Community Commissioning in Balsall Heath

We had a fantastic meeting last night where the Balsall Heath community commissioning panel got together to consider proposals for arts and cultural projects in the neighbourhood and decide which to fund.

This meeting was the culmination of two months of running around by Arshad, who has been working closely with all the subgroups since the panel was formally brought together in early January, to help them take ideas and form them into deliverable projects. The main outcome of the meeting is that all of the projects proposed were approved by the panel (subject to some negotiation over details in one or two cases):

  • Beginner’s pottery sessions in the Sun Dragon Studio
  • West Indian debating society and events
  • Football tournament and CV checking sessions for 16-22 year olds
  • An oral history ten years on from the Balsall Heath tornado
  • Museum visits in London, including the V&A
  • Balsall Heath Heroes campaign
  • Residential trip to the Lake District including photography and sculpture
  • Balsall Eat food festival

Now that the projects and the budgets have been agreed, the next stage is for panel members to actually make these events happen. Some will be fairly straightforward, working with existing cultural intermediaries in Balsall Heath and Birmingham to deliver the projects, with panel members determining how the projects should run and who is targeted. Others will involve more work from the panel members to shape and organise the activities. The debating society is exceedingly exciting in this regard as panel members will be putting together their own schedule of talks and activities.

Of course this brings up lots of questions about new skills to be learned. None of the panel members who presented project proposals last night had ever done anything like this before – pitching their ideas to a group of people. The presenters did a great job and it was a really supportive environment, with lots of enthusiasm for the ideas, even where other panel members had questions about aspects of what was being proposed. As the projects develop there’ll be other new skills people will need to pick up such as organising publicity, managing a budget and thinking about how the projects’ success will be evaluated. This brings interesting comparisons to what Birmingham City Council have been doing in their cultural co-commissioning pilot where a lot of the energy of the intermediaries involved has been on upskilling the communities being worked with – the kind of work that organisations like Reel Access and individuals like Matt Daniels have been doing for years. It will be really interesting to compare our approaches as we go through this phase of the research.

It’s going to be a busy few months, but we’ve got a great team of people working on the projects, so I’m more excited than scared about how things are going to go.

What happened to the community art?

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Warwick University will be hosting an International Symposium on 17-18 September 2015 entitled ‘Amateur Creativity: Inter-disciplinary Perspectives’.

I’m presenting a paper at this event that emerges from the work with communities in Birmingham and Salford entitled:

‘A gallery of the gutter? What becomes of amateur art and artists?’

Here’s the abstract:

Over the last two decades, UK cultural policy has authorized an army of cultural intermediaries to work with ‘communities’. Amongst their many aims, they have sought to engage the ‘hard to reach’ as participants in the cultural ecology, both as consumers and potential producers. Thus, professionals have engaged communities to share in the production of creative projects and to develop their own voices and aesthetic responses to the world. As as a result of the nurturing of amateur skills and aesthetic ideas, community spaces boast exhibitions of the work of local people or their ideas and efforts adorn public places, evidence for instance of consultation processes as part of regeneration projects.

This presentation seeks to consider amateur production as part of cultural intermediation derived from research conducted as part of the AHRC-funded work in the inner cities of Birmingham and Salford. ‘Cultural intermediation & the creative economy’ has itself involved community members in co-production of research and, at the time of writing, in the commissioning of cultural work. In this latter process, community members are enlisted to form commissioning panels that produced organic cultural policy that might engage artists to develop work based on a remit formulated at grassroots level.

This paper reflects on these processes of intermediation, by both artist and social scientists. I ask: what are the dynamics of the relations of amateur and professional are articulated in such encounters? What ideas of culture, aesthetics, value and indeed engagement emerge? Above all, what happens to the work and indeed to the participants – the amateurs – engaged by such projects once they are completed?

The gestation of this particular paper and approach came in a tour of Salford I took a while ago in the company of Beth Perry of SURF. We came across a redevelopment site surrounded and partly concealed by the large white chipboards that are now de rigeur in such instances. This shield was also extensively decorated with reproductions of artworks produced by members of the local community. I think they conveyed ideas and desires for community improvements.

This site got us talking about such initiatives which are now quite familiar means of decorating urban disruptions which might represent, variously: a means of genuine engagement, distraction or concealment perhaps. My concern was, and is, with the question of what happens to the work solicited from and produced by community members and displayed in such public galleries? While galleries such as the one we encountered in Salford are made up of reproductions, the question applies to these examples as well as any originals.

Here are some images of a project I went to see today in Birmingham. In this instance, the work of school children has been commissioned by the construction company BAM and used to decorate one of its building sites.

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My title here is not a judgment of the work itself but a result of suspicion is that it is often (although not always) discarded, so affirming the distinction of the amateur and professional. After all, the work of the professional gets preserved in the portfolio, exhibited in the official gallery or purchased by the collector.

In developing the paper, I thought I’d try to survey and capture as many instances of such public galleries as possible. In order to do this I could do with a little help in identifying examples and in getting hold of images and information about their dimensions. Readers of this blog might be able to help therefore by posting responses here or by emailing me materials directly at paul.long@bcu.ac.uk.

