Hack & Host hosted weekly conversations in the lead up to the 2017 General Election. Each conversation featured three Hack & Host members and will focus on set themes. These conversations fed into a “Thrash Out” debate titled “Artists as Political Activists”.



April 2017



Hack & Host will host weekly conversations in the lead up to the 2017 General Election. Each conversation will feature three Hack & Host members and will focus on set themes. These conversations will feed into a “Thrash Out” debate titled “Artists as Political Activists”.

Sign up to our FREE series of events leading up to the general election here:



A series of four debates/conversations in the lead up to the general election. Each week we will focus on a different theme: Politics and Humour; Urban and Political Landscapes; and Design, Culture and Communication. The conversations will conclude with a final debate titled Thrash Out: Artists as Political Activists. Three of our artists will discuss the role of artists in relation to each week’s theme. The final debate will feature all nine artists. Come debate with us!

Do you have something to say about the snap general election, or do you have a case of voter apathy? Each evening will be interactive. Expect audience participation, props, games and limited edition artist-made goodie bags.



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Sitting down at my first Thrash Out debate, I felt like a fraud.  Hardly a public speaker and never one to comment on something without authority or thorough research it seemed unclear what I could contribute. I’d become somewhat passive to the recent uncertain political landscape after being deeply wounded by Brexit, and as a result, disinterested in the snap election. The artistic context for the debate made me uncomfortable furthermore, as my work doesn’t feel remotely political. As a background to my practice, I am a graphic artist interested in vernacular design, decoration and all things ethnography. This is supported with work delivering art projects focused on community and public engagement, as to not live an insular artist life in a studio.

The theme for the talk was Design, Culture and Communication. Having studied graphic design instead of fine art, I felt confident in my knowledge when it came to design and communication. However, the organic conversation meandered away from the safety of the questions about colours, fonts and campaign graphics. The host, Paul Collinson, lead me to account my experience on a recent commission I’d done for Hull City of Culture, two large scale murals on Hessle Road named Terrace Enders. It became clear that the large, public murals, which serve as lasting tributes to the area’s rich fishing heritage and strong sense of community, were more than just artworks. They were monuments for a community that had been repeatedly torn apart and an area that had declined alongside it’s fishing industry. Every day we painted, we were approached by locals who shared stories of loved ones who lost their lives at sea. The launch was an emotional day, with tears shed as the road finally had a visual homage to its past. Through accounting the project, the debate room challenged my original apathy towards engaging with political art, and rightly so.


Terrace Enders, mural by Kev Largey and Lydia Caprani. Photo Credit: Tom Arron


Murals are a form of communication intended to share opinions to the masses, and using such a public outlet to express an idea that is about society in some way, must surely be considered political. Historically, they are intended to be, with Belfast’s own tradition of murals taking on Ireland’s complicated political and religious divisions through art. Using murals as a medium, combined with publicly expressing ideas, will result in work that is inadvertently political, and considering this was liberating to my practice. ‘Political’ had always been a dirty word to me. Having a voice to your artwork isn’t self-indulgent, it’s the purpose.  Artists are idea-makers and, subsequently, activists through sharing.


Going forward from the debates, I am continuing my research into my interests, but now embracing wider themes that I may have previously shied away from. Back in 2014, I received a grant to go to Europe and explore what lay behind my interest in decoration primarily found in folk art (something that contradicted my graphic designer self, where every element must communicate and contribute to the design.) Through this I was enlightened with the undercurrent theme of creativity as a tool of empowerment, personal and cultural expression and community cohesion. And whilst this put me on course for community engagement work, the introvert in me continued to create pitiful amounts of safe work, instead of digging deeper into the themes present. This will change now thanks to the self-reflection of my work in a wider context, enforced in the debates. There is more under the surface of my surface patterns.


Lydia Caprani


Lydia Caprani is a Hull-based artist and designer, with a background in public engagement and community arts.
She is co-creator of Hull Print Fair and an associate artist of Hack & Host. Website: Lydiacaprani.com Instagram: @lydiacapri



Indifference Is Not an Option & Doorstep proposal (2017) Reflective pieces on the debates exhibited in the Hack & Host Campaign Shop. Photo Credit: Jenni Clunksey


My name is Fraser Briggs and I have been asked to blog about my involvement in the Artist as Activist talks that Hack and Host did earlier this year.


I make shit out of shit.



I first became involved Hack and Host in 2015 after graduating. I had made a lot of DIY kits for people to create their own piece of art (droll, I know) for my degree show. One of the directors thought they could be a good starting point for conversation so I ended up making stupid things for H&H.


