Monday, December 6, 2010

For the NierghtravAOnWint’sIf A Teller Publication

Simon Lewandowski has been in touch to say that there will be a publication to accompany the London project and exhibition. I have made a new text piece for it.
Also here is a bit on my thoughts which will accompany the text piece above - mainly this is taken from the previous post on here:

A Response to Anonymous Collaboration:

Before setting off for the gallery I started reading Gulliver's Travels in case that may help inform my approach - and I also paid close attention to the website to see what each other artist did in the preceding weeks.
I felt that a visual response might be required - which is something I am particularly bad at - associating notions of aesthetic with decoration.
The space looked like it was getting fuller and fuller each week - but I also felt that I would have to wait until I was confronted with the physical space before deciding what I might do, to some extent. I did wish to explore the idea that as artists we are often mistaken for 'window dressers' - and decorators, and in this window space that idea was at the forefront of my mind. I was worried that my response might end up looking like simple prettifying - so decided to directly confront that.

Around the time of the installation two things had been levelled at me which had made me think: one involved a discussion over a commission which a council wished to make for an artist to decorate some new toilets - I felt strongly that artists should not be commissioned to decorate toilets - but rather perhaps to design a concept for the toilets (being involved in the beginning, rather than as an afterthought at the end.)

The second thing that had bothered me was in regards to being described as a social activist - and being asked if I felt my practice in some way responds to a need. This is also something which I feel uncomfortable about - and wish to explore further. I do not wish to appear as some kind of philanthropist – I believe that though art can create important space for conversation, and can at times address important political debates and issues, I am also aware that my practice is ostensibly a selfish one – I do it because I want to do it, and it makes me feel good to be involved and create these discussion spaces – I do not wish to appear to be making any other claims for it.

I was able to incorporate these thoughts into the window piece - the previous week’s artists had used diamante rhinestones and glitter perhaps to make the place look cheerful and sparkly – this for me upholds the idea of making things look nice, and creates the space for conversation around window dressing. I brought similar along with me.

When I arrived at the space I was surprised by the way the window space and everything in it had looked deceptively different in photographs. The other thing that surprised me was my own reaction to the space. I had intended to move everything aside in the space - creating a pile of stuff, effectively getting back to a blank canvas - but once there and confronted with the work of other artists I suddenly felt unable to be so ruthless. I puzzled over what to do for a while, wanting to destroy the big crazy chandelier dominating the space, but instead I hardly moved or touched anything; I decorated what had been there before with glitter spray, rhinestones and bunting- and worked within the gaps that were still remaining - writing a statement on the wall about social activism.

Perhaps in response to this feeling of those that had been before and those that were to come I placed some blank pages on the wall - waiting for the next part of the conversation. I hoped someone might do something with them.

The next week’s artist did what I could not – cleared the space and almost started afresh with all the accumulated materials.

