Monday, 26 December 2016

Happy festive times and here's to a wonderful 2017

I would like to thank you for taking the time and making the effort to read my blog, and I hope that you find it enjoyable.

I would like to take this opportunity to pass on my Christmas greetings to you. I hope that 2017 fills you with happiness.

Over the next few blogs I will be looking back at 2016 and reviewing things that Ive been involved in. I will also be sharing some of what is in store for 2017.

Saturday, 24 December 2016

My contribution to No Niceties exhibition - collages

The 'No Niceties' exhibition featured works by a diverse group of artists, some based in Newcastle and the others from all over the country. They were united by the premise of the exhibition, namely to make a work in response to my recent publication, 'A lot can happen in fifteen minutes'. Some artists responded specifically to one of the texts within the publication, whereas other artists responded to the general themes of the publication.

I wanted to create a work that acted as a summary of the publication, and so I selected a key sentence or phrase from each text. I chose to use letters cut out from magazines to form the words, and then applied them directly to the walls in the gallery.

I scattered the texts around the gallery at varying heights and sometimes specifically positioned a sentence in relation to one of the other works.

Friday, 23 December 2016

My contribution to No Niceties exhibition - spoken word performance

In addition to all the responses from other artists to my publication, 'A lot can happen in 15 minutes', I used the 'No Niceties' exhibition as an opportunity to test out a couple of ideas relating to the text.

Given the success of the spoken word performances at the publication launch, I decided to create another to perform at 'No Niceties'.

My performance was scheduled after Stella's performance, so while everyone was focusing on Stella, my group of performers got into position, spreading out around the perimeter of the room, each facing the wall.

Once Stella's performance had finished, my performers gradually began whispering the phrase 'The ticking clock', a line from one of the texts within 'A lot can happen in fifteen minutes'. After a few minutes an assortment of other single sentences or phrases such as 'Desperately searching', 'You knew what to expect', and 'No explanation', were gradually introduced by all but one of the performers. This single performer repeated 'The ticking clock' throughout the performance, but the other performers varied the lines they were speaking.

As the performers changed the way in which they delivered their lines, increasing in volume and altering their tone, they also slowly moved backwards away from the wall and towards the centre of the room. They ended in a circle, each facing toward the audience with their back to the other performers.

As they neared the end of the performance, they became more softly spoken and returned to delivering the single line, 'The ticking clock'. At the point when there was some regularity and the performers were in tune with each other, I called out "No Niceties," marking the end of the performance.

My thanks go to the wonderful individuals who kindly agreed to perform this work with me.

Tuesday, 20 December 2016

Radio 4's 'Something Understood' ponders Is Art Good For Us?

In the latest episode of BBC Radio 4's Something Understood (Sunday 18th December 2016) "the poet Michael Symmons Roberts explores the idea that the arts are good for us - body and soul - and considers whether they can be both tonic and threat to society.
He says, "Art is as various as we are, and its moral weight and status is unstable, unpredictable. In times when people are losing trust in politics and religion, art can start to look like a replacement. But if we put too much of our moral weight and hope into art, we imperil it, and it can imperil us too."
Some of the great Victorian philanthropists thought art would benefit society and used their wealth to make art freely available to the masses. Whether or not the original Turner paintings offered in a Manchester museum,improved the lives of the working class is not evidenced, but the continued idea that the arts are of moral benefit persists.
Roberts offers the example of Ken Loach's groundbreaking film Cathy Come Home as a sign that society can be improved through the arts - along with the way Bob Dylan and others used their music to effect social change in the US during the 1960s.
But he also strikes a note of caution. "The arts can act as the conscience of the state, a challenging force for good. But they can equally be used as an instrument of propaganda. Whenever I hear the arts per se being touted as a positive moral and political force in society, I start to feel uneasy." Using evidence of Nazi propaganda from the Second World War, he also points out that a love of art is not necessarily an indication of a healthy morality.
Roberts concludes that art is not per se a good thing for us, but that he 'couldn't imagine, and wouldn't want to, a life without music or poetry or films or paintings'."

Monday, 19 December 2016

No Niceties contributing artist - Stella Dixon

In the No Niceties exhibition, Stella Dixon staged a performance. 

The gallery lights were switched off, and the freestanding lights lit up the 'stage' area which was suggested by an array of pink and purple balloons, some of which were shaped as hearts, scattered on an area of tin foil on the floor.

Dressed in joggers and a pink bra, Stella entered the stage area as the music began to play. 

Over the course of the song, Stella performed to the mirror on the wall, rather like the way a teenage girl may practice in front of a mirror in her bedroom.