As with most of my practice, almost all my work starts life as some kind of bad joke. I was tasked with making bad jokes about politics…


As with most of my work I tried to find the sweet spot between irony and sincerity. It’s all very well making jokes about politicians being evil devil worshipers but I wanted subtlety. If for no other reason then so that I could hide behind a veil of vagueness should my decisions be questioned and explored; I’m apathetic and ill informed so dread all conversation surrounding party politics.


I was surprised how quickly my disinterest dulled over the course of these talks and not just because I had to actually research to save potential embarrassment in open debates (I didn’t actually research). I realized that I had more of an opinion than I first thought. Being part of this project also made me realize that presenting my opinion in a polite and measured way might not actually be the worst possible thing for someone to experience. Each panel discussion seemed a success as at no point were there any large scale shouting matches. I’m not saying that I now hold the key to breaking down politics in conversation but maybe those who lead with, ‘the witch is dead’ or ‘hippy scum’ could reach more people if they readdressed their approach?



In the Politics and Humour pack there was the ‘VOTEr apathy maTRIX’ activity. To complete this task you were expected to cut out images of each party leaders face and place it on the chart depending on your feelings towards them. Needles to say, the scales were not in either leaders favour.





In the Design and Communication pack there was a drawing exercise called ‘BUSSTOPLYINGpls’ in which you could write a message on the side of a campaign bus. I don’t think this needs further explanation…




In the Urban and Political Landscape Pack there was an activity which consisted of shading areas on a local map that you could no longer afford to: live, eat, shop or drink. This accompanied the longest of the discussions as gentrification is a bit of a sore topic in Hull right now. The talk was held at Studio Eleven Gallery space on Humber St, which is one of two galleries that are battling to keep a foothold in an area that has experienced about 10 years of gentrification in 8 months.




In the Thrash Out pack there was an activity called ‘EAT THE RICH AND THOSE RICH IN HUMANITARIAN VALUES’. All this involved was eating the faces of Jeremy Corbyn and Theresa May printed on rice paper. What more can I say?





If this seemed pointless to you, I can only apologize. I am by far the last person who should be writing blog entries. Thanks for persevering.


Fraser Briggs

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On Tuesday 5th December we open our Campaign Shop on Pier Street in Hull. This exhibition and the manifesto that we will present in it are the result of our ‘Thrash Out’ series of debates or conversations, funded by an a-n bursary.

The exhibition has kindly been funded by a Hull City Arts grant.


Where are we now?

Our Hack & Host a.n “Artist-led Group Bursary” funded project kicked off on Friday 12th May. The intention of the project, titled “Thrash Out: Artists as Political Activists” is to explore the notion of the artist as political activist. After being pushed back, and pulled forward again as a result of the snap general election, the project has crept up on us very quickly. The a.n bursary for Artist-led Groups that we received in April set out to support artists who were asking questions such as “Where are we now? And where next?” At this moment in time, these questions are most definitely on the lips of many artists. With Brexit Britain and phenomena such as the rise of the alt-right, we are certainly living in a time of huge uncertainty.

Artists and artists’ groups are continually adapting to navigate turbulent cultural and political landscapes.  Creative strategies and approaches are employed by artists, as many in Hull are demonstrating as they navigate the capitalist landscapes of developers as well as Councils with slashed budgets and resources. A subject posed by a.n was how artists might reflect upon these landscapes?  As artists living and working in the world today, our work inevitably reflects these landscapes. Whilst commenting on the present through our works; we are very good at surviving and continuing to navigate landscapes in these times, but do our strategies go beyond this?

A very important point, which we touched upon in our first blog post, is that we (Hack & Host) are a group of artists working in a city that has been nominated the UK City of Culture for 2017. At this pivotal time for Hull, in our debates and discussions we are exploring the potential for art to change the physical and political landscape of a city. Crucially in this project we are looking at the current political landscape, translating it, and to taking it to different audiences, whilst also raising questions and creating a space for debate.

Our project “Thrash Out: Artists as Political Activists” consists of four conversations featuring three associated artists or directors of Hack & Host. The narratives that we are exploring are not only catered to the concerns and practices of the artists themselves, but also to the spaces that the debates are being presented in. Our intention is to dissect the strategies that the art community use to navigate landscapes. In our debates we also hope to help audiences understand the strategies used by the spaces that are hosting our events.

