Wednesday, 3 December 2014

keynotes and pathways

I spent another day outdoors today at Stave Hill Ecological Park. This after a whole day yesterday spent indoors at The Albany, when I attended a symposium organised by Entelechy Arts on ‘Older People, Isolation and Civic Engagement’. The key issues raised by the speakers, all relevant to Meet me at the Albany and other projects I’ve been working on with the organisation, were still very much on my mind today as I walked through the park.  Here are some of these…

How can the arts, museums and library spaces be more fully used as places where isolated people can become valued, contributing and visible members of their neighbourhoods and communities? – Entelechy Arts

Is it possible to construct a new vision of ageing? – Alan Walker

On shared vulnerability between artists and older participants: how can we allow for falling (and failure) and make a space for this in our practice? - Vicky Amedume

Telling stories is a means of survival – David Slater

The best part of a relationship (personal and professional) is the fantasy of what might be – Jai Channa

What makes life worth living (when we are old and frail and unable to care for ourselves)? – Danny Ruta

The older participant challenge: How can we individually make change? If not now, when? What we do now is our inheritance, let’s not waste it! – Lillian Bartholomew

Friday, 21 November 2014

Stave Hill Manifesto (in the making)

It’s been a month now since I’ve started working at Stave Hill.  I’ve been creating site responsive work using mostly materials found there. Over this period the leaves have started to turn shades of yellow and red and the thinning tree canopies have let more light in, prompting new growth, even at the onset of winter. It is constant change and renewal in the park and I am a mere witness to all this as I make my own humble interventions.

weaving with brambles -
Brancusi's endless column revisited

With each new piece, ideas for more spring to mind and I can imagine spending a good number of  seasons in the park making with more of the plants growing all around me. Time then to harness this momentum and evaluate what I've done to plan for future projects. My plan from the start was to curate exhibitions and events at Stave Hill, inviting other artists to contribute to these, as well as make my own work. Drafting a set of guiding principles for making work in the park would help at this stage. So what would these be?

Rehearsing the Festival of Thrift
installation project

Here are three that spring to mind immediately:
·      use only materials found or used on site
·      make site responsive / site specific work
·      plan for the works to be installed temporarily only

plastic bags and blackthorn -
new life for old rubbish

It’s not exactly poetry, but it’s a start. I’ll be adding to the list in weeks to come. The interest in working in the park should come from the possibility of transforming places (and moments) into something else than what they are by using a restricted palette of materials such as earth, water, plant life only. A challenge in some ways, but in the words of land artist Michael Heizer, 'let's not underestimate dirt'.

Breaking the rules above already...
What are they for after all?

Thursday, 20 November 2014

Score for Fermynwoods

The image above is a pictorial score included in Open Online Five – Just like This, an online exhibition curated by Fermynwoods Contemporary Art. The image below is graphic score, the third and final iteration of this instruction.

'In weaving, regularity of form and rhythm repetition of the same
movement are necessarily connected' - Franz Boas

Sunday, 16 November 2014

The Whitechapel Gallery talk (added value re-write)

Stairwell Weave-In, Dovecot Studios, Edinburgh

Remaking means added value. It's something I addressed at the talk I delivered last Thursday at the Whitechapel Gallery, part of the Real World series of talks curated by Orlagh Woods for Artquest. In the light of this I’ve decided to re-write my notes and publish them here. This partly for myself, but also for those who couldn’t attend the event which did sell out. I’m doing this in the form on a Q+A, asking myself questions and answering them. The topic of the talk was how do artist manage the boundaries of art and craft and how are these practices shifting and evolving.
Shane, how do you negotiate the boundaries between art and craft?
Badly. My work is often perceived in a fine art context as being too crafty and in a craft context as being too messy. Meanwhile Crafts magazine in a recent review referred to me as a performance artist. So, I’m either terrible at negotiating these boundaries or an expert at it. You can be the arbiters of this.

