Writing / Grizedale Arts Blog / 2012 / -

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


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


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


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


Art historian and media legend Tim Marlow consumes a cake phallus from Bedwyr William's Curator Cadaver Cake at Grizedale Arts' Colosseum of the Consumed at Frieze Art Fair 2012.

Posted by Alistair Hudson on 18/10/12 at 09:32

That's Edutainment


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 aesthetics.

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 Grizedale Arts.

Project Overview

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 responsibility.

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 impact.

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 themes:

1. Education: the use of art and creativity as an educational and developmental tool

2. Land: The role of aesthetics in social and ecological change

3. History: Rethinking the story of how art can be used in society

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 capital?
  • 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?

Existing work

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, collective action.

Proposed Activity

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 partner venues.

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’ projects.

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.

Posted by Alistair Hudson on 24/07/12 at 14:22



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 Arts

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 ambitions.

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 society.

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.

Concept outline

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 times.

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 present.


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 socio-economic context.

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 use-concept.

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 art.

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 re-evaluation.

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

A Barricade

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 host venue.

Project Exhibitions

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 exhibition programme.

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 manifestations.

Coniston Mechanics Institute and Online Library

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, history, politics.


As a key part of the project there will be a network of academic research that will develop the themes pursued with 3 European Universities.

Posted by Alistair Hudson on 24/07/12 at 14:10

Beware The Stare


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.

Posted by Maria Benjamin on 18/07/12 at 21:22

The Only Way is Egremont


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 processes.

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.

Posted by Alistair Hudson on 12/07/12 at 15:47

Honest Shop


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 experience.

Posted by Alistair Hudson on 04/07/12 at 10:33

Understanding how Grizedale works won’t stop it from working

By Sam Thompson, University of Liverpool

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, potentially, divisive.

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 experience…

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…

Posted by Alistair Hudson on 13/06/12 at 11:39

From Purcell to The Beach Boys


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. 

Posted by Maria Benjamin on 08/06/12 at 16:09

A Critique from Matthew Hyde


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


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 happening here?

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  later.    

Posted by Alistair Hudson on 07/06/12 at 11:58

Some thoughts from Dr Gillian Whiteley


These initial responses were sent by email by Dr Gillian Whiteley:

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 other too.
Maybe if it had been over two days, we might have had time to do this.

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 'achievements'.  
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 district?

Can an organisation grow organically only as long as its small scale?
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 cultures?
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 artists?

Posted by Alistair Hudson on 07/06/12 at 11:44

The Grizedale Summit


An introduction by Michael Davis

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 post-graduate studies.

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.

Michael Davis is an artist and writer

Posted by Alistair Hudson on 07/06/12 at 11:32

The Grizedale Summit


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 Metropolitan University

Professor Charlie Gere , Reader in New Media Research, Lancaster Institute for the Contemporary Arts

Posted by Alistair Hudson on 06/06/12 at 11:57

Talk by Dr. Derek Lynch

Transforming Agriculture: Growing better communities

Monday 28th May 6pm

Coniston Institute

Dr. 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 served.

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.

Posted by Maria Benjamin on 07/05/12 at 12:24

Michael Marriott Talk


A talk and workshop with renowned Interior Designer Michael Marriott, as part of the development of the Coniston cricket pavilion and grounds.

Friday 25th May

6 - 9pm

The event is free and a buffet dinner is included. All are welcome.

This is the second event in a series of talks focusing on contemporary, sustainable building and design for a community build project.

Posted by Maria Benjamin on 07/05/12 at 11:27

Holidaying at Home


Holidaying at home is the new going away so here's a link to our neighbour and friend John Atkinson's holiday blog. His 2 week annual leave from his National Trust job is spent lambing on his farm.

Posted by Maria Benjamin on 21/04/12 at 21:39