Leamington Spa-based digital artist Rosa Francesca talks about her practice and those that inspire her – via Voice Magazine.

‘Great-ish: The Gaslighting of a Nation’, 2020. Film still. De'Anne Crooks.

Birmingham-based De’Anne Crooks was recently commissioned by Film and Video Umbrella (FVU) to produce a piece responding to the pandemic. Great-ish: The Gaslighting of a Nation(2020) is a love letter to an unborn child which engages with the migrant experience and Britain as a spouse in a would-be toxic relationship.

Annabel Clarke talks to her about her work.

‘Great-ish: The Gaslighting of a Nation’ is such a moving piece. I was in tears. Can you tell us a little about how you went about making the film? 

I am still humbled by the emotional response people have had to the film. I think the response has been quite reflective of the process. Making it was emotional. There were so many times I felt like I was giving too much to the work. Like it was very raw thing to explore a topic in this way, in this very personal way. 

I knew when I wrote the proposal that I really wanted to show the toxic relationship that marginalised people have with their country, but I wasn’t sure how I wanted to do it. As I worked, I began to make connections between how this country treats marginalised people and toxic relationships, and I realised that actually, everything I’m writing down, everything relating to what occurs between a country and marginalised peoples, especially Great Britain, is symbolic of a bad relationship, it’s actually gaslighting. As somebody who has been in a toxic relationship and somebody who has been gaslit, making those parallels came easily to me. 

It took me about two weeks to cement how I could communicate these ideas in a way that not only expressed what I felt and what my community feels (although I cannot speak for my entire community), but what I as a Black womxn feels and is willing to share. I didn’t really know how I could express this concept in a way that everyone could relate to because depending on your racial background, you will either never experience a complex relationship with your country or you will have experienced it so comprehensively that this work may trigger you. I’m aware of how ridiculously cliché this may sound, but the solution came to me in a dream, I know how that sounds. But the truth is, I literally jumped out of bed at 4am, grabbed my phone and started to jot down what ended up being the first half of the script for ‘Great-ish: The Gaslighting of a Nation.’ It was at the end of my bed, phone in one hand and through blurry eyes that the structure and the first half of the script began to form. 

This idea that I would write a letter to my unborn child, which again is an aspect of this that is so personal to me because of my own relationship and issues with being able to have a child, could only have come in this way. Even though I was apprehensive about the initial script, it felt very important and it felt appropriate to tell a story in this way. So I started to write a love letter. Once I had this structure I felt a lot more confident about bringing this experience across. That’s the thing with gaslighting, it can be hard to explain that type of abuse because you have been convinced that it’s not abuse. But half way through the commission, I realised that I was teaching something non fictional. This is not me talking to my abuser, to Great Britain, or even to my peers, but this is me talking to someone who doesn’t exist yet. That added a whole different dimension to the piece, and I had to play around a lot more with my storyboard. I feel like I should say that the monologue informed the visuals but it didn’t, and I feel like that worked well in this case. I had already selected archived material and had filmed most of the new material around my home, as the brief required we stay indoors, before the script was complete. I think the rule that we had to film within our homes adds a layer of intimacy, having visuals that have been collected in my home, in my space, a safe space that I would rarely share with such a wide audience, but also have that working alongside audio that is ultimately saying things aren’t so safe and talking about things that are quite dangerous and emotional and traumatic is what pushed my thinking a little further forward. 

‘Great-ish: The Gaslighting of a Nation’, 2020. Film still. De’Anne Crooks.

It can currently be viewed on the FVU website. Are there plans for it to be shown elsewhere?

The film is available to watch on the FVU website as part of their permanent collection and is a featured video until 14 November. In terms of what happens with the work now, I’m not too sure yet. I really would love to screen it elsewhere. I’d love to screen it in spaces that specifically talk to and heal people like me really, because I feel like even though it can be read as quite a sad piece, this is a testimony of healing. It is an experience a lot of Black people can relate to, so it would be really great for people to see it in a space that feels like home. Sometimes galleries don’t exist as an inclusive space for Black people and so I have this vision of screening it in spaces specifically chosen by the Black community. 

To be honest, being able to view it on the FVU website works really well right now as many physical spaces cannot be occupied. I’m grateful to FVU, not just for the commission, but the support. My Supervising Producer Leah McGurk was really invested in the concept, in the proposal, in the work and I felt that in the support I got from her. I specifically want to thank her for helping bring this together. 

 

Your work spans mediums. Has the pandemic changed the way in which you make work? 

I’ve never really considered myself to be one type of artist, so I’ve never committed to calling myself a painter, a filmmaker or a sculptor. I guess I just create work in a way where the medium is dictated by the message. 

