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
To be arte útil it
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
sustainability whilst adapting to changing conditions
aesthetics as an ecosystem of transformative fields
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
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.
The second text I would like to share with you is a draft
outline for how a UK manifestation of the 1848 project might be and
this is underpinned by a question relating to the issue of how we
might measure usefulness and how we might measure
If we believe in the idea of usefulness and if we believe in
aesthetics (in its widest conception of the reception,
communication and processiing of the senses) as the how and why of
art and society - how do we measure these things, as Sam provokes,
without damaging the object of study?
The New Mechanics
The New Mechanics is a touring concept and a project to develop
youth citizenship that is delivered over multiple venues across the
England. It is being developed with three UK art institutions and
The New Mechanics is designed as the UK component of a
larger international project 1848: The Uses of Art, an
ambitious 5 year project, conceived by Grizedale Arts and
developing six major European Musuems and two Universities. This
pan-European Project aims to reintroduce the idea of Use Value as a
central function of art and to develop the civic future of museums
and galleries using the concept of the Mechanics Institute.
At the heart of this endeavor is an ambition to use art, artists
and art institutions more effectively in civic society and to build
a form of citizenship based on creativity and social
This process would involve a drive to reshape museums and art,
based on current socially oriented art practices and revisiting the
Mechanics Institute as a mechanism for social change – working with
a more comprehensive, expanded constituency, reaching and building
new audiences and developing a model of art that is valued more
widely, beyond the current conventions of economic and personal
The consensus of opinion that has grown around this project
(particularly the idea of the usage of art) has formed from a new
generation of work by artists and curators that aims to be
effective outside the performative frame of art – that is
understood for how it works, not how it is consumed.
This project was initially formed out a synthesis of recent work
by Grizedale Arts around a rethinking of John Ruskin, the
19th Century Mechanics Institutes and Liam Gillick’s
current work around European revolution in 1848 and grown with
interest from writers such as Barbara Steiner, Marie Jane Jacobs,
Jeremy Millar, Simon Critchley, Tom F McDonough and Stephen Wright.
It will consist of a long term programme of activity (a touring
concept rather than a touring exhibition) built around three key
1. Education: the use of art and creativity as an educational
and developmental tool
2. Land: The role of aesthetics in social and ecological
3. History: Rethinking the story of how art can be used in
The New Mechanics in the UK will primarily focus on
education and rethink how art is presented within an art
institution. This is envisaged not as a stand alone project, but
one that will emerge out of existing relationships forged through
the Plus Tate Learning project and create content for and inform
the larger European Touring programme over the next five years.
This project addresses some crucial questions around the role of
art, artists and art institutions:
What does the art institution of the future look like and how
can we shape it with the new generations who will use them?
In a era of de-development what forms of institution are best
suited suit help society adapt to change and how can the younger
generations direct this process to their advantage?
How do we more actively engage with our constituencies,
particularly young people as the future users of culture, who
cannot use the resources of museums and galleries?
Can we work with these groups to develop better ways to operate
more meaningful programmes that are clearly valued for how they can
be used by the public, rather than increasing cultural
Working with the project participants, what kind of new
institutional forms could be developed which would increase the
civic, social and cultural function of our organisations.
How do our institutions create programmes that are valued by a
broader population? And as a reference point look at the Mechanics
Institutes as a public resource that were valued enough to support
a subscription membership, over and above public subsidy.
With the participant groups, can we test the institutions to
fully synthesise the educational and curatorial programmes?
The participating UK venues of Grizedale Arts, MIMA, Tate
Liverpool and Ikon Gallery are currently working together via the
Plus Tate network on a JP Morgan funded programme re-thinking young
peoples’ learning programmes. This project consists of each
Institution developing learning programmes though residential trips
to the Lake District with their respective youth programmes. This
experimental research stage culminates in a conference with all 18
Plus Tate partners in December 2012. Rather than seeing this as an
end, we would like to think of this as the start of a durational
set of evolving relationships that comes to fruition with active
projects in The New Mechanics, expanding on the work
already undertaken, drawing on education as a way of thinking about
institutions and how they engage with audiences and communities and
in particular young people.
The Mechanic Institutes of the 19th Century are a
neglected model for how culture can work effectively in society
today. The Mechanic Institutes sprung up across Britain as places
of education, social reform and where the growing working class
could develop with the new skills of the age. Much like a cultural
centre for the working man, the Institutes provided educational
instruction in technical subjects - including the arts - and access
to literature and learning in a variety of different fields and
trades via a small subscription. The Institutes were built around a
holistic and altruistic programme of arts and sciences and social,
This project proposes that the art gallery today should be
re-viewed, much like the Mechanics Institutes were used in the
19th and early 20th Centuries, as a place for
learning and public interaction. The principal is to develop a
programme, across all four venues, of artist commissions, events
and activity focussing on young people as an emerging generation of
civic participants, who will build the next generation of
institutions. The programme will be developed by all partners to
draw on their education and social programmes as the central
activity, to enhance their existing work but to find linkages and
cross programming to interact with the other sites. At the core
will be a range of young people focused art-based projects that
attempt to reinstate creativity to the centre of civic society.