Little moments of atmosphere

Although I’ve been working on culture-related projects for a few years now, I have always considered myself to be someone who hasn’t really drunk the koolaid of the creative economy.  For sure, there’s plenty of good stuff going on, but there’s a lot of nonsense too and a lot of people believing their own mythology.

Hence when Arshad and I went down to Digbeth for a meeting with Phil Hession yesterday I wasn’t quite sure what to expect, but was prepared to be broadly cynical.  Phil is in Birmingham for a few short weeks with a residency based at Grand Union.  He’s built a splendidly Heath Robinson contraption which enables him to record audio onto CDs by etching them with a nail, much like cutting a groove on a record:

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He’s been experimenting with this device, taking it out into Digbeth and recording ambient noises, snatches of stories and songs as well as some of his own singing.  Each CD contains about 2 minutes of recording and can be played back on a standard record player.  The playback sound is very like early wax cylinder recordings, lots of crackle and noise, space and atmosphere, all underpinned by the rhythmic cranking of the mechanical arm used to drive the cutting of the CD.

Phil sings very beautifully, demonstrating the process to Arshad and myself by making a recording of him singing in the studio space.

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This is genuinely joyful stuff.  What struck me, however, was that this was almost the opposite of cultural intermediation.  Phil hadn’t really worked out what he wanted to do with the recordings or even, really, why he was doing them at all other than the fact that he could and that it was kinda cool.

He’s got a show coming up in Digbeth in early March.  Definitely worth checking out.

One day workshop: Artists working within Higher Education

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Artists Working within Higher Education was an event I attended on 21 January 2015, held in a space in Manchester currently being used by Castlefield Gallery.

There is already an excellent and comprehensive overview of the day here written by PhD researcher Rachel Marsden, who took the photo above, but for the benefit of the Cultural Intermediation project, I have written my own overview of the day’s speakers and discussions, concentrating on some of things I found most interesting. Ways that individuals negotiate issues of structure and agency while engaging in university-based cultural production forms a big part of my own research, and this day also highlighted examples of this.

The event was part of Co-producing legacy: What is the role of artists within Connected Communities projects?

The legacy project runs from Feb 2014 to June 2015 at University of Sheffield, with partners in Manchester and Leeds, and explores the legacy of the AHRC/ESRC funded Connected Communities programme. The research already carried out in the Connected Communities programme has been strongly community focussed and much of it has been co-produced with local communities and groups of non-academic practitioners. The methods or modes of enquiry developed and employed have included some innovative artistic practices combined with social science methodologies. This particular part of the legacy project, which has the title Artists Working within Higher Education, has looked at 60 of the Connected Communities projects (out of a total of around 250) in which academics and artists have worked together to realise ideas in imaginative and participatory ways, and today’s event here was organised to disseminate some of the findings so far. Out of these 60 projects, in which artists have done things like run workshops, contribute to journal articles and book chapters and facilitate parts of projects and produce work that draw on their unique strengths and skills, 9 cases have been researched ‘in depth’ with the aim of understanding how existing and emerging ways of working across disciplines and in collaboration with non-HEI partners may be changing the research terrain.

The choice of space for this event reflected this ambition too, as it was not a University-managed space but the ‘empty’ top floor of an eight storey former office building with a screen and projector, a kettle and lots of folding chairs. Federation House is a large building close to the Victoria Station in Manchester, on the corner of Federation St and Balloon Street. I have always liked the name Balloon Street, its name refers to the first balloon ascent made in Manchester by James Sadler in 1784! The street is also home to the headquarters of the Co-operative Bank, in fact the Co-operative Group (formerly the Co-operative Wholesale Society) have been based in this part of Manchester since the late 19th century and Federation House is one of their unoccupied buildings currently being used by Castlefield Gallery as a ‘pop-up’ project space.

More than just a gallery, Castlefield Gallery has also been working as an art space development agency since 2006, brokering low cost project and gallery spaces for artists and creative practitioners in shopping centres and empty buildings in the North West of England, an initiative that goes under the heading New Art Spaces.

Castlefield Gallery’s director Kwong Lee gave a quick welcome in which he mentioned this initiative, then legacy project co-investigators Kate Pahl and Steve Pool introduced the day, beginning with an outline of the Connected Communities programme which seems to get more complicated every time I see someone attempt it! Kate went on to say that some of the individuals who have been involved in this legacy project describe themselves as artist/academic ‘hybrids’ and they recognise that their outputs will face different audiences. A slide in the introductory power point mentioned that amongst emerging issues in this project was the notion that as co-investigators, artists felt they have to ‘lose something’ in the process of collaboration, which provoked an immediate intervention from an audience member, an artist, who asked should that be ‘gain’ also? And another asked if artists felt that they lost something in collaboration with higher education, then what did academics ‘lose’? In this way a discursive tone for the day was set, as Kate, encouraged by the intervention, explained that as the day’s sessions would be recorded and these discussions would contribute to the research project.

The first speaker on the programme was Jeanie Scott, representing A-N Artists Information Company, which is now a membership organisation for visual artists dedicated to research, advocacy and support for the sector. The company used to produce Artist’s Newsletter magazine, a valuable guide to issues and developments in the arts scene. It’s been a while since I’ve seen a copy, but this trusty journal used to be a must-have subscription for arts developers and practitioners while I was working in the cultural sector. Concerned with what the employment options currently are in the visual arts sector, particularly for the 4,500 new graduates entering a workforce where long periods of unpaid labour are now the norm, the organisation has recently been involved in the Warwick Commission’s Cultural Value project (whose report came out yesterday).

