Last chance to see Blackrock in The Forest of Dean

oreilly-panoramic

The Blackrock Residency Programme 2016 is a partnership between Matt’s Gallery, London and Lydney Park Estate on the edge of the Forest of dean, Gloucestershire. This is an art project – which needs to be stated clearly – whilst BlackRock (the investment company) is hitting the news big-time at the moment.

It is, of course, tempting to riff on this coincidence, but that will come later when I write an article for CCQ Magazine later this year.

The background to the development of Matts Gallery + Blackrock is very relevant to any critical analysis of both the exhibitions and the works they contain. Roy Voss, an artist and lecturer at Bristol UWE is also part of the founding group of Blackrock, along with Robin Klassnik (Matt’s Gallery, London) and Rupert Bathurst (Lydney Park Estate, Forest of Dean). It is very tempting to refer to them as the three R’s. In conversation, Klassnik referred to the group as a ‘triage’˚. A triage is defined as the process of ‘examining problems in order to decide which ones are the most serious and must be dealt with first’. It fits nicely and is an excellent way to describe what they have put into action together.

The first outcome was developed in 2015, when 4 artists were selected to take up residence on the Bathurst estate to develop new works for an exhibition, which was hosted that September. There was also a Susan Hiller work shown in a hall in Aylburton, a sleepy little place on the A48. It was wonderful walking into that space to witness a massive wall of TV monitors flickering in the dark. I wrote about it last year.

This years exhibitions have moved further out into the landscape, this year utilising several spaces that are workplaces to those who work and live on the estate. Alison Turnbull’s beautiful notations overlaid onto historical accounts ledgers can be seen in the Estate Office. The relationship between the mark-making and the patterns found in and around the space create their own rhythm. I imagine if they had a sound, it would be that of pen on paper, accompanied by the clicking noise that Spirograph makes when cogs interlock.

Sound is quite high up on the programme this year, alongside natural selection and the theme of Us & Them. The BBC voice that narrates the found-footage about an experiment and enquiry into the survival rates of black moths, compared to white, was poetic, nestled as it was next to the Bathurst family museum that houses many finds from the estate. Artist Alison Turnbull has also scattered small images around the walls of the Collections Room, of the moths showing their varying levels of camouflage. The white ones were survivors.

Elsewhere on the Estate, the sound coming from a strange arrangement of floral curtains standing in a huge, otherwise empty, glasshouse, draws the viewer in. This random collection of drapes is not unlike a refugee tent, cobbled together for shelter in this leaky botanical incubator. The film it contains reporting on social issues of vulnerablity and loss of home while the rain beats down on the glass.

Walking through ancient scowles in the woodlands to a field, you find two huge words built by Patrick Goddard, with timber from the Estate. Shouting across the field to each other, US retreats to the edge, whilst THEM is set up to burn and flame, roaring loud and clear. THEM is to be destroyed and feared. US watches quietly from a safe distant. It reminds me if American sci-fi films, in which aliens are usually the enemy and to be feared.

In the barns nearby are two films by Goddard, one a virtual garden and the other a film from a go-pro camera attached to an Alsation dogs head. It rushes through empty industrial units, the voiceover referring to the disenfranchised – more us and them. Back in Aylburton, in the Barn Hall which has been reconstructed and reborn as a gallery, photos by Willie Doherty are shown. The majority are of the troubles in Belfast from the late 70’s, early 80’s. Whilst they could be read as historical, they resonate with the now too. Some things don’t change. Someone commented that they could be photos taken from the Forest of Dean. They were right – it’s a poor area, burnt out cars, barriers and poverty. The images of roadblocks bring back thoughts about refugees….this is still happening…not so much in Belfast now, but in other places, worldwide, every day.

Whilst this all sounds like gloom and doom, it’s most definitely not. It is provocative. It makes people think. And ask questions of the art.

This is the final weekend to catch it. The first weekend delivered a brilliant performance, twice, written by Sally O’Reilly and performed by Rosie Thomson. More here about that. Sorry, you won’t get to see that again, but believe me, it was fab.

