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I’ve been collecting materials for the last few months while thinking about the subjects, topics, discussions and ideas emerging out of the Future Works collaboration. These are cast-offs from digitally based industrial production techniques;- CNC punching, laser machining and water jet cutting. One of which has been created when producing forms that will become part of the exhibition  de-, dis-, ex-. at Bloc Projects 20th – 29th October 2016.

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Liquid Living 2013

Having spent several days working with Julia, Renata and students from the Future Works module at the Sheffield School of Architecture that included visits to a number of the Stories of Change partner organisations, I have been cogitating on the work that I want to create in response. I am currently undertaking practice-based research in fine art at the University of Leeds where I have been developing ideas and projects that connect with making and the issues of energy use. Research that has also been informed by my on-going interest in, and critical engagement with Arte Util and the ideas on Usership developed by Stephen Wright.

One of the projects that I’m developing concerns the wider movement to grow more locally produced food, by creating communal gardens or allotments on dis-used land that was formally tarmacked or concreted over. Linking in with my previous interests in creating art-objects-as-tools (Liquid Living 2013), I am creating objects that suggest a use as a tool for breaking up and removing these hard surfaces –allowing access to the soil and its potential fertility. Significant energy savings can be made by helping to reduce food miles – by reducing the transportation, refrigeration and storage demands that are required to deliver foodstuffs from all over the world to your local supermarket. The work also raises questions about land use and ownership. The ‘de-pave’ idea is gathering momentum, sitting as it does, within the wider context of the Transition Network, the Permaculture movement and the Incredible Edible Network. It has also been proven to help reduce the risk of urban flooding by slowing down the flow of rainwater that otherwise would run off the hard surfaces much more quickly into the drains and rivers.

At the same time I’m interested in exploring the ways in which the ‘make-do-and-mend’ and the ad-hoc can interface with emerging digital technologies of production, suggesting new ways to integrate the re-purposed and the highly engineered. These concerns and others will form the underlying narrative that will inform an exhibition of work that I will be mounting at Bloc Projects in Sheffield from the 22nd to the 30th October 2016, needless to say the work is still evolving and somewhat alarmingly there is a lot left to do!

This blog entry first appeared on the Stories of Change blog site.

 

The term ‘summit’ connotes a significant gathering to address disputed or intractable issues with an urgent need for resolution and an attempt to bring various parties to a common position and a shared vision of the future. The term was well chosen for the assembly of artists, curators, administrators and academics drawn together for the weekend by their own notion of what Arte Util (Useful Art) is and may yet be.

Hosted at The Middlesbrough Institute of Modern Art (mima) by the Asociacion de Arte Util, the summit consisted of a series of talks, presentations, workshops, walking tours and Q&A sessions aimed at teasing out ‘provocations and dialogues on how artists, institutions and constituencies can effect social change through artistic actions and tactics.’At the core of the Asociacion is the Cuban artist (although she now wishes to drop the label artist) Tania Bruguera who appropriated the term Arte Util, Charles Esche and Annie Fletcher of the Van Abbemuseum in Eindhoven who developed and hosted the first Museum of Arte Util in 2013, Alistair Hudson – Director of mima and the person largely responsible for ‘crowbarring’ (his own term) Assemble onto the Turner Prize nominations list last year and Stephen Wright, academic and developer of the usership theory explored within his Lexicon of Usership.

mima was one of the last local authority funded, ‘modern art in striking modern architecture’ edifices in the UK as Councils had been seeking to replicate the ‘Bilbao effect’. Having opened in 2007 on the cusp of the brave new post-crash world, it has not succeeded on these quickly out-dated terms to attract cultural tourists and engage the local populace. Alistair Hudson, taking his cue from the Museum 3.0 model within the Lexicon, is attempting to make the institution relevant and useful for the community by hosting fitness classes, creche facilities and cookery lessons and by supporting local refugee and asylum seeker community groups within the name of contemporary art. Over the weekend all the food was provided either by members of the Eritrean community or by the artist Luke Harding who is re-imagining the mima cafe as ‘a project to collaboratively and publicly build an artwork installation of a community cafe’- and very good it was too.