The first debate was held on Friday 12th May at Ground Gallery. Ground was set up in 2016 by a group of Newcastle University graduates. The space consists of a gallery and workshop, with studios on the first and second floors of the building. The gallery is brimming with creative energy – each member of Ground has practices in their own right. Following the progress of the space as it was being transformed from a disused office into something habitable and domestic; we have begun to understand the building’s interior as an artwork in itself. The walls are coated in a palimpsest of collages, and intricate, sometimes psychedelic murals and are evidence of what has occurred in the gallery space since its opening midway through 2016. Bicycle wheel planters are suspended from the ceiling like chandeliers; rafters are uncovered and painted in unexpected colours and foliage cascades in the shop-front style façade.

On a whole, their activities would suggest that the artists running Ground gallery are left-leaning. On learning of Hull 2017’s part sponsorship by BP, Ground posted a statement on their social media feeds expressing their discomfort. The statement was later withdrawn as it did not reflect the feelings of the whole group. On discussing the aims of the space, two of the founders of Ground collective, Lilly Williams and Louis Dorton gave this statement:


“Ground is a collective of individuals with very different ideologies and ways of being, but many of us identify as both artists and activists. Art can express our distress, can communicate ideas, can be a tool in direct action, can build the future, can help us heal ourselves and our communities… art lets us play, as resistance, as experiment and for fun. At the moment Ground is involved with Mad Pride and War Stops Here and loves to support the environmental and free software movements.”


Going on to discuss their perception of the place that Ground occupies in Hull at this moment in time, the pair state:


“Our place in Hull will be different depending on who you ask, but I think Ground has become a meeting place for art, music, thought, social engagement, activism, communal care… a place for cross pollination between communities…


Ground also serves to disseminate information by way of zines, talks, workshops, books etc and we exhibit work by a wide variety of artists, trained and untrained, from near and from far off!” [1]


It is fitting that our first discussion based around artists’ use of humour to negotiate politics was held there.  It is perhaps a sign of our fraught times that the conversation was somewhat lacking humour.

The second discussion was held on Friday 19th May at Studio Eleven – a gallery, studio and workshop space based on Humber Street in Hull. Humber Street is currently subject to a major £80m regeneration scheme orchestrated by Wykeland Beal. Wykeland outlines on its website that:


“The combination will create a distinctive area in the region with a character and atmosphere similar to places such as Seven Dials and Shoreditch in London”[2]


Studio Eleven, Kingston Art Group or KAG, the Museum of Club Culture and Oresome Jewellery were trailblazers in setting up creative spaces on Humber Street. Each of these groups was given a building by Hull City Council between 2009 and 2010. Studio Eleven were supported by Yorkshire Forward and at the time the buildings were managed by NPS. After the financial crash Yorkshire Forward stopped operating, and since then, Wykeland took over the regeneration of the area.

Adele Howitt, Director and co-founder of Studio Eleven set up the space to provide affordable studios for artists and enthusiasts and to provide access to specialist equipment as there was a lack of anything like that in Hull. Howitt explains:


“A lot of other cities have those provisions, and Hull really stuck out as not having that… also we [Adele originally set up the space with fellow artist Rob Moore] both wanted a good studio space to grow work and build work properly, rather than relying on some other space.”


It is clear here that artists certainly have the ability to adapt to change. When asked whether she thought artists should have a responsibility to be political, Howitt answered:


“It depends on what sort of artist you are. You can be political in different ways. You can be political in trying to work with councils to lobby for better spaces for artists.”

(personal communication, 11 May 2017)


Studio Eleven was recently asked to move to number twelve Humber Street due to safety concerns about the old space. It is to some extent telling that the back of the old space will be knocked down to make way for a new residential development as part of the Humber Street regeneration. The rebuilt space next door is half the size of the previous space, and does not overlie the assigned space for the residential development.  It is appropriate then, that in our second conversation which was held at Studio Eleven, we explored urban and political landscapes. Where better to have this discussion in Hull?

The third debate will take place at Artlink Centre for Community Arts, a gallery and community space situated on a bustling street in Hull packed with independent bars and cafes  and outside of the remit of developers. Established in 1982, Artlink is one of Hull’s veteran arts spaces. Since then it has focused on disability arts workshops, projects and advocacy; working as an access agency; a community gallery; and as a partner to Sure Start agencies across Hull. As well as this, Artlink manages public realm projects and two of its own small gallery spaces. Artlink’s mandate states “quality arts provision” as being a key aim. Last year it exhibited three reputable John Moores painting prize alumni, and in 2017 Artlink has put on exhibitions including a retrospective of the Hull artist Martyn Chalk, as well as this year’s Adam Reynolds Memorial Bursary.