Using the Mechanics Institutes as an inspirational starting point
the project will open up how an art gallery is used and perceived
by their visiting audiences and the wider constituency.
The programme, as with the methodology of the wider European
project, is not a touring exhibition but a touring concept,
creating an active network of discussion and development for young
people to reshape the institutions for the future.
The key to this will be to develop large scale projects for each
partner with their constituent youth groups, working with an artist
or artists whilst ensuring that the young people are genuinely
empowered to drive the project.
The project is conceived over a long timeline of 12 months to
ensure strong relationships and meaningful evolution. Each project
is initiated in April 2013 on the back of the research and findings
of the Plus Tate programme.
It is therefore not a one off project, but the nexus of a
continuum of thinking and activity that will work to re-establish
the fundamental role of the Institution within society and make it
fit for purpose.
Four venues will work together to develop an artist brief with
their locality in mind however there will be a relationship between
all partners to establish core principles and keep a coherency
across the project – as the aim of the project will later be
manifest in the European touring project as exemplars of effective
practice. It is hoped that the six key partners of the European
project will advise and contribute to artists selection.
Throughout this process opportunities will be created for
exchanges and collaborations between projects and people.
Where appropriate activities will be integrated into the
galleries ongoing curated programme, with the full participation of
the curatorial teams, who will see this project as part of core
programme, not that of the outreach nor education departments.
There will be encouragement for the young people to take over
gallery resources for the purposes of the project. We will be
commissioning artists to work with the gallery and young people to
develop projects that embed the activities of the gallery back into
the fabric of their everyday lives, pushing the idea of active
citizenship for both young people and the host institutions.
Beyond the 12 month period of the project in 2013 the 4 projects
will feed into the expanded European project with the potential to
develop the idea of a ‘touring audience’ to work in international
The project would be centred on a research question, which comes
from the groundwork undertaken in the current Plus Tate/JP Morgan
project between Grizedale, Ikon, MIMA and Tate Liverpool. In turn
this question should in effect come from the participant groups of
young people and look at changing the way the sector works.
The project is aimed at challenging the established ways of
touring programmes. It is a large scale and important body of
research, which aims to genuinely find strategies that work for
each partner and to genuinely fulfil the goals of public funding
and government agendas. In this process there should be an emphasis
in learning from each other, given the range of contexts,
experience and scale of operations.
As a consequence it has to be experimental and, to certain
extent, open ended in nature: although it is thought that a
reasonably prescriptive brief is drawn up for the artists’
Within the process there will be a series of conversations
around sociology, the role of culture and growing institutions in
relation to current thinking beyond the art sector for example,
economics, sociology, wellbeing, history and so on.
I would like to share with you two documents. These are two
draft project outlines for projects in development which show you
the trajectory of our thinking.
The first is the concept I have written out and currently
developing with six significant European Museums, who are all
looking at this as a way to rethink how their institutions can
develop in new and relevant ways for their constituencies,
particularly as public funding gets withdrawn, the established
value systems and modes of operation are increasingly prone to
criticism and cuts.
1848: The New Mechanics
A touring concept developed by Grizedale
1848/1984: The New Mechanics is a long term, multi-faceted project to promote a
movement, or growing consensus, to re-establish the idea of use
value as a central tenet of art.
On the one hand this project will highlight artists and
art strategies that share an ambition to have effect beyond the
confines of the world of art, whilst on the other looking to the
origins of our present era, signified by the years 1848 and 1984,
to offer a new reading of art history that supports the case for a
new approach to art, whilst rescuing the best of modernism’s
The endeavour will be a mix of historical exhibitions
and live projects, making clear links between the emerging arts
practice of activism, action and effectiveness with its antecedents
in the socio-cultural history of European Culture.
The historical aspect is seen as a rethinking and part
of a solution to unlock the current stasis that pervades at a
moment of declining Western influence, economic crisis, ecological
anxiety and an inability for the arts to make a case for their
value in society.
1848 proposes a range of approaches that attempt to
reinstate the function of art at the centre of civic
The key principles of the project are:
1: To re-introduce the idea of the use value of art, or
the usage of art, for social, aesthetic and educational development
and as a means to resist the entrapment of art by the idea of the
Contemporary and its recognizable forms. In this there is an
ambition to open a discourse around the idea of a value system of
usage, that could be used to differentiate between the work of
artists operating in the social context, whilst reevaluating
historical works through the lens of a use-concept.
2. To foreground approaches to art that operate on the periphery
of the performative frame of art and present them as viable
alternatives to market orientated work.