The range of presentations was wide and included curators, Kuba Szreder and Sebastian Cichocki from the Museum of Modern Art Warsaw fully detailing their exhibition Making Use: Post-artistic Practice, artist Nuria Guell showcasing her socially-engaged practice challenging notions of illegal/ legal migration, Michael Simon from Granby 4 Streets CLT and Emily Hesse & James Beighton of New Linthorpe Pottery who are resurrecting a 19th Century social enterprise to engage marginal communities in making pots. Key-note speeches were delivered by Stephen Wright – whose fast paced and thought provoking academic discourse was rendered a little more challenging by a stuttering Skype connection from California and Tania Bruguera, who at times seemed tired by, and slightly confused by the direction of the project that she had originally instigated. Saturday was billed as Toolkits for a Post-Artistic Society while Sunday would deliver Toolkits for a Post-Democratic Society, you couldn’t accuse the organisers of lacking ambition. However if – as stated, the intention of the summit was to refine the aims of the Arte Util movement (constellation/ cluster?), you couldn’t help thinking that a more focussed range of discussions would have been more ‘useful’.

Non-core or mima connected participants probably numbered around twenty five, which seemed slightly disappointing given the recent publicity and media discussion, but probably reflected a cosmopolitan bias toward the provincial location – there were more attendees from Spain than there were from London. It was also surprising that although mima is now part of Teesside University, that runs visual arts and sociology courses, not a single student or member of staff attended the summit. A cynical reading of the event would contend that the members of arts institutions were looking for strategies to stay relevant and hold on to their funding, academics were looking for a vehicle to further their University careers and artists were hoping for inspiration in ways to develop their practice and insights into institutional thinking. As one Arts Council England administrator confessed, ‘we’re waiting to see if it has any traction, or whether it’s just another fad’. My own overall impression is that the issues addressed are extremely pressing and that Arte Util offers a pretty big tent within which to discuss and take action regarding the impacts of our fast changing political context. However what and where the art is remains a slippery topic.

I’ve written an essay looking at a number of these issues in more detail, it can be found here.

Gathering at mima on Friday/ The Coffee House project

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Arriving for an 8.30am start at The Silk Mill in Derby with the prospect of a full days graft ahead felt a little daunting, after all, the mill stands on the site of the world’s first factory and therefore the birth place of the factory system. Could we expect twelve hours of repetitive back-breaking toil, amid deafening machinery with few breaks? Fortunately not, for today we were welcomed to Utopia Works, a working day as envisaged by Sir Thomas More in his book Utopia published five hundred years ago this year – six hours of work with a two hour lunch break and plenty of time for conviviality (unless you were a slave – More allowed two per household).

I joined one of several working groups with six others drawn from the wide network of associates of the project as we grappled with the tasks set for us. The Stories of Change team had put together a series of workshops challenging us to work together to explore our attitudes towards energy use – its generation, distribution and conservation. We created pithy slogans and transferred these onto letterpress printed pamphlets, we put our heads together (quite literally) in a photo opportunity to highlight the energy efficiency of the Human brain (less than 23 Watts of power!) and we toured the Mill’s stores finding objects that conveyed the attitudes to energy use of previous generations.

I have only recently become involved with SoC, having joined Julia, Renata and the Future Works students in Sheffield to explore themes around making, automation and resource use. I am currently undertaking practice based PhD Fine Art research at The University of Leeds entitled ‘Art, the Architectonic and Functionality’. My practice evolves from the appropriation of the everyday, the discarded and the found through processes of modification and re-purposing toward assembly and construction. These sculptural installations will often combine the found object with components produced using highly sophisticated technologies of production as I seek to reflect on the misuse of resources and the potential to re-engineer our manufacturing capabilities to address more pressing social and environmental issues. My work focuses on how visual art can address and engage with the new challenges facing society, particularly those concerning migration, precarity and climate change, through the interrogation of use, disuse and reuse. I hope to develop a body of work in response to the Future Works/ Stories of Change programme that will be exhibited in Sheffield in the Autumn.

Meanwhile back at the Mill everyone comes back together again at the end of the afternoon, as all the groups have created prototypes, proposals and performances to share their thoughts. There is a truly amazing array of presentations involving music, canaries, fun fairs, poetry and puppets. Perhaps the overriding theme that emerges from the day is the need for us all to be made more aware of the connection between energy creation and its use, unlike previous generations we have become disconnected from the physical realities of power generation. As anyone who has ever peddled a stationary bike in order to recharge their phone battery will attest, having to work hard for something tends to make you value it a great deal more.

This is a blog entry originally posted on the Stories of Change blog site