Friday, 5 February 2016

The Reliquary Project talk

I will  be talking about my residency on 24th February, I hope some of you can come. Here's the invitation with details:

Thursday, 14 January 2016

Time slips

and slips away from me.

It is traditional, at the turn of the year, to look back and then to look forward at the coming year, but right now I have more of a sense of time sliding. Work right now has a theme of past, present and future slipping backwards and forwards; the past informs the future and the future informs the past.

I've been working on a number of pieces for The Reliquary Project over the past few months. The exhibition for the project is confirmed: it will run from 6th May until 30th June 2016 at Attenborough Arts Centre in Leicester. They've offered me Gallery 3, the new upstairs gallery which, I have to say, is my favourite space of the two smaller rooms. There's a window wall that looks down onto the double-height space below, so that's got me thinking about how I can use the space creatively and I am thinking of the exhibition as an installation, changing the whole space in some way, not just hanging things on walls.

In the second half of last year I ran a number of workshops in schools for the project, working with students of varying ages, from 8 to 18. I developed the workshops as I went along, so I could react to the responses of the students as well as them reacting to my work. I showed different examples of my own work to them to try to get some feedback (and children can be so honest!).

Reliquary for a bird, Avenue Primary School
One workshop I ran with 8 year olds, I asked them to create a reliquary for an animal that was special to them. Some created this for their pets, but others thought really hard about what made an animal "special" in their view and this was a really interesting discussion about what we value. Some of them made reliquaries for animals that were extinct. One child made a reliquary for a mongoose, an animal he had seen in India and had made quite an impression!

Working with Regent College students. Photos  by Jacqueline Hunt
I also ran a workshop at Regent College for A Level art students. The students were really insightful and it encouraged me to hear what they read into my work. I talked to them about being an artist, about my route in and about higher education, as they are thinking about their options for university at the moment. They were very attentive, asked intelligent questions and they made their work with a sense of fun but also serious application.  It was a really enjoyable experience for me.

Regent College students. Photos by Jacqueline Hunt
They wrote very thoughtful evaluation notes at the end of the session and I felt I had made a real impact.

Evaluation notes from student, Regent College
I ran an open workshop for families too, using pantographs to make large scale bone drawings. This was really fun and I would like to do that workshop again, if I get the opportunity. I can offer a further two free workshops for schools, so if you know a school that might like one, do get in touch.

Using the giant pantograph!
A couple of other things have developed as a result of The Reliquary Project. I've been invited to do an artist's talk at New Art Exchange, an arts centre in Hyson Green, Nottingham, on Saturday 5th March. The talk is to accompany an exhibition by artist Larissa Sansour and her newest film "In The Future They Ate From The Finest Porcelain". Sansour's film is a science fiction, considering the manipulation of archaeology. I've been asked to create an alternative guided tour from my own point of view about art and archaeology, and I've been thinking about time slips, past, present and future sliding in to one another and about myth making. I may title my talk "Uchronia" (though I am still deciding on this.)

I'll be running a series of three workshops as an evening class at Attenborough Arts Centre (as part of their Creative Learning Programme) on the theme of art and archaeology. The course will use my exhibition as a starting point and we will consider materiality, time, objects in time, and create contemporary works from these ideas, using drawing, found objects and casting techniques. I always enjoy working with other people and sparking ideas off each other, and I'm sure that this course will feed my own thoughts further.

I hope you'll be able to join me for some of these events. I keep an up to date list of things I'm running in the right sidebar of this blog so please check back there for updates. Thanks for following.

Tuesday, 13 October 2015

Finding Our Voice

Collaborative drawing by women in Loudspeaker
On 27th November I will be part of a conference called Finding Our Voice at Nottingham Contemporary.

The conference is a culmination of three years work that I have been doing with the Contemporary in partnership with the charity Changing Lives.  Loudspeaker was an innovative project for women facing complex life challenges. Groups of women worked with me and artist Gillian Brent to look at and learn about contemporary art and respond to art in their own creative ways, developing their confidence and self esteem through their thinking and making. The project has been an amazing experience for all of us, and the conference aims to share some of the things we've learned and to discuss issues that women face.

To give the women of Loudspeaker a voice in the conference, Gillian and I, along with artist Ben Harriott, are currently working with some of the women to create a film essay that will be first shown at the conference. The women have been incredible, voicing their insights and allowing us to direct them in various locations around Nottingham in order to express something of what Loudspeaker has meant to them. I feel immensely proud of them as I write this, and all that they have achieved. One of the women involved, Lynn, started with me at the very first session of Loudspeaker three years ago and has been involved in so many things since: acting as a mentor for all the following groups, speaking to the press and media about women's issues, visiting schools, volunteering on the family programme at Nottingham Contemporary and now helping to make the film. Today I interviewed her for the film about the progress she has made over the past three years and moving into the future. Her positive energy is an inspiration, amazing for somebody who has had to overcome incredibly difficult things in her life. I have seen her grow and grow over the years and it's people like Lynn that keep me doing what I'm doing.

