Writing / Grizedale Arts Blog

Guest Blog: Rachel Dobbs on 'The Children of Grizedale'

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The Children of Grizedale hear from members of The Black Shed research team. Image courtesy Rachel Dobbs.

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The Children of Grizedale meet with Grizedale Arts Director Adam Sutherland at Lawson Park, alongside a current job list. Image courtesy Rachel Dobbs.

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Motoko Fujita introduces 'The 10-year Expanded Dream of Kiwanasato' project to the group at Water Yeat Village Hall. Image courtesy Rachel Dobbs.

It is a hot Thursday evening in midsummer. 14 ambitious early career artists and curators, who have not met each other before, step off the train at Ulverston on the edge of the Lake District. Some have been traveling for a few hours, some for a whole day. They look for a sign. They have been given instructions addressed to the ominously titled ~Children of Grizedale~ and not everyone is exactly sure what they are doing here. They are ushered onto a mini bus that takes them off down winding country roads at a pace. People start to introduce themselves to each other and give hints at the mystery process that has brought them together. The group does not know all the details about where they are going, but they are aware that someone else, who they have not met yet, has plans for them.

So far, so folk horror - right?

As part of Grizedale Arts’s celebrations of 20 years of Adam Sutherland as director and 10 years of life at Lawson Park, the Children of Grizedale was initiated as a special professional development event - sharing and celebrating how and why Grizedale Arts works. Over a long weekend, some of the organisation’s alumni and current & former staff shared their personal experiences of developing, testing, delivering, honing, breaking and adapting its programme and practices.

On paper, I recognize the format from the small-scale pilot for Jamboree (now a national gathering of artists & curators, on the Dartington Estate in rural Devon) that myself (Rachel Dobbs) and Hannah Rose held at Plymouth Arts Centre in 2015 - an intensive residential bringing together visual arts practitioners and curators (nominated by partner organisations) to spend time with each other, at close quarters, to get to know each other a little, considering new ideas and new ways of working. We’ll eat, sleep and travel together. We’ll have a jam-packed schedule. We might even become friends - who knows! Whether by serendipity or careful planning, the programme producer for the weekend is Emma Sumner, who was one of the original Jamboree participants.

I go into the weekend thinking about the power of bringing people together - facilitating new and unexpected connections, generating unexpected consequences and the potential of finding valuable or agreeable things not sought for. After dropping off my bags at the Youth Hostel, we all cram back into the minibus, off to our first destination.

At the Coniston Institute, we meet Adam Sutherland who sets the tone by charting two intertwined histories. Firstly, that of the 19th century Mechanics' Institute movement - the 700+ educational establishments set up in towns, cities and villages around Britain & British colonies to disseminate the knowledge of art, science and technology with the aim of educating and improving conditions for the local industrial workforce. And secondly that of Grizedale Arts - from 1970s/1980s style ‘sculpture garden’ to becoming an organisation with a track-record of launching the careers of influential artists & curators, and establishing new ground for visual arts practices to operate and develop outside of the gallery system.

With these trajectories as a backdrop, over the weekend, we go on to hear from ex-deputy directors Ceri Hand and Alistair Hudson, ex-curator and project manager Jenny Brownrigg, current head gardener, warden and artist Karen Guthrie, and alumni artists Bedwyr Williams &  Niamh Riordan (Fairland Collective). We’re also introduced to some current projects at Grizedale Arts including “The 10-year Expanded Dream of Kiwanasato” (an exchange-based learning school between Grizedale & a small, remote village in rural Japan with a rapidly-ageing population), “The Black Shed” (an experimental compact, self-build housing project developed by an all-women interdisciplinary team) and the recently completed concrete walls and steps in Lawson Parks gardens by Tanad Williams & Andreas Von Knobloch.

Everyone we meet is pretty open and honest about how things at Grizedale Arts operate - it’s variously described (at different stages of its life over the last two decades) as: a small municipality stuck between competing land management systems; “The House Of Fun”; an extended B&B-drinking-nightmare-pit; a school for naughty children; a hive; an art farm (that generates a culture of production and export, with a diversity of crops); a cult; and an organisation with a strong desire and intention to be useful.

There are also a number of reoccurring themes in the various accounts of life, projects and art-making here. Here are a few of my favourites:

Minor rules make things run:

No shoes inside the house. Meet at 9am everyday with to work out what’s going to happen each day. No coffee, phones or laptops should be brought. Lunch is at 1pm sharp, has three courses, lasts for 1 hour (including tidy up) and involves everyone who’s onsite. No more than 3 people on the bridge at once. Red-painted doors & gates are for everyone, yellow ones are for staff only. Reinvent the whole programme every 10 years. Make yourself useful. Resist doing the same thing over & over. No whistling ever anywhere.

Valuing people’s time: 

After becoming frustrated with the number of ‘art hours’ wasted through the previous open application / proposal system for residencies (where 200 artists might each spend a day or two writing up ideas, the majority of which were all interesting and showed promise) and the failures of the traditional residency model (where artists take large chunks of time out of their normal lives to secrete themselves away to “make art”), Grizedale decided to replace this with their Volunteer programme.

Here, interested folk get in touch to offer their labour and skills for one week at Lawson Farm and come to work - either by helping in the garden, with on-going maintenance work, researching, admin, or making things for the projects. Some volunteers continue to work with Grizedale afterwards as Associate Artists or in other roles. It’s kind of like an apprenticeship - learning things through practical, vocational activities - artists and others contribute to nurturing, looking after and developing how the organisation operates where they can, and the organisation does the same in return. If more people apply than there is space for, volunteers are selected on the simple criteria of “Who could be the most useful at this moment?”.

Pitch in, wash up, sweep the floors: 

Grizedale Arts’ base at Lawson Park is a working farmhouse and productive smallholding, located in a geographical context that attracts visitors and tourists. Here the emphasis on the ‘working’ and ‘productive’ aspects far outweigh the ‘visitor’ or ‘tourist’ modes - if you’re coming here as a visiting artist, maker, writer, researcher, curator, academic, designer or student you will be called upon to get stuck in. This ethos also extends and is exemplified by the way Grizedale’s activities have shifted away from what its current director Adam Sutherland termed ‘jackass curation’ in favour of putting down roots in the local social ecology over the last ten years.

Alistair Hudson described this as a process of “joining in” in the village - applying a bit of “art competence”, and doing things (crucially, that needed doing) with care and attention. This “joining in” has included organising the local Harvest Festival in 2010 with St. Andrew's Church in Coniston; helping to refurbish the Coniston Institute as a village hall & community hub with Boon Day volunteers and the Institute Committee; establishing the Honest Shop; bringing in ‘expert shelf designer’ Liam Gillick to re-imagine the village library; and working with the New Mechanics (Coniston Youth Club). Each of these examples involves a process of re-thinking the function of spaces, social contexts and systems of exchange, and importantly happen by invitation of different groups in the local community.

Work in ways that are ad-hoc and provisional: 

Working on projects with Grizedale Arts was described by some of the speakers as a kind of chaos - not knowing exactly what is going to happen, how many people or who will be turning up for dinner, or what’s needed until the last minute. However, this goes hand-in-hand with an approach that values adaptability, being fleet-of-foot, unbureaucratic and responsive to opportunities as they arrive. It’s part of the organisation’s attitude to just getting on with things, accepting and celebrating both skill & amateurism, and disrupting ‘institutional time’.