Saturday 24th and Sunday 25th September. 11.00am-5.00pm

 

 

 

 

 

Blackrock 2016 US & THEM

US & THEM is one of the artworks by Patrick Goddard.

Residency artists:
Patrick Goddard
Sally O’Reilly
Alison Turnbull

In the newly converted gallery at Lydney Park Estate, Matt’s Gallery + BLACKROCK is also showing the work of Willie Doherty

Last year Blackrock launched at Lydney Park in the Forest of Dean, so this years second offer was something to look forward to. I wrote about it from a personal perspective last year. This year the project feels more consolidating, more like  Harvest Festival, whereby the artists have gathered their thinking from the land and its history and shared it with others on the Estate . More mapped. More grounded in place.

That’s not to say the artworks last year weren’t grounded in place – indeed they were, very much so. That’s the good thing about residencies, the artists have time…..something very important when expecting artists to work in somewhere so far from a city.

As Robin Klassnik, of Matt’s Gallery said “Blackrock is national and international”, and is emphatic that it shouldn’t “pander to the locals”. It doesn’t, but it does bring excellent art to the area to be enjoyed at a local level for those that are interested, as I am.

And this year I have time to assimilate, to think and reflect, to consider what these artworks are collectively sharing with the viewers. And what they say about both Blackrock and the wider world.

Thankfully, there is another weekend coming up when the artworks can be revisited to inform my thinking. That’s on 24th & 25th September. Look out for information online, Facebook , or visit their website.

The first weekend included a performance by, or written by, Sally O’Reilly, which will not be repeated the second weekend. It was absolutely brilliant and what she refers to in her introduction speaks of the core curatorial concepts that all the artists have investigated and, duly,  responded too. A harvest festival with rich pickings and excellent produce.

Social Making Symposium, the texts and report, including text by me

I was one of four VASW bursary holders that wrote a response to the international symposium Social Making, hosted by Take A Part in partnership with Plymouth University. Rachel Dobbs, Sovay Berriman, Karen Abadie and I have our texts published in this document.

The successful symposium explored aspects of socially engaged practice; methodologies to approaching socially engaged work, and the impacts on audiences and communities it engages with.

[apologies, had the doc here but it keeps crashing my shockwave flash programme]

 

Grammar schools, sexual discrimination and 11+ were damaging social engineering – why bring them back?

I rarely write about education issues, but the current governments passion for selection and labelling 11 year olds as better or lacking infuriates me.

I was one of the last trenche of 11+ kids and my girls grammar switched to comp in my 2nd year. By the time I hit the 6th form, sociology was brought on as an A level option and I studied it. I did O’level in lower 6th form and A level in upper. And one thing that has stayed in my mind from studying sociology was learning, when I was 17 myself, that the 11+ exam used to have a different pass level for boys and girls, because far more girls would have passed and gone to grammar than boys. So they not only allowed an equal number of boys to pass, they allowed MORE to pass by lowering their pass grade. It made me angry then and still does now. I just checked online and found CH Thompson mentions it on their blog too:

Discrimination – there is evidence of discrimination against girls in education simply because of their gender. For example, when the 11-plus exam was introduced in the 1940s, the pass mark was set lower for boys than for girls to make certain there roughly equal numbers of boys and girl sin grammar schools. In other words girls were artificially ‘failed’ so boys could ‘succeed’.

Do we really want this to happen again? I understand that girls get much better grades in A levels these days, and more women than men are gaining university places. That might have occurred for girls during my generation, had they not been kept down at the age of 11. Might brining back the 11+ be an opportunity for further discrimination?

The success of female applicants mirrors the trend in GCSE and A-level results, with girls outperforming boys across the grade scale. In 2013, girls received A* or A grades at GCSE in 25% of papers taken, compared with nearly 18% of boys’ papers. Guardian

My closest school friend joined the 6th form because her secondary school didn’t go up to A level – so her education was disrupted by the 11+ twice – once being rejected for grammar, working hard, then needing to argue her case for grammar A levels. She’s now an experienced lecturer in a university, despite her 11+ failure. 

