January 2, 2017
2016 – A difficult year politically and globally, but on a personal level it’s been filled with a variety of projects that have made up a year rich in different experiences. Here’s an overview of my artistic year 2016:
I started the year being invited to give a talk about my practice and recent projects at Manchester’s cultural venue, HOME.
I then began a year-long collaborative project with a sculptor, Sarah Smith, and sound artist, Caro C. ‘Nature, Skin and Bones’ took us walking around the Yorkshire Dales, up hills and into caves to explore our connection with nature and the land, together with addressing our transient place in the world.
The project culminated in an immersive installation at the National Parks Museum, Hawes from October – December 2016. It was an interesting collaboration as even though we took main control over our specialist parts (light, sound, sculpture) we spent a lot of time discussing the symbolism of the work, the collective effect we wanted to give upon entering the space. Caro and I had a word jam to be included in the sound work, I ensured my lighting was not merely to illuminate Sarah’s wonderful sculpture but to add to the entire effect of the piece.
Simple lighting made the moonlike drum glow from within, spotlights picked out flecks and shadows of ancient stones and a stone pool of water, plus a simple low level bulb cast shadows of the work across the space like in a cave. Visitors’ shadows would also be cast across the space, making them a fleeting part of the work. Feedback was extremely positive, many felt the space was meditative and it slowed them down to become more present and inquisitive. A longer film about the project will be presented in the new year.
I had my work picked up by the popular online magazine The Creators Project and they wrote a lovely article here.
Another project that ran throughout the year was my continued work with The Stroke Association and University of Manchester, called Stroke Stories. Last year we ran a series of creative workshops covering creative writing, visual arts, photography and music (find out more here) which culminated in an exhibition at Manchester Central Library. This year I curated a third, larger exhibition of the work and project at Victoria Baths in Manchester. Find out about my curatorial process here
This project won ‘highly commended’ at the University of Manchester’s Making a Difference Awards 2016. After the final exhibition I organised a symposium about the project and arts and health issues at The Whitworth Art Gallery. We had presentations from participants and artists, panel discussions including experts from Arts Council England, University research specialists, stroke consultants and NHS directors. This was an excellent round up of the project but it also started a wider conversation about the benefits of this type of work with survivors of stroke that will be continued well into the future and I’m excited to be a part of helping to implement.
Another continuing project is my work co-directing Manifest Arts. This year was the year between festivals (Manifest Arts Festival is biennial) so we turned our attention to a new way of manifesting (!) arts in the North West and obtained Arts Council England funding to conduct a series of interviews with artists working in the North West for our Manifest Arts Podcast series. We interviewed many artists, curators and gallery directors. Find out more and access the interviews here. The series proved so successful that we are continuing to conduct interviews for the podcasts into the new year.
Also as part of Manifest Arts, we had Manifest at The Manchester Contemporary, the largest art fair of its kind in the North of England. We promoted the festival and represented and sold the work of two North West based artists we feel are creating exciting and interesting work at this time. We chose fine artist, Helen Wheeler, and fine art photographer, Lucy Ridges. Find out more about them and the Manchester Contemporary here.
In September I was fortunate to have my work DREAMERS shortlisted for the prestigious international lighting awards, the Darc Awards in the ‘Best Light Art (Low Budget)’ category.
I also had a 2-page feature spread in international lighting design magazine, Mondo*Arc:
In October I had two new commissions in the Blackpool Lightpool light festival. I created a new version of ‘The Stories Under Our Feet’ for a set of eight benches in Blackpool centre. The poem works physically and thematically with the flow of people around the space:
I pass you at night
Dreaming in Parallel
Dreaming in Parallel
I pass you at night
Depending on how you moved around the piece, the poem could be read in different permutations and still make thematic sense.
I also created ‘I Waited’ in response to the loneliest bench in Blackpool. A man stands looking out to sea but all that is left is his shadow. A work about love lost, anticipated or unreciprocated (depending on your viewpoint).
I was so pleased with the public response to both works, to create something that made visitors look at the often overlooked spaces anew.
I met with lighting company, Megaman, to discuss my journey into becoming a light artist. They published the interview here.