The solo exhibition I had in July 2019 at Centrala ‘Two Truths and a Lie’, was made up of mostly paintings with one photographic piece, a print piece and one short video piece called ‘Lief’. So I’d say for that body of work I steered towards more paintings and photography, which just so happened to be a project I shared pre-covid. So I would say the pandemic has in fact altered the way in which I’m creating, not necessarily thinking but my choice of medium. I’ve got to really think about how people are going to engage with my work more carefully, so that has dictated the way I’m making it. I think I still have a traditional approach, as in jotting stuff down in my sketchbook, I always return to my sketchbook, but I’ve noticed that I am then bringing those sketchbook ideas to my screen and creating these sort of desktop mood boards. I’ll have writing I’ve done on there, some of the automatic writings, images from my phone, sketches, sketchbook pages, other found imagery all laid out on my desktop screen. Some of these are available to see on my website and Instagram. As soon as the first lockdown happened, that was when I started putting everything on screen in a particular way and played with how the different things worked with one another – Seeing how some of the text would contrast with the drawing and how that contrasted with the photographs I took. I think that was to first stage of seeing my practice change in this digital sort of way. 

The filmmaking really came back into my work through lockdown. The FVU commission requiring me to only film in doors, only in my home, was definitely something that was affected by the pandemic. And even though I use my sketchbook a lot, for ‘Great-ish’ I found that I was mostly using my phone to make notes. I feel I’ve become a little more digital, as I imagine most of the world has due to the pandemic. I think I only leaned into that way of producing work because most people were at home, on their computers, getting more in touch with technology.

‘Great-ish: The Gaslighting of a Nation’, 2020. Film still. De’Anne Crooks.

You’ve recently been awarded a bursary through ReFramed. Could you tell us a little about what you will be producing for the commission?

I’ve been asked to respond to how COVID-19 has affected Black and Asian people or the Black and Asian experience in relation to COVID-19 which is a huge topic really! I could probably complete a whole body of work about that. But the brief required me to create 3-5 photographs and I chose to do this work about my grandmother (who I call ‘Nan’). You can actually see her in ‘Great-ish: The Gaslighting of a Nation’. She’s my muse. 

The series of photographs I’ve produced capture her experience of faith and fear. Initially I wanted to look at how someone who is elderly, an immigrant in England, can already feel like they are in a strange land. They can feel isolated as both an older person, as a woman, as a Caribbean person – how that is already quite isolating to be in a country that you consider a sort of home but not quite that, and then in addition to that, to be in isolation, to be locked down. It’s a difficult experience. It’s an experience that’s not represented enough. 

I then started to focus on one of the things that has always been a comfort for her, something that has always been a constant, and that has been her faith. She’s a Christian woman and a firm believer in God. Her faith is everything to her. The photographs try to document her relationship between having this faith but not being able to go to church, be around her friends, her pastor, her leadership, her family. What happens when someone is surrounded by all of this fear and is hearing on the news everyday: ‘Stay home’, ‘Don’t go anywhere’, ‘You are vulnerable, you are vulnerable’? I think it’s weird always hearing that you are vulnerable and then being Black, being an older woman and having these underlying conditions, receiving these messages since the start of lockdown, she has just had this very strange and difficult experience. 

I really wanted to discover what that fear looks like alongside her firm faith, really trusting and believing in a God that she believes has everything under control and that she is protected, and safe and loved. The photographs are a documentation of her relationship between her home, her space and how her home is safe because she has this faith. She is surrounded by all these memorabilia, scriptures, images, her bible and her hymns. So yeah hopefully you can see the final images soon and I hope you enjoy them.

‘Great-ish: The Gaslighting of a Nation’, 2020. Film still. De’Anne Crooks.

What else are you currently working on?

I’m currently working on a few things. I’ve just created something for Vivid Projects. Alex Billingham at Vivid Projects has an incredible concept at the moment called Vivid Live TV. They commissioned me to create something that responded to this digital era that’s happening; the digital boom of creating art and how we access it as well. I created a short video called ‘Break Bread With Me’. That’s available to view until 6 November. Hopefully I can show that work again at some point in the future. I’m delving a little into work about identity politics and what makes my identity political.

My work at the moment is looking into what happens at this intersection of being Black and British and what that actually means in relation to belonging, the implicit consequences of colonisation, the conversation around migration and people existing within Britain; but Britain not really feeling like a place where one can exist and so on…that is where my current body of work seems to be going. This is even starting to cross over into my Masters degree where I’m looking at inclusive language and the consideration of identity within education; thinking about Bell Hooks and David Sutcliffe’s text ‘British Black English’. Really focusing on language and speech in relation to identity politics. I’m also working with Black Hole Club which is fantastic and we are developing something really cool at the moment and I have the opportunity to unpack my ideas a little further but through a retrospective lens, thinking about identity politics spanning the last 30-40 years. Making different connections with my own work but with other artists that have inspired me as well. There is a lot of cross over happening between my studying, my commissions and the fellowship with Black Hole Club so that’s fun.

