
For some reason (degree show the night before? Red wine?) I was fairly bleary eyed first thing Saturday morning, and managed to forget my camera. The tour started at the Greyfriar's cafe with complimentary tea and toast. The cafe is a traditional greasy spoon - and I was pleased to see they were selling throw-away cameras - so I bought one for only £2.50 - later realising that it went out of date in 2006. It was an interesting experience to suddenly have to adhere to only 27 exposures - with no immediate viewing facility - and made me realise how addicted to digital I am. Now that the photos are back from the developers I think the quality will provide an incentive for remembering my camera in future!
Curator Trevor Pitt, who lead the walk, was brought in by OSOP to oversee the completion of the project, working with the artists and facilitating the realisation of their creative approaches to the Bus station. The walkie talkie took us out of the bus station and round to the subway entrance below in order to view the deterioration of the building - Trevor described it as 'the building eating itself' - as the concrete and metal are slowly corrupting and disintegrating.
Jonathan Velardi's 'Waste'.
We then worked our way around to the sites of the four interventions by the commissioned artists, who had taken various approaches - Jonathan Velardi's wallpaper and 'Waste' - a bin upholstered in gold fabric worked with the existing fixtures of the bus station - decorating the space in order to comment on the Bus Station's reputation as an eyesore.
Rich White talking about 'Survivalist.'
Rich White built a wooden structure which commented on the threat of demolition that the building faces. There was an organic quality to the piece, as if the building were alive, and had grown itself a sort of scaffolding structure to hold itself up - there is something very touching about this idea of this great unwieldy building trying to protect itself.
Michael Shaw's 'The Chameleon Breathes.'
Michael Shaw discussed the difficulties of working with a building like Greyfriars. Shaw had wanted to install his breathing sculpture 'The Chameleon Breathes' in the Bus station - but found this to be impossible, due to the unstable electrics - which mean that nothing extra can be plugged in and powered, for fear of blowing out the electrics to the entire building completely. Shaw instead installed the piece in the shopping centre next to the bus station. When asked if he found this sort of compromise difficult to work with, he said that this is the nature of working as a site specific artist - You work with what is there, you make allowances, you adapt.
Lisa Berry - recipient of the Northampton University OSOP Bursary.
The final commission, was a photographic record of a participatory project by the recipient of the University of Northampton's student bursary, Lisa Berry (and the only female among the commissioned artists). Lisa's piece tapped into the transient nature of the space - the bus station is not a destination in itself, but rather a space that people move through to get somewhere else - a non-place. Lisa worked with the public as they moved through the space, asking them to plot out their journey, using wool and ribbon in order to allow their movement to leave a trace. The 'traces' were then photographed and displayed within the bus station.
We then moved on to Northampton's Fishmarket - now an exciting art venue, set up eighteen months ago by Northampton's Art Collective.
The Northampton Art collective are an independently run - not-for-profit arts organisation, committed to 'enriching people's lives through the arts.' They set up the Fishmarket as an art space 18 months ago. The Fishmarket houses two dedicated gallery spaces, a number of independent retail spaces - some of which have a dual function as workspaces/studios for designers, as well as shopfronts for the artists to sell directly to the public. There is a fantastic cafe - selling yummy food, and an outside garden space. This multi-use space looks like a really fantastic example of artists improving the cultural offering in a town in a sustainable and accessible way. Our discussion happened in the middle of the main space, and so we had a perfect vantage point to see who uses/visits the space on a Saturday afternoon.
Reaching the public - OSOP awareness raising collaborative project.
It felt to me that the diversity of the shops, and the reasonable but desirable cafe has meant that a more varied range of the people are visiting the Fishmarket. In conversation with some of the artists that helped to set up the space, they said it had been a struggle to encourage local people to use the space - but that this seemed to be turning around now. They felt that this was partly due to the cafe's effect - saying that traditionally, the Fishmarket cafe had been a destination for courting couple's and that people were citing this as a reason for visiting, but that also having a good independent cafe in the town was a real draw for people. It may be that people are not visiting the Fishmarket for the primary reason of looking at the art on show, but instead to visit the shops and cafe, but even if the secondary effect is that they end up looking at, enjoying and perhaps even participating in the arts, then I would say that the Northampton Arts Collective are achieving their aims.
This was perhaps in the forefront of the collectives' minds when they selected Louise Clark for their first site-specific commission for the Fishmarket.
Louise described the process of working in the large Fishmarket gallery, with people wandering in throughout the process.
At first, when the space was relatively empty, the public would come in and remain at the edges, but as Louise started to set out her collections of household objects, drawings, and matchsticks, people started to come into the space and engage with the artist - asking questions, offering up thoughts and anecdotes about their own connections and feelings about what the artist was doing in the space. Louise described one particularly touching encounter; one lady came in and donated her entire button collection to the project. The work grew intuitively within the space, and could be seen as a collaboration between the artist and the people of Northampton.
I really felt that the Fishmarket project could be seen as an example of really good practice in setting up an art space in a town or city. The Northampton arts collective have really embraced the need to make the project accessible and inclusive for the public, engaging a wider range of people - which encourages the people for the place to take ownership of the project, which should ensure its survival.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Day Trip To Margate

Margate Harbour Arm - Turner Contemporary will be built to the right.
On Friday, 30th May, Mum and I went on a daytrip to the good old British seaside - MARGATE.
Our plan was to have a lovely day out by the sea while carrying out a bit of a review of the art boom that is happening in the town - spurred on by Turner Contemporary, who of course need to ensure a healthy artistic and cultural presence in the town prior to the opening of the new Turner Contemporary Gallery.