3. To rethink the standard of the art historical survey and to
revisit the 19th century structures and concepts that
instigated the Modern era (Ruskin, Mechanics Institutes, European
revolution, social re-organisation) as a way to re-read of our
current situation of technological advancement, social and
political unrest, ecological crisis and to use new readings of time
to bear on how we re-think this past.
4: To promote education, in its broadest sense, as central to
the process of art, foregrounding and presenting it as a primary
function of the institution – to bring the respective educational
activities of each venue into centre stage.
The aim of the New Mechanics is to articulate a new, emerging
tendency in art; a movement built around the idea of the use value
of art and the value of art as tool to see, mediate and effect the
world around us.
It is conceived as an ambitious, landmark project and it will
look to advance the position of art beyond the conditions that have
dominated the last two centuries under the influence of modernism
and the Romantic paradigm. This will be achieved through a network
of exhibitions, discourse and activity, presenting new emerging
art, artists and art-like projects, alongside a re-thinking or a
re-reading of the last 200 years of European art as way to help
formulate new forms of art that can have a use in present
The timing of this project is pertinent; against a background of
economic, ecological and cultural crisis as the world moves from an
era dominated by European thinking to an era of not just global
interdependency, but also planetary thinking – a broader ecology of
culture and nature. Furthermore it is being developed in response
to the continuing dominance of market orientated work as the ‘main
story’ whilst there emerge from the periphery a range of viable
other artworlds, or ways of making art, that none the less are part
of the continuing history of art. In many ways this is a claim for
the role of aesthetics as central to social change.
1848: The New Mechanics is proposed not as a fixed
touring body of material, rather a touring concept, an evolving
body of work (in the operative sense) and a productive discussion
between European partners that will advocate for art as an active
agent in society.
This concept has its roots in the early 19th century
and the beginnings of industrialisation; as society reorganized
itself through Mechanics Institutes, revolution, democracy,
environmentalism, social welfare, education, in a moment when art,
science and civic society were still fused together. It is
subsequently seen in alternate paths that weave through Carlyle,
Ruskin, Morris, the Bauhaus, the Utility movement, the Diggers and
even current strategies utilized by political activism.
Therefore this project is as much historical as it is current.
In order to assert the usage of art, it needs, as part of the
concept, to use history as vital and continuous part of our
As the scale and scope of this endeavour is so large it is
proposed that the project evolves over a five year period and is
developed specifically in each location in partnership with the
staff of the host institution, with each context developing the
material and content using the resources (programme, community,
collections, learning programmes, etc) at its disposal.
The project is built around a core body of live and documentary
material that exemplifies the new work being made by artists and
art agencies that have or aim to have a useful function within a
Each host partner will elaborate this theme with use of its
collections, outreach/social programmes and partnerships with its
own constituencies, to bring to life the ideas and actions that are
pertinent to its own context.
In this there is an ambition to open a discourse around the idea
of a value system of usage, that could be used to differentiate
between the work of artists operating in the social context, whilst
reevaluating historical works through the lens of a
This lens would be considered as having three facets, with each
of the partners choosing to emphasize one of these three facets or
subject sub-themes that demonstrate the idea of the usage
Relating current issues to the 19th century
structures and concepts that instigated the Modern era (Ruskin,
Mechanics Institutes, European revolution, Thorbecke, social
re-organisation) as a way to re-read our situation of technological
advancement, social and political unrest, ecological crisis and
perceived ‘decline’ and to use new readings of time to bear on how
we re-think this past.
Also using historical and modern works to re-write the
history of art according to how it can be used, at a personal level
(how an individual subject uses a work of art) and at a political
level (how a society uses a work of art).
To foreground approaches to art that operate on the
periphery of the frame of art and present them as viable
alternatives to market orientated work. This ‘new territory’ would
include artists whose practice, or rather implementation, functions
as rural activism, ecology, social architecture, food supply,
political action, architecture, farming, urban planning and
sociology – making the case for art as an essential component in a
bio-physical and socio-cultural ecology.
To promote education, in its broadest sense, as central
to the process of art, foregrounding and presenting it as a primary
function of the institution – to bring the respective educational
activities of each venue into centre stage, rather than supplement
or to the core program or even for the education programme to take
over the gallery.
The New Mechanics is formed out of a synthesis of recent work by
Grizedale Arts (for the last few years proponents of the idea of
making artists useful) around a rethinking of John Ruskin (as an
artist, art critic, educator and social reformer), the
19th century Mechanics Institutes and recent work by
associate artists around European revolution in 1848.
These historical phenomena can now be read as extremely
pertinent moments in our present, offering new insights into
current art and particularly the urgency for sociality and ethics
In the case of John Ruskin, for example, this can be re-read as
complex body of work that prefigures the issues now surrounding
social reform, environment, ecology, capital, aesthetics and
politics, combined with the complex, difficult persona of the
artist. To date his writings have been subsumed by a formalist
story of modernism, which he was partly responsible for, yet he is
now emerging as a critical voice in the debates around the emerging
calls for art to be more effective in society.