Great-ish: The Gaslighting of a Nation(2020) can be viewed here on the FVU website as part of their permanent collection.

Break Bread With Me’ (2020) can be viewed here on the Vivid Projects website until Friday 6 November 2020.

Birmingham-based De’Anne Crooks was recently commissioned by Film and Video Umbrella (FVU) to produce a piece responding to the pandemic. ‘Great-ish: The Gaslighting of a Nation’ (2020) is a love letter to an unborn child which engages with the migrant experience and Britain as a spouse in a would-be toxic relationship. Annabel Clarke talks to her about her work.

https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-birmingham-52398113?at_custom2=twitter&at_campaign=64&at_custom4=0BC2B6FE-8592-11EA-9EEB-23BD4744363C&at_custom1=link&at_custom3=BBC+England&at_medium=custom7

Cold War Steve’s latest work – an homage to his hometown of Birmingham – features a glittering cast of local luminaries set against a 19th Century cityscape. Find out more about this new commission from Birmingham Museum & Art Gallery and Vivid Projects. – via BBC

Nick Briz, Diamonds (Green Screen Version)

We speak to Chicago-based artist Nick Briz, one of 10 artists showing in No Copyright Infringement Intended, a group exhibition, curated by Antonio Roberts. Taking place at Vivid Projects until 23 September, the exhibition explores the collision of digital art and copyright issues.

Nick Briz, Diamonds (Green Screen Version)

ok, i’ll try to answer as many of ur questions at once as i can (^__^) >> not sure how much u know about the story behind the Rihanna SNL performance, but in Nov of 2012 Rihanna performed live on Saturday Night Live (SNL) in front of a green screen (so that the audience @home would see her superimposed over other backgrounds), not xactly groundbreaking, but tbh i don’t think i had ever seen someone do that on SNL. the images/scenes she was superimposed over seemed weird/trippy to most, but more than familiar to a small group of net artists which also overlapped w/a small online-subculture which was being referred to as ‘seapunk’ at the time. that community got pissed, feeling their aesthetic/scene/culture had been co-opted && online publications were quick to write about the backlash (the knowyourmeme entry for seapunk has a good list of articles re: the Rihanna “controversy”). as someone in the net art community i was seeing a lot of my friends making upset posts on social media re:the situation && it reminded me of something i had gone through a few years earlier.

i think it was sometime in 2008 when Kanye West had released a music video for his track “Welcome to Heartbreak”, this video featured a glitch aesthetic (specifically a technique known as datamosh). glitch art is another community i’ve been heavily involved in for years && before the Kanye video this community was relatively small, few people (including artists) had heard of glitch art. so when the Kanye video dropped folks in the community were pissed, i had friends claiming that glitch had been co-opted && it was the beginning of the end. the reality however was that glitch art had now been introduced to a much larger community, after that Kanye video glitch became much more popular, so much so that my glitch friends && i were able to organise a glitch conference (called GLI.TC/H) 3 years in a row (which Antonio also helped out on) as a result of the increased popularity we’ve now got A LOT of shi//y glitch art online, but at the same time, most of my fav glitch artists are folks who didn’t discover glitch until after the Kanye xplosion. the story behind the Kanye video is interesting, but i don’t want to digress too much… the reason i bring it up is b/c it was a big eye opening moment for me as an artist, at the time i felt glitch had been co-opted but i realised that was too simplistic a view of how culture worx. Kanye hadn’t “co-opted” glitch, he simply joined the conversation && of course (given his status) had a big impact on it, the results of which where both good && bad (but in my opinion, mostly good. .. even though the video itself might had been a little lame (>_O)).

so bax to Rihanna, when this happened i couldn’t help but feel like my fellow net artists weren’t seeing the bigger picture on social media, this is part of how culture worx, no one owns the conversation (it wouldn’t be a conversation if u were the only one allowed to have it). a few years b4 some of the artists in this community had made an xtremely influential glitch art piece using a Rihanna music video … && though i’m not trying to equate an underground artist’s appropriation of a large pop star w/her appropriation of an underground artist (there’s a clear power-imbalance there) it’s important to remember that in a way we (net artists) had already started this cultural remix “conversation” w/her.

