Friday, 23 December 2011

Happy Christmas to all my readers!

More creative news to come in the New Year, quite a number of my projects will reach completion in January so I look forward to telling you all about them...

...until then, I have added ways you can subscribe to my blog or share posts on social media, which you will find listed on the left hand side or at the bottom of this post (if you are looking at this on a normal web browser view).  So do sign up so you can receive my news directly.

Bye for now!  And thanks for reading.

Saturday, 17 December 2011

The shape of a walk

The shapes of walks can be beautiful.

If you draw a simple line as a map of the walk you have taken, each walk has its shape and the shape has a character.

An urban walk will look very different from a rural walk.

An old city pattern will look different from a newer city structure.

When I worked in California as part of the artists' group CoLab, we worked at a place called Weedpatch.  One of the first things I did before leaving England to visit Weedpatch was to draw a map of the Bakersfield area from the satellite photograph.  This was my first impression of Bakersfield, knowing very little of it before we went, and the squares seemed so strange to me, being used to the more random networks of ancient roads around which the UK has developed.  The grid system of towns in the USA only started to make sense after a few weeks of driving around that town, and trying to relate that experience to the grid map I had first drawn.

Here is the shape of the walk we are creating for Sidelong.  A circular urban walk in Nottingham.  A much older structure of streets and pathways:  short detours of small cobbled walkways mixed with stretches of longer, straighter arterial routes.

I can't remember lists of instructions, like when you ask somebody for directions.  When I go to a place unfamiliar to me, which happens very often with the number of site visits I do for various projects, I have to draw a simplified version of the route as a line like this, something which I can then remember as a visual image.  As I find my route, all I have to do is follow that visual line in my mind's eye.  It seems to work, somehow, I don't get lost that often!

I love the first lines drawn when creating a map.  The linear quality which begin to suggest contours, structures to navigate around, movement through a space, without location or any indication of features.  The line just represents the abstract movement of the body through space.
Preliminary sketch for one of the Myth Maps

Saturday, 10 December 2011

Working with sound

Continuing my work with young people at New Walk Museum, we've been putting together a sound track to accompany the World Arts exhibition.

Putting on headphones and listening to evocative sounds can really transport you to another world in your imagination.  Our aim at New Walk is to add to the visual experience of looking at the exhibits by introducing other sensory experiences, so the sound track will be one of those elements.

This doesn't work like a traditional audio guide that you find in museums.  The group and I want to create something more exciting and unusual.  There will be no factual information given in our sound track.  We've looked really closely at the objects on display and created sounds that relate to what you see, and we hope that when people listen to those sounds they will also have to search with their eyes to find the object in the display case that could be making that sound.

I really enjoy working with sound and experimenting with new ways to use it.  At Nottingham Contemporary I work with a group called the Navigators, an amazing and creative group of visually impaired people who have been working with me for over a year.  We have come up with an idea for creating an unusual audio guide for the Contemporary and we're just looking for funding now to see if we can make this happen next year.  We also started a new film project this week... but I'll tell you more about that another time!

And watch out for my Sound Sculpture workshop coming up in the New Year - on the weekend of the 7th and 8th January at Nottingham Contemporary - open to all ages so come along and have some fun making your own creations to add to the cacophony that will fill the big Space!

Thursday, 1 December 2011

connections connections

Working with young people this week at Nottingham and Leicester.

I do a lot of workshops about connections.  It corresponds to my interest in mapping and curating, as well as helping people to make sense of contemporary art and exhibitions in their own ways by drawing their own connections to exhibits.

Followers of this blog will remember my previous post about the current Nottingham exhibition I'm working with and my group at Leicester's New Walk Museum (see Working with Objects).  So here's an update on how things have progressed!

In Nottingham I have started working with teachers and students from Djanogly Academy.  First we visited the Klaus Weber exhibition at Nottingham Contemporary.  Weber's show includes two rooms filled with objects he has brought together from museums, galleries and other artists.  By placing the items all together he draws visual and thematic connections between the objects, thus revealing some of his interests as an artist.