Friday, December 3, 2010

Conjunction '10 Live Art Event

The Conjunction 2010 art biennial for Stoke-on-Trent wound up on Saturday 27th November, after 6 weeks of marvellous art on show, plus a number of artist's talks, workshops and supporting events. This year I had been asked to come aboard the curatorial team. Research and development had been successfully applied for and the group worked with an arts manager to develop ourselves as a group - and think about what our strengths are and also which areas we need to work on. This was very beneficial for me, as it gave me a real sense of what the group was about, but also where I might fit in. As a very busy artist and lecturer I have to be really careful about what I get involved in - especially when it comes to voluntary work (like this). It is important as a volunteer to feel that you are getting as much out of the activity you are supporting as it is getting from you. The development time gave me the opportunity to understand what I wanted to gain from involvement in Conjunction as well as giving me a chance to set out what I had to offer.
It became clear that attention needs to be paid to audience development and evaluation, amongst other things - these are areas which I feel I have experience in, but I did not wish to just look after these two areas - my interests at the moment are in exploring the capabilities of Live Art, and so I wanted to be given a chance to focus on programming a live art element for Conjunction. The closing event on 27th then would be a Live Art Event.
Conjunction as a whole was curated using two strategies. The curatorial team discussed the theme and suggested individual artists who they wished to see involved. These names were bandied about until a list was agreed upon by all. There was also an open call process as well. This was important to all of us - as only sticking to selecting people we know/have heard of could result in Conjunction becoming stale - having an open call allows space for surprises and hidden gems to appear.
Conjunction 2010 had a lot less funding than its 2008 counterpart. In 2008 there was more than £80,000 successfully found from a variety of sources. Due to the group reshuffle, and time spent on development, we were short on time to actually bid for and find money - so the final funding amount was closer to £15,000 - obviously a significant difference. For that reason we decided to programme a variety of events and also select some ready made works (cheaper fee for the artist than new commissions). This means that, though a significant reduction in funding, we hope there was not a corollary reduction in quality.
My main focus was on insuring that there was a healthy live art element in the general program, but I also wanted there to be a specific day dedicated to Live Art, so in addition to the artists already on board we also put out a call for other artists that might wish to come along and get involved.So, on the 27th we got ourselves ready for a Conjunction First - The Live Art Event.
The day kicked off with myself and artist Katie Shipley making our way to the Potteries Museum and Art Gallery, one of the Conjunction venues. Katie works at the Museum and makes the journey from the museum to AirSpace Gallery daily - and yet many of those visiting the Museum to look at the art works there never venture across the road to visit AirSpace. Katie's piece journey would aim to draw attention to her daily journey, and hopefully encourage others to take the trip.On arrival at the Museum guests were requested to sign in (for monitoring purposes) the sheet they were signing was actually artist Carl Gent's petition to twin Stoke-on-Trent with Stephen's Quintet (a star) one of the commissioned works for the program. They would then be given a balloon to tie to themselves.At around 2.10pm we then all set off in single file from the Museum to take Katie's Journey.Everyone filed across the road to AirSpace in a line, it was interesting how solemn everyone was in this strange procession of balloon holders. Once inside the gallery Yoke and Zoom were there ready to give out Real Ale, brought from a brewery down the road from them in Worcester. Their work sought to create a space for convivial conversation - an escape through community and alcohol. The room was soon full of chat and laughter.Suddenly a fire alarm sounded, and everyone was encouraged to make their way out through the side fire escape. This was actually a ruse to move the group on to the next piece, a collaboration between Nathaniel Pitt and Various Artist as part of their Motel Kandinski series - Fire Assembly. Early that morning the artists had come along to lay a red carpet on the fire escape (in the snow - that's dedication!) As the audience filed out of the building there was a hold up - the fire escape had been turned into a waiting area like the type you find outside a high class night club - with a suitably bolshy bouncer allowing the great and the good through, while making the rabble wait. Ben from Juneau Projects was denied access completely, for wearing trainers. And what were we queueing for? We were queuing to get out of the gallery and for the opportunity to stand around shivering in the AirSpace car park, waiting to sign the Motel Kandinski guest book. The premise of this piece involves a confusion of the senses - sound (fire alarm) and smell (smoke pumped into the hallway) - referencing the fact that Kandinski was a synaesthetic and then expectation - the notion of selection introduced and favouritism - I was brought to the front of the queue by the bouncer and given VIP access.
We then made our way around to Dazed (local independent skate shop). They have a gallery space upstairs which artist Emily Candela was using for her piece 'Bleed'. Bleed involved a square of around 3 metres squared being marked out on the ground, and then a four piece punk band being contained inside - and playing a set.The effect of this piece was interesting and uncomfortable. As a viewer I felt uncomfortable - a Saturday afternoon, very little alcohol, an arts audience standing politely around, watching an extremely angry performance. The lead singer struggled to contain himself within the red lines - and reminded me of a caged lion pacing and thrashing about in its cage - pent up energy denied release.
The next stop on the live art tour saw us descent finally into madness. The journey we were taking started in a very respectable civic art space, and then we seemed to step further and further into fantasy.
Artist Adam James had taken over an old hairdressers, filling it with piles of old clothes - creating a fabulously deranged landscape. As we arrived on the street where the space is I was surprised to find the madness leaking out onto the street, and not being contained within the space - in relation to what we had just seen the energy here was oozing out in all directions. Adam James had assembled a troupe of performers, musicians and VJs - creating a world of fallen heroes - gods, now crazed run amok in the old hairdressers. Each god had their name printed on the back of their coat - like boxers. Displayed on the walls were details of each character - telling us about them as gods and then relating them to a more contemporary [fallen?] hero. Each character was wrapped up in their own revelry - occasionally interacting with each other and implicating the audience equally in the excesses. Feeding each other alcohol and ambrosia, screaming, crying, bawling - sometimes one of them would try to take you aside and get you involved in their particular brand of madness. All of this was accompanied by a backdrop pf music making, and digital visuals being beamed onto the walls - a bombardment of the senses was completed by the stench of rotting textiles.At first our happy band of live art revellers seemed to enjoy the experience - laughing at the 'performers' commenting on the repetitive nature of their ramblings. Then everyone was herded upstairs into a small space - where the gods became even more exaggerated in their behaviours - almost egged on by their captive audience. At this stage a number of people left, feeling it was too much. I think we were in the Hairdressers for less than an hour, but time stood still in that time. We were voyeurs in a crazy world, but unable to remain passive - as the performers demanded a reaction. This was the species of vagabond that is found in cities - no social inhibitions remain, they demand attention, food, wine, whatever.
I enjoyed it, but I was glad to leave. We made our way back to AirSpace for the final part of the day, a Juneau Brothers Performance. On the way back, feeling rather affected, we passed a trio of people with a big suitcase. 'Do you want to escape?' They called to us.
How odd I thought - we are escaping already! I started to tell them about the conjunction live art day, and they said 'we know, that's why we're her - we're the fringe!'A selection of postcards was held out for each of us to take - each one had the name of a place on it - I got Fingringhoe. Then they opened the big suitcase and gave you a keyring with the place name on it - and you were asked to draw what you thought the place would look like - based solely on it's name - creating a small space to escape in your mind to that place. Then I had to agree to send back the postcard if I ever get to Fingringhoe...
I was really pleased that this group had turned up to offer escapes - having a Fringe of unsolicited activity for me means that Conjunction is something that people really want to be a part of.
Back at the gallery The Juneau Brothers played us out with gusto.
Using their home made technological instruments they gave us a handful of songs which were amazing in their construction - we were given a special insight into how the instruments sound without Phil's digital intervention. The surprising thing for me is that I am not that keen on electronic music - but this is not just technically amazing - but lyrically beautiful too. The songs are rooted in a folk sensibility - talking about Pottery and Owls - and sounding like heaven.
It was a wonderful end to a really exciting Biennial - and something I am proud to now be a part of.
Since the event there has been some discussion about the works which we saw and experienced. Some found the Adam James piece too much, saying it was frivolous or disrespectful of those with mental illness. One person said - I was expecting it to be about homeless people - not people with mental illness. The truth is that many homeless people do suffer with mental illness - and what I think is very important about the work is that it draws attention to the way that we happily ignore their existence. The other thing it questions is the notion of acceptable behaviour. These gods are cavorting without inhibition - drinking, dancing, flaunting, shamelessly.
To celebrate the end of Conjunction we went out for a few ales, and then to a curry house. The place was full of people enjoying a Saturday night in town, and the group on the table next to us were enjoying themselves more than most, one woman slipped off her mega-high heels and fell flat on her face, laughing as she went. Then her friend began to vomit under the table. And there we have it - the reason why Adam James' performance is truely relevant to us today - holding up a mirror to the ordinary debauched activity going on in our city centres every weekend.
I am not moralising on it - I am sure I do it myself - but I am saying that this is why work like this should exist, adn should be seen in the middle of the afternoon.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Call the Operator