Jeanie talked us around this fascinating map of The Ecology of the Visual Arts produced by Emily Speed

This was commissioned by A-N in 2013, here the arts sector has been imagined as a city and its constituent groups are represented by buildings. Interesting how the word ecology seems to be replacing the word economy in documents dealing with cultural policy.

Next, Professor Vanessa Toulmin talked about University of Sheffield’s Festival of the Mind, a festival that fitted the criteria for my PhD research so well that I now wish I had been able to include it in my fieldwork last year. Taking notes during this personal summary was the next best thing, though, as Vanessa included a huge amount of self-reflexive commentary in her presentation, something I have been seeking in my interviews with festival organisers. She is an academic and a historian, specialising in early film, circuses and travelling and fairground entertainments. She is currently Director of the National Fairground Archive at the University of Sheffield and also worked for a number of years on heritage and regeneration projects with Blackpool Council. It was the idea of “city vibrancy” demonstrated by this work with Blackpool that she told us she had used as the argument to access £35,000 worth of free venue space from Sheffield’s local authority for the Festival of the Mind in 2014. Bus and train sponsorship followed, as the event took place in fresher’s week to offer newcomers to Sheffield “a curated way of knowing the city”.

She spoke at length about how further in kind contributions were leveraged and how she believes she gets things done by working strategically through all levels of the university and using the procedures already in place, but I’ll leave all that for my thesis and concentrate on the bits about the role of artists here. 30 new commissions were funded and through this, the festival’s public content was produced. Artworks and installations were made by artists working in collaboration with academics from the University of Sheffield, with many of the connections linking arts practices with scientific researchers. To start the ball rolling, a speed dating event took place on a specially hired bus, with tea and cake laid on for successful ‘matches’ to sit down and work out their ideas together. Vanessa modelled the way the commissions worked on her own experience of working with sculptor Anthony Bennett. With a background in entertainments rather than arts (an important distinction that is sometimes not clearly articulated, I think) she found that the artist’s ways of working were a “new world” to her, but it seems that she stayed at arm’s length and allowed the practices to evolve. She also believes these projects brought back “the joy of discovery” to scientists who it turned out were not at all reluctant to get involved and even built in funding for some of the projects into their own bids. Money for arts projects is “peanuts” compared to the sums they usually bid for, she explained, they were used to dealing in bigger amounts than the festival’s entire budget. As a result of this big drive for engagement in the run up to the 2014 festival (it’s third edition and it seems, was the biggest so far) it would appear that the entire science research programme now builds funding for engagement into all their bids and University of Sheffield is a Catalyst University for Public Engagement with Research. Sheffield doesn’t want to be “the university on the hill”, she said.

Next James Oliver from the Centre for Cultural Partnerships, University of Melbourne, led a short, discursive session before lunch that took as its starting point something a previous speaker had said: ‘everything is related’. He wanted us to think about how relations are frequently unequal, reading a line from a letter to Marx from Engels sent during his time spent in Manchester about ‘dialectical ideas’. Binaries are unhelpful, James said, like the way cultural and creative work becomes labelled as practice-based or theoretical in hierarchical relations within academic discourse. Practice was a way to think-through problems and creativity should not be thought of as simply innovation or as a way to ‘translate’ social science, but a “mode of imagination and improvisation, which is open to other ways of being”. Durning the discussion which followed, a comment from a practicing artist was interesting, as she had been artist-in-residence in an archive project within a University department which is one I have encountered as part of my fieldwork.

As an artist working with, or alongside, different groups in a university setting – including staff who weren’t academics and students – “your status is unclear” she said. And while it is common for art to disrupt the brief it has been set, she wondered how the artist’s role is constructed prior to the residency and suggested that if the artists don’t conform to expectations, where does that leave the commissioner? I understand the problem and I agree that the production of art is a disruptive process and one that often takes critique as its central project, but as institutions are not keen on being made to feel uncomfortable, there are limits to autonomy which are often experienced in self-reflexive, internalised ways.

The discussion moved on to the subject of the project-based model in which most of the Connected Communities work has taken place, with many comments about low pay and precarious employment from artists and academics alike: “How are we affording the time to be here today?” and “We are talking to ourselves most of the time”. Vanessa made an interesting point, suggesting that “most academics don’t know how to pay artists”. She had been surprised by how much the artists in the Festival of the Mind project expected to get paid varied, which isn’t the case in the entertainment industry as it uses Equity pay levels as basis for a pay system.

The afternoon sessions seemed to take the works of art themselves as the focus for the talks, starting with artist and Professor in Creative Practice Steve Swindells’ talk, from the perspective of Huddersfield University, about what it means to be an ‘engaged artist’ working within an ‘engaged university’ in a town rather than a city. Creatively engaging individuals from the local community using dialogues that involve art practices and occupying spaces in the town is the idea behind the present ROTOЯ partnership which he has developed between Huddersfield Art Gallery and the University of Huddersfield. He describes it as a mutually beneficial relationship that showcases research by academic staff in the faculties of art, design and architecture. Steve mentioned a recommendation of the 2014 Farrell Review of Architecture and the Built Environment, which was “Every town and city should have an urban room where people can go to understand and debate the past, present and future of that place.” Urban rooms, already popular in Japan and China, would help to bridge the gap between architects and the general public and are places where the history of and future plans for the area are displayed and discussed. In the ROTOЯ project, work was exhibited in Huddersfiled that had been made in the town, but had previously only been shown in national and international venues. The project outputs include this published collection of critical essays and we heard that the ICA in London are also now partners in the project.