Wednesday, 14 December 2016

Liz West featured in FRAME

I was delighted to be able to meet up with artist Liz West while she was in Newcastle. Liz recently invited me to contribute to 'Our Colour Wheel', a new work in a three-person alumni exhibition at Leeds College of Art's Vernon Street Gallery, part of the College's 170's Birthday celebrations. The exhibition opens tomorrow night, Wednesday 14th December 2016 and runs until 27 January 2017. Liz was able to show me a sneak preview of the works that will be in the exhibition, and I will share some of these once the exhibition has opened.

Liz was also excited to show me the latest edition of FRAME magazine. "Frame is the go-to reference for designers and interior architects." Since its inception, the magazine has identified the world’s most innovative interiors, and the December 2016 publication features an article about Liz West and her installation Our Colour Perception.

"Liz West creates vivid environments that mix luminous colour and radiant light. Working across a variety of mediums, West aims to provoke a heightened sensory awareness in the viewer through her works. She is interested in exploring how sensory phenomena can invoke psychological and physical responses that tap into our own deeply entrenched relationships to colour.

West's investigation into the relationship between colour and light is often realised through an engagement between materiality and a given site. Within physical and architectural space, West uses light as a material that radiates outside of its boundaries and containers. She playfully refracts light through using translucent, transparent or reflective materials, directing the flow of artificial and natural light. Our understanding of colour can only be realised through the presence of light. By playing and adjusting colour, West brings out the intensity and composition of her spatial arrangements."

'In Terms of Performance' - a free online resource worth checking out

I've recently discovered a fascinating website called 'In Terms of Performance'. 

"It is a free web-based keywords anthology designed to provoke discovery and generate shared literacies for how the goals, skills, and artistic traditions of experimental interdisciplinary work are understood. 

Produced by The Pew Center for Arts & Heritage, Philadelphia in collaboration with the Arts Research Center at UC Berkeley, the site features essays and interviews from more than 50 prominent artists, curators, presenters, and scholars who reflect on common yet contested terms in contemporary cultural practice such as Curating, Choreography, Duration, Live, Participation, Score, and Spectator. 

The authors contemplate the relations among visual art, theatrical, choreographic, and performance art practices; the poetry of miscommunication; and the stakes of literacy in our current context of progressively hybrid cultural production."

Topics covered include

"As a free online resource, In Terms of Performance is non-linear and richly cross-listed, enabling an unstructured browsing experience in which terms, contributors, and artworks connect intricately in a true web of reference—while inviting new entries to be added in the future. It also allows users to create their own PDF publications, customised to their interests."

The coeditors, Shannon Jackson and Paula Marincola conducted a set of extended interviews with major figures in art and performance, who reflect on their own experience with the poetry of miscommunication, the challenges and rewards of collaborating, and the history and future of intermediality.

An extended conversation between Jackson and Marincola explains the project’s evolution and muses on the stakes of literacy across disciplinary boundaries today.

Monday, 12 December 2016

Kate Stobbart : No Niceties contributing artist

Kate Stobbart exhibited a work called Fifteen minutes of picking at clay to the No Niceties exhibition.

No Niceties contributing artist - Edwin Li

I haven't forgotten about the remaining three artists who contributed to the 'No Niceties' exhibition that I have yet to blog about.

Not only did Edwin Li deliver his amusing interpretation of the 'A lot can happen in fifteen minutes' text in which he recited a number of alternative sentences that were constructed from rearranging the letters used in the 'Order of texts' page, but he also acted as an entertaining compare, introducing each of the performances to the audience.

Friday, 9 December 2016

Kayt Hughes - My Five Year Old Could Have Done That - Gallery North, Newcastle

The Woon Foundation Painting and Sculpture Art Prize is open to all UK final year undergraduate Fine Art students via an open submission process.

The first prize is a year long £20,000 Fellowship, based in the Woon Tai Jee, studio located at BALTIC 39 in Newcastle’s city centre. It includes mentoring from staff from Northumbria University and the BALTIC Centre for Contemporary Art and a one person exhibition with catalogue at the end of the Fellowship.

My Five Year Old Could Have Done That is an exhibition of all new work by Kayt Hughes, the 2015-2016 Woon Tei Jee Fellow.

My Five Year Old Could Have Done That is an exhibition of new work by 2015-2016 Woon Tei Jee Fellow, Kayt Hughes. The work has been made as part of her year-long Fellowship.

"The building block is an object designed to take on a narrative; it can become many things and can perform many functions. The gallery evidences an interaction with the objects, using simple directions to instigate an action of chance, with consideration to the properties of the objects and their materials."

