I've been working with Leah Jones to develop this participatory arts display to coincide with World Down Syndrome Day. Do come along!
New blog for Bluecoat's website ahead of the exhibition launch, http://www.thebluecoat.org.uk/blog/view/who-is-blogging/271
Zines: How the internet helped a printed outlet for outsiders and nerds thrive. An interview with the Independent
"Home-made magazines are an increasingly popular, and commendably democratic, journalistic trend. Kashmira Gander takes a look between the covers..."
I was thrilled to be approached through the university by journalist Kashmira Gander, to be interviewed about zining. Read the article!
Founded in 1895, the Venice Biennale is a prestigious international art exhibition and a key date in the calendar for artists and audiences alike. This is where artists’ careers are made and opportunities to exhibit are coveted. The 56th Venice Biennale sees the return of the participatory installation the Venice Vending Machine, which this year unusually features the work of two artists with profound and multiple learning disabilities (PMLD).
Their inclusion has significance for one of two reasons. Firstly, artists with PMLD rarely exhibit even within the context of disability-specific shows, let alone equitably alongside non-disabled artists. And secondly, these artists who lack the capacity to consent are entangled with unique challenges in order to both practice and exhibit their art. In conversation with project facilitator Melaneia Warwick, we consider this innovative practice and discuss the ethical considerations that shaped the journey of this work from studio to Biennale.
The Venice Vending Machine
The Venice Vending Machine is no stranger to the Biennale and this year is its third appearance. After inserting a small fee into the striking yellow machine reminiscent of those scattered down seaside promenades in gaming arcades, you receive a sphere. Each of these spheres contains an original piece of artwork produced by both emerging and established artists. It's clear that the participatory nature of the installation and the chance to bag yourself an impressive souvenir will pull in the crowds year on year.
The brief for all artists was to submit works no larger than 9cm in diameter. Melaneia Warwick, a PhD researcher from The University of Brighton, took this opportunity to facilitate two artists with PMLD - Josh Bartlett and Charlotte Hawkins- to take part. “I have curated two paintings from each artist and put them onto USB sticks, thus creating portable pieces of work” Melaneia explained. However, participating in the Venice Biennale is the result of a long and examined process which included getting access to a Day Centre and training care staff to support people with disabilities to make their art work.
Profound and multiple challenges
The label of “profound and multiple learning disability”, abbreviated to PMLD, describes people who have more than one disability – the most significant of which is a profound learning disability. All people who have PMLD will have great difficulty communicating, and many will have additional sensory or physical disabilities or complex health needs. The group’s varying and complex support needs often means they are particularly isolated and according to a recent study by Mencap remain under represented and hidden from society, even within the context of disability groups and services.
The opportunity for people with PMLD to practice art making is now recognised to combat this isolation, and has also been identified as important in terms of visibility and communication. Discussing the significance of people with PMLD making artwork with Melaneia she describes it as two-fold:
“For this project people with PMLD showed researchers about the best ways in which we could work with them to help their arts practices to develop. In turn the arts sector that works in such settings has benefitted. Kester describes the potential of practices such as these to positively extend discussions and social boundaries and I am interested in how doing this might both helpfully impact on the services people receive and on their opportunities to maintain a creative identity.”
Here, Melaneia is drawing upon the work of Professor Grant Kester who is a leading figure in the critical dialogue around relational art practices. This places the emphasis of art making on how it answers to the inclusion itself in society for which there are many and varied testimonials to the positive benefits. But if the benefits are so seemingly clear, then why do we not see more people with PMLD making art? “These creative practices take time” explains Melaneia, “they are complex and layered, and they involve the buy in of people and institutions outside of the academy and art world including ethical bodies, care workers, family members and councils”. In other words, they are resource intensive.
The artists’ work has been made in the context of a PhD research project and this comes with what might be thought of 'entangled ethics'. Universities require researchers to undergo an ethical approval process in order to support them to engage with the practical, ethical and intellectual challenges inherent in high quality research involving people. Melaneia's research has been through a particularly rigorous NHS approval process and is paving the way for arts-based projects at what is the highest level of ethical approval in the UK.
Crucially for this work, the ethical considerations of conducting research with people with PMLD has subsequently impacted how the artwork is being made and exhibited. Melaneia who is also visual artist, believes that the ethical process has “complicated what might otherwise be a less involved journey towards art making”, but inadvertently has yielded artistic benefits. Melaneia has “begun to think of the ethical concerns as part of the practice” and reframes these ethical challenges as opportunity for deeper planning, reflection and involvement of stakeholders and supporters.
The ethics of exhibiting
An excellent example of the project’s ability to reframe a complication as an opportunity is evident in the artists statement, or as they are renamed, artist biographies. The 'artist statement' is an exhibition staple and is an artist's written description of their work to give the viewer insight. This flags an obvious challenge. The artists with PMLD are unable to communicate in this traditional way. Instead, the artist biographies focus the processes developed by the artists and the subsequent visual language they employ as observed by Melaneia. For example accompanying Charlotte Hawkins Gestural 1;
“Charlotte mixes her colours on the canvas with fingertips and palm, approaching this task with intense focus. As these works develop across a series of days, marks become layered bringing to mind traditional glazing techniques”.
With the “art speak” phenomena being questioned and even mocked, this method may provide a useful alternative which gets back to what is important; the art making.
