Friday, July 31, 2009

Contents May Vary

Just received news that my piece, 'i miss him, i miss him, i miss him, i just miss him' has been selected for the 3rd edition of Contents May Vary Magazine. This issue is called 'Does the Spectator Run the Show?' and launched at the Pride of Manchester awards last week, at Urbis to over 400 people. The issue has now gone into the main exhibition which goes on until 30th September, on level 3 - if you fancy a look - go on up to Urbis.

I am really pleased, and looking forward to having a gander at the publication, a pile of which will be distributed from the AirSpace Gallery, if you want to get your hands on one.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Marina Abramovic presents at the Whitworth

Last Thursday night some of the AirSpace team headed over to Manchester, as we had been lucky enough to secure tickets for Marina Abramovic Presents. I was particularly excited about this, having loved the performance artist's work since I was around 15 years old. In the car on the way over a discussion took place as to what we were all hoping to gain from the experience. I said that I felt somehow it would have such a big impact on me that it would change my approach to practice forever - this depth of anticipation may have surprised some in the group, whose ambitions were perhaps more realistic - for example one person said they hoped to have their ideas about performance art challenged (having not had much time for the genre previously.) It was good to open this discussion prior to the evening, in order to see what our knowledge and perhaps presumptions might be about the night.
On arrival at the Whitworth you are asked to switch off your mobile phone, take off your coat - swapping it for a lab coat which could be found on a school cloakroom style peg in the foyer. There was a small cup in the pocket of the lab coat, which you were advised not to throw away, as you would need it later.We were all suitably contemplative and expectant as we made our way through to a big hall that was already full of people. People were sitting on small chairs around the room, collected in groups, so we got ourselves a chair each and formed a little circle. Marine Abramovic made her way onto a stage where 4 other attendants were already standing. The first thing she did was to get the entire audience to form orderly lines throughout the hall. She welcomed everyone and gave a bit of a background into how she became an artist, and in particular a performance artist. I enjoyed what she had to say about the ability of performance artists to use anything around them as material for art works - including their own bodies. There followed an amazing session where Abramovic prepared the audience for the night ahead. The preparatory session was based on the fact that in our fast paced world people (and in particular art audiences) are not willing to give art long enough in order to fully read, digest and benefit from the art work. The programme we were about to view, put together by Abramovic, consisted of performance artist's works which all had a durational, time-based element to them. There was therefore need to slightly reprogramme us as an arts audience, encouraging us to become participants in an experiment, where we leave our coats and busyness at the door, and truly engage with these durational art works in the way that the artists involved intended them to be engaged in. The reprogramming consisted of a number of activities which required us to step outside our usual modes of behaviour, first of all a meditative activity (much like the sort of meditation we do in yoga classes) where we had to sit with a small glass of water for 10 minutes, thinking only about the water, exploring the water, and making it last for 10 minutes. I found this went quite quickly, and enjoyed it. Next we had to sit facing a stranger, and look into that stranger's eyes for 5 minutes. This was uncomfortable for me, and I did not enjoy it. This activity was repeated twice more with different strangers each time. I somehow ended up looking into the eyes of a woman each time, and I wasn't sure if I might have preferred to look into a man's eyes, just to see how that was. We did a few more activities of this kind involving screaming, and deliberate walking. The entire process created a strange feeling of contemplation in the audience. I was amazed by how readily people engaged with these requests, taking it very seriously. Some people in the eye contact activity found it impossible not to laugh, which I can understand - laughing is of course a natural reaction when uncomfortable. As we went into the building in order to view the artworks we were all very quiet, and somehow separate from each other - each person seemed on their own individual journey.
The artworks which we saw during the next 3 hours varied in approach - and I will not discuss them all here, just to say that Marina Abramovic had curated the experience for the viewer, and the emptied out Whitworth was the perfect venue for such an amazing and enlightening event. I felt as if I was in a strange nightclub, where around every corner something was going on - there was a naked woman falling endlessly in slow motion down a beautiful flight of stairs, a Raj transforming himself into a nineteenth century gentleman, dusty with the effort of smearing an entire room with charcoal while sipping Earl Grey tea. An Asian bride, newly arrived in the country dragging a sheet of heavy glass around a room like some living coffee table, all the time apologising with the words 'I Love You.' I don't know if my readings of the works were what the artists intended, but I really feel Abramovic's preparation helped me to access the performances; giving them the time they deserved. It was a night to remember, though not fully processed just yet.

