Katie Anderson

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

Tag: Community

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.

Screenshot 2018-12-01 at 23.06.04.png

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.

IMG_4963.jpg

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.

Screenshot 2018-12-01 at 23.05.08.png

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.

DSC_1914_lowres

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.

Screenshot 2018-12-01 at 23.04.41

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.

DSC_1901_lowres.jpg

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.

what is valuable about workshops?

Following a recent spurt of workshop facilitating and leading on various projects, the art of running a workshop has been sifting through my work, with a particular focus on ‘what the point’ of workshops are. Aside from the obvious, artist goes into a place and shares their ideas, skills or inspiration with a ‘community’ of peoples, gathered whether in interest, geographical location or as a captive audience – schools groups etc and produces some kind of output, of artistic merit or otherwise. (what community? for whom? to inspire what? in order to achieve what?)

Now call me pessimistic, but these seem somewhat large demands to achieve in one to three hour time periods with a bunch of complete strangers gathered without necessary a common thread between them.

Conversations have begun to focus around several key areas or ideas towards the making of something with true potential to be useful, to grow something new, and to inspire possibility in a near future sense. These are potentially starting points towards more carefully examining the role of an artist within a ‘community’ setting (other words or terms for these groups of people very welcome).

13043608_1695367797370242_6609176159581013224_n

What does it take to provide a real sense of attachment to our ideas or projects? How can such a short time period spark interest and create future inspirations, ask broad questions about our places?
How do we grow relationships and connected-ness with other people?
We ask a lot of workshops.

Share and Exchange
There is a basic trade between artist and ‘community’, where one party can exchange knowledge, connection, place-based meaning, history and heritage with the application of skill-sharing, whether introducing a new skill or more a way of looking at a problem/point of view.
Questions: Value exchange – how do we place value and hold value to knowledge/skills etc? How do we preserve these values once exchanged?
Ownership – keeping respect, and consideration for all parties, and an openness towards the future prospects of such trade and exchange.

Image: Barry Young

Making as Conversation
Repetitive actions, learning exchange and the complexities of ‘figuring it out’ make for interesting conversations for groups or communities without necessarily having a lot of common ground or relationships already. These are safe places, neutral environments for casual discussion, exploratory conversations and open questions. Like sewing circles or knitting bees, where ideas and gossip can be exchanged without fear of retribution or exclusion, the act of making provides a rhythm for questions – both big and small.

Meeting points and Common Ground
Creating connection via a sense of shared environment, time and skill. This is less of an instant reaction, more of a sense of collective space and ownership – and can only be built up gradually, and through repeated or regular activity.

IMG_2411
Invitation and Hospitality
Space creation (see neutral environment above), and welcoming. Creating the right invitation to encourage interaction, and participation. Openness and flexibility to unexpected factors, playing with and being responsive to already existent structures.

13062239_1695367724036916_4689044328418315481_n

The Authentic self and an openness to change
All the while keeping hold of a sense of yourself and your work, creating environments, events and activities where this can be openly shared with a collective group/‘community’ etc. This is the artist not as all seeing, applying a template to whichever community they land in, but as open and willing to change and adapt to suit to localities.

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.

12088183_10153413064769652_305624943739913545_n

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.

Photos-1_1024x1024

(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’.

Artists as activators

A few weeks ago, I took a detour on a trip from Edinburgh to Dunbar, to attend the first day of the Fertile Ground – Environmental Art for Change conference, led by North Light Arts and Chris Freemantle. It was an intense day, from ten until 7pm there were about 14 speakers, of artists, activists and locals intent of re-inventing Dunbar for an environmentally conscious future. There was a lot to take in, and I admit to sneaking off for a jaunt during lunch off in hunt of the harbour and the sea, rather than networking which is quickly becoming my least favourite thing about these events.

Part of me went for the fresh air, part of me in hunt of some salt water (more on that another time), but as ever the air – with it’s slightly wild wind – just helped to disentangle my thoughts a little, so I bounced back to the conference to find Matt and Robbie and drag them back to the harbour with all my new found questions.

What I was really thinking about quite quickly was about the role of artists as activators. Before (see previous post here), I wrote about the audience as ‘activators’ but the thread of conversation in Dunbar led me towards the way in which artists can become activators, engagers, inititating, inspiring change. I was thinking about local artists leading, potentially disseminating/translating the global to a local, community-based perspective.