We challenged the students to try to draw connections between every object in the exhibition.  Quite a challenge as there are around 200 objects!  But through that process, the students began to recognise some of the themes contained in the exhibition:  nature and man, systems, biology and machinery.

messages in bottles, maps, treasure hunts, signs...
Back at the school, we then planned how their connections might be presented as artworks themselves.
...washing line, bread crumbs trail, orienteering...

Ideas ranged from collection boxes, a series of signs, a washing line and even a hopscotch game!  The students will be working on these ideas up until Christmas.

In Leicester I made a start working with my group of young people on making resource packs for visitors to New Walk Museum.  We decided we wanted to create multi-sensory packs that would expand the experience of visitors from the purely visual experience of looking at exhibits.

choosing textures
We have started putting together a book of textures.  The book will challenge visitors to make connections between the feel of the texture in the book and the exhibits in the museum.  We'll explore some of the other senses in the next few weeks.

Wednesday, 16 November 2011

River locale

I have been reading an article by Michael Bonnett ("Environmental Concern, Moral Education and Our Place in Nature" - see Philosophy of Education Research Seminars programme).

He begins by talking about our relationship with nature, and that there are two ways that it can be thought of:  nature as something separate from ourselves which presents us with a problem (limited resources) that we have to intelligently deal with in order to continue living the way we want to; or, nature is something that now demands that we fundamentally change how we think about how we live and even question what is a good way to live.
hawthorn berries

As the article develops, he begins to talk about walking, my own favourite mode of transport and current fascination!  Here it is again, that idea that many other writers have spoken about, and I have been experiencing, that walking makes you more aware of your surroundings, begins to attune you to natural phenomena around you and gives you a deeper sense of connection with your environment.  Bonnett talks about "our felt sense of place", that nature's presence is something we feel, our sense of our own place in nature is not just an abstract idea about eco-systems, but something that we have a relationship with because it exists in the very location that we exist in.  He calls it a sense of emplacement. 

I like this.  He talks about the walker being open to sensory experience, setting off with a "keen attentiveness" to anything that he might encounter.  This has been my experience when walking along the River Nene.  I have started making pen and ink drawings of some of the details that catch my attention as I walk.  The flora that is specific to the locale of the river.  I have started to become fascinated by the structure of natural things, or architecture as I like to think of it.  But I want to think more about the sense of nature as a system against this more localised idea of experiencing things as you are in them...

... you see my other fascination is maps and maps are a way of trying to create a system, linking things together, making sense of and creating a coherent network of elements.  So maps are a lot like trying to identify an eco-system.  Some people are of the opinion that eco-systems are an entirely invented notion by humans who obsessively try to find order in chaos.  Yes, we do, but we also recognise certain types of order or structure (or architecture) in nature when we observe it.

When I am on the river, it is the sense of the locale, or the immediate and present place, that I feel, not the sense of the map or structure within which the river also exists.  When boating, you are aware that the river is navigable and that there are points of navigation that link one place to another.  However, in a narrow boat anyway, you are travelling around about walking pace, and that slowness allows you to exist located in the present moment, the present locale.  So you do have a sense of both things at the same time.

So the map of the river that I will create will need to do both -  a number of specific, localised points (or sketches) that have that sense of immediate locale, but also the overarching linear network within which they are all joined.  And in this way the river journey is different from other journeys, because it is linear.  It could work as a narrative.  There are no criss-crossing waterways on this stretch of river that you can decide to turn off on or route somewhere else.  You either go up river or down.  You have to pass each point in turn, no skipping, each locale demands its time from you.  Just go with the flow...

The river map is part of a project with three Jos, see an update from the other two Jo's about "Riverlands" here.

Wednesday, 9 November 2011

Walking Sidelong

LJ and I have got our first commission together!

Some time ago I blogged about the idea of curated walks and my intention to collaborate with LJ Klee, a colleague at Nottingham Contemporary, to investigate our mutual interest in walking.  To kick off our collaboration, we have just received a commission to create a Night Walk, which we are calling Dream Walking, as part of Nottingham's Light Night Festival on 10th February 2012.

