The sun was out today, at last, when I woke this morning after a week of snow and dirty skies in West Yorkshire. The ice is slowly melting, as the song goes.
I took the dog straight out for an early walk and as I walked, reflected on the last few days of planning, reading and thinking about using my a-n Re:view bursary.
For the bursary I identified three artists I respect working in Bradford and Leeds, across a spread of practices within broadly defined ‘socially engaged’ contexts both within and out with institutional frameworks:

Caroline Hick: Artist, curator and Fellow in Visual Arts at the University of Bradford,

Andy Abbott: Artist, musician and writer and Fellow in Music at the University of Bradford.

Sarah Spanton: Artist, director of Waymarking; former director of New Work Yorkshire; founder member of Leeds Creative Timebank.

Caroline Hick and Andy Abbott are collaborating on the upcoming exhibition ’Fieldworks: Co-researching Self-organised Culture’ :…

These are practitioners who I know and have worked with in various capacities in the past but whom I would not otherwise have the opportunity for structured and formal discussion about my work. I’m very grateful to a-n for the bursary which will enable me to do this.
I hope to gain from the experience of these practitioners to develop my knowledge of methodologies in participatory and collaborative working and co-research which I then can apply to my own projects; and to critically discuss ethics and politics of participation (including power, ownership, access, hierarchy, authorship) which will help me to identify the socio-political contexts I want to locate my practice (e.g. co-operative or critical in relation to market and state institutions ).
My first sessions are going to be with Andy Abbott in April, who I want to talk to among other things, about art, activism and DIY culture, aesthetics, ethics and the politics of participation – so this week I’ve been doing a bit of thinking and reading around these areas, mostly the following essays:

Claire Bishop’s essay ‘The Social Turn and Its Discontents’ downloadable here:…/clairebishop.pdf

‘Francis Alys: When Faith Moves Mountains’ an essay on his work by Jean Fisher

and” Lessons in Futility: Francis Alÿs and the Legacy of May ’68” Grant Kester.
(downloadable here)

As I walked this morning I thought about some of the ideas posited in the essays, particularly the arguments and counter arguments of Bishop and Kester around ethics and aesthetics of social practices and the nature of subjectivity. Is there, as Kester suggests, a

“privileging of dissensus over consensus, rupture and immediacy over continuity and duration, and distance over proximity, intimacy, or integration.” ?

I came home and waiting for porridge to cook, stumbled on Twitter across a link to Polly Toynbee’s column “Benefit cuts: Monday will be the day that defines this government” – a deeply depressing read about the government’s savage cuts that will push thousands of the UK’s poorest people into destitution.…

“…disability living allowance starts converting into personal independence payment with a target to remove 500,000 people in new Atos medical tests…. jobcentre staff are under orders to find any sanction to knock people off benefits. New obstacles are strewn in their path: people must apply for their benefits online from computers they don’t possess; many of these claimants are semi-literate. When in dire straits, there will be no more crisis loans, only a card for buying food, with not a penny for bus fares. Trussell Trust food banks expect a great surge of the hungry, so they ask everyone to donate the price of an Easter egg…On Monday the budget of Citizens Advice for such cases falls from £22m to £3m. The few emergency cases still covered – families facing instant eviction – can only use a phone service, not face-to-face legal help. Law centres will close. There will be no help on school exclusions, landlord or employer harassment, or failure to pay wages.”

Immediately none of the stuff about the nature of subjectivity or the ethics of participation seems to matter, or be relevant. How can art change this desperate situation? A friend tweeted me:”Its up to artists to dream a better alternative” But how?

The only response I can feel now is despair.


This morning brings confirmation of the inclusion of our gift circle proposal in the upcoming conference ‘Just Do(ing) It, Again: The Politics of DIY and Self-Organised Culture’ which is a ‘day of presentations, workshops, films and discussion about DIY culture and its social, political and economic resonances’ on
Saturday May 11th, 2013 at 1 in 12 Club, Bradford. ()

The context to the event is as follows:
“The first Just Do(ing) It conference happened in May 2011 at S1 Artspace, Sheffield. This second get-together aims to share experiences of, and critically reflect on, alternative, underground and marginal cultural practices with a particular focus on art, music and education. The event will take place at the legendary 1 in 12 Club in Bradford, one of Europe’s longest-running anarchist social centres. Over its three floors there will be a series of presentations, case studies, workshops, discussions and films with themes including ‘DIY, self-organisation and autonomy’. ‘punk and its discontents’, ‘collective case studies’, ‘the gift and poetry as radical gestures’, ‘artistic interventions’, ‘reclaiming labour and artisan production’ and more”

I’m looking forward to working with Ivan and Georgia Mack to run the gift circle for the first time (We’ll be doing it under the identifier of ‘Wur’ which takes our blog collectivity out into the real world, a good feeling) and I think the Symposium will be an interesting audience/group of participants to trial it to, and with. My hope would be for people to experience it at the event and then take it, use it and adapt it within their own communities and networks. The intrinsic simplicity, flexibility and democracy of the gift circle seems to me an ideal means of sharing skills and resources unencumbered by structure or hierarchy and, following some Twitter conversations about creative time banks this morning, has confirmed to me as I walk the dog, that these are our core values that will underpin any gift economy activity that we do, summed up perfectly by Ivan in a follow up comment to his Twitter gift blogost