I ended the year with a new work, well, a continuation of an old work that I’ve picked back up for further development. I created a Moon Book (from my Sun and Moon Book series – more to come later). The poem ‘In the wisdom of moonlight/ Nothing stays the same’ is revealed by the transient light of the full moon. I took a timelapse of the moonlight poem being projected by the light from the December 2016 super moon and created a GIF out of it. The words fade in and out and shift across the floor as the moon moves across the sky and clouds pass over – activating the poem’s transient meaning. The GIF is a never-ending loop of this timelapse to represent the constant and cyclical nature of the moon’s phases:
The GIF doesn’t embed so here’s the video to show the same effect (but not on never-ending loop I’m afraid!)
This year has been full of variety, which is just what I enjoy in my work. I’ve learned new things, met many new people and been so pleased with the reception to the artwork I’ve created and curated. Plans are starting to shape up for 2017 and I’m excited to see what it will bring! Happy new year!
December 2, 2016
Throughout 2015 I worked on a project with stroke survivors. This included workshops including creative writing, visual arts, photography and music. I ran the visual arts workshops and also curated exhibitions of the work produced throughout the project at Manchester Central Library and the Manchester Museum. (You can learn more about the background to the project and the first exhibitions I curated here.) This year, I was asked to curate an even larger exhibition of the work produced to be exhibited at the historic Manchester Victoria Baths. Below is my curatorial statement and pictures from the exhibition:
The exhibition was curated around the theme of ‘transformation’. A stroke is a profound and life changing event. It creates challenges, both practical and emotional, that need to be faced and processed by both the survivor and those close to them. A profound transformation has taken place and this is reflected in the artwork produced.
Responding to the site of Victoria Baths as a space that was traditionally used for health and wellbeing treatments, the theme of transformation was a natural fit. When it came to the presentation of the work I wanted to create a visual metaphor that visitors would physically interact with and understand even before seeing the artwork.
A curtain was an apt symbol for the space because in the Baths people would change from one state to another, from their daytime clothes to swimming costumes, to cleanse and relax. Participants’ portraits were printed large on gauze and hung around the baths. Behind each picture was a banner of their artwork to tell their individual stories of life before and after stroke. Visitors could view beyond the outward appearance of each person by lifting the curtain. From curtains at the hospital, to curtains at home, to the metaphorical curtains we use to hide elements of ourselves from others. Here we were ‘lifting the curtain’ on stroke.
From the 880 visitors to the exhibition over the weekend we received extremely positive feedback. The interactivity of the exhibition worked to create a physical pause and a longer engagement with each piece than if the work had been immediately accessible. For the participants themselves, it was a culmination of the project, their progress, and an opportunity to see their work professionally mounted in a building of cultural and historic significance. A moment to feel proud of their talents, journey, and accomplishments.
August 3, 2016
Here’s a short video about a new collaborative project I’m involved in. I’m working together with a sculptor (Sarah Smith) and sound artist (Caro C) to create an immersive installation in the Dales Countryside Museum. It’s a new experience for me as I have not collaborated in this way before. The process and the collaboration has led to the work being rather different to the more minimal style I’m used to creating in my solo installation pieces, particularly as the sculptural elements are being made by another artist and there is the added element of an immersive soundscape. I’m looking forward to the final install early October, more updates closer to the time!
January 2, 2016
It has been another wonderful and creative year, one in which I’ve been fortunate enough to make some of my creative dreams a reality. Here’s a recap of my artistic year 2015 (which, incidentally, was also the International Year of Light):
First up I had my interview with BDP Lighting Designer, Chris Lowe published on The Double Negative. Chris worked on the lighting scheme for winning UK Pavilion at the Milan Expo.
My ‘Too Soon Sun Slips Into Night’ poem was projected onto a large grassy bank as part of Spectra Aberdeen in February.
March was a busy month as I found my beloved studio in the centre of Manchester, Grumpy Studios, was closing down. I was sad to leave the space as we’d created a fantastic community of artists. However, with every end, there must be a new beginning (excuse the cliche!) and I, together with some artists and writers from Grumpy Studios, were welcomed in to another diverse artistic studio community at ArtWork Atelier.
Shortly after the studio move, I exhibited in a joint exhibition with Richard Hughes (who was also selected as Tim Marlow’s NOISE Festival Curator Choice). The exhibition was called ‘A Slow Passion’ and installed as one of the last shows at Castlefield Gallery’s Federation House.
Throughout May I ran a set of creative art workshops for the Stroke Association as part of the Stroke, Science, Art project. This culminated in an exhibition of the project that I curated at Manchester Central Library and also ran a pop up exhibition/workshop at Manchester Museum in October.
