Artists Alice Gale-Feeny, Joe Fletcher Orr and Bryony Gillard were selected for Glasshouse, a residency devised by The New Art Gallery Walsall and Eastside Projects, with the aim to strengthen relationships between artists and galleries across the country. The three artists, based in Nottingham, Liverpool and Bristol respectively, spent time in May and June undertaking research, making and developing new conversations about their practice.
Anneka French spoke with them to find out more about their experiences at The New Art Gallery Walsall just prior to their studio presentation.
Anneka French: Maybe we could start with what it’s been like being in this artist studio space …
Joe Fletcher Orr: I think Alice should talk about that as her work has been about the space.
Alice Gale-Feeny: I guess my work has been more about the space. I was really interested in responding to this situation of being on show, being watched and being able to watch bodies in space. I’ve explored that by being in the building, not just in the studio.
Bryony Gillard: I think what’s different about working in this context is that the boundary between process and presentation is more permeable. I think we’ve all thought about what the space looks like when we leave which is a different way of using a studio to the usual. Here, it’s been possible to leave things up to test and people will see these things.
JFO: Maybe we should have left the door open. It probably looks more like an office.
AGF: Last week I had a good conversation with a man who came in to speak with me about the slide projector I was trying to mend. It was something about the old technology that invited him in. It was a talking point.
AF: Is the interaction important? There are maybe more similarities between Alice and Bryony’s practice but Joe, running Cactus, this interaction must be pretty important to you?
JFO: Yes it’s really important. My plan at the start was to have conversations with people and build relationships.
BG: This has happened well with the staff.
JFO: I’ve had a lot of conversations particularly with Zaynul, one of the gallery assistants. He’s really nice and the curatorial staff have been very supportive of course. We’ve had the whole care package.
BG: All the staff are very warm to the artist studio programme and people are really curious. This has been a great aspect of the institution.
AGF: I think they’re interested in the process of us being here which is not something I’ve experienced before.
AGF: Working with other people in this space has been a really interesting challenge. It frees up your own practice.
JFO: I’m used to hanging around with artists who have the same approach. But Bryony and Alice don’t really have the same approach as me. It’s challenged me a lot which is good because I haven’t been challenged much since leaving university I guess.
BG: We’ve all challenged each other and we’ve had intense conversations about our work and politics and process and this has been really productive. I’m experimenting a bit more without having to do loads of theoretical research – I feel I have more of a license to try something maybe even without a really strong reason to do it.
AGF: We’re all on equal footing even though we are doing different things.
AF: Alice, how have you been using the building?
AGF: I’ve been photographing parts of the building mainly focussing on the staircases and aspects of the architecture that suggest movement to another part of the building. I’ve been thinking about how a space is designed for a public and how you get people to navigate a space and building things for different bodies. I’ve taken a lot of slides of stairwells and stair cases before I got here and I want to combine these in a slide carousel with the new ones in a reading and some kind of movement. It’s been nice to have a building to be in and use. I’ve enjoyed being out there and distilling things in here.
BG: We are doing something informal as the residency was programmed without any events. Both Alice and I might be showing some performance and we will be inviting people along.
JFO: I didn’t realise how short a month was. It’s gone so fast.
AGF: I’ve felt like I’ve been on residency even when I’ve not been in this space which has been really useful. Even on the train.
BG: Because none of us live here, everything is new and there is more time and space.
AGF: It’s about getting out of habitual ways of making and thinking.
AF: How much connection have you had with the gallery before?
JFO: I’ve not been here before but I’ve seen lots online. I don’t know why I hadn’t been, I’ve got no excuse. I went to the Leather Museum around the corner – there are places where I live like that that I’d never go to so it’s given me a different approach.
AF: Like being a tourist?
JFO: Yes and trying to research and learn.
AGF: It’s been a way of making the most of a place and the experience.
AF: How much of the place is coming into your research, Bryony?
BG: Nothing I’ve made is overtly related to the building. I’ve been working with dancers while I’ve been here who I’ve found through networks that Alice had. This is a site-specificity because I’m working with people from the area with whom I wouldn’t work otherwise and we’ve been working within this studio and the room next door. The physicality of the spaces have influenced our movements. It’s been obliquely connected to Walsall but not any historical information or anything like that. The residency was about having time and resources for me. I don’t think there are many programmes like this in the UK that are like this.
JFO: I want to make some works with leather, a long list of works that are related to the area but I’ve not made them yet. I wanted to figure out work for a solo show and group shows coming up that I can activate. I’ve made a good list to carry me through the year. I make an endless list and go through this. Alice thinks I’m not interested in process which is probably true and something I need to deal with head on.
AGF: I hope you didn’t take it as a criticism. I noticed our different ways of working.
JFO: I always just want it to be done and do it again – everything else frustrates me. Even if the works made are about Walsall I can still show them elsewhere. I brought some footballs with me. I usually get artists to sign them but I’m going to do it with the gallery staff and leave it here. I was in an exhibition in Rome where all of the artists were quite famous conceptual artists and I took the role of the fan and got them to sign the football. I knew that them signing it would make the value of the work much higher than I could ever make. I’ve been asked to do it lots of times but I’d like to work with the staff. It’s not so much about football as memorabilia, signatures and value systems. I use a plain white football that looks like an art object – there is only one manufacturer of these. Teams are too loaded. I’ve thought about endless works about leather and footballs? I’m attracted to leather for loads of reasons though this is bad. People who’ve signed them usually want them.
AGF: It’s like looking at mirror of yourself.
AF: Can we talk about next steps? You have an open studio upcoming?
AGF: We have been like silent interlopers and we will leave this presentation but have not had so much interaction with the public.
BG: We are putting ourselves under public scrutiny.
AGF: More public scrutiny is good.
JFO: I’d really like to work with Walsall leather. Though it doesn’t matter if it is here and sometimes when I show things abroad and tell them local stories it has more of a mystery maybe. Sometimes it adds to the work if I take it completely far away.
AGF: It’s interesting to think about making something in one place and showing it elsewhere.
JFO: I think the photographs you took, Alice, could be shown anywhere. They are not too loaded with this place.
AGF: I want to take away recognisable features and to be more about public space. I hadn’t really thought about it as a collection that grows – about making something site-specific or general that means it can speak about other public places. I was looking at some of the architectural plans for the building but I like the way that it can be a bit more malleable. I’ve also been filming at a Quaker Meeting House in Bournville. They’ve let me film twice now and I hope that footage can become something though it might not be about Bournville exactly.
BG: The work I’ve been doing with the dancers is something new. I’ve never had the opportunity to work with more than one dancer at a time. I’ve used my materials budget to pay them which has felt like an enormous privilege – this has allowed me to improvise, play and take risks. I’ve learnt a lot from interacting, directing and working from them and I have lots of footage and experience to draw on and make something else. This has also been a good chance to push an existing project in a new direction. I wanted to explore my relationship to choreography and performance and this has completely moved things on for me. The dancers I worked with were so brilliant that I’d like to continue to work with them.
I’ve never spent any time in the Midlands before but I feel really excited at the thought of coming back here and developing relationships. It feels like a really exciting place to be. I think this would be great to accumulate and extend networks with Joe in Liverpool, Alice in Nottingham as well as within the West Midlands.
Glasshouse 2 will see James Lomax from Birmingham and Tom Verity from Stoke-on-Trent take up residence at The New Art Gallery Walsall from 4 July – 22 August 2017.