Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Spode China Rose

I am so pleased that we (AirSpace Gallery) have been commissioned by the New Art Gallery Walsall to take part in the exhibition 'Small Worlds', with the Spode China Rose project.
This project began in 2013 with an idea to intervene within a disused garden space at the Spode Factory - and since then we have: worked with a ceramic flower maker and a rose breeder, redesigned and renovated a slice of the garden and installed newly named rose species, launched the project at The British Ceramics Biennial, held a successful crowdfunding campaign and now showcasing the project in an exhibition.

It was an interesting proposition to present a public realm intervention project of this kind within the context of a contemporary art gallery - and has provided a really valuable point for reflecting on the project ahead of stage two of the project for 2015 - the second renovated slice to be launched during BCB 2015. We decided that the exhibition would reveal to the public the process which we embark upon when making a public realm intervention - usually an action research process.

We also wanted to open out the process - so that people could see how we went about putting this project together - but also - how the learning from it can be applied elsewhere. This lead to the inclusion of one of my works instructions - specially put together for this project.
In addition for the first time we are trying to show one of the roses in the exhibition.
I have shown a live plant before - in the Aftermath Studio Exhibition in 2009 - documentation here.

This was an apple tree and only had to stay in the gallery for a week - but the rose bush in Small Worlds has to be alive for 3 months, in addition - due to Walsall having such important artworks in their collection, there are particular rules about what can be brought into the building - the plant has to be completely pest free, and the soil has had to be twice frozen! This has lead to a bit of an unhappy rose bush. The rose is under a lamp - so I do hope it does ok.

In addition to the rose in the gallery, we also have a gabion planter made using unglazed biscuit ware from the Spode Factory (designed and built by Andy) on the roof terrace with 3 of the rose bushes.

The exhibition at Walsall has some fantastic artists in it - and though I didn't make it to the Private View - I am looking forward to getting across to see the show soon.
Here is a text I wrote for the exhibition - which explains the project:

The Spode Rose Project aims to raise questions around the use of neglected spaces in cities – and act as a call for others to reimagine and rethink the overlooked in urban settings.
The project examines the role that artists may have in their environments and has, at its heart, a commitment to action research processes. Through the project, AirSpace Gallery have adopted a process which first seeks to observe and understand the way a neglected city site is operating, or at least to understand what is, or is not happening there – then through an in depth research process which understands the history, geography and stakeholders of a site, aims to form a responsive plan to see the space transformed (even if just temporarily.) Next comes action, where plans are carried out; and importantly once action has been taken, a period of reflection is undertaken, to understand what has happened, and what the resulting new context might be. At this point the cycle begins again.
Our interest as a gallery, and as a group of individuals, is to understand the role that artists and art organisations can have in the places they live and work – but also to advocate for the creative rethinking of public space – to consider public space as something which belongs to, and is, to some extent, governed by the Public. In this way, the public can feel active and activated to make change, where change is needed. Our gallery programme has, in recent years, sought to explore the various ways that artists are responding to their contexts, and the difference that artists and other creative practitioners can make. Through our public realm programming we also seek to set out the differences that we as artists, and our organisation, can make, by being engaged and responsible citizens – and using the skills we have to make positive action where we live.
The Spode Rose Project is one such example.
The project looks to understand the history and possible future usage of an abandoned city garden. Much of the time the garden stands, forgotten and inaccessible, at the edge of The Kingsway,  Stoke-Upon-Trent’s main civic car park, and at the back of the Spode Factory, formerly one of the most significant ceramics factories in Staffordshire.   The garden site is activated every two years, when the British Ceramics Biennial (BCB) takes place in the city; when suddenly the garden becomes the main entrance to the Spode China Hall exhibiting space. Thousands of visitors come through this beautiful, but overgrown green space during the biennial.
As a partner in the BCB we saw the potential of the site, as a space for intervention. A little research told us that this had been a beautiful garden once, much loved by the workers at the Spode Factory (that closed in 2010), and so we embarked on a project to aim to breathe new life into the site – via a design for a garden which would hope to  encourage interest and to suggest a future for  the space.
At the same time as our physical research, into the plants growing in the garden, and our historic research into the garden and factory, the BCB was working on various projects using ceramic flowers. They were working with ceramic flower maker, Rita Floyd, who had been taken on and learned her craft at Aynsley Pottery as a teenager, over twenty years earlier. Whereas  in previous years, hundreds of factory workers were employed to make floral wares, the art of ceramic flower making is now all but lost in Stoke-on-Trent. The idea of the rethinking and repurposing of these creative skills appeals to us, and feels similar to our approach to the space itself. We decided to work with Rita Floyd in designing a beautiful new rose – to celebrate the BCB, the Spode Factory Site, and its rich heritage but in addition to act as an emblem for the rethinking and reimagining of a city’s resources – whether they be spaces, skills or people. Our plan was to take Rita’s rose to a rose breeder – and together to develop a newly named rose – as a fitting motif.
Our research told us the type of rose we wanted to develop would be a beautiful, traditional, full bloomed rose, with a heady fragrance – and that the colour, of course, would reflect the material that Rita was working with, bone china white.
We visited a few rose breeders with a prototype ceramic rose, before a visit in July 2013  to a field full of blooms brought us to Gareth Fryer – whose family has been breeding roses for over 100 years.
We worked with Gareth Fryer to see the naming of our rose, which formed the centre point of our design for the Spode Rose Garden. 
The project began in 2013 – we renovated a slice of the garden, as we wanted to show the difference that could be made, and also because we do not have the resources to renovate or maintain the full space – but anyway, that’s not the point. The point is for the intervention to be a catalyst; a demonstration of what could be done, a suggestion, but not necessarily a permanent solution. The slice asks a question – should the full garden be renovated? And if so, who should do it, and after that, who will look after it? So part of the project is about asking those questions.
In 2015 – with the arrival of the newly bred Spode China Rose bushes, we are working to develop another slice, and to gather interest, support and potential stake holders in the garden site, which will launch as part of the BCB 2015. Since 2013, exciting changes have begun offering a new creative use for the Spode Factory,this will include 40  artists’ studios, a world class exhibition and events space, and creative units for small businesses.  Soon the Spode Rose Garden will have a new generation of creative inhabitants as neighbours – and a place within the development plans for the whole Spode Factory site.

