Katie Jo Anderson

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

Month: September, 2015

All Paths Lead to Morton – EAFS Offgrid

This summer welcomed the second Environmental Arts Festival Scotland – an international biennial of contemporary art practice in landscape – which for two months this summer absorbed me whole. My last EAFS experience in 2013 (blog here) shook and rattled my perceptions on place-based art in all the right ways, and has been an important part in prodding my reflective process into the art practice that it is today.

But moving on from the hectic, region trailing festival that was EAFS 2013, this year took a marked-ly different tack. Exploring themes of pilgrimage and journeying, hospitality and generosity and – my favourite – inventiveness and foolishness as a way of understanding the world (Have I reinvented that a little? Perhaps it has grown from the original intention), EAFS Offgrid 2015 looked as a large scale collective artwork in which all parties became part-artist, an experiment in co-created community, temporary place making and exploration of landscape.

festival village

I had lots of questions during the lead-up to the festival. (Apologies to all who endured my constant questioning)

One of the most persistant was in the meaning of ‘festival’ in the first place. Contemporary associations of festival – through the prolificy of large scale music and arts festival – put us the audience, in a passive state, consuming entertainment, resources and activity, these are free spaces for new experience and free partying; but everything is largely provided for us, from music and activity to food and water, the festival crowd is encouraged to participate by consuming. This seems mis-matched for our free spirited and independant festival idealism.

The alternative? EAFS Offgrid, whereby attending a festival made you an active participant, a sense of generosity and hospitality grown by all involved encouraged an active bringing and sharing, from extra food to additional programmed content – some of the quoted favourite moments at EAFS were the ones we never even programmed. From this generosity grew an amazing atmosphere of a community, caring and growing itself and each other. The EAFS team looked to create a space to be activated by others; in this way everyone had the opportunity to be a participating artist at EAFS – and in this collective making, everything from eating to sign-posting could be considered and created as part of the larger EAFS artwork.

crew

Who can claim ownership of EAFS? Creating a community or a place felt less concerned with ownership of artistic direction, and more to do with a growing sense of collective intent (count the number of uses of the word collective in this post). Interpreting and understanding of the festival was a big question in the run up to the festival; how could we encourage a sense of shared ownership to grow ‘open-source’ interpretation, conversation and development of EAFS’ themes and ideas? The core team (artists, interns, volunteers and management) became the knowledge ambassadors, pioneers of information sharing to spread throughout the festival over the course of the weekend, conversing over hand outs and newspapers. My own corner fell to signage as installation, signposting as artwork. The role of art/ist as a communicator may have been over-stepped in my new found blackboard and road sign obsession (sorry to any who crossed my path late one night with blackboards under torch-light) but allowed for an intense period of questioning, development and ultimately understanding.

Post Office 1

To the artwork itself, EAFS as an installation created a central festival village, an information hub and home for just over a week. Some of our visitors never left this safe haven of conversation, freshly cut field and idyllic viewpoints. This was the cluster point, teams gathering before heading out, the return point for artists, performers and our four legged friends; all paths lead to Morton. The landscape was our context, and growing out from the castle and festival village were walks into the unknown – opening up a vastness of purple heather, braken, running water and clear sky. These were the lands of EAFS.conspectus 1

An early decision was taken for artworks to be minimal in their occupation of the landscape, long walks to distant locations or installation points yielded time for reflection, discovery and understanding of the place-context (nobody mention the partridges). The artworks themselves allowed for moments or glimpses into an artistic perspective – this was art as investigation, as questioning and framing. Art as walking, art as looking closer.

urchin 2

One of the downsides of being so absorbed by organising was how little of the festival I managed to absorb, however my highlights included:

JW hill walk

Sitting high above the reservoir, hidden in heather – eating bleberries and listening to the rising sounds from the Art of Expeditions’s boat house.

Gathered around Andy McAvoy’s Tea Caddy, passing around objects from George Wyllie’s studio box.

Being entirely submerged in The Terrestrial Sea late on Saturday night.

Late night conversations by the embers of the River of Fire.

eafs walks

The festival was designed to be light on the earth, leaving without trace – there was an importance to the act/actions of leaving. Within 24 hours there was hardly a mark of our being, and it somehow felt right – sat on the last picnic bench in the fading sun.

Food. Firesides. Conversing.

Rhythm. Sustenance. Placemaking.

Collect. Curate. Create.

Landscape. Our land. The Lands of EAFS.