With SATS being a goal rather than all-round education; creativity more or less rejected by the curriculum and a total ignorance of the fact that a childs intellectual growth occurs mostly before the age of 5, we have become a country that only encourages rote learning and rejects creative thinking, learning through play and gender equality.

When I hear that kids are being taught to be entrepreneurs at primary school, my toes curl. When I hear teachers describe going to school as a child’s ‘job’ I flinch. When schools refuse to teach young people that prefer not to wear a strictly defined unform, they are denying creative expression, as well as forcing those whose parents who can’t afford the expensive uniforms to struggle even more.

Why can’t we ‘support’ young people to learn in a positive way, rather than set up a system that continually judges them? 
I just watched an excellent animation that began this thinking….and am listening to radio 4 and hearing that high achievers will be removed from comprehensives and therefore not provide inspiration to others……..I despair. Is Michael Rosen the only person involved in education that actually seems to have empathy with children? They should make him Minister of Education. He would fix things.

Autumn arrives & as the weather cools down the work activity warms up…

Settling back into my office in earnest, it’s time to consolidate plans for projects, get back in the saddle. It feels good.

An interesting article came to my attention this morning and switched me into Story of Objects (SOO) mode: “Evoking the magic in everyday life” by Sally Bland. That is a good way to describe what SOO does.

“Sometimes the connection is quite straightforward, like for the narrator of the first story who has collected objects since she was a child, concocting stories about them: “I don’t necessarily have to save, own, or touch the object. Spotting it, even fleetingly, is usually enough. But once in a while I stroke the object methodically, my fingers creating an invisible grid around it, then cradle it possessively in my arms to feel the story enter me directly.” (p. 7)”

I like that she is using the objects as connectors, as inspiration for stories. I’ve used some of the stories people told me to create Flash Fiction, there’s an example here, in response to a video-short here.

I am increasingly fascinated by how and why these objects and stories are so rich in content, what they do to our thinking, how we relate to these ‘things’. In response to my interrogation of the potential of the process, I’m planning more research to test out a range of possibilities. Like prising open a nutshell and exploring the contents, tasting them, cracking them open, sniffing them, handling them, gaining a sense of the texture.

Like autumn nuts.

EveryTHING points to The Story of Objects – metaphors abound, we can’t resist them. So maybe the sharing of these stories about personal objects can offer a way of articulating other things, opening the mind and the senses. I witnessed that when I held an encounter session with people who have dementia – the process is far more than the action.

Watch this space, as I learn more I will share on here. And am happy to discuss options with interested parties who share my curiosity. To help the story both escape and reconstruct new narratives.

 

 

Anticipation, expectation and delivery – a post-referendum interpretation of the visitor experience of the Berlin Biennial 2016

I recently attended the 2016 Berlin Bienniale, alongside ten other arts professionals from the region, with the support of a bursary provided by Visual Arts South West. Prior to going we read some of the reviews of the Biennial which were not very promising. The article in the Guardian by Jason Farago had the headline “In the hands of New York fashion collective DIS, one of Europe’s biggest exhibitions is now a feeble blancmange of ads and avatars – where is the art?” Written on 13th June, following the opening, Farago began with a reference to drowning refugees, before stating “this show does not argue for a better art world; it argues for giving up on art entirely.”

Despite the negative review, as someone who has a history of interest in the virtual world and wrote my MA Fine Art thesis about the Virtual Body, I looked forward to making up my own  mind. I set off in anticipation of enjoying some of the works and was not disappointed. But I’d be lying if I said his comments hadn’t impacted on my expectations. I sought to keep my attention on an exploration of the visitor experience, in this case, my own, in the company others to discuss it with. The conversations were, as anticipated, very informative and revealed some useful learning.