Friday, May 22, 2015

Community Maker

AirSpace Gallery are really excited to once again be a partner in the British Ceramics Biennial, which opens again in September this year. At the last biennial we really pushed the partnership onwards by not only working on an exciting immersive installation commission within the gallery - but also we tested a few other ideas during the festival. We ran the Guerilla Ceramics Trail, which commissioned artists to make artworks for a trail along the Canal which celebrate the city's ceramic heritage - we also started the Spode Rose Project: more details here.
This year we are working with BCB on a new project - which is part of the 'World In One City' project - which explores the rich cultures of Stoke, and global reach of the city's wares via a connection with the plates we eat from all over the world - originating here.
The project we have devised is called 'Community Maker' and takes the 1950's post war, Ridgway Pottery design as a starting point.
The tableware was designed by Enid Seeney who moved to Stoke around the end of the 1940s to do a foundation course in Burslem. Seeney was the first woman to be trained as a designer at the Spode Copeland Works - before moving on to work and design for Booths and Colclough - part of the Ridgway group, in 1951. It was here that she designed the Homemaker tableware, though it wasn't called that at the time. A single plate went on display at the Blackpool Trade Fair in 1956 - but was thought too radical for the public. This quote from Seeney's obituary tells of how Enid left the industry to become a Homemaker herself - something which in those days for most women meant giving up any thoughts of a career.
'Convinced it could be a success, Seeney and her team made up a prototype coffee set, which sat on her workstation until it was spotted by the buyer for Woolworths, and in May 1957 an order was placed for tea sets, to be sold in five of its London stores. Four months later Seeney left the industry and moved to Devon, to marry her first husband, whom she had met while on holiday, and all communication with the factory ceased.'
Enid didn't realise what an amazing success the ware had become until she saw it on sale at Woolworths.
I have always really loved this design - and it feels so relevant to where I am in my life, and my practice - which is really exciting.
Our project is set in the Portland Street Area of Stoke-on-Trent,  which is well known for being the new £1 house community.
This is an area where over the past 10 years - the processes of regeneration had done nothing to revive a once strong and thriving community. The pathfinder scheme which earmarked the area for demolition, and which saw many CPO's served, resulted in many boarded up and abandoned properties, in the interim period before development was set to take place. In the meantime, the bottom fell out of the regeneration market - and the area was left in a sorry state. The council's groundbreaking scheme, to sell off the empty properties for a pound (along with a £30,000 loan which would see the houses brought back to the decent homes standard) has seen 33 new homeowners brought into the area - and my little family are one of them.
The council hope that this will act as a catalyst in kickstarting the regeneration of the area - encouraging absentee landlords to sort out other abandoned properties, and making the area a better place to live.
The Homemaker tableware speaks to me, as one of the new homeowners, about my aspirations for my family and home - but the individual houses are of course part of a bigger picture - and it is only through viewing the houses on the streets as a community that real change will happen. The homemaker design came at a really positive time in English History - the war was over, and people were really beginning to think about a future for their families - and alongside that, industries which had been suspended and turned over to the war effort were all whirring into action, and a new era of consumer culture was beginning.
The design was all about the positivity of this new age, where women could aspire to have modern design in their homes. Our thoughts in relation to this project are around a similar positive aspiration, but this time for the community in the Portland Street Area - and not just the individual houses.
The World In One City project also recognises the value of sharing food together - as a great leveller and a way to help people to relax, so this project proposes a number of creative workshops, where the community have the opportunity to meet, talk, make and eat together, and while doing that, consider 'What will make this place better?' and asking questions like 'What makes a strong community?' and 'What is already here to be celebrated?'
Through the series of claymaking/sharing events we will work together to create imagery which will inform the design of a new series of crockery which we will look to have in production for BCB 2017 - but for the 2015 BCB festival, this will be just about getting started on the idea of regular food based community meetings. This is something that is not alien in the area - as people who have lived here for a long time tell me about the brilliant community activity that used to happen - there have been street parties in the past, and a 'food from around the world' event - and more recently even since we have moved to the area there have been a few events called locally a 'Bring A Plate' where each person brings a plate of something to share - and you end up with a good spread.
Very rough sketch of idea for new plate
I love the idea that this project will potentially end up with all members of the community having their special 'Community Maker' plate in their cupboards at home, and that that plate comes out for community events. Perhaps by 2017 we will be able to establish a yearly street party - where a giant table is set up in the street and everyone brings their Community Maker plate.
The series of events will map what is here - looking to create a community resource map - but also to think about who's here and what the community wants to do together, while creating space for people to get together and get to know each other.
In other activity around growing food together I will be working with the community to grow herbs and veg - and this produce can be used within the Community Maker events.
In October, the group I work with will be invited to host a meal at the BCB - a celebration event using some of the prototype wares we produce to eat from.
One of the things that is really fascinating for me as an artist is the difference in approach it represents, and the potential for really tracking impact. A lot is being written and discussed recently at conferences and events I have been to, around the lack of any real solid evidence about the impact that art has on people and places - it seems that the main reason for this is that the people making and organising the activity are so busy doing it, and the nature of arts funding means it is often time limited - we are so busy doing it, that we have no time to evaluate the value of it - and in particular - any long term impacts are uncaptured - as many projects happen for a time and then disappear - and the practitioners delivering projects are often only in the places for a time, and then move on. I find as an artist that has worked in various public settings that I am often working somewhere else (not where I live) and that to some extent, that distance is interesting and necessary. We are seeing more and more though, that this approach has its drawbacks - not least that the case for the arts and their impact have not been made. The result of this is a number of projects around dwelling, longer term approaches to public art (as explored in The Art of Dwelling Conference delivered IXIA and IN Certain Places, which I spoke at earlier this month) and the idea of artists living where they work - seem to be springing up: East Street Arts have a new project bringing artists to live in a House for a year, and Vulpes Vulpes are looking into running a housing co-op. Our approach (mine and my partner Andrew Branscombe) is to think about this new area that we live in, where one of the stipulations of being a £1 home owner was that you need to be willing to contribute to the development of the community. This raises questions about what skills we, as artists can bring to where we live, Community Maker is part of that question.

