Helen Knowles, who featured in a-ns Degree show supplement 98 publication, reviews her progress over the past decade and discusses her current practice.
Currently I am curating an exhibition called Birth Rites which opens in May at The Glasgow Science Centre and tours to the Manchester Museum in September. I see curating as an extension of my practice as an artist. You are working on a larger scale, your vision may involve more people but ultimately you are directing a visual experience.
Birth Rites unites artists and childbirth practitioners in an exploration of the social, cultural, spiritual and political implications of the way we give birth. Through five collaborations between artists and childbirth professionals, five works have been commissioned. I initiated Birth Rites as an artist and curator whose contrasting experiences of hospital caesarean and home birth spurred me to question our societys approach to childbirth. The focus of the work is inter-disciplinary; it is about inspiring a debate through art and allowing a conversation to evolve that would be different from any of the usual ideas around childbirth. Central to the project has been the creation of www.birthrites.org.uk which has diary pages for the artists and collaborators to use, to make comments and show work in progress.
Alongside the commissions, there will be three artist books that I have worked on over the last four years. Running workshops with different generations to garner their experiences of childbirth, I have used screen-printing to transform their images into an edited book. I worked in conjunction with a bookbinder, Helen Johnston to bring this imagery together.
Working on artist books has allowed me to free up my thinking away from the installation work I was making until 2005. My intention is to develop my use of drawing and screen-printing and the use of other peoples imagery. I have plans to travel to India in 2009 to work at Khoj Artist Studios in Delhi for a month long residency to extend my interest in working around the theme of childbirth by collaborating with a traditional Dai and an NGO called Matrika, who look to support traditional midwifery practice in India.
Over the last 10 years I think a pivotal experience was working as artist in residence at Jodrell Bank Science Centre and Arboretum and beginning a journey into the way collaborative practice can and should work. In addition it has been life experiences like having children which have developed the themes in my work.
Over the last 10 years the artistic landscape has changed in that I think there is less funding available. This has quite an effect especially on installation artists and artists who work non-commercially. Although I feel that my practice has gotten more focused and professional, I feel that financially I have not really evolved. However, I have had some amazing opportunities which I am very grateful for. In addition, I feel that artists are now pressurised into being a jack-of-all-trades, running their own PR company, fundraising, and having to communicate their ideas two-fold. It is no longer enough, to just make work. Sometimes this means that the creative process suffers but it can be positive as well in that artists have a lot of control over how their work is interpreted and put out into the world.
First published: a-n.co.uk May 2008
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