Back in February we held an event with our partners Trust New Art at the National Trust to share some of the experiences, research and results of five Short Residency Awards given to New Art West Midlands alumni artists Larissa Shaw, Lindy Brett, Aileen Doherty, Theo Ellison and Grace A. Williams. An aim of the event was to highlight the value in artists working within heritage contexts, looking at the ways in which artistic practice crossing into new spaces might yield new and sometimes unlikely research possibilities. The artists involved were selected through an open call to all alumni of the New Art West Midlands exhibitions and were asked to make a proposal for research for a particular property following a networking event. It was important that no outcome was expected of the participating artists – rather, this was an opportunity for research, conversation and reflection. These residencies took place from May to October 2018, for a period of five days, each with varying degrees of engagement with staff, collections, audiences, architecture and landscape.

Kate Stoddart, an Independent Curator working with National Trust, and our key contact throughout the project, emphasised concerns for supporting artistic professional development that she shares with New Art West Midlands, especially in the years immediately following graduation. Such residency projects not only provide key opportunities for artists but also allow properties to have access to new voices and views that enrich their own research and their offer to audiences. The project brought together shared ideas  of supporting  continued professional development for the region’s artists – not just at graduate level, but also in the critical years that follow. It was also about introducing and contributing creative intelligence, encouraging new ways of thinking and working at heritage sites which will make for interesting projects and attract new audiences.

Held at Birmingham City University’s Conservatoire and chaired by Professor Catherine Baker, Associate Professor Interdisciplinary Practice at Birmingham School of Art, we heard presentations from the residency artists and staff at each of the National Trust properties involved in the East and West Midlands: The Firs, Ilam Park, Attingham Park, Coughton Court and Mr Straw’s House. These properties were selected via a call for expressions of interest. Kate noted that three of the properties had never before worked with contemporary artists.

Catherine Baker explored in her opening presentation definitions of research in terms of the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC) (questions, aims, context and contribution) and creative practice as research in and of itself. Many definitions place a dichotomy between creative practice and research and they remain unclear. Collaborative and interdisciplinary relationships have value for both parties but are not necessarily harmonious. In fact, conflict, disruption and provocation might be more valuable than a settled and comfortable research relationship. For Catherine, research is reliant upon vulnerability, not knowing and even failure. Artists are best used not instrumentally but as partners. In this way, it is new insight, rather than new outcome, that is gained.

Artist Larissa Shaw gave her presentation with Rachel Sharpe, Creative Partnerships Manager at The Firs in Worcestershire, the birthplace of composer Sir Edward Elgar and the place where his ‘genius’ was born. Larissa began by discussing the importance of chance and of the Worcestershire landscape to Elgar’s composition work which offered a starting point for her residency. Her time at The Firs afforded her some distance from her practice and allowed her research to grow and develop into something that might become a physical work in the future. Larissa responded to the residency context by engaging in conversation with volunteers who are ‘home-grown’ Elgar experts. Speaking about her practice with non-arts specialists left her feeling a little vulnerable but support and parameters for working from Rachel enabled a freedom and confidence in her project. Larissa has an orchestral background and the project provided a critical link between that and her artwork. Rachel and Larissa are looking to develop an Arts Council funding application that draws on the “Aeolian harp” – an instrument played by the wind – and they are excited to reflect on the possibilities and conversations ahead.

The Firs

Lindy Brett’s residency was spent at Ilam Park in Derbyshire, supported by Projects Offer, Paul Mortimer. She used medium-format photography, video and sound technologies in the landscape, dividing her days across several weeks to explore ideas of the picturesque and the self-conscious landscape. Lindy conducted oral research with volunteers and staff on their favourite views and aspects of the very large site which dovetailed with Paul’s key concern about what Ilam should be in the twenty-first century, and a renewed importance of this landscape which has inspired artists since the eighteenth century. Some of Lindy’s ideas included camera traps set off by the feet of visitors, frames placed within the landscape and recreating vanished aspects of the site. Both felt that the short nature of the residency (five days) did not account for the induction to the site that was necessary given its scale nor the time it took to explore it. Lindy feels that the experience has given her confidence and opened up new ideas.

