Ian Andrews, installation view at Artists Workhouse in Studley


Some fresh tasty vegetables [talent], a dash of hot sauce [ideas], knob of butter [agency], a glug of ageing wine [experience], a crumble of stock [collaboration]? Then there is the cooking … time, space and don’t get me started on the utensils! 

Ian Andrews, installation view at Artists Workhouse in Studley

The complexities of ‘what ingredients make for a successful artist?’ led Stryx, an independent art space in Birmingham to set up their SOUP residency programme back in 2015. SOUP representing in simple terms, a mixing of artists in a shared studio space for a length of time.


The SOUP residency, now in its fourth year, has given over twenty artists the chance to work collaboratively in a large multifunctional studio space for a two-month period, framed by three open-studio exhibitions. This gave audiences the chance to see how a group of artists can progress with their work during a residency period.


In 2017, the SOUP residency entered new culinary territories with the launch of SLOW COOKER: SOUP PT IV with the support of Arts Council England and Birmingham City Council. This version of the residency saw the SOUP residency transform and transpose into a two-month paid residency for six artists: Ian Andrews, Hannah Taylor + Emily Scarrott, Thomas Kilby, Amy McLelland and Frederick Hubble. The project then morphed into a touring exhibition spanning across the West Midlands area. Working in collaboration with Asylum Gallery in Wolverhampton, Meter Room in Coventry, Direct Art Action in Sutton Coldfield and Artist Workhouse in Studley, Warwickshire.


As an alumnus of 2016 SOUP PT III, I observed and followed this recent transformation of the SOUP to SLOW COOKER residency, in an attempt to reveal the ups and downs of such an experience and its role in nurturing artistic talent.


I kept a keen eye on the SLOW COOKER artistic residency programme, with regular engagements with those involved. I will begin by highlighting some of the radiant outcomes. First and foremost, it has given momentum to six artists to allow themselves the time and space make and show work. The importance of this should never be underestimated. The SOUP residencies, like many before, have given a chance for artists to reconnect, reapply and re-energise their practices. For some, this experience has given them reason to make again, for others it has given them a fresh opportunity to experiment with new ways of working and showing. This includes the encouragement to explore ways in which to engage with the public, gained through a number of public exhibitions, engagements and participatory events.


The three open-studio exhibitions that were on at show at Stryx Gallery between May 2017 and July 2017 were, as ever, well curated, considered and received, with the knowledgeable support of the directors of the gallery: Karolina Korupczynska and Anna Katarzyna Domejko; as well as vital input from curator Roma Piotrowska who delivered four useful curatorial and mentoring workshops for the artists during their residencies.


These exhibitions consisted of a series of mixed media, process and live works. As a viewer I gained a sensation that all of the works in some way revealed a sense of curiosity about the seemingly bizarre and capitalist world in which we live. These works spanned research including magical displays of faux food, exploration of artworld fame, to repetitive body-based performances themed around social trauma, to the mythical origins and futures of our natural oceans.


Exhibition shot. Frederick Hubble


The audience responded well to these shows triggering a host of feedback, conversations and questions. All three of these open-studio events were marketed within with Birmingham’s Digbeth First Friday event showcase, which, as expected, added to the exhilaration of the event.  As with many exhibitions, artworks themselves only really become works when the audiences see them, but, even more so during a mid-residency open-studio event, whereby the artist very often puts their work in front of an audience without knowing how it may be received. This is a vulnerable and vital step in the development of a piece of work.


The final exhibition was then re-curated, appropriated and toured around the other four venues between July and December 2017. During this period, the shift of focus changed from being foremost about process and testing, to management, outcome and display. The satisfaction and tension between the making and displaying of work became a valuable albeit stressful experience, especially for the artists in the group whom tend to make responsive and live works.


The spaces chosen were located across the West Midlands, and varied in size, ethos, management aims, focus and organisational support. Some set up times being weeks, other being a matter of hours. This proved to be a realistic if challenging experience of what planning exhibitions of work can be like, leaving a legacy of key logistical skills that make up a significant part being a successful contemporary artist.


Another area of enquiry has been engagement and opportunity. As SLOW COOKER became the first paid SOUP residency, this has had a direct and positive impact on the quality, engagement and reach of the residency. Meaning this year, more than ever, the artists seemed to have made more ambitious work with a greater impact and reach.


The mixing of six very different practitioners during the residency allowed for collaboration, support and conversations to emerge, but as ever, due to the precarious life of being an artist, the later touring shows became more challenging as the artists had to begin to develop other financial avenues to support their on going practice beyond these touring works, as explained by a few of the participants. This is a problem encountered for many artists, indeed creative types, after paid work. Momentum and funding don’t always go hand in hand. The rights of artist workers have and I assume always will be a contested issue for a world that revolves around financial capital and investments. But, having said this, Stryx did an excellent job on ensuring, when possible, travel and associated expenses were covered in these later stages to the project.


During and after the residency, all the artists involved seemed to have revived confidences in both their artworks and their audiences. A few have already jumped into future opportunities and collaborations directly or indirectly related to the experience. Frederick Hubble has already secured a solo show titled FIRN at Asylum Arts Space in collaboration with a local curator Karina Cabanikova. This is a perfect example of how this experience is already starting to have impact in terms of collaboration, reach and the development of artistic [and indeed facilitative] practices.

  Gavin Rogers, 2018

Gavin Rogers responds to SLOW COOKER PT IV, an artist residency programme delivered by Stryx Gallery Birmingham from May to Dec 2017.

Ian Andrews - documentation of a video performance test - GRASSLANDS Residency 4

We spoke with Dan Auluk, artist, curator and GRASSLANDS founder about his upcoming residencies and plans for the future of this unique space in Birmingham.

Ian Andrews – documentation of a video performance test – GRASSLANDS Residency 4

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.

Sarah Fortes Mayer – Artist Hand – GRASSLANDS Residency 1

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.

Natalie Ramus, Hand Stitched: Monument

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.

Damian Massey

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.

We spoke with Dan Auluk, artist, curator and GRASSLANDS founder about his upcoming residencies and plans for the future of this unique space in Birmingham.