Tuesday, 1 July 2014

Off the art map but the work goes on . . .

I attended a symposium in London last week which had the tempting proposition of 'mapping the art world', only as it relates to London versus the rest of the UK that is. I had a 2 hour journey from 'the grey zone' to the east London venue and the expense of SW trains to deal with, but for a bit of face to face socialising with fellow artists, a look around some London studios and an afternoon of speakers and topics that sounded interesting I figured it was worth it. My journey was far shorter than a few I talked to, with artists and art workers coming from as far away as Birmingham and Manchester. It was an OK symposium, nothing new really, it just re-enforced the view that for the majority of artists and small artist-led organisations it's tough 'out there', and 'there' can be in the east end of London, central Manchester, or the heart of 'the grey zone'.

Saying that, today's announcement from Arts Council England regarding funding for arts organisations in 2015-18 stated they were shifting the balance of funding ever so slightly to outside London. Their interactive map is interesting, zoom in on 'the grey zone' (Berkshire) and filter it on Visual Arts only and it's dire. If you include Combined Arts in the search The Corn Exchange in Newbury appears, but theatre and music are a far greater emphasis for them then the visual arts. This map only refers to the regular funding of their 'portfolio' organisations and is not a true picture of the regional arts scene. In the symposium it was stated that artists outside London were more likely to be successful in Grants for the Arts than London based ones, and this funding pot is increasing next year. So perhaps there may be more projects in the region like the two I mentioned in a previous post, it just means a lot of form filling.

We are also in full swing for 'Open Studios' and 'Art Trails' across the region, they do seem to be multiplying or growing. The first Reading town centre Open for Art trail celebrating Reading's arts, culture and heritage runs this weekend. Some of the 'empty shop' window installations sound interesting, I wish them success and hope they can build on this in years to come.

I, like many artists in the region and beyond, just keep plugging away at our chosen art form despite the various challenges, as that's what we must do, as been said it's like breathing. In the meantime you seek out whatever opportunities you can, support yourself through other means where possible, and build a network across various outlets.

This will be my last post on 'Art in the Grey Zone', with the end of ReOrsa and Gallery@49 last year the non-commercial contemporary art scene on my doorstep stopped. Its been interesting going around the region and seeing what else is happening but now I'm ready to spend time in my new home studio. I'm eager to play with 'messy' materials and get back into 3D forms again. I'll face the challenge of finding opportunities to show in the region later on, meanwhile the work goes on.

Observations on a Town by Janet Curley Cannon
art from the heart of the grey zone

I've taken to Twitter for my musings, observations, and wider art interests, you can follow me @JCurleyCannon or keep up to date with other news on my web site. This blog archive will be available for awhile so make sure and follow the links to the artists and arts organisations from across the region!

Tuesday, 3 June 2014

Opening a space for site-responsive art

There are many artists who consider some of their work 'site-specific', I have, I think of it literally as work made for a specific location. But I often come across the term 'site-responsive' art and wondered about the difference as it relates to objects made. A Google search led me to ART/SITE where curator Gillian McIver describes most site-responsive work as having a performative element, which was my guess, but says "Site response in art occurs when the artist is engaged in an investigation of the site as part of the process in making the work." So for my own work 'New Dead End Street' was site-specific but not 'about' the location, where as 'Urban Boundaries' was a direct result of the location, therefore site-responsive. My interest in clarifying the terms came about as a result of the exhibition I recently visited at The REME Museum of Technology by artists from OpenHand OpenSpace and arjeea21 entitled 'New Grounds'.

REME Curator Jennifer Allison says "We were excited to look at our collection in a new light and to bring out different stories and elements through artistic expression. At the core of all the pieces is an element of the REME soldier, one of the trades or a part of the collection..." Knowing many of these artists from 'the grey zone' and having had a small hand in the initial selection process for the project, I was curious to see the final outcomes for this site-responsive art in what is a very challenging non-white exhibition space.

work by Ingrid Jensen and Jon Lockhart
Upon entering the Prince Philip Vehicle Hall the first work that catches your eye is Ingrid Jensen's luminescent white silk triangles floating high above, reminiscent of UN flags seen on desert trucks in the news. A closer look reveals detailed line drawings of vehicle parts "that REME personnel interact with during use, maintenance or repair". A little further on and the work that was probably most noticed by the majority of visitors was that of Jon Lockhart. He says he "created a unique interactive museum display piece that merges militaria, display, theatre and a sense of history". I'm not sure how well all of that came through, but there was certainly interest by old and young alike to work the spoon maze to get a sweet to drop out of one end.