As Melaneia enters into the final stages of this research she concludes, “What is compelling me to make work in this way though is the possibility of the humanity of the work. What can this work tell me and the supporters of people with PMLD about perception, opportunity and a social aesthetic?”
Thinking Critically About Society: Perspectives from the Arts and Humanities is a day long workshop to take place on Thursday 5th May 2016 at the University of York.
Thinking Critically aims to create a space where postgraduate researchers can share their research in a friendly environment and discuss how arts and humanities researchers can make an impact on the world around them through critical research.
I shall be presenting a paper titled 'Disrupting status: inclusive curatorship and its political potential' during the panel 'Thinking Critically about Culture'.
The timetable for the event is now available. Book your free tickets here.
Very exciting day zining at Tate Collectives Art Gym! I had the pleasure of putting together the final zine so watch this space as I'll be posting it shortly.
Improve your art rate this spring! Tate Collective Liverpool and Turner Prize winnersAssemble present Art Gym; a three week programme of free, drop-in activities held within a new and specially designed space at Tate Liverpool
Inspired by a traditional gym, Art Gym offers visitors of all ages and abilities the chance to make a personal training programme, designed to learn new creative skills or develop existing ones. Instead of kettlebells and treadmills, visitors can enjoy a wide range of classes, lectures, workshops and art stations teaching everything from traditional craft work to digital art production. Tate Collective and our gallery’s Visitor Assistant Team will act as Art Gym instructors, on hand to help you plan your creative workout. Following Assemble’s Turner Prize success Tate Collective have invited the art, architecture and design collective to collaborate and co-design the gym-like environment. This multi-purpose space forms the heart of Art Gym and is custom built to host classes, workshops and lectures.
The University of Leeds, Centre for Critical Studies in Museums, Galleries and Heritage will be taking up temporary residence in the Art Gym’s immersive boxing ring as part Tate Collective Liverpool’s take over of the gallery. You are invited to drop in, join us and make a page for the Zine.
Art Galleries have done a lot in the past decades to address exclusion but in our workshop we will focus on the lived and experiential dimension of this desire. The Zine will explore this question from lots of different angles and perspectives asking how does it feel when you are included?
Wednesday 23 March 2016, 13.00 – 16.00
Free, drop in
The University of Leeds is commending its women of achievement with a special celebration event, coinciding with International Women’s Day (8 March).
I'm delighted to have made the Roll of Honour list for my involvement with the #BeACritic competition. You can learn more about Women of Achievement or attend the event here.
Earlier this week I co-facilitated a zine making workshop with fellow leeds researchers Helen Graham and Carley Stubbs. The workshop aimed to help us explore how we might do, think and feel ‘inclusion’, as part of the Centre for Critical Studies in Museums, Galleries and Heritage's theme 'The Status of Inclusion'. This was a practice-led session where we created a zine in order to be published.
A key concern of the Centre for Critical Studies in Museums, Galleries and Heritage ‘Status of Inclusion’ research theme is to be attentive to the ways in which inclusion and exclusion happen through lived and felt interactions, always entangled with the social, material and institutional practices and forms of art galleries, museums and heritage.
In this workshop, we were interested in using a specific form – zining making – and using the process of us working collaboratively to create a zine to ‘do’ inclusion with each other. Through this experiential and making method we generated specific reflections and interventions which will feed back into our research theme.
The aim was to explore the ways in which zine making is a practice that relies on both inclusions and exclusions. Zines operate with inclusive ideas of production in the sense that anyone can make a zine, zining requires no institutional support and take no prescribed form. At the same time, zining also deliberately plays with exclusions. Zines are not produced for ‘the public’ or a general audience and instead tend to be developed with a defined and particular audience in mind. Therefore zines stand as a crucial counterpoint to the tradition of art galleries and museums as spaces for institutionally-managed engagement with people abstractly defined as visitors or publics or the more recent traditions of identifying specific underrepresented audiences via demographics in order to actively develop programmes of ‘inclusion’.
I am currently putting the zines together and will publish on my blog once completed!
More on zines!
Zines (pronounced ‘zeens’) are self-published, low-budget, non-profit DIY print publications. There are no hard and fast rules to what a zine should look like, but they mostly are photocopied or uniquely printed booklets, stapled or bound in a creative way, featuring text (typed or handwritten) and images (photos, cut and paste, drawings). As well as looking very different to the average publication, the content and subject of zines also varies hugely. They can be filled with diatribes, reworking of pop culture iconography such as art, sport, gaming, television and ‘all variety of personal and political narratives’ (Piepmeier, 2008, p.214). Once created, zines are distributed in various ways. Sometimes zines are created and distributed with a small niche community of existing friends and other zinesters, other times they circulate in and beyond their original communities and can be traded or sold via zine distributors (known as distros), at zine fairs, record shops and also found in community spaces such as libraries. With no regular copy schedule, subscription list, international book numbers, or professional print jobs, most cut-and-paste zines circulate through informal distribution networks, which highlights not just the materiality of the object, but also of its engagement. In short zines challenge notions of what knowing might be and who might be the peers which determine its legitimacy.
On Monday 27th July I was invited to sit on a panel for a conference about Collaborative Doctoral Awards titled 'What's it Worth? The Value and Potential of the CDA, of which I am a recipient. Since then I have written a conference report for WRoCAH summarising the day and the key debates.
Read more about the conference.