Things are improvised, repurposed and put to work in different ways - something which is echoed and evident in both the objects presented in the ‘1001 Village Nights’ retrospective exhibition (described by Adam Sutherland as stuff that was just hanging around) and the modular freestanding hanging / display system that houses them. Designed and built by Tom Philipson, using a leftover flooring material & joinery off cuts, this fully adaptable, multifunctional basket display system is equally at home in the village hall or popping up in exhibitions at the Whitworth, Wysing Arts Centre, Hauser & Wirth, Two Temple Place or Sweet Water Foundation in Chicago.

Develop useful collections: 

One of the things that keeps coming into conversation at Grizedale Arts is the idea (and practical demonstrations of) the “collection” as a tool for instruction. This idea links back to thinking around galleries and libraries as part of the Mechanics' Institute movement - holding a collection of useful objects, artifacts, books, artworks etc. that hold and unlock knowledge to help people to see how the world works. At Grizedale, intentional and ‘useful’ collections seem to materialise all over the place, with varying levels of portability, direct access and interpretation. At the Coniston Institute, reinstated glass cabinets (with carefully painted labels) house a collection of objects that make visible all of the other groups that use the space. Evidence of previous & current projects are inscribed on the fabric of the building itself through the painted panels below the stage in the hall, the pizza oven in the garden of the Ruskin Museum (around the back of the building) and in the on-going presence of the Honest Shop & self-service Library. Upstairs in the Grizedale Arts office, there is an ad-hoc archive to browse - with ‘remnants’ of previous projects, including drawings, sculptures, book works, macaques and leftover signs from events.

At Lawson Park, everything is part of an evolving project. Each object, piece of furniture, plant, building and book in the house and grounds has a story attached and is a learning tool - sometimes accessible via a human guide who might tell you the story of how that artefact came to be here, or an explanatory note, or a practical use. It’s a place for curious people - people who ask questions, who want to find out more, who want to pick things up and examine them. The “collection” grows, develops, changes shape and is made public to varying degrees. The objects go on tour & on exchange trips - this weekend, some of the things in the collection have been swapped with objects from the Red Lion pub’s collection, some of them have gone home with people who ate at the celebration dinner on Saturday night, some of them have gone out into the world on new journeys with hill walkers who have bought them from the Honest Shop, and some of them are sitting around in the village hall in Water Yeat.

Engaging with the programme, it also becomes clear that people have also become part of the “collection” - current and previous staff, participants & artists are assembled and ‘shown’ as part of a kind of human library for others to browse, explore and learn from. Their lived experience of the projects, ways of working and know-how is made available to outsiders - through the honest, no-holds-barred talks and Q&A sessions that form part of the Children of Grizedale programme; through the Coniston Institute Reading Room public talks programme where we hear from Youth Club participants, father and daughter Sam and Holly Clarke’s adventures facilitated via Grizedale’s activities, and members of the Institute Committee; and via the Expert Guided Tours by Lawson Park wardens (Adam Sutherland & Karen Guthrie) and associate artists from the Fairland Collective & Black Shed projects.

Inevitably, like with any museum collection, not all of the collection’s objects can be on display at the same time - I realise that each of the 480 volunteers, the numerous artists, practitioners, participants and alumni who have spent time with Grizedale Arts are also part of this “collection”, facilitating Adam Sutherland’s desire and vision to help art and artists become a part of everyday life. I become increasingly aware that now I’m part of this “collection” too. That’s why we’re here as the ~Children of Grizedale~. We’ve been put to work - to go out into the world and bring this model with us - to ensure it lives on, continues to develop, evolves and become part of more people’s everyday lives.

Negotiate your own relationship with the art/world:

The presentations, conversations and information sharing activities that we experience this weekend go a long way to explaining and making more visible the processes of renegotiation that Grizedale Arts has gone through over the last 20 years.

In that time, they have actively moved away from operating a type of extraction economy - where the raw materials & resources (artists, ideas, observed characteristics of the local geographical & social context etc) are harvested and exported with little or no local processing. Previous and current directors spoke of artworks produced by artists-in-residence going ‘on tour’ and generating cultural & economic capital elsewhere, with the prime beneficiaries being the individual artists and those who profit from showing, selling and distributing their work. Instead, they have moved towards becoming a productive, subsistence-art-small-holding that sustains itself and those that make up its community by growing and processing raw materials or resources into manufactured items (complex projects more often than simple products) to both sustain local requirements and generate a surplus for export consumption and trade.

Grizedale Arts have become farmers - they think in terms of crops (different things that can be grown or cultivated on site, like ideas, people, projects, processes etc), seasons (times of the year when it may be most beneficial to concentrate on one type of activity, whether this is renting out the property to tourists, having volunteers come to stay, or when things will be ready to plant or harvest) and husbandry (the day-to-day care, ‘selective breeding’ and raising of art-livestock). And, like subsistence farmers, they need to reproduce to expand their ‘family’ to ensure there are enough hands to do the work - volunteers stand-in as the farmers’ offspring, working in exchange for bed, board, and other types of nurture.

They are not interested in intensive industrial methods. They avoid monoculture (as in contemporary gallery and museum practice, where the product stays the same, just who makes it changes) in favour of satisfying ‘family’ and local needs (by working out “who or what will be useful at the moment”, working only by invitation to develop projects in Coniston & elsewhere). They set up situations that develop value and function rather than waste - repurposing, reusing and recycling wherever possible (evident in the foregrounding of collaborative production, craft skills and the expertise of non-artists; in their approach to exhibition practice; and in the setup of the organisation itself & the care for the farm in which it is based).

There is an efficiency and economy in what is going on - which is rare within art organisations and the artworld at large. The work, projects and products produced at (and with) Grizedale that circulate within Coniston and the ones that circulate within the artworld validate each other. Each of the projects work towards creating “a standard expectation to live and work creatively” for those who take part. The different agents involved (the staff, volunteers, artists, practitioners, partner organisations, participants, and audiences) benefit from the value that is co-created.

Some of them even have life-changing experiences.


Rachel Dobbs is an artist & educator based in Plymouth UK. She is one half of LOW PROFILE ( https://we-are-low-profile.com ) and co-director of Jamboree - a national gathering of artists & curators ( https://artistsjamboree.uk ).

Rachel joined artists & curators Effy Harle, Cassie Penn, Tom Kilby, Emma Hislop, Dianna Djokey, Owain McGilvary & Yan White, Tiffany Leung, Jonathan Weston, Natasha Ruwona, Sarah Happersberger, Georgie Fox and Heidi Taylor Wood for ~Children of Grizedale~ in Coniston on the weekend of 27th-30th June 2019.

Posted by Emma Sumner on 29/07/19 at 16:50

Guest Blog: Emma Sumner on 'What Grizedale Arts Means To Me'

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Emma was one of 2019's first Lawson Park Volunteers, and we invited her to write about the experience:

Grizedale holds a special place in the trajectory of my arts career. I was fortunate to be invited to begin 2019 at Grizedale Arts Lawson Park residency as a volunteer, several years after I originally volunteered back in 2013. A week of toil on the land—coppicing trees for fences, painting functional sculptures, cooking mangelwurzel soup, and fixing poly-tunnels—took me back to my roots whilst re-establishing my faith in the unbounded possibilities of contemporary art.  