work by Katy Pike
The Vehicle Hall is packed with huge equipment, information boards, miniature displays and much more. It wasn't easy to spot some of the smaller, more subtle artistic interventions, as was the case with the incredibly moving work by Katy Pike. It was tucked around the edge of a tank in a corner, a note written on the sand telling a story that encapsulates so many of the objects in the museum. Katy explains "My piece of work gives an object a personality and travels back to reinterpret all the experiences around the journey of the object and its connection with the past." Many visitors will probably pass this work by due to it subtlety and placement, but its a wonderful piece and an excellent example of site-responsive artistic creativity.

The other artists in the exhibition include Roxana Tohaneau-Shields, Neile Wright, Ivilina Kouneva, Gill Goodwin, Gerhard Bissel, Chris Hunt and Sarah Britten-Jones. They all offer various interpretations on experiences, emotions, or wider conceptual ideas based around the objects or memories contained within the REME Museum. Some are very subtle, like Katy's, and take time to contemplate and reflect upon, others loom large and capture a more playful side of the collection. This is a good opportunity to visit this museum, tucked away near Arborfield Garrison, and experience its objects, history, and memories with the creative assistance of some of our regional artists.

'New Grounds' at The REME Museum of Technology runs until the 28th Sept 2014.

Monday, 19 May 2014

A Studio based art practice

It is very hard to keep 'making' and growing as an artist if your work involves needing a studio space and/or access to specialist equipment and you don't have these. I've had this conversation on several occasions lately with fellow artists. The flip side of the conversation is how to afford to have studio space and/or access to the equipment if available when making a living as a 'practising' artist is so hard. These topics are always of interest to me as previous posts indicate, but they have occupied my thoughts again for several reasons.

Last May I and 6 other artists were moving out of the empty shop we had as studios in Bracknell to make way for the regeneration. They knocked down the buildings but the land still lays empty waiting for the new development. One year on and none of the artists have found alternative space and few are struggling to maintain an 'active' practice. The nature of artwork, or lack of it, often directly corresponds to the space or equipment at hand.

When I finished my Masters in Fine Art Print I stopped the 'traditional' print processes' I had been pursuing for the previous 6+ years for many reasons but limited access to a large press and other equipment contributed to it. Within the following year I set-up a studio in an empty shop in Bracknell and for the next 6+ years had space to experiment, be messy, make large work, and have other artists around me that helped me grow as an artist. It was the impetus that took my art into working mainly with mixed-media, found objects, and 3D form during those years.

Since being back home my work has returned by necessity to 'clean' work on paper. I struggle to create any mixed-media work, moving from the kitchen to the garage to the table in my 'spare' room to do a current series of inkjet transfers on plaster panels for a show next month has been far more difficult then I envisioned. Creating anything in 3D is a struggle and using 'found objects' means I have to first 'find' my collection of bits in the various boxes and cupboards I have stuffed them in. The creative inspiration of the work space around me and immediacy of materials and equipment is important. I had to resolve this if I was to continue to develop as a 'mid-career artist' and keep pushing my work in new and interesting ways.

Unfortunately I learned in early April the studio complex I mentioned in February isn't happening, the artist pursuing it couldn't get the numbers/cost ratio right to meet the overall monthly rent the landlord was asking for. The only place in the region I know of providing affordable studios, Open Hand in Reading, has a waiting list.

I feel lucky to have the support of my husband in pursuing my art practice and thanks to a small inheritance we received in January we are making the changes to our home which will allow for a reasonable size wooden 'studio' building to be built at the bottom of the garden. I placed the order today and now have to wait the 8 - 10 weeks until it's built, but I am so very excited! It's an expensive cost all at once, compares to what I would spend on 8 years studio rent if I could find one nearby. I am hoping to continue to work as an artist far beyond that so hope to get my money's worth out of the space. As far as the artist network goes that's a bit harder to replace out here in 'the grey zone', I'm still working on it.

