Whilst having lunch with my mentor Isabell Buenz and her partner Ewan at the weekend, we got talking about what and who inspired us as artists. I possibly surprised myself a little, so thought it would be worth a share. I’m in an interesting space with exhibition and gallery art having made a very sudden re-appearance in my world, and the otherness, the less definable but certain ‘other’ that represents the work that really excites me.
1. My current research obsession is for Jeanne van Heeswijk. Unfortunatly, I’m yet to meet one of her projects in ‘the flesh’ but I’m sure the time will come yet. First heard of her work through the 2Up2Down project which grew into what is now Homebaked, and was part of the Liverpool Biennial; a project which worked with local people to change and grow their community through a bakery in the Anfield area. The second of her projects I’m particularly excited about is Blue House, which ran from 2005 until about 2009 and was situated in IJburg, an at the time new suburb being in Amsterdam. Blue House became ‘a centre for research and artistic and cultural production, looking at what happens when such a radical approach to urban planning and community development is employed,’ and ran all sorts of projects from opening a flower shop, to running pop up cinemas and hosting research residencies. Her website is also a total treasure chest and mine-field in one.
2. Sarah Kenchington’s Wind Pipes for Edinburgh. This was a really fascinating work I came across during the Edinburgh festival. The site was a bit of a hidden treasure (visit here), and the work itself was a beautiful jumble of found parts and the most beautiful bent penny buttons. The films recording this work show the composers performing, but when I visited all were invited to play, the invigilator proudly told me she’d sussed out how to play the Harry Potter theme tune that afternoon, and had the notes if I wanted to give it a shot (I passed). Being able to play with it felt more exciting than watching someone else playing it.
This has promoted a fair bit of art-that-isn’t-like-art chat, both over lunch, and at home. I do a lot of talking about social media as an arts practice, youth work or events management as an arts practice. In my view it all comes down to process. In all actuality, what I really am when it comes to it is a process-artist. The outcome, whether it’s an installation, ‘object’, event, or something far less tangible is sometimes as much a by-product of artistic process. This is to do with an – uncertainty? – a curiosity perhaps, as to whether or not artistic approach is intrinsically different from other kinds of approach. What is it about artistic thinking that can lend itself to not just creating a beautiful artwork, but also potentially to creating a marketing campagin or series of intricate flow charts?
As art collaborations with scientists, political activists and other ‘cross-disciplinary’ subjects are the vogue at the moment, is there something specifically, tangibly different about the artistic approach to problem solving? At art college, I used to positively fume when asked why an audience ‘should care’ about my work. At the time, it felt completely backwards to start with the audience and work in reverse order. I suspect that’s how commercial arts practice comes about, but the focus on who the audience are, why they are, whether they are passive bystanders or active participants, message carriers, or advocates – those have suddenly become some of my favourite questions – and with that, communication, and collective thinking start to pile in. It’s a bit of a shift, but it’s an exciting one.
3. Over lunch, I only listed two – but have since felt the need to add a slightly more ‘fluffy’ third. These are the artists I surround myself with, the projects that I follow and seek out, the conversations I have over soup, and up hills half lost and half drowned in Scottish weather. The Environmental Arts Festival, which I was so priviledged to be a part of first time round, is back for it’s second edition this summer. You’d be crazy to miss it, I’m just madly excited about it. Get an early taster here courtesy of the lovely John Wallace. The Stove has finally revealed it’s grand opening next month, which is a full blown shift for The Stove Network, as for the first time it has a proper home, and sees a shift in Dumfries as arts in placed centre stage in the town. I’m crazy excited about it too. Read all about it here. (And watch out for the #OpenHouse social media, ’cause it’s art, right?)