Details of the conference are appearing on the Nottingham Contemporary website, and you can read a blog written by the women of Loudspeaker here.

Monday, 28 September 2015

Workshops coming up

I have lots of new workshops coming up for everybody to get involved with - and they're all free!
Here's a run down, but for more details check the links in the right sidebar under Events coming up.

If family fun is your thing, my first workshop is Bones and Pantographs on Saturday 3rd October at Attenborough Arts Centre, Leicester, as part of my Reliquary Project at the University. This is a free family drop-in to come and experiment making BIG drawings from bones using pantographs.

After that I am currently planning with Attenborough Arts a series of Saturday afternoon family workshops from November to January to accompany their first exhibition in the new gallery, Art, Life, Activism: Contemporary art and the Politics of Disability. With an impressive line up of artists exhibiting, my workshops will aim to give fun ways for families to engage creatively with some of the exhibition's themes.

On 17th October I'll be making a return to the Fruit Routes project at Loughborough University where I'll be involved in the Harvest Celebration, a day of creative goings-on and exchange of fruit grown on campus. This is a fantastic project by artist Anne-Marie Culhane and the celebrations get bigger every year!

For adults, I'll be running a second workshop on Critical Poster Design. This is a series of events I'm doing for the ICA alongside their touring exhibition Whose Gaze is it Anyway?, looking at Arab pop culture. My first workshop (pictured) took place at Phoenix Arts in Leicester, where we used a variety of hand printing techniques to create fictional film posters inspired by the exhibition. I'll be repeating this workshop at the Potteries Museum in Stoke-on-Trent on 26th October, exact details to be confirmed. If you're interested, check back to this page and the Events listing in the sidebar.

There are, as ever, other projects in development too... so keep following for more information.

I hope to see some of you at my workshops!

Thursday, 3 September 2015

Bones and Pantographs

Bones and Pantographs Workshop

Saturday 3rd October 2015
Attenborough Arts Centre, Leicester
Drop in between 1 and 3pm.

Work with Jo Dacombe, artist-in-residence at the School of Archaeology at the University of Leicester, to make small and huge drawings inspired by animal bones!

All animals share the same basic skeletal structure, but their bones can vary in size from the extremely tiny to the enormous. Jo will be using pantographs, a mechanical device used to turn small drawings into large ones, to create drawings of bones in different sizes. This is a drop-in workshop for anybody and everybody to come and have a go at drawing with a pantograph and making your own scale drawings.

The event is free.
Suitable for all ages, children must be accompanied by an adult.

This event is part of The Big Draw, the world's biggest drawing festival.

Jo’s residency, The Reliquary Project, is supported using public funding by the National Lottery through Arts Council England

Thank you to Attenborough Arts Centre for their support.
Photo by Andrew Postlethwaite

Wednesday, 1 July 2015

Animal Tropes and Enchanted Woodlands

Animals in the woods, The Hunter and the Hunted, Colwick Woods
I have been researching appearances of animals in folklore and myth.  I started doing this alongside my Reliquary Project, to think about what animals represent to us and how this has changed over the centuries, but inevitably this interest has started to influence other projects I'm working on.

Because I'm inspired by the image of the reliquary, a Medieval Christian notion, I have been reading around the medieval period. A wonderful book is Image on the Edge: The Margins of Medieval Art1 a book on marginalia, those intriguing images that decorate the margins of medieval texts. Here animals appear in strange guises. Dogs dress as humans or hide under their cloaks, there are snails that attack medieval knights in armour, hares become archers intent on the murder of humans, and rabbits scamper about and nestle up against pretty girls. A lot of this is believed to be sexually suggestive, and I love the book's whole thesis that the margins are where the artist defiles and pokes fun at the righteousness of the page's main text.

It's the theme of running wild, of humans believing they are central, but around the edges are these wild creatures rampantly ignoring the preaching of the text:
"One of the most powerful statements that the monstrosities of marginal art make is that they violate the taboo that separates the human from the animal."

Becoming animals, Colwick Woods

In Saints and Animals in the Middle Ages 2 animals again represent the wildness, but in these old stories their relationship with the divine is complicated and contradictory. The stories seem to me to be a constant battle between wildness, or freedom, and those in authority.  Sometimes the authority is simply that of the human, who believes that he has dominion over the earth and the animals, but finds he cannot control the wildness all around him. Sometimes the authority is the Church, but often the wild and natural creatures are seen as closer to god than humans and, although crude and base, are actually more akin with the purest of Christian hearts. The religious hermit chooses to live in the forest with the creatures because they are not tainted by the deceitfulness of humans. Again the hare often appears, as a symbol of wildness. In stories such as St Anselm and the Hare and in the topos of the hermit and the hunted animal, the hare may represent the soul chased by its demons. The hermit is able to rescue the hunted animal because he lives outside of human society.