I don’t know where it came from, I don’t know what triggered it, or if it was just my destiny (to frame it in a ridiculous construct), but I knew from a very early age that I wanted to pursue art. I don’t come from a family of artists, or visited galleries until my early teens, but I was around 7-years old when I declared to my parents that I was going to be an artist and around 8-years old when I opened my own private art gallery under the stairs in our family home. Art has remained an unshakable force in my life, it’s been engrained in everything I’ve done, it features in all my most vivid memories, and at times has disappointed me to the point of heartbreak, but my enthusiasm for it has only ever expanded. 

I was raised in an agricultural family with the freedom to run the countryside, to be inventive and creative through play. My family were creative, as a child the clothes I wore had been lovingly crafted by my Mother who had also made most of our home furnishings from scratch, my Father had packed our home with alternative technologies, heating our rooms with a system run from a coal fire which always had the latest batch of laundry drying above it. Outside, we grew vegetables, composted and recycled all our household waste. My family life was overtly different to the rest of my peers, but I never considered it to be creative until much later.

Art remained a common force in my life, and I eventually enrolled in art school, a grown-up version of the creative space I had occupied as a care-free child, just here, in the adult world, it was called ‘experimenting’and cost money. I spent my precious vodka money on expensive art materials—paint, canvas, readymade textiles, haberdashery—to produce art that was of a market-standard, ready to sell. I churned out painting after painting, but it always felt a little pointless producing rt that had no useful function once completed.  It went against everything I had learnt as a child; it felt wasteful. 

After graduating I entered the art world and continued to paint whilst earning my rent (and vodka) money working in the institutions who decided what artists work was worthy of public attention. I never really understood the system, exhibitions would come and go, people would worry about signage, ticket prices and what themed goods the gift shop should stock. This all felt so far away from the exhibitions I had hosted in my under-stairs gallery and I was left wondering if there was another way: then I spent week volunteering at Lawson Park with Grizedale Arts.

Lawson Park is a space where my old life and new life merge together into a heady mixture of agriculture and contemporary art. After my first visit, I was inspired to leave my institutional role and widen my exploration of art, heading out to South Asia, where I have lived and worked for the past four years. In South Asia I learnt how the art world operates outside Western institutional models, engaging with projects that have found alternative routes for creativity to flourish, including the inimitable Somiya Kala Vidya who provide design education to traditional artisans. I established projects with my peers, which put the power of art in the hands of those not usually given the freedom to explore their creative reflexes, such as Katab: Not Only Money, which recently brought the art work of female Katab (patchwork) artisans to UK audiences. 

I returned to the UK in October, and after taking a few months to regroup, I knew I needed to start the next chapter of my arts adventure at Grizedale. It’s an organisation which makes absolute sense to me and reaffirms my faith that art can affect positive changes within society, whilst also having a useful and sustainable function within it. Where my next career steps will take me, only time will tell, but I remain inspired by Grizedale’s example and have the motivation to carve out an alternative trajectory for myself with others who share my passion: to make art useful and to celebrate the ordinary as well as the extraordinary. 

 

Posted by Karen Guthrie on 06/02/19 at 17:57

Sally Beamish

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It's very sad to hear that our neighbour Sally Beamish died a few days ago.

Sally was for many years Head Gardener at Ruskin's Brantwood, which adjoins our land here at Lawson Park. Whilst there she oversaw much sensitive restoration work and also new developments such as the ZigZaggy Garden, achievements for which she justly received a Lifetime Achievement Award in 2017.

Sally and her Brantwood colleagues in fact helped established the gardens here in a wet winter - 2011/12 I think - when she brought her beloved pony Sam up to plough what was then just rough fell around the farmhouse. Sam spent summers in our meadow here for many years, and was such a familiar presence that he appeared in several artists' works - we love this shot of him posing with a Bedwyr Williams' poster for his Satterthwaite Night Live comedy webcast. Sally possessed a vast knowledge of the local flora and fauna, and helped manage our meadow to maintain its species-rich habitat - one very hard winter she organised a resident pair of hardy fell ponies to graze it.

Sally was always encouraging of our gardening efforts: Like us, rain, deer damage and altitude did not dent her enthusiasm for the plants and landscapes of this corner of the world. She was always offering help and advice and keeping an eye on our polytunnels when we were away travelling.

During our National Garden Scheme open days she would be on our Plant Stall, offering advice to visitors. Here's a nice picture of her doing just that.

Our condolences go to her family, colleagues and friends.

Posted by Adam Sutherland on 12/06/18 at 00:00

Schooling New York

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In November Francesca Ulivi and Niamh Riordan were in New York to represent Grizedale at the Alternative Art School Fair at Pioneer Works, Brooklyn, as part of Grizedale’s ongoing interest in formalising its education offer - the Valley School. It was an opportunity to create a new set of manifestos and maps - local cinema poster guru Brian Miller drew up ‘The New Super Heavy Heavy Rules of Public Art’ and a map of Grizedale’s many local and international resources, as they fed into the ’Lake Soup’ of Coniston Water (this would prove to be an invaluable tool in the effort to explain Grizedale’s structure, though some visitors were disappointed to learn that “Lake Soup” wasn’t a real Cumbrian body of water).

Francesca and Niamh headed across the Atlantic with very heavy suitcases filled with articles from the Lawson Park collection: a motely collection including an Ugly Mug, a spring loaded pickle fork, a Christopher Dresser teapot and an oven glove that would never fit man nor beast, alongside some of the honest shop’s finest offerings. Having (to their surprise) successfully negotiated customs, they set up the Grizedale stall like a kind of ‘show and tell’, and spent the next two days using a knitted Angry Bird to explain the complexities of the Grizedale programme to members of the public and staff from other schools.

As it turned out, ours was an unconventional school even by Alternative Art School standards. Francesca and Niamh spent their time explaining the various levels on which Grizedale education operates – the volunteer/intern system, youth club, village activities and international projects.

They wore their own prototype of a Grizedale uniform (joining a long line of prototypes) – potato printed workwear with horn buttons made by Peter Hodgson and milk plastic buttons made by Niamh to add some interest, but the uniforms couldn’t escape their prison-wear vibe, and probably need some refinement.

On the final day of the fair it was Grizedale’s turn to lead a panel discussion, on the theme of Reincorporating Art in Everyday Life, alongside three other schools: Sunview Luncheonette, School of the Apocalypse and NERTM (New Earth Resiliency Training Module). Having spent each morning getting to know other schools through slightly embarrassing team building exercises, it was time to lead the audience in an exercise session of our own – and the audience enthusiastically took up the challenge of Marcus Coates’ Creative Fitness, standing on one leg with abandon. Discussion centred around the professional separation of artists from everyday life, self determination and self sufficiency and the responsibilities involved in working within communities – all of this in the hot-of-the-press context of Trump’s election, which had happened only days before.

Posted by Adam Sutherland on 17/02/17 at 17:55

Jessica Lack - The Nuisance of Landscape

The Nuisance Of Landscape: Grizedale – The Sequel Jessica Lack

“The ecstasy of drudgery” says Adam Sutherland, quoting Eric Gill, with only a hint of the fanatic in his eyes. We are standing in the hall of the Coniston Institute in the Lake District and Sutherland, Director of Grizedale Arts, is telling me what artists can expect when they come on residency here. Over the past 15 years, Grizedale has become the most radical arts organisation in the country. “Which is odd,” says a bemused Sutherland surveying the craftmaking workshop going on around him “because what we are doing is actually very ordinary”. But then sometimes it takes an extraordinary effort to be ordinary.