Our visit to Berlin was only one month after Farago wrote his piece, during which time a referendum was held to decide whether the UK would remain in the European Union, or not. The result was to leave. As was one of the 48% that voted to remain, I arrived feeling like giving up, not just on art, but on the UK too. I was not alone. Since Brexit, the world seems to have become untethered, not only might the UK split from the EU, but it too has come under threat of collapse. A country divided. With no-one holding the reins, those responsible walked away, leaving no forward plan in sight. So the Bienniale was experienced through the lens of Brexit and shrouded by the emotional sensitivity that it had aroused. We entered a world that no curators could have predicted. The science fiction novel Bold As Love by Gwyneth Jones, written in 2011, is a book about that very possibility, but I haven’t finished reading it yet. I can’t help wondering whether the DIS team had.

When we had our meeting with two of the DIS curators, Lauren Boyle and Marco Rosso, they began their talk by making reference to the Guardian article. It was still a sore point for them, but I already felt that Farago’s diatribe was no longer relevant because the context for the exhibition had shifted so far since he wrote it. He experienced the show in a different world, the old world. The curators explained that the Bienniale had evolved around the concept of an ‘incomprehensible present’. Many of the works connected across the showing spaces as part of a hyperlinked landscape, bridging the city and the locations. The works themselves were mostly very fast, very virtual, very surreal, yet oddly a little bit like retro sci-fi. The now we are confronted with is not looking good, the present we are living in is, or should I say was, because it moves so very fast, both incomprehensible and unimaginable.

When DIS initially set out to provide a mix of contemporary works that would represent, and illustrate, a sense of loss of future, it was a good premise to work towards, as a theory. Three years ago when they took up post as the curatorial team, no-one could have imagined the impact of Brexit. Little did they anticipate that a sense of loss of future would become the norm for millions of people.

The ‘futures’ they shared were pretty tame and unimaginative, based mostly on 1960’s/70’s science fiction narratives which didn‘t get close to foreseeing the events of the present. The world that they imagined as so intangible has proved to be real. No artworks could hold up through a period of such a constantly-shifting timeline of daily unanticipated change. When DIS planned their show they did not know that a referendum would be called, nor that Brexit could occur; or that the refugee crisis would be as damaging to the world as it is now; the devastation of the war in Syria or, while we were present in Berlin, a truck ploughing down people in Nice and a military coup in Turkey.  Every day brings more twists and turns which flash up daily on my iPad. Every morning brought something more shocking than the previous one. Racism, violence, suicide attacks, mass slaughtering. A little like what science fiction films are made of.

So, returning to my intention to write about the visitor experience, I will reference just one work that encapsulated the overall sense of disorientation that the Berlin experience evoked in me. And I believe in others too. And it sums up how anticipation, expectation and delivery can impact on our experience of art, and can be very different for each visitor, depending on their own unique encounter.

The work that sticks in my head most is View of Pariser Platz, 2016 by Jon Rafman, which involved wearing an Oculus Rift headset.IMG_6015

As a group, following the curators talk, we were excited to try out this new experience and only one of us had ever worn an Oculus Rift headset before. Being English, we politely queued (see above) in an orderly line to await our turn. From the balcony of the Akademie der Kunste, we looked out at the Brandenburg Gate to the left and across to the French Embassy, on the other side of Pariser Platz. It was the morning after the truck drove through people on the streets of Nice. To don an Oculus Rift headset that merged the virtual and the real was more potent due to the events of the previous night. On the balcony were placed some strange, monstrous creatures and the white tent-like structures (see photo) were outside the Embassy where people were leaving flowers, and high security surrounded the area.

According to the Bienniale website the programme offered a situation whereby “The intangible becomes real, and the real becomes incomprehensible”. The experience of the Rafman work would need reframing, it is more a case of the real becomes intangible and the intangible becomes placebo. The film we all experienced was, to my knowledge, the same one. It began by locating us where we actually stood or sat, on that balcony. Then the surreal imagery was layered over the ‘real’ place and became immersive. From conversations after the event, it soon became clear that we all had different experiences, so much so that we began to wonder whether there were various versions of the film, not just one.

