Katie Jo Anderson

Artist based in South West Scotland; interested in people, places, materials and collaborative practice.

Month: November, 2014

Artists as activators

A few weeks ago, I took a detour on a trip from Edinburgh to Dunbar, to attend the first day of the Fertile Ground – Environmental Art for Change conference, led by North Light Arts and Chris Freemantle. It was an intense day, from ten until 7pm there were about 14 speakers, of artists, activists and locals intent of re-inventing Dunbar for an environmentally conscious future. There was a lot to take in, and I admit to sneaking off for a jaunt during lunch off in hunt of the harbour and the sea, rather than networking which is quickly becoming my least favourite thing about these events.

Part of me went for the fresh air, part of me in hunt of some salt water (more on that another time), but as ever the air – with it’s slightly wild wind – just helped to disentangle my thoughts a little, so I bounced back to the conference to find Matt and Robbie and drag them back to the harbour with all my new found questions.

What I was really thinking about quite quickly was about the role of artists as activators. Before (see previous post here), I wrote about the audience as ‘activators’ but the thread of conversation in Dunbar led me towards the way in which artists can become activators, engagers, inititating, inspiring change. I was thinking about local artists leading, potentially disseminating/translating the global to a local, community-based perspective.

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Matthew Dalziel spoke during his talk about he and Louise Scullion’s Tumadh:Immersion project, in particular I picked up on his thoughts about the amateur, and making space for unspecialised exploration and appreciation of the outdoors in one of their custom made tweeds e.g. the gathering jacket. More on that here

So, one of my first questions was a pretty big one – why art? Is art the most useful mechanism for this engagement within communities? Or perhaps, if not ‘the most’ useful mechanism, then what is it that artists bring to the table that can add a truly important dimension to active change? I guess I was trying to picture who I thought ‘should’ be getting on with this change. It’s perhaps funny that we could expect that there would just be someone, some other who would be out there sorting out these necessary changes for us as we move forward… be they councillors, government representatives, specialists, or some kind of other that separates a sense of controlling the space around us. Perhaps artists are useful in their humanising, stripping back or removing the other [man in the suit], the facelessness of percieved bureaucratic change.

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Jo Hodges spoke about her and Robbie Coleman’s project a New EIA for Natural Scotland during the artists presentations, which looked at reimaginging the planning process, more info available here

A particularly interesting point about artists, an ability to ‘engage on equal terms’, to explore collaboratively or collectively, not as architect but as instigator, connector, gatherer started to turn some cogs. Can we co-create the future of our places?

(At this point, I realised of course (with a bit of a prod) that I was talking about a very particular kind of artist, and a very particular kind of methodology and approach that I have been picking up on from artists who’s work inspires me.)

So what is it about public artists that can make them key ‘instigators’ of this change? What is inherent in their artistic practice that makes art an effective mechanism for engaging communities in a much broader conversation? What other people share these attributes and skill sets? (Planners and activists were both mentioned.) Why do some politicians/councillors/policy makers appear to lack these?

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Of course, the artist as activator needn’t – probably shouldn’t – work alone. The key skill holders, be they bridge builders, growers, are all a part of a much wider movement towards change

Agenda. This was a pretty fundamental one in our conversation, the personal agenda’s of those engaging with the community are important as to how well this relationship builds. The bridge builder that arrives and proclaims that what will fix the communities problems, is a bridge, is likely to be more personally motivated than then activator that arrives saying they want to explore and understand the problem first. Perhaps artists can also be guilty of the same problem though?

Approach. Less about a standard methodology, more about an exploration and questioning of the context/community/local.

Communication. Communicators. This has to be one of the primary roles of artists right?

Openness, questioning. There was mention during the artist talks that artist’s perhaps shouldn’t be expected to have the answers, but more to provide the right questions. We were thinking again, about how our own art practices were led by an investigatory questioning, a curiousness, without necessarily a specific end point (e.g. a bridge) in sight.

Of non-linear practices and thought processes, finding a more approachable method than one embedded in a standardised protocol. Community specific action over globalised strategy.

This is for us

Of ownership

ownership of vision

ownership of place

Of giving a sense of our own place within the wider whole, a personal, individual, tailor fit – shaped by people, not standardised policies.

Thank you to all the organisers, speakers and artists on the day, for finally kick-starting something of a thought process – I was quite miffed to have to miss the following day’s discussion!

Mapping Annan

Last week found me sat in the football club in Annan of a Sunday afternoon, in itself a bit of an unusual occurance, and all before I even mentioned that I was there as part of a ‘scoping’ workshop, chatting to people ahead of a project we are looking to kick-start in Annan next year. More of that later.

We did have a fairly lovely afternoon at the club (thanks Annan Athletic!), but I thought it might be nice to broaden out my chat to those who couldn’t make it. (Yes, if you said you were coming at the party the night before, you owe me a comment in the box below..)

Taking my favourite starting point of looking for interesting sites and places, I asked people a few questions to add to our map of Annan. Rather than looking to map out all the normal amenities, I wanted people’s favourite or most significant spots on the town map – like a local history of the town in map form.

It’s got a bit of a way to go, but this is where you could come in.

1. Where is your favourite place in Annan?

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Where is your favourite view? Is there a place in Annan that is particularly significant for you? (I’m thinking the Fish Cross is a pretty special one for ROM Cornet’s and Lasses) Perhaps it’s a personal place – your childhood home perhaps? – or a more public one – such as your favourite place to stop for an ice cream, or walk your dog.

2. If you could describe Annan in just three words, which three would you use?

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They could be positive; growing, changing, everlasting, or less so – ageing, comatose, crumbling? ‘Best [in] southern Scotland’?

We also did quite a bit of chatting about how our relationship to our home town is built on knowledge, stories and names passed down through people rather than documentation. How many of these close names do you know?

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Thanks to everyone for coming along last Sunday, expect to hear more about this in the future! Answers in the comments section below please, whether you are a true Annanite, or just have a bit of a connection to the place, or live somewhere at a safe distance (!) I’m open to suggestions!

So that was Parking Space…

You can read more about my latest project with the stove network, Parking Space, over on the stove’s website here

Parking Space: Underground car park Cinema The Stove Network Image: Colin Tennant Palace Cinema: Alice Francis

Parking Space: Underground car park Cinema
The Stove Network
Image: Colin Tennant
Palace Cinema: Alice Francis

Parking Space The Stove Network Image: Galina Walls

Parking Space
The Stove Network
Image: Galina Walls

Parking Space The Stove Network Image: Galina Walls

Parking Space
The Stove Network
Image: Galina Walls

Parking Space The Stove Network Image: Galina Walls

Parking Space
The Stove Network
Image: Galina Walls

Parking Space The Stove Network AGM 2014 Image: Galina Walls

Parking Space
The Stove Network AGM 2014
Image: Galina Walls

Parking Space The Stove Network Image: Galina Walls

Parking Space
The Stove Network and Mutual Motion
Image: Galina Walls

Full image set available on the stove’s Flickr page here