Grizedale Arts, as it is known today, began in 1999 when Adam Sutherland was appointed the new director of a small arts organisation based in the forest of Grizedale. It is now a research and development agency for contemporary artists, running a curatorial programme of community events and artist residencies. Inspired by places like Dartington Hall in Totnes, which embraced the philosopher Rabindranath Tagore’s ideals of progressive education and rural reconstruction, and John Ruskin’s early workers’ education movement, Grizedale promotes art that is useful to society.

From the start Grizedale Arts caused controversy, splitting locals into two camps, those who embraced its cultural democracy and those who saw the organisation as cynically exploiting the community. Sutherland, ever the belligerent optimist, devoured all criticism, even going so far as to invite the inhabitants to decide the fate of a much-hated public art work commissioned by Grizedale. They did so with rueful pugnacity by burning it to the ground. Its impact on the art world was also immediate. Grizedale offered an alternative to the neo-liberalism dominating contemporary art at the time and became a place of refuge for a group of young, post-yBa artists who were at odds with the prevailing climate. Artists like Olivia Plender, Nathaniel Mellors, David Blandy and Bedwyr Williams.

By 2004, when Alistair Hudson joined as deputy director, Grizedale had become something of a right-ofpassage for socially engaged artists. A kind of Grizedale aesthetic began to emerge, often involving animal costumes, craft and subversion. Marcus Coates confronted rural romanticism, literally head on, by attaching dead birds to his skull in an attempt to excite the Sparrow Hawk population, Jeremy Deller and Alan Kane started their Folk Archive, Karen Guthrie and Nina Pope won the Northern Art Prize for work made as part of the Grizedale commission ‘The 7 Samurai’ in which seven artists traveled to work with a local community in Japan. Then, five years ago, Grizedale stopped encouraging artists to make art. They were still invited on residencies, but were expected to dig in the garden, print 2 tea towels for the honest shop or run activities in the local village. What happened? Did Grizedale become anti-art? “Not at all”, says Sutherland, “I think art can change people’s lives, but for me creative success is the practical application of an idea that is integrated into the everyday and then sustained by a community inspiring involvement and development”.

Grizedale’s fifteen years are currently being celebrated with an exhibition in multiple venues across the Lake District called ‘The Nuisance of Landscape’- a suitably truculent title for an organisation that’s impossible to get to without a car. The exhibition starts with a blurred photograph of Marcus Coates crawling across a field in one of his many attempts to commune with nature. I’ve always enjoyed Coates’ art, he does no harm, although he invariably puts himself in potentially hazardous situations, politically, physically and emotionally, yet everyone comes out with their honour in tact, and as Grizedale’s longest serving artist resident it is fitting he starts the show. There is also a video of Sutherland describing the public burning by the local community of the contentious piece by Roddy Thomson and Colin Lowe. A retrospective is a great way of testing the waters of contemporary art, and what becomes apparent is how much of an impact Grizedale has had on the British art world, not just for its humour and DIY punk aesthetic, but its collective subversivism - they even make a key cutting shack look political (we don’t do Chubbs).

But mostly I like the fact that Grizedale is a respite home for art’s superannuated Trojans, those who have fallen foul of contemporary cultural Imperialism. There’s a great film of Olivia Plender earnestly attempting to rehabilitate the late Ken Russell as an auteur while he barks on about tits and ass and John Ruskin is celebrated for his progressive ideals, rather than his pathological fear of pubes. In many ways, Russell and Ruskin are good mascots for Grizedale. Both were uncompromising bastards who spent much of their lives in conflict with the prevailing orthodoxy. As Sutherland says, “Why should the shit version win? Lets reclaim a role in art; we will give back to people's lives what is missing and it will act as a catalyst to get other disconnected activities back into dialogue.” For those in the public arts sector, crippled by cuts and directed by a deluded government into approaching an utterly indifferent private sector for money, Grizedale suggests there might just be another way.

Posted by Maria Benjamin on 02/04/15 at 16:14

The Nuisance of Landscape

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A review of the show The Nuisance of Landscape by writer and art critic Jessica Lack:

“The ecstasy of drudgery” says Adam Sutherland, quoting Eric Gill, with only a hint of the fanatic in his eyes. We are standing in the hall of the Coniston Institutive in the Lake District and Sutherland, Director of Grizedale Arts, is telling me what artists can expect when they come on residency here. Over the past 15 years, Grizedale has become the most radical arts organisation in the country. “Which is odd,” says a bemused Sutherland surveying the craft-making workshop going on around him “because what we are doing is actually very ordinary”. But then sometimes it takes an extraordinary effort to be ordinary.

Grizedale Arts, as it is known today, began in 1999 when Adam Sutherland was appointed the new director of a small arts organisation based in the forest of Grizedale. It is now a research and development agency for contemporary artists, running a curatorial programme of community events and artist residencies. Inspired by places like Dartington Hall in Totnes, which embraced the philosopher Rabindranath Tagore’s ideals of progressive education and rural reconstruction, and John Ruskin’s early workers’ education movement, Grizedale promotes art that is useful to society.

From the start Grizedale Arts caused controversy, splitting locals into two camps, those who embraced its cultural democracy and those who saw the organisation as cynically exploiting the community. Sutherland, ever the belligerent optimist, devoured all criticism, even going so far as to invite the inhabitants to decide the fate of a much-hated public art work commissioned by Grizedale. They did so with rueful pugnacity by burning it to the ground.

Its impact on the art world was also immediate. Grizedale offered an alternative to the neo-liberalism dominating contemporary art at the time and became a place of refuge for a group of young, post-yBa artists who were at odds with the prevailing climate. Artists like Olivia Plender, Nathaniel Mellors, David Blandy and Bedwyr Williams. By 2004, when Alistair Hudson joined as deputy director, Grizedale had become something of a right-of-passage for socially engaged artists.

A kind of Grizedale aesthetic began to emerge, often involving animal costumes, craft and subversion. Marcus Coates confronted rural romanticism, literally head on, by attaching dead birds to his skull in an attempt to excite the Sparrow Hawk population, Jeremy Deller and Alan Kane started their Folk Archive*, Karen Guthrie and Nina Pope won the Northern Art Prize for work made as part of the Grizedale commission The 7 Samurai in which seven artists traveled to work with a local community in Japan.

Then, five years ago, Grizedale stopped encouraging artists to make art. They were still invited on residencies, but were expected to dig in the garden, print tea towels for the honest shop or run activities in the local village. What happened? Did Grizedale become anti-art? “Not at all”, says Sutherland, “I think art can change people’s lives, but for me creative success is the practical application of an idea that is integrated into the everyday and then sustained by a community inspiring involvement and development”.

Grizedale’s fifteen years are currently being celebrated with an exhibition in multiple venues across the Lake District called ‘The Nuisance of Landscape’- a suitably truculent title for an organisation that’s impossible to get to without a car. The exhibition starts with a blurred photograph of Marcus Coates crawling across a field in one of his many attempts to commune with nature. I’ve always enjoyed Coates’ art, he does no harm, although he invariably puts himself in potentially hazardous situations, politically, physically and emotionally, yet everyone comes out with their honour in tact, and as Grizedale’s longest serving artist resident it is fitting he starts the show. There is also a video of Sutherland describing the public burning by the local community of the contentious piece by Roddy Thomson and Colin Lowe.