Finally Sheffield-based artist Paul Evans talked about being the recipient of a grant from the Leverhulme Residency Programme which allowed him to develop new work with an academic partner. Paul is interested in exploring the cultural significance of animals, with a particular interest in whales, so the grant enabled him to make a series of artworks based on 10 months spent in the Cardiff Osteological Research Group’s bone room at Cardiff University. While this was an experience he had clearly enjoyed, it was interesting that he mentioned in this presentation that the Leverhulme Trust was established by William Hesketh Lever, the founder of Lever Brothers (now UniLever). “It’s important to know who you’re in bed with” he said.

Paul’s work in Cardiff was mentioned in the Osteological Research Group’s 2014 REF impact case study in which he is quoted as saying “My collaboration with Dr Mulville and Guerilla Archaeology has had a substantial impact on my professional practice”, which is something that is also important to the legacy project.

The arts practice and co-production methodologies discussed here have illustrated a range of ways of working, but what I am interested in is how an artist’s autonomy fits with and complements an institution’s own objectives. All of us want to practice according to our values, which leads inevitably to conflicts of interest, so who is it that changes their approach or ‘loses something’ and what is losing something worth? Chantal Mouffe has this to say on strategies for hegemonic resistance in the domain of art and culture, which is where subjectivities are constructed:

‘Critical artistic practices do not contribute to the counter-hegemonic struggle by deserting the institutional terrain but by engaging with it, with the aim of fostering dissent and creating a multiplicity of agonistic spaces where the dominant consensus is challenged and where new modes of identification are made available.’ (Mouffe, 2013, Artistic Strategies in Politics and Political Strategies in Art)

(James Oliver also made reference to Chantal Mouffe and agonistic pluralism in his talk)

In contemporary, post-fordist conditions, where according to Mouffe “forms of exploitation characteristic of the times when manual labor was dominant have been replaced by new ones”, the objective of critical artistic practices should be the production of new subjectivities that contribute to the development of better social relations. Her comments aren’t specifically directed at the context of artists working with universities, but it’s the spirit of the argument that seems to fit.

While understanding the reasons why some prefer to advocate complete withdrawal from the existing powerful and hegemonic institutions and concentrate their efforts in constructing alternative social forms, Mouffe’s strategy is one of engagement with institutions as part of resistance to them. Believing, like some of today’s speakers, that the institution can be changed from within, she says “hegemonic confrontation” takes place in “the multiplicity of places where hegemony is constructed” implying that critical artistic practices will encourage agonistic spaces to occur inside the very institutions which secure the dominant hegemony, in the hope they can transform the way they function. It’s a pluralistic perspective that I think emerges repeatedly in Connected Communities projects, and while not all participants in the 250 projects (and counting) are obviously in pursuit of radical political change, the project is finding ways to hold onto individual differences, articulate them, value them and find equivalence among them.

Find out more:

Co-producing Legacy is led by Kate Pahl (School of Education, University of Sheffield), Helen Graham (School of Fine Art, History of Art and Cultural Studies, University of Leeds) Steve Pool (Artist) and Amanda Ravetz (Manchester School of Art)

Interview with Kwong Lee on New Art Spaces

ROTOЯ partnership

Learning Opportunities for Cultural Intermediaries – Ordsall Update

Back in 2010 when we first started thinking about this project, we had several chats with people who were interested in the term ‘cultural intermediary’. A common observation was that there were few training or professional development opportunities for people working in smaller arts and cultural organisations within communities. Our diary-keeping exercise carried out in Birmingham and Manchester/Salford in 2013 echoed this theme – a sense that much of the work of cultural intermediaries was ‘invisible’ and not valued in more traditional career paths.

We wanted to do something about this, as part of our ethos of ‘giving back’ within the project itself. This is where Kerry Wilson and her team at the Institute of Capital Culture in Liverpool step in. Kerry is offering cultural intermediaries a chance for professional development through taking a Masters-level module on Participatory Research, which is part of a course on Cultural Leadership. On completion of the module, participants will receive a 30 credit Certificate of Continuing Professional Development. You can find out more information by downloading the flyer here: Ideas4Ordsall_Training&Learning

To participate, you need to have an undergraduate degree, be working as a cultural intermediary (either paid or as a volunteer) and be able to commit time to doing the course. In Ordsall we already have several people signed up to see what this is all about but there are still a few places left. We will be arranging a first training day very shortly with Kerry so if you are interested and meet these criteria, read the flyer and get in touch with Kerry Wilson (K.M.Wilson@ljmu.ac.uk) to find out more.

Old Streets, New Adventures

On the 5th of January 2015 I began my involvement with the Balsall Heath Cultural Intermediation project and I couldn’t be joining at a more exciting time. The first two weeks on the project have been a whirlwind.