Not all our walks need to be in Nottingham, but it seemed a good place to start!  We have spent a couple of evenings exploring streets around Nottingham City Centre and through our conversation have discovered a number of shared interests or strands of thought.  We decided to call our collaboration Sidelong as the word suggests some of our interests:  we both have an interest in the idea of getting off the beaten track, looking at things differently from different viewpoints, exploring side streets and liminal space, looking above eye level, finding and revealing the hidden, going against the grain.

Reflecting on the last few weeks, I am aware of the various curatorial elements of a number of things I am involved with, and how they are all starting to relate to each other through my perception of it.  Which, in fact, is a bit like curating my own life!  With the work with objects, with New Walk Museum and Klaus Weber's current exhibition (see previous post) I have seen how connections are made between different objects when they are brought together, and I like how Weber has spoken about objects working as individual words in a letter, but that can be "read" in different directions.  I see how my mapping and walking of different routes become an act of curating, in the way your thoughts frame the route and the experience of that route to reveal a theme or character.  This also differs in the direction that you walk a route - last night LJ and I found ourselves walking a route we had previously walked but from the other direction, and in the dark instead of in the daytime, and were amazed at how different our memory of the walk was and how easily confused we were in trying to find familiar things!

You can follow our work as Sidelong on our blog,, and find out more about Dream Walking and Nottingham Light Night.  Perhaps see you there?

Wednesday, 2 November 2011

Working with objects

It's been a really busy few weeks, so I'm sorry I haven't found time to blog for a while.

My last few weeks have been about working with objects.  At Nottingham Contemporary I am working with the new exhibition which includes two rooms filled with 200 objects that have been brought together by artist Klaus Weber.  Also, I started working with a fantastic group of young people at New Walk Museum in Leicester, looking at curating and interpreting objects there.

Over the half term break 7 young women met with me and my co-worker for this project, Davey, at New Walk Museum and worked with us for two intensive days.  We did all sorts of activities, exploring the exhibitions that they have and the varied ways in which they have been curated, coming up with our own ideas.  We then went on to work with objects that I had borrowed from Leicestershire's Open Museum Resource Box collection to create mini exhibitions and interpretation for the objects.

Objects for A Journey Through Sound

The group were really creative and inspirational, coming up with brilliant ideas for bringing the objects alive.

The exhibitions they created included: a Journey Through Sound, looking at the history of music, sound and communication, from cavemen to the present and into the future; the Global Footsteps exhibition, discovering people's lives and stories from around the globe by looking at their shoes;  and an exhibition of mystery objects called Kitchen Culture which worked as a quiz to guess what curious domestic items might have been used for.
Global Footsteps

A selection of mystery objects

The group thought about ways to move around an exhibition, how visitors might move from one space to another, the Global Footsteps exhibition even had an island that you had to tiptoe around to cross the space without getting your feet wet in the sea!

They thought about ways to make people look closely at the objects, such as in Kitchen Culture they took very close-up photographs of the objects which were displayed on an iPad screen and you had to find the object that corresponded to the image.  

Close up photos for Kitchen Culture
They thought about interactivity.  The Sound exhibition was very interactive with opportunities for visitors to play sounds, listen through headphones as well as surround sound, and create and record their own sounds.
Invented stories inspired by objects

For me it was really interesting to work through the process with the group, seeing how they related to objects and thought creatively to make those objects interesting.  Seemingly mundane items such as shoes and saucepans became curious and fascinating through their interpretation.

The work has influenced my work at Nottingham Contemporary where I have just started working with a group of adults from Bilborough.  Inspired by the objects in the Klaus Weber exhibition, I'm working with the group to make personal connections with objects and to think about collections of objects, how text changes our perception of objects and how objects put together can become something new.

It's been a great experience and I aim to work with the young people's group again at New Walk Museum to create some interpretive resources for visitors to use at the museum in the future.  More fun to come!

Friday, 14 October 2011

Fruit Routes

On Monday I paid a visit to Fruit Routes, a project by artist Anne-Marie Culhane in Loughborough.