Together with fellow directors, Roger Bygott and John Lynch we piloted Manifest, a city-wide festival of visual art in July. We pulled off our pilot festival over three incredibly full days during the busy Manchester International Festival period. With press coverage in a-n and exhibitions at some of the most prestigious cultural venues in Manchester and Salford, plus the support of the artistic community behind us, I think we represented the scene in the cities well. More about the weekend here.
A performance collaboration with Rafael Perez in July at the ‘It’s Ok, you don’t have to like it’ exhibition at TRACK Manchester. Rafael wasn’t able to make the exhibition so Manifest co-director and interdisciplinary artist, Roger Bygott, stepped in to perform the shadow chase/connection with me, bringing his extensive knowledge of physical performance art and dance, adding to the collaboration. A lot of my work has a performative/interactive aspect, either within its creation (I use dance to evolve ideas) or with the visitor when a work is exhibited. This was the first time I was actively involved as a visible performer and although uneasy at first, I enjoyed the interaction with another person and seeing the film and pictures of it afterwards.
In September I accepted another new collaboration, “The Copenhagen Interpretation” this time with photographer, Christian Dyson. I did the lighting design for a fashion shoot and even got to try out a few test shots of my own! There’s also a great behind the scenes video of the project. A really enjoyable day and great team of people making it happen.
I had ‘A Solid Wish Scatters’ featured in the Saatchi Art and Music Magazine.
And in November I exhibited my biggest outdoor work at the UK’s largest light festival, Lumiere Durham. DREAMERS was exhibited on one of my favourite sites of the festival to over 200,000 visitors and I’m so pleased to say that it was really well-received with the sound of joy and laughter as people played in the work. I’ve admired Lumiere Durham for many years, so to be given the opportunity to be included and to see so many people enjoy the work highlights exactly why I make the type of work I do.
To round the year off nicely, I exhibited two pieces at Enlighten Manchester Festival of Light and Sound Art. I consider that I had one of the best exhibition spaces in the city as I developed poetry to trim the popular and prominent benches that surround Manchester Central Library. I also exhibited “Lost and Found” inside the library. A fantastic end to the year as I saw visitors enjoying both pieces. The project was made possible by public funding from Arts Council England. See more pictures here.
This year my work has been placed within the public realm more so than ever before, and I have also learnt and tried many new things to develop different strands to my practice. Creating work for the public is an exciting prospect, but nerve-wracking process. I don’t know whether people will engage with the work until it is exhibited, and by that point, it’s impossible to make any changes. I feel a mixture of relief and a huge amount of joy at seeing people engaging so positively with each work this year. With every project I have not been alone in ensuring the work gets to where it is exhibited; I work with the festivals’ teams, manufacturers and sponsors who all play a part, so I’m grateful to have worked with so many talented and enthusiastic people.
December 20, 2015
‘The Stories Under Our Feet‘ are ephemeral light and text artworks trimming the edges of the benches that surround Manchester Central Library. I developed a series of short observational poems drawing on changing weather and seasons to create moments of contemplation for people walking by or sitting on the benches. The piece was developed for the Enlighten Manchester Festival of Light and Sound Art 2015 and was funded using public funding through Arts Council England.
I was pleased with the positive public response to the work. So many people stopped to slowly make their way around the benches to read the poems, smiling once they’d completed the set and commenting on how nice it was to see engaging artwork in the public domain.
I changed the piece each night to shuffle the poems and show a variety. The light and shadow cast changed each night also, sometimes easy to read, other times a little more difficult and erring more towards the aesthetic of the feathery light and shadow effect. I like people to engage with my work and I also like to slow them down from their daily lives if only for a few moments. For some, they only noticed the attractive lighting effect, whereas others spent time reading the poems more carefully. Going off the feedback at the time, it seems something positive was gained from both types of encounter.
You can see more pictures of the work on my website here.
I also created another piece “Lost and Found“: understated light and reflection pieces activated by the viewer. Passers by interrupt the reflection to become either ‘lost’ ,‘found’ or sometimes both to highlight the search for sense of self and connection between people.
One visitor told me that she lost her little boy in the library on the visit and found him at my piece – he’d positioned himself so that he had ‘lost’ projected onto him. She said once she’d found him, she took a picture of him with the word ‘found’ on him instead. Great to know my artwork helped to reunite the two, but also that it was easily understood and interacted with!
