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By: Jo Lathwood
'Coup de Pouce' (a nudge in the right direction) is a 3 month residency programme supporting early career artists. It gives artist's invaluable time to research and develop ideas. This is the first international residency, of this kind, supported by a collaboration between L'H du Siege (Valenciennes) and Fabrica (Brighton). The residency runs from the 1st of April to the end of June 2008.
# 7 [9 May 2008]
Much has happen since my last blog, I have finished pieces of art, seen French street performances, returned to the forest, been eaten by mosquito, cooked penguins, learnt about wind movement, been to the countryside and had BBQs.
My first French titled piece of art is called "tout le monde est tres occuppe, je pense que nous devons aller pecher" (everybody is too busy, I think that we must go fishing). This sentence has been written on my studio wall since my arrival. It is important to me to make work that expresses the value of play and questions the speed of modern life. The work is contained within a briefcase, which acts like a plinth and has enough curious objects to make the viewer spend time observing it. It is easily the brightest thing I have ever made and I am satisfied with it.
Also this week I have been making many tiny penguins. I realised that the concept of the bird that cannot fly is key to many ideas I have had in the past and I want to use the penguin as a platform to express these ideas. I seem to be unable to escape the ideology of flight. I also am returning to old habits by instantly dreaming up complex ideas. Although I am weary of become trapped in a world of physics I have made a prototype of a machine that physically animates a falling object. This bodge machine works at the moment but not to a level where it could work independently of me. The recent decision that it is too complex means that for now it can stay in the corner of the studio.
With my love for trees and constant search for new materials I have started to collect sap. I spent 3 hours in the forest on Wednesday scraping the wonderful smelling liquid from the trees and fighting mosquitoes (the mosquitoes definitely won). This new substance is amazing but I can already see how soon everything will be covered in what I now like to refer to as tree treacle.
The new words of inspiration that are written on the wall are "tout le monde voit le vent souffler" (everybody sees the wind blow). These words are in fact lyrics from a song that is quite famous. I find them very poetic and am now ready to concentrate on developing ideas around this notion. With help in the form of driving and translation, Aurelia Cordiez (dedicated intern at L'H du Siege) took me to various large stores to buy the new necessary materials. My studio once again is filled with new things for me to play with. And with the help of Tanya Morris (an old school friend and aeronautical engineer) I hope to start making some bigger work.
# 6 [9 May 2008]
#5 30 avril
Alors (mon nouveau mot prefere parce que j'essaye de remplacer ummm).
Premierement, je voudrais dire que les matins ou je faisais la petite menuiserie sont finis, parce que j'ai fini la machine de crayon. Après une discussion avec Emilien (un peintre qui a un studio a cote). J'ai décidé que c'est le momemt d'arrêter. L'esthétique du projet est entre un chantier et un mechano pour enfant. Ca fonctionne, mais pas comme je l'avais imagine mais la question et l'importance de cette fonction maintenant semble faire partie de son concept et je suis heureuse comme ca.
La majeure partie du temps cette semaine, j'avais joué avec l'équipement de pêche et le attaché-case. C‘est tres satisfaisant pour moi de pouvoir ajuster ces objets colorés brillants dans d'autres formes. J'apprécie la simplicité et commence à voir comment je peux lier mon dessin à mes sculptures. Les photographies sont des exemples des moments dans le studio qui m'ont fait sourire.
Aussi, cette semaine, j'ai été tout à fait socialement occupé. c'était le montage du travail de Guillaume Millet dans l'espace de galerie. j'ai eu deux repas à la maison de Philippe et de Sylvie, et un diner au restaurant. Tous étaient très gentils. J'ai parlé un petit francais ou en mauvais français mais j'apprends quelque chose chaque jour et Adeline a reussi a m'enseigner quelques choses au vernssage. Grammaticalement des choses commencent à avoir du sens mais les temps passé et futur pourront prendre un certain temps, jusque-là je pense que je survivrai avec la langue du corps.
Les espaces de la maison ou du studio represente tout ce dont j'ai besoin et la satisfaction que j'obtiens en travaillant me rend heureuse. Mais parfois je devrais m'échapper pour avoir d'autres points de vue. Parfois je me sens limitee en raison de mes capacités linguistiques. Mais dimanche était un jour très ensoleillé et j'ai senti qu'il était temps de se lancer sur une aventure. Tôt cette semaine j'avais eu une discussion avec Adeline au sujet des forêts dans le secteur, ainsi après avoir fait des recherches sur Internet et l'aide d'une boussole. J'ai attrapé le train à un endroit appelé Saint Amand les Eaux. Saint Amand est au nord, seulement a environ 10 minutes de Valenciennes, et les trains à la différence de ceux anglais sont très ponctuels et bon marché. J'ai suivi les signes de route vers le centre qui m'a mènee à l'église et à beaucoup de magasins fermés (dimanche est le jour du repos). J'ai su de la carte que j'avais vu sur Internet que je devais me diriger vers le sud. Après avoir marche pendant environ une heure j' ai pu voir que face a moi sur la route il y avait des arbres de l'autre côté et en 5 minutes j'etais au bord d'un grand parc national qui s'etend sur le Nord Pas de Calais. C'était une promenade du dimanche très anglais et m'ont mis de bonne humeur pour la semaine.