Friday, July 17, 2009

Rebirth North Staffordshire Hospital

A Message To My Baby box installed in New Maternity Block - North Staffs Hospital
Wednesday (15th July) evening I headed over to the new Maternity wing at the North Staffs Hospital, to install and launch my project 'A Message To My Baby' - which is part of the ongoing arts initiative Rebirth - which marks the building of the new and demolition of the old Maternity buildings at the hospital. Since the old building was completed in the 60s over a quarter of a million babies have been born at the hospital - which means the building and demolition has an enormous importance to so many families in the area.
Building of the New Hospital Buildings taken from Old Maternity Block
Rose Strang was brought in as arts manager on the hospital's 'Fit for the Future' project. She contacted local art groups (including AirSpace Gallery) to see who might be interested in getting involved in the project. I was keen to get involved, having worked as a carer for a number of years, but not having worked as an artist in a health care setting before. I was also really interested in responding to the old building, during its last few weeks of use. Our involvement at AirSpace was firstly to jointly organise the 'Art for Life' fundraising event that took place at the Leopard in December 2008, (CLICK HERE FOR PREVIOUS BLOG) and then to individually respond to the transition of the old building to the new.
Nurses station Old Maternity Block
I went for a few site visits focusing mainly on one of the higher floors of the old maternity block. These visits involved photographic explorations of the space, which is my usual starting point for any project - to simply visit the site, soak up the sites, sounds and underlying feeling of the place, taking many photographs.
Bathroom Old Maternity Block
Then going away and giving myself time to allow the experience to bed in and digest. This space for reflection is important in the process of responding to the site.
Depot Provera Poster - Old Maternity Block
I may revisit a particular site a number of times, and pore over my photos in between. At first I was really interested in the signs and pictures on the walls of the old block - a cheerful picture of koalas dressed as doctors on one wall, and on another a large information poster on the pill, depot provera.
Wallpaper in the Old Maternity Block
I was interested in the fact that the brown floral wallpaper chosen for the old maternity block would be very far removed from the choices of decor which would undoubtedly be being installed in the new block - public buildings today tend to go for a more minimal and impersonal approach, perhaps because patterns date so quickly, or perhaps there is some other psychological reason for this. On my second visit to the Old block Rose showed me an old store cupboard on the ground floor where the materials and posters from a midwifery display, created in the '60's had been stored.
1960's Midwifery Display - Found in cupboard - Old Maternity Block
The display showed images taken in the early days of the old hospital - showing the daily activities performed by the midwives.
Midwifery Poster - Old Maternity Block
The purpose of the display was to try to encourage more women into the profession. The hand made text posters and photographs were fascinating, and I keenly documented them, with no idea how or if I might be able to use them in some way. Discussions with Rose about the 'Fit for the Future/Art for Life' team's hopes for the art projects within the programme revealed that they were keen to focus on the positive elements of change - and with the project Rebirth they wanted to focus on the future. It is easy when working in a context like this one to focus entirely on the death of a building that has meant so much to so many, the loss is immeasurable, but with the new hospital wards - designed with modern technologies and developments in health care in mind there is real opportunity to focus on the positive aspects. The idea that a quarter of a million babies had been born in the old hospital was one that kept returning to my mind, and it was this which really inspired 'A Message to my Baby.' It struck me that in order to celebrate the future lives passing through, it would be great to capture some of the depth of feeling, hopes and aspirations that new mothers have for their babies shortly after welcoming them to the world.
'A Message To My Baby' consists of a postbox - placed in the waiting area at the New Maternity Hospital: there are postcards on the top of the box, where new Mums are invited to write a 3 line message to their newborns, which will be stored on the project blog, and then delivered in some form in 20 years time. The design of the postcards utilised one of the images discovered in the cupboard from the Old Maternity Block, I liked the idea of using these images, which have a distinct feeling of nostalgia attached to them. Perhaps images of 2009 will look similarly nostalgic in 2029? I also used the brown floral wallpaper taken from the wall of the old block. Feedback given by Midwives on the opening night showed a real enthusiasm for the project, and in particular the idea of picking up on these details (old wallpaper) which had somehow made its way into the new block (even if only on my postcard.)It is not at this stage known how these messages will be delivered - new technologies, perhaps the demise of local newspapers or any other developments will have an impact on this, but it will probably take the form of some sort of exhibition and publication.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Free to a Good Home

As mentioned in the previous blog, one of my exchanges at ANTIFREEZE was with an artist called Bryony Moore. Bryony's project - Free to a Good Home found the artist scouring the pages of GUMTREE looking for postings about pets, whose owners do not want them any more. The artist was interested in the trusting way the animals looked in the photographed, not knowing their sad fate. She then framed the photos for ANTIFREEZE in order to rehome these unlucky pets. During time of recession it is the weakest that suffer, and in particular the pets. Pets who trust their loving owners to look after them during good times and bad. It is sad. Anyway, one of these unlucky dogs has now been rehomed on my living room wall. Bryony has asked that each person at ANTIFREEZE who rehomed a pet send in the picture of the pet in situ in its new home, which she will put up on her blog. Click here to go to Bryony's blog.
Also on the wall is the small silver frame swapped with Celine (from her Hanley Boot Fair project) and underneath that one is Jane Austen's hair (in the small round frame) from the antiques stall at ANTIFREEZE.