300

Matthew Dalziel spoke during his talk about he and Louise Scullion’s Tumadh:Immersion project, in particular I picked up on his thoughts about the amateur, and making space for unspecialised exploration and appreciation of the outdoors in one of their custom made tweeds e.g. the gathering jacket. More on that here

So, one of my first questions was a pretty big one – why art? Is art the most useful mechanism for this engagement within communities? Or perhaps, if not ‘the most’ useful mechanism, then what is it that artists bring to the table that can add a truly important dimension to active change? I guess I was trying to picture who I thought ‘should’ be getting on with this change. It’s perhaps funny that we could expect that there would just be someone, some other who would be out there sorting out these necessary changes for us as we move forward… be they councillors, government representatives, specialists, or some kind of other that separates a sense of controlling the space around us. Perhaps artists are useful in their humanising, stripping back or removing the other [man in the suit], the facelessness of percieved bureaucratic change.

_Jo_Hodges1_copy

Jo Hodges spoke about her and Robbie Coleman’s project a New EIA for Natural Scotland during the artists presentations, which looked at reimaginging the planning process, more info available here

A particularly interesting point about artists, an ability to ‘engage on equal terms’, to explore collaboratively or collectively, not as architect but as instigator, connector, gatherer started to turn some cogs. Can we co-create the future of our places?

(At this point, I realised of course (with a bit of a prod) that I was talking about a very particular kind of artist, and a very particular kind of methodology and approach that I have been picking up on from artists who’s work inspires me.)

So what is it about public artists that can make them key ‘instigators’ of this change? What is inherent in their artistic practice that makes art an effective mechanism for engaging communities in a much broader conversation? What other people share these attributes and skill sets? (Planners and activists were both mentioned.) Why do some politicians/councillors/policy makers appear to lack these?

Untitled-1

Of course, the artist as activator needn’t – probably shouldn’t – work alone. The key skill holders, be they bridge builders, growers, are all a part of a much wider movement towards change

Agenda. This was a pretty fundamental one in our conversation, the personal agenda’s of those engaging with the community are important as to how well this relationship builds. The bridge builder that arrives and proclaims that what will fix the communities problems, is a bridge, is likely to be more personally motivated than then activator that arrives saying they want to explore and understand the problem first. Perhaps artists can also be guilty of the same problem though?

Approach. Less about a standard methodology, more about an exploration and questioning of the context/community/local.

Communication. Communicators. This has to be one of the primary roles of artists right?

Openness, questioning. There was mention during the artist talks that artist’s perhaps shouldn’t be expected to have the answers, but more to provide the right questions. We were thinking again, about how our own art practices were led by an investigatory questioning, a curiousness, without necessarily a specific end point (e.g. a bridge) in sight.

Of non-linear practices and thought processes, finding a more approachable method than one embedded in a standardised protocol. Community specific action over globalised strategy.

This is for us

Of ownership

ownership of vision

ownership of place

Of giving a sense of our own place within the wider whole, a personal, individual, tailor fit – shaped by people, not standardised policies.

Thank you to all the organisers, speakers and artists on the day, for finally kick-starting something of a thought process – I was quite miffed to have to miss the following day’s discussion!

Mapping Annan

Last week found me sat in the football club in Annan of a Sunday afternoon, in itself a bit of an unusual occurance, and all before I even mentioned that I was there as part of a ‘scoping’ workshop, chatting to people ahead of a project we are looking to kick-start in Annan next year. More of that later.

We did have a fairly lovely afternoon at the club (thanks Annan Athletic!), but I thought it might be nice to broaden out my chat to those who couldn’t make it. (Yes, if you said you were coming at the party the night before, you owe me a comment in the box below..)

Taking my favourite starting point of looking for interesting sites and places, I asked people a few questions to add to our map of Annan. Rather than looking to map out all the normal amenities, I wanted people’s favourite or most significant spots on the town map – like a local history of the town in map form.

It’s got a bit of a way to go, but this is where you could come in.

1. Where is your favourite place in Annan?

DSC_0192lowres

Where is your favourite view? Is there a place in Annan that is particularly significant for you? (I’m thinking the Fish Cross is a pretty special one for ROM Cornet’s and Lasses) Perhaps it’s a personal place – your childhood home perhaps? – or a more public one – such as your favourite place to stop for an ice cream, or walk your dog.

