The Forest of Dean selects a new Verderer, Rich Daniels, at Gloucester Cathedral

This morning I attended an event in Gloucester Cathedral that harks right back to 1216. You can read more about the history here.

The Verderer’s are the sole remnant of the organisational structure developed after Norman times to administer Forest Law – introduced to provide for beasts of the forest, in particular deer and boar, and for the protection of their habitat.

A notice calling for candidates to become the fourth Verderer was published in January by Countess Bathurst, the High Sheriff of Gloucestershire, on the order of Her Majesty the Queen. She wore an amazing hat, a huge white feathery nest fluttering away in the draught as she passed by us on her way to speak to “the people.”

The nave was full to the brim of Gloucestershire landowners, there to vote with a show of hands. It was a wonderful feeling to be there to witness this tradition being honoured, even if it was loaded with pomp, colonialism and patriarchal traditions! The Duchess had been invited by the Queen to oversee proceedings and there was much talk about the Crown and country.

Three men were nominated for election.  Traditionally, Freeminers have to be men over the age of 21, be born and bred in the Forest of Dean and have worked for a year and a day in a mine within the Hundred. The Hundred was based on the area from which 100 fighting men could be found to fight for the crown. In the Forest’s case, this was within the realm of St Briavels castle. This is why Lydney etc. is not within the St Briavels’ Hundred, even though it is closer than Cinderford, for example, since Lydney was part of the Bledisloe Hundred.[corrected from initial description]

This changed in 2010, when  “male” was interpreted to mean ‘”male and female” by the Gaveller of the Forest of Dean (a Crown appointment currently vested in the Forestry Commissioners as a body), when they made a decision to accept an application from Mrs Elaine Morman, who became the first ever female Freeminer to be registered.” Today there were no female nominations.

Monument Mine, a working free mine in the Forest of Dean

Rich Daniels won his seat in the Court today. The mine shown in the image above, from the  Wyedean Tourism website, belongs to Rich and he still hauls up coal every day. He’s a very lovely man whose heart really is carved into the forest, he will be an effective Verderer and will keep traditions alive, as well as respect contemporary needs of the people who live here.

Many of his supporters were in the Cathedral and he has a local reputation for fighting authority, in particular for fending off the sale of the Forest via HOOF, which he led. There’s a long history of commoners rights in the forest, many of which are still active today. Simon Schama talks about them in his excellent book Landscape & Memory. It includes some great stories about Lords being chased out of the forest by the Foresters (meaning local residents, not forest managers).

The Forest is a very special place to live. Family roots run very deep, as deep as the ochre mines and the scowles, the coal seams and the ancient trees. As a place to find culture it seems to bloom constantly with new findings for an incomer like me. This year, when John Berger died, I found out he had lived here and written A Fortunate Man. Reading it feels like a time warp, but only a little one, a blip of time, as so little has changed since the 1960’s.  Dennis Potter lived here too. I still have so much to learn about this place.

But for now, congratulations to Rich, the forest is in safe hands with the Verderer’s – it’s what they are there for.

Flow Contemporary Arts is now a company!

I’m delighted to announce that Flow Contemporary Arts is now a registered company. And we’re open for business!!

This development will mean we can expand our offer and deliver contracts for others as well as initiate our own. Starting off with a small, but perfectly formed, Board of Directors, Flow will be in a better position for fundraising and available to clients to lead on a range of projects. The Directors – namely Grace Davies and Claire Gulliver – will inform and support the development of the Company.

They bring an excellent range of experience, knowledge and skills to the table – Grace as ex-director of Visual Arts South West and now Contemporary Arts Programme Manager, National Trust; and Claire as a founder member of New Expressions and co-producer of the Bideford Black Project.

Exciting times ahead – if you want to discuss any new projects with us get in touch – we look forward to working on new things together.

Flow Contemporary Arts Registered company no. 10498277

Jonathan Jones talks about reassuring rubbish – I think the objects we own tell wonderful stories about people & places

Jonathan Jones has written a piece about an exhibition in New York about collections and collectors. It looks fascinating. The headline for his text is “New York art show The Keeper celebrates our poetic obsession with objects, but how many of us simply surround ourselves with familiar, reassuring rubbish?”

I beg to differ. It all depends on the context. If the context is a high profile art exhibition of objects that have been curated with quirkiness and value in mind, then maybe he is right. But if the context is a genuine investigation into how we relate to some of the objects we choose to keep, and the stories they tell of our personal history, our family’s and lives, then the objects we keep are far more than reassuring rubbish. They map our genealogy.