A retrospective is a great way of testing the waters of contemporary art, and what becomes apparent is how much of an impact Grizedale has had on the British art world, not just for its humour and DIY punk aesthetic, but its collective subversivism - they even make a key cutting shack look political (we don’t do Chubbs). But mostly I like the fact that Grizedale is a respite home for art’s superannuated Trojans, those who have fallen foul of contemporary cultural Imperialism. There’s a great film of Olivia Plender earnestly attempting to rehabilitate the late Ken Russell as an auteur while he barks on about tits and ass and John Ruskin is celebrated for his progressive ideals, rather than his pathological fear of pubes. In many ways, Russell and Ruskin are good mascots for Grizedale. Both were uncompromising bastards who spent much of their lives in conflict with the prevailing orthodoxy.

As Sutherland says, “Why should the shit version win? Lets reclaim a role in art; we will give back to people's lives what is missing and it will act as a catalyst to get other disconnected activities back into dialogue.” For those in the public arts sector, crippled by cuts and directed by a deluded government into approaching an utterly indifferent private sector for money, Grizedale suggests there might just be another way.

* Jeremy and Alan's Folk Archive definitely didn't start at Grizedale although they did come to stay during the collecting phase and decided that any local folk art was tainted by the proximity of so many artists so consequently inadmissible.

Posted by Maria Benjamin on 12/12/14 at 14:59

The Office of Useful Art

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On the 8th of November 2014 Grizedale’s ‘Office of Useuful Art’ (or OUA) opened at Tate Liverpool as part of the show ‘Art Turning Left: How Values Changed Making 1789–2013’.

This was the first of several manifestations that the OUA has had over the next few years. As Alistair describes it, “The Office is part classroom part propaganda machine for the idea of Useful Art, recruiting for the Useful Art Association and working in parallel to the Museum of Arte Util at the Van Abbemuseum Eindhoven where we will also be press ganging people into Useology from December 7th”.

The OUA at Tate Liverpool provided a complex, multi-purpose space in which ideas could be discussed and plans for futures could begin to be hatched and materialized. As well as providing an open drop-in space for visitors to the ‘Art Turning Left Show’, the OUA also provided a bookable space for anybody to hold discussions, talks, interventions or re-thinks about the show and/or the possible use of art.

The OUA at Tate Liverpool also provided a very successful model for integrating students within the infrastructure of a live show. Around 25 undergraduate BA (Hons) Fine Art students from Liverpool John Moores University signed up to work in the office and to recruit exhibition visitors to the Useful Art Association. Also, a group of my MA Fine Art students have become very interested in how the OUA attempts to work and rethink the conventional gallery/museum space as a site for information, intervention and exchange.

We also used the OUA as a location for a first meeting of the L’Internationale Mediation group who will be develop a series of seminars, interventions, discussions, publications and collaborations with us over the course of the ‘Uses of Art’ project (which will run for the next 5 years). The OUA itself, as an ongoing, developing, changing, mutating phenomena will also act as one of the key examples of how we can begin to rethink the role and relationship between art, education and use.

Although we are only beginning to look back at the impact, successes and pitfalls of the OUA’s first manifestation (as it will soon be travelling to different locations, in different guises, and working in different ways) it has already acted as a real means to think through complex and overlapping issues surrounding the production, distribution and reception of art. Rather than acting as a simple ‘information point’ – by which visitors to the exhibition could re-affirm their experience of the show by accessing the official ‘rationale’ or have the show ‘explained to them’ in ‘layman’s terms’ – the first iteration of the OUA has acted as a real space in which ideas of education and the production of meaning began to happen within a traditional galley space. As different people, from a wide variety of backgrounds, began to use and re-use the propositions found in Art Turning Left both the show, and the Office of Useful Art, began to act as a toolkit for producing new meanings. As Steven Wright argues in his recent book ‘Towards a Lexicon of Usership’ (which can be downloaded at the online Museum Of Arte Útil) we, passive spectatorship is currently being replaced by active usership. This, in turn, enables a more radical re-think of how institutions can begin to re-think or re-invent themselves as civic institutions for the production of knowledge.

The link between the OUA at Tate Liverpool and the simultaneous presence of Grizedale Arts at Van Abbemuseum’s ‘Museum of Useful Art’ show is crucial here. This has also begun to offer ways of thinking through different kinds of simultaneous usership, in different locations, and across different timescales – offering a way of beginning to think of alternative and overlapping temporalities (of uses and re-uses of histories and imagined futures, as well as contemporary materials that are ready to hand, which overlap and replay themselves as non-linear possibility). This also offers an opportunity for us to re-purpose and to revivify the role and function of the art institution (be it museum, gallery, education or production based) as a collaborative maker of histories and futures, one that relies on its users to help produce and reproduces an active civic role.

Posted by John Byrne on 24/03/14 at 14:24

no sense of place

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(I move from Korea to Japan to work with artists Fernando Garcia Dory on his farming and food project in Maebashi – it is kind of meant to be a holiday)

As with Seoul, Maebashi is a city of almost completely renewed buildings, both flatten by war and the drive to modernity - looking out over these places I feel a sense of tragedy, grief really, the odd tear has fallen on several occasions (quite incomprehensible really, always when I am on the 23rd floor or so) over the ‘sublime’ in the extreme urbanscape, a kind of combination of wonder and horror, a ‘what have we done’ feeling – the extraordinary human endeavour, the sense of what is underneath – not only the landscape but a former built environment, in effect the place. The character the cities have is now more of a geographical position than a visible history or culture – they could almost be any place, any person’s home. The few ‘natural’ elements are hardly there, in Maebashi the river can perhaps offer a little solace – not really sure why a river would do that but somehow it does – all that flowing on and on stuff it’s always getting up to.

I noticed that Seoul has been voted 3rd worst city in the world, that does seem somewhat upside down – it is surely one of the best cities in the world, very efficient, energising, interesting, varied, law abiding, big. I guess the downsides are the phenomenally built up quality, but even that is majestic, awe-inspiring.

5 days in a window less, equipment free, ex pizza kitchen in a mental health day centre is one experience of Japan that I might not repeat in a hurry. The last day – a holiday - was however a delight and flowed smoothly from dawn to dusk starting with a visit to an exquisite house and garden in the Maebashi suburbs. The key feature and centres piece to the stroll garden being the large open expanse of dry stream bed acting as a stone garden in the dryer months and a shallow pond in the wetter ones – really inspiring. All the usual elements of the stroll and water, rock and inner gardens including the usual buildings, tea house, viewing platform – the no nails building design certainly inspired me again - Lawson park get ready to get your freak on and this time it’s going to be sharp.

This visit was quickly followed by a work-wear shopping trip in the utterly vast agricultural store – a place where you can by a bridge large enough to drive over. Picked up a set of working clothes all pockets and padding to add to the LP work wear of the world collection. We then headed out to Airko sacred mountain but while stopping for petrol noticed an abundance of pots outside a house – turned out to be an absolute treasure trove of amazing folk art and other antiques run be a lovely old couple who made us coffee and gave us rather good deals on our somewhat paltry buys. I bought a tight collection of red lacquer wares Fernando somewhat randomly bought a child’s kimono and a paper mache fox – I think this may say something about our respective characters, and why the previous 5 days had been such a struggle. He’s a freewheeling charmer and I am an uptight delivery freak.