Asked to consider Artlink’s purpose in Hull during the 2017 UK City of Culture year, Rachel French, manager of Artlink’s new “Square Peg” programme considered:


“During 2017 we’d decided that in the “Roots and Routes” season [programmed by Hull 2017] we would revisit our roots as a disability arts organisation. This developed into a year-long disability arts programme funded by 2017. Hull 2017 gave us £150,000 to run ‘Square Peg’.


I think that 2017 is encouraging us as an organisation to re-evaluate our place. Through the funding they’ve given us, we can demonstrate what Artlink is capable of.”

(personal communication, 15 May 2017)


Artlink recently installed the new Wilberforce trail in Hull City Centre. As a space invested in access and accessibility, especially in communities with barriers to the arts, Artlink is a fitting venue for our third discussion, in which we will be exploring “Design, Culture and Communication”.

The culmination of these debates is taking place at Humber Street Gallery, Hull 2017’s new pop up space, which is showcasing world-class international artists throughout Hull’s year in the spotlight. When asked what Humber Street Gallery’s place in Hull during the City of Culture year, the gallery’s assistant curator Kate West explained:


“I think it puts Hull on the national map for offering high quality contemporary art exhibitions. A lot of the programme this year is quite varied and that’s because we wanted to develop relationships with groups like “Film and Video Umbrella”, the “Crafts Council” and “Magnum [Photos]”. Because that’s the kind of show we wanted to get here. They do a lot of touring shows.


I think that it’s good because we wanted to have this level of show on the doorstep of Hull School of Art and Design students. It’s also good because we’re getting the Turner Prize [at the Ferens in Hull] so it’s good to have this type of contemporary art in Hull before that. So it isn’t just thrust upon people.”


Humber Street Gallery is currently being funded and supported by Hull 2017. When asked if the gallery would continue in some form after 2017, or if there would be a legacy, West responded:


“I don’t know it’s hard… We are definitely supported by the Arts Council. They are very supportive of the space and what it does for Hull. It is one of the key projects that they want to keep running for 2017 and beyond. There is a separate company creating a feasibility study to look at finances, visitor numbers, funding and staffing to see if it’s a viable option for it to remain open.”

(personal communication, 20 May 2017)


Humber Street Gallery is the biggest space; we expect to have more visitor numbers for our final debate there. This debate will also be more interactive, with a larger panel of Hack & Host artists.

Each of these events is open to our peer network and the wider public. Our project is aimed at benefiting our peer network as well as our group. Our discussions are open and we appreciate feedback. This project is also designed to evaluate the strategies and viewpoints of the wider artistic community in Hull when considering the potential role of artists as political activists.

Through these debates our aim is to shed light on the stance of Hull’s artistic community regarding important questions in these turbulent times, such as “do artists have a responsibility to challenge the status quo?” As well as creating the platform for conversation; through the four debates we will demonstrate how these wider audiences might become activists using their own skill sets.

What strategies might be needed for artists to negotiate our times? Do we wish to negotiate the times, or to change them? Spaces such as Studio Eleven and Artlink do not identify as activists in the traditional sense of the word, but the artists and creatives that run them are without doubt changing the landscape of Hull. In a recent conversation, our chair Paul Collinson considered “If you want to be an activist, maybe you should go out and do something…” We found this statement evocative and exciting. Putting on this series of conversations, we at Hack & Host are certainly doing something.

Conversations are very important. The subjects that we are discussing in these talks will go on to inform a series of new works by Hack & Host artists, commissioned for a group exhibition later in the year. This remains the intention of the project; however it is becoming clear that the project has the potential of leading on to more than this. It may be that a series of outcomes are reached as another conclusion of this project. We have discussed recording these outcomes and emailing them to audiences that have attended the events. For example making conclusions such as “this is what we are going to do…” and “this is what we can do…” We have considered creating a manifesto. In many ways the aim of these talks is to gather data. It is becoming clear that many artists in Hull identify as activists. Whether you identify as an activist or not, effecting change is ultimately what will transform current landscapes.


Clare Holdstock




[1] Clare Holdstock, Louis Dorton and Lilly Williams [email interview], 14 May 2017

[2] ‘Hull’s Fruitmarket Flourishes as Wykeland Reveals its Vision for Humber Street as a Home for Independent Brands’, http://wykeland.co.uk/news/hulls-fruit-market-flourishes-wykeland-reveals-vision-humber-street-home-independent-brands/ (Accessed 16 May 2017)