b-side runs until 14th September, do go to Portland and see it, it’s the best year ever.
Going to the b-side Festival in Portland, Dorset, was a real treat. It was launched by the peal of the bells in the lovely old St. George Church next to Tout Quarry, followed by a soundwork by Duncan Whitley. As the soundwork crescendoes from quiet birdsong to the loud hammering sounds of rock being shaped, the audience became grounded as to why they had come – b-side Festival is all about Portland and the people that live there.
A brief stroll down to the local community hall and there was a real sense of gathering. The artists, the curatorial team, local people, volunteers and those who had travelled especially all enjoyed what was on offer. There was Talkaoki(film clip) for those who wished to voice their thoughts loudly on art – which went down very well – and an Arts Confessional for those that had more intimate words to share. As the sun went down, families began to gather outside to have themselves and their bikes dressed with LED lights and soundboxes. As they moved off together as a group, led by Luke Jerram and his team, Lullaby (film clip) floated out into the street and up to children’s bedroom windows. People waved, watched and even cried – a simple idea turns into a moving experience when it is shared. I caught a little movie on my iPhone as they returned, one of those unexpected events that was more magical because it was a surprise.
Saturday morning I went on a tour with other b-side supporters to view some of the works. There simply wasn’t time to see them all, so when you go, do make sure you plan things well. We began with Alex Hartley’s work Portland Erratic near Portland Castle. Sited on the harbourside looking out to sea, the work emerged from a sea-mist and seemed to be part of the place already. With it’s window frames painted as white as the fog and the stones it displayed seemingly the material of Portland, it was a surprise to hear that these objects were alien to Portland – had arrived as ballast, or were dumped during industrial works. In the distance, on the headland behind the sculpture, my eye kept travelling to view the dome at the Verne Prison. Another place that will be soon be processing unwanted arrivals on the shores of the UK, when it becomes a holding centre for asylum seekers, following the closure of the prison. The domestic scale and the use of up-cycled window frames made the experience of viewing the works through the windows, and beyond to the sea, a melancholic experience. A longing for a lost home.
A drive up to the Verne followed, where we were welcomed by Simon Ryder and shown his various works, which make up Passage, within the prison walls. Simon weaves stories with objects and histories and creates previously unconsidered links between seemingly disparate behaviours. Struck by a Pathe film he saw online of prisoners wearing masks to conceal their identity while they talked about keeping birds in the prison, Simons mind saw a relationship between the hoods that birds of prey wear and those donned by the men in the film. Another parallel discovery was that the game of squash was invented in prisons and was once a lowly game made by men locked-up and surrounded by high walls. It is now a game played by people with higher social status and is no longer allowed within the prison. The film Simon made, using infrared cameras, re-enacts men inside the prison playing squash, with resounding echoes of the balls as they thrashed against the walls. Confinement and freedom, leisure and echoes of history are all captured by a series of works installed within the rocks of the island.
Later the same day I witnessed an underground movie collaged from a historical collection of films that have featured rabbits. One must not mention the word rabbit on the Isle of Portland, because of its implications. Artist Alistair Gentry has been wandering around dressed as one – this snippet of a serious discussion observed by the underground dweller shows him infiltrating the Talkaoke. The films, powered by bicyclists behind the seasons due to the lack of electricity, revealed spoke peculiarities about rabbits in films – especially that they attack people, wear bow ties and are rather fond of white glove and time.
Talking was a key feature in two other works. Ellie Harrison shared a beautiful and moving set of personal stories from TheGrief Series. Presented in a local home these works allow the viewer/listener to empathise with the storytellers as they responded to a number of questions written on cue cards. They got to choose which questions they would answer and the outcome was very emotional for as visitors sat in a chair opposite a photo of the speakers and listened carefully and privately on headphones.