From there our artist friend and guide Hiro Masuda drove us to the top of the sacred mountain and as we climbed the leaves of the - incredibly diverse range of trees - changed – autumn was about half way down the mountain and blow me if it wasn’t the E word again and this time in spades, or rather maple, acer, sycamour, birch and very many others.

Next stop was a pig farm and sausage producer followed by tea with a teacher of the tea ceremony providing me with a close look at her superb collection of tea bowls and their exquisite multiple boxes, each more E than the last. The extraordinary attention to detail involved in the ceremony is kind of nuts – like a really OCD obsession, the angle of the light, the crawl of the raku glaze, the bump in the foot of the bowl, the finger marks left by the potter – all have names and are to be paid attention to. It was a fascinating insight into a disturbing obsessive world – Fernando was transfixed – so alien for him, for me, I would be there if I took off the restrainers – so more like fear in my case.

Posted by Adam Sutherland on 02/11/13 at 13:04

Pass me the Hermes bag I'm feeling a bit sick

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Seoul’s Hermes store is a thing of extreme and slightly sickening perfection, from the white leather upholstered stair rail to the exquisite window mastic. The function of the building is unfathomable – 5 floors of taste and quality, populated only by staff, selling saddle soap, bridles, saddle blankets and of course their incomprehensibly expensive scarves – but whatever these cost it does not add up to this kind of operation.

Again this curious notion of authenticity – that is the nebulous currency that compels people to buy directly from Hermes. I was told many years ago about a retail experiment in a Tokyo department store (I was told this in a pub so almost certainly fiction). 2 lots of exact same Vuitton bags were laid out in the store one lot were priced at half the real cost – the full-price bags sold quickly, not one half-priced bag sold.

This trip took in the hyper rich quarter of Seoul, the Samsung art museum with its 3 – so famous you think they must be dead – architects. The auction house where the ‘experts’ verify the authenticity of objects and one of the most exquisite galleries, the Horim Museum, the result of one man’s obsession with Korean folk art. There is a curious schism in the galleries – the objects are mostly simple functional items, components of normal life – albeit a normality that is now hard to imagine in terms of aesthetic quality – this is set against the most luxurious of galleries, I suspect if I was an archivist I would be off the ground in transcendent ecstasy at the ‘conditions’. Conditions very far removed from ‘normal’ life – it seems an odd choice. However the objects are inspiring, a kind of Korean version of the Mengei museum and all the ideas behind that.

I arrived with an idea of what we could do with the project, that has inevitably shifted a fair bit – partly due to the wonders, partly the unexpected and not least the scale of Liam’s structure and the nigh on impossibility of moving it.

Posted by Adam Sutherland on 01/11/13 at 13:13

Pottery please (Radio 4 Sunday nights)

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A ceramics biennale

Toya, Toya, Toya, (pottery, pottery, pottery) sing the chipmunk choir – the soundtrack to your visit to the Incheon Ceramics biennale, a place where everything is made of pottery – some might say a dream come true but even as a devoted lover of clay it was too much for me – too expanding the form, too much art, too many people declaring pottery is art – mainly ‘here’s something that looks like contemporary art that I made in clay’. In a way the joy of pottery is it’s building block quality, it’s integration in the ordinary – not it’s desire to fly. Of course clay is possibly the most versatile of any medium, from high performance engine, cladding for a space rocket and the always sharp knife, to the coprophilic splogs and splats of self expression.

The pottery biennale along with many other things has made me think again about the perception of authenticity – a long historical and contemporary exchange between east and west, from the pottery of the 16th century to the prints of the 19th century and the commerce of the contemporary. Everywhere I see copies of contemporary design, in itself retro design – copies of things that are themselves copies of other things – but somewhere in this endless exchange someone claims authorship and copy right (usually a photographer). Perhaps the most perplexing copy is the copy of the up-cycled look, the faking of recycled materials.

There is an interesting alternative in Korean pottery, there are master potters that make pots in the traditional style, 15th century style, these pots sell for £40,000 as much if not more than the ‘originals’. They are perfect versions, they are made with the same materials the same technology and the same craft skill and by people who are part of a living link - no changes, no stepping outside of the form.

When the western potter then copies this style – slavishly reproducing all the authentic details the result is of a high value but nowhere near as high as the Korean potters, the western potter adopts their own kind of other authenticity, when that is then reproduced it again drops in value. I suppose the issue is when the production techniques change and the same items become factory produced of less individual resonance, but probably better technical quality. Differences that the majority of people will not notice, and arguably why should anyone care. The difference between a good and great bottle of wine – largely symbolic for the majority of people. The symbolic and votive significance become paramount.

You can tie yourself quickly into a tight knot thinking about this stuff.

When Bernard Leach was heavily forged by the pottery class inmates of Wormwood Scrubs prison the bottom dropped out of the Leach market – the prisoners work was terrible all they really copied was the stamp.

Posted by Adam Sutherland on 31/10/13 at 23:19

Craft orgy in Bukchon

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In the north of Seoul is a small village area of winding streets and exquisite crafts. I visited the Folk art museum guided by Jina from APAP who translated and guided me through the complexities of the travel and food and all the rest – amazing to be so well hosted, so much more productive and you get the sense that you are perhaps actually valued, that something worthwhile is actually expected of you – so many residencies give the impression they just wish you weren’t there even though you are only there because they invited you. Anyway Jina (middle name Patience – no really) answered my millions of disparate questions tirelessly including the translation of 5 moral tales illustrated in a screen at the museum – it seemed to be telling stories similar to ones my uncle used to tell of his adventures - two brothers, one went to fight in a war, he died, the other brother had a sandwich – the end – it was quite hard to work out the moral messages.

The whole area is full of craft and making at all levels – it is also full of large groups of Chinese tourists who do somewhat destroy the bucolic calm of a solo visit to the chicken museum or the knot making school – other than that - what a place to live.

The evening we visit a retro music cellar, all 70’s design and music – it is founded and run by an artist/dj and is becoming increasingly popular for a mainstream audience. On a random note Jin tells me that until quite recently all album releases were legally obliged to have a health song on them, a positive educational message – that could be a great compilation series – from the west the plethora of positive songs in the James Brown catalogue spring to mind – well they would would’nt they that’s the sort of nonsense my mind is filled with. Trying to find out a bit more on K-pop and the musical heritage - although American influenced from the war period music seems to be largely Korean, albeit fusion. Korean pysch soul is well known in the esoteric circles of muso land but what did it mean? I found a film based on a group called the Devils that seems to suggested the Korean president blamed the loss of the Vietnam war on pych soul!! and the group were imprisoned and tortured before making a post-military comeback – the music seems largely to be pretty pedestrian soul cover versions – a Korean Blues Brothers albeit the blues brothers were sadly never tortured before after or during the film - although Beluchi did do himself some damage by all accounts.

Next issue

Second hand Seoul (ok that will be the only soul pun) and Pottery biennale - bet you cant wait

Posted by Adam Sutherland on 30/10/13 at 01:16

Korean dawn

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All the usual fun of the long flight – 10 hours + the children exploring the rhythmic stylings of Stomp using the clack of the seatbelt, the crash of the table and the sickening guillotine jolt of the arm rest, while dad texts. My seat enemy seemed to have to urgently leave her seat minutes after the meal has been laid out – really extremely awkward to pick all that stuff up and move, and the most unpleasant of all flight phenomena the toe massage – from my rear seat enemy – a girl absolutely determined to explore the full potential of her seat’s capacity for alternative function and the back of my chair for some complex foot work.