Saturday, July 11, 2009


So last Saturday, 4th July we all headed over to Manchester's Chips Building to set up our AirSpace gazebo. We arrived around 11, and there were already a lot of people there with their stalls set up - I later discovered that some people had arrived as early as 8am to set up their stalls. Our gazebo was the only octagonal one but it only took us about 15 minutes to put it up. We had to choose a spot in between a few puddles, as it had been raining quite a bit. Our pitch consisted of a number of tables, displaying each persons response to the Stoke-on-Trent boot fair. We brought along this box of Free Willies, which were left over from the AirTrade art auction in order to encourage people in to visit our stall. We had all approached the project in different ways, and the results were interestingly varied. Kate Lynch had visited and collected paper based materials - and from these had made some limited edition cards and sketchbooks, as well as some beautiful wall hangings. Brian Holdcroft had made some sculptural pieces which explored the idea of value - his base materials consisted of toy cars, mirrors and old shoes. Celine Siani Djiakoua carried out a photographic project, where she visited the fair with her camera, which she held in her hand and snapped images without looking through the viewfinder, as she went around the fair she purchased frames which would later be used to show the images gathered. The resulting images had strangely compelling compositions, considering the nature of their construction. Click here to go to Celine's blog and see documentation of the project. David Bethell had bought a series of very English objects and ornaments, and then used these as materials for his assemblages, turning the quaint English ornament into urban objets d'arts. Katie Shipley had purchased a book about quilting, and then created a quilted sculpture from its pages, as well as some stitched souvenirs. Bernard Charnley and I had created the 'Cheap Talk' cd described in the previous blogpost. Bernard separated the sound piece into tracks for each object bought, and then we made one cd per object to give away. Bernard used his objects to create 6 limited edition framed art works, he was interested in exploring the idea that a cheap items status may be elevated once the artists hand has got involved. I ended up with 14 items from the boot fair to work with. I decided to transcribe the conversations that occurred in order to buy the item, and then use the transcript within a certificate of authenticity. I had also acquired the fruit box and ribbons from the boot fair in order to create a sort of mobile boot fair stall (based on the old ice cream sellers trays from the cinema) this mobility allowed me to visit other stalls at ANTIFREEZE, and attempt to exchange my cheap items for works of art from other artist's groups. I was not too sure how well it would go down, but was determined to use my piece as a networking tool, and a way of making connections with other artists at the fair.
My first exchange was with Celine, which was cheating slightly since we already knew each other, but it was nice to exchange our responses anyway. Celine chose the hands and lizard item, and I selected one of her frames, a lovely little silver one, with a black and white image inside it. The first exchange I made outside of our pitch was with Alice Bradshaw, I explained my project, which was actually quite difficult, because my mobile boot fair had speakers attached to it, with the sound recording from Hanley Boot Fair - this added to the ambience of my mobile boot fair, but meant I had to speak quite loudly. Alice was interested in exchange,and asked an interesting question - which of your items are worth more than a fiver? I said well, they all are really, even though they were bought for pence, I have made them into a work of art by including the dialogue which took place to acquire the object, and you get the limited edition cd. Alice seemed quite happy with that and exchanged the abacus for a fiver.But being ANTIFREEZE it was no ordinary fiver - this fiver had been entirely holepunched, and came in tiny circles. I managed to persuade the moody shop assistant on the Cargos stand to swap the expensive cat for an Alice in Wonderland book, I was really pleased with this swap because for one thing I have wanted the book for a while, but also I really shared the ethos of the Cargos idea. Cargos was a stall set up much like the high street catalogue shop we all know and loathe. You could browse through their crapalogue, and if there was an item that you were interested in you could have a look at it, and then perhaps purchase (or swap) for it. All of the items were boxed up in the boot of the car.I swapped an animaniacs toy for a lock of Jane Austen's hair, from the Antiques stall, which was run by 3 beautiful antiques experts (one of which was actually Elena Cassidy-Smith - who was a selected artist in WLTM). Other swaps included the poncho for The New Curiosity Shop's WW2 Coconut Hero, the metal pipette for a 'Free to a Good Home' framed photo of a dog - which was swapped under the proviso that I rehome the dog in my house, and send in a photo to the artist Bryony Moore, in order for her to document it on her blog. In the end I swapped all 14 of my items for works of art from other people's stalls, had a lot of fun meeting people and seeing what they were up to. I would like to do more work with the mobile tray - and am thinking of other ways to use it.