Visual art exhibitions and events with a platform for critical writing
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By: Franny Swann
A record of my footsteps as I negotiate the projects that come my way.
# 118 [23 April 2013]
So - everybody is still out there in the blog ether; such a good feeling. Thank you.
The last few days I have been feeling my way back, working a little and making forays to exhibitions.
Thursday I went to Battle to the PV of 'Transititions' – a photography exhibition staged by the Pure Art Group that has quietly begun to do more and more for Kent artists. Photography wouldn’t be my first choice for an exhibition an hour away but I went primarily because some of the participants are friends and acquaintances since working in Hastings last year and I fancied being in the company of artists again.
Driving back I mused on how I had approached the show. I know nothing about the finer technicalities of photography – so I could only approach it using the same critical and interrogatory techniques that I would use in a contemporary art show. Here it was deliberately curated with small name labels at almost floor level and was totally statement free.
I had to look and look and look again. No ‘asking’ the artist what they thought I was looking at. No clues. I found it strangely liberating.
I realised that when I approach an art show I still approach it in the way I did as an art history degree student many years ago - somewhat combatively- I will stay here until I have worked this out!
With photography I didn’t expect myself to know what I was looking at or to be able to make a meaningful contribution. In fact I spent most of my evening asking photographers about the work, asking basic questions and getting fascinating, complex answers. A lesson in there for sure.
# 117 [18 April 2013]
Well now. I feel rather diffident about coming back on here but it seems to be part of the deal for me. Work equals blog...and I haven't been working for months and months. Following on my last triumphant blog - I had found a lovely studio etc etc .....disaster.
My disabled mother became very ill, I had to give up the studio and she has since sadly died. Since then no studio that I can afford/get to without a season ticket has appeared and I am still hunting.... Everything is still up in the air - selling her home, probate etc etc and it eats into my think time and makes me restless; and the no studio thing.
My patient husband sighs and suggests I become resident artist in the Big Yellow Storage up the road and take all my junk with me. If only. So - enough is enough. The sun is out. I have suddenly become annoyed with my fellow artists having new work and new plans and I badly feel the need to be back at work. So - Plan A- to make a body of work based on six butterfly cases donated to me. The cases are old, decayed to dust in many places and to my eye quite glorious.
Things that have come out of my mother's death are a lot of revelations [she lost her family in the Holocaust], new relatives and old correspondence. A series of letters have emerged from a young Jewish girl called Margot - a school friend of my mother's - who wrote to her after being liberated from Belsen. Margot lives in my head at the moment as we try to unravel her history.
My broken butterfly specimens resonate with the vilolence and sadness of her unfolding story. It seems suddenly terribly important that this new piece of work be called 'Letters from Margot.' So be it. Back to work. Back to my blog.
Hello..hello if any of you are still out there
# 116 [15 November 2012]
Well now - I've got myself a London studio!
I looked at it and signed the deal yesterday, so all very new.
Art Hub Studios in the shadow of the Thames barrier. I now have access to every imaginable print process, a darkroom, a ceramic studio and framing!
.......and my Art Hub studios has links with Deptford x and our sister Art Hub Studio's Gallery at Creekside in Deptford. All good.
I have a lovely second floor solo space in the print studio block. Fifteeen print studios and another studio block over the way.
The studios are arranged around an open plan print studio with incredible equipment - most of which I will have to learn to use and some of which I have never even seen before.
Huge industrial buildings with a workman's cafe on the corner advertising boxing bouts! Walking distance to the Thames.
It is 25 mins straight drive down the A20 for me and has massive on-site parking.
Really no excuse for me not to use it properly.
A wonderful chance to learn new skills and reinvigorate my practice. I can't see me ever being a neat, clean printer but am up for using print in subversive ways. At college I did a huge amount of very free mono printing so maybe I will find my way back there.......
Maybe I should start by practising with white emboss. That way I can't get ink on the blankets and get railroaded out in the first week!
Now I have to hope I can move in before December 5th - when I lose my present studio. I have to wait until they finish refurbishing the etching studio and darkroom before I can move to my new one.
Thank you to everyone who sent me solutions and offered me storage.
A very much happier Franny!
# 115 [13 November 2012]
Studio update...offer of a damp one in a scenic stableyard with other studios. Currently occupied by a sculptor, so slight damp not a problem for them.
I am now looking into some of the London group studios. On the plus side it would bring me into the London art scene and reinvigorate my practice and give me new contacts. On the downside I am very unsure how I feel about driving over half an hour away to get to a studio.[ Mine was ten minutes down the road]
Will I use it or surreptitiously start working on things at home and using the studio as a store room- which is what happened in the winter with the previous one.
I have a feeling it would depend on the community in the new space. Some studios have huge amounts of artists and no contact point.
Meanwhile planning for our Sevenoaks Visual Arts Forum exhibition moves forward slowly. It is planned that it should have the ethos and the look of a pop up shop. Visitors will be invited to bring a new unwanted gift and leave it on a trestle table having written out a card explaining why it was unsatisfactory...in return they may take something else from the table having written a card telling us why they chose it.
