Image - Florence Straw, NT Mr Straws House, Film Still, Grace A Williams, 2018.

New Art West Midlands and The National Trust warmly invite you to:

Residence & Research
Wednesday 20 February 2019, 2-6pm.
The Lab, Royal Birmingham Conservatoire, Birmingham City University, 200 Jennens Road, Birmingham. B4 7XR

During the Summer of 2018, five artists undertook research residencies with National Trust places across the Midlands, developing new ideas and perspectives in response to the sites – their architecture, the landscape, stories and atmosphere. Reflecting on the outcomes of these five artist residencies, this event explores the value of artist-led research in the context of the heritage site, and the development of future projects.

As well as the five artists – Larissa Shaw, Lindy Brett, Aileen Doherty, Theo Ellison and Grace Williams, joining Dr Catherine Baker on the panel are Emalee Beddoes-Davis, Curator Modern and Contemporary Art, Birmingham Museums Trust; Hetain Patel, Artist and Eira Szadurski, National Trust Creative Producer – Outdoors.

To attend, please RSVP by Wednesday 13 February to Helen Robinson – helen.robinson@nationaltrust.org.uk

During the Summer of 2018, five artists undertook research residencies with National Trust places across the Midlands, developing new ideas and perspectives in response to the sites. On Wednesday 20 February at the Royal Birmingham Conservatoire, New Art West Midlands and The National Trust warmly invite you to reflect on these residences and explore the value of artist-led research in the context of the heritage site, and the development of future projects.

Bedroom Table Scan, Theo Ellison

As part of New Art West Midlands 2018, five artists and alumni of the exhibition were awarded coveted residencies with the National Trust. The residencies are part of an ongoing dialogue that aims to support West Midlands artists as part of Trust New Art, the National Trust’s programme of contemporary arts.

Theo Ellison was awarded a residency at Coughton Court, an imposing Tudor house in Warwickshire closely associated with the Gunpowder Plot of 1605. We spoke to Theo about the residency:

How did you go about the residency? 

I initially found the scenario quite a tricky one to work out – it was a short five-day residency (officially and endearingly termed a micro-residency) in a huge Grade 1 listed gothic stately home laden with so much history. There was no imposed brief or expected outcome from the National Trust, and they were extremely accommodating and supportive, so it was more of a self-imposed pressure to come up with an interesting response.

What did you think of Coughton Court? What inspired you?

For those who haven’t visited Coughton Court, it manages to exude all the grandeur of a gothic country estate whilst somehow keeping things homely. Though that homeliness must have been in part due to the sunny weather and cheery team members, I’d love to return in the Winter on my own to see it in full gothic horror-film mode. I did envisage my time there as being like Jack Nicholson’s in the Overlook Hotel, but it was too pleasant in reality. Its association with the Gunpowder Plot was intriguing, and I was tempted to make some work using fireworks and explosives on the premises, but the conservation team weren’t so keen on the idea…

Unititled (Preservation), Theo Ellison.

Due to the nature of the house and where it’s set were you restricted in how you could work? Did your ideas have to evolve/change as a result?

Yes, absolutely, my ideas evolved directly in response to the restrictions. The first day and a half on-site was overwhelming, and I remember getting the distinct feeling that I was shoehorning in elements of my previous work. It was also frustrating because, understandably, the restrictions over which objects I could get my hands on and what I could re-arrange were wide-ranging. The next day something clicked and I began to make this the focus of my work – that is; ideas surrounding preservation, conservation, and nostalgia. After that things fell into place and the experience helped to push the work forward.

The blue fabric in the photograph is a curtain designed to minimise the amount of light from entering the interior, which over time would gradually fade those interior surfaces. Certain curtains and window shutters would only be opened if strictly necessary, and this felt analogous to the house being set on life support or in solitary confinement. The rest of the project stemmed from there.

Blue Table Scan. Theo Ellison.

Is there anything you have learnt on this residency that you will take with you into other projects?

I learnt a great deal from this residency, particularly about working within my means and using restrictions to my advantage. It was and continues to be an invaluable experience. On top of that, I worked with some fantastic people and was able to utilise some cutting edge laser scanning equipment to gather the intricate details of Coughton Court, and push my work down some new paths.

The scans (pictured) were made using a large laser scanner mounted on a tripod and each room took multiple scans. Again I was looking at ideas surrounding conservation, preservation, permanence and nostalgia. These digital scans will in theory last indefinitely, while the actual Coughton Court requires continual maintenance to prevent it fading away. It is an exploration into our desire of maintaining what exists and of archiving as a response to the fear of loss. In that sense, the project looks to celebrate the educational, historical, and aesthetic value of Coughton Court, but also looks to interlink that with the murkier, more obsessional side of nostalgia.

The project is still ongoing and we scanned as many rooms and elements of the property as possible. I chose to dedicate most of the time to scanning the bedroom and drawing room as both bedroom scenes and game-playing scenes feature heavily within art history, which adds another dialogue and context to work with.

I would like to thank New Art West Midlands and the National Trust for giving me this opportunity; Tom, Rob, and Max from Mowma, curator Kate Stoddart who has been brilliantly supportive, and everyone at Coughton Court including Emma and Anna.

As part of New Art West Midlands 2018, five artists and alumni of the exhibition were awarded coveted residencies with the National Trust. Theo Ellison was awarded a residency at Coughton Court, an imposing Tudor house in Warwickshire closely associated with the Gunpowder Plot of 1605. We spoke to him about his experience.

As part of New Art West Midlands 2018, five artists and alumni of the exhibition were awarded coveted residencies with the National Trust. The residencies are part of an ongoing dialogue that aims to support West Midlands artists as part of Trust New Art, the National Trust’s programme of contemporary arts.