Anne-Marie is identifying and creating routes for foraging around the Loughborough University campus.  I was invited by Paul Conneally, Cultural Forager, who also worked on the commissions at Snibston.  Paul and Anne-Marie had invited other artists, lecturers and students to take a walk along the first Fruit Route, sample some foraged fruit juices and discuss the ideas of foraging and art.  As I have been involved in bits of foraging recently, with the walking projects as well as from visiting the River Nene (see River Foraging post and The grammar of Nature - gift or product?), I thought I should get involved.

Anne-Marie has occupied a beautiful shed on the campus, surrounded by plants and boxes of foraged apples.  A magnificent tangle of tubes hang from the ceiling, from which you can sample delicious fruit juices.

Discussions took on very personal reflections on the idea of foraging, food and our relationship to natural things, as well as a really interesting conversation about what foraging actually is and how it could be perceived as an art practice.
It seems to me that all artists are foragers in a sense.  We go out into the world, find things around us, take those impressions and make something of them.  These foraged ideas we can then share with the world.  Anne-Marie's project emphasises the idea of sharing, that the food and drink she is making is free and therefore should be given away.  Gillian Whitely from the School of Arts, who has been interested in foraging for many years and is well read on the subject, spoke about projects a few decades ago that aimed to subvert the capitalist system by giving away food rather than selling it.

Apple pressing
As we sat talking and nibbling on nuts, fruit leathers and berries, it reminded me of a comment my dad had made when we were eating shrimp with our fingers on holiday last month:  how eating with your fingers has a primeval appeal.  Gathering and growing your own food is also like that to me, a grounding experience that brings you really close to your food.

Artist Bob Levene talked about how foraging changes the way you look at the landscape.  Your focus becomes really acute, it is almost an obsession, you see things that non-foragers miss.   I have experienced this, on occasions out walking I have slipped into a foraging mode and find that as I am walking along I'm looking sideways all the time, my eyes scanning the hedgerows and trying to glimpse through gaps to the fields beyond.

Being an artist can also mean that you focus on things that other people might not notice.  But in doing so, are there other things you might miss?  Often my practice seeks the individual, the small, the unnoticed, but there are also moments when you need to take in the wider view.

Thursday, 6 October 2011

Little haloes

It has been a while since I have managed to get down to the River Nene.  So that hot October weekend, I got out my summer dress again and walked from Woodford to Denford Lock, and then Islip to Titchmarsh.

The path from Woodford takes you down a narrow walk between two fenced off fields with horses lazily munching.  Faithfully I followed this path and over a stile.

It was very peaceful and still in the hot sun.  Certain sounds became prominent, crows calling.  In the distance the sound of the water rushing over the weir seemed to be calling me back to the river.

I followed the sound and suddenly I saw the river glistening in a gap between the trees.  A sudden jolt of excitement and an audible gasp.  It was just like bumping into an old friend.

I have found in my walking projects that I become very attached to the specific landscapes in which I walk.  I get to know them in intimate detail and I feel a definite sense of belonging, both ways:  they belong to me and I belong to them.

This walk is beautiful.  You can walk right along the river's edge for quite a way, eventually coming to the weir where the river splits in two, and then on to Denford Lock.

I wandered off the path at one point, and just followed the river bank.  A pretty plump rabbit saw me and stopped.  I stopped.  Then I walked a little more.  He also moved on a bit.  Then I stopped.  He stopped.  We continued this game for a little while until he decided I wasn't a threat and disappeared off into the hedgerow.

Across the river was a small wooden house on a pole.  A birdhouse sentry.  Quite odd.

Canoeists waved at me as they paddled gently, bringing back memories of the day we canoed from Thrapston to Oundle back in May, how tenderly the river seemed to hold us up.

I lost track of the Nene Way at Denford.  It would have taken me on to Islip but I couldn't find it.  So I turned back.

With the weather so hot it seemed like a summer day that would go on and on... but of course the sun was soon on its way down and right in front of me on my way back.  The soft light made the autumn colours glow, playing across the water's ripples and illuminating the translucence of leaves.  A handfull of blackberries kept me from getting too thirsty.