LJ and I discussing the hawthorn in Colwick Woods
The hare is of particular interest to me. It does have a really wild appearance, and a strange otherworldly quality. I came face to face with one in Dukes Wood, and now I'm working on another woodland project I'm thinking about him again. This time I'm working with Laura-Jade Klée, a curator I work with under the name Sidelong. The project is commissioned by Ordinary Culture, who also curated The Dukes Wood Project. Their current project, View From the East, takes place in Colwick Woods in Sneinton, Nottingham. Some of the themes of wildness and control are bleeding into this project, rubbing up alongside the tales we have unearthed about the woodlands itself, and LJ and I have become fascinated by the contrasts of the woodlands, the joy of the natural world but also its more threatening side. There are many dark deeds that have taken place in these woods, as well as a real sense of playfulness and enchantment. We are calling our project The Hunter and the Hunted, and through storytelling we are playing with the contrasting ideas of the woodland of a place of safety where you can hide from the hunter, but also a place of fear where you can easily become lost.

LJ and I will be running a stall on the afternoon of the Colwick Woods Gala Day, Sunday 5th July, where we will have activities for families - seek us out if you can!

All photographs in this post by Matthew Vaughan.

1 Image on the Edge: The Margins of Medieval Art, Michael Camille: Reaktion Books, London, 1992  
2 Saints and Animals in the Middle Ages, D Alexander: Boydell Press, 2008

Friday, 17 April 2015

Surveying Bradgate

It’s a lonely walk from the car park. I'm looking for the archaeologists, somewhere on the park they've been surveying for a few days. The weather is changeable, one minute warm sun and the next heavy dark clouds and driving rain. As I walk along the path the rain turns to hail stones and it's really chilly.

Then I see them in the distance, and it warms me. Not stopping for the weather, the archaeologists plough on through, choreographing their poles and tapes, a step by step measure across the ground, delving rods into the earth.

I sidle up to one of them, a student who is sheltering under a tree and leaning on a red and white striped pole, it seems like a sensible place to be. I ask her what they're doing. She describes marvelous things to me, like tapping the earth’s magnetic pole, gauging amounts of moisture in the soil and what the gaps tell us. She talks of lasers passing through orange prisms and ways of seeing into the earth. She stands by a pile of rods and tripods. I think they are magician's tools.

I speak to Rob. He tells me how they were led here, to this spot, by viewing aerial images and seeing the tell tale shapes of the earth that we can't see standing on the ground. It's like reading the signs meant for the gods, and seeing back in time.

I watch them for a while, mapping this other viewpoint.  Mapping and re-mapping, mapping materiality, mapping by metal, stone, wood, soil.

The rain is still throwing it down, forced into us by a strong wind. Their carefully placed tapes come loose and flap, they catch them and re-measure and their rhythmic trudge continues. Finally the sun breaks out again, and dries my jeans.

I see some people I know, Katrien and Mark. I don't speak to them much because they are counting. Katrien draws rectangles and numbers on her clipboard. She mentions some animal bones that have been spotted in a river.

The measuring is done for the day, and they start to pack up and compare notes. Everybody seems tired and glad to finish, but still with a mild excitement because they know that Mark will take the results and look at the images that evening and it will be very soon that they begin to see what the instruments can see.

Richard appears, having fetched the van. I ask him about the river bones. Katrien and I follow him in a near-run across the scrub, me stumbling, Katrien more gracefully. We reach a small brook, Richard navigates its curves and locates the spot. We crouch on the grass, my knees are on sodden soil and my hands lean on stinging nettles. I have to get my chin over the edge of the water to see the bones.

At first I can’t see them, then do, or don’t, or is it rock, I’m not sure. "How did you spot them?" I ask Richard.

"Just walking in the water."

His eyes are trained to see bones, even when camouflaged, it's like a habit. Give Richard an animal bone and he instantly starts to identify it, what age it was, trying to find its story. It's like a reflex action.

Exhausted from battling the weather and the physicality of the repetitive walking, lifting, placing, walking, lifting, placing, staking and taping, the archaeologists climb back in the bus and are gone. There is no sign that they were ever here, but for a few discreet markers staked in the grass, my wet knees and my tingling palms.

As I walk back to the car park, now under blue skies, I see a new image superimposed on this land, an image with village homes, a kennel, a slaughterhouse, blackened heaps, buildings and walls. And it is transformed forever.

The cliché is that archaeology is about digging. Today I realise it's about seeing. Seeing in different ways.

That night I go to a poetry event. One of the poets talks of reading a landscape like a phrenologist, its undulations mapped like lumps and bumps on a skull to discover its underlying character.

And my palms are tingling.


You can follow the progress and see photos of the Bradgate Park dig on their Facebook page.

Dr Mark Gillings is running a day conference on Archaeology and the Map, find out more at