i wanted to make something in re: to the way my community was reacting to the Rihanna performance in a way that was both sympathetic (like i said, i had already xperienced that feeling of co-option) but also helped them realise that this is how the cultural convo worx. i wanted to make something that would take the energy they were spending on making angry social media posts about Rihanna ‘copying’ their work && redirect it towards making new work ‘copying Rihanna copying their work’ >> ie. get them bax in the cultural remix discourse. the whole green screen aspect of it reminded me of this Oliver Laric piece i absolutely love called ‘Touch My Body (Green Screen Version)‘ (which came out around the same time as that Kanye glitch video), where Laric took that Mariah Carey music video && went through frame by frame replacing all the backgrounds w/green so that it could be remixed online (very “Internet”, much “remix”). && so i figured it made the most sense to remix his idea into another remix project which would invite these internet remix artists to remix Rihanna’s remix of their work.

i called my younger brother (who’s great w/after effects) && asked him if he could quickly do what Laric did to this Rihanna performance. so he did that to as much of the performance as he could in one night && then we put it up online, && naturally the community started remixing && the cultural convo continued in the productive way i was hoping it would (^__^) (w/more remixing, rather than sh*t posting). && the conversation literally did continue, i started collecting the remixes on my website && then the agency which had produced that performance for Rihanna on SNL reached out to me to see if there was some way she could collaborate w/this community of artist directly (unfortunately that never worked out, interesting story though, but again, i’ll try not to digress).

u asked what i’d hope an audience would take away from the work, tbh i never intended to show this work in galleries or anything like that, the audience was always supposed to be my community of net artists who had felt co-opted. like i said, i know && sympathise w/that feeling, but i’ve also come to realise that culture is a complicated conversation && feeling co-opted in a situation like this means ur missing the bigger picture. i wanted to help my community see this as an opportunity, as part of the convo && so that’s why i posted the green screen version, so they would remix it && get their feelz out that way. i think it’s great that folks have wanted to share the piece in different contexts (like this show for xample) but i never really intended it for larger audiences (so i’ve never really thought about what they’d get out of it).

We speak to Chicago-based artist Nick Briz, one of 10 artists showing in No Copyright Infringement Intended at Vivid Projects.

Join us at our six ‘expedition’ events to explore the extremities of artistic practice in the region.

Led by New Art West Midlands, The Outer Limits programme for artists explores the extremities of artistic practice – seeking out the far and distant places that make visual art in the midlands distinct and encouraging peer interaction.

Our six ‘expeditions’ will cover topics ranging from new artist opportunities all the way through to the cult of biennials. They will ask what is needed to safeguard the future of artists in the region, drawing upon national and regional speakers, key venues around the West Midlands and most importantly open minds.

All of these events are an opportunity for you to engage with us at New Art West Midlands, to moonshot our future work and boldly go beyond the current limits. The conversations we have will inform the West Midlands visual arts strategy and become the blueprint for our future programmes and advocacy work.

Keynote speakers at each of the events will catalyse the debate before we hand over to the people in the room to respond. Benefits to you as an artist include direct engagement with and impact on New Art West Midlands’ future programme, meeting other artists and discussing your work, and finding out about current opportunities. Plus, we will be issuing a New Art West Midlands limited edition badge (yes, seriously).

Leading us through The Outer Limits is artist Simon Poulter who will facilitate each session with Director of New Art West Midlands, Craig Ashley. New Art West Midlands’ Advisory and Executive Group members will also be in attendance. If you have to something to say, we want to hear it.

 

Event #1 ‘Setting the scene’ at AirSpace Gallery (Stoke on Trent)
Tuesday 19 September, 2 – 4pm

How to be successful as an artist. Sign up to join this event which will focus on the raw materials and engine of being ‘successful’ in your practice. We will be looking at core concerns for artists at all career stages, including insights by practising artists. What does a good gig look like? How do we Play Nicely in the art world and get proper reward and contracting for what we do? What rates of pay are current and workable for artists in the market place in 2017? We will be joined by Ryan Hughes (Director, Coventry Biennial of Contemporary Art) and Dan Thompson (artist, writer, speaker) to discuss these matters. The session will be an opportunity to gain valuable insights into how other artists work and input your own experiences.

Book here

 

Event #2 ‘F@ck this Sh/t’ at The Hive (Shrewsbury)
Wednesday 20 September, 11am – 1pm

How to take on the universe and make it listen. Sign up to connect with us and make some change happen within the grand new abnormal. We will be exploring the context of how artists respond to fundamental shifts in the political space, examples of disobedience and the fakery of the ‘disruptive’ economy. This session is about marginality, voices of otherness and a real opportunity to contextualise artistic practice as a response. We invite artists to debate and devise beyond the social media silos, with the intention of informing New Art West Midlands’ future programme. This session will include opening talks by prominent artists Noëmi Lakmaier and Ann Whitehurst, as well as the stuff you bring with you. Presented in partnership with DASH.