# 5 [30 April 2008]
Alors. (My new favourite word because I am trying to replace the word ummmm).
Firstly I would like to say the mornings of making tiny joinery are gone as I have finished the pencil machine. After a discussion with Emilien (a painter who has a studio space opposite), I have decided its time has come to stop. Its aesthetic hovers somewhere between a grossly complex building site and a child's mechano set. It works, but not to the slick level of engineering that I originally wanted, but the question and importance of its function now seem to highlight part of its concept and I am happy where it rests.
For most of the week I have been playing with the fishing equipment and the briefcase. It's been very satisfying to adjust these brightly coloured objects into other forms. I am enjoying their simplicity and beginning to see how I can link my drawing to my sculptures. The photographs attached to this entry are moments that I have had in the studio that have made me smile.
This week has also been quite socially busy, with the private view of Guillaume Millet's work in the gallery space (26 April to 14 June). Two meals at Philippe and Sylvie's house, and a meal at a restaurant. All were very nice. I spoke little or bad French but I learn something each day and Adeline managed to teach me a few things at the private view. Grammatically some things are beginning to make sense but the past and future tense might take some time, until then I think I will survive on body language.
The studio spaces and house here is everything I need and the satisfaction I get from making happily keeps me here. But every now and then I know I should escape to get perspective. Sometimes I feel restricted because of my linguistic abilities but Sunday was a very sunny day and I felt it was time to go on an adventure. Early this week I had had a chat with Adeline about forests in the area, so after some internet research and the reassurance of a compass. I caught the train to a place called Saint Amand le Eaux. Upon my arrival I was greeted by little excitement. I followed the road signs into the centre which lead me to the church and many closed shops. I knew from the map I had seen on the internet to head south. After walking for about an hour I could see that the next bit of road had trees on the other side and within 5 minutes I had got to the edge of a large national park. I saw hundreds and hundreds of ants and it made me think how similar our habits can be to the creatures that surround us. It was a very English Sunday stroll and has put me in good stead for this week.
# 4 [22 April 2008]
Since the first week I have wanted to make this machine that holds a mechanical pencil sharpener over small buildings and sprinkles them in sharpenings. When I first thought of this, it came to me completely; structures, concepts, measurements and requirements. Now two weeks later, I fear this contraption will never be complete. In my mind it was simple yet everyday I seem to find another part that needs complicated joinery that is very small and fiddly. I am beginning to think that I should just scrap it and start again, but with anything that you spend time with, I have become fond of it so am persisting... If I have not finished it by the next blog entry, maybe I'll let it go.
Besides my "simple" mechanical contraption, I have been doing lots of playing. Today I have mostly been sat outside trying to understand feathers, fans and solar panels. . Yesterday I spent along time cutting circles in wood and fitting wire mesh so I could start changing the fan I acquired from Emmaus. Saturday evening, I spent far too long with a strobe light, leafs, feathers and foil. All of these activities have spawned another abundance of inspiration.
On Friday, Bernard (armed with a blank cheque and a better French vocabulary than me) took me to a French DIY shop, the equivalent to a Wickes or B&Q. The original reason to go was to get some hinges. But like a small child in a sweet shop, I accumulated many things (clamps, bungee cords, bright orange tape etc.) I think these objects will assist the environments I want to construct within the suitcases. I have made the first part of one of the structures that is going in the larger case with the jars that I got last week. Please see photograph.
I have also taken apart the organ which to my surprise and delight still works and although I don't think I mentioned it before, I am still managing to do one drawing a day. Phew!
I have multiple tiny cuts on my hands, but today was very sunny so it does not bother me.
# 3 [16 April 2008]
This week has been full of acquiring and learning. The great arrival of the materials I previously ordered was a moment of excitement and relief. I also now have photographs of the beautiful obsolete buildings that I found in my first week adorning my studio space. As well as the many new objects bought or found.
I have been on a hunt for old suitcases and briefcases since my arrival. One of the ideas I wanted to pursue within my time here, is the concept of portable art. This has a lot to do with the fact that for a long time my work seems to have been getting bigger and bigger and more difficult to install, move and afford. The idea of portable, convenient art seems to fit conceptual and functionally neatly into many subjects I want to explore. Portable work also has a unique independence of its surroundings, in other words... the gallery space becomes instantly where the work is. I am fond of this ideology and hope that from experimentation I will create something that fulfils my satisfaction.
The mission of finding suitcases brought me to discover two amazing things. First, the realisation that now is the time of des braderies (flee markets in the north) and secondly, the existence of a French Emmaus. This information was kindly given to me by Fred Martin, an artist I met whilst on the trip with Fabrica last week.