 

 

 

All images my own. Huge thanks and love to Robbie, Matt, Jan, Debz and the super-cool EAFS team. This year I participated in EAFS as one of five interns supported by the (fabulous) Holywood Trust.

Some beautiful image blogs of EAFS available on The Stove blog, check them out here

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New Distractions

Wee while back I blogged about ‘New Distractions’ over on The Stove Network’s blog

DOWNTURN-

We asked ourselves a question: “Can a sign above a High Street building ever do anything other than promote and brand; can it ask questions, be part of a conversation with other signs… can our High Street ever be a space that prioritises people as well as sales?”

what true opportunities are there between the moss and the ‘for sale’ signs? How do we re-make the spaces between the High Streets we remember and what is left when our High Street no longer meets the bottom line of the multinationals?

Our town centres have grown out of a need to gather, connect, meet, barter and exchange. Dumfries owes its place to the river, the cattle marts and the passage of people. But from our largely rural context, Dumfries has also been the gathering point, the melting pot of communities meeting and exchanging, not just economically but socially, our connection out into the world.

Dumfries is not dead, only sleeping. Hidden Dumfries is in plain sight, behind the sagging bus stances and single occupancy street furniture.

Now is the time to act.

This action does not require grand master planners, or large scale redevelopment, but a little collective energy and small positive acts. Testing and experimentation, problem solving and lightweight interventions can lead the way to a more active high street, looking forward to a more valuable town centre. Small actions can highlight, question, explore and initiate discussion, growing from an inquisitive response to our everyday.

This is a call for new distractions.

Can we create a new visual language for our high streets?

Street sign montage_DOWNTURN_lowres

Read in full over on The Stove page here

salt of the earth

solway silt NY 13927 65142

annan river clay NY19182 70375

bentonite, imported

salt, irish sea NX 96140 11827

salt, solway firth NY 15278 65640

salt, north sea NT 68128 79048

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DSC_0747_lowres DSC_0741_croplowres

salt of the earth

Location #3 CALDEWGATE, Newcastle Street, Carlisle.

And so concludes part three of an extended foray into exhibition/gallery art in 2015. Salt of the Earth first appeared in public at Gracefield Arts Centre, Dumfries as part of Spring Fling’s YAB exhibition in March. In April, it reappeared in a new form at Kulturschopfer’s Green Hill Gallery, Berlin alongside Spring Fling’s Making.Art exhibition. Finally, it crossed the Solway, the starting point of the work for CALDEWGATE.

With each showing, works were added, removed, altered, fiddled with, reconsidered, redrawn and ditched. From challenging contextual spaces, to uncertain install details – salt of the earth has been an interesting experiment, which has included, light-touch performance, interactive works, film work, text based wall work, soundscapes and the original sculptural objects. All grown from a fascination with environment.

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How successful was it? Partially. Difficulties include: gallery context, ‘tangible’ engagement with passive gallery audiences, wiring install issues, sound quality, technical finish…

The ever perfection-driven artist ego struggles with gallery context. Even a desire for flawed-precision, humanised-perfection, can feel deflated and lack-lustre when confronted with a gallery context.

How does the audience arrive? With expectation? Can gallery audiences be more than passive viewers of a singular viewpoint? These experiences are far more personal, affected by the quietness and isolated nature of gallery spaces, temporary or otherwise. The CALDEWGATE space, so emotive for many visitors (and especially for the artists) still with a faint and dying scent of printmaking materials drew very distinctive frames around the work on view.

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As usual, the learning curve continues. What next? A period of reflection, and some new making. Through making, and then through sharing these works have become part of myself and huge thank yous must go out to all those who helped make salt of the earth happen. They are:

Dumfries and Galloway Council’s VAACMA Award Scheme

Spring Fling

Kulturschophfer

Gracefield Arts Centre team and staff

Genevieve Kay Gourlay and her unstoppable CALDEWGATE team

art school = art soul

It should be added, art colleges are a VALUABLE part of creating our cultural futures. Educational funding may not be what it was in some previous golden era, but measuring the value of your art college using a tape measure to student ratio is wasteful. Technical spaces are a dying breed, as ever increasing student numbers are sold a dream and packaged as sardines on a montetary fueled journey into the unknown. Art schools are magical places, and will grow our future creative and cultural worlds – they are the eye openers, precious spaces and world changers. Take heed art colleges, you are the guardians, the care-takers, the visionaries and future makers. But only if the art schools survive.

(rant over)