We had been invited by Artist and Curator Pat Wilson to visit the Substation - run by Limboarts. Limboarts describe themselves as 'an informal grouping of artists who negotiated the use of the disused electric-substation off Margate High Street, to create an artist-led gallery/project space and studios, both as a resource for local artists and to bring artists from outside Thanet to the area.'
When we arrived the artists were busy putting the finishing touches to the 'Dreamcoaster' exhibition which featured a replica of the 88 year old Grade II listed Scenic Railway - Britain's first listed roller coaster, and one of Dreamland Fun Park's major attractions, which was recently seriously damaged by a mysterious fire...
The participatory Dreamcoaster project and exhibition was set up to raise awareness of the 'Save Dreamland Campaign'. It has been said that the owners of the once great attraction hope to develop the park into luxury flats - whereas, many of the members of the campaign - and other people that visited the park as children, have other ideas.
A bin from Dreamland Fun Park was amongst the memorabilia lent by enthusiasts.
A fantastic plan to turn the park into the worlds' first heritage theme park is being discussed - where visitors will be able to ride the 88 year old roller coaster (if restored), have a go on a genuine 1920's carousel and spend their pennies in the penny arcades. This seems like such a great idea and would capture and celebrate the history of the 'Great British Day Out.' With the opening of Turner Contemporary, a Heritage Fun Park would certainly put Margate back on the map - and could make the Town a daytripper's destination once again. The site of the exhibition is particularly pertinent, as the Substation used to power Dreamland Fun Park.
The Substation innards which used to power Dreamland, now sit outside the gallery space.
Despite being very busy putting the final touches to the show before that evening's talks, Pat Wilson kindly took a break to take us on a tour of the Substation.
The Substation provides studio space for 5 or 6 artists, but Pat underlined a real need in the area for more provision. The space is loaned on a temporary basis and it is really only a matter of time before the developers take an interest. As is the case all over the world the artists have moved into a disused industrial space and brought it back to life - the local area has already begun to regenerate making the building more viable and interesting for the developers - at which point the artists will not be able to afford it - and will have to move on. By that time the art and culture in the area will be well established/and perhaps more 'establishment'. There is a danger, as set out in Malcolm Miles Essay 'Interruptions: Testing the Rhetoric of Culturally Led Urban Development', (introduced to me by the Institute for the Art and Practice of Dissent At Home), that this type of cultural regeneration sees the gentrification of an area - pushing the original locals out. This is precisely why artist led groups like Limbo should be supported, with their ethos to provide points of entry into art for the public through projects like 'Dreamcoaster' which allow space for collaboration and shared thought.

The Dreamcoaster talk, delivered by Nick Evans (author of 'Dreamland Remembered') was an excellent example of an art space operating in an accessible way, for more than just the art community. There were people of all ages and from all backgrounds at the talk. Dreamcoaster really captured the imagination of the people of Margate - and as one of the audience at the talk pointed out - you don't have to be from Margate to feel that dreamland is an important part of your cultural history.

For Mum and I, the Dreamcoaster project had a personal resonance - we had both worked on Margate seafront as teenagers. I worked in the fun park itself and Mum worked in one of the family-run restaurants that dotted the main drag. We wandered around the once familiar town and were shocked to see the number of art spaces that are now operating. The Harbour arm project looks very interesting - providing studio and gallery space from buildings that neither I nor Mum can ever remember seeing in use. The Artistic and cultural regeneration that is undoubtedly underway in the town has not yet made an impact on the evening economy of the city. As the art spaces closed and we waited for the talk (at 7pm), we searched in vain for somewhere in Margate to buy a cup of coffee. There are big plans for Margate, but the town itself has not yet caught up with them.
Our feelings were that to build on Margate's cultural heritage with the historic theme park would create another reason to visit Margate - but would also mean that the place does not become unrecognisable to the people that have always loved the town.

While in Margate we also visited the Turner Contemporary Project Space - more familiar to us in its previous incarnation as Marks and Sparks. The Harbour Arm - which is being transformed by IOTA (Isle of Thanet Arts), Droit House (Turner Outpost) where the latest plans for Turner Contemporary are on display.
At the end of the day we counted the number of art spaces in the town - there were more than ten.