The film selection was a bit of a struggle, I was delight to note the Fast and Furious has reach 6 – actually might watch that on the way back, heard it was so beyond reason it had started to get good and Vim Diesel is always a jaw dropping watch – what’s with the ‘I’ve got a blocked nose’ diction. Did watch ‘The Intern’ a rom-com with the Vaughn/Wilson jerk-a-thon formulae - those guys really have got the portrait of unutterable tossers off to perfection. The Wilson seduction scene always a must watch for shear wincing agony.

Incheon airport is a groovy super breeze, and the relaxed coach ride into Anyang a pleasant sojourn through the combination of high rise, flyovers and spectacular landscape that is a familiar style in Asia – made more comfortable by not having the burden of a suitcase – erroneously left on some tarmac somewhere.

Met by Jin and Jina from APAP - and taken on a tour of the art works of the public art programme – a series of YBa period works in the new city, Gillick, Gary Webb et al. All looking a bit down in the ears, and kind of irrelevant in what is a kind of difficult context – the other part of the programme is closer to a sculpture park in a rural setting, much like a contemporary version of old Grizedale – mostly large scale sculptures in the landscape.

Both programmes driven by slightly different visions coming from the city government – the principle ambition being to do with status and city brand – to raise the ‘cosmopolitan’ factor. Also to attract tourists – despite that seemingly absurd notion.

The programme has to make decisions about various works in need of conservation or re sighting, difficult things to agree to spend money on and big money at that – big sculpture, big money.

It would seem a good idea to try to make some of these art works, actually work, take on some kind of function other than mildly pissing off the local population. Some are conceived as ‘social spaces’ particularly the architectural ones. However most have some ‘reason’ they cannot be used, often something like power or water supply, or impractical materials – which ends up meaning that they are all in effect symbolic. We are looking at moving Liam Gillick’s sculpture, ‘a scale model for a social sructure’ it seems logical to make it function for a community in some form.

And that’s where the problems start - this is a big thing, built to stay put, although looking structural it isn’t in many ways. So using it as structure for a further components is a bit problematic. The cost of moving it and re construction really means that you are principally trying to preserve a Gillick art work - that becomes the financially dominant aspect. It kind of becomes some sort of post-apocalyptic scenario where once extremely valuable things are used as components in mundane activities, kind of like cutting up the tyres of a lorry to make cheap shoes or using a Durer drawing as a men’s room pin up or some impressionist paintings as a floor covering (all real examples). So Liam’s million pound sculpture can be a sign-post and a support for an honest shop.

Posted by Adam Sutherland on 27/10/13 at 01:13

The return of the blog

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Director Adam Sutherland is on a project development trip to Anyang, South Korea and Maebashi, Japan.

Expect regular blogs throughout the next 2 weeks - focused on public art, 2nd hand stuff, home and professional crafts, agriculture, fear of flying and a hatred of travel.

Posted by Adam Sutherland on 20/10/13 at 10:12

Back to the Future!

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I probably need to begin with an apology… maybe two? First of all, this is the first JR memorial blog entry from me for well over a year – I don’t know where the time has gone, other than saying that the world has gone quite mad and, like everybody else, I’ve been busy trying to stave off the forces of terminal instrumentalization. Second, and far worse, this blog entry isn’t about DeLorean cars, flying skate boards, sleeveless bubble jackets or the consequences of calling McFly ‘chicken’ (though it has to be said, big JR would have made a good stand in for mad professor type person Dr. Emmett L. Brown). But this is about time machines – or, more accurately, Mechanics Institutes as they were once called. Yes folks, the good folk up at Grizedale have done it again. Just as we thought we didn’t have an appropriate metaphor to think through the process of ‘thinking ourselves otherwise’, up pop Adam, Alistair and Co with a reminder to look in front of our own eyes. And in my case into the history of the very institution I work in/for.

As you probably all know by now, Grizedale took the ‘Colosseum of the Consumed’ to Frieze Art Fair last October. During this multi-media, multi-project, multi-faith fandango, Alistair found time to communicate to us (at The Autonomy School in Liverpool) via the new fangled technology of Skype (something McFly and co could only have dreamed of in their Back to the Future II world of 1989). During this conversation, Alistair began to elaborate on various developments in Grizedale Art’s ongoing project. Most importantly, he invited us to imagine a bell curve of Social and Industrial assent and decline – beginning with the late Enlightenment/First Industrial Revolution and ending in our present economic chaos. If we were to draw an imaginary line back across this bell curve, from our present point in time, Hudson argued that we would find ourselves somewhere around the beginning of the 19th Century – a time in which Europe was beginning to re-define itself along the lines of democracy, emancipation and extended social inclusion. This period probably reached its ideological apogee in the revolutionary year of 1848 and laid the foundations for the ideas of citizenship and cultural value that we are currently clinging on to (and re-defiling) today. Amongst this hubbub of this activity was, of course, the growth of the Mechanics Institute – those utopian expressions of social progressivism funded by self-elected (and usually liberal minded) pillars of society. Amongst this list of alumni was, of course, our own big JR who kindly funded developments in the rural/industrial village of Coniston.

What is important here for Hudson and the crew of the good ship Grizedale was JR’s insistence on teaching art as part of an extensive and integrated education – making it part of a syllabus that would also include literature, the sciences and the acquisition of everyday practical skills. Not only did this kind of syllabus lead to the Mechanics Institutes becoming crucibles of self-organisation and social change (centres of early union activity as well as the foundations for many of our current UK Universities), it also remind us of a time when art was also ascribed a socially integrated use value. For Hudson, ‘the current state of art galleries and museums is still determined by the framework marked out by economic and truth values; where value is ascribed to works of art based upon their operation within a market system and their perceived ability to reveal or lead us to seeing the world as it really is. In this scheme (from around 1848 onwards) the third value of art, based upon its utility or usage, has been largely suppressed, or diverted into the arena of craft, activism, politics and so on’. Re-inventing use value as the crucial third term (against the accepted mode ‘dual mode of advocacy of and advocacy’ – displaying works of art according to a consensus of what constitutes a work of value [as commodities in both monetary and aesthetic terms] and then advocating this value to the museum or gallery’s constituency) then becomes crucial. It becomes the cornerstone for beginning to re-imagine a more permeable and open form of arts institution – one not bound by its physical and geographical manifestation or legislation.

In its humble way, the time machine of big JR’s Mechanics Institute at Coniston begins to open up this possibility, the possibility for re-imagining a socially re-integrated art production which forms part of our productive identity and collaborative notions of citizenship, individual civil rights and access to what we have left of community. Such a time machine also gives us the opportunity to look back to the future, to re-assess the roots of our culture, to sift through what was kept in and what was thrown away in the processes of epistemological construct that were (and still are) our inherited Modernity.

So! In our next issue of the Big JR Blog more on Time Machines - and a big thank you here to discussions with Francesco Manacorda, Director or Liverpool Tate, whose own (and far more elegant) use of the ‘Time Machine’ as curatorial device put me in mind of McFly and Co (and also, if I’m honest, made me begin to re-think the Machines and Machinic illogics/counterlogics of Guattari’s ‘Chaosmosis’). Maybe also something more on permeable institutions? Oh, and we probably need to start a reconsideration of craft at some point I would have thought? Until then may all of your Ruskin beards be trim, may all of your bushy sideburns stay hearty (in a non-gender specific metaphorical way of course), and may your Workers Soup remain forever on low simmer.

