Katie Anderson

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

Tag: Participatory Art

Creative Practice as a means of Problem Solving

I was recently asked to give a talk about starting out an art practice in Dumfries and Galloway, to a group of young artists – blueprint100 at the Stove. I’ve learned to avoid these experiences as I am usually far more coherent when written down than when speaking in front of an audience.. but the timing seemed good. Having just completed four major commissions in the past two years, and been living the full time artist dream for six years, I took the talk as an opportunity to reflect and gather my thoughts on the past few whirlwind years.

Since art school, I have kept to the idea that I will not focus on one material or craft, but on applying the right approach to each project as it appears. That said, I have a strong connection to process and material – although many of my projects are more ephemeral in content, I always yearn to include a method, a craft or skill, a process of making, into my work. This can be communal, collective or on my own, or all of these.

In the quest to understand my own directions, I have become increasingly focused on the idea of creative practice as a means of problem solving; that artists and creative people can apply an open approach, a methodology, a sensitivity and awareness towards challenges and difficult concepts that can open up alternative ways of thinking and tackling problems. Not that artists can solve all your problems, but can be part of a wider social dialogue to open up alternatives. What does that mean? What does it look like?

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PARKing Space. Collaborative project with The Stove Network in October 2014 including work from Mark Lyken and Emma Dove, Mutual Motion, John Wallace and Colin Tennant, Alice Francis, Open Jar Collective and many more besides!

For me it looks like a lot of different things. Each of them as much a part of my practice as the others, although some of them not traditionally seen as ‘art’. (No surprises there then!) I decided to try and map my practice. That map currently looks a bit like this:

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The web could be knitted a bit tighter, but for simplicity this will stand. Collective working runs through all of this, I talk about this a lot at other points, but for now, when I talk about my practice – I mean both collective and individual working. (And rarely is any of my work truly ‘individual’ – everything we do is built upon networks and  communities.)

The different elements of my work are now starting to fall into two predominant categories: Process and Narrative, and Curation and Gathering.

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Collaborative project with The Stove Network in September 2014 (a vintage year), featuring spoons created by Uula Jero and I, jam and charcoal workshops with Phoebe Marshall, spoon effigies, Alice Francis’ long distance ride, and the Secret Ministry amongst others.

Process and Narrative

My love of process and making is born out of a compulsion to fidget, model, construct – to figure out and learn through forming and deconstructing. Process is not just something I do alone in the studio though, process also plays a strong role in any collective or communal working – as a means to keep hands busy, to draw in, to create pause and gathering for people to share, learn and exchange over. None of this is abstracted. All process is about forming a narrative – about the places we occupy, about our current situation and environments. It draws ideas and methods from the past and present, and allows us to re-write them in the present and the future.

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Tattiefields collaborative project with The Stove Network and Lochside community in 2017.

Curation and Gathering

This is making, but on a bigger scale. Making space for, or creating place – place-making if you like – for people to gather and spend time. Creating activity and energy in a space allows us to work collectively with a much larger group of people, it opens up the invitation to interact to a wider audience and creates the space for change to happen within, and beyond. Taking the time to consider how we interact and move around spaces, considering the invitation, the entrance, the flow of people and activity. This is the part where I am most regularly asked, ‘but how is your real artwork doing?’ This is the real artwork. I create this with the same authenticity, the same drive and focus and consideration as I create all of my artworks. This is just focused on allowing the best opportunity for people to connect. This is my artistic contribution to a wider collaborative project.

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Tattiefields launch in September 2018, contributions from others at this event included art workshops with Design by Zag and James and Susheila, Spud poem by Stuart Paterson, and tattie soup from the Lochside Grub Club

As usual, nothing is fixed, and nothing is permanent. But as a means of focus and direction going forward, this brings some of the huge complexities and variations in my otherwise seemingly scattered practice together into some kind of cohesive whole. One of my big challenges at the moment is to find a way to bring some of this clarity into the outward presentation of my practice – in the form of artist statement and portfolio. It’s a bit of an immense load to try and neatly package into something that can clearly share the interests and direction of my work to potential new collaborators and communities.

In Memoriam

Our relationship with ex-houses is an interesting one. Buildings and ruins, scattered across overgrown fields and forests, down forgotten cul-de-sacs, and behind tall fences in gloomy urban areas; the romantic in us all pines for the loss of a thing that we never knew.