My new studio designed for a small garden

Friday, 28 March 2014

A Base Line for Regional Arts

I have found the recent news of London getting a far higher percentage of arts funding compared to the rest of the country interesting. On BBC2 earlier this month there was an excellent programme by Evan Davis 'Mind The Gap: London versus the Rest' that delved into the impact of London's growth at the expense of the rest of the country. This topic isn't new, the pull of the capital for culture, creative people and interest in creative activities has been felt here in 'the grey zone' for as long as I can remember, it just seems to be getting worse. So I was pleased when I heard 2 new projects in 'the grey zone' had secured the funding required to support regional artists. Last week I attended the launch of the project led by Reading based 'Outrider Anthems' Director Jennifer Leach who is managing a multidisciplinary programme about the life of WWI Poet Wilfred Owen in the south Oxfordshire town of Dunsden near Reading. And yesterday the invitation for the Private View of the project taking place at the REME Museum near Reading dropped into my mailbox, this involves 10 artists from OHOS and arjeea21 being commissioned to create new work for the Museum. This is great news, only a drop in the ever diminishing pool of creative support and interest outside of London, but I look forward to seeing their projects realised.

Fire Plane 1 by Pam Hardman
In my ongoing interest and support of the regions contemporary arts I finally made the time to get out to New Greenham Arts in Newbury. The exhibition 'Embrace The Base' is by Newbury based artist Pam Hardman and London based artist Andrea Hasler, joint winners of the Greenham Common Open 2012. The artists work is quite radically different to each other yet together they've created a strong exhibition exploring the political, social and cultural history of Greenham Common.

Pam Hardman looked at Greenham Common and it's sense of place. Her large etchings of the military bunkers overlaid with the blind embossed images of the watchtower, peace-camp posters, song sheets and traces of barbed wire were mesmerising. The blind embosses which required the viewer to catch the image in just the right angle of light were like looking back into the past, a fading memory of challenging times. Being local to the area she brings a sense of awe in the natural landscape, beautifully highlighting numerous areas and structures still remaining on the Common that speak of its chequered history.

Andrea Hasler jolts you back to the hard facts and cruelties of war through her sculptural pieces created in deceivingly feminine pink tones. Three wax figures stand in the first gallery combining aspects of nuclear explosions and human suffering, a historical statement of the casualties of war. But turn the corner to what seems like peaceful representations of the tents, so identifiable to the protests at Greenham Common, to be confronted with a putrid, visceral outpouring of emotion, I felt ill. I'm not sure if it was intended or a by-product of the work having been in place for almost 2 months but there was a surface slime, beads of sweat running down the sides and the trail of red 'blood-like' liquid had been stepped in creating traces of foot prints trailing away. Very powerful work.

Matriarch by Andrea Hasler
'Embrace The Base' runs until 11th April at New Greenham Arts, Newbury.

Monday, 10 February 2014

Sketchbooks and Studio space - sustaining creativity

I've been reading an interesting book recently titled "Living and Sustaining a Creative Life - Essays by 40 Working Artists" edited by Sharon Louden. Amazon's description reads "In this day and age, when art has become more of a commodity and art school graduates are convinced that they can only make a living from their work by attaining gallery representation, it is more important than ever to show the reality of how a professional contemporary artist sustains a creative practice over time". The book, recently published, is American but many of the struggles, experiences, and measures of success ring true for artists in 'the grey zone'. The essays convey the ways artists sustain their practice after art school, juggling between paid work (many are art teachers), family life, and the desire to be part of an active art community. Many struck a familiar note as they wrote of being outside major art cities, struggling to keep in contact with artists, galleries and curators while finding opportunities to earn a real living from their practice, but they manage.

Of course there are virtual networks, a related article was mentioned by an art colleague recently through our 'linked' connection. It's a 1991 speech that John Cleese (of Monty Python fame) gave about being creative, including his comments on giving yourself space and time, it's posted on the great web journal 'brain pickings'. This same colleague is also a contact in a 'real world network' which is helping several artists, including myself, keep our creative juices flowing. We are participating in a sketchbook collaboration between artists linked to South Hill Park Arts Centre here in 'the grey zone'. Each month we swap back and forth our sketchbook with nominated artists, this type of collective has been around for awhile but its the first time I've been involved in one.