Ilam park

Attingham Park near Shrewsbury hosted artist Aileen Doherty. Saraid Jones, Research and Interpretation Officer, started the presentation with an audio described tour of the site, and noted that she was really excited to be out of her comfort zone showcasing Attingham Park in a new way. Aileen’s practice is characterised by natural forms and natural sciences. This was her first residency and she admitted she had no idea how to approach it initially. Aileen split her five days in two parts in July, and tried to get to grips with the scale and the collections of the site where nature is frequently brought inside. In addition to tours, Aileen was able to stay on site and experience it outside visitor hours which was a valuable experience. The split sections allowed reflection on the first part of her experience, and the second half was spent making photographs and drawings of surfaces and textures very close-up. Archival research afforded further insight. Aileen felt that she achieved what her proposal outlined but that the reality of the residency challenged her thinking. Saraid’s team felt relaxed about the non-outcome driven nature of the residency – she found Aileen’s fresh eyes in thinking about details really useful and tried to give her freedom to explore. Aileen was pleased to have support, and to have open-ended and in-depth conversations with staff and volunteers. There are possibilities afoot for future collaboration via a potential outside artwork.

Attingham Park

Emma Dwan O’Reilly explained that Warwickshire’s Coughton Court is a nationally important house (it played a key role in the Gunpowder Plot) owned by a Catholic family who still live on site. Theo Ellison spent his residency on site. Theo found the scale of the house was overwhelming and felt a self-imposed pressure to shoe-horn previous work into this context. Not being able to touch or move any of the collection objects was a source of frustration so he resolved to work with these restrictions of preservation and conservation. He recruited a 3D-scanning company to laser scan rooms and objects within the house and presented some of the ghostly films and stills made using this technology to us. Theo felt his pieces were most successful when they lacked human presence. He found the collision of not being able to do what he wanted to do on site was a fruitful experience that has enabled new ideas and works. He is keen to show some of these works at Coughton Court and elsewhere in the future, and explained that the technology allows the mapped spaces to be endlessly revisited and discussed. Emma noted a big change in Theo’s work from their initial conversations. She was delighted by the work he made and was excited to share this with colleagues. The works produced have clear potential to feedback into the site.

Bedroom Table Scan, Theo Ellison

Grace A Williams spent her residency at Mr Straw’s House in Nottinghamshire, a relatively small and humble former home to the Straw family of grocers, where she particularly explored the role Florence Straw (wife of Mr Straw) played in its history. This line of research fit with her existing interests in the ‘vanishing’ of women and domestic space. Grace found that the staff on site were very helpful and that she was given freedom. The space is full of objects that appear untouched – it is one of the largest collections in the National Trust – which she found a little intimidating. Grace recorded the space within and outside visitor hours through photography positioned at 4ft – the height of Florence – and while she was there she met a visitor who had known her. Grace found that five days was insufficient and she put pressure on herself to make work. In conversations with Abigail Rose, Membership and Visitor Welcome Assistant, conservation, presentation and preservation were discussed. In one tour of the house with a male volunteer guide, Grace found him comically dismissive of Florence – claiming that Florence spent the family money on wallpaper. She found this made her laugh but she was also angry about the comment and will endeavour to feed this back to the site.