Emmaus is an international organization and is basically a massive charity shop warehouse full of everything that people don't want anymore. I have been to an Emmaus before (as there is one in Brighton) but not of this scale. Thanks to Sylvie, who yet again gave me a lift, I acquired a perfect suitcase, a briefcase, 15 jam jars, some old pictures frames (which I wanted the glass from) and an electric fan. The place in itself to me was quite phenomenal, an odd but organised assortment of all objects that are out date, used or old set in the surroundings of two warehouses and a courtyard. I only spent 17 euros there and feel that maybe another trip later will be inevitable.
All these objects as well as the arrival of “the things that I forgot” from home and the most recent scavenge of an electronic organ from down the road, means that studio #2 is happily filled with projects and ideas. The frustration of the lack of used and old objects has been dispersed as I now feel more accustomed to my surroundings. I now know it is pointless to try and get anything from the shops at lunch time, apart from bread. And I am even beginning to look the right way before I cross the road, an instinctive habit that is hard to break!
# 2 [8 April 2008]
Well, my Monday meeting with Phippe and Pascal turned out to be today but that was fine. I explained many ideas waving my arms around while Adeline Michel (Médiatrice culturelle & chargée de communication & webmaster at L’H du Siege) translated, wonderfully. All in all, a good meeting I feel at home here. I just need to speak French then all will be perfect.
The biggest news since I last wrote is probably moving into studio space #2. This space is bigger and has a concrete floor. It is ideal for building and making a mess in. I am trying to resist the urge to fill the space with wood and cardboard (my usual materials)… although if I am honest, I have already scavenged some cardboard from the streets of Valenciennes.
I have been on many walks around Valenciennes and now feel like I can’t get lost. I have found my favourite place; a massive lake, my favourite building; a disused water tower, and my favourite vending machine that dispenses baguettes at anytime of day! I think these will inevitably influence my work.
I have had many ideas but frustratingly little materials to make things with. So far most of my materials have come from a stationary shop in the centre that is closing down. It has 70% discounts (!) and I have been making many tiny houses and playing around with natural structures. Now I have no more need for paper, card and ink. A slightly distressing realisation that charity and pound shops don’t exist here and the stuff that I ordered from the catalogue still hasn’t arrived and the difficulty that everything that I buy I need an invoice for, means that my new studio space has been quite empty.
But change is upon me. Yesterday, I walked out of Valenciennes and stumbled upon the great and surreal world of Lidl. So today, Sylvie Houriez (Médiatrice culturelle at L’H du Siege) very kindly gave me a lift to the out-of-the-ordinary supermarket where I managed to get 90m of foil, 30m of clingfilm, a 7kg vice, 2 amazing fishing rods, and lots of fishing weights and hooks. The list of peculiar objects I want is ever growing but at least now I am acquiring some things. Fingers crossed tomorrow will bring the arrival of my catalogue order.
# 1 [4 April 2008]
I arrived in my humble and beautiful new abode only a matter of days ago, on the 31st of March. My journey across the sea was easy but made difficult by the weight of all of my luggage. The decision to carry all 57kg of tools, materials and general necessities was quickly reassessed as I attempted a five minute walk between two stations in Lille. At my final destination at Valenciennes train station I was greeted by Bernard Draux (technician at L'H du Siege) in a white van, who helpfully took all my stuff and drove me to the studio/exhibition space.
Greeted by two huge wooden doors opening out into wonderfully patterned brick courtyard, I am quickly introduced to all of the staff. The realisation of language barriers dawns but is not a big problem. A saviour in the form of Elodie Boutry, the previous artist in residence at L’H du Siege, who speaks good English, helped and befriended me quickly.
The last couple of days have been filled with activity from the arrival, and now departure, of 15 people from many different artistic establishments across the UK. The three day trip discussed artist run space on both side of the channel and was an enlightening and invaluable opportunity. I have witnessed many artists’ different practices as well as visiting some amazing spaces and meeting some lovely people. The trip was funded by NAN and organised by Fabrica, a visual arts organisation based in a former Regency church in Brighton. (Please check www.fabrica.org.uk for more information).
Now it is all over I am looking forward to some calm time and producing some new work. I have managed to order some strange and excitement materials from a catalogue. I don’t think it is ever wise to give an artist an 1138pg catalogue followed by the statement “you can order what you like from this”.
My initial and current feeling is an overwhelming sense of excitement. I feel so fortunate to be given this opportunity and can not wait to start making work. I have a meeting with Philippe Bétrancourt (Président de l'Association) and Pascal Pesez (Administrateur & Chargé de la programmation) on Monday to discuss my time at L’H du Siege.
L’H du Siege is founded by Acte de Naissance in 1996 and is housed in a former joinery in Valenciennes. The space comprises a gallery, artist’s workshops and a livework studio for artists in residency. They are dedicated to the development and promotion of contemporary art and the support of artist through a programme of exhibitions and residencies. Please check www.hdusiege.org for more information.
I am a sculptor/installation artist. I graduated from the University of Brighton in 2006 with first class honours. Since then I have continued my artist practice and have taken part in several shows through out the UK. I strive to produce work that provides an experience that is thought provoking and encourages communication. My practice is driven by the notion that we can surpass our perceived limitation through simulating our imagination.