Inside the cinema performance artist Tom Marshman presented a heartwarming set of stories in Everbody’s Auditiorium. Tom enacted charming conversations with local residents that told stories of their lives, with minimal props and subtle lighting and sound Tom warmed the cockles of anyone visiting this seaside cinema. Not to be missed.
I also heard and experienced the sound installation, Variable 4, by Jones and Bulley on Portland Bill, lovely resonance and mixing of pre-recorded and responsive sounds, melding in the mist with the deep tone of the fog-horn. Enchanting.
There is more, much more, to talk about. But I want you to read this NOW and go and see it SOON. There’s not long and you really do need to go and see for yourself. The support and engagement of the local community s absolutely fantastic – what every socially engaged organisation aims for. B-side Festival is not In Portland – it IS Portland.
I attended the Canal & River Trust AGM on Friday in Birmingham’s beautiful new library. The Trust is only two years old, so very early days for them. Whilst their key business is about public engagement they have had a huge number of maintenance works to do as well. It is remarkable what they have achieved in this short time and there was a very positive feeling in the room. I’m very pleased I went because being surrounded by people with a passion for something makes life worthwhile.
Laurence Newman, Chair of the Museums & Attractions Partnership said: “Think about the outside of the museums, not just the inside”.
This was the first sentence that really took my attention – probably because whilst I work with Museums, I am very drawn by working beyond them too. That social history and landscape use is not only archive material but continues to be out there, in the streets, the architecture, in the fields and waterways.
Museums are not only about conservation, preservation and collection, but also about the future. Professor John Hume, giving his retiring address, commented that “we need to find a better term than heritage, it’s awful”. He also voiced disdain for the term ‘attractions’, declaring them to be rubbish. I couldn’t agree more, I thought John Hume was an inspiration. He was vociferous about the need to generate history, not just look back at the heritage. “We’ve been living in the past…too romantic”. Everyone spoke passionately about his or her roles within in the Trust. John more than anyone was keen to keep the focus on the social history. The image below is of one of John’s slides, showing the protests about the possible closure of sections of the Grand Union Canal in 1960’s. I think this image is very reflective of the tensions in the room about how to move forward:
The image of the 1960’s protesters floats above the orderly speakers table. Earlier this year there was another protest about the Grand Union Canal in Milton Keynes – which just shows how much people care about access these waterways. The view out to the city of Birmingham beyond is framed by the distinctive circular motifs of the New Library.
In the room we discussed the function of the canal and waterway network – past, present and future. Indeed Birmingham is built around the canal system – yet there is no Waterway Museum there. The Gloucester Waterways Museum is much loved, but is being crowded out by the Peel Development at Gloucester Quays. Someone mentioned it should relocate – but without the canal network it would be dislocated and stripped of meaning.
Time does not – cannot – stand still. The whole canal system is a museum – but it must also record and document current things, or it will have a huge legacy gap and be frozen in time. I love the way that the waterways are like arteries in the landscape – they carry things and people, connecting places together across time. Art projects could be used to join places up, by commissioning artists to explore each place and share their findings in other places.
Occasionally there were terms used that I questioned. There was talk about the Trust being ‘the experts’ and that visitors and the public are ‘customers’. So archiving knowledge is about sharing ‘their’ knowledge. But surely we should be thinking about collaborating with our membership, learning from them just as much as they learn from us? Living the Wikipedia principle both online and off. We are all the public. Defining people as experts and membership as ‘the public’ or ‘customers’ it sets up a mindset of there being a trading transaction, rather than sharing a genuine passion for the rivers and waterways.
Whilst the concept of the expert is, of course important, I’m not sure whether it is a useful way to bring people on board to support the Trust. Knowledge exchange, sharing learning and engendering generosity will help to feed the economic machine. I suspect that we are becoming immune to the hard-sell approach. Better to engage with enthusiasts and feed their passion as collaborators, rather than take a service provider role.
And that applies to the digitisation of the archives. The archives conserve everyday things that were made by, and belonged to, ordinary people. And living ordinary people can add to the knowledge about those things through storytelling. There was talk about educating and informing people – knowledge belongs to everyone, because everyone has a story to tell.