Are these boundaries useful anyway?
Yes, at least to know when and where to step over them. Glenn Adamson in his book Thinking Through Craft puts a solid argument for these to be clearly defined so we're able to use them as a filter to understand what we are looking at. 
How do you define these then?
How much time do we have? An answer to this can only lead to endless debating, but here goes… My feeling is that craft objects have to refer in some way to the process of their own making, while art objects don’t. Art prompts you to look at it from another point of view than how the object is made. My interest in process over product is probably why my work is perceived as craft. The boundaries are porous of course, and it is always worthwhile looking outside your own practice to reinvent it and push your work forward. Someone told me recently that this question of boundaries will only be of real concern to crafts people and not fine artists. A perceptive comment I think. Rather than think about how to define art vs. craft, better to think of how to identify with either. Key to this is context and presentation, which qualifies what we are looking at and how we experience it.

Tell us more?
Objects are not revealed to us by looking only but through interaction. The value of objects all too often gets in the way of this interaction. What do you know of a pot unless you hold it in your hands after all? Art ought not simply to be about communicating ideas but also to convey experiences. We’re not just brains on sticks; we need to relate bodily to objects. The preciousness of objects starts working against them, requiring them to be displayed on plinths, vitrines, cords to separate them from their audience. One of Richard Tuttle's pieces in the current exhibition apparently required two first class seats (one for the artwork, one for the courier) to be shipped from the States to London. Getting up close and interacting with this object in this case is of course impossible and probably why the artist himself prefers his work to be shown in a domestic rather than a gallery or museum context.

Making by Instruction workshop at The Poly, Falmouth

What are the answers then?
Adopting participatory approaches when making and showing work, engaging audiences with processes and materials of making rather than presenting them for the sole purpose of being looked at. Daniel Miller writes ‘objects don’t matter, it’s what you do with them that matters’. Pioneers of participatory work talk about how ‘the object has lost it’s significance unless it is a mediator for participation’ (Lygia Clark). Helio Oiticica states ‘a work should range from the givens (things already produced), to the livings (the route to be traced by audience) and the transformable givens (the objects that demands inventive participation from the creator)'. There are many reasons why I have chosen to do participatory works over the past 10 years and one of them is to enrich the connection between object and audience. 
Another strategy might be to do away with objects altogether. Objects don’t last forever (taking a larger historical perspective on this) and can always be remade. I’m very interested in the process of making by instruction and the process of interpretation that goes on as work is reproduced. Value can be added to an original work as it is remade and therefore reinterpreted. So why not keep instructions and scores rather than the objects themselves and involve artists and audiences in the remaking of these? This is after all is common practice in dance, theatre, music. Why not art?

Knitting Piece #11, Prague Biennial

Isn’t the answer obvious? Not everyone can paint Monet’s Waterlilies.
True. There is of course a case for safeguarding artworks, but the use of plinths and vitrines, despite being an issue for half a century or more, still needs addressing I think. Thinking about this I’ve been looking again at the work of Phyllida Barlow, and reading her ‘Hatred of the Object’ essay, where she denounces the use of vitrines – they deaden work, make it safe, clean, polite. Her work embraces fully the sculptural over the pictorial. It celebrates making and materials in all its mess, awkwardness but also subtleties. Barlow never looses sight of the temporality of sculpture, celebrating how things fall apart, rot, melt and disintegrate. The making of her sculptures and installations, or elements of these, are often rehearsed and then performed in situ to create the work. After being displayed they are dismantled and parts reused for making other work. I love the ecology of this. I also love how these monumental works carefully calibrate the relationship between space, body and object, carefully considering what materials can do for a space as well as the people in it.

rehearsing Garland #21 with
Cheryl McChesney Jones at Siobhan Davies Dance Studios

Is there then an ideal model for displaying craft?
I’m not sure about a model but a guideline could be to think about what AndrĂ© Lepecki describes as the constitutive qualities of dance: ephemerality, precariousness, corporeality and scoring.
Thank you very much Shane. Let’s hand it over now to the audience now. Are there any questions?

Lacetell performance at Yan Tan Tethera, Cecil Sharp House

Friday, 7 November 2014

now picture this...

Pictured here are a few props and materials used at Entelechy Arts movement workshop in October at Siobhan Davies Dance Studios. The event was part of Human-Nature, a program of exhibitions and events exploring the interdependent relationship between people and plants.

The score for the workshop was inspired Christian Kerrigan’s exhibition at the studios which considered how a work might reflect, develop and respond to the passing of time and the seasons.  You’ll notice there are a few usual suspect as far as materials and instruments go from previous posts on this blog, but the leaves on this occasion were very much  to do with Christian’s installation throughout the building.

