Goodbye – or rather, au revoir…

I have come to the end of my time as Artist Youth Coordinator at Fabrica. I hope that this won’t be the end of my involvement with Fabrica, but Time and Place, the project which funded my post and all the work I undertook as part of it, has finished.

The last 18 months have been really interesting. At different times I have felt overjoyed, overwhelmed, downcast, hopeful, depressed and excited! Happily, I am finishing the work on a high, having written a Young People’s report that has been well received by Fabrica, and generally feeling satisfied with what I have achieved. Film Forum lives on, via Fabrica’s Film Programme run by Clare Hankinson, and the Film Forum team and I are still working together on these events, which will take place once during each of the three exhibitions during 2015.

The Artist Youth Coordinator role has really tested me. I’ve learnt that I don’t enjoy events management and marketing, and that I’m a real worrier – more so than I had previously imagined! I have struggled with aspects of this work but I came through it and out the other side. And I am genuinely grateful to Fabrica for giving me the opportunity to do this work (if that doesn’t sound too much like an episode of The Apprentice!) The things I have enjoyed most are working with people (this includes the Fabrica staff as well as other artists, teachers and young people) and supporting people to be creative.

PostcardFrontLowIn December I commissioned a young designer called Jem Ward to design a postcard for Fabrica. We then got 5,000 copies printed for inclusion in the Space envelope produced by Brighton & Hove Arts Express, a new marketing initiative targeted at teenagers in Brighton and Hove. The process of commissioning Jem was interesting for me as I am usually on the receiving end of a brief. Working on a live brief was a valuable experience for Jem, and he rose to the occasion superbly, producing a great image to the correct specs, and meeting the deadline. This project epitomises to me what Fabrica can offer young people – real life situations in which to be creative, working alongside professionals. On the left is Jem’s postcard design, which features a model he made of the Fabrica building, with ‘creativity’ bursting out of it!

In my previous post I’ve spoken about writing the Young People’s Report. It was a hard slog, and at times it felt like an insurmountable task, but actually I am grateful to have been asked to do this work. It has been an opportunity to put down on paper what I’ve done as Artist Youth Coordinator, as well as what the partner organisations have done during the project, just as participating in a nous deux, the conference in Caen, was an opportunity to explore the whole subject of working with young people and the arts. I think it’s very important to have occasions when you can reflect on your work and formalise the ideas around it, understand and recognise what you and your colleagues do that is of value. This is especially important for artists who usually work as freelancers, not attached to an organisation and thus whose body of work may go unrecorded or unnoticed. I feel Fabrica gave me this space and I’m thankful for their trust in me to do the work – Long live Fabrica!

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Writing the ‘Young People’s Report’

For the past few months I have been working on a report for Fabrica, detailing the work with young people undertaken during Time and Place (TAP), the project which funded my Artist Youth Coordinator work.

TAP involved 5 different organisations (Fabrica, Sainsbury Centre for Visual Art, Norwich; Frac Basse-Normandie; Museé des Beaux Arts, Calais and the Jardin des Arts in Calais), all of whom extended their work with young people during the 3-year duration of the project.

I have to admit that at times writing the report brought me close to tears! The sheer volume of work produced by the partner organisations was huge, and my first task was to try and understand exactly what had happened. The saving grace was that the work itself was so fascinating. There are distinct variations in the way the different organisations work, as well as common themes and concerns. How to hear young people’s voices and provide a place for expression is an important issue for all organisation. Similarly the human, personal and reflective aspects of art and creativity is valued by the young people the organisations have worked with.

My report is now complete and is currently being laid out by Fabrica’s designer, after which it will be posted on the TAP blog where you will be able to download a copy and read all 8,500 words!

RAW workshops

Raw11 Raw04In February Jane Fordham and I ran the second of our RAW workshops. These are practical workshops for art teachers, which aim to provide a nourishing experience that leaves participants feeling creatively stimulated and energised.

The first workshop took place at the end of the summer during Monika Grzymala’s exhibition. At that session we focused on drawing, exploring the many ways of making a drawing, it’s purpose and function, and looked at a broad range of artists stretching the boundaries of what might be considered a ‘drawing’, not least Grzymala herself.

Raw05For this second session in February there was no exhibition to use as a starting point, so Jane and I decided the workshop would focus on working collaboratively on the construction of a 3-d environment and explore ways of translating this into 2 dimensions and text. This was Jane’s idea, which I responded to enthusiastically – possibly because it’s quite similar to my own way of working (without the collaborative aspect)! Each person worked individually on their own piece, and near the end of the workshops we brought all our work together into one assemblage, constructed on a rotating turntable in the corner of the gallery. As always, what is fascinating is the way each person’s work is so individual, despite coming from the same starting point and using broadly the same materials.

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The group seemed hungry for more workshops in a similar vein. They enjoyed meeting and working alongside their peers (other art teachers from the city, some of whom knew each other, others who didn’t) and they really appreciated being given space to work creatively and NOT think about the curriculum, exams and grades.