Larissa E Shaw was awarded a residency at The Firs, the birthplace of Sir Edward Elgar. Set in sight of the beautiful rolling Malvern Hills, he took great inspiration from the area. We spoke to Larissa about her experience.

 

How did you go about this residency? Did the National Trust wish you to explore anything in particular? Did they expect a final outcome?

I spent the mornings researching in the archives located at the back of the cottage, and during the afternoon I would be talking with the volunteers and visitors at The Firs.

I found communicating with the volunteers particularly important. Some of the volunteers are, what I and most others would classify as, ‘Elgar experts’. Many had a keen interest in composers across the globe, and have established their own well known societies, so the fluidity between Elgar and the rest of the musical world has been invaluable to me.

I attended talks in the visitor centre were rich in information, and allowed me to see how visitors were educated about Elgar, and more specifically, what they were most interested in.

I also spent a long weekend hiking and camping in the Malvern Hills, where it is believed Elgar often visited to gain inspiration for his works. Interestingly, I have been told by a few different sources that Elgar would have his driver take him to the top of the Hills so he could feed the birds. He would throw the feed up into the air, wait for the birds to land, and then write his scores and manuscripts where the birds landed.

There is a style of music called Aleatoric music, or ‘chance music’. This music, in some element of the composition, is left to chance. It is most associated with procedures in which the chance element involved a limited number of possibilities. An example of this would be to write a stave (the lines which illustrate sheet music) on paper, and hold the paper to the light against a window. The illuminated paper would show blotches of pigments which could be converted into a movement of musical notes ascending (going up), and descending (going down) throughout the score, as well as the rest of the paper. Well known composers of Aleatoric music are Stravinsky (early 1900s) and Henry Cowell (1930s). This method was also was used by visual artists such as Duchamp (1913-1915, interestingly living at the same time as Elgar) and John Cage’s Music of Changes (1951).

The National Trust wanted me to explore what it was about Elgar that sparked his ‘genius’, and how that may spark genius in visitors too. My residency has investigated key moments and events in Elgar’s life that shaped him into one of Britain’s greatest composers. Although The Firs did not expect an outcome (which allowed me enough mental and physical room to do whatever I wished) I plan to write a lot about my time at the property, and hopefully reveal some unknown things about Elgar. I hope in time this will manifest in physical works that will become a dialogue of ongoing investigations in the music world.

What did you think of the house? What inspired you?

I think that it is important for the National Trust to keep the house as it would have been in Elgar’s time for the ongoing education to visitors and for the rest of the music world. I have been to other composers houses such as Eric Satie in Honfleur, Northern France; Johannes Brahms in Baden-Baden, South-West Germany, and M.K. Čiurlionis in Vilnius, Lithuania – all of which are unique in style and showcase the composers’ lives.

What was important and of interest to me, was that The Firs have their own archives, a large part which is now in the British Library.

Is there anything you have learned on this residency that you will take with you into other projects?

I have learned how to interact with public visitors, and how to tailor my approach to different visitors too. I have learnt a lot about the National Trust, how an artist can work within the organisation and how an artist’s work can be useful as a means of delivering information to their visitors.

Within my practice itself, I have research that keenly interests me and has built a bridge connecting my musical education and art practice; something I have been struggling to do for a few years. The work and research made during the residency is definitely something that will occupy me for some time and see me through a number of projects.

As part of New Art West Midlands 2018, five artists and alumni of the exhibition were awarded coveted residencies with the National Trust. Larissa E Shaw was awarded a residency at The Firs, the birthplace of Sir Edward Elgar. Set in sight of the beautiful rolling Malvern Hills, he took great inspiration from the area. We spoke to Larissa about her experience.

Olivia Peake, Emergence. Image: Luke Pickering

As part of New Art West Midlands 2018, Birmingham City University graduate Olivia Peake has been awarded an exhibition at the prestigious RBSA Gallery in Birmingham’s Jewellery Quarter next year.

Olivia’s work explores the illusionistic qualities of light, surface and space. She describes her sculpture and installations as ‘sensory environments of reflective surfaces and minimalist neo-futuristic design, which disorientate the viewer’s perspective, distorting boundaries between media and disrupting spatial limitations.’

The judges were RBSA artists Annette Pugh and Caroline Ali. They selected Olivia as they felt her work extends the notion of painting beyond the obvious, is well presented, and shows sensitivity to the space of installation. They also felt that the significant cross-over between disciplines is something that would present an interesting dynamic within their space and appeal to a broad section of RBSA artists and visitors alike.

Her month long exhibition will take place from 10 June – 10 August 2019 in the RBSA’s ground floor exhibition space.

 

As part of New Art West Midlands 2018, Birmingham City University graduate Olivia Peake has been awarded an exhibition at the prestigious RBSA Gallery in Birmingham’s Jewellery Quarter next year.

Florence Straw, NT Mr Straws House, Film Still, Grace A Williams, 2018.

As part of New Art West Midlands 2018, five artists and alumni of the exhibition were awarded coveted residencies with the National Trust. The residencies are part of an ongoing dialogue that aims to support West Midlands’ artists as part of Trust New Art, the National Trust’s programme of contemporary arts.

Grace A Williams was awarded a residency at Mr Straw’s House in Worksop, Nottinghamshire. The modest semi-detached house was home to a grocer’s family, and has remained virtually unchanged since 1923. Grace has produced a short film of here time there, which can be viewed below:

Grace A Williams, awarded a residency at Mr Straw’s House, a National Trust property as part of New Art West Midlands 2018 shares her experience.