I’ve included 'before' and 'after' shots, resisting to use Ros Chesher’s photos taken during the workshop itself. You’ll just have to picture this dance studio with some 50 participants in it, all interacting with these props as sounds and music are being played. It's up to you to imagine how that bundle of ripped paper came to be...

As it happens, another one of these movement workshops is planned for the Museum of Garden History next Monday.  Read up here on a previous Entelechy Arts event at the museum for more info.

Friday, 24 October 2014

the fabric of Stave Hill (part 1)

What with the excitement of working outdoors last weekend at Stave Hill Ecological Park and thinking about the two sculptures to be installed there in the next few weeks, I forgot to write about yet another project.  The plan is to grow a willow loom in the park and to use it to weave plant material found on site. 

Knowing near to nothing about looms, I asked my friend Jess who is an expert weaver to come help me make a trial one at the studio.  The result was the Scandinavian style rigid heddle illustrated here, onto which we threaded the warp and stretched it between the studio wall and a piece of wood strapped to my waist. The heddle itself was using a bunch of cocktail and willow sticks, straws, electrical tape and slats from an old blind. These materials are a luxury compared to what we’ll find in the park, but having made this one, we’re now better prepared to think of how to make the loom on site. We're curious about how it will turn out, as well as what the fabric of Stave Hill might look like in the end. We'll keep you posted on this...

Monday, 20 October 2014

Brancusi baskets

Last Saturday somehow felt life the first day of the rest of my life. It was the first official day of my artist’s residency at Stave Hill Ecological Park (see also First Moves post) and I spent the day there working by the water, with Chris, cutting brambles in order to weave with these.

We made twined constructions,inspired by my recent project in Darlington, with view of stacking these vertically to create a tall column. Conical in shape and joined tip to tip and base to base in a repeated abstract pattern, the woven piece would some kind of homage to one of my favorite ever sculptures, Brancusi’s Endless Column.

This project didn't exactly go to plan as we ran out of time to produce enough of the twined pieces and install these, skewered on a large pole, in what seemed an ideal spot in the middle of the pond. I did I take off my shoes, rolled up my trousers and waded in, but couldn’t get the post to stand up securely. Luckily Chris missed in the opportunity to record the whole messy business on camera, so my dignity still remains intact, for now. It's only a matter of 'chose remise' however as I’ll have another bash at it next week. I can’t wait, especially as the trees have started changing colour and did look glorious in the autumn evening sun. A gorgeous sight indeed!

In the meanwhile, I did try other ways of installing the woven pieces, but couldn’t decide on where best to place work, this probably on account of not having enough of them to stack up. What we need it seems is another 50+ items to achieve a sizeable height for the sculpture. As there is no shortage of brambles on site, this could easily be done. The great thing about stacking these as illustrated above, is it will allows viewers to peek into holes in through the centre of the weaving at different heights and in different directions, framing the view of the park, its surrounding and the sky above.

As we are yet still to see the Brancusi inspired column emerge from the water, it seems a second project at Stave Hill is already on it way. Keep you posted on this…

Saturday, 18 October 2014

The Darlington Post

Here is a visual account of the installation at the Festival of Thrift and some of the twined baskets produced by visitors at the event. 

Three kilometres of sisal twine, a few days to stitch the installation, heaps of green materials, more sisal and yarn still to twine with, involvement from numerous, help from volunteers and well of course as the assistance from the Festival of Thrift's great team and Home Live Art, is all it took to achieve this! A fantastic experience all round and I certainly look forward to going up there again in a few weeks for another outdoor project in the making...

Highlights of the Festival of Thrift weekend? The Disco Bingo girls, thinking about landscape gardening courtesy of Nu-urban Gardeners, hearing but not having to dance the Lambeth Walk lead by Ida Barr during her now world famous Mash Up and meeting all those friendly Darlingtonians to name but a few things. Last but not least I have to add scything reeds and bulrushes in the nature reserve near Lingfield Point when foraging for materials to weave. This was done with the help of Peter and Tim (pictured below). Thanks to them and also to Stella, Alex and David who brought in clematis, willow, crocosmia and peony stems, as well as all the kids fro the nearby school who contributed their gorgeous twined constructions for the occasion.