Approaching the bridge again, I saw a swathe of dried thistle heads, the sun light creating a glow around them, like a crowd of faces with little haloes.

Walking from Islip to Titchmarsh the next day, I started walking between lakes and the river.

Formed by the old gravel pits, the lakes are now the Titchmarsh Nature Reserve, and of course abundant with birds.  I often saw a large black bird flying above, which looked like a cormorant to me.  Later on, I heard a rather mournful sound, almost a weeping, from behind the trees near the lake.  Having looked up the sound a cormorant makes, it did sound just like this.

Countless swans covered a lake, as far as you could see.

You feel surrounded by water, lakes to the left and infront, the river on the right.  The sailing club had a wonderful stillness today, being a hot Sunday, everything sitting quietly in symmetry with undisturbed reflections.

Again, walking back the sun was low, shadows long and the light golden.  Colours seemed heightened, bright red thorns against the blue sky.

The weekend had been all about light, the sun bringing alive the leaves, water, shadows, a sense of stillness only animated by the ever changing play of light as the sun gently lowered behind the horizon.

Wednesday, 28 September 2011

The Art of Touch

Thursday saw the launch of a big project I have completed with Leicestershire Artworks, "Touch Table".

The Touch Table is a project coordinated by me with Lisa Webb, Artworks Officer for Leicestershire, commissioning 10 artists to create 20 works which can be explored by touch.

The project complements two other pieces of work we had undertaken previously, the Held in the Hand projects, which commissioned artists to create pieces that can be picked up, held and explored.

These projects can be enjoyed by anybody, but are specifically created for the benefit of people with special needs and people with dementia who would particularly benefit in exploring the sensation of touch.

The Touch Table is a special table that can have various artworks slotted into it.  It holds the art panels so that people can run their fingers across them to feel the textures.  Not only do the artworks include different materials and textures but there are ones that spin using magnets and handles, ones that you can press into and they bounce back, and pieces with buttons, ties and pockets that can be undone and explored.

The launch was a rather grand affair, held at Ulverscroft Manor, with canapes and drinks, and speakers from the local councils as well as Stephen Dorrell MP, Health Minister.

For me, working with Lisa on the brief for artists and then developing ideas with various artists for their specific pieces, it was fascinating to see people's responses to the pieces when they were all laid out together.  Throughout the project, our challenge had been to commission works that were wildly varied yet would create complete sets, covering as many different touch responses as we could, using every possible material, using old skills and new technologies.

Me with some of the artists at the launch.  L to R:  Sue Hague, Dr Lionel Dean, Austin Orwin, Richard Dawson and me.
It was great to see some of the artists finally meet each other, they instantly started to spark ideas off each other!  They, of course, had had no sense of the work of the other artists, they were just deeply involved in their own individual pieces.  Lisa and I were the only ones who had had any vision of how it would all work together, and we could finally see this coming to fruition and being enjoyed by everybody.

Thanks to all the artists who contributed their skills and talent, it is a truly wonderful collection of high quality tactile art.

To find out more about Touch Table and the Held in the Hand pieces, which are available for loan to schools and groups throughout Leicestershire, click here.

Thursday, 15 September 2011

Animated artists, young people and museums and the Ticket Exchange!

A little gap between posts as I have been on holiday.  But here's a little look back at some of the things I am involved with...

Just for a giggle, three of the Associated Artists at Nottingham Contemporary took part in "The World is Your Stage" - the longest stop animation film ever!  A project created by Brendan Oliver & Brendan Randall.   See our contribution and more about the project.

(Influenced by the current Jean Genet exhibition, our piece was about power and role swapping.  Obviously!)

Also, my new project has been launched.  These leaflets are going out across Leicester and Leicestershire inviting young people to take part in an exciting project with New Walk Museum to create new innovative resources for visitors.  Click on the image to see a bigger version.

And most recently, Carole Miles and I have started our Ticket Exchange activity on the trains in Derbyshire for the Undiscovered Networks project, which has been going really well.  We are blogging about the project here.