2. If you could describe Annan in just three words, which three would you use?

DSC_0198-lowres

DSC_0187lowres

They could be positive; growing, changing, everlasting, or less so – ageing, comatose, crumbling? ‘Best [in] southern Scotland’?

We also did quite a bit of chatting about how our relationship to our home town is built on knowledge, stories and names passed down through people rather than documentation. How many of these close names do you know?

IMG_0194

DSC_0189lowres

Thanks to everyone for coming along last Sunday, expect to hear more about this in the future! Answers in the comments section below please, whether you are a true Annanite, or just have a bit of a connection to the place, or live somewhere at a safe distance (!) I’m open to suggestions!

Wigtown Making Waves

Local   -adj      1. characteristic of or associated with a particular locality or area

                        2. of, concerned with, or relating to a particular place or point in space

 

The Wigtown Festival 2013 has passed. It is a marathon of a festival – the excitement, the exhilaration, the festival buzz – there is a certain required stamina to manage all ten days (I did not). In the run up to the festival it felt like the town was bracing itself against the onslaught. Indeed, an onslaught there was. The preparation spread through the festival team, around the County Buildings, out into the streets, through the cafes, bookshops and into the surrounding wildness – Wigtown was coming alive!

The festival came in waves, largely weekend waves – from the Festival Launch party through to Joanna Lumley hysteria – but it was an unstoppable tide of amazing, inspiring authors, speakers, performers that brought in the crowds on the surf.

 Image

It’s somewhat refreshing that the big branded coffee stores and sandwich shops have not made it to Wigtown. Their tendrils are spreading into towns previously considered too small to need a Gregs, Subway, Costa, or Starbucks competing with local businesses. And the local businesses hold their own – there is a fantastic array of food on offer – veggies need to make the stop at the Reading Lasses, baked feta starter being one of my highlights, but the equally lovely Rendez Vous Café does an AMAZING lemon and poppy seed cake, and Beltie Books gave me the most beautiful homemade rhubarb and ginger jam with my scone – I really did eat my way around the festival. The Random Book Club cries power to the shop local movement – based from The Bookshop, Wigtown’s largest – annual membership rewards a hand-picked book randomly selected from their shelves each month and posted to you, taking a clear stance against the Amazon’s of an internet age.

 

From shop local to power local, one of this year’s themes for the book festival Scotland 360, launched the Independence debate into the heart of the programme, with talks from Lesley Riddoch, Malcom Fraser and renowned land rights activist Andy Wightman. With Wigtown falling under Dumfries and Galloway council, a near 60 miles away, devolving power down to localities was a hot topic over the festival – inspiring possibility and grassroots change was the flavour, with conversation set to flow towards September 2014’s referendum.

 

The Book Festival finds itself interconnected with it’s surroundings. Wigtown is a forgotten world away from the cultural centres of the big cities to the south and north – a point noticed by many authors on long journeys here. One conversation has stuck when one London based author found herself walking back to her B&B in the dark – a point entirely missed out by a country bumpkin highly unused to the street lighting of Wigtown’s main streets in her own woodland home. Events brought literary fans out into the Galloway wilds; bird watching along the old railway line, visiting St Ninian’s Cave and night-time cycle rides all featured as part of the Natural Scotland programme this year. It maybe seemed inevitable that both Astrid Jaekel, artist in residence for the festival, and myself with my phone boxes would explore into the community to try and get a sense of the place deep down. I heard stories of those evacuated to Whithorn narrowly missing the Clydeside bombings, tales of primary schools in rural areas, snowy winters, forgotten faces. Occassionally, our points of reference may have over-lapped, but outcomes set the work apart.

 Image

I may have despaired with the regularity I heard the word quaint used over the ten days in Wigtown – it doesn’t really do justice to the efforts of the Wigtown community. It feels as a community collective making waves – reaching out to the wider world. And best wishes to them all – it can be no easy feat bringing in audiences from the Central Belt and from the South to a small place – both geographically and politically out on a limb. It’s no mean feat, and I’m already looking forward to next year.