Artists can help in that process. And I hope that I can too. I thrive on these discussions and spend hours of my life considering new ways of thinking about them.
I have to share this news, but confidentiality won’t allow me to say who it is – but well done you!
It’s an absolute privilege to mentor the people I do – they are committed and serious about their practice and work really hard to survive, despite all odds these days…..
I know how it feels to be an artist and face endless applications, constant rejections and still try to keep positive, keep going, believe in what you do. Anyone who thinks artists have it easy has evidently not tried it.
I often wonder why I do what I do, but the truth is, it’s because I care. Simple.
Now the local elections are over, we have to plan for the general next year.
Flow Contemporary Arts, together with many arts and cultural organisations across the UK, are seeking to champion the role of culture in our society. We need your support to make sure our future government understands why the arts are important for everyone.
We are keen to engage the public in an informed and open discussion about the place of arts and culture in all our lives, all the more as we move from local onwards and upwards to a general election.
We believe the arts and culture enhance every aspect of our lives in ways that are often unexpected and unacknowledged; the vibrancy of our cities, the identity of our rural communities, the future prospects of our children, the quality of our democracy, the sustainability of our environment, the employability of our workforce, the ability to make sense of our experiences and place in the world, and to empathise with others.
Ask your local councilor/MP what they are doing for arts and culture in your local area and make it clear to them that you care about the arts. We want reassurance that it will be on their agenda when they deliver their campaign for general election.
Follow Flow Contemporary Arts on Twitter, on Facebook and other platforms on advocacy for the arts. Please re-Tweet messages by those who are working hard to support the arts, because we truly believe that art matters to everyone.
By accident, I have just read a 2009 article: “Demolish a wall? No problem”, by Jonathan Jones in the Guardian. I have no idea why when I opened the Guardian online on my computer today it opened on that page. I’ve certainly not read it before because I would remember it. I think it is the only article I’ve ever read about how a show is installed and the complexity that involves.
For over 15 years I have been installing work, checking out equipment and sourcing strange things from Screwfix, the Internet and elsewhere. It includes finding a whole set of cinema seats on Ebay; a specialist joiner who knows how to get around the restrictions that a listed building presents; visiting industrial manufacturers; negotiating with sheet steel suppliers; seeking a solution to preventing deer from nibbling through hundreds of metres of audio cable in a forest (we failed, it needed checking every day and taping where required); how to stop keen visitors from touching a wire deer by Sophie Ryder on a sculpture trail, which was damaging it (simple, keep moving it, don’t map it and make it fun to find). The list goes on.
I love the Simpson’s quote Jones refers to: “I’ve got an installation to installate”. It reminds me of a song rewritten by artist Louise Short and other ex-students of John Gingell to the tune of Johnny Be Good – to celebrate John’s 60th. It included and “my how he can installate.” (John was the much loved course leader of my, and many others, MA course in Cardiff.) Hum it to yourself and you’ll get it.
The other thing that caught my eye in Jones’s article was near the end:
Art is a world, and I don’t mean in the nebulous, ugly sense of the “art world”. I mean a real social process, in which people come together in complex ways to make things. It is relational, as Bourriaud and his theoretical followers would say. No one is an island, to put it another way: we’re all part of the archipelago.
Yes, yes and yes – a real social process it is. The visitors that see the shows have no idea about what goes on behind the scenes. Just like the theatre, they don’t want or need to know, it’s part of the magic. Talk about the art economy and most people think about rich artists like Hirst, or wealthy dealers and gallerists, auction houses etc. But there is another economy behind the front stage – there’s all the people that make things happen, the jobs created by this, the industries that are involved, the cogs that turn the system. Publishers, graphic designers, foundries, researchers, industrial makers, hand stitchers, paper makers, picture framers, electricians, plasterers, builders and yet again, the list is endless.