Downstairs, four different coloured blobs of plastercine sit on a table, each positioned in one quarter of a table. A long wooden plinth spans the back wall on which a selection of sculptures are placed. Each sculpture consists of a number of smaller wooden blocks, some with painted surfaces. Each sculpture takes a different shape, even though that are made from the same number of blocks.

Two sets of instructions for Gallery Assistants are written opposite the tables, one for the plastercine and one for the building blocks. The Gallery Assistants are asked to follow one instruction per shift. These include things such as "roll the plastercine to a thread as long as possible."

Upstairs, there are lots of wooden boxes in different arrangements. Again, some faces of the blocks and boxes are painted in cheerful, pleasant and complementary colours.

It's very simple, not that there is anything wrong with that, but the questions and statements on the wall in vinyl that accompany the different works seem patronising. I don't want to be told what to think in such a direct way, particularly because the work is so basic. 

At first glance, the forms were aesthetically pleasing, but on closer inspection, I was disappointed to see that they were not particularly well made. When work is so minimal, one can hardly fail to notice the defects.

I must admit that I took pleasure from the colours and shapes, but I'm afraid that the work was lacking originality and risk. It was all very safe, very polite. There was not much to dislike (apart from the lack of polish in the way the boxes have been made), but for me, it was rather underwhelming.

Thursday, 8 December 2016

Our Colour Wheel

In October I received an invite to contribute to Our Colour Wheel, an ongoing project by artist Liz West which will be exhibited as part of a three person exhibition at Leeds College of Art. "Throughout 2016 Leeds College of Art has been celebrating 170 years of art education in Leeds. In recognition of the history of the College and the achievements of alumni, the Vernon Street Gallery in the College’s historic 1903 building is hosting a series of group exhibitions celebrating the diverse and ground breaking careers of past students and staff."

Colour Wheel, the forthcoming exhibition in the programme, features Georgina Starr, Liz West and Georgia Lucas-Going, a triptych of female contemporary artists who all studied at Leeds College of Art.

West is interested in human visual perception, particularly colour perception and how we all see and experience colour differently. For this exhibition she is asking Leeds College of Art alumni and staff to paint her their own interpretation of a traditional colour wheel (a pedagogical tool which has been at the foundation of her practice). Her aim is to illustrate our different perceptions of colour, how it is arranged and how we individually see and interpret colour. This series is part of her ongoing research into colour theory, human perception and light. The resulting collection of paintings will be exhibited together as a series in identical frames. After this exhibition West will open out this invitation to others.

The following instructions were given to the participants:

Paint your own interpretation of a traditional colour wheel.
Please use good quality white paper.
Please mix your own colour using only red, blue, yellow, black and white pigment
Use any type of paint or ink you wish
Annotate the painting if you feel suitable
Your colour wheel should fit the constraints of a 29.5cm x 29.5cm piece of white paper
A minimum diameter of 15cm for the colour wheel is necessary
Do not sign the artwork on the front I found the instructions quite limiting, particularly the rule that states that the colour wheel must be painted. I am very interested to see the range of responses that Liz has received.

Colour Wheel will open on Wednesday 14 December 5-7pm, and takes place at Vernon Street Gallery, Leeds College of Art.

The exhibition is open 15 December - 27 January 2017

For more information visit

Tuesday, 6 December 2016

A Bodyssey Odyssey Choir

At the weekend I participated in A Bodyssey Odyssey Choir, a singing workshop and performance led by artist Ditte Goard in response to A Bodyssey Odyssey, the current exhibition at BALTIC 39 by Pester & Rossi.

"The event was curated by Gayle Meikle as part of BxNU Respond, an ongoing dialogue between current Northumbria University post-graduate students and PhD researchers and the exhibitions in BALTIC’s Project Space, BALTIC 39.

Newcastle based Ditte Goard was asked to lead a singing workshop resulting in a performance to which members of the public could attend. Ditte works collaboratively with vocal performance and costume to explore ideas of 'folk' - especially folk song and storytelling. Going against our hierarchical and materialistic world, 'folk' traditions belong to no one and yet to anyone who claims it, without authority or regulation. Goard seeks to discover whether this autonomous activity can be used to give agency to both performer and audience, expand our engagement in political ideas and ultimately foster our sense of identity and independence."

There were about 20 people taking part in the workshop, a mixture of male and female, artists and non-artists, singers and non-singers. The presence of children in the group encouraged the adults to lose any inhibitions and enter in the playful spirit of the event.

We began the workshop with some warm-up exercises. Ditte had selected the song 'Women of the world' by Ivor Cutler for us to perform.

