Jez Coram | Corners
In collaboration with…..Caroline Hick – Fellow in Visual Arts (Bradford University), Graham Binns, Barry Langroyd Hanson, Geoffrey Smith – participating residents, Yvonne Carmichael – collaborative artist, Phill Harding – sound artist, Akeelah Bertram – student artist, Holly Judge – gallery intern
Corners is a project that built relationships, created a series of new works of art, pushed thinking and practice, and provided equality and sanctuary for all involved. It now exists as online material, videos, paintings, collages, publications, and in the collective memory of the many participants and audience members involved. Corners has formed its own imprint in our psychologies and built its own architecture into our lives. It is both temporary and permanent.
Key to the success of the project was the building of positive, relaxed, fun and friendly relationships and providing informality, accessibility, and openness for all involved to create new artistic work guided by continued curatorial conversations and reflection. Of the original aims of the project all have been met in the timeframe and several original expectations grew in size, including the number of lead participants; the number of collaborative and participatory sessions; and the number of new artworks created. What is evident now and was unexpected at the start is the amount of time that is required to build relationships successfully, organically and in a way that does not put unnecessary force or pressure on the individual. For the practicing and student artists who worked on the project this artistic relationship building, discussion of artistic practice and ideas, and ability to settle into the project and progress with the work was easier and more fluid. For the self-selecting residents from the Bradford T&A newspaper call out and Bradford Community Radio (BCB) radio interview this process required more sessions and conversations around the nature and aims of the project and more time spent working through the details. Clarity and understanding was provided through clear instructions, including the filling out of agreements, pre project evaluation forms, and consent and release forms. This clarity and definition at the beginning of the project be it for the residents or professional artists was essential in providing a clear direction for all involved in the project.
Media call outs provided a good way to attract people we had not worked with before to the project. Responses to the articles, interviews, and adverts were of a high standard although the numbers and diversity of residents responding was not as we had expected. The timeframe for these call outs was tight. In future projects, allowing for an extended call out period would be desirable and looking in more detail at the audience of the call out is required. However, the response was good and we were able to work with an interesting and diverse group of people of differing ages and backgrounds.
From the initial meetings with the artists and residents we adopted an informal and relaxed atmosphere, providing space to think and reflect on each stage of the process and through conversation, listening and sensitivity to the participants’ thoughts, there seemed to be an empowerment to push their particular narrative in the project forward in the way they desired. This open and organic process is evident in the work created and in the creation of two sections to the gallery. One section for the projection mapped installation and the second section to house work created by the collaborative participants, a shift in the outcomes and number of new works created by the project. It was always expected that the collaborative artist would exhibit work in the gallery but early on in the project it was obvious through conversation with the residents and the student artist that a place was needed to realise ideas. A wall was allocated for work created by the participating residents, including; a collaborative collage and cupboard installation by myself and Graham Binns; Barry Langroyd Hanson’s paintings; an etched stencil of one of Geoff Smith’s poems; and a collage created during a collage party based around the theme of past homes. In addition to this wall we exhibited student artist, Akeelah Bertam’s moving image piece, commissioned as part of the project.
Collaborative and participatory working has been a new endeavour as part of my practice on this project and a series of collaborations in varying forms have evolved.
At the application stage there was the aim for a collaborative artist to work in their home, visualised in a live link at the gallery. Although the technical aim was achieved and a live link ran for forty days throughout the project the focus of the live link changed. Here is an example of a pre conceived working collaborative relationship which when brought into fruition didn’t realise itself with the original intention. The reason being the outlining of the collaborative relationship before both parties had started work on the project. Yvonne Carmichael, the collaborative artist working on the project, was keen to respond to the framework of the project and develop and push her video practice through her Chore-ography series of domestic art actions. For Yvonne, the live link would have forced a pre-defined notion onto her work when the real intention for the live link came from my own practice. In shifting the live link to my home the true intention for the installation to oscillate between the real and virtual became clear and Yvonne was left free to push her own practice. As I look at future potential collaborative artistic relationships I realise that it is best to always remain open about the course of the process of working together and not to pre-define parameters on the process before both parties are involved. Collaborations bring with them different sets of aims and realising these aims is about sensitively weaving the intentions together. Yvonne’s work was a great achievement as part of the project and freedom was needed to create this.
