Katie Anderson

Artist based in South West Scotland; interested in people, places, materials and collaborative practice.

Tag: community art

Art in Public [Space]

The label public art brings out a wide range of responses from people. Large scale commemorative bronze statues of colonial figures come to mind for many, gentrification and urban development art-washing, permanence, concrete elephants, community murals and ideas set in stone. It’s still deeply unfashionable within the art community, having met lots of people who give surprised looks at any genuine interest in the subject.

There is enough cause for much of this – there is plenty of ill-conceived art dotted about the place, without care and attention this is an area that can grow anything from apathy to division, alienating people from their environments.

But enough of the negativity – public art also has the ability to allow people to impact on their surroundings, have a say in how space is used, take back control and question for who and what are public spaces designed?

I began a series of open ended conversations, with a variety of interesting people working across art in public space in a variety of ways. Common topics started to emerge: environmental art, land art, art and healthcare, climate change, playful approaches to public art, residencies, outsider art, community art, David Harding and the Glasgow School of Art’s Environmental Art course, the Artist Placement Group, the Scottish Town Artists, architecture, education, contemporary land issues, collaboration, instagram and permission.

Conversations were held in artists studios, out in the landscape, in busy coffee shops and quiet offices. Although some similarities appeared, each conversation was unique, reflecting the broad approach of artists, architects and designers to the subject. Permanence falters, but isn’t lost. The identity of the artist blurs, but doesn’t entirely vanish. The support networks to make new work happen continue to change and adapt with the current climates.

As the project developed, we continued to add more voices, in the form of open platform discussions, and an artists booth on the High Street asking Who is it For? Who Decides?

Hopefully, this is just the beginning. You can hear some of the recorded conversations online, Part One here and Part Two here. You can download our map or permanent art works in Dumfries here. And read more about the project here.

Special thank you to everyone who participated and joined in the conversation, and to all the artists who were willing to be recorded for the project. All image credits to Kirstin McEwan.

The Stories of Our Places are Hidden in the Collections We Make

Regular, or even occasional visitors to the Dumfries Hospital may have noticed a new addition in the ward areas in the past month. I was delighted to finally see the DGRI Collection Tables installed, following their completion by fabricators at the Glasgow Sculpture Studios (thanks Dave and Martyn). If you are about visiting an ill friend or relative, or are perhaps spending some time there yourself, have a look for the socialisation spaces in each ward, as nine of these contain one of our tables. There are also bonus points for anyone who spots the two tables out at Moffat and Stranraer community hospitals.

These are one of three commissions which I have been developing over the past two years for the new hospital, and comprises of a series of 11 coffee tables (nine of which are in the DGRI), filled with individual collections, filled with objects, found and gathered, and made specifically for the project.

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One of the tables in situ amongst a collection of odd NHS furniture and thank you cards

For this project I have worked with students from HNC and HND art classes at the Dumfries College, and young artists as part of blueprint100’s open workshops at the Stove. Students and artists were invited to create an object that reflected ideas of health and wellbeing, that could be a positive message for someone to spot whilst spending time staying in the hospital, or that reflected their experiences in Dumfries and Galloway. The found objects are a mixture of natural materials gathered from around the region, old postcards and curiosities linked to places around the region. We then hosted casting sessions in the Dock Park and outside in the College grounds making their objects in pewter.

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Inspiration from the Viking Hoard found in Galloway, during workshops with DG College students

I was really touched by the thoughtful and considerate approach students and artists made towards the project, and the love and care each person put into their objects. The concept of giving a gift of a positive message, or moment of distraction to a stranger who might be spending extended time in the hospital struck a serious chord with many of those participating. The generosity and creativity of everyone involved was very humbling, and a treasured part of the project.

The furniture itself was designed by Dress for the Weather and made by the GSS team from a coloured MDF material valchromat, which takes on a lovely soft and tactile finish when the medical varnish, Steriguard is applied to it.

The lettering in the casing is all hand painted, a copperplate font at a miniscule 12mm letter height, and will be etched on my brain forever.

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What is of real significance in projects like these however, is a more complex notion of ownership and association. Often, a little ‘community engagement’ is sought at the beginning of such large projects. ‘Could you just run a workshop with some key stakeholders to involve them in the project?’ This can be a great starting point. But the notions that this is the beginning, middle and end of ‘community’ involvement undermines the investment, and care of all of those involved. Whoever the community might be, in this case from staff and daily users, to patients, family and friends, and the wider community – almost all of whom will use these public spaces at various points in their life, to offer a tokenistic approach towards involving other people is insensitive and in the longterm, entirely un-useful to artworks.

Community engagement is not an afterthought.

For me as an artist, whenever I involve others in my work, by invitation, direct collaborative working, conversations in passing, or any other form, these people are then welcome to be a part of the ‘artist’ role, they too are invited to have a share of the ownership of the work, and to share in the journey of the works life. This is of course, not a requirement, but is open as a means of us creating a more meaningful artwork collectively.