 

Voices arrives in Wigtown

Image

Causeway End phone box is highly distinguishable by it’s white door frame (a recent replacement by the community council when the box was taken over). Push the rock to one side to enter, but please replace it upon leaving, lest the door bangs in the wind.

Wigtown Book Festival is underway – it arrived in a flurry – the tents have gone up, the shops have been stocked, the potholes have been filled (yes, seriously) and Astrid Jaekel’s work has transformed the windows of the County Buildings, to much admiration. The car parking is ridiculous to the point of hilarity, Reading Lasses is full, and suddenly reading books on street corners is terribly trendy.

After my own whirlwind of a week (leaving a trail of destruction behind) – Voices from the Phone Box has been reinstated. Originally a commission for the Environmental Arts Festival, the project – part audio collection, part sculptural installation – is taking residence in two phone boxes; Bladnoch a working box next to the distillery, and Causeway End – owned by Newton Stewart Community Council and located on the road from Wigtown back to the A75. There is also an exchange point for the two boxes located within the sci-fi portal that is the Time Machine, a separate installation created by Norrie, Christian and a hard working team in the County Buildings.

Running 24/7 (theoretically) the work plays out conversations with local residents from bone china telephone handsets.
 
Find out more about the Book Festival’s visual arts goings ons here
Image

The Bladnoch box is strangely magical – and also, a working box! So well worth an explore…

Pause for a moment, and listen.

“I Belong 
Wigtown. Port William. Whithorn. Newton Stewart. Sorbie. Mochrum. Elrig. Windy Hill.  Garlieston. Isle of Whithorn. 

Bearded Ham. Something primal. Traffic Lights. Invisible people. Hairdressers. I was ay’ wantin t be a l’rry driver. Mountains of Mourne. 

The flying butcher. Magic Hour. The kindness of folk.  There was always plenty o’ work. It’s all gone no’. BOS 648. Still living in the past here. A modern life. I never even knew Whithorn existed… 

I’ll never be a local.”

 
Image

Enter the Time Machine and prepare to look in unexpected places. If you are interested, it’s called a Dictograph.

Thank you to everyone who has given me some time in the past few weeks to contribute a voice for the work, without you it would be meaningless.

Defining Community, Defining Engagement

Community noun

/kəˈmjuː.nə.ti/-t ̬i/ [C + singular or plural verb]

Definition

•the people living in one particular area or people who are considered as a unit because of their common interests, social group or nationality

•There’s a real sense of community (= caring and friendly feeling) in this neighbourhood.

•specialised a group of animals or plants that live or grow together

•the community

•the general public

 

…………………………………

the notion of community has been on my mind recently, a growing (is it growing, or has it always been this way?) obsession (if you could call it that) within modern society (have we become societies rather than communities?) -the bypassing of a traditional sense of community in favour of high-speed gadgetry and increasing suspicion of strangers (and the unknown?).

 

This has come about partially from a new temporary installation I have been considering for the past week or two as I drive past my chosen site. Part guerrilla tactics, part brick-like subtlety I’m mulling it over quietly, frustration bubbling under the surface. 

 

Partially too, as ‘community engagement’ becomes the driving force behind the initial stage of another project that I am helping out with (see the Stove’s project blog ferrythorn.blogspot.com.) What constitutes ‘the community’ within a place in 21st century Scotland? How can you truly engage with a group of people and to what end? Define engagement.

Image

Origami boats in abundance when the Stove landed in Wigtown Primary last week
Source: http://www.ferrythorn.blogspot.com

 

Engagement noun (begin fighting)

Definition

[C or U] specialised the act of beginning to fight someone, or a period trim time in a war. [?]

 

hopefully not..

 

“Island elders [..] in North Uist spoke of the disconnection of the young from the places, local knowledge, languages and traditions that give meaning and practical guidance – ‘stiùir’ – in their lives. In our cities we’re all implicated in the disconnection between the production of energy and our squandering of it, between the waste we generate and its continuing presence elsewhere, between our economics and our ethics, between the young and any prospects that might draw them into a sense of responsibility, engagement and agency.” (From an article by Ruth Little here

 

As my work in Kirkcudbright starts to feel more like a ‘residency’ the need to connect what I am doing more closely with the place (and consequently the community) that I am working in is becoming more pronounced. The need for stand-alone art is being over run with a need to place the work within my own context. I am scheming…