As each gift is donated it will be photographed and the image together with the donaters and takers cards will be displayed on the wall.
A video of the SVAF members talking to camera about gift giving will play on the wall. A gift wrapping service will be provided.
Talking about gift giving in meetings has thrown up some real rants.. I am just hoping we can capture the passion on camera.
Too many presents, vouchers, reciept or no receipt? The hurt when people who should know better get it very wrong. Equality of the gift, how much is too much to spend? Getting a gift that someone has obviously not wanted themselves..re-gifting,giving money............
I know from my Collection Plate Project to expect the unexpected where exchange is involved.
It will be very interesting to see how the public view the exhibition and if they get on board.
We must be in the Zeitgeist though...Jerwood 's exhibition 'Now I Gotta Reason' says 'the exhibition content and events programme will build and develop over the course of the exhibition, exploring the activity and economy of exhibition making and systems of use value and exchange..'
Lot of it going on....
# 114 [9 November 2012]
My last post saying i was back on track must have tempted the Fates. Yesterday I learnt that all the artists in my studios are to be evicted. Four weeks to get out and find somewhere else to put all my paints and my carefully chosen paper, my bones and stones and postcards and clippings, my plinths and boxes, my framed work, my canvases, my 'I might get round to it' bits and pieces that only I would understand....
Makes me want to drive to Gatwick and get on a plane to the sun. And not bother coming back.
I refuse to be parted from my beautiful old plans chest. I waited so long for one. Only proper artists have a plans chest... and I do.
I think it and I will have to take refuge in a Big Yellow store box. I shall be the first Big Yellow artist in residence....or maybe I wouldn't be? Love the idea. Can I arrange it in four weeks?
Went to the Electron Studios in Hastings to drown my sorrows by helping Tina Brown put up her installation piece 'Excavating Babel'. Its huge. More to be done tomorrow...
Loved handling the books and watching it grow. I had no idea all the sizes had to fit and that each book was numbered. I am ashamed to say that when it was at Pushing Print I didn't look properly. All sorts of things to find.
Exhibition is part of Telling Stories which I am involved with. Good to meet up with new friends....
Tomorrow I am phoning a London studio block about half an hour away . Can I afford it is the big question, followed by how often will I go that far? Excited by the idea though, so maybe it was time for a new vista from the studio window?
# 113 [1 November 2012]
Well, here we are....back again!
Life does a lot of unexpected intervening but I am back on track for a while hopefully - until the Christamas festivities and all the planning and buying start eating into my precious art time.
I always think I am doing nothing very much but when I sit down to think about it I realise that actually I am... too much to put into one blog even.
Proposals - they take up so much time and consume your energy and if done jointly require patience and negotiating skills from the first word to the last.... however Sevenoaks Visual Forum have had their proposal for a Christmas exhibition in the Kaliedoscope Gallery accepted.
Should be fun. It's a contemporary, interactive installation examining the psychology of gift giving.
We realised quickly that people have strong views on what constitutes an obligation [time spent looking for presents, money spent etc]; what they read as sincerity, equality of effort, regifting, too many presents, things they hated from people who they thought understood them, vouchers, giving money.............I just hope we can capture some of that energy when members talk to camera for the video...
Last night the ghouls were about and your truly was deep in the Old Vic Tunnels under Waterloo station. Great location...huge spaces, if somewhat damp. I went to hear Rodrigo y Cabriella play guitar at the Day of the Dead Festival but was amazed to find great art everywhere. A real adrenaline rush if you're not expecting it!
Hew Locke had a full sized boat, Graciela Iturbide's her fabulous black and white photography, Nancy Fouts sculptures ironically re-presented Westen death iconography .... so much good stuff.
Of the music and performances the 'Theatre of the Dolls' stole my heart, and over us all hung huge paper Alebrijes [ imaginary beings] by the collective Le Gun...what a night.
Occasions like that fill up the art sump and take you places you hadn't choosen to go.
Am I the only one who finds it roosts somewhere in the brain and reappears, sometimes years later, quite unbidden?
Meanwhile I have a skull tatoo on my hand that was our entry mark - it is not coming off - and I have a meeting with the Arts Officer at 4pm.
Looks suitably edgy.
# 112 [14 October 2012]
Yesterday a trip to one of my favourite places.. Romney Marsh. A flat silt plain that until the 1950s was inhabited only by sheep. Across the long, flat vista can be seen Dungeness Power Station - promising me the wonders of Dungeness beach and the flotsam and jetsom that I love collecting so much.
Yesterday was the last of four weekends when five of the medieval marsh churches are open for Art in Romney Marsh which takes place each year. A mixture of site specific and curator invited art.
On a wet, windy day the glorious churches were a welcome haven and jewels in their own right. Two or three artists in each church and an invigilating artist to chat to. A highly recommended way of spending a Sunday next year.
Of the work, Michael Healey's floating pink globe that reflected the pale pink box pews of Old Romney church was a favorite. The pews were painted in the 1960's when Disney filmed there. Somehow it caught the gentle absudity of it all perfectly.
Julian Rowe's tiny sculptural installation reduced the historical coastal Martello Towers to a Hornby sized layout. Reducing these massive, confrontaional, military defences to a defenceless plan at my feet moved me.