My research into the Story of Objects is revealing some fascinating insights into what these talismanic objects can hold for people.  They speak of our past and they also possess a future, which interestingly, few refer to unless asked. Yet people often leave objects in their wills to their loved ones, but do they tell their story to the recipients? Often, without the associated narrative, those precious things become yet another orphaned object, to be dropped off at the local charity shop as soon as the funeral is over.

In doing workshops with young and old, rarely does anyone struggle to think of a special object they own. Never have they refused to tell me why it is important to them and when they do tell me it is often the first time they have articulated that story, to anyone, ever.

I’m looking deeper into this phenomena and one of the things I’m exploring is how to capture the elements of those stories visually – not as art, not as catalogue, but as a visual record of their narrative. I’m piloting the thinga.me app and below is my first try at storyboarding with it. It is quite limited, but efficient. I’m inclined to more pared-down with my visuals, as my own graphic identity suggests. But it’s worth exploring and testing it.

This board is about something I have used for many things, a found object retrieved from a burnt out garage of a house that became my parents much-loved home. A glass bowl that has, in its lifetime, lived on a dressing table, held screws in a garage, contained earrings and now holds coconut cream.  It is a beautiful thing and a pleasure to handle – the glass is fine, the bevelled edges delicate. The silver top is dented yet still clips onto the rim securely.

It may literally hold things as a vessel, for utilitarian purposes, but it also holds memories of my parents favourite home. My parents bought it following a serious house fire and the old lady that had lived there was taken to a safer place to live.  My father died in Clematis Cottage and it was right that he should. My mother stayed for as long as she could, until she moved out just as the previous owner had.

This little pot is not just a memory of my parents home, it is also a connection to my past. It is a conduit for emotions.

I’ve tried to connect both people and places in the storyboard – am not sure it says as much as it should. I’d appreciate feedback if anyone has any.

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Story of Objects as a learning tool – changing the way we think about ‘things’

The recent research I have done has revealed that talking about objects we love, shared within a small group of people in a safe environment, can be life-changing (at its best) and very enjoyable (at its least).

It is a great way to develop storytelling techniques and to express our feelings and intellectual approach to understanding the objects we encounter in life. Most particularly, for my own practice in the arts sector, it is a way of talking about things, including art, in a new way.

Sometimes it’s hard to explain to another person why we keep something close to us forever. Sometimes it’s equally difficult to understand why we fall in love with a painting, or feel engaged by an artwork that we don’t think we even understand. Some art shuts us out in some way – we can’t even find an opening to approach it. It leaves us cold. We walk away without trying to understand it.

How can we develop tools that can help us to pursue the curiosity that art so often stimulates?

How can we see things differently?

As an adult education tutor many years ago my greatest achievement was to know that some people felt I had helped them ‘to see the world differently’.

It still makes me smile to type that.

The Story of Objects can help to do that too.

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20 days since last blogpost – busy times!

Where does the time go? Here I am doing a blog post on a Bank Holiday Monday, just because I can, and because, for a few hours, the sun has been low key too….

I’m writing a lot lately, so I’ve been updating my website a little to reflect that shift – regular visitors might note that texts have even been promoted further up my menu!

I’m very aware that writing has become more of a priority for me in 2016. It is ten years since I moved to the Forest of Dean, a good time to look back, gather, learn and head forward. It’s always fascinating, and useful, to reflect upon how things evolve over time. I have written a piece about my journey with writing for the VASW website.

Last year I enjoyed being a writer in residence for Double Elephant Printmakers, this year I’ve produced commissioned pieces for a-n and for the Summer 2016  issue of the  Four Seasons hotel in-house magazine.

I’d love to do more wordsmith commissions – just drop me a line if you need one. Creating an ‘opinion piece’ for the Four Seasons Hotel magazine was a very enjoyable experience, because I had a free rein and some excellent editorial support to help me adjust to the house style and readership demographic.

Following a trip to South West Ireland last week, I’ve been in a very contemplative place. Last week I walked for miles in Schull and absorbed this view. I’ve also increased my private writing, which is ongoing, in the form of poems and the modification of a particular novel. I’m still shy about these things, but if you are interested, I will share a poem with you, privately. It was an emotional trip for me.

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Yesterday I enjoyed these roots high above Monmouth….roots and views….images and words….

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Feeling Unsettled by Social Making, in a good way

The Social Making symposium was devised by Take a Part in partnership with Plymouth University and hosted by Radiant Space.