At the heart of this, is the case for restating the use value of
art, an idea that has arguably been neglected (and refuted) since
1848, subsumed by the value systems of truth and money in the
evolution of the Romantic model, whilst there is an assumption that
usage is antithetical to art, or at least an uncultured view.
Four our purposes 1848 is cited as the symbolic date that frames
the current conditions, that marks the end of the key period or
industrial and social reorganization in the west, dominated by the
Machinery Question (1815 – 1848) that identified the effect of
technology on social, economic and political systems. In this
project we can identify this period as a parallel enquiry to our
own in the era of digitized information and biotechnology.
Equally there is at the forefront of this project an emphasis on
the new politicization of the rural, ecological or the peripheral.
This new ecology, far further evolved from the ecological debates
initiated by Ruskin in the 19th century, now includes
economics, activism, technology, shifts in global power, rapidly
increasing demands on agriculture and natural resources.
This is not a straight forward historical re-evaluation, but an
analysis of current art production through a restructured
historical context, citing the mid 19th century as a
vital and pertinent part of our own critical context with all its
human endeavour to adapt and survive. Perhaps this project can be
seen as an ahistorical survey for a post-chronological era, history
as subversion, a non linear re-evaluation of the social purpose and
complex function of art, presided over by artists such as John
Ruskin and Liam Gillick.
The principle is to tour, not an exhibition, but a concept and a
range of methodologies that in each location will elaborate on and
adapt the theme working closely with the host institution’s
curatorial and education teams. It will use some historical
material to make points, whilst showcase current artist, curatorial
and ‘art-like’ projects that operate actively within a social
context, to have, at least, an effect, or that seek, in the face of
multiple ethics and dynamics, to keep going, to try to make the
world a better place.
Alongside a profile of exemplar projects, the project would
bring the host’s education and social programmes into centre stage,
the activity to be the exhibit itself and return the gallery to its
origins as a public classroom in the Mechanics Institute model.
The different manifestations of the project will add to
the whole endeavor rather than repeat the programme. Therefore it
might be that in each location the ‘volume’ of the different
aspects of this programme are turned up or down accordingly. For
example in the UK the emphasis might be on education, in Spain
ecology and rural activism and in the Netherlands historical
In terms of content, the project is used to channel much of
Grizedale Arts’ and the collaborators’ ongoing programmes.
Particular attention will be focused on artists’ projects that can
be read through their use value or ‘double ontological status’
(Stephen Wright) – having applications that are valid and visible
outside of the frame of art.
In this respect, there is a case for highlighting projects in
which there is an element of co-creation by author and audience or
which enhance social activation processes around the direct
management of resources. This would inevitably reveal a range of
projects that are currently working outside the market orientated
art world in ‘peripheral’ zones outside the metropolitan context
and present them as strategically advanced ground.
The key issues of history, education, sociality, periphery and
ecology addressed by this project are designed to shed new light on
the wider political scenario of economic crisis, de-growth,
technology and the decline of Western influence. In one way or
another, many of the artists or projects that The New Mechanics
puts forward, are attempts to adapt to these circumstances and to
push for a change in art and the way it is used.
Suggested Exhibition Components
To create a barricade using works of art from an institution’s
collections for practical purposes, as was the case in 19c Paris, a
provocative method of display and action.
A new art history
Commissioning research and new writing to re-evaluate the
History of Art, 1848 – 2012 through the lens of use value. This is
intended to develop a more sophisticated language to describe and
evaluate current art practice; particularly those are now operating
in the social sphere and to differentiate between the multiple
strands of this work. Some ideas are being currently being
developed with the RCA Critical Writing course.
A core exhibition
A set of historical and contemporary works that can travel
between venues for the purposes of education and interpretation. To
be developed with the curatorial committee of the project and the
Developed by each partner in relation to the themes
A number of artist commissions that are operative in the
respective venue contexts.
An education programme
To devise a model education programme that will take centre
stage at each venue, turning the gallery in to a classroom. Working
with project partner education teams, universities, night classes,
community projects and artists. This is in some ways intended as a
challenge to each participant institution, to present their own
social programmes as centre stage, rather than as complement to the
The Mechanics Institute
A series of projects that looks at the Mechanics Institute as a
model for the future development of the civic function of art
within society, including the profiling of the Coniston Institute
project by Grizedale Arts and associated artists. The Coniston
Mechanics Institute was originally conceived by John Ruskin and WG
Collingwood as the ideal education for the working man, but also
the originating framework for social organisation, democracy,
education and art centres in the UK.
The Secular Church Service
A reinvention of the service format created by artists,
curators, writers, musicians for a social dissemination of
philosophy, music, art, etc as a curated event.
