Wednesday, 8 October 2014

Karen Guthrie

Today's Visiting Artist Lecture was by Karen Guthrie, a freelance artist and film-maker, working on independently generated and commissioned projects solo and in collaboration with Nina Pope and their company, Somewhere.

Nina Pope and Karen Guthrie live and work in London and the Lake District respectively. After studying together at Edinburgh College of Art they completed MA's in London and began working together in 1995.

Their early career was marked by technological innovation combined with a socially-engaged and inclusive sensibility - for example, their live online travelogue A Hypertext Journal (1996) was an influential precursor of the blog.

In 2001 they formalised their collaboration as the not-for-profit arts practice Somewhere, their current work spans public art and film-making, and their focus remains on the widest possible application of creativity to enrich and inform public life.

Karen began talking about the fact that when she began her artistic career she was conscious that she didn't have a story to tell, and was an observer of others.

Along with her collaborator, Nina Pope, Karen has worked on numerous projects with other people, and they have produced films that document the lives of different groups.

"Jaywick Escapes is a documentary feature film which was shot in the Essex coastal town of Jaywick, England. Once the favourite holiday destination for London’s Eastenders, seaside Jaywick is now 'officially' the poorest place in the UK, suffering from unremittingly high levels of crime, unemployment, dependency and family breakdown. Yet, this decaying seaside resort casts a powerful spell over its inhabitants, drifters whose reasons to escape here are revealed in this darkly intimate portrait.

Shot across over a year, this sensitive film follows a handful of recent Jaywick arrivals as memories from their past holidays start to collide with the present. Contrasting with exquisitely shot footage of Jaywick’s extraordinarily characterful town-scape – a colorful homage to British DIY ingenuity despite its decay – are gritty observational scenes of the lives lived behind the closed doors of each seaside shack."

Guthrie spoke of how the film does not necessarily focus on 'big' events in someone's life, but the everyday "fringe stuff" that is where we lead our lives.

Her most recent film, The Closer We Get, "is a powerful and exquisitely-shot autobiographical portrait of loyalty, broken dreams and redemption told by its director, reluctantly-dutiful daughter Karen, who takes you under the skin of the household she returns to for this long goodbye.

Karen's mother Ann suffers a devastating stroke that brings her daughter back home when she least expects it. But Karen isn't the only one who returns to help care for Ann in the crisis: Her prodigal father Ian, separated from Ann for years, also reappears. Armed with her camera, Karen seizes this last chance to go under the skin of the family story before it's too late, to come to terms with the aftermath of the secret her father had tried - and failed - to keep from them all, and to find that Ann's stroke has in fact thrown them all a life raft.

With candour, warmth and much unexpected humour, Karen’s role as family confidante, busybody, therapist and spy brings to her audience both a compelling story and a unique portrait of contemporary family survival."

It seems that, just as her previous projects have given hope to the people she has worked with, working on this film has brought the family together, and despite the challenges of working crazy hours, juggling various commitments, and witnessing upsetting truths about people she loves, in making The Closer We Get, Karen has developed a relationship with her Mum that she would not otherwise have. This shows the true power of art.

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