One of the collaborations I am particularly proud of is working with and commissioning the sound artist, Phill Harding, to produce a sound installation to complement the projection mapped installation. Through discussion at the gallery I met Phill and we seemed to have an instant affinity. Although not an original aim for the project but working with the theme of the installation shifting through the duration and now responding to the framework of collaboration, Phill inspired me to commission him. The result brought the installation to a new level and was another example of openness and listening being key qualities of the project.
Openly discussing each collaborative or participatory role, particularly the residents’ roles early on in the process, developing new working methods, including the collection of photographic material to build conversations and personal narratives, video and audio interviews, note writing, brainstorming, and sketching, brought all involved, specifically Geoff, Barry, and Graham’s ideas into focus and an equality to the project. Working in this focused, clear, inclusive, accessible and equal way provided openness for ideas; there was no exclusivity or feelings of inferiority produced. The people involved drove their role in the project backed by their considered aims and this was brought full circle and recognised at the final evaluation meeting.
For me, this newly developed process of working was essential to this project and will be in all future collaborative and participatory projects I am involved in.
Thinking and artistic practice has been pushed in many ways over an ambitious project and schedule. New considerations have occurred, including duty of care, respect and sensitivity, when working with people in their homes and opening peoples personal stories and information to the public. The ability to work confidently with people and to be in tune with who they are, what they want and what they want to show as part of a working artistic relationship has evolved during this process.
Just as there were two complementary sections to the gallery my individual artistic process has also reached a new level of clarity through constant critical reflection, revision and curatorial discourse. Caroline Hick, Fellow of Visual Arts at Bradford University and I have established an excellent working relationships which has driven the project. Through conversation with Caroline I have been able to push my thinking and my practice recognising the need for clear intention and purpose to every artistic decision, to understand the practicalities of installing interventions in a site specific context with the consideration of adjoining spaces, lighting and sounds, and the development of working practice throughout the project and after the installation is up and running. For example, handing Barry and Graham the camera and asking them to plot their own narrative through their homes was a shift in thinking. The video created was slowed down and used in the installation, exploring duration, embodiment, sculpture, and our connection to the physical and virtual. I worked with these movements with the intention of holding a magnifying glass up to the negligible detail of the homes, opening up the psychologies at play. This turning point is one of many examples, as I put my process under the spotlight, critically reflecting on my actions and decisions along the way. As a project I worked with the aim and ambition of bringing together and pushing forward several differing processes from my previous work, filmmaking, projection mapping, collaboration, and social engagement.
Originally a psycho-architectural landscape, by working on the intent of each aspect, including the form and the materials, I shifted my perspective, turning landscape into portrait and reconstructing an installation that was a psycho-architectural portrait.
Lineage and Legacy are two notions that I was aware of from the outset and have been most conscious of throughout. Therefore perhaps one of the biggest shifts in the project has been the transformation of the research and development (R&D) activity, originally described as projection mapping in performance. By meeting with stakeholders, and disseminating findings during the process through events, including opening and closing events, educational workshops, and the participatory workshops to organisations such as the West Yorkshire Playhouse, Impressions Gallery, Project Space Leeds, and Freedom Studios, I am able to explore my original intention through an opportunity to work on the Playhouse’s Transform festival creating projections for a site specific performance at Leeds Kirkgate Market. The activity was scheduled for the beginning of the project but it was felt that it would be better placed to move the activity to the end. This proved to be the right decision as during the process the discourse and critical reflection brought focus on collaboration, participation and social engagement and specifically community relationships, connections and the question of ’what art can do for a community?’
This enabled me to open up the R&D activity and shift the aims onto a lineage that I felt fit with the outcomes of the Corners project. Due to our successful working relationship and a desire to continue to work with Caroline Hick I have invited Caroline to co-lead on a collaborative project named ‘For The Love Of People’. The aims and intentions of this project have been unpicked, researched and discussed as part of R&D period that stretched throughout the month of February 2012. This period has been about exploring socially engaged art forms, researching current practice, identifying the cultural and political contexts, posing new thinking and frameworks, including ‘Living as Form’, and asking questions about what art can do for a community, and exploring the tensions between the true outcomes of socially engaged art practice to date and the parallel outcomes of charity, non-profit and volunteer organisational work.
In addition to the lineage of my professional practice legacies that caused this project to leave a lasting imprint on me are the participating residents’ outcomes. Barry, 73 years of age, has started a computer course at Help the Aged with the intention of building his own website to display his artwork, Graham has realised his intention of showing his house to the world and will work in a support role on ‘For The Love Of People’, and Geoff has received a publication of poetry selected from his life’s work. For these reasons alone the project has been a success.