Temporary studios can be a useful option for creating project-specific work.
Furtherafield develops projects for the mutual benefit of artists and other agencies. Coordinated by artists Leo Fitzmaurice and Neville Gabie, it emerged in response both to the needs of artists and to opportunities for them to develop projects in vacant flats in Liverpool tower blocks, which have served as a context and a platform for their work. With the demolition of the tower blocks, Furtherafield is currently considering where its future lies. The following four projects, which evolved over a five-year period, fall under the Furtherafield banner.
This profile forms part of a portfolio of material around studios including the studios toolkit - designed especially for artists thinking of setting up some kind of workspace facility - case studies of studio organisations at different stages of development and more.
Up In The Air, 1999-2000
Using four empty flats as accommodation and a further seven as studios, ten artists lived and worked in the Kenley Close tower block in Sheil Park, Liverpool, for six weeks. The artists, from a broad range of disciplines, were invited to respond to what they found there.
The empty flats were referred to as voids. They were anything but. Artists were able to work with a rich array of material, including: found items which were once the fabric of homes; the sprawling views, punctuated by other tower blocks across the city; the weather, seen approaching from miles away and heard howling around every stairwell; the remaining tower block residents, who helped to develop the unique character of the project.
Up In The Air was curated by artists Neville Gabie, Leo Fitzmaurice and Kelly Large. It was managed by these artists and Becky Shaw. The project was supported by the Year of the Artist, Liverpool Housing Action Trust (LHAT), CDS Housing and the residents of Sheil Park.
Further Up In The Air, 2001-2003
Further Up In The Air was a longer-term project evolving out of Up In The Air. Eighteen national and internationally recognised artists and writers were invited to participate in three phases of residencies. They were based at the Linosa Close tower block, the last block remaining at Sheil Park. At the conclusion of each phase there was an open weekend for the public. The residencies coincided with the last two years of Linosa Close. Prior to its being knocked down, the block was again opened to the public so that work from all of the artists involved could be seen. A publication was made documenting the project.
Migrant Office, 2004
In September 2004, the Further Up In The Air office, flat 22 Linosa Close, Sheil Park, was reconstructed at the Berlin Institute for Contemporary Art as part of the exhibition Shrinking Cities. It offered an archive of the artists projects hosted by the tower blocks on the Sheil Park estate. Migrant Office showed the accumulated documentation: photographs, catalogues, architects plans (of new and old accommodation), funding applications and letters. The office in flat 22 was presented as the last surviving physical remnant of a project that brought twenty-five artists to live and work within a North Liverpool community.
Furthermore... A Book Of Proposals, 2004
The Sheil Park tower blocks residents were resettled in new low-rise accommodation: moved on from brutalist concrete towers to an estate resembling a cosy mock-Victorian village. The 25 artists who participated in Up In The Air and Further Up In The Air were invited to suggest work for the new estate. Their responses were compiled for publication as Furthermore, a book of proposals. Launched in August 2004, the book reveals each artists thinking processes and includes the peripheral material they chose to submit.
Artists involved: Jordan Baseman, Vittorio Bergamaschi, Catherine Bertola, Marcus Coates, Bill Drummond, Leo Fitzmaurice, Anna Fox, Neville Gabie, Stefan Gec, Lothar Gotz, Grennan&Sperandio, Dirk Konigsfeld, Kelly Large, David Mabb, Gary Perkins, Philip Reilly, Paul Rooney, Becky Shaw, Julian Stallabrass, Chloe Steele, Greg Streak, Tom Woolford, Elizabeth Wright.
The last residents have moved into their new homes at Sheil Park. Desirable close properties sandwiched between the neglected areas Kensington and Anfield in the north of the city. Within secure perimeter fences, the estate could be seen as a village oasis or a kind of open prison complex. Characterised by the vacancy of a dormitory town but surrounded by the menace of an inner city. In terms of regeneration too the development could be seen a first flush of spring in an area of permanent winter. A new physical landscape, populated by an unchanging community. A new dawn that seems oddly incongruous to the elderly population.
Now that the tower block projects are over, Im between studios, working from home, having used a three bedroom flat on the Sheil Park estate as a studio for the last five years. The demolition company is, finally, on site knocking down the last block. When the project started, as Up In The Air, we imagined it would be a one-off. Up In The Air evolved, though, into Further Up In The Air which, in turn, led on to Migrant Office and Furthermore. We have now created Furtherafield; an identity that wont limit us to just working in tower blocks.