Book here


Event #3 ‘Out there’ at Vivid Projects (Birmingham)
Friday 6 October, 2 – 4pm

We explore the Outer Limits of digital space and the current thinking in digital culture. What mixed reality methods lie in wait for the artists of the new millennium? How can we bust through barriers to make new tools have some meaning? This session explores next generation ‘radical’ art, physical and digital realities – what is out there to be explored? Artists discuss tape machines, VR as painting, sci-art, bio-art, coding, experience design and user interaction. We will have two speakers on board for this mission – Gina Czarnecki and Laurie Ramsell.

Book here

 

Event #4 ‘Bring it on’ at Worcester Arts Workshop
Thursday 12 October, 11am – 1pm

You live in the West Midlands, you want to stay but what opportunities are there? In this session we invite artists and arts educators to explore the elephant in the room – retention of talent. This is a rapid build satellite session discussing recent development initiatives, new commissions, access to technical resources and partnerships across business, the funded sector and arts education. We will be hearing opening talks by self-organisers Emma Chetcutti and Lara Ratnaraja who will frame the discussion on how to sustain practice where you are. We also want to hear your ideas on the problems you face in working in the region.

Book here

 

Event #5 ‘Far Out-ness’ at The New Art Gallery Walsall
Friday 13 October, 11am – 1pm

‘Far out-ness’ is commonly associated with the post WW2 avant garde and jazz movements. Within this session we invite you to join us to discuss the position of art-making in the brave new world. This event is all about practice, presentation and making. Hosted at The New Art Gallery Walsall, we contextualise how West Midlands-based artists can shape and form their practice and process. What contexts are now available to artists? Gallery, web or public space? Our two speakers – Ruth Catlow and Gavin Wade – focus vanguard debates and we then connect in the talent in the room. This is suitable for early career, emerging and hybrid practitioners (artist curators for example). This event will be live streamed.

Book here

 

Event #6 ‘Cut and paste’ at the Coventry Evening Telegraph Building
Friday 20 October, 11am – 1pm

Biennial art has become synonymous with internationalism, neo-liberalism and globalisation. Would it be cool to rock up with a smart phone and shoot a new film in each major city you visit with some locals and then get on the next plane? What makes a new biennial – responsive, embedded and tailored to its locality? Or is this the wrong question? Located within the Coventry Biennial events and exhibitions programme, we invite artists from across the West Midlands (and beyond) to conduct a debate on art, instrumentalism and next-generation biennials. We will be assisted in this session by Roney Fraser Munroe and Mike Stubbs, who will give us reality checks on the cult of the biennial and more. Book early for this session.

Book here

 

 

 

 

Led by New Art West Midlands, The Outer Limits programme for artists explores the extremities of artistic practice – seeking out the far and distant places that make visual art in the midlands distinct and encouraging peer interaction through 6 events across the region.

Emilie Gervais, an artist based in Marseille, is one of 10 UK and international artists showing in No Copyright Infringement Intended, a group exhibition, curated by Antonio Roberts. Taking place at Vivid Projects, following its first outing at Phoenix Leicester, the exhibition explores the ways in which artists are grappling with issues of copyright in the digital age.

Screenshot from Andres Manniste’s Instagram

 

Can you tell me more about the work you are showing and its title?

I’m showing a painting of Princess Peach titled Still not Sure if Art or Copyright Infringement. The title is related to my first version of the work, an A3 limited edition print of another painting of Princess Peach titled Not Sure if Art or Copyright Infringement. It’s a digital painting made with Gimp based on an image of Princess Peach. It’s a caricature slightly highlighting some of her character traits. The limits between what’s art and what is copyright infringement is questionably often blurred.  

Where are its sources or starting points drawn from? 

The work is inspired by the Not Sure if Art or Copyright Infringement Fry meme. I was browsing art related memes on different websites and it’s the one that ended up being the most appealing to me. I saved it on my computer and it stayed there for a couple of months, lost in a folder. Whenever I save an image to my computer, I try to eventually make something out of it – images I save are usually ones that inspire me somehow. The Fry meme and Princess Peach images were both in the same folder. I was about to delete them when I felt they should be combined. So I replaced Fry’s portrait by painting Princess Peach very roughly – which led to a doubtful portrait of Princess Peach.

How is the work being displayed in Birmingham? Is this different from other display sites? 

In Birmingham and elsewhere, the work is always displayed as a tiled background image that repeats itself endlessly until the zone it has to cover is covered entirely. It’s always site-specific. Sometimes, other works are displayed within or above it (using the background zone as a frame for example).

In addition to issues of copyright and distribution, is there something at play with regard to the representation of women within this piece of work? 

Every woman has a bit of Princess Peach inside. Princess Peach is a political mastermind within Mushroom Kingdom. Isn’t she?