My main reason for going was that Ros Barker - my art partner in the Farninghham Hobby Horse Project -was showing in St Mary in the Marsh church. Her finely worked boxes and pillow looked quite different in the ecclesiastical setting. They semed to hold some of the reverential silence. Maybe because they are so pale. Maybe because they speak of the past.
Extraordinary sometimes how work can feel so different in another setting. I wonder if the Tate curators sometimes look at something famous in its new exhibition space and feel it to be a different piece of art to the one they saw in New York/ Hamburg/Berlin?
# 111 [9 October 2012]
To Margate to Margate to visit the Turner...and collect my work from the Harbour Arm Gallery.
Dropped in to see my work in situ before it all came down. I thought it looked a bit bland, although I am told it doesn't. I'm rather confused. It has just had a double oak frame on it and the space and light couldn't have been better for it really. Odd. Needs thinking about.
Spent some time in the Turner with the new Alex Katz show. I do find this type of flat 'fashion shoot' art problematical...I feel the lack of emotion, poetry and darkness keenly. Even in the more painterly recent works - of water - they seem to lack some form of integrity that would have made me happy. Oddly in his choice of other artists - Sickert, Stubbs, Kleine... and so many dark, 1950's brown oils it was as if their darkness atoned for the lack of it in his works in the next room.
Best bits...a couple of wonderful Marlene Dumas and a John Hoyland crouched glowing in one corner. and a Turner hung so low that you could really study the way he held his brush.
In the foyer Maria Nepomunceno's woven installation had everyone clambering over it and lying in the hammock. It seemed so un-English to invite everyone to play in it; she is Brazilian.
In the town Bob and Roberta Smith's banners.
Then on to the Pushing Print exhibition run by friends of mine. Gets better and better every year. Really contemporary work out there. Enough to make me want to print again.
No new making going on here yet.
Daren't look at that or I will panic.
Having read Ruth Geldard's blog I shall take up a bit of leaf darning I think... maybe that will lead to something.....
# 110 [7 October 2012]
Back to Hastings this afternoon for our artists talks in the gallery. We were going to film it but for various reasons that didn't happen. Probably a good thing as these things sometimes are. Everyone was very relaxed, honest, and generous in their talks and the audience happy to ask questions.
It feels very much as if TS has forged a group for ourselves. Maybe filming would have changed that dynamic.
Listening to the artists was fascinating. Cathryn Kemp has been the director and curator throughout and invited her artists purely on the previous work she had seen.
Investing an amazing amount of trust in us all she then waited to see what we would all bring to the table under the banner Telling Stories:Hastings.
Incredibly the show works beautifully. I am told it was easy to hang and you realise why when listening to the artists talk. So many, many similar themes, parallel strands, empathetic connections, interwoven stories...
Lucinda's video sea piece raging against the death of a brother and the confusion of adoption, the perfection of Martins silent, cold, light filled interiors sliding round the family dynamic. Grace's beautiful images immortalising her models enacting their own deaths, Helda's lyrical video of his salt effigys with its strangely spiritual presence pervading the room. Cathryn's Victorian nightdress worn during a long, long spell in hospital - buried and unearthed in a archeological, forensic dig - a monochrome archive laid out with loving care. Xaverine's turbulent shredded personal photographic history knitted into a calm, silent relic in a museum case....
Every artist talk wound us closer and closer; Pat, Ray, Helen, Alex, Samantha, Tracy, me....
Actually a film of it would have been extrodinary. Writing about it makes me want to re-run it again. To feel again that sense of excitement as everything meshed together.
# 109 [4 October 2012]
a sock arrived in the post today.
Small size childs sock
And an added crochet top.
I love the bright green/red colour clash in it
But now I have to do something to it..
I hold it in my hand turning it over and over...the sock feels very small and rather vulnerable. Holding it begins to remind me of my own childrens clothing and of washing, rolling up and putting away all their little socks in half sized chests of drawers.
Then it comes to me- I work with memory and memorial. I will re-make the memory of sewing endless nametapes on their clothing.
I hunt for a name tape. Surely there must be one somewhere in the muddle that passes as a sewing drawer in this house. We used to have hundreds.So expensive were they that I used to order them HENRY SWANN OLIVIA - so I could tuck one name under and not have to order two sets.
I found one.
Inside the sock or out? I decide on out. It feels as though I am memorialisng part of their childhood and that the name tape should sit on it like that.
So I sew it on - with bright green thread which is art not school and chain stitch which is art not school. Intuative choices, only thought about that afterwards.
I photograph the sock again.
On the image it looks as though I have claimed it for my children. Name tapes saying of course that something is yours. Not their sock.
In time as its worked over that unintentional claim will look less brazen and I shall feel happier. Their name tape will still be there, the ghost of all those evenings in front of the television......
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My practice has evolved into interdisciplinary project work and I now call myself a multi-media project artist.
My work tends to be underpinned and referenced by memory and memorial; a citation to family members lost in the Holocaust.
It is important to me that within each project I solicit the freedom to be able to choose whichever media will best offer the viewer a multi layered narrative.