But first a little about myself. I grew up in Birmingham just a couple of miles west of Balsall Heath, where Ladywood borders on Edgbaston alongside the reservoir. After moving to the Black Country I returned to Birmingham to do my undergraduate and Masters degrees in Human Geography. Between 2007 and 2008 I worked in regional cultural policy-making in the West Midlands. In 2008 I returned to the University of Birmingham once more to complete a PhD which looked at belonging of Muslim communities within Birmingham. Part of my PhD research involved doing walking interviews with residents of Balsall Heath, so it’s quite satisfying to return here.

The Balsall Heath residents who are driving the cultural programme and developing ideas are an energetic, diverse and engaging group. From students to community workers and from seasoned residents to new migrants, what connects them is their passion and drive to deliver some cultural events which will give them and their neighbours experiences to build upon and remember.

Our group has split into three sub-groups, and each sub-group is now working on whittling down its ideas to a Top-3. Food festivals, debating societies, football tournaments, sewing classes, pottery lessons, coach trips, dancing lessons, poetry events and history exhibitions…faced with an array of ideas, there’s quite some negotiating to be done! Once decisions have been made as to what projects are to be taken forward, each group will be helped to deliver their ideas with the assistance of our cultural intermediaries.

The adventure continues…

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Ideas4Ordsall Update January 2015

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New year, new ideas, new developments.

Check out our Facebook group and Twitter @ideas4Ordsall

We are pleased to announce that the four cultural intermediaries working with us on this project have found a fabulous collection of people with ideas they want to develop. This stage of the project has taken six months to come into fruition so a moment’s reflection is worthwhile.

When I started on the project in May 2014, my brief was to put together a panel of people in Ordsall and provide funding for them to commission some artworks. As an anthropologist, I did my research by going into the Ordsall communities, chatting to people, visiting the cafes and cultural spots, asking questions and looking around me. I spent some time with ‘community researchers’ from Ordsall Community Arts who were looking into cultural activities in the area as part of the same project.

After a while it became obvious that people within the community had plenty of ideas, thank you very much, about what they wanted to happen in their community and what they really needed was some support and funding to help make them happen. So in October we asked the cultural intermediaries to gather these ideas people together into The Cohort (said with deep voice – the Apprentice was on TV at the time…).

Three months later, we are about to get together the members of The Cohort for the first time and find out about the ideas they are developing. I’m hearing whispers of a bee observation hive, bike co-op, dog walking, the longest washing line in Ordsall, a foraging game/app, WW1 uniforms display, even a whole festival.

And I’m the lucky researcher who gets to follow the development of these ideas and see how they take shape. I’m interested in what and how organisational structures support or obstruct the creative process in making these ideas happen. Watch this space…

A big thank you to Saskia

A little over two years ago, when interviewing for the research fellow who would be working with me at Birmingham, I was pleased to remake the acquaintance of Dr Saskia Warren, who I’d first met as part of a conference session I co-organised with Harriet Hawkins at the Association of American Geographers Annual Conference in Seattle, 2011.  Saskia did an excellent presentation and interview really impressing the appointment panel and I was delighted to offer her a job.

At the time I thought I was simply hiring a good researcher, but it turned out that, more than this, I was hiring a truly excellent colleague who took hold of the cultural intermediation project and ran with it, taking it to places that I never expected it would go.  What’s been really impressive is the way that Saskia has delivered a huge amount of material for the project as well as keeping her own research work active, writing a papers, running a small grant on surrealism and organising multiple conference sessions an exhibitions.  I feel exhausted even thinking about how much she’s achieved in the last two years.

It was always clear that Saskia was going places and so it was no surprise to me that Manchester – one of the UK’s top geography departments – offered her a job earlier this year.  I feel incredibly lucky to have had the opportunity to work with such a fantastic colleague and now, as she starts the next stage of her career, I just wanted to say a big thank you for all her work on the project and good luck with the new post.

Artistic and Institutional Alliances

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A gallery-based practice I always find fascinating is the public talk. A couple of weeks ago I went to a great talk given by Glyn Thompson at the Stanley & Audrey Burton Gallery at University of Leeds called IN FOCUS: The Herbert Read Collection. It was right at the end of their recent exhibition ‘Sir Herbert Read’s Artistic Alliances‘ which ran from 1 September – 20 October 2014.

Contemplating the role of Universities as intermediaries in the cultural economy has become increasingly bound up, for me lately, with theories of institutional power and social influence. Exhibitions can be interpreted as a specific form of cultural production that Bennett (1998) understands as as sites of top-down flows of hegemonic power, something similar to Foucault’s strategies of micro power in his notion of governmentality. Institutions in the public cultural campus or ‘culture complex’ operate, in Bennett’s view, as ‘working surfaces on the social’ through which a kind of public organisation is sustained through the assemblage of objects and discourses within.

Many universities in the UK have a gallery space on their campus and in previous posts on this blog and my own I have mentioned other events at similar university spaces, for example at Lakeside Gallery at University of Nottingham and the Barber Institute at University of Birmingham. Although originally established in the 1970s, the S&AB gallery underwent major programmes of expansion in 1998 and again in 2008, funded first by HEFCE and then with private funds from long-standing friend and benefactor of the University, Mrs Audrey Burton, to become the welcoming and versatile art gallery and display space it is now.

