Writing / Grizedale Arts Blog

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

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Sumner family archive 

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Emma (Right) & Katherine (Left) volunteering at Lawson Park, January 2019

Photo: Karen Guthrie

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Posted on 06/02/19 at 17:57

Sally Beamish

Sally's beloved pony Sam with 'his' poster

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

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

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

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

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

Our condolences go to her family, colleagues and friends.

Posted on 12/06/18 at 00:00

Schooling New York

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

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

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

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

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

Posted on 17/02/17 at 17:55

Jessica Lack - The Nuisance of Landscape

The Nuisance Of Landscape: Grizedale – The Sequel Jessica Lack

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

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

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

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

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

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

Posted on 02/04/15 at 16:14

The Nuisance of Landscape

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Posted on 12/12/14 at 14:59

The Office of Useful Art

Alistair in the Office

Alistair Hudson talking with Chto Delat and MA Fine Art Students from Liverpool John Moores University

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Posted on 24/03/14 at 14:24

no sense of place

bookends

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Posted on 02/11/13 at 13:04

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

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

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

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

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

Posted on 01/11/13 at 13:13

Pottery please (Radio 4 Sunday nights)

Welcome to my fragile world

A ceramics biennale

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

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

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

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

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

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

Posted on 31/10/13 at 23:19

Craft orgy in Bukchon

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

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

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

Next issue

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

Posted on 30/10/13 at 01:16

Korean dawn

Scale model for a Social Structure - Liam Gillick

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Posted on 27/10/13 at 01:13

The return of the blog

Leaving Deptford

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

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

Posted on 20/10/13 at 10:12

Back to the Future!

Alistair Appears Via Future Link to Liverpool!

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

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

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

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

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

Posted on 12/03/13 at 15:58

Radical Aesthetics Call

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


Art, Politics and the Pamphleteer

A RadicalAesthetics/RadicalArt (RaRa) event

People’s History Museum, Manchester,

FRIDAY June 14th 2013

Call for Participation

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

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

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

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

Deadline for proposals: 30th MARCH 2013

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

Radical Pamphlets

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

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

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

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

People’s History Museum (PHM)

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

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

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

RadicalAesthetics-RadicalArt (RaRa)

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

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

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

Gillian Whiteley/Jane Tormey

January 2012

Posted on 02/03/13 at 10:32

The Criteria of Art Util

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

To be arte útil it should:

1- Propose new uses for art within society

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

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

4- Be implemented in the real and actually work!

5- Replace authors with initiators and spectators with users

6- Have practical, beneficial outcomes for its users

7- Pursue sustainability whilst adapting to changing conditions

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

Posted on 08/11/12 at 13:27

Now I Gotta Reason

Are they working?

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 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 on 01/11/12 at 15:14

ALAN KANE IS COMPLEMENTARY

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

Posted on 18/10/12 at 20:53

That's Edutainment

Tate Liverpool Collective shaping the future in the Coniston Institute Reading Room

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.

Background

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 on 24/07/12 at 14:22

1848

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.

Structure

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

HISTORY

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).

LAND

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.

EDUCATION

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.

Background

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

Commissions

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

Cream1848

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.

Research

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 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 on 18/07/12 at 21:22

The Only Way is Egremont

Jackie from CACS works up the Coniston slate

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 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 on 04/07/12 at 10:33