Posted by John Byrne on 12/03/13 at 15:58

Radical Aesthetics Call

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Open Pamphlet Call for Radical Aesthetics event organised by Loughborough University at The People's History Museum:

 

Art, Politics and the Pamphleteer

A RadicalAesthetics/RadicalArt (RaRa) event

People’s History Museum, Manchester,

FRIDAY June 14th 2013

Call for Participation

The RadicalAesthetics-RadicalArt (RaRa) project invites artists and scholars to prepare and submit a pamphlet for presentation at a one-day event, Art, Politics and the Pamphleteer. Instead of the traditional ‘paper’, submissions must essentially be for or against something – in essence a protest. The form that the protest takes is open to interpretation, for example print, paper, images, video, performance, public intervention. We invite you to address the idea and format of your provocation/declaration as imaginatively and radically as you wish.

How have artists used the trope of the radical pamphlet? How might it be utilized as a format?

Art, Politics and the Pamphleteer will explore the history and relevance of the pamphlet for contemporary art practice through presentations by speakers and performers. The one-day event will coincide with a small display of selected pamphlets from the PHM collection (curated by the RaRa organisers) together with a selection from our ‘call for pamphlets’. See below for more information.

Guidelines for proposals: Please send an abstract for your proposal (max 500 words) PLUS a brief bio (max 150 words) to j.tormey@lboro.ac.uk and g.whiteley@lboro.ac.uk

Deadline for proposals: 30th MARCH 2013

Context: Radical Pamphlets, the People’s History Museum and RaRa

 

Radical Pamphlets

 

It is written because there is something that one wants to say now, and one believes there is no other way of getting a hearing. Pamphlets may turn on points of ethics or theology but they always have a clear political implication. A pamphlet may be written either for or against somebody or something, but in essence it is always a protest.

George Orwell (1948) in British Pamphleteers Volume 1, from the sixteenth century to the French Revolution

For Orwell, the pamphlet is a polemical provocation. Through the 20thc and beyond, artists have worked and acted provocatively and polemically with text, images and performance, publishing writings and producing pamphlets and manifestoes, including the Futurists (1909), Surrealists (1924), Fluxus (George Maciunas, 1963), First Things First (Ken Garland 1964), Mierle Laderman Ukeles (Manifesto for Maintenance Art 1969) and Stewart Home’s Neoist Manifestos (1987). More recently, in 2009, Monica Ross and fifteen others co-recited the Universal Declaration of Human Rights on the Anniversary of The Peterloo Massacre at John Rylands Library‚Ä®Manchester and the Freee Art Collective have performed their manifestoes in a range of public settings. The edited book (2011) by Danchev 100 Artists' Manifestos: From the Futurists to the Stuckists (Penguin Modern Classics) demonstrates it as subject of current interest.

The last decade has seen art’s increasing engagement with political and social issues, whereby in some instances artists’ activities have become indistinguishable from social activism (e.g. Wochenklauser) or other disciplinary functions (e.g. artist as ‘anthropologist’ as in Jeremy Deller’s Folk Archive).The art community’s current preoccupation with revolutionary movements and global politics is being addressed from different perspectives. The format and traditions of the ‘radical pamphlet’ may provide an alternative platform for artistic intervention and provocation.

People’s History Museum (PHM)

The People’s History Museum is a national research facility, archive and accredited public museum, which contains unique collections of documents and artefacts. The collection includes the British Labour Party and Communist Party of Great Britain papers, extensive amateur and documentary film holdings and the largest trade union and protest banner collection in the world. The Museum suits our particular brief of radicality in its focus on histories of radical collective action.

http://www.phm.org.uk/

 

The project will extend invitation to a range of social groups in Manchester, for example: Manchester Social Centre, All FM Community Radio, Manchester Radical History Collective, Radical Routes network of co-operatives, Working Class Movement Library, Manchester, Centre for Research in Socio-Cultural Change, University of Manchester.

RadicalAesthetics-RadicalArt (RaRa)

 

The RadicalAesthetics-RadicalArt (RaRa) project was initiated in 2009 at Loughborough University (LU) under the auspices of the Politicized Practice Research Group (PPRG). The RaRa project and its associated book series (with I.B. Tauris) explores the meeting of contemporary art practice and interpretations of radicality to promote debate, confront convention and formulate alternative ways of thinking about art practice. Previous RaRa events have included ‘DIY cultures’ and Radical Footage: Film and Dissent at Nottingham Contemporary.

http://www.lboro.ac.uk/departments/sota/research/groups/politicised/index.html

http://www.ibtauris.com/Highlights/Radical%20Aesthetics%20Radical%20Art.aspx

 

Gillian Whiteley/Jane Tormey

January 2012

Posted by Alistair Hudson on 02/03/13 at 10:32

The Criteria of Art Util

We had a recent visit here from useful artist Tania Bruguera who is working on a Museum of Useful Art for the Van Abbe Museum in October next year, part of the project The Uses of Art: the Legacy of 1848 and 1989 we have been developing with the Internationale group of European museums. We spent the weekend with Nick Aikens, a ginger curator of the Van Abbe Museum, refining the criteria of Useful Art or Art Util as she prefers to call it. Whilst here we hooked her up with the Fernando Garcia Dory, awarded last month with $25,000 and the gong for The Leonore Annenberg Prize for Art and Social Change at the Creative Time Summit in New York. Fernando and Tania only ever communicate via Skype, the preferred medium of purposeful artists. Here you see them head to head in a feed back loop of social engagement. Fernando is currently working in London on Now I Gotta Reason, go use him.

To be arte útil it should:

1- Propose new uses for art within society

2- Challenge the field within which it operates (civic, legislative, pedagogical, scientific, economic etc)

3- Be ‘timing specific’, responding to the urgencies of the moment

4- Be implemented in the real and actually work!

5- Replace authors with initiators and spectators with users

6- Have practical, beneficial outcomes for its users

7- Pursue sustainability whilst adapting to changing conditions

8- Re-establish aesthetics as an ecosystem of transformative fields

Posted by Alistair Hudson on 08/11/12 at 13:27

Now I Gotta Reason

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The show at the Jerwood Space opened for business yesterday. Co-curated with Marcus Coates, the premise of the show is looking at ways in which art, artists and culture can play a more useful role in society. The main discussion so far seems to be about money and in particular the artist and their unpaid or unvalued labour. As we will be making the budget spend transparent and encouraging the artists to think about generating income through their activity, money talk is no surprise so we will see where these discussions take us in the coming weeks.

Posted by Maria Benjamin on 08/11/12 at 10:02

Santa's Helpers

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Not really, he doesn't exist. However, we could really do with some help bringing special seasonal art cheer to our local village. From making Christmas decorations, serving mulled wine at the Christmas Lights Switch On to offering a gift wrapping service at the Farmer's Market and Art Fair, you can use your creative skills in lots of useful ways. For more information, email Maria.

Posted by Maria Benjamin on 01/11/12 at 15:14

ALAN KANE IS COMPLEMENTARY

Even more astonsihing than the Tim Marlow revelation is Alan Kane saying something positive about Grizedale Arts

Posted by Alistair Hudson on 18/10/12 at 20:53