Last year University of Leeds launched an art prize and special exhibition for recent graduates from its undergraduate Fine Art and Design programmes, supported by the Friends of University Art and Music-Leeds (FUAM) of which Mrs Burton had also been an Honorary President. This competition is one of the gallery’s current exhibitions. In the Education room at the other end of the long space is an exhibition of letters and greetings cards sent by Sir Herbert Read in the years after the Second World War, many of which belong to the University’s Special Collections, which houses Read’s archive. This IN FOCUS talk has been organised in conjunction with Special Collections, which are housed in Brotherton Library, the same building as the gallery.

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The legacy of Sir Herbert Read (1893-1968), art historian, critic, knight (“services to literature”), anarchist, is currently experiencing some favourable attention. A new film, an immersive study of his life and work has been made by Manchester-based film maker Huw Wahl, supported by the Arts Council. The film is called To Hell With Culture, its provocative title comes from an essay by Herbert Read, originally published in 1941. The son of a farmer in the North Riding of Yorkshire, as a young man Read served in the First World War, rising to the rank of captain and receiving the Military Cross. Later he became known as a poet, an influential art critic, curator at the Victoria and Albert Museum and a committed anarchist. He wrote extensively on art history, theories of art and their importance to society. He co-founded the ICA in London in 1946 and also controversially accepted a knighthood in 1953. He was a modernist, championing the affective and symbolic qualities of art, from ‘primitive’ forms and cave paintings to abstraction and surrealism. The University of Leeds acquired Read’s library, including many rare and personal items, with the help of a Heritage Lottery Fund grant in 1996.

In 1912 he had enrolled at University of Leeds to study Law and economics, but he went to the front and returned profoundly affected by his experiences. According to Glyn Thompson, for a time in the 1920s, Read was Britain’s best recognised war poet.

My companyOf the items made available for handling or at least taking a closer look at during the IN FOCUS session are two that are of particular interest to the speaker Glyn, who completed his PhD at the University in 2008 on Marcel Duchamp’s ‘art’ practice, or perhaps it is rather more accurate to say his way of articulating meaning.

Read had in his collection a ‘Green Box’ (edition of 320 copies) from 1934 and an exhibition catalogueLe Surréalisme en 1947′ that accompanied the Exposition Internationale du Surréalisme, organised by Duchamp and André Breton at the Maeght Gallery in Paris, July–August 1947. The exhibition catalogue has a false breast on the front cover, mounted on a piece of velvet (we are told that the last one sold for $254,000). gb_open

The Green Box (pictured left, also known as The Bride Stripped Bare by her Bachelors Even) contains 94 individual items mostly supposed ‘facsimiles’.

Glyn talks about an outpost of surrealism that existed in London in the late 1930s, on Cork Street, particularly the Guggenheim gallery. This was where the elite of modernism from Britain and France exhibited and ‘hung out’. Herbert Read was part of this set, he was friends with Peggy Guggenheim and Roland Penrose. With the latter he co-founded the ICA in the centre of London, which opened in 1947, to showcase and champion contemporary culture across a wide range of art forms. Details of their first exhibitions can be found here.

Read used his influence to champion the work of Yorkshire artists Henry Moore and Barbara Hepworth. Perhaps he was a cultural intermediary of his time, framing what was available through the use of cultural and social capital and leveraging credibility in networks that connected culture and society?

That would be a good topic for a future talk, but let me return to the one I was here for. Glyn’s talk aims to ‘disrupt the master narrative of Duchamp’, which he explains is commmonly held to be as the grandfather of modern art and the pioneer of art as ‘interruption of the normal’. This art was made exclusively for members of the elite, as work of allegory and rhetoric. “Articulating esoteric subject matter”.

Duchamp translates information into ‘things’. Glyn says Duchamp’s work is simply a form of embodied meaning. The meanings are encrypted, you have to “do archeology to it” to understand it from the point of view of its circumstances of production. Duchamp’s pieces are “pretexts of erudite discourse”. You have to know the content to appreciate the object, and decoding the elaborate symbolism of a work to receive its message requires interpretative reading.

In Glyn’s analysis of the exhibition catalogue, the square (on the back) and the circle (the false breast) stand for alchemy, while The Green Box is emblematic of The Emerald Tablet, a sacred text of alchemy and hermeticism.

An emblem comprises three forms of simultaneous representation: the visual (superscript) the motto (subscript) and translation (glossing text), so Duchamp’s work is that, rather than an artwork. Sans le saviours. The common herd is not supposed to understand.

Perhaps the multiple readings that are possible of the work of Duchamp and some other surrealists is something that McGuigan’s (2005) work on cognitive and affective communication could be productively applied to, because I although I can’t read their erudite discourse, I nonetheless enjoy the startling and disruptive appearance of readymades and surrealist objects when I encounter them in a gallery. Regardless of this, it is whether the influential circle of Read and his contemporaries gave this art its credibility in London and also in Leeds, via links with the University’s elite community, that is the real issue that I need to keep addressing when it comes to my own work on Universities at cultural intermediaries.

There are couple of opportunities to engage with some of these themes coming up in Leeds this month.

Next Monday, 10th November, the 28th Leeds International Film Festival screens the film To Hell With Culture at 8.30pm and I’m chairing a panel discussion following the screening which will reflect on how Read’s ideas can be applied to contemporary society today. That this takes place at The Hyde Park Picture House, which belongs to the same era as Read (it first opened in 1914), is a happy coincidence!

