Yesterday I ran a workshop for staff, volunteers and researchers from the Bristol area History of Place project, a nationwide initiative which describes itself as follows:
‘History of Place is a nationally important social history programme that charts the lives of deaf and disabled people from the middle ages until the late 20th Century. History of Place will explore and animate eight built heritage sites, unveiling the stories of the people who inhabited or designed these places.’
The group have been researching the history of The Guild Heritage building in the Old Market area of Bristol. The building is said to be one of the first buildings designed specifically for use by disabled people, with doorways on the ground-floor accessible to wheelchairs, although the upstairs obviously wasn’t designed to be accessible to all. The building was constructed as a new base for The Guild of The Brave Poor Things in 1913.
My role yesterday was to provide a way for the group, who hadn’t previously had access to the building, to explore and document their experiences of, and feelings towards it. Each person was coming from a different viewpoint both due to their research interests and their own personal circumstances, identifying as disabled or non disabled, and the approaches to their making were just as varied.
We explored the building which has since been used for offices by Bristol City Council and the NSPCC, paying attention to our senses and our emotions, comparing the newly whitewashed and divided rooms with modern lighting and office carpets with archive photographs of the craft workshops and main hall, formerly used for performances and lectures. I provided a range of mark-making materials, and Grace Swordy from History of Place printed some archive photographs for us to use, enabling the participants to layer text, drawings and photographs.
The workshop led to discussions around the feelings that the building brought up in people, whether it was felt to be cold or warm, friendly or oppressive. We discussed how the direct experience of being physically present with the space, compared to knowledge gained through research and access to archive imagery of the building in use, and the importance of being allowed access to a building that for some held a very personal connection to their family history.
The afternoon culminated in a sharing of artwork and a reading of a poem written onsite by one of the participants.
For more information on upcoming events such as a film screening on December 3rd at MShed, Bristol, see the History of Place Bristol blog.
For more thoughts on the building and its relationship to disability culture and heritage see this blog post of Bristol-based artist and activist Liz Crow.
I went for a quick run this morning, before dealing with emails and residency applications. At a kissing gate from the field into the path by the school, I saw the most perfect little feathered body, a cock Chaffinch.
I thought he’d been killed by a cat, but there are no obvious injuries except for a tick by his beak, so the cause of his death is a bit of a mystery.
I carefully and loosely cradled him in the fingers of my right hand and carried him home as I ran. I wanted to do something to honour his beauty, to really see him. So I drew him.
Following on from yesterday’s work linking the rocky Penzance foreshore with my garden, today I returned to another Cornwall painting, this time revisiting it in and with the resources from, my kitchen.
I go out to explore, walk, notice, see artwork, run projects, and I return home to rest, reflect, cook, clean and be with my family. So why should the making stop at the door, why do we often divide our work and home selves?
This piece draws on my Kitchen Sketchbook series, exploring how to make art an everyday practice, and my regular walk-based work, but this time it brings the two together, as they join and mingle in my body-mind, and they bring out onto the page my pressing thoughts and questions too, my self at that moment drawn, scratched, dripped and written out onto the paper.
Today I took a painting that I made on the rocky foreshore at Penzance in Cornwall, and responded to it from the context of my garden. One place meeting another within a single piece of work.
I enjoyed the layering, the freedom to tread mud and drip water, to write, pick, smell and stitch herbs, and create a piece that speaks to how my experiences of different places meet within my memory and my body.
When I’ve had time away from my work, especially time with my very busy 5 year old, or a long period spent focusing on the needs of others within a particular project, it takes time to regroup and remember who I am artistically, to really feel whole again.
Now that our boy is back at school I’ve cleaned and tidied my home office and begun a major clearout in my studio, and whilst doing so have been drawing together an object, book or image from here and there, an external signpost as to what I need right now. Its like making a collage, noticing which images and materials call to you and bringing them together so that by noticing what you notice, you can build a picture of who you are right now, or what path it is you are following.
I am always taking photos on my phone. I don’t often do much with them though. Today I want to draw together these images of places I’ve visited and details that I’ve noticed over the Summer months, so that I can get back on my artistic track, reflect on what I’ve seen and feel ready for the world of work again.
So here is a path of photographs, pieced together from over the last few weeks, started off by this quote from Tristimania by Jay Griffiths:
(Includes artwork by Imran Qureshi at Newlyn Art Gallery, Bill Winter, James Turrell and Tony Latimer at Tremenheere Sculpture Garden, a photo of driftwood shelters sent by my brother Paul from the US and beach collections made with my partner Artist Jonathan Mansfield)
Over the holidays I took a few weeks off from project work to be with my family, but I did run two Collaborate Family Workshops for the MK Gallery, as part of my Green Town Group Residency, making paintings of animals with natural pigments in the first (clays, beetroot, spinach, charcoal etc) and creating small scale sculptures from organic materials to dress a local tree, in the second.
You can see some of the photos from those two sessions here. I have one more Collaborate Family Workshop to come then my residency is pretty much complete, except for the Green Town Group exhibition that I will be curating with the gallery, to open in early 2017. See here for information on the October Collaborate session ‘Future Nature’ in the coming weeks.
I’ve recently come to the end of my work with the four schools involved in my residency with the MK Gallery. As described here in my first post, two schools were based in the centre of Milton Keynes at Campbell Park and two at Howe Park Wood, a fragment of ancient woodland surrounded by roads and housing.