Re-Coefficients Dining Club
Discussion and dinner performance event tested by Grizedale Arts
that combines lectures with the banquet format
Club night by the legendary Liverpool dance club for one night
only – Chartism meets Situationism meets Ibiza
The Touring Audience
Rather than touring an exhibition, the touring of a group of
people to experience the project in all its venues and
Coniston Mechanics Institute and Online
The new Library for the Coniston Institute, designed by Liam
Gillick, will act as a fully functioning Cumbria County Council
Library (a meme for rural libraries) whilst doubling up as the
‘research centre’ for the 1848 project.
As part of this there will be an online library that will be an
accumulation of texts essays and ebooks that frame the project,
considering the use of art, education, social change, ecology,
As a key part of the project there will be a network of academic
research that will develop the themes pursued with 3 European
The Coniston Youth Club, which we started just over a month ago,
is arranging its first public event - a film night in Coniston
Institute on Tuesday 24th July. They decided to screen the 1960's
sci-fi film, Village of The Damned, a film about a group of
children in a village who have telepathic powers and are able to
force people to do things against their will! We will be joined by
a group of young people on a residential visit from Tate Liverpool.
Do read the Coniston Youth Club weekly blog here.
On June 28 resident artist Mat Do, he of the sharp atire
and sharp Essex attitude, brought together the Art in Irton Group
with the Coniston Art and Craft Society at the Coniston Institute.
This is all part of his long term project working with Egremont's
Florence Mine, a haemetite mine in West Cumbria which closed in
2008 and is being re-visioned with our help as a quasi Mechanics
Institute for this post industrial community.
For over two years or so Mat has been working on a number of
projects there includng a film with a group of amateur actors and
looking at ways in which the mine can be re-activated through new
projects that use the iron ore in new ways. One outcome has been a
process to get the iron ore made into paint and pigment products
that can be then used and disseminated to promote the town out and
create products for export out of Egremont.
This has led to an interested group of local artists (The Art in
Irton Group) setting up a co-operative to make products from the
very rich Florence haemetite; one of which is artists quality
paints. The group learnt the process themselves from books and a
workshop arranged by Mat and given by professional artist and paint
maker Pip Seymour.
In this last workshop the Irton group passed on their knowledge
of paint making to the Coniston Art and Craft Society. Ih this
workshop they demonstrated watercolour production from the Florence
iron ore and produced a very rich, deep grey from the slate dust
provided by Coniston
Slate - an unsued by product of their engraving and polishing
One ambition is that the paints can be made into household paint
products that can used as domestic paints. Lord Egremont owner of
Florence Mine and Petworth House,
Sussex (and relation to the 3rd Earl who patronised Turner so
profusely back in the day) is eager to work with Mat on a series of
projects at Petworth including the use of the iron as an estate
colour. See what he's doing there.
The new Honest Shop in the Coniston Institute has opened.
Designed by An Endless
Supply to provide homemade products without the inconvenience
of human contact and a chip and pin machine. In the video AES's
Harry Blackett and Robin Kirkham talk us throough the retail
Firstly, many thanks for the opportunity to attend the Grizedale
summit. It was a privilege to spend time in a beautiful place with
such interesting and committed people. I completed agree with
Gill’s point that two-days would have been even better!
Reflecting back on the day, I’m aware that I was playing the
awkward devil’s advocate in the final plenary (I hope this wasn’t
uncomfortable for anyone!). The reason, I think, is because I
strongly resist the idea – which seemed to be an undercurrent of
the session – that social scientists trying to understand how the
world works are in the domain of (to quote from Michael Davis’
summary piece) “logic, cold numbers and reason”, as if this is
incompatible with profound experiential knowledge of the kind that
we often value in the arts. I think this kind of “science from the
head, art from the soul” discourse is unhelpful, inaccurate and,
But I thought it might be worth exploring this a bit further, as a
contribution to our post-summit conversation.
In his summary, Michael Davis notes that “One of the
difficulties of taking part only in discussion with arts groups is
the continual drift back toward arts thinking.” We might well ask:
what is “arts thinking”? I guess this could mean many things, but
in my experience, one characteristic is a tendency towards
idolisation – of the art work, of arts praxis and in some cases of
the artist themselves. For me, “arts thinking” is sometimes
reflected in a desire to bracket-off “the arts” as something
different from the rest of human activity, impervious to analysis
by the tools and methods by which we make sense of everything else.
It’s not a way of thinking that I share, and to explain, I’ll
digress to an area of artistic endeavour where I have more personal
I studied music at university and spent many years as a
passionately enthusiastic classical musician. During this time, I
frequently came across people – often wonderful, insightful
musicians – who were quite opposed to the idea of analysing music
or even, in some cases, studying it academically at all. Music was
magical, ineffable, resistant to deconstruction and inexplicable
through words (“Writing about music”, as Frank Zappa is alleged to
have said, “is like dancing about architecture”). Attempting to
lift the bonnet and dismantle the engine was dangerous – what if
you couldn’t put it back together again? You might never able to
enjoy music again in the same way! Worse, wasn’t it all a bit
unnecessary and, frankly, tawdry? After all, if you really got
music, you wouldn’t feel the need to question it.
