It’s been over a month since the fruit factory trip to Sheffield, and in the intervening weeks I’ve had time to reflect on many aspects of resilience in my own life and arts practice, not to mention assimilate the learning from the various encounters we made in the city…
“What does it mean to be resilient? This is not just a philosophical question or ethical call to reflect upon our own individual strengths and weaknesses. It is a deeply political question being asked by ideologues and policy makers who want us to abandon the dream of ever achieving security and embrace danger as a condition of life.” (Smizz, writing in YVAN & Corridor8 (ed.), 2019, Resilience is Futile)
The above quote comes from a YVAN publication Resilience is Futile, that I picked up whilst at Bloc Projects, Sheffield with Fruit Factory Network in August. Bloc was established in 2002, and combines a gallery, studio complex and multi-stranded educational/public engagement activities. What impressed me about Bloc was that they knew what they were offering and to whom, and did it well. I particularly enjoyed chatting with artist Bryan Eccleshall, (Drawing Tutor at OCA), painting in his bloc studio – thanks for sharing your time, work in progress, and professional experience with us Bryan!
Do what you can, not what you can’t…
Whist in Sheffield, we also visited S1 Art Space, a converted carpark, housing Artists’ studios and a gallery / workshop space on the Grade II listed Park Hill Estate. Fraught with social politics, the Brutalist architecture of the Park Hill Estate provoked mixed feelings, and pertinent questions amongst many in the Fruit Factory group when we visited. Although S1 had welcomed the challenges of involving the new estate communities in their art provision, their exhibitions and workshops took the approach of archiving the history and experiences of the community, rather than a more overt socially engaged arts agenda. My activist side couldn’t help but wonder if the arts could offer more than archiving the nature of a community. However, it became clear during our visit that the focus of S1 on artist led studio spaces put the public facing side of their work into better perspective.
Providing studio space for over 20 early career creatives and the Sheffield Hallam Fine Art PhD studios, S1’s studio provision revealed a well thought through progression for emerging artists providing subsidised spaces, opportunities and supportive networks. In their informative talk S1 were clear about their reasons for relocating to the Park Hill site, and had set realistic, achievable goals for community involvement, outreach and artist provision. In the increasing complexity of all of our networks and communities, where inequalities, injustices and complexities co-exist with pockets of good provision, this skill of identifying what you, your art practice (socially-engaged or otherwise) or your collective can do in a setting and doing it well seems a timely reminder.
The encounters and conversations facilitated through the Fruit Factory visit to Sheffield helped me realise the importance of identifying what it is I can do, and what changes and resources I need to make that happen well. It also demonstrated that whilst, in many ways the resilience required of so many in today’s society (artists and creatives included) may indeed in some ways be futile, artist led communities can play a vital role in mutual support, shared resources and peer encouragement to effect not just survival, but also, gradual, positive change.
For more information:
- For more on Brutalist Archetecture
- Creative Conversations – Bryan Eccleshall
- To read the full text of YVAN’s Resilience is Futile
- Bloc Projects Website
- S1 ArtSpace
- Artist Mandy Payne spent many years painting the Park Hill Estate, Sheffield, see some of her work here: https://mandypayneart.co.uk
Yesterday’s trip to Leeds with the Fruit Factory Network had, for me, an overarching theme:
Artists making spaces
East Street Arts, make spaces happen for artists to work, live and engage with communities in. Their inclusive, can-do attitude pervaded the informative tour and the openness with which they responded to our questions. It seemed to me that they knew their communities – both the creatives who engaged with their spaces/networks and the social concerns of the wider communities of different areas of the city. Their work actively seeks to break down barriers between arts and non-arts communities.
Some of East Street Arts socially engaged projects reminded me of the community engagement that is happening at Artlink, Hull. For example Sharon Darley’s ‘True Colours of Spring Bank’ (Hull) and other projects where artists engage with communities to co-create artworks that directly impact people’s lives. The key addition at East Street Arts was the focus on spaces – living and working spaces for artists within in a variety of sectors and locations. Their socially engaged artists Sophie Chapman and Kerri Jefferis for example, work within the community of Beeston whilst living on site in ‘Artists House no.45’.
Tetley’s Gallery, Leeds, grew out of two artists vision and hard work to make spaces for exhibitions. Currently showing work by Nikka Neelova in the main gallery space, The Tetley also work with school and community groups and offer residencies for emerging artists through their TAAP scheme. Their set-up and buildings are impressive. Their imposing spaces host weddings and parties as well as having ample room for contemporary art exhibitions. It felt like they had strong links with the other artist-led organisations within the city.
Our final stop was SERF arts – a space for artists to work together as a collective. Made up of over 25 artists who grouped together to source studio space, they also exhibit together and support each other to find venues elsewhere to exhibit. We attended SERF’s exhibition opening in Yorkshire Hub for the INDEX festival, where an impressive variety of work from 16 of their artists was displayed in a fantastic space. All of the artists we spoke to valued being part of the collective. By applying for exhibition space and other resources as a group rather than as individuals, SERF was able to access venues and generate cultural influence that would have been impractical for artists working alone.
A highlight of the SERF exhibition was Sunny Vowle‘s mesmerising kinetic sculpture “which was perhaps the reward of having cared” (2019). But the highlight of yesterday’s overall trip for me was meeting the folk at East Street Arts, which has provoked deeper thought about how I and other artists might make spaces work for us…
Their work has also set me pondering on how socially engaged practice can work sustainably for an artist and a community (where I am?); and how I might dream bigger dreams for my creative practice, seeking out the people and resources to hone, adapt and enable space for these dreams to become reality…
How can we be artists who make spaces – to work in… to exhibit in.. to dialogue and enable community in?
It was great to attend the inaugural meeting of a new arts venture ‘the Fruit Factory Network’ at Humber Street Gallery on Friday. Run in partnership with Absolutely Cultured, Hull College & IVE (Creative Innovative Supportive) the network will bring together Hull based artists to encounter and reflect on best practice in cultural venues across the North, thinking about how some of the learning might be transferred, adapted and applied to our own communities. Together with peer support and specific mentoring/masterclass sessions the network year is a great opportunity to collaborate with other artists on potential new ventures, and will culminate in a group exhibition in the project space at Humber Street Gallery. Speaking of which… I got chance before the first Fruit Factory meeting to take a look at Ella Dorton’s amazing work on show in the space right now –
Working in fabric and painted collage, Ella Dorton has brought together snippets of conversation, imaginary scenes of environmental decline, and portraits of a wide variety of people from within the community of Hull. Hung in a circle into which the viewer enters, her collages are detailed, challenging and poignant. Socially engaged art with a visually colourful and well-lit presentation. Well worth a visit if you are in the area. Ella Dorton’s Journey to the Centre of the Couch, and other good ideas is in Humber Street Gallery until July 7th 2019.