I have also co-ordinated two additional events taking place at University of Leeds on Wednesday 19th November in conjunction with this screening:

Tour of the Herbert Read Collection, The Brotherton Library, University of Leeds, Weds 19th November, 4-5pm

Richard High leads a guided tour of Herbert Read’s Library and Archive, now housed within the University of Leeds’ Special Collections in the Brotherton Library.

Herbert Read Poetry Reading, University of Leeds, Weds 19th November, 6-7pm

Fiona Becket, Hannah Copley, Jon Glover, Ragini Mohite, Emma Trott and John Whale read from the poems and other writings of Herbert Read, including materials held in the University of Leeds archive.

To book, email gallery@leeds.ac.uk or tel: 0113 3432778

Glyn Thompson has just curated an exhibition called Educating Damien at the Tetley in Leeds, drawing on lecture notes and slides he used when he was teaching History of Art to Damien Hirst on the Foundation Course at Jacob Kramer College in Leeds, during the academic year 1983-84.

These are being shown alongside a series of drawings made during that year by members of Hirst’s cohort and together they form a unique insight into the art education of a major figure of the ‘Young British Artists’ generation.

On Thursday 8th January Glyn Thompson also gives a public talk at the gallery.

___________________________________

Ref:

Bennett (1998) Culture: A Reformer’s Science

McGuigan (2005) The cultural public sphere. European Journal of Cultural Studies, 8:4, 427-443

Cowriting poetry and academia: an email exchange

From: Phil Jones
To: ChriSJaM
Sent: 15 September 2014 12:54
Subject: Writing, writing, writing

Hi Chris,

hope all is well. I’m about midway through writing something for one of the Royal Geographical Society’s journals, ‘Area’. They take relatively short pieces (~5000 words) and I was putting something together based on the poetic transect. I’ve written the theoretical set up thus far and am about to start talking about what we did and what we found out. I was hoping I might be able to use your newly minted poem responding to the Cardiff Bay stuff as part of the analysis section of the paper – the idea being that you’d be named as the co-author of the article when it finally appears.

I can send you what I’ve got so far, though it’s a bit rough around the edges and I don’t think I’ve explained the theory as clearly as I need to.

Let me know what you think.

P

———————

From: ChriS JaM
To: Phil Jones
Sent: 15 September 2014 12:58
Subject: Re: Writing, writing, writing

Hi Phil this sounds great.

You can def use poem etc, i will send you it in a while. I am just waiting for some advice on some Welsh words I have used in it and then I will record and amend the Vid.

Its taking way way longer than I wish won’t waffle as to why it just is. Almost nearly there.

Send your bits through and I will mail you the poem shortly and as I say there will be an audio verson and a version incorporated unto the vid.

Warmest warmness fine fella

——————

From: Phil Jones
To: ChriSJaM
Sent: 15 Sep 2014 13:21
Subject: Re: Writing, writing, writing

Here tis so far. Just read it back, dear god it’s dense stuff. Just to give you some context, the normal way I’d have to do an academic article would be:

• Introduction (what’s the problem, what’s the answer – neither of which I’ve really written into the intro yet)
• Theory (what’s the intellectual lineage underpinning your argument)
• Method (why did you do what you did)
• Case study (what you did)
• Analysis (why what you did tells us something interesting)
• Conclusion (the introduction again, but in more forthright tones)

So I’ve done most of the intro, theory and method sections, though they still need work and I need to write in some more stuff about arts-based methods. Thereafter it’s the case study/analysis that are the more fun and interesting bits. So far it’s at about 3000 of the 5000 word-limit, which is about right.

P

——————-

From: ChriSJaM
Sent: 18 September 2014 01:38
To: Phil Jones
Subject: Re: Writing, writing, writing

“Ellis et al. (2013) suggest that affective atmospheres are a means of unveilling the ‘less-than-conscious’ ” …..love that…much provoking stuff in their fine fettler….and in my own untrained opine v v well written…am just about to look up affect and see if much of what I intuitively am interpreting what I’ve read thus far chimes with what I find….but yeah love it…

——————-
From: ChriSJaM
To: Phil Jones
Sent: 18 September 2014 01:40
Subject: Re: Writing, writing, writing

“has argued that affective atmospheres disturb neat divisions between acting subjects and passive objects….” now this almost drowned me…almost I think I kinda 66% get it and 66 not so love to expound on this sometime

——————

From: Phil Jones
To: ChriSJaM
Sent: 18 Sep 2014 11.53
Subject: Re: Writing, writing, writing

{chuckles} academic language games. Fun, in a very closed-shop sort of way.

Dashing off to meet someone from cultural collections now, but will give you a potted version of the answer q later on today.

P

———————

From: Phil Jones
To: ChriSJaM
Sent: 20 Sep 2014 09:15
Subject: Re: Writing, writing, writing

Okay, so there’s us, walking, breathing, thinking people. We are ‘subjects’ in that we can actively take control of a situation based on decisions that we make.

Then there’s stuff, things, which we can describe as ‘objects’. A building, a pen, a landscape. They don’t actively take control of things, they have stuff done to them by acting subjects.

