Taking some time to see what rises to the surface since returning from Jamestown NY a couple of weeks ago, and through reflecting talking with family friends and fellow artists, I’ve realised that its the conversation and relationships which are the lasting thing of value, and what I’ll be taking forward from the experience of being involved with the COLONIZE project. This seems as it should be, a good reminder that conversation is essentially what my practice is. Lately I keep coming back to this quote from Stephen Duncombe in his book “Notes From The Underground: Zines And the Politics of Underground Culture”
“People don’t contract their identity in a vacuum; they create who they are in conversation with others”
This gets close to why I’m trying to connect with people – to find meaning, to find out who ‘I’ am, to find out who ‘we’ are.The physical work I took out to Jamestown for the exhibition, ‘Recipe for Reciprocity’ (which was presented as a poster work and also an A5 giveaway) was intended to used as an opportunity to kickstart conversation about ideas of exchange, gift, generosity, and I was really happy that I was able to talk to lots f different people about their experiences of these ideas. Taking part in, and listening to formal and incidental conversations about community in Jamestown, It seems to me to be a town with a very open and supportive arts community. People there have an easy grace and generosity, which we experienced time and time again throughout our stay from everyone we met.
They key connections which felt the most important were with Debra Eck and Shannon Bessette.
As well as organising the project, and hosting, feeding, ferrying us about while we were out there, Debra was very generous with her time and conversation and we had many opportunities to for talking over the 14 day period… a gift to have this chance for extended, meandering recursive chats, about art and life. Although formally Debra works in some different ways from me (often sculpturally, with stitching, fabric and paper) I discovered that there are many areas of commonality between our practices.
Deb is also very interested in community – she founded Women Create, a collective of women artists in the Chatauqua area http://www.womencreate.org/history.html . She set up the group because she felt a gap, and felt a need to be part of a ‘continuum of a long tradition of women artists’ . Coming from a family of 4 sisters being part of a supportive female network was important. Ideas of support, democracy and equality are key to the group, which comprises of traditional makers and crafters, non professional and professional contemporary artists. We were lucky to catch the final day of the Women Create exhibition at the Reg Lenna Center in (http://reglenna.com/events/women-create-2014/) Jamestown and be part of the closing event, a convivial catered dinner within the gallery after which all the artists took down their work (a most excellent model for de-installing, one I would dearly like to use back here in the UK). Talking with some of the artists, I was struck and inspired by the lack of hierarchy, elitism and art snobbery within this diverse group of artists – something which in my experience tends to creep in even with the most avowedly ‘grassroots’ or ‘democratic’ of groups. I was also very happy to discover that Debra’s practice is also very informed by feminist and activist politics and histories – I was fascinated to talk to her about her post grad thesis on theand links between spiritualism and feminism in 19th Century America) and also to find out about some of her more political interventionist actions/work (more on this another time..)
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