The project was originated by three artists myself, Neville Gabie and Kelly Large as just an opportunistic way of getting to make work in an interesting space. Id spent sixteen months in a disused psychiatric hospital in Chester, which made me aware of the effect that surroundings can have on your practice. Kelly had a history of working directly with people, in communities. Neville found out about the Sheil Park flats though someone who visited him in his studio while he was doing a Momart residency at Tate Liverpool.
There was some confusion about who had ownership of the flats, and the right to grant access. After months of meetings and a number of detours down blind alleys, we discovered it was the Liverpool Housing Action Trust (LHAT). They were initially nervous about letting twelve artists into a tower block without knowing quite what they would be doing, and they took a fair amount of persuading. We wanted to give artists the freedom to respond to the site however they wished, so we were reluctant to predict to LHAT what the outcomes might be. The key to getting the project off the ground was getting funding from the Year of the Artist. With that in place, we were able to demonstrate through the first series of commissions that you could take risks and produce interesting results.
We didnt want to constrain artists necessarily to produce site specific work. Some clearly did, but others made work that could be transferred elsewhere. Some completely changed their practice in response to the site, others brought their usual practice to an unfamiliar location. George Shaws work is always based on memory so, as he had no memories of Sheil Park when he arrived, he just came and lived. Since leaving he has made work which refers back to his experience there.
As Up In The Air unfolded, a relationship of trust developed and the housing trust, the estate residents and regional arts board were keen to see the project continue. We hadnt planned to extend the project but, as we had built up such good will, we thought why not?
The result was a rolling programme of residencies, in three phases. There were about six projects happening at any one time, which was enough for us to manage while maintaining a creative and supportive relationship with the artists. We had both an office and our own studio spaces in the block and spent our time between administration, working with the artists and developing our own practice.
When Further Up In The Air ended, in March 2003, we began to consider what kind of projects might be developed for the new estate the residents were transferring to. We invited the artists we had worked with to contribute ideas to a publication of open-ended proposals; visions that may or may not be realised. All but two responded. The people who now run the estate have not shown much interest and it is not clear that any will actually be realised. They remain up in the air, which is quite nice. Some of the artists are enthusiastic to get them off the ground and may apply for funding independently.
A continuing legacy of the project that started with Up In The Air is the Migrant Office weve contributed to Shrinking Cities an exhibition set up in Berlin by three German architects studying urban shrinkage in four locations around world experiencing population loss, including the Liverpool-Manchester area. It wouldnt have made sense for us to reproduce the art works made for the estate, so we chose instead to relocate our site office complete with press cuttings, artists proposals and funding applications not as an art work but as a project archive. We mocked up a facsimile space, filled with the original fittings, and manned it as a live office for the first week of the show. After Berlin, the exhibition is touring to Detroit and maybe to Bristol.
We are currently considering what to do next. We have had a lot of interest from other organisations wanting us to extend the project. Robert Loder of Triangle Arts Trust (which arranged for Up In The Air artists Paul Rooney and Catherine Bertola to do residencies in Cuba) has suggested that we consider setting up something similar in South Africa. We want to be very careful, though, about what we do and why. Neville Gabie is working in China at the moment, as a direct outcome of the project. When he comes back we will consider our options. Working with a specific location, a physical space, will not necessarily be what we do in the future; we could decide to develop online projects based on virtual locations. My practice at the moment is not site-related; it is more concerned with information and material than with place.
Open studios events in North West England
Artists @ Work: Cheshire Open Studios
Annual open studios event held each autumn across Cheshire.
Emma Hodge, Coordinator
Firbob & Peacock
76 King Street
Knutsford WA16 6ED
T/F: 01565 621156
Eden Open Studios
Annual open studios event held each spring/summer in the Eden district of Cumbria over several weekends.
Carol Chappelhow, Administrator
Penrith CA11 7TP
F: 01768 895920
Bankley House Studios
Annual open studios and exhibitions event held each winter.
Claire Tindale, Secretary
Manchester M19 3PP
0161 256 4143
Leo Fitzmaurice, artist and curator/co-coordinator of Furtherafield.
Leo Fitzmaurice, from an interview with Paul Glinkowski.
First published: a-n.co.uk March 2005
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