Artist Suzie Hunt recently undertook a two-week Engine Micro Residency based at the Garage Studios at the University of Worcester. Following her recent graduation from Birmingham School of Art, Birmingham City University, the residency offered her the opportunity to transfer her practice back to her home city, allowing her to make contacts, learn more about the Worcester art scene and bring her knowledge of Birmingham in exchange.
The purpose of the two-week intensive residency was to engage with the university’s staff and students, working alongside the interests of the Fabrication Research Group to develop work and ideas whilst offering guidance and advice to students about to take a similar route into the art world. For me, the residency was a chance to make and develop new pieces in my area of interest – our urban environment, its objects and our behaviour within it, as well as how narratives are constructed. The short intensive period greatly encouraged the experimentation and innovation of my practice, offering a limited time to solely focus on my work’s development.
In preparation for the residency I communicated with S Mark Gubb (Senior Lecture at the University of Worcester) who invited me to a pre-meeting at Garage Studios, offering the chance to introduce myself to staff members, explore the facilities and to see the studio space I would be based in. This allowed me to get a clear picture as to how I might use my time at the university to the best of my ability.
At the beginning of my residency I met with Technicians Dan Roach and Hannah Davies for an induction into the Garage facilities. Here I was given health and safety training, inductions into each of the workshops and provided with an ID to enable me to access the equipment and facility. Dan and Hannah were exceedingly helpful during my time at the residency, providing me with all the support I needed when learning new equipment and processes such as sound recording. We also frequently communicated during my time, discussing our practices with each other, offering me an insight into both them and their career paths while I shared techniques I have used in my own practice.
With students not present during the first week, I decided to use this time to establish myself at the Garage by putting up work in the studio space for students to observe. This display included examples of past works from an array of projects, including: screen prints, photo etchings, CMYK prints and digital prints. Alongside this I also exhibited my journals from each of these projects, offering students a chance to see the progression of my pieces – how the ideas began, which artists in particular inspired the piece, and how it changed over time. With this in place the studio space became an open sketchbook, allowing students and staff members an insight into my practice but also providing relevant source material to those interested in a similar concept.
I used the remainder of my first week to generate ideas and research allowing the second week to be site based and to be available for student support and guidance. To start this off I digitally documented Worcester, allowing myself to build a body of material to explore during my time at Garage Studios and re-engage with the city. Within my practice, I document in order to de-contextualise, then reconstruct my surrounding space. This allows me to separate the work from the constant influx of information, and processes it into a readable format, leaving my work open to exhaustible invitations of deduction and speculation.
From doing this initial research it started to become clear to me what aspects in Worcester I was particularly drawn to. Thinking in terms of the Fabrication Research Group, one object of Worcester I was particularly drawn to was the public bench and the whole idea that surrounded it. A bench is a seat situated in a number of areas, to which people come, rest and witness life’s passing parade. It is placed and bolted to the floor, to view what is deemed desirable or worthy of looking. It intrigued me how this could vary from place to place, so I decided to make a piece dedicated to the Worcester benches. As a starting point I documented the view from every single bench in Worcester city centre (170 benches) and whilst I did this my second idea came about.
From living in Worcester and working in Birmingham, I frequently commute from Worcester Forgate Street. One structure that supports this movement is the Worcester Viaduct. What drew me to the viaduct was that from the underside of the arches you can see a split of colours varying in pattern, dependent on each arch. For me, the spans of the viaduct arches reflected this activity of interchange that took place within the commute, with the colours (commuters) meeting, crossing over and exchanging with each other between points.
Using the facilities at the Garage I began to experiment with how these ideas could be showcased, separately researching the objects themselves, learning of their functions, associated words and how the showcasing of the work could reflect that, building visual mind maps in the studio space. Thinking in those terms, I used this first week to explore layered image stills, video, installation and sound. The facilities and projection spaces especially helped with this experimentation during my time, as the main issue I have found in my artistic career is often not having a space to exhibit/experiment within. By having this and the equipment to assist the process, this encouraged and aided how quickly these pieces developed. Without being able to see how the work would look in different styles I would not have been able to come to a point of near resolve in the second week, ready to exhibit to students and staff members where I could receive feedback allowing me to push these further post residency.
I used my second week to exhibit my produced/developing works; allowing myself to engage in conversations with students and staff members, holding open studios and talks on my career and practice.
I exhibited three prototype pieces based on the benches and viaduct of Worcester at the Garage and produced two prototypes for the bench.
Prototype one is a photographic installation of 170 images with one viewing bench. The photographs are views from every bench in Worcester. The bench is an invitation to stillness in a fast world. Similarly, photos are a neat slice of time, invitations to deduction and speculation.
Prototype two is a video projection with one multi-layered slide/still, lasting ten minutes. Combining the view of every bench in Worcester, you are offered the opportunity to observe/witness the everyday. Each trace shows evidence of what has taken place, the essence of the city, created through the repetition of images. These provide an account of the movement of the similar but busy everyday, with projection offering a moment in the surrounding noise.
Each prototype offers the contemplator the option to pause, sit and breathe, observe the world as a still image, a projection of reality whilst the noise and busyness of the passing parade continues on around them.
With the viaduct I produced a single prototype: three A0 digital prints on matt paper. These three large digital prints feature the underside of the viaduct arches, looking up from ground level inside the arch. When exploring the city, the viaduct bridge is a noticeable part of Worcester. A bridge, a series of arches, linking the city, myself and others, a point of intersection. These spans, supporting the distance between this point of interchange, are a junction where two points meet, crossover and exchange with each other.
By holding an open studio with these new and old works on display I was able engage with staff and students on a daily basis. I held conversations with members of the Fabrication Research Group, including S Mark Gubb and Richard Allen. Through this there was a constant ongoing exchange of information and ideas, providing feedback and helping me to inform and improve my practice.
From the brief it was clear that student engagement was a core part of the residency. This was something which I particularly looked forward to participating in. Having held workshops and discussions with students and public in my previous residencies, the opportunity to further expand this was exciting. Thinking about this and holding conversations with lecturer Maureen Gamble early on, we agreed to give a talk on my practice to the final year students. In this talk I discussed my life as a recent graduate, how my artistic career had changed, the difficulties I faced and how I pushed forward, obtaining opportunities that would enhance my career. Following the talk I answered questions and provided a tour of my exhibited pieces for those intrigued. Overall I felt the talk was well received with students engaging with myself and my art work, providing them with knowledge and preparation for their next steps and myself with useful feedback on how individuals responded to my pieces.
Over the two weeks I developed three prototype pieces. The staff and facilities at University of Worcester were amazing. Every day I was able to further push my work and communicate and learn new and exciting things from others, as well as provide my own support to others around me. I am thrilled with the outcome of the residency. My time here has re-energised my practice, opening me up to alternative ways of working with digital documentation, and has given me the confidence to push my career further. I look forward to up and coming opportunities.