Many thanks to John Lynch for the photos, and to Enlighten Manchester/Curated Place and Arts Council England for their support in realising these pieces.
December 10, 2015
In October I ran creative writing and light art workshops at Manchester Central Library as part of the build up to the Enlighten Manchester Festival of Light and Sound Art. These workshops explored themes of memory and identity using creative writing and a final session of light and shadow play.
The workshops were split into sections, the first introduced participants to the library resources for interesting reading and inspiration material in order to explore their own memories to tell stories in interesting literary ways. The second used experimental literary techniques to create new writings and further refine work for the final week. In the final session I introduced everyone to various light and shadow play techniques and long exposure photography. They also used their own writing to create pictures in the shadow word style I use in my own practice and in my Enlighten Manchester final piece “The Stories Under Our Feet“.
The inspiration for these workshops came from a previous project with the Stroke Association, which delivered workshops in creative writing, visual art and photography to help stroke survivors to explore their memories (I have written more on this project here: Curating Stroke: Stories of the Self Through Art and Science).
I’m really pleased with the workshops, I only wish I could have had longer to help develop more work as three sessions only provided a taster of what is possible!
December 8, 2015
I will be exhibiting two new commissions at this year’s Enlighten Manchester Festival of Light and Sound Art 2015.
Last year’s festival was held in Piccadilly Gardens and I was fortunate to have the famous Tadao Ando concrete wall as my site to respond to. The work ‘A Solid Wish Scatters’ was named as a public favourite in Mondo*Arc Magazine.
This year, the festival has changed site to Manchester Central Library and the Bridgewater Hall and is mainly indoors. However, I have been given another prominent outdoor site to respond to: the Manchester Central Library benches that surround the building. ‘The Stories Under Our Feet‘ are ephemeral light and text artworks trimming the edges of the benches. Short observational poems drawing on changing weather and seasons to create moments of contemplation for people walking by or sitting on the benches.
I have also created an indoor work, ‘Lost and Found‘: understated light and reflection pieces activated by the viewer. Passers by interrupt the reflection to become either ‘lost’ ,‘found’ or sometimes both to highlight the search for sense of self and connection between people.
Also on show will be pictures produced in the special creative writing and light art public workshops I ran at the library during October.
The festival runs in the late afternoon/evenings of Thursday 10th – Saturday 12th December and free tickets can be booked online.
December 7, 2015
I’ve previously written about my admiration of the UK’s largest light festival, Lumiere Durham. The wonder and magic that the festival creates in the picturesque northern city is an inspiration to me as an emerging light artist. It has also certainly been one of the biggest influences in my artwork development and desire to create large-scale light art for the public realm. I often wondered what I’d do if got the chance to exhibit there, and this year I got the opportunity!
DREAMERS was installed in Durham’s Crown Court Gardens. It was inspired by Japanese paper screens and the Basho Zen poem:
‘Guest’s shadow through
the paper screen – I sit dreaming over charcoal fumes’
Large letters of mirror and steel were scattered across the grass and cast shadows onto a screen. It was a sculptural space for visitors to explore and become a part of the work as either participant or viewer. A light wash from behind the letters cast their shadows onto the screen to spell the word DREAMERS along with the shadows of the visitors that animated the space with their bold light and shadow play.
I was so pleased with the visitor reaction to the piece. People immediately understood the work and often spent a long time in the installation trying out different shadow effects. The space was filled with joy and laughter and it was a pleasure to see how imaginative people were with the work. There were tugs of war, dance routines, bicycles, umbrellas, kisses, hugs and many more poses throughout the weekend as each visitor cast their fleeting shadow on the screen.
I think play, joy and wonder are essential parts of our lives, so to facilitate that feeling in any small manner within a piece that I create brings me much joy also. With a lot of my work I create immersive spaces that incorporate text, light, shadow and sculpture. It is often inspired by themes of transience, the nature of happiness and hope.
This year’s Lumiere was as exciting and wonderful as always. There were some amazing installations across the city, which I was also lucky enough to explore on the final night. I feel honoured to have been a part of it and it continues to inspire me to create more work.
Many thanks go to the festival producers, Artichoke, and to the generous support of Dyer Engineering who manufactured the work.