As a pilot project we have been exploring how an artist can facilitate the process of a whole class creatively engaging with a specific outdoor site, and from the school’s point of view, what role outdoor learning through contemporary art can play within the curriculum. I’ll be curating an exhibition for the gallery for February 2017, and we will be sharing more of our work and learning then.
Since my last post back in April our work has developed into five new areas, in response to the children’s own interests and what the two environments have offered us in terms of weather and materials: casting animal tracks, mark-making with natural pigments, taking clay for a walk to explore found objects and develop small-world environments, making walking bundles, and creating large-scale sculptures in the form of shelters.
At each stage I am seeking to find a balance between catering for a group of 20 to 30 children, in terms of preparing materials and equipment in large enough quantities, whilst offering opportunities for individuals to make activities their own, and have their thoughts and ideas heard by myself and their peers. Planning has then taken my observations and the children’s ideas into account.
Also throughout the project we have been documenting our ideas and artwork through the use of Arts Award log books. Providing an opportunity for each child to complete their Arts Award at the ‘Discover and Explore’ level was one of the requirements of my residency, and its been an interesting experience for me to experiment with how that can be interwoven into each session.
Although the school sessions are now complete, I will be going into each school during the next couple of weeks with Alice and Bethany from MK Gallery to support each class to share their work through an assembly, and of course they will have an opportunity to bring family and friends to the exhibition early next year.
I also still have three more Collaborate sessions that I’ll be running at the gallery in school holidays. The first session on 29th July offers local families a chance to try their hands at mark-making with natural pigments, whilst the second on 26th August will see us making artwork to dress and celebrate local trees. You can keep up with listings, including details of the October Half Term Collaborate session, via the MK Gallery Children and Families page.
Here’s some images from the May Half Term Collaborate session, where myself and project assistant/artist Alice Rhodes made walking diaries with participants and took them on a walk from the gallery to Campbell Park, using drawing, painting, writing, rubbings and collecting to document our journeys.
I wrote a blog post once, about how I planned to start leaving my artwork in different places. I had conversations with artist friends about how it made complete sense for my work, about exhibiting to sell didn’t really interest me, making was more about learning and research, and yet the accumulation of made things ends up making me feel blocked and sluggish.
I never did it. Its always the danger of writing posts like that, which excitedly declare your new way of working, and then you move on to something else.
But I’ve decided to give it a go. My inspiration comes from ‘out there’ and it makes sense that the work should return. Of course it does in the form of my sharing it with countless groups over the years in workshops and presentations, but I feel the need for the actual physical objects to return to the physical world, rather than solely exist in images and in piles and boxes in my studio.
So here’s the first one, hopefully one of many, left outside to be seen or ignored, to fade and rot or be cleared away by the people that decide what should and shouldn’t go on a town noticeboard, hoarding or phone box.
More thoughts and images to follow… and new work made as the cycle is kickstarted again.
We had a week in Cornwall at Easter, with crashing waves, seals, gulls, sandy feet, and an overarching sense of the wild. (see my partner, painter Jonathan Mansfield’s Post)
What is it about being in West Cornwall rather than mid Wiltshire that allows me to sense the wildness? Is it because its different? At home do I not really see what is around me because it is there every day?
Is it because of the rock-hewn and stone constructed nature of where we stayed, and the independently crashing waves and blowing wind that shapes the landscape and resists the control of humans?
Whatever it is, when I got home it felt very tame. Where I live is quite heavily farmed, ploughed, controlled. There is wildness in the details, but the overall sense is of a flattened place, simplified and tamed.
I decided to make more of an effort to seek out the wilder elements of my home patch, starting by getting a sense of what happens at night. The night feels less under our control, the lights of my village don’t do much to interrupt it and the animals of the night leave behind their tracks and signs.
I’ve started to use a trailcam/camera trap more regularly and am exploring how to use the imagery in my artwork. So far I’ve ‘caught’ the odd badger, whilst otters and other animals are continuing to evade me, but that’s okay, if it was easy there wouldn’t be the thrill of the chase, the sense that the night is owned by other forms of life, and somehow inherently wild.
Since my last post on progress within my Green Town Group residency, I have run a wearable art session with families at the MK Gallery called Collaborate: Becoming An Animal (inspired by the book Becoming Animal by David Abram), and the first two sessions for St Thomas Aquinas School, Bletchley at Howe Park Wood.
Families joining us for the Collaborate session at the gallery, were asked to create something to wear based on an animal that lives or might live in Milton Keynes. Together we made winds, tails, feet, whiskers, masks and head dresses. I am running further Collaborate sessions at the gallery within each school holiday this year, so keep an eye on their website for details and book in to join us.
My first session with the Year 2 children from St Thomas Aquinas school was planned to provide them with ways of exploring, noticing, collecting, recording and making. We were using our senses and different media to come to know the wood and its inhabitants more fully.
The children used drawing, printing, and writing to record what found, heard and smelt. They chose images of site-specific artwork made by other artists, and explored how they might have made them, before working in groups to create their own simple artwork from found materials.
Our second session was yesterday, a beautifully sunny Spring day, with birds singing and bluebells carpeting the more open areas of the wood. We talked about the role of coppicing in managing the wood and increasing biodiversity, and the children used a willow framework with other organic materials to create more complex sculptures of animal and plant-life which benefits from this kind of management (see here for more photos of the children at work).
Within both sessions Project-Assistant and sound/spoken word artist Alice Boland-Rhodes led the children in exploring the sounds of the wood, using their own voices. I’ll add a little taster to a future post, the effect of the words and sounds shared together and in sequence by the group was lovely, and echoed the richness of the soundscape around us all day as we worked.