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Ian Helliwell’s workshop with the Film Forum team

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Today filmmaker Ian Helliwell is running a workshop at Fabrica for the Film Forum team. This morning they have been experimenting with super 8 film and ‘direct animation’, which involves drawing directly onto and scratching into strips of super 8 cinefilm which have already been exposed and processed.

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They have also been bleaching parts of the film and the results are really surprising, which is one of the joys of working in this way. Ian has also been showing the team how to splice together pieces of film.

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As I write this some very strange noises are coming from the gallery space – they are working on the soundtrack…

I organised the workshop so that the team can share what they’ve done at the next Film Forum on Monday evening. It’s also a way of saying thank you to them for the hard work they’ve put into the Film Forum events over the last 5 months.

a nous deux

Last week I accompanied three of my Fabrica colleagues to France to take part in a conference about contemporary art and audiences. ‘A nous deux’ was organised by Frac Basse-Normandie, one of Fabrica’s partners in the Time and Place project. The two study days took place in the new lecture theatre of the École Supérieure d’Arts et Medias de Caen/Cherbourg. There was a good range of speakers, including theorists and practitioners; artists, teachers, critics, curators and philosophers from across France and the UK. The presentations were delivered in French or English, with simultaneous translation by two hard-working interpreters, so that all delegates could follow the discussions.

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The conference looked at how contemporary art galleries engage with their audience, particularly in terms of interpretation, education and ‘mediation’. The presentations dealt with alternative pedagogies (such as Montessori, Steiner and Fröbel), different exhibition models, the history of mediation in art galleries and museum, going right back to the 17th Century, the role of art in education and the role of the artist in galleries and museums. This last area was what I was talking about in the last round-table event of the conference.

As soon as the conference began I was struck by how much more philosophical the French approach to education and culture is. It felt like everything was framed within a far more intellectual context. By comparison I think the British approach is more pragmatic. This ‘down-to-earth’ approach is useful sometimes, we are good at getting on with things, but it’s also really valuable to consider what one is doing through a more philosophical lens. One of the presentations I found most inspiring was from Alain Kerlan, who lectures at the University of Lyon, in the politics of art and culture in education and training. He managed to put into words things that I know to be true but find difficult to articulate verbally; essentially the intrinsic value of art as a way of perceiving the world, its fundamental value to all human beings.

He stated that there are two ways of apprehending the world, rational and aesthetic, and that both of these approaches need to be supported by education – indeed it is the role of education to support both types of experience. This is really simple and really powerful.

Another interesting statement was made by Yann Chateigné, (critic and curator, and Head of Visual Art at the School of Art and Design in Geneva) during his presentation. This was that “understanding is not the only way to engage with a work of art.” Absolutely! There are many works of art that I value greatly, but would hesitate to say that I ‘understand’. And even if I think I do understand them, this understanding will probably alter over time – it’s a fluid thing, changing as I change. I think this need to understand relates again to the emphasis in British culture on rationality, on pinning something down, making use of it, and seeing value in things simply for the ways that they can be made use of. So we feel a work of art is there to be understood, then we move on to the next thing, job done.

I realise this is a generalisation, but a lot of the discussion during the conference touched on the delicate line between providing ways into an art work on the one hand, and the violence done to a work of art when you remove anything mysterious, poetic, or unknown/unsaid about it.

There were many other fascinating presentations, not least from Nell Croose Myhill and Veronica Sekules from the Sainsbury Centre for Visual Art in Norwich, who each spoke about different aspects of the SCVA’s education programme, and Charlotte Morel from the Institute d’Art Contemporain Villeurbanne / Rhône-Alpes, whose education work with teenagers is covering similar ground to the SCVA’s ‘Young Associates’ programme.

I was participating in the round table event entitled ‘The artist, the work of art and the audience’. I spoke about my experience of being an animateur at Fabrica, and what this particular way of working can provide for all concerned – visitors/participants, artists, the host organisation and the exhibition. My fellow speakers in this round table were Laurent Moszkowicz, who works at the Jardin des Arts in Calais (another TAP partner), an artist duo called Microsillions (Marianne Guarino-Huet and Olivier Desvoignes), artist George Dupin, and the moderator of the round-table, Raphaël Brunel, who is an art critic and curator.

Finally, it is a month ago today since the killings in Paris, and these terrible events formed a backdrop to much of the discussion during the conference. In the art school itself students had made work in response which was displayed inside and outside the building. Here are a few photos.CharlieDrawings

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Marketing does work!

The most recent Film Forum on Monday was the deadline for our short film competition. Next month we’ll be screening the submissions and awarding prizes, so it looks set to be a really great evening.

It was nice to see some new faces at Monday’s event. I got chatting to one person and was interested to know how he’d found out about the competition and the Film Forum – he said he’d picked up a leaflet at the Young People’s Centre and came along on the strength of that. I was so over-excited to hear that my marketing strategy (putting flyers in places where young people might hang out!) had worked that I think he probably thought I was a bit weird!