Sunday, 26 August 2012

Presencing Place: Jo Thomas at Gallery@49

We were handed a plain white card that said -

Gallery@49 had a break during the month of August, like all good galleries, but in its goal to support the regions artists they handed the keys over to Reading based artist Jo Thomas to use the gallery as a research/residency space. Jo is currently researching ‘Presencing Place: the knowing and shaping of place through expanded arts practice’ as part of her PhD at Oxford Brookes University.  I joined Jo and others on one of her planned walks around Bracknell town centre to discover the natural life tucked away in the urban spaces. We were guided around by Marlies Boydell, Biodiversity Officer for Bracknell Forest Council, for a close inspection of the public green spaces on the fringes of the town centre.

Biodiversity walk
Many, many years ago I remember learning a few of the names of the wildflowers that seem to appear from nowhere.  Now days I can identify a dandelion, the bramble of the blackberry, a California poppy, but not much else so it was interesting to learn about the 'Bladder Campion', 'Cocks Foot', 'False Oat Grass', and 'Birds Foot Trefoil' that has two common names - 'eggs and bacon' or 'Grannie's toenails'!  I never knew so much variety was in the verges we pass by, and that it's not only the breeze and the birds that bring in the seeds but imported soil.

Jo has been gathering maps, making drawings, video and sound recordings, and gathering input from the passing public as to their thoughts about the town which is still struggling with a long promised regeneration.  Her time in the gallery and her walks around Bracknell town centre provide the input to feed her artistic research, it may be awhile till fruition of her sense of this place, it will be interesting to see where it takes her.

Tuesday, 21 August 2012

A visit to 'OpenHand OpenSpace' Artists Studios by Barbara Gorska

Oxford Road is one of the most multicultural areas in Reading - it is a long street sprinkled with the strangest mixture of ethnic stores, amongst those a tall brick building stands out. This is where OpenHand OpenSpace (OHOS) has been residing since it was founded in the 70’s, making OHOS one of the oldest functioning artist organisations with rentable studio space outside of London.  The building has 12 studios located across two floors, some of which are shared, it currently has 15 artists using the space. There is also a gallery on the ground floor which is available for the OHOS members.

There are two different ways of becoming a member of OHOS, artists may apply for studio space and become studio artists when space becomes available. The other membership option is to become an associate of OHOS. Associate members may book the OHOS gallery for exhibitions or other activities, and participate in networking opportunities. In order to become a member of OHOS one has to meet set selection criteria.  The studio artists are engaged in a variety of artistic disciplines ranging from sculpture, to painting and performance, and come from different backgrounds and countries. 

Being in this artistic milieu enables them to benefit from a good artistic network and the opportunities it may offer, including the chance to exhibit outside Reading. Recent places have included Portugal, the Balkans and London.

OHOS is setup as a registered charity, the artists are currently involved in a programme to make the public aware of the long and interesting history of the building in which they reside. It is a grade II listed former Victorian armoury and guardroom that was once part of Brock Barracks. Some of the future projects involve collecting oral stories from seniors who remember the times when that building belonged to the army.

All in all, it was a wonderful experience for me to visit OHOS - it emanates rawness and authenticity as the building has not been altered a lot from its original structure. I believe that creating art in that kind of environment must be very inspiring for the ones who have the opportunity to work there.