Why did you decide to set up GRASSLANDS? What are its ambitions?
I have a very long garden and half of it was unused for a couple of years. Originally myself and my partner thought of running a community allotment project but this did not quite take off! We quickly realised we were not gardeners and didn’t really know our neighbours that well. So I decided to run an art residency project that was interested in finding artists who wanted to collaborate with others and produce art that was experimental, temporary and beyond the usual confines of studio or gallery based work. I usually find artists that have not met before and are from differing art practices or approaches to making contemporary art. I am interested in developing GRASSLANDS further by producing a work space area to run various workshops, develop one off and regular events and generally have a more structured programme that invites a wider pool of creative thinkers and makers to produce hybrid collaborative work.
Tell me about the challenges and opportunities of running the site.
Some of the challenges are around organising time to be available to facilitate GRASSLANDS residences and how this works for artists too. It is also financially challenging as currently it is self-funded by me but I hope to generate some income in the near future for this. The residencies usually last for a whole weekend and they are therefore quite short but this increases the intensity of the art activity and conversations that takes place.
Which of your past residencies have been most successful?
All the residencies have been successful in their own way especially when the work produced was unexpected and made through collaboration. Making new discoveries, skills or skill-sharing and collaborating is what makes the residencies most successful. Another success is when conversations lead to working with other projects, artists or potential opportunities.
You selected Damian Massey and Natalie Ramus for a residency from New Art West Midlands 2017. Can you tell me why you selected them for your Special Opportunity Award and what you are hoping for from them?
I am hoping Damian and Natalie will collaborate together to see what hybrid work can be made. So a sculptural practice (Damian) working with a performance and sculptural practice (Natalie). After looking through the selected artists for New Art West Midlands 2017 I produced a short list of artists based on images and statements from their website and web links. I was particularly interested in Damian’s art for its sculptural qualities and possibilities, the conversion of manmade materials developing into natural forms. I was also interested in the ideas driving the work, more specifically concerns around urban environments and the impact of human culture. I was equally excited to select Natalie’s comprehensive website which showed a real engagement in pushing her own boundaries of performance through the physicality, emotional, action-based research and experimental work in response to a personal journey in relation to the public and the private and the conflict within this. Natalie’s ideas around perpetual performance resonated with my own research.
How might Damian and Natalie work with the other two artists also on residence?
All artists are at different stages in their art career and all at an exciting time, producing individual work and collaborative projects. I am looking forward to new conversations they have and art making beyond each other’s practices.
The other two artists are previous GRASSLANDS artists. They are Ian Andrews and Sarah Fortes Mayer. Ian’s prolific art practice is largely sculptural and responds to site. His art practice is a personal exploration of how the mind works, interprets and remembers the experiences that make us who we are. Sarah’s practice is inclusive of performance and sculpture and looks into the invisibility of older people, confronting audiences with “the voices and images of the overlooked” as she describes them. Both Ian and Sarah also run an art project called In-Public, an Arts Council Funded community project recently looking at inter-generational approach to tackling invisibility, titled Age Yard Shift.
What are your hopes for the residency in July?
I hope the artists will collaborate with each other, share ideas, make new discoveries and stay in touch. After July I am hoping to run an annual event where I will be inviting all previous GRASSLANDS artists to meet up for an informal gathering.