Jan Gaska's drawing (left) and my collage response (right)

I decided to use my sketchbook to do some collage work, which I enjoy but have done little of recently, and drawing as a response to the collage. I didn't share this description with my first swap partner, painter-printmaker Jan Gaska, so I was quite intrigued to get my book back at the start of February and see how he'd responded. I saw a comment he posted on twitter saying he "doesn't normally do collage but was quite pleased with the results" and he should be, they're wonderful. Within just a few days of getting the book back I wanted to find the time to respond to both his drawing and wonderful collages. This Sketchpad collective will be just one way I'll be sustaining my creative life this year.

Jan Gaska's collage (left) and my drawn response (right)

One of John Cleese's ingredients for being creative is to give your self space, regular readers of this blog will know this has been a challenge for me and others in 'the grey zone'. I have decided to take the plunge and invest in a purpose built 'art studio' at the end of the garden, future posts to follow on this subject. I have also been told recently of an artist planning to set-up a new studio complex with the potential for 14 affordable and easily accessible studios in Wokingham. If your reading this and want to know more about a space get in touch, I'll help make the network connection!

Friday, 24 January 2014

Sensing Spaces: Reimagining the built environment

I am an ardent observer of the built environment and continually draw artistic inspiration from architecture. I was hooked by its potential power while studying Art History for my BA, having an architecture student as my flat mate probably helped. When I heard of the Royal Academy of Arts exhibition 'Sensing Spaces: Architecture Reimagined' I knew I would be making the trip from 'the grey zone' into London to see it. So it was with great surprise and pleasure that I received an invitation from the RA to come along to a bloggers Private View before the official opening, and WOW it's an amazing exhibition.

I think using the word 'architecture' in the title is a bit of a mis-nomer though. It is an exhibition of installations on how we encounter and respond to 'space', the artists who designed these spaces are architects. I've heard architecture described as sculpture in mammoth proportions, sculpture excels when it effectively uses the 3D space around, through, or created by it, that negative space. This exhibition is very much about how these spaces effect and impact our senses, and it does so brilliantly.

detail of Pezo von Ellrichshausen installation with glimpse of RA gallery 

I was visually overpowered by the work of the Chilean architects Pezo von Ellrichshausen in a mammoth pine structure filling the main gallery, here the daunting feeling often caused by architecture is effectively recreated within the enclosed space. Yet climbing up the stairs to the balcony level opens up views of the dainty angels that ring the neoclassical gallery, a contrast of the large highlighting the small.

As I entered the galleries with the installations by Japanese architect Kengo Kuma my sense of smell was taken aback. Having never been to Japan but with lots of time in the Greek islands I knew that aroma the moment I walked through the curtained gallery. Here in this dark and hushed space were delicate intertwined bamboo twigs, lighted discreetly from below, which awakened memories of fields of swaying bamboo, damp from the warm night air.

Curator Kate Goodwin is inviting the public to use our sense of touch as well within this exhibition, contrary to the rules in most art settings. The colourful interactive installation by Diébédo Francis Kéré spanning two galleries will grow as visitors are able to choose straws to insert into the textured plastic grid structure.

entrance to the installation by Li Xiaodong

The repeated patterns of precisely measured wood twigs in the maze installation by Chinese architect Li Xiaodong were reminiscent of a slow meander through a forest, even with the cave like hideaways. Nearing the end, the sound of cobbles crunching under foot woke me from my musings, the use of mirrors and light playing with one's perception of place.

My favourite installation though was in the last gallery I entered, here I found that sense of awe that architectural space can give me. Grafton Architects, two women from Ireland, created a modern cathedral like space out of what looked like heavy concrete geometric forms, brutalist in style, suspended from the ceiling. And like the Gothic cathedrals across Europe, the effect of soft light streaming through openings, casting subtle shadows, was magical.


detail of installation by Grafton Architects

It was wonderful seeing the exhibition at night, with only a small number of visitors, but I am intrigued to re-visit the exhibition during the day and with the crowds. The smell of fresh pine and bamboo will be gone but the daylight and sounds of people in the spaces will provide a different experience, really looking forward to it!

'Sensing Spaces: Architecture Reimagined' is on at the Royal Academy of Arts, London from the 25 January to 6 April 2014.