What intrigued me was to what degree our place in the queue, near the front or the back, and the conversations we had with those before us, influenced our reception of the experience, not just emotionally, but physically too.

When the first people wore the headset they mostly decided to stand up. Some stood stock still and gently turned their head around, as if watching quietly, whilst others became very animated, twisting their bodies, leaping back as, we later understood, images approached them or threatened them. The more active the early experiencers became, the more nervous those of us queuing felt. When people took off the headset they often looked disorientated, confused, startled and a little dizzy. At first we asked people about their visual experience, but we soon became increasingly concerned with the physical impacts. The steward was asked if anyone had thrown up during the experience. “Yes, several people have done so” was the reply. Therefore those of us who suffer from vertigo decided to sit in a chair rather than stand. The longer we queued, the more anxious we became.

The thought of public vomiting did not appeal to me. I sat down, as did others. The presence and absence of the people on the balcony was punctuated by people reading their mobile phones, snatching the wifi moment. Even the steward read hers while each person took their turn. We were physically a group together, but were worlds apart in our heads. It is slighly ironic to consider that the player here is not looking at the people, who are looking a their phones, but at something else entirely, quite possibly a virtual rendering of the rhino-creature behind him swimming past…….

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Later conversations revealed that those who enjoyed gaming were more animated, those of us who don’t were more likely to take a seat. There were varying levels of comfort with the virtual experience. But the truth is, the biggest discomfort from my perspective was the horror of the real world unravelling outside. The massive development of the area, the new buildings on the horizon, the private mourning of the families that had been devastated the night before in Nice. All those things, alongside my fear of feeling sick or dizzy, prevented me from immersing myself fully in the experience. I was distracted by the world. It appears that those who were most fulfilled by the experience were those that succumbed to it fully – mind and body.

Going to the Bienniale in the middle of Brexit created a fracture, indeed a rift, in my body and my thinking. It has informed the way I experience art and life. With a raised awareness of the impact of prior knowledge and experience of audiences and the thinking about the present speed of social change, it raises challenges for curators and producers in terms of time. These huge, scattered site shows take years to plan and prepare. What I learnt is that you cannot foresee a future, so to deliver against a futuristic agenda is to make oneself vulnerable to failure. Just as the experience of the Oculus Rift disappointed those that possibly had time, by queuing, to build up an emotional armour, likewise Biennials will always put themselves in the firing line unless they choose their theme wisely. Preferably one that won’t disappear down a black hole of social instability.

Another critique of the delivery of the exhibition is that the content of the 9th Berlin Bienniale was so heavily dependent on the virtual it was destined to be defunct even before it was installed. Because that is the nature of the virtual, it can override the real. On this occasion, it was upstaged by it.

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ABC(D) 123 where do we start and where do we go? my art life and Prema

Interesting to re-read this in the light of living in the Forest of Dean for the past ten years. There are Prema-equivalents here for people, I suspect Cinderford ARTspace is one of them. I’m more than a little interested in thinking about all of this and using it as a way of working here in the Forest. Would love to hear from other artists in the forest what their thoughts might be? What other groups were influential? FAN? BigArtWeb? Any others?

encounters with art in unusual places

ABC(D)

Watch this video and smile, and think about how easy ABC is – then think about the D in brackets…..

I will explain – yesterday I heard the term ABCD for the first time. Asset-Based Community Development (ABCD) is a community development approach that is:

  • broad in scope
  • solution-focused
  • strength based
  • community driven

Like the Jacksons, we all understand ABC – it’s linear, sequential and is finite, ending with Z.

Compare that with 123 – which is infinite

Both are about learning and we are taught how to know our limits, and by doing so learn our deficits. We then set out to make good those deficits, maybe on a personal basis or in terms of community, or business or skills – whatever. We do this because we seek D = development.

Why do we always start with a negative and try to turn it around? Why don’t we…

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