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

At the end of the event, we also heard from Emalee Beddoes-Davis, Curator Modern and Contemporary Art, Birmingham Museums Trust; Hetain Patel, Artist and Eira Szadurski, National Trust Creative Producer – Outdoors, who contributed their valuable views to the afternoon’s discussions. The group began by discussing the value artists bring to such sites. Emalee reinforced the fact that this is focussed upon the artist’s subjectivity, thinking, experiences and honesty which moves the site away from a purely institutional voice. An artist has the ability to highlight artifice in this context. Hetain noted that such projects provide artists with new perspectives and time to think outside their usual frame of reference. The group discussed the length of these particular residencies, concluding that neither the artist’s practice nor their thinking, stop after five days – that that is a starting point. This, of course, raises a question of remuneration, Hetain affirming the point that an artist does not underwork on a residency because their reputation is at stake. The group also discussed the issue of presenting research that is unresolved and the uncomfortable nature of this in relation to outcomes and the honest expectation of a non-outcome driven project. For Eira, the value of the residencies lies within the permission given to the artists to ask awkward questions, make criticisms and have opinions. Two-way dialogue, outlined parameters and expectations are all key to making such projects effective.

Rachel Sharpe, from The Firs admitted that she was afraid of the non-outcome prospect at the outset of Larissa’s project but has come to see the importance of this. The Firs, for instance, have arrived at a new understanding of this value which has positive future outcomes for their way of working. She stated “You provided us with a very important platform to have a very different conversation about the site.” Catherine summed up by concluding that it is exactly this knowledge and this experience that is the outcome.

 

Anneka French

 

Back in February we held an event with our partners Trust New Art at the National Trust to share some of the experiences, research and results of five Short Residency Awards given to New Art West Midlands alumni artists Larissa Shaw, Lindy Brett, Aileen Doherty, Theo Ellison and Grace A. Williams.

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.

Exhibiting artists, New Art West Midlands 2018

Five artists and alumni of the New Art West Midlands exhibition have been awarded coveted residencies with the National Trust. The winners were announced last night at the preview of the New Art West Midlands 2018 exhibition at Birmingham Museum & Art Gallery.

 

 

Exhibiting artists, New Art West Midlands 2018

 

The artists are Theo Ellison, graduate of Coventry University, who heads to Coughton Court in Warwickshire. Birmingham City University graduates Larissa E Shaw, Aileen Doherty and Grace A Williams will head to The Firs (Worcestershire), Attingham Park (Shropshire) and Mr Straw’s House (Nottinghamshire), respectively. Lindy Brett, from Staffordshire University, will be resident at Ilam Park in Derbyshire.

 

In addition, Nicola Arnold (University of Worcester), Jez Dolan (Birmingham City University) and Olivia Peake (Birmingham City University) were awarded £250 of art supplies from Cass Art.

 

Each residency will last for five days and has a bursary value of £1000. The artists will have the opportunity to create new work inspired by their time with National Trust places, and will share their experiences and ideas at a special event in autumn 2018 with other arts professionals.

 

The residencies are part of an ongoing dialogue between the National Trust and New Art West Midlands that aims to support West Midlands’ artists as part of Trust New Art, the National Trust’s programme of contemporary arts.

 

Kate Stoddart, Curator, supporting Trust New Art, commented: “The short residency format is designed to encourage experimentation and foster innovation. These residences offer new ways of working, allowing artists to engage with a place and develop site-specific responses to the stories, collections and landscapes of the National Trust.”

 

Craig Ashley, Director, New Art West Midlands commented: “Artists who are exhibiting in the current New Art West Midlands 2018 exhibition, or who exhibited in previous exhibitions, were eligible to apply for these awards. We’re delighted to be working with the National Trust in this way, offering brilliant opportunities for artists to gain vital experience right at the start of their careers.”

 

The New Art West Midlands exhibition opens today (16 February) at Birmingham Museum & Art Gallery, with further openings next week at AirSpace Gallery in Stoke-on-Trent and The Herbert Art Gallery & Museum, Coventry. Each of the 28 exhibiting artists has graduated from one of the region’s six art schools within the last three years: Birmingham City University, Coventry University, University of Wolverhampton, University of Worcester, Staffordshire University, and Hereford College of Arts. The exhibition, Five Years On, looking at the work of six New Art West Midlands alumni is also open at Birmingham Museum & Art Gallery.

Five artists and alumni of the New Art West Midlands exhibition have been awarded coveted residencies with the National Trust, alongside three prizes from Cass Art.