Last Saturday Katie Shipley, Kate Lynch and I were commissioned by Rednile to carry out 'Call the Operator.'
We were really pleased to get this commission - because two weekends before we had gone along to the Factory Night at the old telephone exchange and been really inspired. (see previous post).
The call for commissions and time frame in which the project needed to happen was very tight, and we didn't actually find out until two days before the event that we had the commission -this meant that we had to make preparations/gather materials before we even knew if we would be commissioned. We were really glad that we were selected, because we all got quite excited about what we were going to do.
The other reason we were so pleased was that we are planning on working on a larger (self-initiated) project in the new year - and so this was a good opportunity to see how we work together and also it could help with funding bids if we have worked on a project together before.

We decided to focus on drawing out the historic, architectural and personal stories around the building - each responding in a different way.Katie found a few ex-trinity workers - and gathered personal stories about the exchange.These were then played through an old telephone situated on the bar in Fat Cats, which Andy helped to rewire.
Kate created this lovely telephone directory - one was placed on each table. On the cover was a small illustration of a traditional old fashioned telephone receiver - which represented Kate - referring to the old style of the directory. The middle illustration represented Katie - showing an image of her old black telephone. and then the modern mobile phone on the end representing me - as the public interactions would use modern technologies - mobile phones. Inside were instructions to select an number from the directory - there were 3 headings: Architectural, Historical and Personal - with a clue by each number. The public could call my number and I was waiting in the side room (originally the room where the public would come to pay their bills.)I was waiting for the calls to come in, and when they did I would say:
'Hallo Operator, which number do you require?'
and then the person on the other end would ask for a number, relating to a piece of information, for example: Caller: 'Number 3 please operator.'
Operator: 'You require Architectural number 3, please hold the line while I try to connect you - thank you - architectural number 3 - Towers have decorative terracotta panels and corbel table and bell-cast tiled roofs and leaded turrets carried on bulbous balusters. Central dormer in roof of 3-lights with pediment. These towers were actually to house pigeons – in the event that the technology should fail, a carrier pigeon could be employed to deliver the message.
Thank you, do you require anything else today sir?