No Copyright Infringement Intended runs from 1 – 23 September 2017 at Vivid Projects.

 

 

Emilie Gervais, based in Marseille, is one of 10 artists showing in No Copyright Infringement Intended, curated by Antonio Roberts at Vivid Projects. We find out more.

Lucy McLauchlan, Birmingham Bt Pass showing at Centrala Art Gallery 8 July. Image credit Matt Watkins.

New Art West Midlands’ director Craig Ashley reflects on yesterday’s announcement from Arts Council England about investment to the region’s visual arts organisations through their National Portfolio for 2018-22.

Lucy McLauchlan, Birmingham By Pass showing at Centrala until 8 July. Image credit Matt Watkins.

Arts Council England’s National Portfolio for 2018-2022 will include thirteen West Midlands’ Visual Arts organisations, up from the current number of seven. This almost doubling of the visual arts contingent is great news for the region, and the sector is strengthened further through the inclusion of more organisations working under the categories of Museums and Combined Arts where there is increasing work in the widening realm of visual arts, and exploration of the innovative spaces between art forms.

With the exception of Birmingham’s The Drum, which closed last year due to a number of challenges and was consequently not in the running for this next round of funding, the current cohort of West Midlands-based National Portfolio Organisations working across Museums, Visual and Combined Arts remains unchanged and will continue to receive investment.

This is an active and positive endorsement of the great work being done in the region, and Arts Council’s decision provides a degree of certainty in uncertain times. Investment from other sources of income must continue to be a priority over the next four years, and the impact of this stabilising fund will allow the time to further develop and grow the opportunities for a wider and more diverse funding mix.

It is important of course that, within the context of some much needed good news for the arts, there is a balanced view. Where other areas of public funding for culture have been consistently cut in recent years, particularly the investment from our challenged local authorities, the National Portfolio money awarded through Arts Council demonstrates the absolute necessity of public money to secure and strengthen our creative output.

As recognised by the Creative Industries Federation, public money sits at the foundation of our £84b-a-year-and-growing creative industries sector, providing essential support at the start of careers and initiatives that go on to bring great success to Britain. Furthermore, anticipating the gap left by the withdrawal of EU funds beyond 2019 – subject of course to the ongoing Brexit negotiations – how do we shore-up and sustain future public investment in the arts? Arts Council England cannot do it alone, and a wider valuing of the arts in society must be a collective concern that we need to address together, within and beyond the visual arts.

The important and integral partnerships between our National Portfolio Organisations and others, both within and beyond the Creative Industries, will help to strengthen a platform for the visual arts over the coming years, and provide a firmer base to build upon for the future. From artists to arts organisations to educators and business, the benefit of the National Portfolio investment is channelled through the relatively few to the many.

So now is definitely a time to celebrate the achievement of those organisations and their supporters and partners that have strived to creative something crucial, critical and valuable. The National Portfolio status is something to be proud of, and an indicator of the valuable contribution organisations make as instigators, protectors, mediators, collaborators, risk-takers and trailblazers.

The inclusion of more organisations in the National Portfolio reflects the region’s growing confidence and the breadth of the work we do. Distinctively here in the West Midlands, the support for the smaller-scale, diverse, innovative and artist-led outfits bolsters the resilience of the visual arts ecology.

The collective strength of Birmingham’s Eastside organisations demonstrates the importance of working together to mutually support. Joining Eastside Projects in the National Portfolio are Centrala, Grand Union and Vivid Projects, all based in the Minerva Works complex in Digbeth, alongside Friction Arts at The Edge on Cheapside. This critical mass is a model that New Art West Midlands is keen to support elsewhere in the region, to ensure sustainability alongside critical success.

Our museums continue to get the support they desperately need and deserve, with Birmingham Museums Trust and The New Art Gallery Walsall receiving continued investment in the face of challenges with their respective local authority funding. Encouragingly, Wolverhampton Art Gallery receives an uplift from 2018 and they are joined in the National Portfolio by Culture Coventry (The Herbert Art Gallery) and Compton Verney, both of whom become regularly funded through Arts Council for the first time.

The region’s reputation for distinctive festivals shines through the Portfolio, with BE Festival and Fierce now joined by Flatpack, Shout, Capsule’s Supersonic Festival, and the Stoke on Trent-based British Ceramics Biennial. And in terms of innovation, BOM and Hereford-based Rural Media are supported to continue their leading roles in developing the territory within the scientific and digital realms. Wolverhampton’s Newhampton Arts Centre adds to the region’s complement of multi artform venues, widening the cultural offer in the Black Country.