This never made any sense to me. Not because I didn't “get” the
magic of music – I lived for it, and still do – but precisely
because I got it. I knew first-hand that music was amazing,
powerful and transformative, and I wanted to know why! And I
thought that by knowing how it worked, I’d have have more chance of
helping other people experience something of what I did when I
listened and played.
Back to Grizedale. The thing that excited me most about the
Grizedale project was that it seems to be an exceptionally generous
and open-hearted attempt to render the arts more inclusive and
relevant. I love the questioning of “art” as such, the
democratisation, exploring the idea of the artist as social actor
and agitator, the enthusiasm about making links to history and
community, situating arts practice in the context of wider social
and political challenges.
And yet, throughout the day I kept feeling that there was
resistance to defining social outcomes, dislike of thinking about
the project as (even in part) instrumentalism, reluctance to
acknowledge that there might be elements of a Grizedale “model”
that could be distilled and transferred to other settings,
discomfort with adopting an objective and analytic stance… For me,
these are examples of the “continual drift towards arts thinking”
that Michael warns of – because to embrace rather than resist them
would also be, in a way, to normalise Grizedale and render it
tractable and explicable. It would be opening the bonnet and
peering inside the Grizedale engine.
Arts thinking – or, at least, the kind I’m talking about – worries
that once you’ve allowed this move, the magic disappears. But I’m
not so sure. For instance, it was noted in the plenary that some of
what Grizedale does looks a lot like asset based (but non arts
based) community development. This seemed to provoke a degree of
discomfort, followed by reiteration that Grizedale is unique,
individual and so on. But where is the threat? It would be
extraordinary indeed if some of the characteristics that make
Grizedale successful were not common to other approaches. It’s not
clear to me how Grizedale’s uniqueness is put in jeopardy by saying
this out loud.
We also talked a good deal about defining outcomes and that dread
word “measurement”. Again, there seemed to be a strong resistance,
couched as a concern to avoid instrumentalism. But again, I don’t
see it. Using, for instance, socio-economic impact tools to
understand the changes that come about during a Grizedale
initiative does not thereby “reduce” Grizedale to “just” those
impacts. It doesn’t devalue the project as a whole. It doesn’t stop
it being art.
I could go on (and on, and on…) but I’m sure there’s already plenty
there for people to disagree with, so I’ll stop for now. Thoughts
on a postcard…
Mill Hill County High School were in Coniston last week for a
spot of canoeing, hill walking and general school holiday fun (with
a few trips to the hospital). All music students, on holiday with
their music teachers (with a penchant for both classical and easy
listening), much to our delight, they agreed to to do a
performance for the village on their last night. Held in Coniston
Institute, our Youth Group made homemade ice cream and temperance
drinks and served these during the interval and raised money for
both Mill Hill school and our youth group.
Hi Bernadette - thanks for inviting me to the Grizedale
summit. I enjoyed it - an interesting set of people, tho I am not
entirely at home in an academic talking shop. I wasn't totally
convinced by Grizedale Arts, and have pulled no punches in my
critique. Be it understood however that this an argument, inviting
counter-argument. with all good wishes - Matthew
THE GRIZEDALE PROJECT
This strikes me as very experimental. So was the original Grizedale
forest sculpture project of 1968.
This project, Grizedale 1 for short, has undoubtedly run its
course. Indeed it had a built-in obsolescence since the sculpture
used primarily found materials - wind, water, stone, wood, leaf
litter - which naturally decay.
Yet what I might call Grizedale 2 seems to define itself in
opposition to Grizedale 1, as being everything that Grizedale 1 is
not. That was Art to improve the quality of life (or whatever the
phrase was), and aimed primarily at visitors. These are disparaged.
Grizedale 2 seems to be wary of Art and of any definition of what
art is or what it does, to be dubious of the word improvement, and
to scorn visitors in favour of villagers.
But art does improve the quality of life, however you define those
words. Why be shy about it? And visitors have largely defined the
quality of Lake District life since 1750. Why scorn them? Ruskin,
Collingwood, Rawnsley, Arthur Ransome, Beatrix Potter, Wainwright -
all visitors. It would be interesting to know how many present-day
Coniston villagers came here originally as visitors.
I would like to see the achievement of Grizedale 1 given its due,
and to see Grizedale 2 build upon it - in a new direction by all
means - rather than set itself up in a separate kingdom in
opposition to it. I have seen this happen before, to the detriment
of the whole, at Dartington. There the placing of departments into
separate kingdoms, each upon its own hill, was highly symbolic of
the fragmentation of the college ethos. Do we see the same thing
Grizedale 2 seems to depend almost entirely on the enterprise and
ideas of the director, Adam, who cheerfully acknowledged past
failures but given a long rope may well bring off a triumphant
success here. But the direction and focus, and even definition of
purpose, are not there yet. A negative definition, as I have
suggested above, is not enough.