The thing is, there’s not a neat division between these two things. People can be treated as objects (e.g. objectifying women by treating them purely through their sexual value to men), things can ‘act’ to change how the world works (e.g. the stuff-like qualities of walls and bars in a prison makes people behave in certain ways, so the prison can be said to ‘act’ to change the behaviour of prisoners).

Taking the example in the paper of the sports stadium. Yes, people are the ones doing the shouting when a goal is scored, so they are the subjects. But at the same time, they’re only shouting because they’re in a situation which is stimulating them to behave in a certain way. And part of ‘creating a situation’ where that happens (which we can call the ‘conditions of possibility’) is the physical architecture of the stadium, the presence of other people, the actions of the players on the pitch, the rules of the game that govern the behaviour of the players, the presence of alcohol, testosterone etc. etc. etc. Some of those things can be called ‘objects’ (the alcohol, the stadium building, the grass of the pitch, the ball), some can be called ‘subjects’ (the fans, the players, the people controlling the music in the stadium, the security people), but in truth there’s a blurry relationship between objects and subjects because it’s about how they all come together in that particular moment.

So this is where atmosphere comes in. It’s the idea that when you get these gatherings of objects and subjects, there’s something that operates between them, to bring together the people, the place, the event, the music, the booze etc. to generate something shared. So you then get grown men and women screaming their lungs out when a goal is scored without that necessarily being the conscious choice of an acting subject – you cheer because the atmosphere demands it. Did the stadium make you do it? Was it the other fans? Was it the music? Was it the goal? The atmosphere makes the idea of acting subject and passive object much more blurry.

Is your head hurting yet? It’s probably an atmosphere… ;-)

————

From: ChriSJaM
To: Phil Jones
Sent: 20 September 2014 16:31
Subject: Re: Writing, writing, writing

Not in the least dude…first thanks for taking the time…next it resonates with understandings from shall we say spiritual realms….I wont start waffling coz it not clear at the mo where what you have eloquaintly outlined is striking a chord with me…when it does shall mail you.

Bless bless blessings

—————–

From: ChriSJaM
To: Phil Jones
Sent: 20 September 2014 20:15
Subject: Re: Writing, writing, writing

Consciousness; levels of…..fequency vybration

The rate of matters viberation determines its level of consciousness

Matter Minerals Plants Animal Human Soul Spirit

Matter Minerals have fixed consciousness due to the relatively slow rate of vybration…..these rates are too slow for any type of self consciousness…

Plants are unique in that they display atributes of both fixed and mobile consciousness and some degree of self consciousness is present in some More sophisticated Plants – the more a thing vybrates the higher degree of both organisation and consciousness it can afford –

An example of the Plant paradigms mobile consciousness is thier ability to to spread seeds.

Animals consciousness is tottaly mobile however their levels of sophistication – capacity of actions; organisation and level of comprehension – lower than human not as a consequence of the rate of vibration of the sub atomic particles that constitute their body; Animal form can reach and in cases surpass the level of sophistication present in humans, rather the level of consciousness and comprehension is a result of rate of vibration of the Soul.

The Soul does not exist it is real…..what is unreal neva is, what is real neva is not.

Something that is real has is and will always be. And this is not bad description of the Soul. The Soul has neva been born and therefore cannot die. Things that are born, made or created are of this relative finite paradigm; which is but one of many.

All matter is subject to the laws of cause and effect and relativity. The Soul from its perspective – level of conscious comprehension – is not. From the perspective of the body the Souls encompass and the brain and mind that defines, projects, reflects thoughts and feelings based on its own internal self image, its appears that the Soul is Subject to the laws of relativity however this is misunderstanding the purpose of existence. Exsitence a paradigm of infinite relative possibility created by creAtion that it might experience in sense terms what it already knew itself to be. All of it Alpha Omega Akara Ukara Makara AuM. Not just all of the matter that was produced and is ever expanding and evolving consciousness through form. Also the consciouness itself, the Soul, the spirit, the ideations, the ideation and the just is beingnesss that constitites reality. All of it is real, any part of it is relatively real. As can and will exist for a predetermined sequence of moments and thrn will cease to be because it was: and never can be real. Their is from outside of this paradigms perspective where all is quantifyable measurable only only one Soul, however this souls unimaginable level of sophisticaton due to its beyond light speed rate of imdulatin afgords it the capability to create what is nest described as an illusion; the illusion of separate souls. This is not howevet delusion or the soul being duped by some darth vader type scenarion, rather an expression of the Souls deft artistry that it might in a sense divide and diversify itself in order to experience what it already – and has always and will always – know known knew. The purpose of the realm of relativity.

So from essence stepping down to spirit Souls appearance of Souls, Mind, Energy, information; in formatio, light gases, matter, the rate of viberstion descends in order to accomodate differing types of forms that all of it might experience all that it is as each part, parcel and particle is.

So at some level all these bits pf matter some level of consciousness; they have to that ultimately is all matters primary, fundamental comstitituate part – consciousness.

So in terms of affect and effect matter has lessening degrees of ability tp cause an affect that in turn eggects other things and or beings, due solely – Souly – to its rate of vibration.

So yes I concurr with that stuff coz in a sense all that matter made into chairs, stadium computers has been made to do that stuff, consciously though matter itself is not conscious of this

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