Next up to show at is the Enlighten Manchester Festival of Light and Sound Art, 10th-12th December, for which I have received support using public funding by the National Lottery through Arts Council England.
December 7, 2015
Really pleased to have been featured in an article about the thriving cultural arts scene in Manchester in the Saatchi Art and Music North issue.
The featured work was for 2014 Enlighten Manchester Festival of Light Art. It’s called ‘A Solid Wish Scatters’ and was installed in Manchester Piccadilly Gardens. The earthly presence of the blocks scatter into an ephemeral light piece on the concrete wall to show all that is solid is still fragile and all that is perceived to be permanent never will be. Read more about the work here.
I will be exhibiting in this year’s Enlighten Manchester 10th-12th December, showing ‘The Stories Under Our Feet’ around the benches of Manchester Central Library and ‘Lost and Found’ within the library itself. For more information and to book free tickets to the festival visit the Enlighten Manchester website. These works have been created with the support of Arts Council England.
December 3, 2015
This July Roger Bygott, John Lynch, and I directed a city-wide (Manchester and Salford) visual arts festival:
Manifest is a visual arts festival, showcasing the talent of North West based artists in a series of exhibitions and events across Manchester and Salford.
It took place 10th-12th July 2015 and during the second weekend of the busy Manchester International Festival. The timing was deliberate so that the festival would give visitors a flavour of the creative activity going on across the two cities all year round.
The exhibitions and events in the Manifest programme were at some of Manchester’s most prestigious institutions, such as Manchester Craft and Design Centre, John Ryland’s Library, and the newly opened HOME. Artist studios across both cities were coordinated for the first time to have open studios during the festival weekend to give a closer look at the scope of art being created across the city.
This year was a pilot festival and run on the passion of its participants, and we’re so thankful for the enthusiasm and support in making it happen. We couldn’t have been more pleased by the reaction of visitors and participating artists.
Our reasons for setting up Manifest:
Roger Bygott: “For me the inspiration and spirit of Manifest is about community association, trusting grassroots links and mutual encouragement. As artists practicing within this broad vibrant community we aim to help strengthen those connections and to share more widely and publicly the artistic fruits emerging from it.”
Elisa Artesero: “Many of the artists in Manifest exhibit nationally and internationally but remain based in the North West. We want to show the high standard of contemporary art being produced on our doorstop.”
John Lynch: “Artists want their work to be seen, we present the opportunity to see it.”
We even got a feature interview in a-n
The festival was a huge success in more ways than we’d expected and we’re still receiving positive feedback about the impact it has had on participating artists’ careers. During the three days and nearly 30 different events/exhibitions artists: sold their work, had in-depth critiques with curators, they gained commissions and potential exhibitions, and were able to show their work to an audience that would not have had the opportunity to see their work otherwise.
Months down the line we got an email from Susan Gunn, one of the artists to present her work at ‘Manifest Calling’ a show and tell at HOME. She had been contacted by contemporary classical composer, Ailis Ni Riain, who was impressed by her work when she presented it at ‘Manifest Calling’, and asked if she would design the album cover for her album ‘Linger’.
The pilot festival gave us a chance to just give it a go, to test the idea of the festival and to see if it would be possible to run. The three of us had an incredibly busy weekend trying to document all the events and ensure they were running as planned. My pet project for the weekend was to try out live streaming the festival with the Periscope app to give online viewers a flavour of parts of the festival. I didn’t know how useful or popular this would be, but it turned out to be surprisingly popular, getting up to 70 live views at a time. Not bad for a fairly new piece of technology and first festival!
We ended with a closing party at media bar, Texture, which was a lovely celebration of the weekend. One of the joys for me (and I’m sure Roger and John, also) was to spend an entire weekend looking around the cities’ arts spaces, seeing fantastic contemporary artwork, having lively conversations about the artistic and cultural scene and the lives and exciting careers of those who are based here.
Although, admittedly, there was almost too much to be able to get around in one weekend, it was brilliant to have it all there to choose from, a snapshot of the kind of things that are going on (often behind closed doors of studios) all year round. To able to facilitate that in some way was an absolute pleasure, and I think we proved what we set out to do – which was to show that we live in a vibrant and thriving cultural space that needs to be showcased every so often.
As for the future of Manifest, well, watch this space.
All photos taken by John Lynch, and the logo and programme designed by the talented Stephanie Hamer.