“An environment (the gift circle) with as simple a structure as possible, means that all parties have to negotiate their own exchanges. They have to make their own judgements of value and discuss those with others. Other systems we have studied to facilitate moneyless exchange seem to have defaulted to hierarchies, structures, and third party brokering, and remain couched in the terminology of financial transactions (eg. timebank). With any systemic change it’s as important to change the semantics and terms of reference as much as it is to try to change the underlying thinking. We also believe that third party brokering of transactions absolves participants of having to relearn the crucial skills of exchange negotiation, doesn’t help to bring people together in communities, and retains the placing of relative values on services or time. The external placing of relative value on exchange is close to a continuation of monetary thinking under a softer guise”

This morning also brings an act of generosity from fellow a-n blogger Marion Michell( in the form of a lovely card and beautiful coin cosies. I sent Marion a copy of Issue 1 of my zine Reciprocity () back in December as part of a seasonal give away and Marion has sent me these lovely things in return. I’m so touched, as I love Marion’s work and writing. It’s a good reminder of how supportive and reciprocal the a-n artist talking community is, and what a good thing it has been for me to be part of it.

Finally this morning brings an email bearing good news – my application for an a-n Re;view bursary () been successful.
I am so delighted. This means I have the opportunity to gain formal and structured feedback on these and other projects from experienced practitioners – its going to be so valuable, particularly right now when there is so much going on in the way of projects, conversations, ideas, and collaborations. Thank you a-n!

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Today’s post is a catch up on skills exchange/gift economy activities. There has been a lot happening in this area over the last couple of weeks, and I want to capture the process and order before it disappears. It feels important to document this stuff – i.e. the mechanics of how actions, conversations, collaborations come about – because it reveals that these things are organic, dependent on open-ness, goodwill, risk and basically just trying things out.
The last time I posted on this was the meeting I had with Bradford creatives Ivan and Georgia Mack, a few weeks back – an exploratory conversation around shared interest in sharing and gift economy projects. We talked about gift circles as a flexible, real world way of sharing skills and resources, but also about experimenting with Twitter hashtags to explore the social media possibilities. Here’s an excerpt from Ivan’s blogpost on Wur Blog…

It’s important systems of gift giving are grounded in real world interactions between people in the same place as they help to build a sense of community. We wanted our gift circle to be
b:not web based but ‘real’
c:non hierarchical
d:minimum administration and hackable
e:no values placed on gifts

Plans are afoot to make this happen in the real world by meeting and talking and sharing, but we also realised that we might as well experiment with co-opting existing media to this end. The only risk is that nothing happens and we move on. With this in mind we propose the following tweet structure and hashtag for bradford skills exchange.

OFFER: (insert skill here) #BDskillx
NEED: (insert need) #BDskillx

The hashtag has so far has limited uptake in people using it to actually exchange skills, but what has happened is that is has generated interest and conversation on twitter from people within our creative networks which has led to the beginnings of a ‘real world’ collective.
I recently did a skills exchange with Bradford based photographer Adam Simons in which Adam gave me a refresher session in manual camera use in return for some advice about exhibiting (blogged here on Wur…)
Last Thursday on Twitter, Adam, Ivan and I were talking about the best place to get film developed – this then sparked a discussion with other Bradford creatives joining in – about the possibility of setting up a collective dark room- which we could all run and use together. The enthusiasm and excitement for this idea was palpable, so we decided to fix a date for a meeting as soon as possible.
So six of us (@simon cantrill, @impgalleryanne, @bpmonkey, @SkylightSwift and @adamsimonstweet and @jeanmcewan ) met last night for an early evening drink to talk through the possibilities.

We all agreed that what we want a is sustainable model , a darkroom which we can run as a collective which is permanent, accessible and affordable. We talked about various options for spaces within and outside Bradford city centre, and some possible sources of equipment. We agreed that we would begin as a collective of six , set up a space, and then look at how we might grow – in terms of other members, and workshops and other projects. We’re going to meet again soon to make some decisions about space and to get this thing off the ground as soon as possible. Exciting.


It’s been a busy couple of weeks with various projects progressing – lots of meetings, events and communications going on, andin the middle of it, the death of my laptop (r.i.p G4 ibook) so I haven’t had much time or opportunity to post for a while. I’ve found I’ve missed it – blogging here helps me organise my thoughts, reflect on my work and the process of writing always offers some new insight. Now feels like an exciting time, but also a little overwelming with all the ideas and projects and conversations… I feel like I need some time to reflect, take stock of all these different activities and try to find the connections between them. Some time for thinking, and space to consider methodology, and the direction and focus of my practice.

I’m going to try to post here this week on each of my projects to aid this reflective process.

So to start with, the collaborative blog is now up and running. It officially launched on March 1st and has six posts already which I am delighted about. I called it “Wur blog”. “Wur” in Scots means two things: “we are” and “our”. I had been struggling to find a name for the blog, and one day reading Eisenstein’s ‘Sacred Economics’ came across a discussion of WIR, the Swizz complementary currency system. A WIR/WUR rhyme took hold of my brain -since my Nana’s death Scots words are constantly lodging themselves in my head. The word seems a good fit – communicating the sense of collectivity, community and shared ownership that I would like all contributors to the blog to feel. I’m delighted to have almost 20 people as authors on the blog- who are a cross of artists and non-artists, with varying approaches and ideas to and about gift and reciprocity. It’s so exciting to have different voices (including a-n bloggers Kate Murdoch, Alinah Azedeh, Louise Atkinson Lee Gascoyne and Stuart Mayes) and to have the opportunity to bring these together in conversation. Already, just a few weeks into the blog, this is already happening. This is working just as I wanted it to- a democratic open sharing of ideas – I think of it as co-research. Please join the conversation! The blog can be found at