It is interesting that Grizedale 2 is ambitiously international in
scope, and yet at the same time intensely local. This duality can
be compared with two of the most interesting artists that have
fetched up in Cumbria, Kurt Schwitters and Li Yuan Chia. Li in
particular created a place and whole environment for others to work
creatively, in any medium, and to exhibit their work.
Social Change and Sustainable Development. Good food improves the
quality of life. Sustainable development improves the quality of
food. Social change is, we hope, in a positive direction i.e. an
improvement. Is food production an artistic endeavour? Maybe some
redefining of boundaries is called for here - or maybe it is best
to get on with it and worry about definitions and boundaries
These initial responses were sent by email by Dr Gillian
Thoughts on format of event
I felt that we didn't have enough time to get to know the GA
history through to current projects to evaluate what's going on at
GA enough to also comment on it in any meaningful and
non-superficial way. That said, sometimes coming in 'cold' to a
situation does facilitate critical distance that can then aid
insight. In this case though, I felt we didn't get enough detached
in-depth focus discussion sessions. More intensive smaller group
sessions might have been useful as I felt we barely scratched the
surface in many ways as the group of diverse academics (and
approaches) needed some introduction/familiarisation with each
Maybe if it had been over two days, we might have had time to do
The final 'plenary' session felt a little forced and
uncomfortable – partly as I felt objectives of the day were unclear
as to whether (primarily) the day had been about introducing GA
(and its potential for some new collaborative projects etc) to us
or (primarily) seeking review of GAs projects/processes and
All that said, the openness of GA to our comments and reflections
was remarkable also. But its much better to reflect on what
occurred and what might be followed up with critical (and real)
distance/time after the event.
A few more thoughts/questions…
Event though it resists it and thinks it works 'with' not 'at'
etc, is GA operating a form of 'avant gardism', is it a form
of philanthropy? Is the lack of focus/ethos a problem? Is it
disingenuous anyway as there is a 'manifesto' on the wall in the GA
library – and it had 11 theses (a ref to Marx?) I noted!
Is there a fear of becoming a 'model' - why?
There was an aim espoused to challenge models of relational
aesthetics cos they are all speaking to the galllery - but there is
long history/are plenty of artists/etc who also primarily work to
break that down and operate outside gallery settings .
Is GA fostering conviviality or radicality? Is it
smoothing over social (class) difference and making community
convivial? How does GA relate to 'community', communities,
public/publics - counter–publics?
What about social class/property relations/ownership etc in lake
Can an organisation grow organically only as long as its small
Dangers of philanthropy conviviality as affirmation of bourgeois
values – do they offer no real challenge to neoliberalism or
capitalism at all? Does that matter? How does GA activities
relate to recent occupations rebellions and other global issues?
Is GA local, global, parochial?
How does GA engage with notions of mutuality, cooperation, DIY
Does GA as an organisation need to wither away and if it did what
would its activities become? Would it matter? Back to questions of
ethos, aims, 'mission' etc…
Idiosyncracy and irreverance for all systems is essential (in my
view) but if no ethos then does it become playground for
The recent academic summit at Grizedale Arts, the first of it’s
kind, was something of a curiosity to take part in. Grizedale’s
broad approach to art and it’s holistic way of working branches
into many different disciplines - namely agriculture, architecture,
social work, community development, design and ecology. So the
thinking behind this summit was to gather academics whose interests
sit between and overlap these areas, in order to solidify and
reappraise Grizedale’s methodology from an outside perspective,
rather than the more common art orientated discussions. One of the
difficulties of taking part only in discussion with arts groups is
the continual drift back toward arts thinking - and this in effect
was an attempt to ascertain whether the Grizedale model (in it’s
current form) could be sustainable outside of the arts bubble, as a
viable and accountable programme, if transposed to another
disciplinary area, without reliance on being an arts project. To
begin this discussion, the summit gathered experts and academics
from fields such as agriculture, nutrition, horticulture, history,
landscape design, architecture, community arts, psychology, social
science and social care. The event began with a talk by Grizedale
Art’s director and deputy director on the history of projects,
showing the full spectrum of engagement, from folk festivals and
village projects to design consultation for one of China’s largest
new city parks. The day was divided into break out groups and
reconvened conversations - the thrust of which was the further
development of Grizedale’s working process, whether as a design for
living, a hub for research networks or opportunities for
Grizedale Arts is at a point of development where it could
conceivably become an independent organisation without requiring
specifically Arts Council subsidy. Grizedale as a model is very
close to a number of different commercially viable models, and it
could possibly be used as a model for a number of other
organisations such as organic free-range hill farms, or village
development programmes, or community outreach centres, and as it
stands Grizedale is already looked at as a model for other arts
organisations. This was a crucial topic throughout the summit: is
it possible to formalise Grizedale’s model without damaging it? Can
what is necessarily a chaotic freeform practice be solidified and
used as a template in order to replicate and rescale it? And if so,
what are the specific measurable virtues and benefits compared to
other, similar models and programmes? What are the politics present
in the Grizedale’s process? One problematic and oppositional view
put forward to this idea of creating a reproducible model was that
Grizedale is too embroiled in it’s specifics to be transferable -
for example it could not function with different staff, because for
one thing, so much of the programme is motivated by self interests
- the idea that Adam, Alistair and Maria, with their idiosyncratic
views and humour, are citizens of the lakes too is integral to many
of the projects, and any attempt to transfer the model
without this individual human input would leave only a husk. What
is at play here then is the rough collision of academia, in the
best Aristotelian tradition of logic, cold numbers and reason, with
passionate individual opinions, ethics and quality judgements. Are
these modes entirely mutually exclusive? Another proposition which
met with general agreement was the idea that is there is indeed
measurable, qualifiable benefit to all parties present in the
process, whatever that may be, then it can be reduced to that and
replicated - if only as a bare principle, a facet of the overall
animal. But again this advances the conundrum of how to measure and
qualify the outcomes of Grizedale’s work, without resorting to
alienating methods such as questionnaires and guinea pig studies.