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There were several overarching themes that evolved as the Social Making symposium rolled out over two days. Those relating to unsettling, succession and time caught my attention. Arnstein’s Ladder was also discussed, there’s an article in response to that on the a-n website, here.

The range of speakers was comprehensive, offering glimpses of the many ways that socially engaged practices are now being delivered internationally. The very nature of successful socially engaged practice is that it becomes deeply, and permanently, embedded in people and places. Take a Part has been doing that in Plymouth since 2009.

Dr. Sarah Bennet (Interim Head of School at Plymouth University) would no doubt refer to Take a Part as an ‘upstart organisation’ as opposed to a startup – they began as a small group with a big idea. The term upstart set the tone, flagging up the need for socially engaged practice to challenge existing new-business models, because not everything is about economy. As the symposium developed and more speakers presented, there appeared to be a growing tension between the notion of unsettling and that of providing sanctuary. How might one create a safe place for people who may have, themselves, arrived in a very unsettled condition?

Dr. Kelichi Nnoaham, Director of Public Health, shared his story of how he grew up listening to hip-hop and rap music, and on entering Cambridge University he had to learn about classical music. That was evidently very unsettling for him and very likely for the fellow students that heard his favourite music for the first time. He referred to this as being ‘a tough war’ which informed his passion for community empowerment and drive for inclusivity.

Michael Bridgewater, engineer and Take a Part Board member, used the term “community interferer”. It’s a good description, unsettling and agitating must have the capacity to constructively re-settle after the event, it’s not just about providing economic validation. And it is messy.

Succession was a big subject at the symposium – how can socially engaged practice withdraw from communities and leave a sustainable legacy that can continue what the artist-as-catalyst began? My article for a-n refers to the Arnstein’s Ladder model that seeks to create total accession through a series of processes, always with citizen control as the goal. I have my reservations whether or not the model works well within socially engaged art practice as it stands, but it could be adapted.

Other projects, such as Homebaked and Effevescent, described how they evolved over time. Time is imperative for succession to come to fruition. There were numerous crunchy little phrases, like “are public artworks empty symbols of civic pride”; “it’s peoples work, humble and messy” and “are indicators passive data, or the legacy of a sense of direction?” to mention a few.

There was a brilliant range of speakers present and it was a real coup to have Turner Prize winners Assemble there to end two days of fascinating discussion. By the end there was a real sense of these being exciting times for culture in Plymouth, both from the speakers and from the conversations in the gaps between. Whilst the audience were seated in the main hall to hear the presentations, there were plenty of networking opportunities, oiled by excellent hospitality by RumpusCosy.

Take A Part should have invited an estate agent to set up a stall – so many people were saying they want to live there. I don’t blame them, it’s a buzzing place to be.

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I was able to attend the Symposium thanks to a bursary from VASWVisual Arts South West is a network creating opportunities for artists, organisations and professionals to develop their practice, share ideas, knowledge & resources, and cultivate relationships.

 

 

 

Call for host venues for The Story of Objects – the next phase – workshops

 

SOO yellow bar logo longJust a quick note to get you thinking over the weekend – I’m looking for hosts for the next phase of the Story of Objects – maybe it’s you?

The Story of Objects to date has very much been about ‘show and tell’ sessions, for research purposes.  The overarching vision – to create a social media network for things – is still underpinning all activity. However, the encounters have been rich and rewarding for many people.

One set of themes that came up again and again were inherited objects from family members that  relate to making or creating something. All sorts of tools and materials, artefacts and childhood memories.

I’ve been exploring how to work with the stories you’ve shared with me – there are the 30second shorts on Youtube; the Flash Fiction pieces on Medium and even a Story of Cake! The Facebook page shares news about the projects and also about other interesting object-stories from around the world – all food for thought.

The next phase will involve workshops – and I invite you to contact me if you’d like to discuss this for your organisation. I’m shaping the programme now and have some great ideas developing from the conversations so far. Each partner/collaborator is welcome to get in touch now to explore how the framework can work for you and your audiences. It is currently flexible and adaptable, which is another of features and benefits of the programme structure.

If appropriate, where a making activity is not right for the object theme, there will be an option to book a talk/presentation by a practitioner or specialist for the subject area.

I’d love to hear from arts organisations, museums, heritage organisations, material culture people, ethnographers, archaeologists and historians. Also, studios for woodworking, metal working, potteries, forges, printmaking studios, musical instrument workshops, anyone who makes – oo, and I may need a chef too!

Get in touch by email (carolyn@fkowprojects.org.uk), phone or message me via the Facebook page.

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