"Women of the world take over
'Cos if you don't, the world will come to an end
and it won't take long
and it won't take long"

Once we had learned the song, we decided on the actions that would accompany our singing.

We began stationary and low on the floor, humming. One by one we began singing the Ivor Cutler song, and it was during this that we started to move around the gallery space. Within the performance space we had an array of props and costumes made by Pester & Rossi for the exhibition. As we circulated the space, we began to adorn ourselves and each other with these various items and materials. There was a range of coloured face paints and pots of coloured glitter for us to use. These proved very popular with the children, and the adults were quick to join in. In the next 10 minutes or so the group entered into some kind of ritualistic activity. Although we were all singing the same song, we had started singing at different times, so it was a multilayered round that somehow sounded like a meditative chant. We interacted with each other, painting each others faces, putting garments on each other, scattering glitter over each other and so forth. At one point, one individual laid on the floor and we began walking round them in a circle as if in a form of worship. 

The introduction of party poppers signalled the time for us to stop singing and return to the humming as at the beginning. We removed the various costumes, props and materials we were each wearing, and used the supply of sweeping brushes to gather the glitter and party popper ribbons into a pile. Gradually we all slowed down and took a static position on the floor. Our humming simultaneously became quieter until it stopped completely, marking the end of the performance.

The description above does not do justice to what happened, but I guess that is often the case with art. There was a bond between the performers, even though we had only met as a group less than three hours earlier.

I was surprised to realise the size of the audience that had gathered to witness the performance. Probably the youngest member of the audience (no older than 1 years old) joined in the performance in the latter stages. Not yet able to walk, she shuffled along the floor, thoroughly enjoying covering herself in glitter. 

What a wonderful way to begin the weekend. It certainly made me twinkle inside and out! Thanks to all those who made it happen.

Friday, 2 December 2016

Fine tuning the Drone instruments

Over the past few weeks we have been redesigning and modifying some of our existing instruments. In some instances the improvements are being made to make the instruments easier to transport and store, and in other cases the changes are to have an effect on the sound produced by the instrument.

We have been redesigning the tube gurdys so that they do not all need to have their own individual stands which take up lots of space and are difficult to transport. Rather than the wheel being fixed in the stand, we are making some hand-held wheels that can be used on a number of instruments.

Joe has been developing the wheel so as to produce the most consistent and least 'tinny' sound. There have been a number of trials that have not worked which is frustrating, but these have helped us get closer to what we want, so they were not in any way a waste. The wheels we are making at the moment are made from wood which creates a solid and robust sound. The rim of the wheel is covered with a band of felt, and then the felt is covered with fishing wire that has been wrapped in an even layer with no bumps. A layer of special strong glue is applied and then rosin. The wheel is then ready for turning against the strings on an instrument or against a tube on the tube gurdy.

The process of wrapping the fishing line around the wheel was incredibly tricky as my eyes found it difficult to keep track of the edge of the fishing line and ensure that it was not overlapping with the previous thread.

As Charlotte and I tackled the wheel, Joe and Ben were working on the wah-wah contraption. The theory was that by using springs at the bottom of the instrument, when the flap was opened and closed during playing, a kind of wah-wah sound would be made. Unfortunately, in practice this was not the case! iu hjbuu

Thursday, 1 December 2016

No Niceties contributing artist - Kathryn Brame

"Absence, loss, time and memory are all key concerns that influence my practice and after reading Helen’s text ‘A lot can happen in fifteen minutes’, it became clear to me there were similarities between our work. I felt that while the texts described a collection of awkward moments, they also portrayed a real sense of loneliness and isolation and of an individual having to deal with each of these scenarios alone. Sections of text such as: “You opened your eyes. Desperately searching for him. He was not there” and “She avoids you. As much as you avoid her” all spoke to me as moments of struggle and frustration with human connection."

"My work has often involved a single figure placed within a void, removing any clear sense of time or context. The space surrounding the subject and in which the work is shown is integral, serving perhaps as a form of protection, a means of heightening the subject’s importance or space for the viewer to add their own narrative. I submitted two pieces of work in response to Helen’s text – the first was a painting of a small figure looking out of the picture plane into the room, possibly searching for something or someone. I thought this work echoed the sense of loneliness I felt emanating from the texts."

"I also showed a very small text piece called ‘Everything will be alright’. This was a line taken directly from the text ‘You stand at the platform’ but was also a line used by Helen in her MFA Degree show sound piece ‘Everything will be alright’. I felt this line summed up the general feeling of all of the texts - that although these awkward and difficult moments have happened, there is still a sense of hope that everything will be alright."