These decisions demonstrate Art Council’s commitment to diversifying the National Portfolio, in terms of practice and geography as well as the protected characteristics including disability, ethnicity, gender and sexuality. Among the existing National Portfolio, the Shropshire-based Disability Arts organisation DASH has received a significant uplift in their regular funding to expand their partnership work to commission disabled artists. DASH’s director Mike Layward commented:

“[This] is not only great news for the organisation as it secures our work across England for the next 4 years, but it’s also great news for the disabled artists we work with. The uplift will allow us to develop a new area of work with disabled children and young people who will be the disabled artists of tomorrow.”

New Art West Midlands’ director Craig Ashley reflects on yesterday’s announcement from Arts Council England about investment to the region’s visual arts organisations through their National Portfolio for 2018-22.

Jamal Harewood, The Privileged - Portrait (Yarahmadi)

Vivid Projects, and VIVID before that, has always had a rich programme of artists exploring new media including performative work. Vivid Live is another step in this – dedicated strand for artists making live/performance work that I have the pleasure of curating.

Kate Spence

There will be touring work and new commissions, artists’ development and an ethos of collaboration that has always been a big part of Vivid Projects. As time goes by I hope to involve the Black Hole Club members and to some extent match make artists to see what they come up with together. Forming connections with other artists is so valuable and this is something I want to encourage, especially when artists have different skill sets such as film makers working with performance artists and so on.

This year Vivid Live launches next month with a Live Lab session on 15 July. There is an open call right now for artists who make live/performance work to give short presentations – up to 9 artists at each session – so I can get to know them better and see if they might work within future programming. There will also be footage from the Vivid Projects archives of past performance work to view so it is open to the general public.

Jamal Harewood, The Privileged – Portrait (Yarahmadi)

The first artist in the 2017 programme is Jamal Harewood. He is touring his work The Privileged and I’m so exited to bring him to Birmingham! That will be on 2 November for Digbeth First Friday. Jamal is a performance artist who creates temporary communities through participatory events that focus on ideas of identity and race; believing that these events should be a playful experience that allow everyone to get involved. He has a keen interest in abolishing the performer/audience hierarchy that frequently occurs within theatre. The Privileged, I think, is one of the most outstanding pieces of performance to come out of the UK in the past few years, and Jamal is really pushing boundaries with his work by creating these situations to have conversations around race and privilege in a less clinical and more involved situation that cultivates a space for people to be slap bang in the middle of – not detached from – the issues at hand. It is an hour long performance followed by an optional hour long audience-led discussion and there will be tickets available in the months leading up to it.

Then in December we have new commissions by Priya Saujani and Grace A. Williams as a joint show. This will also be for Digbeth First Friday, on 1 December. The work is being made as we speak so I can’t tell you yet exactly what the show will entail. I like working like this as a curator, this is a bit of the artist match making I mentioned earlier. Priya is a performance artist and Grace is a visual artist and researcher. They will both be making performance work for this show but as they have the run of the space I’m looking forward to seeing how they use it and what this triggers for them. Grace is making work inspired by the mythology of the female body submerged including the mermaid and sea siren – the type that lure men to their death, and Priya has a rich body of work subverting power dynamics, often in the guise of the Goddess, an all powerful figure, capable of creation and also destruction.

Grace A. Williams

All the artists I have programmed this year are people whose work I have followed and wanted to bring to Birmingham for a long time, so it’s very exiting to finally be able to do so.

As well as working on Vivid Live, I am also an artist myself and one half of Home For Waifs And Strays, a live art initiative in Birmingham. This year I will be performing a new work, #Challenge, at Sluice_, in London in September (precise date tba). This is a performance by myself and Co-Director (HFWAS) Aleksander Wojtulewicz. We have performed together before but this is going to be much more intense! We are both somewhat endurance artists and will be really pushing our limits with this one! We had wanted to perform this last year but I just wasn’t ready after the birth of my son. I’ve just finished a residency at The Wig as part of GESTALT’s curatorial placement. During this time I really focussed on training and getting my body into a physical state to perform again, so now I’m ready! We hope to tour the piece to some degree after Sluice_. I would like to bring it to Birmingham but it really will be brutal to us as performers so not something we will be able to perform too regularly.

Kate Spence

http://www.vividprojects.org.uk/programme/vividevents/

https://katespenceliveart.com/

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Artist and Associate Curator Kate Spence speaks about Vivid Live, a new live art strand she is curating at Vivid Projects later this year.

Artist, curator and New Art West Midlands Advisory Group member Antonio Roberts was invited to speak at The Arts in a Digital World Summit in Montreal, Canada in March. Here he reflects on the possibilities and limitations of digital platforms for the arts, particularly in terms of the diversity of our creative communities.