Caller: No that's all thank you operator.
Operator: Have a lovely day, Bye.
Through our research we discovered that the 1960's were the heyday of the telephone exchange, and being an operator was seen as a very prestigious job. That meant the Operator should be well turned out - and so a particular shade of pink lipstick and nail varnish was selected to help with the character.We had 'Call The Operator' posters everywhere in the building and even managed to get them displayed on the television screens.
We had a really great day, and we were particularly pleased with the way the interactions took place, and the interventioist nature of the works - which worked quietly with the buildings history - not jarring against it.
Somone asked me why I needed to be dressed up to do the performance - since noone would see me down the phone. I am not sure why - perhaps just to feel like I was the operator - or perhaps just because I like dressing up?

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Factory Night: Fat Cats/Telephone Buildings

I was one of the artists selected to go on The Factory Nights Experience yesterday at Fat Cats Telephone Exchange Building.
I go here for a pint, and have done since the day it opened as Fat Cat Cafe - but have never been upstairs before so I was really keen to be involved in this.
We arrived and were given a short briefing by Michael Branthwaite and Janine Goldsworthy from Rednile Projects. Then there were introductions around the room - to see who everyone was. I knew all but two of the assembled people already - but it was good that there was a mix of disciplines (artists, musicians, writers etc.)
We were then allowed upstairs to the amazing glass roofed room.There were quite a few gasps as people entered the grand room, which was once the switch room for the exchange. The beautiful shape of the ceiling, and ornate glass were fantastic.
Everyone explored the contents of the room - it has become a bit of a dumping ground over the years - but had lots of interesting artifacts to look through. One thing which was commented upon by Greg was that though the books all had the appearance of historical documents it may not be the case that they had lain in the room since the buildings was first in use - many of the the books were actually reproductions - and not really that old. It was thought that it might be more likely that the books had once been bought as a collection in that 1990's pub decor habit of having shelves of books.
There were some great letters lying around - and I thought I would really like to gather these together to create a text piece to install downstairs in the bar - reminding people about the history of the building. I could see what letters there are and then get any extras made at Weston's Signs down the road. It could say 'Call the Operator' in reference to the idea I am working on in response to the event (more about that later.)
One thing I noticed was that quite a few of the people at the event were rearranging and picking up objects from around the room to take home with them. I found this quite difficult as I felt I wanted to capture exactly how the room had been left - before any intervention could be made - this is of course the nature of collaboration! You may not always agree with other people's approach to a situation. I wanted to shout out - stop moving everything! I found my reaction to the situation interesting...Greg had brought his banjo along with him - and gave us all a treat in the form of a rendition of a 200 year old 'Hanley Hornpipe.' Then historian Fred Hughes came along to talk to us about the history of the building - and its layout - which was very interesting.He talked a bit about the front room downstairs being the place that the public would come and queue up to pay their phone bill.Also talking about when the bulk of the machinery moved next door to the big brutalist 1960's telecom building. He pointed out the lines on the floor - which had been painted on as the Managers used this space as a Badminton court. Fred also spoke about the Hanley Railway station which had been nearby - and the fact that Piccadilly Arcade used to be a cinema - these things I am going to research and go and have a look at the remnants.We then returned to the room downstairs for a spot of lunch and quick chat about our initial thoughts and reactions.
Rednile Factory Nights usually lead to commissioned works - and though this is not the only point of the event - I think it's great that artists may have an opportunity to make a piece of work from an inspiring visit.
They have already released a call for proposals in response to the event - and I am formulating a proposal. I would love to develop a new character 'The Operator' - I used to work in the third incarnation of the three Telecom buildings in the vicinity - the newest (and worst architecturally) where I was a 192 operator. I would like to do some kind of performance where people in Fat Cats can call the operator and access information about the history of the Telecom building.I would also like to collaborate on this with Kate Lynch and Katie Shipley. Kate mentioned creating a book and Katie talked about wanting to create something which could go on each table in Fat Cats - so perhaps this could be some kind of telephone directory/menu for people to select the piece of information they want on the telephone. Katie also mentioned the idea of a phone sculpture and when you pick up and listen you hear stories from people who used to work in the building. I am also thinking that perhaps people could get me to deliver their messages for them - I like the way if you send a text message to a house phone you get a computer voice reading it to you - I could ask people to send me their text messages and then I could call the people the messages are for and deliver them in a human way - drawing on the old ways that operators used to pass on messages.
When I worked for 192 we often used to get dirty calls - I wonder if we would get any if we did this?
The proposals have to be in by the end of the week - so there isn't much time to work on this really, but hopefully we will get a chance this week. Even if we don't get selected - it was a great chance to explore one of the city's important heritage buildings, and we had a good morning doing it.