“Residencies are really important – they allow time for the development of work in a supportive environment which in turn allows for a certain amount of freedom to experiment and open up research into new directions.”

Hackney-based artist Ruth Proctor is discussing her appointment as artist in residence at the newly opened John Jones Arts Building in Finsbury Park, north London. The six-month residency, which is currently offered by invitation as part of the organisation’s Project Space programme, is aimed at supporting emerging artists in London. Its emphasis is as much on process and collaboration as the production of new work.

“I was invited to take part by Project Space Curator Cassandra Needham,” explains Proctor. “We met earlier in the year and I didn’t have a studio at the time so it was perfect timing for me. The focus of the residency is definitely on supporting an artist’s practice, and process is very much part of it, but as I’m the first artist to participate I think the idea is very much open to see what works.”

Working with artists

Perhaps best known to artists for its framing and gallery services, John Jones established the Project Space in 2003 as a non-commercial gallery aimed at supporting and showcasing unrepresented artists. The move in June to a new £10 million headquarters designed by David Gallagher Associates has enabled an increase in scope for the Project Space, which now incorporates a purpose-built artist’s residency studio for the first time.

Alongside the residency, the Project Space will also host a series of exhibitions, having launched with Teresa Gillespie’s show Return to the borderland bends. There will also be events and community outreach activities under the curation of Cassandra Needham, who has previously worked at Nottingham Contemporary, Serpentine Gallery and Whitechapel Gallery.

“This residency has grown out of an informal programme which developed over the years, from artists asking to work within the premises,” explains Needham. “The organisation really enjoys working with artists, and having an artist based in the building brings a different type of creativity into our mix.”

As well as the practical support of a studio space and bursary for materials, the residency also offers the opportunity to collaborate with the craftspeople who work at John Jones, and to engage with the local community around the Finsbury Park area.

“We feel that artists can gain very useful knowledge from the craftsmen based here and we actively encourage these kinds of crossovers,” says Needham.

“We also want to create a cultural hub here in Finsbury Park and bring art to the community, and we believe that one of the best ways of creating an understanding of contemporary art practice is through artists discussing their work with the community, so we are actively encouraging the artist in residence to engage with the local community. I hope that this enables a deeper understanding of the creative process.”

Access to support

Proctor works with a variety of media, and exhibited works often incorporate film, performance and installation. An early training as an ice skater perhaps in part explains her interest in the ‘performer as spectacle’ and how the body can command the attention of an audience through movement and form. Her 2012 performance, If the sky falls, saw Proctor lead spectators with a trail of blue smoke on a tour through the streets of the Whitechapel district of London.

In terms of the residency at John Jones, Proctor says the direction her work will take is still open. “I am often influenced by the surrounding environment or situations where I make work, so I imagine I will spend a period of time developing links to people in the building and the area and then see where that takes me. I have certain projects that I’m currently working on and so these will be my starting point.”

While the residency will culminate with an exhibition or series of events in the Project Space in January next year, for Proctor it’s very much the process involved in the residency, and the support it offers, that’s key.

“There will be an exhibition coinciding with the end of the residency in which I will be showing work made during the residency period, but for me it’s the time and space the residency offers that is important – and the opportunity to work in my home town with access to support and facilities that are available within the building.”

Ruth Proctor is artist in residence at John Jones Project Space until 15 January 2015.