For these processes will undoubtedly undo the majority of
beneficial outcomes; trust, friendship, fellowship, goodwill,
honesty, money, gifts and so on. This problem of observing without
altering has been left, ostensibly, unsolved so far.
Another of the points broached in the conference was whether there
is enough definition in Grizedale’s aims and goals. Whether that is
in the old mission statement, untouched from the 70s; to use art to
improve the conditions of life - or the more recent aims, to make
art more interesting, to make art and artists useful - there is a
lack of specifics. Is there a difficulty in finishing these
sentences? Does the limitations of including specifics out weigh
the stability they would potentially provide?
Grizedale’s preoccupation with the reinstatement of usage, or use
value, within the arts, also featured in the debate - with
questions raised on how to achieve a change in the fashion of arts,
and it’s funding, for not-directly-useful projects. The suggestion
was for Grizedale to act as a connecting point for similarly social
minded arts organisations in order to achieve this change, which
although present, are thin and widely spread in the UK, creating
formalised and interdependent projects, and greater consensus. This
is of course something Grizedale already work toward on a variety
of levels, but larger numbers and closer connections will be
required to reach a critical mass.
The hope is that this seminar will prove the ground for further
research and development in many different directions, but as with
all things Grizedale, is was never going to be simple. Further
thoughts on the issues raised will follow below.
The Grizedale Summit was held on 29 May 2012 in the village of
Coniston. It was organised by Grizedale Arts with Bernadette Lynch
to open up some of the processes and thinking of the organisation
to academics from university departments beyond the the confines of
the visual arts and art theory.
The following blog is designed as a record of the summit, a
point of discussion and a tool to analyse how Grizedale Arts might
be relevant to the wider socio-cultural evolution.
The delegates who attended were:
Dr.Clive Parkinson, Director of Arts for Health
at Manchester Metropolitan University
Dr Gillian Whiteley, Loughborough University
School of Arts, Senior Lecturer Critical and Historical Studies
Dr. Sam Thompson , Senior Research Fellow in
health inequalities at the University of Liverpool and Senior
Lecturer in psychology at the University of East London.
Dr. Carissa Honeywell , Lecturer in Politics,
Sheffield Hallam University
Professor Sarah Banks, School of Applied
Social Sciences, Durham University
Martin Hewitt, Head of History, Politics and
Philosophy, Manchester Metropolitan University
Dr Bram Vanhoutte , Centre for Census and Survey
Research at the University of Manchester to work on the Frailty,
Resilience and Inequality in Later Life (FRAILL) project, sponsored
by the Medical Research Council.
Dr. Derek Lynch , Canada Research Chair in
Organic Agriculture, Dalhousie University in Halifax, Canada.
Dr Karen Dennis, University of Huddersfield.
Matthew Hyde, architectural historian and the
author of the new 'Pevsner' for Cumbria
Clare Cooper , co-founder and co-director of the
Mission Models Money (MMM) programme.
Dr. Becky Sobell, Senior Lecturer in Landscape
Architecture, Manchester School of Architecture, Manchester
Professor Charlie Gere , Reader in New Media
Research, Lancaster Institute for the Contemporary Arts
Derek Lynch is an expert in organic agriculture and professor
at Dalhousie University in Canada. He is in Consiton to
give a talk on his research into organic and sustainable
agricultural systems from around the world. This talk is free and
not to be missed so please come along! Refreshments will be
Dr. Derek Lynch is Canada Research Chair in Organic
Agriculture at Dalhousie University in Halifax, Canada. His
teaching and research interests include organic and sustainable
agricultural systems, environmental/ecological impact of farming
system, and soil quality and fertility management.