As I imply in my article in Arts Professional – the artworld is a system and it is part of the whole-world system. And that system comprises of people and things. And together they are able to create new things that have never been seen before and experiences unknown and unexpected.
Economy is important to the survival of the system, but is not the only reason for its existence. Emotions matter too. The art sector is a holistic system − organisations, artists and audiences are all part of it. You can’t have a holistic body without organs, there would be no pulse.
Flow was named after the River Severn and the wonders of the Severn Bore. Every now and again I need to remind myself of that – and the best way is to trot down to the riverbank and witness the Bore. It’s magical.
Flow is the psychological condition of ‘Optimal Experience’ as defined by psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi. According to Csíkszentmihályi, flow is completely focused motivation. It is a single-minded immersion and represents perhaps the ultimate in harnessing the emotions in the service of performing and learning. In flow, the emotions are not just contained and channeled, but positive, energized, and aligned with the task at hand.
The concept of Flow is deeply fascinating. Ants are good example to borrow from nature as a living demonstration of flow and collective intelligence. Another is the Severn Bore, which, when it occurs, is because the sea flows inland and the river flows downriver. The Bore is a physical example of two-directional flow, like knowledge exchange, traffic flow and dialogue.
And that is how Flow Contemporary began, a germ of an idea inspired by the power of the sea forcing a river back upstream.
As my early notes stated:
Flow projects are positive, energized, and aligned with the task at hand
It continues to be the case, a wave of energy bouncing off the riverbanks/other people/places, revisiting things again and again until they are truly understood.
I’ve been looking for a photo to illustrate what I do. Thanks Gill for sending this one over. Taken last year when I led a coach tour with ExLab. We’re at Durlston discussing Zachary Eastwood Blooms work.
The Cabinet of Local Change is a pilot for a future collection of ‘cabinets’ that will be commissioned specifically with touring in mind. This one is specifically for Forest of Dean residents.
Artist Simon Ryder (artNucleus) was commissioned by Flow Contemporary Arts to create a ‘cabinet’ in some form that could be used to reflect upon changes in the nature of the Forest of Dean, inspired by his own research in this forest and through engagement with local Community Library users. A key part of this process was for it to be made public via blogging.
The cabinet will make its first appearance on Thursday 29th August 2013 – Mitcheldean Library at 2.30pm and Newnham on Severn Library at 6pm.
Simon is concerned with peeling back the narratives from places, people and objects, then weaves them together into new configurations in the form of sculptures, videos, texts and artefacts. Working together at Mitcheldean and Newnham community libraries, Simon and Carolyn opened up new ways of thinking about how libraries might operate. They shared blogging skills and how technology can provide opportunities for artists to reveal their working methods, as well as inform the making of art – technology and nature combining in the creative process.
Inspired by the symbiotic relationship between trees and fungi in the forest, the outcome is fascinating. It is a unique storage system that appears to grow through the books on a shelf, like an organic extension, with partially enclosed spaces to contain ‘items that signal change’. Modular in its construction and open source (with the 3D templates freely available for download from the internet), Simon worked with the designer-makers at Millar Howard Workshop to produce a cabinet that can be flat-packed down for storage and touring. The cabinet is a portable work – it will make appearances at scheduled times, providing a beautiful and original focus for local discussions about change. To start the ball rolling, the first items to be placed in this cabinet will be printed copies of Simon’s blog, some books that informed his thinking, and a vial of water from St Antony’s well; the remaining spaces are empty, awaiting library users to add their own artefacts.
Flow Contemporary Arts works with both arts and non-arts partners to initiate produce and present contemporary art in unusual locations. Founded by Carolyn Black in 2012, Flow specialises in making things happen through the unique approach of commissioning artworks that respond to place, yet can also adapt to other contexts. If you wish to host or support the work in the future, contact Carolyn@flowprojects.org.uk
The project was supported by the Forest of Dean Local Action Group and the Forestry Commission.