The Arts in a Digital World Summit. Photograph Antonio Roberts

From 15-17 March The Arts in a Digital World Summit took place in Montreal, Canada. The event invited over 200 artists and institutions to the Arsenal gallery to address the many ways in which digital technologies are impacting the arts and to scope out strategies for the future.

I was invited to take part in the summit and provide my insight into how I have worked with – and against – digital technology in my artistic and curatorial practice. To date I’ve curated a number of projects and exhibitions that have addressed this including co-founding the FizzPOP makerspace, and curating exhibitions including µChip 3, GLIT.TC/H and No Copyright Infringement Intended. In addition to this I am Curator at Vivid Projects, which has a long history of showcasing experimental artworks, videos and performances that integrate new technologies.

Although the name might suggest the summit was about digital art the Canada Council were very clear in stating that digital art is only one area of interest for the summit. The wider aim of the summit was “to be a discussion about the transition and transformation of the Canadian arts sector to thrive in the digital era”.

Although it lasted only three days the summit was intensive but not overwhelming. It provided great insight into how the creative culture works in Canada and the ambitions of the Canada Council for the Arts moving forward.

To launch the first two days keynote speeches from the likes of Jackson 2bears and Astra Taylor encouraged us to think about how technology and the apps that influence how we socialise need to reflect the diversity of its users.

I was especially drawn Taylor’s keynote presentation about the internet as a democratic platform. As the internet came to be more a part of our everyday lives it was looked to as a borderless, free, democratic world that would make our culture more open and let us express ourselves more freely. It would disrupt existing models of cultural and commercial creation and consumption by doing away with gatekeepers and treating everyone as equals. What has happened instead, Taylor argues, is that the existing broken social and economic models have transferred to the internet, with all of their inequalities, biases, and negative stereotypes amplified by the speed and global reach of the internet.

Gatekeepers, which in the physical world, will have existed as bricks and mortar institutions are now global private organisations such as Google and Facebook. Their algorithms, which dictate how we consume culture, mimic and amplify existing gender, racial, class, geographical and cultural inequalities instead breaking of them down.

This encouraged me to think about how these issues affect the creative communities. Are the ways in which platforms like Facebook, Instagram and Twitter operate ultimately negatively affecting our experience of culture both on and offline? In a digital world without borders why do we rely on a handful of sites to control our culture? Why not create our own? This draws parallels to offline institutions and galleries.

Taylor ends her presentation by encouraging us all to think about what if the internet wasn’t led by a California ideology. That is, what if the internet wasn’t controlled by mostly American Silicon Valley companies? Would there be the same focus on profits? Would every communication platform be an opportunity for advertising? I found myself asking what if the internet was governed by artists. How would it differ from how it operates now?

The Arts In a Digital World Summit. Photograph Antonio Roberts

Outside of the keynote presentations were the Human Library sessions. These were 30 minute presentations in which invited facilitators – myself included – talked about a topic and invited questions from participants. One session, led by Harmen van Sprang, focused on shareNL, a company that advises companies on the sharing economy. The sharing economy is an ecosystem built around the sharing of resources. It encompasses a lot of things, but generally organisations like Uber and Airbnb, where our personal resources are hired out for commercial gain, come to mind.

After explaining how it works we were asked to consider, could this way of working, fuelled by technology, be beneficial to the arts? One participant argued that such a model had existed in libraries that made musical instruments available for hire by the public and institutions.

There was consensus amongst attendees of the session that turning every exchange into a financial one could potentially be harmful as it could see things like the lending and borrowing of common resources and equipment e.g. projectors, chairs, something which happens amongst all artists and organisations, happen less as we place financial price on these exchanges.

There were far more presentations and workshops than these two and no way I could have attended them all.

The summit drew to a close with the announcement of a $85 million Fund for the Arts in a Digital World. Canada Council could have easily just launched this fund without much fanfare and a simple e-mail but by holding this summit everyone involved and invited – which included artists and organisations from across Canada – helped shape how the fund is used. One way to think about the summit was that it was a large survey from a diverse range of people about what their needs are. It is often that artists lower in the hierarchy feel that their needs are overlooked in favour of the large galleries.

What I took away from this experience was that digital technology can have a profound effect on our community but that we must shape it and not let it dictate us. There’s no doubt that the summit was put on at great expense but I would definitely like to see something happen in the UK, even if not focused purely on digital and art, which puts diverse artists and organisations at all levels in one physical location at the same time to discuss the issues that are important to them.

Live stream of the summit here.

 

Artist, curator and New Art West Midlands Advisory Group member Antonio Roberts was invited to speak at The Arts in a Digital World Summit in Montreal, Canada in March. Here he reflects on the possibilities and limitations of digital platforms for the arts, particularly in terms of the diversity of our creative communities.