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Token inspired by the histories of Lincluden and Lochside, created by Jimmy Russell

Over 60 people contributed unique works for the DGRI collection cabinets. I hope that everyone who has contributed a piece to the collection cabinets will have the chance to seek out their own contributions within the hospital, and share their individual stories. The tables hope to be there for the foreseeable future as a record of our moment of shared collaborative practice.

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Installation in progress

Ours is a transient community. But it would be disingenuous to claim credit for anyone else within this. I’m still hoping to get some form of permanent marking to tell the stories of those involved in contributing to the project, although unfortunately I don’t have a complete list of names.

Sincere thanks to everyone who contributed to the work, without you all it wouldn’t have been the success it has become.

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Stag’s head by Isla Gracie

Special thanks to Jo Shennan, who leads the art courses at DG College. Thanks also to the blueprint100 team, and Matthew and Sophie for their support with leading the workshops, and the Stove for ongoing use of the Pedal Powered Foundry.

Housing Activism and the Artist – Inspirations and Thought Processes

Question #1: Can artists be part of changing and creating residential activity on our high streets and in our town centres? Can artists and artist-led projects impact change in these ways in our towns?

We discussed examples in America, including the work of Theaster Gates, who’s creative property development in parts of Chicago, through the founding of the Rebuild Foundation, such as the Dorchester Art + Houseing Collaborative which provides residence for both artists on residency and local community members, growing collaboration, conversation and activity between both groups.

Theaster Gate's Dorchester Projects. Image: House past and present (2013) Image: Sarah Pooley

Theaster Gate’s Dorchester Projects. Image: House past and present (2013) Image: Sarah Pooley

Could such a thing be possible in Scotland? Could planning laws, available funds and communities allow for such a growth? Do artists have the skills necessary to do this? (This was a bit difficult to answer in a straightforward way). The Vennel in Dumfries was quickly brought up, and it was agreed by most that it was high time they got back to Dumfries to re-think the place. (I mentioned there was no need to rush, town centre change is a gradual thing we are in early stages of!) This was part of a series of discussions exploring what a more cultural high street would look like, as part of Architecture and Design Scotland’s annual Place Challenge conference in Arbroath.

Four days later, location: The Black-E, Liverpool. Context: Liverpool Biennal’s Community Arts Conference. The final panel is up after a day of sometimes heated discussions, and a definite division between audience and panellists/organisers. There is a palpable tension in the room, and a twitchy-ness from several hours sat listening in artificial light.

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This is the panel of my dreams; artists Jeanne van Heeswijk and Nina Edge, members of Homebaked and the Granby Community Land Trust, and design collective Assemble. Individually, each of these speakers presents an inspirational story of collaborative approaches, creative process, community intervention and making the impossible possible. Collectively, this was a place that stood up for their place and worked together to fight back for lost causes, and the history of many.

Nina Edge raises a curious point – of seven areas in Liverpool threatened with demolition, only three remain currently intact, and each of those areas has worked directly with creative practitioners of some form. It seems like creativity can galvanise and help create change in these communities. Nina’s work on committee evidence documents, and affecting legislature did not go un-praised.

What was most notable was the way these different artists and organisations had worked together, in support of each other and in solidarity. Also of note, from Homebaked was that without the support of the large scale ‘institutions’ (demonised somewhat throughout the day), in this case the Biennial, for being the bolster to push through small independent projects like Homebaked into securing the premises and holding back the bulldozers.

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(Apologies for any paraphrasing, it was a long day)

Interesting week! Arbroath was an interesting challenge in discussion leading, in lots of ways not super successful as a discussion – but a useful opportunity to speak about the Stove in a slightly different way to a new audience, and to think about the aspirations and potential of creative practice, as an alternative way of problem solving, communicating and creating change in our places. Liverpool was intense listening to a pocket-sized history of community arts in the city, and looked to focus predominantly at ‘what we could learn’ from what had gone before, a slightly idealistic notion of teaching the upcoming artists to appreciate what had come so far (noteably the audience, was not predominantly younger – by my eye at least.)

Notes: It’s not all black and white. Large scale institutions have a responsibility, as –largely, comparatively- well funded organisations, to be risk-taking and forward thinking about any ‘outreach’ work they undertake. Larger institutions should not, by right deliver all ‘community art’ outreach in their areas, as are often not best suited to doing so, however much they may be required to reach their organisations out to wider audiences, the real-time benefits to their communities appear to be limited.

Artists equally have a responsibility: we are not outwith ‘community’, but should perhaps be an integral part of it. We should be part of creating our places, and can input from being pebbles in ponds, to being connectors and links, question-ers, provokers, testers, builders and researchers. This isn’t to say that artists should only work locally, this sounds to be a balance, between building long term connections with place to growing new opportunities and bringing fresh energy into other places, either those with less creative energy in them or to work alongside the creative energy already present.

Now, to spend the next while not using the word ‘community’.