4/1/2016 At the heart of this project appears to be a deeply running social concern. With the backdrop of the highly controversial ‘path finders’ property development, the mill seems to have become a sort of symbol of a community’s right to its own environment. The access in-situ has managed to gain (albeit only until February when demolition commences) is a small victory for a community that is witnessing its own dissolution. This destruction takes the form of a social regeneration project benefiting everyone except the current residents of Brierfield.*
First impressions of the space were hard to pin down since the mill itself is a seemingly endless expanse of passages, enormous warehouses and gallery spaces. Currently, I’m confident a work that aims to emphasise a general awareness of place/being can also extend into a celebration of ‘access’.
Speaking with the other residents about their practice has been a great experience so far. I realise I’m still a little nervous moving around as a ‘single entity’. Although I’m developing ideas privately, I’m still tentative when expressing these to others. It feels good though and I realise this sort of engagement is something I’ve lacked until now. It is a positive break from comfort zones.
- Context here: the mill closed down around the same time the property market crashed in 2007/8. Consequently, the effects of the recession were twofold for the area. Unemployment combined with the quasi-eviction of a number of longstanding residents through the government’s ‘Path Finder’s Area’ initiative. Properties deemed ‘structurally unsound’ were forcibly purchased from residents for a price below market value. These streets were then demolished and left as sites for potential development, gated so as to prevent public access until these new developments were completed.
The old cotton mill is due to be redeveloped as a large business/leisure/residential complex. This development includes new road access, avoiding the old centre of Briefield.
5/1/2016 I began constructing the first tray for my primary piece today and marked out the space for my other project. The trays will hold a shallow pool of black paint. I’m painting the sides in bitumen so the whole thing should sit as a plain black square once full.
The two trays are being placed in places of common footfall whilst we work in the mill. (One on a stairwell and the other at a prominent viewpoint, a large whole in the wall in the front of the main building). These positions should force passers through the spaces to move through the paint and begin leaving a visible trace of their movements.
My second scheme is a sister-project, connected to a design I’m developing back in Suffolk. The original piece is focused in green space/woodland and so the mill offers a contrary brown site/industrial context for a connected work. I’ve stitched small bags to be filled with the remaining bitumen, tied to the ends of string as small dripping pods. These are being lowered through a hole in the top floor of the mill so that they gather in the space immediately below.
The work is tied to a ceramic version at home (with a contrasting aesthetic both in place and material) and is the fulfilment of an idea I’ve had for a while.
Unintentionally, I realise the two works can be tied under the theme of access (initially more applicable to the first). The room which the ‘pods’ hang through into is one deemed too dangerous for people to enter. Consequently, the hanging piece will only ever be viewed from a far – the opposite form of engagement to that of the paint trays with are ultimately activated by direct physical engagement.
6/1/2016 Continued making the second tray today. I’m a little worried about time as there isn’t much light to work by and I want to be sure the trays are out long enough for them to be used and documented. I’m happy to leave the ‘pods’ project if needs be. It would be nice to realise it in this space however, the trays are specifically designed for the Mill and I feel this makes them a priority.
However long you initially think you need for a work, double that and you should be close.
I enjoyed the talk given this morning by Paul Kelly very much. It was wonderful having a non-artist/art organisation perspective on public engagement and the role of artistic collaboration. Kelly’s background is housing and he provided some incredible case studies of housing organisations and think tanks engaging with artists. The projects spanned years and I was impressed by the results. The collective thinking of communities and officials appeared to result in very rational and sensitive redevelopments. The role of art as a highlighter of a place’s natural ‘assets’ was very insightful (ex. The Bootle canal). So too was the use of creative or unusual actions to quickly bring members of a place together to begin discussing or thinking about their environment (ex. Raundlobre)
What pleased me in many of these cases was the high quality of much of the work produced (conceptually and as objective, completed works in their own right). There was room for both static ‘objects’ or interventions along side more cooperative or immersive works. Kelly’s point regarding public art felt completely right – it needs to take time. Rushing in with a monument is never going to end well. Research, time and an understanding of context are key.
The talk was very positive as I do have my concerns regarding some publicly engaged works. Sometimes I fear they are exempt from the normal level of critique you find in other art practice simply because the ‘public’ is the resultant object. This objectification is itself troubling. But Kelly’s references, of which there were many, were strong artworks and, crucially, beneficial to the projects they came out of as a true collaboration should be.
I respected Kelly’s awareness of the potential for both sides (artist and organisation/think tank) to assume a knowledge of the others ‘craft’ and the danger therein.
We ended the day with a very intense discussion of publicly engaging work and the limits or relevance of this in our own practice. Naturally the discussion quickly unfolded into a more general (and impassioned) discussion of art and art engagement in general.
I’m still unsure of the relevancy or the nature of public engagement within my work. Certainly, some interpretations would completely rule out my projects. Equally, I’m still dubious as to the claim of certain actions as artworks. I don’t see why some actions require such a label and can’t register as community action. I imagine a distinction can be drawn in outcomes – that those generated by art works are essentially subjective in their aims/outcomes. That is, you can take or leave them; be transformed or remain unaffected. There are clearly greater distinctions that can be made within the genre. The examples provided this morning, as examples of a certain category, were powerful nonetheless.
7/1/2016 I set up the first tray on the stairs today. I’ve been quite pleased with results. There has been a great deal of movement through; even those who have attempted to avoid the tray have ended up picking up a trail from the paint spread around.
I’ve decided to set up the second tray in the room that a painter is working in downstairs. I’m setting it up in the doorway that leads through. It is a very damp room with a lot of water spread across the floor. I’m hoping the footprints made will spread further due to this. I also like the idea of tracking movements made by those viewing the paintings in this space. It’s an additional element to the ‘invasive’ nature of the work – a sort of forced collaboration. I also like the idea of a ‘conscious viewpoint’, a clear marking of our engagement with a work produced on site.
Another fantastic talk today from artist Thiago Hersan. He was discussing his practice as a digital artist and his collective Artrovandalistas . I was struck by a shared concern in my own practice, albeit pursued by very different means; OOT and new materialist tendencies as well as greater consideration of our relationship with the virtual/physical world. Whereas Hersan is using the ‘language’ of the thing to explore this, I’ve translated the theme into processes I can understand fully (Not to assume any sort of comparison here! It’s simply thrilling to hear thoughts I’ve had around these subjects articulated by someone else). I’m hoping I can come back to attend a reading group at FACT later this month.
I think I’ve realised the importance of a physical object in my work.