The empty home inspires tales of loss and separation, of a neglect and abandonment of the old ways. It is a kick in the teeth to the old ways and we as a culture appear to mourn these forgotten states.

The lost living rooms, the last dinners, the encroaching wilderness that wraps our forgotten ruins up in a shroud, fills our eyes with a jewel-dusted mysticism, and the placing of concept, the reimagining of ‘home’ in true Grand Design’s style – of rescuing, and reviving, performing true and authentic restoration to these crumbling pasts – is heralded in the act of preservation and protection of our culture.

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The places that fall outwith the realms of saving; be they too big, too ugly, in the wrong place geographically, or simply not special enough to warrant any real attention are left to quietly disperse into the undergrowth. To be swallowed up, imperceptibly slowly but the steady but inevitable creep of the wild.
These are our dreaming spaces.
Free for projection, imagination and a certain freedom of exploration – of wandering, exploring and discovering first hand (as has been discovered first hand by so many before you), the true wonders of this individual place that exists only here, and only for now.

Throughout my practice explorations of home, of place made familiar, and emotionally nested from the world at large, and these ruins of homes, monuments to the very idea of home at all, have featured from time to time.

My first intimate and extensive exploration of a site was in 2010, a small and extremely unknown location whom, if you can take confidence with any of the older (perhaps oldest) members of our local village, will tell you was once called Hilltop House, and was last lived in in a time beyond living memory, just. The last living man who was known to live there as a boy was himself an elder of the village in the 1950’s.

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The first experiment at Hilltop House was one of lighting. Once unoccupied, these ruins return to darkness with the fading of the suns daily rhythms, so late one Thursday in early April, we sat vigil in the remains of Hilltop House and filled the place with light. With precious few walls or roof, the sounds of the evening are welcomed in to the forgotten ruin, and the sparks may fly unabated. The whole thing was shot in black and white analogue film camera, (potentially romantic overkill), and accompanied by at least one large bottle of wine.

Other experiments included refurnishing, (carrying the entire contents of my parents living room along a half mile track through the woods), of filming and then recreating offsite in full size cardboard replica (not worth the effort), of projecting new memories and new ghosts – forcing life back into the corpse-house. Littered along the pathway en route to the house were found strange collections, under one tree a households worth of glass recycling, under another kitchen tiles – mostly in pieces – and within the remains of the house itself, a tree girthed tightly by the iron cast door of a once-stove front.

The last farewell to Hilltop House was given, with full ceremony and celebration – and the company of friends and family, gathered for what we expected to be the last dinner in Hilltop House. The fire lit in the fireplace’s remains, (the chimney less drawing, as guiding the fire) the meal was laid across white tablecloths, glasses toasted and food shared. At the conclusion each guest carried their own chair home with them along the woodland path.

The work was not well received by my art college tutors (perhaps because they were not invited), and the project came to it’s own natural conclusion. Hilltop House lay silent again.

In 2016, a new opportunity arose to revisit some of these themes. Milkbank is a somewhat grander affair. Known locally with a certain amount of tenderness, the tragedy of Milkbank – of such a beautifully crafted building left to disrepair after such a short time as a residential location, of the death of the son McIlDowie during the construction, and the shortened life of the first Bell-Irving for whom Milkbank was constructed. It is a place of local knowledge, and it is accepted as part of the local landscape, although it is absent from the maps and guides of the area, and was technically demolished in the 1950’s. This has been my home-monument.

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To bring life back, even temporarily to these empty and drafty buildings, to invite exploration, and intimate gatherings places the history of our culture out of the museum cabinets and into every day conversation and discovery. Potential and possibility arise from unexpected corners.

Interpreting or interacting with these places is one of balance, seeking neither to over power or be over taken by their own stagnant attraction. Issues of scale, colour, object, shape and material became my obsession.

Light is powerful. It rules our interactions,, our comfort-levels, it directs us and shapes our movements. Next time we’d like more light.

By removing one sense, we must entirely re-draw our understanding of our environment. Adjust our step and reinterpret place. Reverberations create new space where previously there was none, hidden between the cracks of the physical present. Acoustics are a big learning curve. Our understanding of sound is complex and mysterious.

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Dinner is of much more importance than it might seem. The trivial and the everyday also creates space, for new conversations, exchange and discovery. I may have forgotten the salt (and the spoons), but the act of sharing invites us all to participate together. Dinner is a potentially powerful art process.

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).

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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.

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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.

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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.