Indefinable Cities

In 2012 I visited Osaka with the view to locate artists, and a curator/collaborator for the second installment of the Indefinable City exhibition. THe trip established a relationship with the wonderful 'Tsukiyo to Syonen' whose director Koh Yoshida has been my co-curator for Indefinable Cities. I selected the 3 UK based artists and Koh selected the 3 Japanese artists. The process of working together has been fascinating, as we discovered the very different contexts that we each work in, and it certainly showed me that some of the ways of working that I ignorantly consider to be quite universal, turn out to be very particular to our culture after all. One main difference which surprised me, was the curator's role within a project of this kind. At AirSpace (and I think other artist led spaces in the UK, the curatorial process is quite a negotiation between the artist and the curator. The negotiation goes beyond the commissioning of artworks - and continues within the installation of the exhibition; so, when the artist arrives with the work, in many cases the placement and exact hanging of the work is discussed with the curator - and in some cases, this can really effect and hopefully develop the work. This, it became clear within installing the show, is not the case in Japan - or at least at Tsukiyo to Syonen - where the relationship is more about the provision of space for artists - and at that point, decisions are handed over to the artist. The show has just finished at AirSpace -and had fantastic feedback - and loads of visitors (many more than is usual at the gallery) and we are really excited that the exhibition is set to travel to 6 cities in Japan in July/August.
The difference when the show travels to japan is that there will not be one big space (like our UK show) for all 6 artists to be shown together - so the show will be sort of dispersed across 6 cities.
In each of the 6 one of the artists will be shown in the main, but with poster based artworks from the other 5 also shown.
So the 6 places and main artists are:
Ayaka Nishi in Kofu, Yamanishi
DaikiMurakami in Kanazawa, Ishikawa
Ben Cove in Hikone, Shiga
Rebecca Chesney at Atelier Sangatsu in Osaka
Hirofumi Suzuki in Tamano, Okayama
Emily Speed in Onomichi, Hiroshima
Koh Yoshida has provided details of the shows and spaces on his website: here.
I was so happy with how the show looked at AirSpace, the artists really fulfilled what I had hoped to cover within the show, considerations of the body and architecture, a sense of the city as a habitat for humans and other creatures, and exploring the role of the artist in documenting and intervening in the city.
This is tomorrow did a great review of the show here: