My self-made role as an artist has many facets. Sometimes it can be a bit difficult or confusing to explain how each of these different faces relates to my core practice, but they are all in some way influencing and digging deeper into the way I make, process and explore. For the past seven or so years, I’ve hosted a monthly film night, Reel to Real Cinema, at The Stove Network, sharing topical films and documentaries sharing important narratives or messages. This is probably one of the least obvious of my approaches to working, as I don’t have a particularly strong sense of film as a creative process, and it – usually – features very seldom in other parts of my working day.
It has slowly developed and deepened though, as behind the scenes we* unpick the reasons for gathering, sharing and exchange by watching something together, explore new ways of learning and hearing stories of others and how to articulate our own opinions and responses. This is an activity that belongs in the town centre, we* have concluded. To gather on the High Street and exchange ideas has been a key thematic to The Stove’s ongoing collective approach, and Reel to Real is just one element that helps to drive forward and continue to question the how and the why of this.
But, slowly the film eeks out into other areas. Gathering together in a cosy, familiar space to watch film together is one thing, but sharing film in public space, in unexpected locations, outdoors or in forgotten and unassuming spaces is (for me) a natural progression of the ambitions underpinning my work in Dumfries. It has always happened a bit sporadically, on the fringes of other projects, film and projection have become a testing bed for alternative ways of occupying space.
In 2020, my project Elsewhere quickly evolved into a film centric project in response to the pandemic, working with artists and others to explore the changing impact of the lockdowns on public space. Particularly memorable was the incredible opportunity to share film poem The Dog Girl by JoAnne McKay in an empty shed hidden just off the High Street in the Midsteeple Quarter. The experience of the film in that space, with the reflections on the tiled walls, heavy echo of the narrator on the harsh surfaces and the sense of an unveiling or peeling back, was a transformational moment.
More recently, having been harping on about the experience of sharing film together during my residency with Art Gene in Barrow-in-Furness, but never getting the chance due to complications emerging from the past couple of covid-years, they kindly invited me back to take part in the Big Green Weekender last September, sharing a collection of short films exploring climate impact projected onto the sides of one of the poly tunnels at The Field site, Allotment Soup on Walney Island. Projection and sound was provided from the ‘projection bike’ created by artist Dan Fox. Hosted at the close of a busy and wonderful couple of days, the opportunity to share moving moments of film out in the open marked a transformatory shift in experience – as the activities of the day found context in a global narrative of climate uncertainty, and a confirming drive towards hopeful actions moving forward.
And most recently, at the weekend we* took the opportunity to bring Reel to Real back out into the open, taking refuge from the Victorian bandstand centred in Dock Park. I’ve loved this bandstand for ages, and been so keen to site project work here, to bring the space into focus and allow people to spend a bit more time in a spot they might otherwise just be passing through. The film, [BREATHE] is an orchestrated piece by the Manchester Camerata, a new experience for me and outside my usual choice – but the incredible sounds and carefully crafted visuals brought the bandstand to life.
Curiously, the word Camerata means “originally to the place where a group would meet; camerata comes from the root ‘camera,’ which means chamber or room in Italian. Therefore, camerata in its Renaissance usage simply means a place, or club, where a group of people would meet to discuss whatever topics were related to their club.” Our impromptu gathering could be seen as a camerata in its own right.
It might be a while before we can next share work from the band stand, but I’ll be continuing the search for interesting spaces to share film and the experience of gathering together. In a creative practice that presents a longer, drawn out connection to place the sense of immediacy is replaced with a cycle of seasons and annual events – next weekend the clocks move into their summertime phase and leave us with thankfully more light to pursue outdoor activities, with the darkness best suited for projection will continue to fade as we approach the heights of June.
* Here I am using ‘we’ to stand for the Stove team, as work never takes place in isolation at the Stove but is part of a web of conversations and discussions.